Mindfulness is an expression that in recent times is heard in many places where it was not so usual to occur before. In addition, the meaning that is given to this word, is taking the nuances of the people who are using it, so that sometimes, it may seem that we are talking about different things. The truth is that I personally have been surprised by the interest that has arisen to mindfulness in different environments in which I have been living for many years.
As a meditator for more than 35 years, this millennial use of the term mindfulness has made me feel uncomfortable on several occasions. I had produced an internal tension with thoughts connected to the idea that a group of neo-scientists of the mind have just discovered something very basic and because of their momentary falling in love with it, are making improper use of a knowledge too deep for them to fathom.
This feeling of mine increased as it became apparent that the general market accepted mindfulness and adapted it as one more product, applying the current marketing formulas so that it became more sellable and reached a greater number of people. The market expanded without necessarily applying the protective measures that spiritual traditions have used for millennia. This insight made me have some mental tension for a while, and I felt we were in danger of an uncontrolled global religious catastrophe.
But the years passed and I can see now that the Mindfulness movement has diverse and varied results. As with everything else in samsara, making meditation a profitable product has as many pros and cons. Its validity and expansion also suggest that this movement seems to have come to stay. After the reactive phase against innovation, I see clearly the favorable circumstances that the Mindfulness movement offers us Buddhists. For example, it seems to me a great opportunity for our Sanghas to be more accepted in society and for them to expand. The fact that people who have traditionally shown distance towards Buddhism and had their doubts, now generate interesting questions about the benefits of mindfulness is a good sign to me. I have met people on several occasions who told me: „I do not meditate, I practice mindfulness“. Don’t you think that’s fantastic?
I believe that one of the main causes of the success of mindfulness is its ability to make some results visible in the very short term. For the western society, being constantly bombarded with information and possibilities, the obtaining of fast and reliable results is an essential stimulus for keeping up with a technique or practice. The application of mindfulness in academic fields has required continuous evaluation and brought about changes that are verifiable and objectifiable in a fast and evident way.
Another reason for the success of the program has been its suitability for the current state of minds in Western society. I remember that during the 2015 Buddhist Teachers’ Meeting near New York, John Kabat-Zinn explained to us that it took many years for his program to be accepted into his academic medical environment. For more than a decade they strove to demonstrate the results of meditation in the human mind, but very few psychologists and psychiatrists were willing to publicly apply meditation as a method of healing. Thus, we came to a new adjuvant factor for the propagation of movement, the ineffectiveness of certain medications for the healing of stress, associated with the undesirable side effects of that same medicine. I suppose that from the effort to offer the method to those academic circles so armored to innovation arose the emphasis on separating mindfulness from the concept of meditation, since the latter could have a more religious connotation, and therefore could be more connected with superstition, thus being far from the pragmatic-scientific realm.
But well, I sincerely believe that the success of mindfulness does not have to be an obstacle to the correct expansion of the Buddha-Dharma. Quite the contrary, if we are able to channel the curiosity and openness it generates into the majority of minds that follow that experiential proposal, more and more people will discover the true meaning of meditation and spiritual growth.
In my case, when I meet people practicing mindfulness, I try to explain to them that what differentiates this practice from the one taught by the Buddha, is simply the reason why, the objectives that move us. It is clear that meditation can help us to be better and to manage mental stress more skillfully, but for Buddhists the ability to manage mindfulness is not the ultimate goal. Buddhism teaches us that life experience is totally dependent on the state of mind of the being. And that a distracted mind is incapable of discovering the innate capacity of consciousness.
Using the classical metaphor of assimilating the mind obscured by thoughts, sensations and emotions with a dark room, we can see mindfulness as a flashlight. Imagine the situation in which you live for a long time in that place and one day for some reason, you discover a flashlight. It could easily happen that you would use it to cover the needs you have and and it would take you a while to realize, that all those needs you have are due to the fact that you are still in that very room.
In life something similar can happen to us. Without the correct knowledge, we end up using all our intelligence to cover present and future needs, hours and hours, forgetting to apply ourselves to finding the true path towards liberation from self-generated suffering. This state then, free from ignorance, is the basis for the infinite expansion of consciousness.
Ignorance about the functioning of the mind generates suffering for us. And that suffering is what directs our day to day activities. This is how we find ourselves fleeing from it or we search for the opposite which is compensatory pleasure. But when we manage to combine mindfulness with vigilant attention, and both are trained to remain steadily on the same level of consciousness, that prolonged state enables us to discover its three qualities: luminosity, emptiness and inseparability of both.
A person who has had this direct experience understands that this is his or her natural state and that if we lose it, it is because of habits, tendencies and beliefs that have been in the mind since beginning less time and which have been consolidated in it by the automatic reactions of a mind disturbed by its own ignorance.
A Buddhist teacher might advise something like: Light with full attention the way to liberation and beyond. Train yourself not to allow anything you perceive to distract you from what is truly important. Make your luminous state of consciousness inspire all the beings you meet to obtain the same state of happiness.