Leave enlightenment in the 18th century, where it belongs. The world does not need a single additional enlightened master. Rather, we need humble, compassionate interactions — and most of all, we need to be strong enough to tell the truth about our own mistakes, climb down off our high horses, and sincerely acknowledge our contribution to the mess. A little more of that, and a little less seeking after or claiming of “enlightenment,” wisdom, or spiritual depth, would go a long way to making life mutually bearable; and that is the most enlightened thing that one could wish, by any definition.
This article offers an overview of meditation research: its history, recent developments, and future directions. As the number and scope of studies grow, the field has converged with cognitive and affective neuroscience, and spawned many clinical applications. Recent work has shed light on the mechanisms and effects of diverse practices, and is entering a new phase where consensus and coherent paradigms are within reach. This article suggests an unusual path for future advancement: complementing conventional research with rigorous dialogue with the contemplative traditions that train expert meditators and best know the techniques. It explores the Nalanda tradition developed in India and preserved in Tibet, because its cumulative approach to contemplative methods produced a comprehensive framework that may help interpret data and guide research, and because its naturalistic theories and empirical methods may help bridge the gulf between science and other contemplative traditions. Examining recent findings and models in light of this framework, the article introduces the Indic map of the central nervous system and presents three testable predictions based on it. Finally, it reviews two studies that suggest that the multimodal Nalanda approach to contemplative learning is as well received as more familiar approaches, while showing promise of being more effective.
Over the last several decades, the popularity of yoga has grown tremendously in the West. An emerging need to manage the stress and dissatisfaction of busy lives by looking inward for peace and stillness has motivated many to participate in the yoga revolution, which has become a multibilliondollar industry in America. People of all ages are turning to yoga to relax, recover from health problems, ease the difficulties of pregnancy, improve sexual vitality and intimacy, sharpen mental focus and generally look and feel better.
More recently, there has been a similar upsurge of interest in meditation, particularly in a Buddhist form of practice called mindfulness. On the heels of the yoga boom, the mindfulness fad seems to mirror the motivating factors that initially drove people toward yoga: namely enhanced health and happiness. While meditation offers less immediate gratification (no endorphin rush or imageenhancing results) than its physical counterpart, it also leads to inner peace. During the mid-1990s, rising interest in mindfulness meditation culminated in an explosion of scientific investigation by healthcare professionals and researchers seeking to determine the clinical effects and health benefits of this ancient practice. Nothing has been the same since. Focus on meditation has reached critical mass.
I have a love-hate relationship with the aphorism “happiness is a choice.” On the one hand, the saying has wonderful potential: it can speak to the power we could have (or already do have) to lift ourselves out of emotional quagmires. But on the other, it can completely dismiss the power that anger and pain can have over a person. Repeating these words to a loved one when they are going through a difficult time can tell our loved one that we think their painful experiences are invalid, regardless of whether they think we might have meant well.
Buddhism is a vast, sprawling heterogeneous and internally inconsistent tradition dying and flowering over and over in various times and places over around 2500 years. Anyone who tells you its “core” teachings or practices is ignorant or lying. This is okay; as long as you know it is so.
I am not making any such claim here. These are some notes on a few aspects of Buddhist terminology and its translations. Many important and beautiful flowerings of Buddhist doctrine are absent. These wordings and explanations are based on my own understanding; they are not especially controversial, but differ, in places, from the mainstream. I offer them in humility to those who may be interested.
The teachings on emptiness (Sanskrit sunyata or shunyata) find their most articulate development in the Kadampa branch of Mahayana Buddhism (Madhyamika Prasangika philosophy). To the Kadampas, nothing exists 'inherently' or 'from its own side'. All functioning phenomena exist in dependence on three factors:
(i) their causes, (ii) their parts or relations with other objects, and (iii) their imputation by the mind of a sentient being.
There’s a common conception that Buddhism is a moderate religion. Buddhism avoids extremes, doesn’t it? It’s the spiritual path that takes the “middle way” between self-indulgence and self-deprivation. Buddhism is all about moderation, right?
And then there’s the six times book, which is a pretty intense practice. It can really wear you down, and it’s very extreme. And you should totally do it. Anybody who has taken vows—whether they’re formal Refuge or Bodhisattva vows, or a less formal commitment to the yamas and niyamas outlined in Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras—can benefit from the practice of a Six Times Book. The practice is simple to describe: learn your vows well. And check your morality six times a day. And write it down.
The Pali/Sanskrit word for “intention,” cetanā, derives from two words meaning “to think” or “thinking,” and it can also just mean “mind.” But it also carries some less static meanings. Two of these, “intention” and “volition”, are arguably the most commonly known among both scholars and Buddhist practitioners alike. In most schools and lineages of Buddhist teaching, cetanā is thought to be the most important element in the creation of karma, because it is what determines the ethics of the action tied to it. (This can be traced back to the Abhidhamma Pitaka, the final portion of the Theravada scriptures.) In some Buddhist schools, cetanā is thought not to even be a factor in the actions and thoughts of buddhas and arhats, because they have already transcended ignorance, and therefore do not accrue karma. But for those trying to reach enlightenment, cetanā is a vital thing to investigate.
When the great universal teacher Shakyamuni Buddha first spoke about the Dharma in the noble land of India, he taught the four noble truths: the truths of suffering, the cause of suffering, the cessation of suffering and the path to the cessation of suffering. Since many books contain discussions of the four noble truths in English, they (as well as the eightfold path) are very well known.1 These four are all-encompassing, including many things within them.
Considering the four noble truths in general and the fact that none of us wants suffering and we all desire happiness, we can speak of an effect and a cause on both the disturbing side and the liberating side. True sufferings and true causes are the effect and cause on the side of things that we do not want; true cessation and true paths are the effect and cause on the side of things that we desire.