I [B.B.] understand your [A.W.] exasperation with the tendency, in the “neo-Vipassana
movement,” to adopt (as you put it) “a kind of ethical neutrality that
acknowledges no significant difference between wholesome and unwholesome
mental states and rejects any attempt to favor one kind of mental process over
another.” I agree this is quite foreign to the whole tenor of the Buddha’s teaching.
In fact, I doubt very much that there is such a thing as “bare attention” in the
sense of mindfulness completely devoid of ethical evaluation and purposive
direction. In the actual development of right mindfulness, as I understand it,
sammā sati must always be guided in right view, steered by right intention,
grounded in the three ethical factors, and cultivated in conjunction with sammā
vāyāma, right effort; right effort necessarily presupposes the distinction of mental
states into the unwholesome and the wholesome.
I recall that when Ven. Nyanaponika would read statements about “bare attention” as
interpreted by some of the neo-Vipassana teachers, he would sometimes shake his head
and say, in effect, “But that’s not what I meant at all!” I remember many years ago I
meditated at the Insight Meditation Society in Barre. At the end of the corridor where I
did walking meditation there was a sign that read, “Allow whatever arises.” Whenever I
walked towards the sign and it came into my field of vision, I would always think of the
Buddha’s saying, “Here, a monk does not tolerate an arisen thought of sensual desire ...
ill-will ... cruelty ... or any other arisen unwholesome state, but abandons it, eliminates it,
and completely dispels it.” I was tempted to replace the sign there with one that had this
saying, but fortunately I resisted the temptation. If I had been discovered, I might have
Also see page 14 of the PDF for another meeting of minds lamenting the state of Dhamma teachings. At the end the Bhikkhu asks Wallace if Madhyamaka & Dzogchen suffer from the same problem of ignoring or expunging key elements of the Dhamma, and he said Yes.