Category: Buddhism

Tell everyone you meet: All that arises, ceases

The remains of a rhubarb crumble
Everything is subject to crumbling. Photo: Anne-Renee Mauurin

Imagine if whenever you greeted someone for the first time – a supermarket cashier, the postman, a new colleague, a neighbour, a date, anybody – rather than uttering the usual “How are you?” you instead transmitted some little nugget of wisdom that might be of more use to them and might provoke a more interesting response than the usual “Fine thanks.” (more…)

Dalai Lama enlightens and enraptures contemplative scientists in Boston

The Dalai Lama at the International Symposium for Contemplative Studies
The Dalai Lama takes part in a dialogue with scientists at the International Symposium for Contemplative Studies. From left to right: Amishi Jha, Richard Davidson, His Holiness, Thupten Jinpa and Arthur Zajonc. Photograph: Jurek Schreiner

When the Dalai Lama began a dialogue with cognitive scientists in 1987 to explore how the insights gained by Buddhist contemplatives could be used to inform research and find new ways to promote human wellbeing, he could not have imagined that businesses and even the US military would one day want to harness some of those insights. (more…)

US marines

From monks to the military: has mindfulness gone too far?

US marines
The US military has been developing Mindfulness-Based Mind Fitness Training to counteract the effects of chronic stress during deployment. Photograph: USDA

I recently stayed at Amaravati Buddhist Monastery at Great Gaddesden in Hertfordshire, enjoying not only the quiet, reflective atmosphere of this sanctuary of calm in the Chiltern Hills but also many interesting conversations with fellow guests and staff. One of the things that came up was the unease that many Buddhists feel about the spread of mindfulness training in recent years from contemplative and clinical settings into business and finance, and even the military. Mindfulness training is now being used not just to help people cope with the stresses, anxieties and pains of everyday life – and perhaps to become a little more enlightened – but to gain a competitive edge in the marketplace and on the battlefield.

Instinctively, it feels wrong that this peaceful practice has been co-opted for such purposes and is being taught without the essential moral elements of Buddhism such as compassion and selflessness. Continue reading “From monks to the military: has mindfulness gone too far?”

Mindful cycling: staying alert, staying alive

A representation of the Dharmachakra or Buddhist eight-spoked wheel
The Dharmachakra or Buddhist eight-spoked wheel, representing the Noble Eightfold Path, from the Konârak Sun temple in Odisha, India. One of the spokes of this bicycle-like wheel is for mindfulness. Photograph: Saamiblog/Flickr

Mindfulness training courses and books will usually recommend everyday activities such as taking a shower or doing the washing-up as opportunities to exercise your powers of concentration. The idea is that by focusing on these simple, routine tasks – paying attention to what your body is doing and what your senses are telling you – you can calm the wayward thoughts that for the rest of the day chase each other through the corridors of your mind like overexcited children.

Humdrum activities that don’t require much brainpower, such as washing the dishes and showering, are perfectly good ways to practise your mind-taming skills, but their very ordinariness can make them a challenge. It’s a struggle to stay focused.

I know, that’s the idea – to be mindful even of the mundane – but for a novice like me, how much easier it would be to apply mindfulness to an everyday task that involves a more stimulating visual scene, loud noises, physical exertion and the ever present threat of injury? (more…)

Meditation for pain relief

Candle and Buddha
Pain is relieved by suppressing the “mental narratives” and “self-related processes” that usually exacerbate it

Pain is a fact of life: it can be dulled with drugs, but sometimes it’s just too intense or too persistent. Then we have to learn to live with it.

Buddhist monks are adept at doing this when they sit immobile in meditation, remaining straight-backed in the lotus position for hours on end. They are thought to achieve this by “uncoupling” the sensation of pain from their emotional reaction to it. This is more than just a parlour trick. Monks protesting the Chinese occupation of Tibet have shown they are capable of sitting unflinching as they burn to death. (more…)

Walking with the Buddha: a great photo opportunity?

Buddha statues in the Grand Palace, Bangkok, Thailand
Being there is a concept, and the Buddha that you see is a mere appearance. You cannot photograph the real Buddha, even if you have a very expensive camera’

How we love our celebrities, even those of us who profess to be aloof from all that sort of thing. Special guests are often invited to morning conference at the newspaper where I work. These newsworthy people say whatever is on their mind and answer questions – all off-the-record. We’ve had some big names, heroes to many of us – Richard Dawkins, David Attenborough, Russell Brand, Jesse Jackson – and on these occasions the meeting room overflows with discretely adoring fans.

After Russell Brand’s appearance, in which he won us over with his wit and often obscene comic genius, many stayed behind to have their picture taken with him. Even feminist journalists, who might have baulked at his unashamed objectification of women, had fallen under his spell and elbowed their way through the crowd to get a priceless “selfie” on their smartphones with him. (more…)

The Universe in a Single Atom by His Holiness the Dalai Lama – review

Wimbledon Buddhist temple
The Buddhapadipa temple in Wimbledon, UK, which offers meditation classes for beginners

The Dalai Lama wants every cognitive scientist to learn how to meditate. He believes this will give them insights into the mind and consciousness that plastering electrodes on scalps or scanning brains with powerful magnetic fields never could.

Whereas a scientist looks at the mind from the outside, he says, an experienced meditator examines it from within. Neither sees the whole picture and so we could learn a great deal by combining the two perspectives. (more…)