Thursday, November 20, 2014

East Meets West

In her piece for The Spectator, "The Cult of Mindfulness," Melanie McDonagh makes a number of assertions I don't necessarily agree with, e.g., that mindfulness is a form of selfishness, that it's "Mostly About Me," and that "it's non-doctrinal, non-prescriptive, non-demanding in terms of conduct apart from an insistence on not being judgmental." Her criticisms are apparently based on a week's worth of superficial experience. There are many different kinds of mindfulness and meditation practice, but a primary purpose in all of them is to first become aware and begin to make peace with one's own self before trying to change others and bring peace into the world. To borrow from Matthew, "First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye." 

I do, however, largely agree with another point she makes: 
"Taking an established religion--Buddhism in this case--and picking bits from it piecemeal can be a more dangerous business than it might seem. However much people may dislike the idea, the major world religions have developed incrementally over time to be a comfort and support for humans in their quest for meaning. Even the seemingly eccentric bits can serve a vital purpose, hidden from non-believers. One rejects 'the boring bits' of an established religion at one's own peril."
Religious leaders have been critical of foreign meditation practices, which they often see as intruding on their sacred, doctrinal turf. But I have also noticed an hostility toward organized religion from those who proudly proclaim themselves "spiritual but not religious." This mutual animosity is unnecessary and to my mind counterproductive. I think yoga, mindfulness, and meditation practice are flourishing in the West because they attempt to bring back the mystical experience that lies at the root of religion and has partially been lost or forgotten. That ineffable experience has been described as the inner experience of the divine, what the Bible calls "the peace of God, which surpasseth all understanding." All the major religions have some form of this mystical tradition, including Christianity, but for many it has been reduced to little more than supplicatory prayer. It seems to me the inner experience is at least as important--and perhaps a necessary antecedent--to the communal experience of churchgoing, the development of virtue, and the doing of good works. One does not preclude the other; rather, they reinforce each other. As the Hindus say, "nirvana is in samsara." The inner life and the outer life entwine and grow together. As East meets West, it may be there is simply a re-balancing going on. A replenishing of the root.  

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