A lot of people in the Western Buddhist communities are not thrilled with the fact that mindfulness and meditation has taken off outside the spiritual bubble of Buddhism and other faith traditions.
Part of this is simply that Buddhism and Meditation was brought and popularized by hippies and beats who were very counter-culture, and no counter-culture likes to see their shit adopted by the mainstream. True for bands, clothing, books, and it appears meditation.
Another part of this is that the goal of meditation should be spiritual, and when you think of yourself as “spiritual” as a thing in itself, set against a world that is “unspiritual”, it can seem like the height of corruption to turn that spiritual tool towards material ends.
This came up in a recent interview with Lama Surya Das .
“Each year, 1 million Americans take up the practice for the first time. Surya Das is not entirely happy about that. “Mindful divorce, mindful parenting, mindful TV,” he complained. “Why not mindful sniping, poaching, or mindful waiting to find the opportunity to take advantage of and exploit someone when there’s a chink in their armor?””
First of all if you have your spiritual head so far up your spiritual ass that you see no difference between parenting, getting a divorce and watching television and harmful acts like sniping, poaching, and exploitation there is something wrong with your perception. But I don’t think Lama-la thinks that really. I think he is a solid man and I plan on getting his book. But lets take his question seriously: why not these things?
If we are going to have snipers, people that kill others with the intent of establishing greater security* – shouldn’t they be mindful about it?
If your job as a Defense Lawyer, Activist, Martial Artist, or Policeman requires you to find the chink in an opponent armor, wouldn’t it be better to be mindful than not?
These things are not going away, so isn’t mindfulness as a rule better than not-mindfulness? There is no lack of spiritually mindful figures in history that were fully engaged with the secular world: Seneca was a Banker. Ashoka was a Conqueror and King.
You may note that I commented that the western Buddhist community has this problem. I find it not to be the case among the Asian Buddhist community. I am sure there are exceptions, but in general they have not bought into an idea of pacifist Buddhism that never actually existed (because there would be no Shaolin if it did) and have no trouble integrating their business practices with their spiritual practice. Many Western Buddhists on the other hand tend to view their Buddhism as something that makes them very exotic and special, and the thought of their practice being turned to such worldly matters is troubling.
People need to remember that Buddha means awakened. It does not mean groovy-pacifist-vegan, dead from the neck down, super-calm dude, who is above all that…
Besides, a funny thing happens when people practice meditation with the intent of making more money, being better policemen, picking up girls, dropping pounds, or alleviating stress – they get more compassionate and calm and most of the benefits of what so-called spiritual people are also seeking.
Which seems to piss them off
It is good to remember the story of Khadgapa, who was a thief seeking nothing but the power to become invincible so he could be protected when he stole from people. He did the practices that his teacher Charpati recommended and did indeed become invincible, but along the way he also became enlightened, and no longer stole.
* Not entertaining a debate on the various conflicts we are involved in right now. I don’t like it either, but this is not the point of the post and comments about it will be deleted.