Thursday, July 04, 2013

Sometimes I think some of these Buddhist teachers really don't get it.

Via Tricycle (I was bored ) I found a link to that David Loy and Ron Purser article decrying "McMindfulness."  (It was also the one mentioned by Justin Whitaker.)  I normally don't cite either Tricycle or the Huffington Post in my blog, but in this case I'll make an exception, and you'll see why as you read through this.

First, having had the time to read what Loy and Purser wrote I have to say they just don't get it.  Really. 

I'll explain.

I've been doing some math lately as part of my work.  I have to set up a problem in math to verify that an algorithm we're designing will work. If I run the output of my problem through the algorithm, the algorithm should identify the problem. 

The problem involves generating a type of "coin flipping" process.  Now you can't use just any coin flipping process because there are cases where different coin flipping processes are statistically the same.  But if you tweak the problem just a little and put in some "memory" into the process (future flips depend on past flips) the problem becomes quite easy to solve.

In other words, if you introduce just enough structure and complexity into a problem representing reality, reality becomes easy to represent.  But if you don't have enough structure and complexity,  you're stuck.

That's what David Loy and Ron Purser don't get.  They're worried about "mindfulness" being used to promote consumer capitalism,  commoditize something, blah blah blah. It can't happen, because mindfulness alone is self limiting in its effects, and thus won't in any way marginalize the rest of Buddhism.

This is because existence, being so densely interdependent as it is, needs the other parts of Buddhism to go along with it. While Purser and Loy indicate that this is the case, they don't seem to get the implications of it.  Mindful murderers will still be murderers AND will be all the more aware of their suffering.  Mindful minimally regulated production for profit will still be inherently unstable economically and disruptive to millions of people. 

And besides all that we've seen this before! And ironically  the "spiritual mentor" of the founder of the Huffington Post is a case in point for what we've seen before!

Remember the "human potential" movement? Esalen Institute and est and its derivatives? One of  them was I think called Insight Seminars, led by a rumpled looking guy who later founded something called MSIA who had meetings of a sort that were later attended by Arianna Huffington, who became a righty scold and now is some kind of a pseudo-progressive media baroness who doesn't pay her bloggers, at least as of the last time I checked.  The MSIA - Arianna Huffington thing was documented in something called "Life 102," by one Peter McWilliams, which led to what McWilliams might have termed a SLAPP suit by the founder of MSIA (who would have characterized it differently no doubt, probably with lawyers), ...but that's all history. 

Existence is pretty dense and it's difficult or nearly impossible and often useless to isolate one part of it from another (then again there's science but I digress). But I read "Gestalt Therapy" by Frederick Perls back in my teens, and I have to say it was that which led to my interest in Buddhism, via existentialism.

Point is, McMindfulness is probably a gateway to the real thing; its predecessors were too.   But I think it's sort of ironic that 2 guys are using the Huffington Post, in part enabled by Arianna Huffington, whose experiences were shaped by MSIA, which was informed by the Human Potential Movement, which is based on Zen Buddhism, to decry the secularization of Buddhism!

I wonder if they were paid by Huffington. 


Buddhist_philosopher said...

Interesting post, Mumon. I would agree that mindfulness is self-limiting *in the long run* but it seems to have plenty of short sighted appeal; which I think is what Loy et al are worried about (myself included). It's a sort of 'buyer beware' that probably needs to be stated (and restated often), that not all mindfulness is equal, that the rest of the path is necessary, and that anyone selling easy/quick mindfulness is best avoided.

Mumon K said...

Easy/quick should be warning signs, to be sure, but on the other hand, I think from a psychologist's or psychiatrist's perspective, they would be violating ethical boundaries if they knew mindfulness might bring some relief to their patients/clients and didn't employ it.

Which I think can help lead to Buddhist practice in general if employed ethically.

Iona said...

This is awesome!