Episode 273 :: Beth Mulligan :: The Dharma of MBSR: Discovering the Buddhist Teachings at the Heart of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction

| May 21, 2017 | 3 Comments

Beth Mulligan

Beth Mulligan joins us to speak about how dharma informs Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.

In the past several years, there has been an astounding amount of press and research around mindfulness. And this has rustled some Buddhist feathers; honestly, it ruffled mine. I had a good understanding of sati having sit several satipatthana retreats with one of my dearest teachers, Bhante Gunaratana or “Bhante G.”, at Bhavana Society, and had continued my study and practice under the guidance of Bhante Seewalie of Minnesota Buddhist Vihara. What was this upstart Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction thing, how can an eight week program possibly match mindfulness?! Fortunately I realized at least one of my many mistakes, that of ignorance. I may have had a grounding in one way of engaging with mindfulness, but knew nothing about what that program was doing and was judging it without understanding it. My ossified idea about mindfulness had led me into unskillful discursive thought, feeding my sense of privilege and ownership about this practice. I’ve since learned that the tradition can inform contemporary programs and still be doing something distinctly different, and nonetheless of value to others in engaging with life.

Beth Mulligan, PA-C, graduated magna cum laude from the Duke University School of Medicine Physician Assistant program in 1982 and has practiced primary care medicine with diverse populations for the past thirty years. She is a certified mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) teacher and international teacher trainer for the University of Massachusetts Medical School Center for Mindfulness, as well as a certified mindful self-compassion (MSC) teacher and international teacher trainer. Beth has been a presenter at the International Scientific Conference on Mindfulness. She teaches MBSR, MSC, and mindful eating at the Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine and at InsightLA. The Guiding Dharma teacher at Insight Community of the Desert, and a longtime senior student at Yokoji Zen Mountain Center, she leads meditation retreats across the country.

So, sit back, relax, and have a nice lemon mint tea.


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Music for This Episode Courtesy of Rodrigo Rodriguez

The music heard in the middle of this podcast is from Rodrigo Rodriguez. You can visit his website to hear more of his music, get the full discography, and view his upcoming tour dates.

Category: The Secular Buddhist Podcast

Ted Meissner

About the Author ()

Ted Meissner is the host of the podcast Present Moment: Mindfulness Practice and Science. He has been a meditator since the early 90’s, has been interviewed for Books and Ideas, Mindful Lives, and The Whole Leader podcasts, spoken about mindfulness with various groups including Harvard Humanist Hub, and has written for Elephant Journal and The International Journal of Whole Person Care. He is the Executive Director of the Secular Buddhist Association, host of the SBA’s official podcast The Secular Buddhist, and is on the Advisory Board for the Spiritual Naturalist Society. Ted’s background is in the Zen and Theravada traditions, he is a regular speaker on interfaith panel discussions, and is interested in examining the evolution of contemplative practice in contemporary culture. Ted teaches Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care & Society, where he is the Manager of Online Programming and Community Development.

Comments (3)

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  1. Mark Knickelbine says:

    Argh! I was so excited listening to this on my way home from work — it’s the book I’ve been waiting for. “No mindfulness without the Four Immeasurables” — just so! And I’ve been arguing since 2011 that MBSR was, in effect, a secular form of Buddhism — it’s great to see that finally becoming an accepted realization: http://secularbuddhism.org/2011/07/20/buddhism-without-buddha/

    At any rate, I raced to order Beth’s book, only to find it’s not going to be published until January. I know I shouldn’t be craving it, but I still am!

    • Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

      Hi, Mark. Was just having a conversation about this elsewhere! I would suggest that MBSR is informed by many traditions, but wouldn’t call it a secular Buddhism, even though there is tremendous overlap. Not sure yet what the distinguishing characteristics might be, haven’t done a deep dive on that yet, but there’s some buzzing in me that says there are differences.

  2. Jason Malfatto says:

    Speaking as an alumnus of an MBSR program, I can recall that the Buddhist roots of MBSR were made clear to me by my instructors, less so in their words than in their decorative choices (e.g. the traditional Buddhist iconography that dressed the walls and other surfaces of their office and home).

    On the other hand, it was also clear to me that MBSR is a somewhat eclectic mix of traditional influences, judging from the time we dedicated to hatha yoga and to poetry reading of non-Buddhist authors, like Rumi.

    Then of course there are the modern influences on MBSR, like the references to clinical research. Even the Seven Pillars of Mindfulness Practice, while clearly influenced by Buddhist tradition, make choices re: verbiage and emphasis that surely not all self-described Buddhists accept – including secular ones (e.g. non-judging seems at odds with the distinction between skillful and unskillful mental states).

    So, based on this experience, I think we can give credit where its due – in this case to the Buddha’s Dharma – while also acknowledging that MBSR is in fact also a product of non-Buddhist influences and that many, if not most, regular practitioners of its brand of mindfulness (like myself) do not identify as Buddhists.

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