Bikkhu Bodhi on the errors of modern mindfulness

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Bikkhu Bodhi on the errors of modern mindfulness

Post by paul » Wed Nov 08, 2017 10:01 pm

Pleasurable feelings ‘of the flesh’ and ‘not of the flesh’:

“…a significant difference can still be discerned between the perspectives on impermanence advocated by teachers of modern mindfulness meditation and by classical Buddhism. Proponents of modern mindfulness meditation often see impermanence as imbued with positive significance. They admit that clinging to what is impermanent brings suffering, but take this connection to mean , not that one should renounce the impermanent in favour of the imperishable nibbana, but that one should learn to live in the world with an open mind and loving heart, capable of experiencing everything with awe and wonder. The practice of mindfulness thus leads through the door of impermanence and selflessness to a new affirmation of the world, so that one can joyfully savour each fleeting event, each relationship, each undertaking in its wistful evanescence, unperturbed when it passes.
This attitude, though it has some resonances with Zen Buddhism particularly as expressed by Thich Nhat Hanh, is quite at odds with the Buddhism of the Pali Canon, the tradition from which mindfulness originates. In classical Buddhism, the fact of impermanence is viewed as a sign of deficiency, a warning signal that the things we turn to for happiness are unworthy of our ultimate concern. As the Buddha says: “Conditioned things, monks, are impermanent, unstable, unreliable. It is enough to be disenchanted with all conditioned things, enough to be dispassionate toward them, enough to be liberated from them.” (SN 15:20, ii 193) —-“Handbook of Mindfulness: Culture, Context and Social Engagement,” Part 1. Between Tradition and Modernity, ‘The Transformations of Mindfulness’, Ven. Bikkhu Bodhi

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Re: Bikkhu Bodhi on the errors of modern mindfulness

Post by DNS » Wed Nov 08, 2017 10:44 pm

paul wrote:
Wed Nov 08, 2017 10:01 pm
Pleasurable feelings ‘of the flesh’ and ‘not of the flesh’:
not that one should renounce the impermanent in favour of the imperishable nibbana, but that one should learn to live in the world with an open mind and loving heart, capable of experiencing everything with awe and wonder. The practice of mindfulness thus leads through the door of impermanence and selflessness to a new affirmation of the world, so that one can joyfully savour each fleeting event, each relationship, each undertaking in its wistful evanescence, unperturbed when it passes.
And this is why the majority of Buddhists are Mahayana. :tongue:

8 characteristics of people suited for the Dhamma:

1. This Dhamma is for one who wants little, not for one who wants much (appicchassāyaṃ dhammo, nāyaṃ dhammo mahicchassa).

2. This Dhamma is for the contented, not for the discontented (santuṭṭhassāyaṃ dhammo, nāyaṃ dhammo asantuṭṭhassa).

3. This Dhamma is for the reclusive, not for one fond of society (pavivittassāyaṃ dhammo, nāyaṃ dhammo saṅgaṇikārāmassa).

4. This Dhamma is for the energetic, not for the lazy (āraddhavīriyassāyaṃ dhammo, nāyaṃ dhammo kusītassa).

5. This Dhamma is for one with well-established mindfulness, not for one of confused mindfulness (upaṭṭhitassatissāyaṃ dhammo, nāyaṃ dhammo muṭṭhassatissa).

6. This Dhamma is for the composed, not for the uncomposed (samāhitassāyaṃ dhammo, nāyaṃ dhammo asamāhitassa).

7. This Dhamma is for the wise, not for the unwise (paññavato ayaṃ dhammo, nāyaṃ dhammo duppaññassa).

8. This Dhamma is for one who is free from impediments, not for one who delights in impediments (nippapañcārāmassāyaṃ dhammo nippapañcaratino, nāyaṃ dhammo papañcārāmassa papañcaratino).

(Anguttara Nikaya iv. 227)

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Re: Bikkhu Bodhi on the errors of modern mindfulness

Post by Saengnapha » Thu Nov 09, 2017 3:11 am

Some Buddhist sects equate Theravada and Mahayana with paths of purification and renunciation. Others follow a different philosophical path 'unifying' all experience into some kind of synthesis where 'suffering' is removed from experience and a so-called 'pure experience' remains. While this can seem to be true on a certain level, the Buddha's message of the Four Noble Truths is undermined.

Most Zen schools do not hold this view. Perhaps Bhikkhu Bodhi was singling out Thich Nhat Hanh's style.

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Re: Bikkhu Bodhi on the errors of modern mindfulness

Post by DooDoot » Thu Nov 09, 2017 4:07 am

My personal impression is BB might be also criticizing the American Vipassana movement he has sort of somewhat contributed to creating. If mass market Dhamma propagation occurs, as BB does, it will probably bring these types of results because the path of "dispassionate toward all conditioned things" was probably not intended for lay people. Are upper-middle-class liberal folks in San Francisco or Massachusetts going to be "dispassionate toward all conditioned things"? Psychoanalytically, it sounds a bit like BB fighting his own shadow or a monster of his own creation.


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Re: Bikkhu Bodhi on the errors of modern mindfulness

Post by Goofaholix » Thu Nov 09, 2017 7:25 am

While I'm sure some people understand the teachings of the modern mindfulness this way I don't think this is what is intended.

We are taught to embrace change and embrace Dukkha so that hopefully we stop resisting them. When we stop resisting we see change and Dukkha more clearly for what they are, hopefully we stop fueling Dukkha.

It's more life affirming that the traditional Theravada approach but seeing things clearly without craving or resistance should lead towards dispassion and freedom from Dukkha.
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah

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Re: Bikkhu Bodhi on the errors of modern mindfulness

Post by Saengnapha » Thu Nov 09, 2017 7:36 am

Goofaholix wrote:
Thu Nov 09, 2017 7:25 am
While I'm sure some people understand the teachings of the modern mindfulness this way I don't think this is what is intended.

We are taught to embrace change and embrace Dukkha so that hopefully we stop resisting them. When we stop resisting we see change and Dukkha more clearly for what they are, hopefully we stop fueling Dukkha.

It's more life affirming that the traditional Theravada approach but seeing things clearly without craving or resistance should lead towards dispassion and freedom from Dukkha.
Perhaps many would object to your deduction of 'life affirming'. This sounds like a new age word which many find unpalatable. What do you exactly mean when you say this? Not feuling dukkha can only come from disenchantment (nibbida), which is the condition for dispassion. What does affirmation have to do with anything? I'm not trying to put forth negation as a position opposed to affirmation. Disenchantment in neither of these two positions.

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Re: Bikkhu Bodhi on the errors of modern mindfulness

Post by Spiny Norman » Thu Nov 09, 2017 2:53 pm

paul wrote:
Wed Nov 08, 2017 10:01 pm
Pleasurable feelings ‘of the flesh’ and ‘not of the flesh’:

“…a significant difference can still be discerned between the perspectives on impermanence advocated by teachers of modern mindfulness meditation and by classical Buddhism. Proponents of modern mindfulness meditation often see impermanence as imbued with positive significance. They admit that clinging to what is impermanent brings suffering, but take this connection to mean , not that one should renounce the impermanent in favour of the imperishable nibbana, but that one should learn to live in the world with an open mind and loving heart, capable of experiencing everything with awe and wonder. The practice of mindfulness thus leads through the door of impermanence and selflessness to a new affirmation of the world, so that one can joyfully savour each fleeting event, each relationship, each undertaking in its wistful evanescence, unperturbed when it passes.
This attitude, though it has some resonances with Zen Buddhism particularly as expressed by Thich Nhat Hanh, is quite at odds with the Buddhism of the Pali Canon, the tradition from which mindfulness originates. In classical Buddhism, the fact of impermanence is viewed as a sign of deficiency, a warning signal that the things we turn to for happiness are unworthy of our ultimate concern. As the Buddha says: “Conditioned things, monks, are impermanent, unstable, unreliable. It is enough to be disenchanted with all conditioned things, enough to be dispassionate toward them, enough to be liberated from them.” (SN 15:20, ii 193) —-“Handbook of Mindfulness: Culture, Context and Social Engagement,” Part 1. Between Tradition and Modernity, ‘The Transformations of Mindfulness’, Ven. Bikkhu Bodhi
The assumptions might be different, but is the practice actually very different? Or is the issue really about viewing satipatthana as a stand-alone practice?

I'm not sure I see the relevance of a Mahayana school like Interbeing here, it's really comparing apples and oranges. Nirvana is not thought of in the same way as Nibbana.
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Re: Bikkhu Bodhi on the errors of modern mindfulness

Post by Goofaholix » Thu Nov 09, 2017 8:21 pm

Saengnapha wrote:
Thu Nov 09, 2017 7:36 am
Perhaps many would object to your deduction of 'life affirming'. This sounds like a new age word which many find unpalatable.
By life affirming I mean that it doesn't necessarily consider life and living life in a negative light, yes there is change, yes there is Dukkha but it is unskilful to add more Dukkha by resisting these. Nibbida comes from seeing things clearly for what they are not from aversion to life, not from a stop the world I want to get off kind of view.
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah

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Re: Bikkhu Bodhi on the errors of modern mindfulness

Post by paul » Thu Nov 09, 2017 9:31 pm

In the classical context the nine insight knowledges must be considered and the fifth of these is contemplation of aversion. Some think it is not possible to implement these in lay life, but it can be done if attention is paid to balancing the practice. They are an expanded format of the development of an attitude of dispassion.

“Contemplation of aversion means: aversion for all formations as terror, therefore its name ‘awareness of terror’ has come into use. Because it has made known the misery of all these formations, therefore it has received the name of ‘contemplation of misery’. because it has arisen through aversion for those formations, therefore it is known as ‘contemplation of aversion.’
Note: 'contemplation of dissolution' means due to the inherent tendency (greed) to focus on the 'birth to maturity' stage of the cycle of impermanence, a counteracting focus on the 'decline, ageing and death' part of the cycle is necessary.

knowledge consisting in contemplation of rise and fall
in contemplation of dissolution
in awareness of terror (or the fearful)
in contemplation of misery
in contemplation of aversion
in the desire for deliverance
in reflecting contemplation
in equanimity regarding all formations of existence
in adaptation to truth
—-“Buddhist Dictionary”, Nyanatiloka.

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Re: Bikkhu Bodhi on the errors of modern mindfulness

Post by Saengnapha » Fri Nov 10, 2017 3:59 am

Goofaholix wrote:
Thu Nov 09, 2017 8:21 pm
Saengnapha wrote:
Thu Nov 09, 2017 7:36 am
Perhaps many would object to your deduction of 'life affirming'. This sounds like a new age word which many find unpalatable.
By life affirming I mean that it doesn't necessarily consider life and living life in a negative light, yes there is change, yes there is Dukkha but it is unskilful to add more Dukkha by resisting these. Nibbida comes from seeing things clearly for what they are not from aversion to life, not from a stop the world I want to get off kind of view.
Aversion is not the best translation of nibbida. Disenchantment is more to the point. While I agree with you that adding fuel to the fire is not skilful, your view still represents what the Buddha describes as a wrong view. If you read through Alagaddupama Sutta, you can easily understand where your view settles on.

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Re: Bikkhu Bodhi on the errors of modern mindfulness

Post by Goofaholix » Fri Nov 10, 2017 5:46 am

Saengnapha wrote:
Fri Nov 10, 2017 3:59 am
While I agree with you that adding fuel to the fire is not skilful, your view still represents what the Buddha describes as a wrong view. If you read through Alagaddupama Sutta, you can easily understand where your view settles on.
But we're not talking about my view. We're talking about Bhikkhu Bodhis view of what is taught by teachers of modern mindfulness meditation. My point was that while some people have the attitude he described it's not really the point of such teachings, the point is to help us let go of resistance (ie aversion) and this is really just a first step.
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah

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Re: Bikkhu Bodhi on the errors of modern mindfulness

Post by Saengnapha » Fri Nov 10, 2017 7:52 am

Goofaholix wrote:
Fri Nov 10, 2017 5:46 am
Saengnapha wrote:
Fri Nov 10, 2017 3:59 am
While I agree with you that adding fuel to the fire is not skilful, your view still represents what the Buddha describes as a wrong view. If you read through Alagaddupama Sutta, you can easily understand where your view settles on.
But we're not talking about my view. We're talking about Bhikkhu Bodhis view of what is taught by teachers of modern mindfulness meditation. My point was that while some people have the attitude he described it's not really the point of such teachings, the point is to help us let go of resistance (ie aversion) and this is really just a first step.
You did say 'life affirming', did you not? If that was not your statement, I misread what you wrote.

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Re: Bikkhu Bodhi on the errors of modern mindfulness

Post by Goofaholix » Fri Nov 10, 2017 8:06 am

Saengnapha wrote:
Fri Nov 10, 2017 7:52 am
You did say 'life affirming', did you not? If that was not your statement, I misread what you wrote.
Indeed, it was intended as a watered down term for Bhikkhu Bodhis "new affirmation of the world".
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah

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Re: Bikkhu Bodhi on the errors of modern mindfulness

Post by Saengnapha » Fri Nov 10, 2017 8:38 am

Goofaholix wrote:
Fri Nov 10, 2017 8:06 am
Saengnapha wrote:
Fri Nov 10, 2017 7:52 am
You did say 'life affirming', did you not? If that was not your statement, I misread what you wrote.
Indeed, it was intended as a watered down term for Bhikkhu Bodhis "new affirmation of the world".
But the quote we are talking about goes on to say that this is quite at odds with the Pali Canon. Do you agree with that?

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Re: Bikkhu Bodhi on the errors of modern mindfulness

Post by Goofaholix » Fri Nov 10, 2017 9:33 am

Saengnapha wrote:
Fri Nov 10, 2017 8:38 am
But the quote we are talking about goes on to say that this is quite at odds with the Pali Canon. Do you agree with that?
The strawman that Bhikkhu Bodhi describes may be at odds with the Pali Canon, the point is I don't think that it's a very fair characterisation all of the modern mindfulness movement, maybe just the more naive proponents of it and/or the MBSR etc types totally divorced from Buddhism.

I don't know of any Buddhist teacher that doesn't encourage mindfulness, mindfulness encourages us to become interested and engaged with our moment to moment experience, this lays the foundation for insight to arise, which lays the foundation for Nibbida to arise and so on. In other words mindfulness is a foundation practice upon which other aspects of the path can develop.

Whereas traditional Theravada in addition to mindfulness also encourages renunciation, contemplation of the disgusting aspects of the body, contemplation of death, ascetic practices etc. So this is why I say on the surface the modern mindfulness movement looks more life affirming than traditional Theravada, but the Buddha never expected laypeople to practice like monastics, so what's the problem?
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah

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Re: Bikkhu Bodhi on the errors of modern mindfulness

Post by Saengnapha » Fri Nov 10, 2017 10:55 am

Goofaholix wrote:
Fri Nov 10, 2017 9:33 am
Saengnapha wrote:
Fri Nov 10, 2017 8:38 am
But the quote we are talking about goes on to say that this is quite at odds with the Pali Canon. Do you agree with that?
The strawman that Bhikkhu Bodhi describes may be at odds with the Pali Canon, the point is I don't think that it's a very fair characterisation all of the modern mindfulness movement, maybe just the more naive proponents of it and/or the MBSR etc types totally divorced from Buddhism.

I don't know of any Buddhist teacher that doesn't encourage mindfulness, mindfulness encourages us to become interested and engaged with our moment to moment experience, this lays the foundation for insight to arise, which lays the foundation for Nibbida to arise and so on. In other words mindfulness is a foundation practice upon which other aspects of the path can develop.

Whereas traditional Theravada in addition to mindfulness also encourages renunciation, contemplation of the disgusting aspects of the body, contemplation of death, ascetic practices etc. So this is why I say on the surface the modern mindfulness movement looks more life affirming than traditional Theravada, but the Buddha never expected laypeople to practice like monastics, so what's the problem?
None, really. It's the dialectics that create problems. I don't think we know what the Buddha expected. It seems quite clear what the Buddha taught, though.

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Re: Bikkhu Bodhi on the errors of modern mindfulness

Post by Spiny Norman » Fri Nov 10, 2017 12:03 pm

Goofaholix wrote:
Fri Nov 10, 2017 9:33 am
Whereas traditional Theravada in addition to mindfulness also encourages renunciation...,
In the suttas there is the idea of turning away from the conditioned, and towards the unconditioned. I'm not sure whether the modern mindfulness movement subscribes to this idea?
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Re: Bikkhu Bodhi on the errors of modern mindfulness

Post by paul » Fri Nov 10, 2017 3:49 pm

When the practice of mindfulness is embarked upon, by virtue of the integrity of the dhamma it irrevocably leads towards dispassion and nibbana:

“…I organized my selection of suttas (in ‘In The Buddha’s Words’) by way of three benefits to which the practice of the Dhamma is said to lead: (1) welfare and happiness visible in this present life; (2) welfare and happiness pertaining to future lives; and (3) the supreme good, which is nibbana. The means to “the welfare and happiness visible in the present life’ is generosity, ethical conduct, and other acts that lead to interpersonal and community harmony. The “welfare and happiness pertaining to future lives” is the attainment of a fortunate rebirth. The practices that lead to this kind of well-being are essentially the same as those that lead to welfare and happiness in this present life, but they are viewed from a higher standpoint rooted in the acceptance of kamma as the determinant of human destiny and rebirth into various planes as the natural result of kamma. The third type of benefit, the supreme good, is nibbana, liberation from the entire cycle of rebirth. This cannot be won simply by virtuous conduct and meritorious deeds but requires the development of the noble eightfold path, with particular emphasis on the cultivation of concentration and wisdom.
It is in relation to this third type of benefit that the way of mindfulness plays a central role. The four establishments of mindfulness are said to be “the direct path for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the extinction of pain and dejection, for the achievement of the true way, and for the realisation of nibbana” (SN 47:1, V 141). They are “noble and emancipating, and lead the one who practices them onward to the complete destruction of suffering” (SN 47:17, V166). When developed and cultivated, they lead to utter disenchantment, to dispassion, to cessation, to peace, to superior knowledge, to enlightenment, to nibbana” (SN 47:32, V179). In other words, in its original context, the cultivation of mindfulness is an integral part of a contemplative path to world-transcending liberation. The practice builds upon the second level of teaching, on kamma, rebirth, and the round of birth and death. It presupposes a critical insight into the intrinsic flaws of the human condition and a transcendent vision of the ultimately worthy goal of human endeavour. To lift the practice out from this context and transfer it to another context governed by a secular world view and mundane ends is to alter its function in crucial ways. It transforms the function of mindfulness from the spiritually liberative to the therapeutic, from the sacred to the ordinary, from the life transcending to the life-affirming.” —-“Handbook of Mindfulness: Culture, Context and Social Engagement”, Ven. Bikkhu Bodhi, contributing author.
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Re: Bikkhu Bodhi on the errors of modern mindfulness

Post by Goofaholix » Fri Nov 10, 2017 6:08 pm

Spiny Norman wrote:
Fri Nov 10, 2017 12:03 pm
In the suttas there is the idea of turning away from the conditioned, and towards the unconditioned. I'm not sure whether the modern mindfulness movement subscribes to this idea?
Not in so many words, you make it sound like a new years resolution. Not for those interested in mindfulness as a stress reduction technique either, I'm primarily thinking of groups like IMS or Goenka who are trying to teach the Buddhist path in a way accessible to laypeople.

Turning away from the conditioned is not something one can do as an act of will, like turning a switch. As I've said while some teaching sounds like encouraging us to turn towards the conditioned which Bhikkhu Bodhi caricatures as " live in the world with an open mind and loving heart, capable of experiencing everything with awe and wonder" the point is that generating interest and engagement in the conditioned with mindfulness gives us the opportunity to see clearly its conditional, unsatisfactory and not self nature, this is when the turning away can naturally happen. Mindfulness is a solid foundation for this, but not the only practice it's a start and sometimes it can sound like it's the only practice because teachers have to teach groups of students according to the lowest common denominator.

Honestly, I'd have thought this common knowledge around here.
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah

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Re: Bikkhu Bodhi on the errors of modern mindfulness

Post by Saengnapha » Sat Nov 11, 2017 4:23 am

Spiny Norman wrote:
Fri Nov 10, 2017 12:03 pm
Goofaholix wrote:
Fri Nov 10, 2017 9:33 am
Whereas traditional Theravada in addition to mindfulness also encourages renunciation...,
In the suttas there is the idea of turning away from the conditioned, and towards the unconditioned. I'm not sure whether the modern mindfulness movement subscribes to this idea?
Spiny, which sutta(s) specifically talk about turning away from the conditioned, and towards the unconditioned?
In the Satipatthana Sutta, there is no discussion concerning this or recommendation to do this. So, I'm wondering what are you referring to?

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