New Moon Day: Right Mindfulness (Not Wrong)

April 23, 2009

.

One of the star qualities of Buddhism is that it is definite. The goal is clear: to free one’s mind from all greed, hatred and delusion. And so is the path: to avoid all that is wrong and cultivate that which is right.

We mustn’t be afraid to use these two words: right and wrong. Some people don’t like to make such direct statements about things; they prefer to sit on the fence, not wanting to tread on anyone’s toes.

A chef asks a Buddhist: “Is it okay to cook mussels?” “Well…”, says the Buddhist. “Is it? Is it alright to cook mussels?” “Well…” “Is it right or wrong?…..” “Well…..” “Go on, don’t be afraid. It’s wrong, isn’t it?” Yes, of course it is wrong, we should say. Why is it wrong? Because it does not lead to the happiness of oneself or others. This is how wrong is defined: that which produces suffering.

The whole practice of Buddhism is about doing the right thing. Look at the Noble Eightfold Path: before each part we have that word the importance of which we should in no uncertain terms underestimate. We have the word RIGHT.

How is each part of the Noble Eightfold Path said to be Right? Well, the answer to this is simple: as well as each part being qualified in its own unique way as descibed by the Buddha, it must be practised in tandem with each of the other parts of the Eightfold Path, with an overriding aim to realise Nibbana.

Think of a mighty royal crown. In this crown are embedded eight priceless jewels. For the crown to be complete it must contain all eight jewels. If one is removed then the crown is flawed, it is not fit to be called a royal crown. So it is with the Path of Buddhism. The Noble Eightfold Path is the magnificent crown and the eight parts the jewels. This crown of Buddhist Practice is only fit to be called such if it contains all eight jewels. And if we remove one of those jewels and discard the rest then that jewel we have removed is no longer a Buddhist jewel; it is no longer ‘Right’.

Right Mindfulness

Take mindfulness. Mindfulness is one of those jewels. But we are increasingly finding it stripped from the crown.

Flicking through the newspapers and magazines and looking at Hollywood’s latest quick-self-fix-solutions we find mindfulness repeatedly being mentioned. Oprah Winfrey practises it when eating. A guy with a cool name – John Kabat-Zinn – has sold tons of books on it, and he teaches the trendy guys and gals at Google how to do it. Oxford University do a mindfulness course – for only 9000 of your hard-earned pounds (we do it for free here). Mindfulness is big business, baby. One chap spent some time in Thailand practising Buddhism and now he’s raking in the loot teaching mindfulness to people here in the west.

Why is it catching on? Because it is very useful! When developed it helps us to overcome our depression, anxiety, stress, persistent negative thought patterns, obesity, anger, pain, etc. It is amazing. It is therefore totally understandable that psychologists, psychiatrists and the like are really making a push to get mindfulness mainstream, along side Prozac and five portions of veg as a means to treat their patients.

But is what Oprah and the obese man with an anxiety complex are practising RIGHT Mindfulness?

What is Right Mindfulness? Right Mindfulness is mindfulness that is embedded in the crown of Buddhism. Right Mindfulness is that jewel which sits firmly in between Right Effort and Right Concentration, and which is not far from Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Intention and Right Understanding. Right Mindfulness is supported by virtue: it is practised in tandem with the precepts; and Right mindfulness is developed as a liberating factor in the pursuit of the extinction of all greed, hatred and delusion.

Now, Oprah’s mindfulness: unless her practice of mindfulness is supported by those precepts; unless it is propelled by the Right Effort to avoid that which is harmful and cultivate that which is good; unless it is being developed in unison with Right Concentration; and unless she is honing it in order to liberate her mind from the three poisons, it is not Buddhist Mindfulness; it is not Right Mindfulness.

But isn’t mindfulness always Right? Some think it is. Of course it isn’t. A degree of mindfulness is present at all times: it is presence of mind; attentiveness; awareness. 

Think of a sniper: he has his rifle and is looking down the viewfinder. He sees his target, the target is moving, it isn’t an appropriate time to shoot. With great care and mindfulness he follows the target, keeping the gun rock-steady so as to keep the fine-lined black cross over the target’s head. He is focused, he is aware, he is mindful. The target pauses, the opportunity presents itself, the trigger is pulled, the target falls dead. Could that have been accomplished without mindfulness? No. Was that mindfulness Right? No.

Opera’s eating-mindfulness is obviously a far cry from the sniper’s – much closer to the Mindfulness of Buddhism in fact. After all, one imagines she is training herself to be more watchful of her body and mind and thereby becoming less impulsive. And she is no doubt doing herself, and probably others, some good as a result…

But that doesn’t make her mindfulness Right. Stripped from its crown it is still just mindfulness, and so it must be distinguished from the Mindfulness of Buddhism.

.

The next teaching will be on:

The Full Moon Day, Friday 8th May 

WHICH IS: VISAKHA PUJA

.

PS: I don’t know how many of you are aware of ajahnchah.org

And I’m on Twitter….

.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: