Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Buddhism and secular meditation - conflict or cooperation?

Traditional Buddhist Meditation Methods

Meditation is all the rage at the moment in academia, business, the medical profession and also with ordinary stressed-out individuals suffering from information overload.

The clinical and business meditation techniques that have become so popular are based on traditional Buddhist practices. However, they are usually marketed with all the spiritual content stripped out, to make them appeal to a non-Buddhist and increasingly secular public.

From a secular, academic, medical and business viewpoint, the aspects of meditation that are evoking interest are:

(i) Somatic effects - effects on the structure, growth, neuroplasticity and ageing of tissues, cells and cellular structures, such as grey matter of the brain and telomeres of the cell nucleus [1, 2, 3, 4 ] .

(ii) Biochemical effects - effects on hormones and metabolic systems. [1, 2, 3, 4 ]

(iii) Healing - effects on the immune system [1, 2, 3, 4, 5]

(iv) Physiological - effects on stress, blood pressure, pain control etc [1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6]  

(v) Neurological - measurable changes in brain activity [1, 2, 3]

(vi) Psychological - effects on personal well-being, clarity of mind and interpersonal relationships with family, friends and colleagues [1, 2,
3, 4]

Of course what's left out are any spiritual aspects.   The medical profession and academia are for the most part only interested in physical and chemical effects that are measurable under laboratory conditions. As a result of the prevailing materialistic philosophy in academia, spiritual aspects are dismissed as non-existent, or reduced to just another aspect of psychology.

Corporations are interested in practical methods for improving the health and mental performance of their employees as individuals,  and improving their relationships with their co-workers as members of a team. But companies probably don't want their employees becoming too interested in spirituality, or maybe they'll freak out and go and join some New Age commune.


Competition or complementarity?
So what are Buddhists to make of this secularisation and high powered marketing of their traditional practices. Have they been plagiarized? Are Buddhists facing competition from an ersatz and inferior product? 

Should they be resentful?  Well that would be un-Buddhist! 

The right response should be to rejoice in the good fortune of all those people who are having their mental and physical health improved by meeting with Buddhist methods, even if they don't know they're Buddhist in origin.

And of course there's an opportunity for spreading the Buddhadharma.  Since all the spiritual aspects have been stripped out of commercially marketed meditation courses, there's a fairly obvious gap regarding any explanation of what's actually going on in the mind of the practitioner.  This is likely to arouse interest and curiosity in investigating meditation further, and exploring the philosophical basis of the practices.     

Read more at Buddhist Philosophy


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