Mindfulness Matters

Mindfulness Matters

Enlightenment Meets Enlightenment: Finding the Buddha in the Secular West

no_dogmas_allowedI recently gave a talk at the University of Vermont College of Medicine called “Beyond Stress Reduction: Mindfulness as a Radical Technology. In this talk, I spoke about the indictment that the healthcare and corporate-related applications of mindfulness are tantamount to “McMindfulness.”

If you read my post on this issue, you know that I think the criticisms of secularized mindfulness go to far. In my talk, I made the point that secular dharma is a uniquely Western dharma.


Secular Buddhism, which seeks enlightenment, accords with the Enlightenment era values of rationality, empiricism, and skepticism.

The Buddha was not the founder of a religion. He did not start Buddhism. In fact, there are many Buddhisms or Buddhist religions.

He was a teacher and saw himself more as a physician, healing humanity. He had followers and eventually these followers proliferated and traveled. When they did, they created a new religion.

When Bodhidharma brought the Buddha’s teachings to China they merged with indigenous cultural and religious elements to become Chan. When the teachings moved north to Tibet, another morphing of culture and religion took place.

When Dogen brought Chan to Japan, it became Zen. Same deal.


Now in the West, you can find Japanese replica temples with all the rites and rituals that you would find in Japan. You can go to Tibetan Buddhist centers where you are exposed to all the Tibetan colorful forms that have been imported to Western soil.

This wholesale importation of Buddhism strikes me as unprecedented. I am not aware that it has happened anywhere else. Each host country has put its imprint on the teachings.

The secular mindfulness and buddhism movement is our uniquely western spin on the Buddha’s teachings. This does not water the teachings down or corrupt them any more than what has happened in Tibet, China, and Japan (and many other countries).

The creed of Western Dharma is sympathetic with the late artist Stephen Huneck’s plea: “NO DOGMAS ALLOWED.” Simple as that.


The Buddha’s teaching can be studied without dogma, rigidity, or prescieintific superstition. They can be experienced this way as well, particularly on a vipassana style meditation retreat.

As it turns out, I am about to embark on one of these retreats in a short while. I will be at IMS or the Insight Meditation Society, the premiere secular Buddhist practice center on the East Coast.

I will be doing sitting and walking meditation from 5 AM to 10 PM for the next seven days in silence. No talking, reading, or writing. This is Noble Silence.

Consequently, I won’t be posting until I get back. This will be a week to test the Buddha’s teachings in direct fashion. I will see how the three fires operate. I will fill greed, aversion, and confusion beset my mind and then the breath will come into to liberate me from these stories.


This cycle will happen over and over again, countless times during these many hours of practice. I don’t have to take any articles on faith; I just have to sit with my experience and work with my mind. Hopefully, I’ll be able to move my mind in skillful ways and enjoy the gift of silence and inquiry that the retreat provides.

It is hard to set aside the constant doings and connections of everyday life, yet retreat is a powerful way to deepen our practice and to become better people in the process: more present, compassionate, and contended.

See you after the 13th!

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  • Kenyon

    Blessings, I live in the Bahamas, where I grew up in a family that is active in the Baptise church. I have never attended a retreat and there is no sangha here. So I have had to read to understand what Buddhism is all about. But my direct experiences have been relatively profound(to me). I have noticed that if I ask, with conviction, the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha for assistance, “IT WILL BE GIVEN”.
    While studying about the “Though Process”, I ask for a teaching in my dream to really help me “KNOW” the process.
    I expected a dream with a monk teaching me the subject in a forest somewhere. Instead I was used as both the teacher and the student.
    While asleep, I recall feeling a tightness in my lower stomach, then there was a Dream Image flash of my private being swollen with liquid and wanting to release. I then recall making the decision to release the tension in my lower stomach. This was followed by the sensation of something moving on my leg. I was then able to observe my mind in determining which sense door was being stimulated, I also observed the stimulas being received by my conscious, I observed the investigating of the stimulas and will never forget what I though after the determining moment, the Javana moments. It was, “OH SH_t, I am going to “PissUp” My Bed”. I then got up and ran to the bath room to finish releasing. As a result of that teaching, which came in the form of a dream, I am at times able to see my thoughts rise and cease. And as a result of this ability, I am now able to better deal with my defilements on a “As they Come” basis.
    That is not the only teaching that I have ask for a special teaching in my dream and has received results. However they would take too much time to talk about here.
    My main point is this: Even tho one may have been born and lived in the west(Bahamas), without teachers, temples etc, the Buddha’s teachings, when put into practice produces “more” positive results than expected.
    Last fact, for more than 20 years I have suffered with a problem in my left leg. Much swelling and extreme pain. However, I read about and one day put into practice the method of separating the “Pain”, “Body” and “Citta”. And for SEVEN(7) weeks I lived and experienced what it felt like to be without any bodily pain. And the “more than part” was that I also experienced a “COMPLETE” disappearing of the swelling. WOWOWOW!!Both the pain and the swelling. Something I had not experience in more than 20 years (tears are flowing from my eyes).

    OK I’m back, I don’t know where that flood of emotions came from.

    Like I said there is more. So much so that I have started to document my experiences on a “as happen” basis.
    So before going to a retreat, hold a few of your own mini retreat. And please, with conviction, ask the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha for assistance. They are longing from within us to help us.

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