The Varieties of Contemplative Experience

A hugely important topic that has been largely neglected in the West.  Meditation has been touted as a “cure all” for any number of mental or physical disorders, but when these rich and religious rooted practices are examined, we see those on the path can struggle immensely at numerous points on their meditative journey.


Buddhist-derived meditation practices are currently being employed as a popular form of health promotion. While meditation programs draw inspiration from Buddhist textual sources for the benefits of meditation, these sources also acknowledge a wide range of other effects beyond health-related outcomes. The Varieties of Contemplative Experience study investigates meditation-related experiences that are typically underreported, particularly experiences that are described as challenging, difficult, distressing, functionally impairing, and/or requiring additional support


McMindfulness: Buddhism as sold to you by neoliberals by Peter Doran

Mindfulness is big business, worth in excess of US$1.0 billion in the US alone and linked – somewhat paradoxically – to an expanding range of must have products. These include downloadable apps (1300 at the last count), books to read or colour in, and online courses. Mindfulness practice and training is now part of a global wellness industry worth trillions of dollars.

Mindfulness has its origins in Buddhist meditation teachings and encourages the quiet observation of habituated thought patterns and emotions. The aim is to interrupt what can be an unhealthy tendency to over-identify with and stress out about these transient contents of the mind. By doing so, those who practice mindfulness can come to dwell in what is often described as a more “spacious” and liberating awareness. They are freed from seemingly automatic tendencies (such as anxiety about status, appearances, future prospects, our productivity) that are exploited by advertisers and other institutions in order to shape our behaviour. In its original Buddhist settings, mindfulness is inseparable from the ethical life.

The rapid rise and mainstreaming of what was once regarded as the preserve of a 1960s counterculture associated with a rejection of materialist values might seem surprising. But it is no accident that these practices of meditation and mindfulness have become so widespread. Neoliberalism and the associated rise of the “attention economy” are signs of our consumerist and enterprising times. Corporations and dominant institutions thrive by capturing and directing our time and attention, both of which appear to be in ever-shorter supply.

Peter Doran

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The Coping Economy by Laura Marsh

“Deep breath. Feel the air fill my lungs” are the first words of Hillary Clinton’s campaign memoir What Happened. In the months after the 2016 election, Clinton gave more thought than usual to breathing. She tried alternate nostril breathing, she told Anderson Cooper on CNN last September, gamely demonstrating how to inhale through one nostril, hold, and exhale on the other side. She drew a long breath as she took her seat at Donald Trump’s inauguration in January 2017. As early as the primaries, Clinton was incorporating quick bytes of calm into her day. “You don’t have to just sit with your legs crossed in some quiet room” to gain “a sense of relaxation and groundedness,” she explained in April 2016. “Literally, you can do it on a plane, or in a car, or waking up in the morning.”

These techniques belong to the practice of mindfulness—an art of paying attention and finding peace. Clinton herself is far from the first politician to try it. In 2013 Davos hosted a mindfulness training session for world leaders, and the next year Ohio Representative Tim Ryan convened a “Quiet Time Caucus,” to instill mindfulness in Congress. Meanwhile Eileen Fisher, Bill Ford, and the late Steve Jobs (who famously took a few moments’ silence to prep for Apple product launches) have applied mindfulness to business leadership. There is a growing audience for such teachings: the recently launched Mindful magazine had garnered 85,000 subscribers as of 2016. By the beginning of 2017, Headspace—the most popular among a host of app offerings—had been downloaded over 11 million times. Clinton’s memoir only marks how far mindfulness has traveled into the mainstream.

Laura Marsh

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Shinran, The Original Buddhist Rebel by Mark Unno

In Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, Shunryu Suzuki told his North American convert students that their practice path would be that of “neither layman nor monk,” a quasi-monastic style of practice without the traditional support of a lay congregation or wealthy sustaining patrons. Even while pursuing Buddhist practice, students had to meet the exigencies of lay life: maintaining jobs, friendships, family commitments, and the rest. This “center-based” model is something that nearly every practice community has been working on ever since. What is not so well known is that Suzuki’s model of “neither layman nor monk” comes from another, earlier master: Shinran (1173–1262), one of Japanese Buddhism’s most celebrated figures….

By Mark Unno

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Pure Land, Real World: Modern Buddhism, Japanese Leftists, and the Utopian Imagination

For close to a thousand years Amida’s Pure Land, a paradise of perfect ease and equality, was the most powerful image of shared happiness circulating in the Japanese imagination. In the late nineteenth century, some Buddhist thinkers sought to reinterpret the Pure Land in ways that would allow it speak to modern Japan. Their efforts succeeded in ways they could not have predicted. During the war years, economist Kawakami Hajime, philosopher Miki Kiyoshi, and historian Ienaga Saburō—left-leaning thinkers with no special training in doctrinal studies and no strong connection to any Buddhist institution—seized upon modernized images of Shinran in exile and a transcendent Western Paradise to resist the demands of a state that was bearing down on its citizens with increasing force. Pure Land, Real World treats the religious thought of these three major figures in English for the first time.
Kawakami turned to religion after being imprisoned for his involvement with the Japanese Communist Party, borrowing the Shinshū image of the two truths to assert that Buddhist law and Marxist social science should reinforce each other, like the two wings of a bird. Miki, a member of the Kyoto School who went from prison to the crown prince’s think tank and back again, identified Shinran’s religion as belonging to the proletariat: For him, following Shinran and working toward building a buddha land on earth were akin to realizing social revolution. And Ienaga’s understanding of the Pure Land—as the crystallization of a logic of negation that undermined every real power structure—fueled his battle against the state censorship system, just as he believed it had enabled Shinran to confront the world’s suffering head on.Such readings of the Pure Land tradition are idiosyncratic—perhaps even heretical—but they hum with the same vibrancy that characterized medieval Pure Land belief. Innovative and refreshingly accessible, Pure Land, Real World shows that the Pure Land tradition informed twentieth-century Japanese thought in profound and surprising ways and suggests that it might do the same for twenty-first-century thinkers. The critical power of Pure Land utopianism has yet to be exhausted.

By Melissa Anne-Marie Curley

Can buy the book here

“Introduction” to Against Harmony: Radical Buddhism in Thought and Practice by James Mark Shields and Patrice Ladwig


This volume explores seven distinct cases of radical Buddhism, providing a comparative overview of the diverse interactions of different types of Buddhism and various forms of political radicalism. Contributors to this special issue focus on Buddhist radicalism as a general phenomenon, but some of them specifically explore movements that were inspired by socialist ideologies in the broadest sense and therefore conceptualize these as examples of specific cases of radicalism. By examining the individuals (monks, scholars, and laypeople) and movements (both inside and outside the sangha) responsible for the creation and promotion of radical Buddhism, this volume deals with an area of Buddhist modernism that has hitherto been neglected in research. The contributions also examine the various ways in which the Buddhadharma and radical ideas were conceptualized as an integral part of the emergence of Asian “modernity,” both in response to and in resistance to Western imperialism and the forces of incipient globalization. By focusing on specific nonwestern conceptions of modernity, the volume allows for a decentering of notions of a “universal” (or purely Western) modernity. Finally, as noted above, by understanding Buddhist socialist movements as “radical,” this volume allows for a broader conception of Buddhist resistance, and puts into question the definition of terms such as “socialist,” “anarchist” and “communist” when used in a non-western and specifically Asian Buddhist context. Covering examples from Theravāda Buddhism (Thailand, Sri Lanka, India) as well as various regions of Mahāyāna Buddhism (China, Korea and Japan), the volume will explore the heterogeneity of these movements, but will also highlight the continuities that mark the connections and conjunctures between Buddhism and radical political theories and practice. While mainly historical in its outlook, the articles will approach the relevant topics and materials from a variety of innovative perspectives, exemplifying a broad range of academic viewpoints and methods; e.g., historical, philosophical, anthropological, textual and cultural.

James Mark Shields


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