Mindfulness, meditation, and no-Buddha

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Thanks to this blog post at Tricycle, I was inspired to return to this blog.

A bit more than a year ago, I wrote a series of posts about the Eightfold Path. It started, naturally, with Right View, the first of the eight steps or practices. The series was part of my work (my practice) to study the path more closely. Unfortunately, I let the other parts of my life interfere, and I completed only six of the eight posts.

The seventh step is mindfulness.

That was going to take a lot of study — just to write the blog post.

So back to the Tricycle blog post:

These days when I read about Buddhism in the mainstream media — heck, when I read about Buddhism in the Buddhist media — it’s more like, mindfulness, mindfulness, everywhere, and not a drop of dharma.

That was a great sentence, and it set me to thinking.

I’m still not ready to write that seventh blog post in my Eightfold Path series. (I hope I will write it one day.) For now, I wanted to make some notes that the Tricycle post reminded me of — they are thoughts I have often when I listen to people who are talking (or posting online) about Buddhism. Or something like Buddhism.

Well, what is Buddhism, anyway?

No, I won’t try to answer that. But we know there are many people learning and/or practicing meditation without any Buddhism in it. That is neither good nor bad — it just is. There are many benefits to meditation, and I think it’s possible for a lot of people to realize those benefits without Buddhism. Meditation can be practiced as part of many other religious faiths, and even with no reference to any religious belief.

Mindfulness: Now this is something else. Meditation has helped me discover mindfulness and practice it — both when I am actively meditating, and also when I am walking, sitting, lying down, riding in cars, and so on.

Can you learn to practice mindfulness without ever meditating? It seems very unlikely to me, but I don’t know the answer for sure. Without learning stillness — which I learned by meditating in the traditional sitting form — I don’t know how you could learn mindfulness. So I think this is an important question: Must we meditate so we can learn to be mindful?

I think the answer is yes.

According to the Tricycle post, Thanissaro Bhikkhu says mindfulness is the one Buddhist concept most commonly misunderstood by western Buddhists. The famous bhikkhu has recently published a new book — free, online — about mindfulness. (Download it from the Tricycle page.)

But my final question — and I will sit with this one — concerns whether we can learn mindfulness without Buddhism.

The path is described in Buddhist literature as a process, a journey. The Buddha (Shakyamuni) gave us a model in the way he lived his life in this world. Mindfulness is more than simply being aware, or being “in the moment,” as some people say. When I started my individual study of the eight steps (the Eightfold Path), I began to understand this in ways I never had before. The process loops back to the beginning as you move forward on the path. My understanding of the meaning of all kinds of things has changed — subtly and gradually — the longer I practice.

If you ignore the life of the Buddha, and the teachings of the Buddha, how can you discover the mindfulness that he taught about?

Breathe.

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