Thursday, 26 March 2015

Meditation - short term craze or long term opportunity for the growth of Buddhism?




Suddenly everybody’s meditating  - from stressed-out film stars and business executives, to senior citizens trying to slow down the effects of ageing. We’re all suffering from information overload, and a favorite way to bring order to the chaos of our minds is to meditate.

Although most of the meditation techniques are based on Buddhist methods, they are usually presented in a secular manner.  The marketing ploy seems to be: ‘Although the Buddhists have by some accident discovered techniques for calming and healing mind and body, let’s forget about their theories and all that religious stuff, and just concentrate on the practical methods for the here and now’. 

But can such secular meditation lead on to spiritual meditation? Can meditation for mundane purposes introduce people to the Buddhadharma?  Is this an opportunity for the growth of Buddhism in the West?

 

Tangled mind 
People are often motivated into taking up meditation by the realisation that their overloaded thought-processes feel like this…
 

Information overload


What they’re hoping to do is to sort them out into something neat and tidy like this....
 

Tidy thoughts


But what they might eventually experience, as they untangle their minds, is something like this, where they become aware of a clear central core to the mind…


The Core of Awareness


 
 



















 
That central core (the 'root mind' or 'pure awareness') is non-physical and continues onwards when all the other strands, threads and processes of the mind have come to an end.   The core of the mind is like an optical fiber - clear and illuminating. It is the clear, pure awareness that is central to other thought processes.

Secular mindfulness meditations allow the meditator to catch a glimpse of this clear core by parting the tangled threads of peripheral thought processes.   However, only more advanced meditations, especially the Tantric-style ones, allow the meditator to actually manipulate this central core and its contents. For like a clear optical fiber, it carries information onwards from the end of this life to all our future lives



Mindfulness meditation primes the mind for spiritual experiences
From The Huffington Post 
"The practice of mindfulness dates back at least 2,500 years to early Buddhism, and since then, it's played an important role in a number of spiritual traditions.

While the stillness and connecting with one's inner self cultivated through mindfulness are certainly an important part of a spiritual practice, feelings of wonder and awe -- the amazement we get when faced with incredible vastness -- are also central to the spiritual experience. And according to new research, mindfulness may actually set the stage for awe.

Mindfulness is the key element of the spiritual experience in a number of different religions.

Awe is defined as a feeling of fascination and amazement invoked by an encounter with something larger than ourselves that is beyond our ordinary frameworks of understanding. Previous research has shown that spirituality, nature and art are the most common ways that we experience awe.

"You can't digest [the object of awe] with your cognitive structures -- it's too big for you," University of Groningen psychologist Dr. Brian Ostafin told the Huffington Post. "So there's a need for accommodation, to change your mental structures to understand what that is. This is the key element of the spiritual experience in a number of different religions..."
 


Progressing from secular meditation to the dharma
Mindfulness meditation is probably not a temporary craze, but is here to stay, since information overload is not going to decrease, and our lives or not going to get any less busy. Buddhists need to show that the dharma starts where secular meditation techniques leave off.   It will require skillful presentation to introduce spiritual ideas to an increasingly secular audience, without scaring them off with 'religion', and its associated bad vibes.


Read more at Buddhist Philosophy

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How to meditate on the peaceful clarity of your own mind

Analytical and Placement Meditation

How to meditate
 

Daily Lamrim

What to Meditate on 

Sitting in Meditation 

Preparing for Meditation 

The Meditation Session 

A Meditation Schedule

Meditation Retreat

Kadampa Working Dad 

Kadampa Life

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Could meditation apps help the growth of Buddhism in the West?




The recent growth in the popularity of meditation has given rise to a range of meditation apps for phones and tablets.   Most of these are secularized introductions to mindfulness-style meditations designed for stressed-out commuters (there doesn't yet seem to be a Lamrim app!) . 

Nevertheless, there appears to be some potential here, both in terms of stimulating interest in meditation by way of mindfulness as described previously, and also the development of more specifically dharma-based apps.

So maybe it's time for the sangha to get programming!    I'd do it myself but my programming skills don't extend much beyond FORTRAN, and I haven't yet found a mobile phone with a built-in punched-card reader.



See also
Man behind meditation app goes from monk to millionaire
Ten best meditation apps 
Growth of Buddhism in the West - SWOT analysis

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
 

 




Sunday, 22 March 2015

Buddhas of Bamiyan - only the beginning...




By V.S. Naipaul For The Mail On Sunday

"The Nobel Prize-winning author V.S. Naipaul has warned that Islamic State are the most potent threat to the world since the Nazis.

In a hard-hitting article in today’s Mail on Sunday, the revered novelist brands the extremist Muslim organisation as the Fourth Reich, saying it is comparable to Adolf Hitler’s regime in its fanaticism and barbarity.

Calling for its ‘military annihilation,’ the Trinidadian-born British writer says IS is ‘dedicated to a contemporary holocaust’, has a belief in its own ‘racial superiority,’ and produces propaganda that Goebbels would be proud of.

A long-term critic of Islam as a global threat, he also challenges those who say the extremists have nothing to do with the real religion of Islam, suggesting that the simplicity of some interpretations of the faith have a strong appeal to a minority.


"Imagine a world in which a young man is locked in a cage, has petrol showered over him and is set alight to be burnt alive.

Imagine the triumphant jeering of an audience that has gathered to witness this. Imagine, also, a 12-year-old child with elated determination on his features shooting at close range a kneeling man with his arms tied behind his back.

Then picture the spectacle of a hundred beheadings of victim after victim in humiliating uniforms, their hands and feet bound, kneeling with their backs to their black-robed executioners who wield knives to cut their throats as though they were sacrificial lambs.

Picture queues of helpless men and women being marched by zealous executioners who nail them to wooden crosses and crucify them, howling and bleeding to death as crowds watch.

Then picture thousands of girls and women, their arms tied, being marched by hooded and armed captors into sexual slavery. And then, if that is not enough, picture men being thrown off cliffs to their deaths because they are accused of being gay.

Yes, all these scenes could have taken place in several continents in the medieval world, but they were captured on camera and broadcast to anyone with access to the internet. These are scenes, of yesterday, today and tomorrow in our own world.

I have always distrusted abstractions and have turned into writing what I could discover and explore for myself.

So I must begin by admitting that I have not recently travelled in those regions threatened by barbarism – the Middle East, the north west of Africa, in pockets of Pakistan and in the Islamic countries of south eastern Asia.
Isis could very credibly abandon the label of Caliphate and call itself the Fourth Reich

Isis could very credibly abandon the label of Caliphate and call itself the Fourth Reich

However, in the 1980s and early 1990s I undertook to examine the ‘revival’ of Islam that was taking place through the revolution in Iran and the renewed dedication to the religion of other countries.

I travelled through Iran, Pakistan, Malaysia and Indonesia attempting to discover the ideas and convictions behind this new ‘fundamentalism’.

My first book was called Among The Believers and the second, perhaps prophetically, Beyond Belief. Since those books were written, the word ‘fundamentalism’ has taken on new meanings.

As the word suggests, it means going back to the groundings, to the foundations and perhaps to first principles. It is used to characterise the interpretation given to passages of the Koran, to the Hadith, which is a collection of the acts in the life of the Prophet Mohammed and to an interpretation of sharia law.

However, the particular fundamentalist ideology of ‘Islamist’ groups that have dedicated themselves to terror – such as Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and now in its most vicious, barbaric and threatening form the Islamic Caliphate, Isis or the Islamic State (IS) – interprets the foundation and the beginning as dating from the birth of the Prophet Mohammed in the 6th Century.

This fundamentalism denies the value and even the existence of civilisations that preceded the revelations of the Koran.

It was an article of 6th and 7th Century Arab faith that everything before it was wrong, heretical. There was no room for the pre-Islamic past.

So an idea of history was born that was fundamentally different from the ideas of history that the rest of the world has evolved.

In the centuries following, the world moved on. Ideas of civilisation, of other faiths, of art, of governance of law and of science and invention grew and flourished.

This Islamic ideological insistence on erasing the past may have survived but it did so in abeyance, barely regarded even in the Ottoman Empire which declared itself to be the Caliphate of all Islam.

But now the evil genie is out of the bottle. The idea that faith abolishes history has been revived as the central creed of the Islamists and of Isis.

Their determination to deny, eliminate and erase the past manifests itself in the destruction of the art, artefacts and archaeological sites of the great empires, the Persian, the Assyrian and Roman that constitute the histories of Mesopotamia and Syria.

They have bulldozed landmarks in the ancient city of Dur Sharukkin and smashed Assyrian statues in the Mosul museum. Destroying the winged bull outside the fortifications of Nineveh satisfies the same reductive impulse behind the destruction by the Taliban of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan..."  Read it all



See also 


Islam will destroy Buddhism


Islam will Dominate - The Islamic Threat to Buddhism