This is why Buddhists differentiate between Right Mindfulness (samma sati) and Wrong Mindfulness (miccha sati):

In modern business institutions stress is framed as a personal problem, and mindfulness is offered as just the right medicine to help employees work more efficiently and calmly within toxic environments.

– Purser & Loy

I have been studying Mindfulness and practicing meditation for a few years. For a short while I also participated in a formal teacher training course. I find meditation in the Buddhist tradition very compelling, and very-very difficult. My mind is no good at keeping still. And maintaining a praxis on ones own is rather difficult. Still I try to sit – every day.

My favorite “online” teachers are: Pema Chödrön & Jack Kornfield. I also really like to listen to (and follow the guided meditations of) Tara Brach and Jon Kabat-Zinn. I find them all to be very serious in their work, and very well informed. I especially appreciate the combination of wisdom and humor I find in the work of Chödrön & Kornfield.

But there is – as I guess you know – a whole lot of westerners offering teachings, and especially stress-mastering courses these days. It has become an industry in its own ( a part of the kind of self-help industry that sees the subject and not the collective as having problems). I’m rather critical about much of this. Because, through my own praxis, I have learned that there is no quick fix, and that meditation is as much about sitting with/in pain as it is about stress relief. To me this is a life-long ethical process, not a defined project with a certain goal.

I guess thats why I really liked Purser & Loy’s article: Beyond McMindfulness. 

Here are some excerpts:

Uncoupling mindfulness from its ethical and religious Buddhist context is understandable as an expedient move to make such training a viable product on the open market. But the rush to secularize and commodify mindfulness into a marketable technique may be leading to an unfortunate denaturing of this ancient practice, which was intended for far more than relieving a headache, reducing blood pressure, or helping executives become better focused and more productive.

While a stripped-down, secularized technique — what some critics are now calling “McMindfulness” — may make it more palatable to the corporate world, decontextualizing mindfulness from its original liberative and transformative purpose, as well as its foundation in social ethics, amounts to a Faustian bargain. Rather than applying mindfulness as a means to awaken individuals and organizations from the unwholesome roots of greed, ill will and delusion, it is usually being refashioned into a banal, therapeutic, self-help technique that can actually reinforce those roots.

 

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This is why Buddhists differentiate between Right Mindfulness (samma sati) and Wrong Mindfulness (miccha sati). The distinction is not moralistic: the issue is whether the quality of awareness is characterized by wholesome intentions and positive mental qualities that lead to human flourishing and optimal well-being for others as well as oneself.

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18 thoughts on “This is why Buddhists differentiate between Right Mindfulness (samma sati) and Wrong Mindfulness (miccha sati):

  1. Sigrun,
    I suppose on the bright side there are those who will move beyond the school of “McMindfulness” to more profound levels of awareness and understanding. Exposure to spiritual practice, even though somewhat shallow, at least opens the door a little for people. A slightly open door is more favorable than a door that is locked shut. Thanks for the thoughtful article.
    Jerry

    1. Agree, I think many of us find our way into Buddhist meditation through McMindfulness. But at the same time I have to say that I’m afraid very important knowledge is getting lost when McMindfulness is turning everything into business.
      The thing is that we have to change our lifestyle. And the change has to come from the inside, its not a cosmetic surgery that is needed.

  2. Thank you for this post, Sigrun. While I truly enjoy the term, McMindfulness, I have to echo your sentiment regarding mindfulness being turned into a business. As you say, much is lost when this is all about business; to me, it’s just a matter of putting a “new” label on business as usual, literally.

    Like you, I really enjoy the teaching of Pema Chodron. While I find meditation essential to my day, sitting is not easy and of late, has been quite difficult but also thought-provoking. As you say, one must sit with/in the pain to get beneath the storylines and to the energy. As difficult as meditation is, I would rather sit than not.

    Karen

    1. “I would rather sit than not” – ME TOO!
      Wouldn’t you agree that it is in times of difficulty and distress that important insights come alive?

      1. Absolutely, Sigrun! I think insight is pure energy stripped away from the drama so one can see, almost literally, what the actual issue is. It is like pulling aside veils.

  3. I have had so many troubles with meditation over so many years!

    I do find Kabat-Zinn’s meditation recordings helpful. Chodron is so clarifying, but I have only read her work, never considered the online/video teachings. One of my favorite ways to end any attempt at meditation (including after tai chi) is to repeat “I spread compassion. May all sentient beings be free from suffering.”

    Bodhicitta. Namaste.

  4. I have practiced Soto Zen for many years. The Abbot of the monastery where I first encountered practice was highly critical of the misinterpretations of practice that are common in westernized Zen. “If you misunderstand your practice you will practice your misunderstanding.”
    I am now sitting with a group run by a Catholic nun who has received transmission as a Soto Zen monk. Now instead of working with the forms I am working with the chaffing discomfort I feel with the lack of forms. This is a much less formal sanga! Nevertheless, the integrity really comes from their actual practice of sitting.
    Even if it seems there is no “progress” the activity of just sitting does wear out the usual laundry list of distractions and obsession and cuts through cultural bias. My bottom line is, if a teacher does not sit zazen, regardless of background or lineage, he/she is probably talking through his/her hat.

  5. I so very much agree with your post. I think the commerce variations happen to all religions, but the hope is, as the first commentor mentioned, that people find their way past the fluffly shallow. I have been meditating daily for almost 3 years now. My practice has really benefited from the teaching of Thich Nhat Hanh. While he understands western perspectives, the mindfulness approaches I have learned from him have been life changing, but I fully plan on this change being a life long practice.

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