SuttaCentral

"The Dangers of Diluted Buddhism"


#1

This was posted on social media today, and I took a moment to read the essay. I thought it quite good, and very straightforward. From the comments section, there was a fair amount of blowback toward the author, who is a teacher in the UK. " Lama Jampa Thaye is a teacher of the Sakya and Karma Kagyu traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. He has been teaching for over 30 years and is the spiritual director of the Dechen organisation of Buddhist Centres." Wiki

https://tricycle.org/trikedaily/diluted-buddhism

In many cases, we have embraced a spurious system that is Buddhist in name only, and, what is more, we have often embraced masters who are masters in name only. No wonder we are disappointed when we discover that Buddhism is far from what we imagined. How the truth is going to hurt when we find out how we have allowed ourselves to be deceived.

However, resentment at the phony package we have been sold, or at the flourishing of the fakes, is somewhat misplaced. First of all, we gave them their power, out of a mixture of credulity and lack of curiosity about Buddhism itself. Secondly, our motivation, all too often, was essentially frivolous and led us to prefer the fashionable and famous over the authentic but unglamorous.

His themes resonated with me, and perhaps they will resonate with others here at D&D. I see every day examples of western Buddhist themes being paraded in social media, for example, and few bear any real resemblance to what the Buddha taught. The tragedy, IMO, is that the Buddha gave us an real antidote to the poisons of western greed and a society bent on a trajectory toward more violence and harm. Yet, so few in western Buddhism appreciate the gift of the Dhamma.

So, once again, thanks to Sutta Central for making the Dhamma available, and giving those with the curiosity, energy, and diligence the ability to read and appreciate the Dhamma. Thanks to our learned ajahns here, and the skilled kalyana mitta here that mutually support each other.

The author of this essay, in the wake of scandals and false teachers, is receiving some severe blowback for this essay. Perhas this response suggests just how far adrift western “Buddhism” has drifted. Or, it suggests that many in the west just want their Buddhism the same way that they want their suits and their beds: bespoke, comfortable, soft, and luxurious. A projection, as the author intimates, of their own deluded western consumerist tastes.


#2

The article is extremely vague. The reader is forced to guess at the specific problems the author is pointing to.

The problem of authentic vs. fake Buddhism can never be fully solved.


#3

A very unhelpful attitude, this. I agree that outright distortion of the dhamma is regrettable. But we have to keep in mind that only a few will be able to live with monastic restrictions. Even if a person puts into practice 2% of all dhamma-vinaya available, they will benefit more than no practice at all. We have to look compassionately at why a person would want a comfortable bed. Are they working 10 hours a day in a mine or a factory? Are they living in a harsh environment where they can only get comfort from material things? This isn’t even getting into the issue of “dilution”. This dilution, if we can call it that, isn’t a Western phenomenon at all, and it isn’t new at all. How many Buddhists in countries where Buddhism is traditional even know what’s in the Tipitaka, or perfectly follow the Precepts, or live on beds made of granite and don’t consume anything? The East has its share of “meditation only” practitioners, and those who participate in Buddhism in some way for cultural reasons. Let’s be frank: the full extent of the dhamma-vinaya is not going to be (and has not been) realized in this life by most Buddhists. And I think that’s OK. I venerate the very few who have realized it.


#4

I’ve had some involvement with Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, which probably qualifies as a type of “diluted” Buddhism. I don’t see a problem with it, it does what it says, and people seem to benefit from it. I see little point in being a purist, and claims of superiority are unattractive. On balance I’m glad that Buddhist methods are finding a wider audience in the west.


#5

In July, David Forbes’ book “Mindfulness and its Discontents” (Fernwood Publishing) will be published.

In it, he argues that secular mindfulness programs of the sort being embraced by many corporations and educational establishments are actually being used to further a damaging, neoliberal agenda.

Here is a link to an extract published in The Guardian newspaper yesterday:

Agree or not, it is quite thought provoking.


#6

I read the article but didn’t find it convincing. What’s wrong with using Mindfulness as therapy or stress reduction, or whatever?


#7

Hi,

I think it depends upon the context in which secular mindfulness is being promoted and what constitutes ‘therapy’.

If, for instance, a company or school is encouraging its staff and/or students to practice ‘mindfulness’, we might at least consider whose agenda it is serving. From there, we can think about whether a given mindfulness based intervention is really wholesome and beneficial.


#8

There is probably a benefit both to individuals and to the organisation as a whole. It might be comparable to a company introducing free child-care, or providing a gym or physical exercise programme for its employees. It seems like a win-win situation.


#9

I think the author’s concern though, is when the responsibility for wellness is placed exclusively at the feet of individual workers thereby absolving employers of their responsibilities.

In other words, if an employee is chronically stressed and their employer’s response is that they should learn ‘mindfulness’ to self-regulate, the cultural and social issues that give rise to stress in workers are never addressed and the damaging status-quo can be maintained.

The same goes for ‘mindfulness’ programs in schools. Students may report that the practice helps them deal with the pressure to perform well in exams. Should we be accepting of the fact that many children are feeling stressed by the school experience and give them a tool (‘mindfulness’) to try to mitigate that? Or, should we instead be focused on reforming the system that is causing the stress in the first instance?

‘Mindfulness’ (taken out of a broader Buddhist context with its emphasis on morality) is now a very profitable industry and I do think it is right to reflect upon it critically.


#10

Yes, I can see a potential problem if mindfulness is just used to paper over the problems caused by an inherently stressful environment. Has any research been carried out in this area?


#11

Absolutely. And that critical analysis will include its benefits. You can cultivate mindfulness and a positive work culture at the same time. They’re not mutually exclusive. I actually agree that schools are often too stressful, and something should be done about the toxic academic cultures out there. Until that can happen, why not give people something beneficial?


#12

I think the basic point is that ‘Mindfulness’ is a tool that, like many tools, can be used for good or for ill.

As another example, research has shown that mindfulness increases Information Processing Speed and we know that many militaries therefore incorporate it in the training of soldiers.

Of course, as @dhammadharo says, not every workplace or school that promotes ‘mindfulness’ does so simply to further an evil, neoliberal, capitalist agenda.

Thank you both for your thoughts!


#13

The first time I came across working with the breath was while learning to shoot in the Army. But is that really “mindfulness”? It certainly wasn’t called that.


#14

I’m not sure what your training consisted of, but I’m thinking here of the Mindfulness Based Mind-Fitness Training used by the US military, and similar programs used by other militaries, which aim to inoculate soldiers against stress and cultivate attentional control.


#15

Oh, I see, I’m not familiar with the US military. I wonder though if there’s an element of rebranding traditional methods here, a sort of political correctness? Or maybe just being fashionable?


#16

Just for what’s it’s worth, the article never uses the term “mindfulness”, although it does make reference in the first paragraph to “a free-floating meditation detached entirely from the other two trainings.”

The context of the article, I assume, is the wave of sexual scandals that have rocked some high profile American Buddhist communities and centers.

These kinds of abuses seem to be an inherent risk in any approach that develops a cult of worship, charisma or salvation around a teacher.


#17

Yes, the downside of guru devotion and dependent relationships has become increasingly obvious. Ironically it implies a failure of mindfulness.


#18

I think the Tibetan failures in having no defence against desire illustrate a weakness in the doctrine, where in right thought, non-ill will and harmlessness are given priority to the detriment of renunciation.


#19

I share the concern with “neoliberal” mindfulness, but it should be noted, the problem only arises when “mindfulness” is applied improperly. If, to take a common example, workers are stressed, and bosses get them to do a mindfulness training to cope, this often disguises the real issue: why were they stressed in the first place?

The problem here is that mindfulness has been divorced from the 8-fold path, which, if it were properly applied, would ask the bosses to consider the role of their speech and actions in stressing their workers, and how in turn, that stemmed from greed, etc.

A little caveat, though: we shouldn’t fall into the too-easy fallacy of imagining that non-Western Buddhist cultures get it any better.

Finally, another problem of the mindfulness industry: when so many people’s livelihood is tied up with asserting measurable results from a hard-to-measure spiritual practice, we can expect more of this:


#20

I think that this would be just one response among many possible. A poor response. Other positive and supportive responses are possible, and hopefully are implemented.