Mindfulness – a Non-Spiritual Meditation

Question: For about ten years now, the terms “deep meditation” or “mindfulness” have been used in Europe and in the states, at the instigation of Jon Kabat-Zinn in the states and Christoph André in France. What do you think of mindfulness-based stress reduction, MBSR?

Roland Rech: The crucial point is that it is a non-spiritual meditation practice. Now one would have to explain what “spiritual” means. But one thing is clear: if you want to use meditation to get something, whether as a remedy for stress or depression, or to improve your performance with its help, you put meditation at the service of the human ego. But the deep meaning of meditation is to give up the attachment to the human ego. It is called the spiritual dimension of meditation. True meditation begins just beyond these mindfulness exercises. It begins when we meditate without intentions, when we are mushotoku without expecting anything, without ulterior motives. The use of meditation with different goals, but always to achieve a result for his little ego, reveals the deep sense of meditation in the sense Buddha taught it.

However, I do not disapprove because I believe that mushotoku practice is very difficult. People with severe mental ailments, who are very stressed or deeply depressed, whose ego is completely shaken and can no longer be satisfied, cannot make the effort to go beyond their ego, which needs to be rebuilt.

And I think the teaching of mindfulness in a therapeutic framework and with the aim of repairing the ego is good in some ways. It is the first level for some people who have no spiritual motivation and can’t imagine giving up at all. For them, it is the first approach to finding access to a meditation practice.

However, it is important that the people who teach such practices have the honesty to determine their limits. I heard Christoph André say this, for example, when we were working together on a television programme. He also went to the Gendronnière to give courses. I have the impression that he has this honesty. At the end of a course, he said to his students: “If you want to continue in this direction, do a sesshin in the Gendronnière”. So I think that this great movement favours meditation. Twenty years ago, when people spoke of meditation, they immediately thought of sects. Meditation had a very bad reputation. Today, on the contrary, everyone wants to meditate. That’s great! So it is now up to the dojo leaders, the Buddhist instructors and the masters to point out the differences, that this approach, this first basic stage is a kind of introduction. If you like, you can continue along this path.

Jon Kabat-Zinn and Christoph André, who also practice Buddhism, are able to show these limits. The problem, however, is that they also train other therapists who simply try to have an extra means to earn money and add something to their variety of therapies. I fear that not all of these people are able to recognize these differences and explain them to their patients.

In addition, it can block people. You could say to yourself, “That’s enough for me. Why should I go any further? There are people who come to the dojo and say, “I’d rather do mindfulness exercises, they’re easier.” There are always two sides.

But all in all, I consider the development of the last twenty years to be favourable, provided that all those who talk about it or teach meditation are able to show the differences.

When the AZI Godos hear about wellness, they become suspicious. They even disapprove of this term and consider wellness to be materialistic. I don’t think that’s right. It is legitimate to seek some kind of well-being for oneself. But we should deepen more and more the question of what wellness really means to us. At first, it may be about sleeping better, being less stressed or getting out of depression, which is very important. But what is true well-being?

I think well-being means being in harmony with the essence of your life. Well-being means being awake. But I think that this dimension of awakening, of being in harmony with the Dharma or Buddha nature, goes far too far for some people when they are just beginning to seek their well-being in their present needs. Master Deshimaru did not disapprove of these human needs any more than Buddha did. But he always showed that there was a dimension beyond that. That’s exactly what we should do.

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