Is Mindfulness Buddhist? (and Why It Matters)

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Is Mindfulness Buddhist? (and Why It Matters)
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Citation: Sharf, Robert H. "Is Mindfulness Buddhist? (and Why It Matters)." Transcultural Psychiatry 52, no. 4 (2014): 470–84. https://escholarship.org/uc/item/8gm9g5ss

Abstract

Modern exponents of mindfulness meditation promote the therapeutic effects of “bare attention”—a sort of non-judgmental, non-discursive attending to the moment-to-moment flow of consciousness. This approach to Buddhist meditation can be traced to Burmese Buddhist reform movements of the first half of the 20th century, and is arguably at odds with more traditional Theravāda Buddhist doctrine and meditative practices. But the cultivation of present-centered awareness is not without precedent in Buddhist history; similar innovations arose in medieval Chinese Zen (Chan) and Tibetan Dzogchen. These movements have several things in common. In each case the reforms were, in part, attempts to render Buddhist practice and insight accessible to laypersons unfamiliar with Buddhist philosophy and/or unwilling to adopt a renunciatory lifestyle. In addition, these movements all promised astonishingly quick results. And finally, the innovations in practice were met with suspicion and criticism from traditional Buddhist quarters. Those interested in the therapeutic effects of mindfulness and bare attention are often not aware of the existence, much less the content, of the controversies surrounding these practices in Asian Buddhist history.