Buddhism, Interview, Society, Spirituality

Episode 34: McMindfulness — The New Capitalist Spirituality with Ron Purser

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Ron is not afraid of controversy with his new book: McMindfulness — How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality, out this July. He also hosts the Mindful Cranks podcast. Let’s start out by saying that:

“Dr. Purser is an ordained  Zen Dharma teacher in the Korean Zen Taego Order.  He received ordination in April 2013 from the Venerable Jongmae Park, Partriarch of the Taego Korean Zen order for the overseas sangha. His Dharma name is Hae Seong, which means “The Nature of Wisdom.”

As a long-time practitioner, he really knows his stuff! In our episode, we go over just how the modern mindfulness movement, founded on the MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) programme convinces that “a little mindfulness goes a long way” — and all the repercussions that can have.

We go into detail how mindfulness has been hijacked to serve the capitalist system. This truth is Ron’s passion.

My passion is how it has been torn apart from its very meaning, as a way to enlightenment on this planet (and all other planets and universes, also).

So, how has modern mindfulness been severed from its Buddhist roots? Well, here’s a hint: in the Sattipatthana Sutta that the Buddha laid out on mindfulness, a lot is missing from the modern mindfulness programmes.

Bhikku Bodhi lays out on Accesstoinsight.org:

“The practice of Sattipatthana meditation centers on the methodical cultivation of one simple mental faculty readily available to all of us at any moment. This is the faculty of mindfulness, the capacity for attending to the content of our experience as it becomes manifest in the immediate present. What the Buddha shows in the sutta is the tremendous, but generally hidden, power inherent in this simple mental function, a power that can unfold all the mind’s potentials culminating in final deliverance from suffering.

To exercise this power, however, mindfulness must be systematically cultivated, and the sutta shows exactly how this is to be done. The key to the practice is to combine energy, mindfulness, and clear comprehension in attending to the phenomena of mind and body summed up in the “four arousings of mindfulness”: body, feelings, consciousness, and mental objects.

At the heart of the matter, modern mindfulness misses that mindfulness is made to lead to true and final liberation from all suffering, or Nibanna. (This is simply one way to waking up out of the vast collection of the Buddha’s methods.)

Without taking into account other factors beyond “simply paying attention to the present moment” — a person will (more than likely not) magically become free or cultivate wisdom. In fact, this is just another form of suffering, and this can be proven. If simply paying attention to the present moment worked, then we would see evidence of this in the external world as greed, desire, and hatred decrease: that is its purpose, after all. Is this the case? Not at all!

Google, Apple, Nike and other major corporations have repeatedly used secular, modern mindfulness training as part of their curriculums. Marissa Levin admits this, in just one article underpinning the mindfulness/capitalist situation:

“Once the Eastern practice became popular as a method of self-help, it quickly became a tool within businesses to increase productivity and well-being of employees.

‘With business meditation, we have a practice that is extrapolated from Buddhism and secularized so that all of the theological underpinnings are swept away,” says Catherine Albanese, author of A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion.'”

Mindfulness, as a business model, completely disintegrates the value of mindfulness as a way to liberation from wordly suffering for all beings. As a business model at all, to increase productivity for corporations, lends itself to be a materialistic substitute for Reality. This is in direct contradiction to its purpose. B. Bodhi goes on to say, “This [mindfulness] is the only satisfying way for the seeker of truth when the diffuseness [papañca] of the external world with its thin layer of culture, comfort and allurement, ceases to be interesting and is found to lack true value.

Also, modern mindfulness misses out on the other facets of the Sutta, including:

Contemplating the body in mindfulness of breathing, bodily positions/postures, eating/drinking/walking/speaking, and…

Reflection on the Repulsiveness of the Body:
Ex) “And further, O bhikkhus, a bhikkhu reflects on just this body hemmed by the skin and full of manifold impurity from the soles up, and from the top of the hair down, thinking thus: ‘There are in this body hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, fibrous threads (veins, nerves, sinews, tendons), bones, marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, pleura, spleen, lungs, contents of stomach, intestines, mesentery, feces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, solid fat, tars, fat dissolved, saliva, mucus, synovic fluid, urine.”

Reflection on the Modes of Materiality: (Cemetary Contemplations 1-9)
Ex) “And further, O bhikkhus, if a bhikkhu, in whatever way, sees a body dead, one, two, or three days: swollen, blue and festering, thrown into the charnel ground, he thinks of his own body thus: ‘This body of mine too is of the same nature as that body, is going to be like that body and has not got past the condition of becoming like that body.”

Contemplation of Feeling:
Ex) “Thus he lives contemplating [painful, pleasureable, and neutral] feelings in feelings internally, or he lives contemplating feeling in feelings externally, or he lives contemplating feeling in feelings internally and externally. He lives contemplating origination-things in feelings, or he lives contemplating dissolution-things in feelings, or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution-things in feelings. Or his mindfulness is established with the thought: ‘Feeling exists,’ to the extent necessary just for knowledge and remembrance and he lives independent and clings to naught in the world.”

Contemplation of Consciousness:
Ex) “Here, O bhikkhus, a bhikkhu understands the consciousness with lust, as with lust; the consciousness without lust, as without lust; the consciousness with hate, as with hate; the consciousness without hate, as without hate; the consciousness with ignorance, as with ignorance; the consciousness without ignorance, as without ignorance; the shrunken state of consciousness, as the shrunken state; the distracted state of consciousness, as the distracted state…”

And so much more…

Ron and I go into detail on how modern mindfulness and capitalism are satisfied holding hands. See www.ronpurser.com to contact him.

 

 

Buddhism, Internet, Philosophy, Society, Spirituality

Episode 16: Internet Series: Effects on our Consciousness

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Artwork by Alex Grey – https://www.alexgrey.com/art/

What is internet doing to our state of consciousness as human beings?

Are larger companies monopolising us by creating themselves out of thin air, based on our belief in them? How does this affect small businesses and individuals alike?

What will the internet, Google, Instagram, and these platforms do to us and our children if they exert control based on the power we give them?

These questions and others will be explored in this part II of my “Internet Series” — see part I: De-Google Yourself.

We seem to be blinded into the notion that “we need the internet to survive” today. Smartphones, Google, and the upcoming 5G — our dependcy on these devices further gives them power rather than us obtaining our own power through the food we eat, the way we treat our bodies and minds, and the way we interact with other beings.

The internet is so smart that it is now installed in refrigerators, so every time you remove a carton of almond milk or potatoes, it knows you’re getting low and will write you a new shopping list to order more. You are no longer thinking or making considerate choices about your body, your health, or who you are buying from: a computer is doing it for you. This gives your power away so you keep creating purchasing patterns so the business you buy from is making decisions for you — perhaps to the same business again and again. And it’s all under the guise of convenience.

If we’re not conscious enough, striving to become evermore efficient, we will lose our true efficiency and hand it over. But we can’t say that we haven’t considered the consequences.

If we as “customers” and “consumers” of the internet, apps, and online shops keep this as our main reality, here is a possible forecast:

  • The internet will feed us our food on our couches with applications like Just Eat and Uber Eats as we lose the motivation to cook or make an effort to move based on our wants or needs. This will have vast implications on our health. We will become unknowledgeable about what we are putting into our bodies as orders are placed and fed to us (What are the exact ingredients? What care went behind our meal? Is the space we ordered from clean and suitable for cooking?) which could lead to more physical diseases.
  • The small business with a physical location will disappear as orders are constantly placed online. A few monopolise the market, like Amazon, who take a percentage from craftsmen and small businesses who actually create and maintain their products or creations (books, films, etc).
  • Physical service to others will become obsolete, because human interaction is already declining. What will happen to going into a doctor’s office to be checked out when you can describe your symptoms on Skype? Will people move from their home to get a massage or haircut? Will religious and spiritual centres disappear as people obtain more information stand-alone, rather than with older, wiser, beings?
  • Impatience will increase as our attention spans become shorter and shorter

The best thing that can happen, though, is that we realise our societies are becoming out of control with dependency on technology, and go back to:

  • Looking each other in the eyes
  • Cooking and being aware of our bodies and their needs; going to the market to buy food from knowledgable farmers who have so generously grown and prepared our food for us
  • Collaborating with others in real life out of empathy, compassion, and service to them in physical reality
  • Having more physical and mental energy/space which is conducive to a happy life and nurtures creativity, problem solving, productivity when things need to be done, and strength when performing physical tasks
  • Turning around from the big giants, refusing to buy duplicates and rubbish; buying instead from small businesses and conscious creators, like artists (musicians, wood-workers, metalsmiths, custom guitar or violin makers, painters, sculptors, jewellery artisans, etc) who spend enormous amounts of energy and time to channel “God” into the world, spreading beauty, creativity, true individuality, and essence which we are all capable of
  • Spending more time in nature and outdoors, not struggling to think or strategise when unnecessary
  • Being more aware of our environment or surroundings when in a building or outdoors, including other people who are with us
  • Devoting more of our life to being present with ourself and others
  • Improving our focus, motivation, and clarity of mind
  • Putting others first as we rely less on social media and our own ego / false persona it creates and seeks to maintainAnd finally…
  • Using technology and the interet as the tool it is meant to be rather than a dependent reality
Internet, Society, Spirituality

Episode 8: Internet Series: De-Google Yourself!


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For years, observing others and seeing how groups of people behave and the myriad ways they act unconsciously, I have to analyse what’s really going on from an external perspective. (It’s not just about chilling out and eating Buddha-style chocolate mochi all day, though that’s good, too.) As an eternal optimist, I can see through the shadows into the light of any situation. But I have to wonder if this shadow — the internet, Google, Facebook, et al. — is deliberately creating a paradigm to entrap us collectively as human consciousness.

Every time I open Spotify, I am bombarded with the “buy 3 months of premium for only £9.99!” message. I don’t want Spotify premium; I have too many premiums already. In fact, my green Thai couch and listening to Carbon Based Lifeforms for the thousandth time is pretty premium… it’s all I need right now.

The more intelligent we become, the more likely it is that AI (artificial intelligence) will be created to become evermore intelligent. Every time we think we’ve “got it” in dealing with the online world, a new algorithm comes out to bring down small businesses and individuals, like artists and craftsmen, from trying to make a living off of their real talent. Now, you must pay in pounds sterling or see your “followers” dwindle; the higher the followers, which can also coincidentally be paid for and faked, the more people automatically trust them with their own time, effort, and money for goods and services. Yet, numbers are just numbers on a screen. To really be with a person is to see them for who they are, as divine consciousness, like yourself — not the celebrity, the popular person, or the “best” at this or that. Those are just images of the highest form of superficiality.

We are all just human! We have a plethora of emotions and the capacity for great strength in courage and discipline and also in kindness. We have ability to change our habits, play with our consciousness through psychadelics, and be creative in infinite ways. AI doesn’t have the chance to do that. However, once the phone companies get the devices into our hands, they have control over us by our attention spans.

“Awareness goes where attention flows.”

And we have less than optimal attention spans. That’s why, I believe, practices like Advaita Zen and short practices, like daily yoga and puja or meditation sessions, have come in modern times for truth-seekers. We yearn to wake up like never before yet lack the attention to be able to attend to activities that require focus and are sustainable: like cultivate our minds, focusing on reading or writing, and generally learning to be more open and kind. The internet does naught to compete with our instinct to flutter around endlessly, craving, addicted, and always searching for something rather than being with ourselves and each other.

When Instagram and Facebook hook us on the principle of “comparison” or “competition”, which locks us into a dual state of “this and that”, “me and you”, they are winning at taking our attention further away from the truth of absolute oneness and non-separation. It’s carving out larger egos for everyone, yet no one can ever be satisfied with this glass ceiling.

In the last generation, it was about the rat-race and keeping up a job to satisfy material desires and make sure you have what the neighbours have. Now, it’s the same, but with endless streams of online invites for activities and gossip and digital photos. That’s a bit strange… right?

We can think of the future and decide not to opt-in to navigating our lives at the push of a button. I, for example, am de-Googling myself and using alternative web browsers and blocking Google from stealing my data. I will make my life possible without being locked into a system where I have to sell myself via a Facebook page, use my phone at a concert, or even use Google maps when I’m supposed to be walking with my feet — not my head. This is not what life is about.

Life is about knowing that the sun rises and sets everyday, for you and for all beings. It’s about knowing that, this second, there are millions of mothers giving birth and feeding their babies in an act of loving-kindness that is the only reason you and I are breathing. It’s about noticing that you exist as a divine sparkle in the cosmic breath for a lifetime with unique attributes and experiences that only make you wiser. It’s about looking your friends in the eyes when they are with you and focusing on them rather than yourself. It’s about enjoying food, music, colours, movement, inspiration, and learning. It’s about reflecting on all the good work you’ve done so far and appreciating the ability to do it. It’s about going through hard times psychologically and knowing they will pass. It’s about life, as it is, right here and now.

Please give me your feedback at curiousbodhi@zoho.com.