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Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Mindfulness, Compassion, Nonviolence Series - 1

 Friends, today I am starting a separate series on Mindfulness, Compassion and Non-violence. I have been thinking in the past few years about starting a physical or a virtual center to focus on these topics. I even had chosen a name for it – Gautama Center for Ahimsa, Karuna and Pragna.  Initially I considered the possibility of making it a center on a social media platform. Later I decided to stay with this blog site which I have maintained for more than 10 years and  is easier to maintain. Hope you like this series. More important, hope you find these mini-essays helpful.

Meditation as an English word has several levels of meaning. It stands both for the process and for a state of being, a mental state. Patanjali who wrote the earliest treatise on this subject says that meditation is to control the modifications of the mind (second sloka of his treatise on Yoga shastra). At the end of the treatise he says that it is for reaching a state at which one becomes merged into the supreme cause. But what is the supreme cause? What is meant by merging into it?

Patanjali also gives the necessary steps including control of the body, purification of the mind etc. Several schools of meditation have sprung over the millennia based on this original writing. But many of them, including the tantric schools have caused confusion, with each school emphasizing different aspects of Patanjali’s ideas and developing its own special interpretation. In the process, they have conflated the process with the goal. Most individuals seem stuck with the process such as “how do I sit?”, “do I keep my eyes shut or closed or semi-open?” and “do I breath with the right nostril or left nostril?” etc. As I have mentioned elsewhere, during meditation symbols do not matter, substance does; duration does not matter, intensity and regularity do; rituals do not matter, inner feeling and intentions (bhavana) do.

My view is that the only system which has given simple, practical steps on meditation comes from Buddha’s teachings and is now supported by modern neuroscience. It is not surprising since Buddha focused on how to live this life well and deal with the ups and downs of our lives. These methods utilize what we all know (breath) and experience (agitated distracted mind) and teach us how to focus and look deep inside ourselves. Of course, the roots are in earlier Vedic insights. But the practical methods focus on the known and not on esoteric concepts which may or may not be true.

There are several schools within the Buddhist tradition also. My focus will primarily be on Mindfulness as taught by Rev. Thich Naht Hahn and developed further by neuroscientists into Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy.

Buddhist metaphysics and psychology acknowledge that all of us are capable of experiencing several states of mind (51 by their count), some of them wholesome and helpful (compassion, gratitude) and others not helpful (anxiety, laziness) and some clearly harmful (anger). It acknowledges that all of us are capable of developing our wholesome traits with practice. The methods focus on developing the strengths in every one of us such as attention, awareness and compassion. What is remarkable is that modern day neurosciences give support to the psychology on which Buddhist meditation practices are based.

I plan to write several essays bringing the essence of mindfulness meditation to the digital generation growing up in the age of science, technology and social media. I have been writing about these  topics in these blogs and elsewhere over the past several years. Now, I plan to consolidate and update them.

The reason for starting this series now is my concern for the future. Human civilization is experiencing several stresses all at once with cumulative effects. As I wrote in my essay on Competition, Cooperation, and Collective values on June 29, 2020, humanity has reaped the benefits of science and technology coming out of the empirical approach of western philosophies. Humanity is facing the negative side of those developments. Now is the correct time for humanity to learn from the wisdom of the east which emphasizes inner dimensions and interconnections.

Although these ideas on meditation come primarily from Hinduism and Buddhism, other traditions also had elements of these practices. But Western traditions de-emphasized meditation for various reasons.  Many people in the west considered it as a religious practice. In fact, meditation is a spiritual practice open to all of humanity. It is to do with mind-body-spirit connection.

There is now more openness to meditation all over the world. Meditation is taught in schools, colleges and workplaces as part of holistic health and wellness programs. Most of them are based on mindful meditation concepts popularized by Rev Thich Nath Hahn, Dr. Kabat-Zinn, H.H.Dalai Lama and others.

I am focusing on Buddhist methods, particularly mindfulness, because they do not ask you to suspend rationality. They do not orient towards any religion or personal gods. In fact, Buddhism is classified as atheism in Indian philosophical texts. The practices are in line with objectivity and rationality and supported by neurosciences, particularly  neuroplasticity and neural states of the mind. Any one from any faith can practice mindfulness meditation as part of daily life. The new branch of contemplative neuroscience has developed tools (example: healthyminds innovations) which any one can use.

I plan to write about meditation practices and theories behind them. I also plan to write about compassion and non-violence because I believe in them as the only sure methods for peace on earth. And as Rev. William Sloane Coffin said: “The world is now too dangerous for anything but truth, and too small for anything but love”.

I start with a suggestion for what we can hope to accomplish with meditation. In other words: “why should one meditate?”    

My preference is: Meditation is to calm the mind and to expand the heart. 

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thanks for this introduction. This subject is food for thought and for better living. It has many effective practical value for improved health and regulated living. I will await the next posting to continue to enjoy and benefit.