All posts tagged: Buddhism

Contemplative Praxis for Social-Ecological Transformation

Abstract The growing critical reception of mainstream mindfulness interventions often concerns itself with the social and ethical dimensions of mindfulness practices and their current inability to effectively address social and ecological problems. While Buddhists often advocate recontextualizing the practices in their original ethical frames, such proposals inadequately account for Buddhism’s historic biases and secular practitioners’ unwillingness to conform to Buddhist norms. Likewise, secular practitioners who argue that ethics implicitly informs mindfulness, but who forgo explicit ethical considerations, are often uncritical of the inner workings of power and injustice shaping mindfulness. This paper presents a dual critique of Buddhist and secular approaches to mindfulness, and attempts to outline dialectical and integral approaches that synthesize aspects of both. This dual critique lends itself to a post-secular synthesis of ethics and mindfulness, as irreducible aspects of each other informed by a non-binary understanding of religion and secularism. Finally, this synthesis is explored in light of several existing theoretical and practical examples of contemplative practices developed to support personal, social, and ecological transformation. Keywords: Contemplative Studies, Mindfulness, Social Change, …

Open Up, Lean In, Stay With: Contemplative Practices in Uncertain Times

In the Tibetan calendar, 2016 was the year of the Fire Monkey: raw, turbulent, tempestuous—a year of personal strife unfolding in tandem with social unrest and political upheaval. Permeating my own experience of 2016 was a visceral sense of being wrenched in two directions: to dive in fully to the fire of this unrest, and simultaneously to withdraw from it, to shut down, to block out the pain. I suspect I am not alone in such ambivalence: In the face of overwhelming suffering—from the personal to the societal, from shouting at the family dinner table to the bombings in Aleppo—our human impulse is to fight or flee. And when each of these options seems hopeless, we may freeze, paralyzed. How do we confront our situation? How do we move through fear and paralysis and remain awake to the pain (as well as the beauty) of our reality? In Buddhist teachings and practice, I read three relevant refrains: open up, lean in, and stay with. First, the teachings advise that with a heart of courage, we …

Interrogating the Nature of Identity in an Age of Rising Nationalism

With nationalist and populist waves washing over the globe, many of us within the contemplative world may be feeling upset and disappointed. We might be asking ourselves how nativist and xenophobic sentiments can have such popular support, particularly given the dangerous historical precedents of these trends. While these reactions can be justified, simply dismissing the changes we are witnessing as misguided and ignorant would miss the point. In particular, many citizens in the United States, Europe, and other parts of the world are acting out of a sense of anxiety about their identities in a rapidly changing world riven by global capitalism’s savage inequities. What might wisdom traditions tell us about issues of identity? According to Buddhist philosophy, for instance, we are part of a world of dependent origination where all phenomena are inter-related and ephemeral; ultimately identity is about the realization of anatta (anātman), or “no-self.” In other words, the common egoic sense of identity to which we cling is a fiction. Similarly, yogic philosophy shares with Buddhism the concept of māyā (illusion), such …

The Thousand Eyes of Knowing and Action

While it may pacify our confusion to look at wisdom traditions as prescriptive “medicine” for our suffering times, we must also take care to begin to understand, personally, our inner relationship to power, authority, and knowledge. No system of knowing, however privileged, is unchallengeable, extrinsically justifiable, and intrinsically meaningful to everyone. In fact, a hard pill to swallow is how one person’s meaning can be utterly meaningless to another. Nevertheless, wisdom traditions give us an alternative to reductive answers. Through practices like meditation, we step onto a lifelong path of cultivating what might be called an inner reconnaissance, a dynamic exchange of outward noticing and inward “re-knowing.” This is a process in which we are invited to connect to a kind of displaced and flexible site of human wisdom and agency that does not simply replicate the dynamics of control and privilege, self-doubt and impotency. This human agency arises, I suspect, in a portal that opens up when solidification between self and world is softened. To meet the world in this way is also to …

Upstream and Downstream: The Sacred Importance of Joining Contemplative Practice and Political Engagement

There is a social change parable that powerfully illustrates the vital connection between contemplative practice and social change: There was once a village located next to a river. One day, during a break from her chores, a villager spotted a baby coursing down the river, struggling to stay afloat. As she waded into the water to save the child, the villager noticed that two other babies had already streamed by. She cried out to her fellow villagers who joined her in the rescue effort. But babies continued to appear. The village quickly organized itself to save the struggling children. After hours of endless work two villagers broke away from the group and began running away. The other townspeople called out to them: “Why are you leaving? We need you here to save these babies!” The two villagers bellowed back: “We’re heading upstream to find out who is throwing them in the river!” This story demonstrates the importance of simultaneously attending to the many injustices that shape our world (fishing babies out of the water), while …