The hype; Mindfulness training for lay people
Mindfulness training has been quite a hype since Jon Kabat-Zinn gave the training to Google employees. After waiting for some years at last there are some courses offered at the local volksuniversiteit. For one course they refer to a teacher from the local Vipassana Center, which means that probably the teacher does have proper theoretical and practical knowledge of the original meditation technique Vipassana.
However I find the short information online not clear enough, they mention something like ‘learn to focus your mind in a specific way.’ The goal is to get relaxation, increase personal well-being and in the end increase productivity. Long live capitalism!
I am curious what kind of theory they lecture on such training, yet since I have no plan to pay more than a hundred euro for it, and nobody around me seems to be interested to take a course either, I suppose that I am not going to find out soon.
Yet, there is no mention at all about ‘suffering,’ which happens to be the most important concept in the original Buddhist meditation. Not to say about realizing the three characteristics of existence, anicca dukkha anatta. On the other hand, suffering might freak the course takers out. Who wants to suffer? We want to be happy just like everyone else, right? Nowadays it’s getting more difficult to fulfill social expectations, especially since they expect you to be ‘happy.’
My last meditation teacher from Germany, who has spent more than 20 years in Myanmar, learned different methods of Vipassana(1) and attended the Buddhist university in Yangon, is very strict concerning the definition of mindfulness.
You can only speak of mindfulness (sati) when it leads to the insight of the three characteristics of existence, anicca dukkha anatta. When there is no such insight, probably it merely concerns a special way of paying attention (manasikara).
Nope, happiness does not happen to be one of the three characteristics, and it never will. In this life you can be certain of suffering; happiness is another story.
Prof. Richard Bentall from Liverpool University once proposed that happiness should be classified as a psychiatric affective disorder, since the happy person ‘suffers’ from a range of cognitive abnormalities, especially a lack of contact with reality.
While Nagarjuna, undoubtfully one of the most important Buddhist philosophers, dared to go even further and declared in Mūlamadhyamakakārikā that for a liberated person, even Nirvana is not different that Samsara – they are both empty (śūnya).
If Nirvana itself is empty and should not be craved for, why should a serious meditator striving for a lesser goal – happiness?
(1) to make things more complicated, apparently there are more than one Vipassana meditation technique! While I always thought that there was only one Vipassana, the one written in the (Maha) Satipatthana Sutta. I already encountered two techniques, and in the future may learn the third one from another teacher.