“Occupy Buddhism” Notes from the Buddhist Geeks Conference, 2012

| August 13, 2012 | 32 Comments

Lama Surya Das

Ted and I attended the Buddhist Geeks 2012 conference this month, and I must say it was better than I expected. It definitely spoke to both the Geek and the Buddhist in me!

There were Buddhists of many traditions in attendance, and geeks of all kinds from scientific to computing, and combinations of both. It was fun to see people recognize Ted as The Secular Buddhist. He is becoming a bit of a celebrity. And it was really fun for me to meet Stephen Batchelor, Martine Batchelor, Ken McLeod, and David Chapman in person. I also had the wonderful opportunity to meet some of you!

All the talks were filled with animation, a lot of humor, and addressed the problems of our modern society. The phrase that came out and stuck in my head more than any other came from Lama Surya Das. I’ve seen Das speak before, and knew we’d be in for a treat. I was not disappointed. Das has a wonderful sense of humor, speaks at a fast clip, and addresses issues we can relate to.

When it was time for Q&A, he was asked how do we change Buddhism to fit our modern lives in the US, without the Asian cultural trappings, without the hierarchical structures of teachers and students, without the rituals that are meaningless to so many Americans? “I have two words for you, Occupy Buddhism.” Das went onto explain that the Dalai Lama can’t change the sexism in his tradition. He is “completely hemmed in.” But, Das pointed out, we can teach Buddhism here without the sexism, as we have done, he said, pointing at some of the current female Buddhist leaders.

He also talked about how students and teachers are not caught up in the hierarchy here, as they are abroad, that here teachers often sit with students. You don’t change Buddhism, Das pointed out, but you change you, and Buddhism adapts to you. As I listened to Das, I thought of secular Buddhism, and our discussions here on SBA. It was a resounding theme with people I spoke with at the conference as well:  How do I learn Buddhism without the ancient cultures, without the archaic language, the strange metaphors? Secular Buddhism as it is developing seems to be a nice fit for many, as most have a hunger for practice without beliefs, without the supernatural.

Talks then turned to a more geekish tone, as the scientists stepped up to give their talks. The first from Willoughby Britten, Mindful Binge Drinking and Blobology, was about the current sad state of studies on meditation and contemplative practices, followed by the future of these studies. It was fascinating for me to learn that the majority of studies done on meditation don’t show evidence of anything, but the media gets a hold of these and has turned them into Meditation has been proven to . . . 

Being the neuroscientist/researcher that Willoughby is, she came equipped with numbers, and charts. She pointed out how meditation has not been defined well, and that it is being pulled out of the context of other contemplative practices. In the end, she announced that she has received a grant to not only do some great hard core research on getting some guidelines and definitions around the various types of meditation, but she is going to be studying the suttas as well!

Another talk that spoke to the science geek in me was by Daniel Ingram, It’s a Jungle in There. Subjective experience has been a taboo area for research scientists to dig into, but Ingram disagrees. In fact, he started out by talking about the amazing and wonderful way in which Darwin and other biologists set out to identify the organisms on our planet and organize them into classifications. Ingram feels the same can be done with people and their subjective experiences, and to show an example of how they might go about that, he pulled up a character chart for Dungeons & Dragons.

His talk was entertaining, funny, and I agree with him wholeheartedly. Experience needs to be yanked out of the hands of philosophers, and thrown under the microscope of scientists. Just because scientists haven’t been able to study it in the past, doesn’t mean they can’t now. I look forward to where this will lead.

It was exciting for me to be able to sit in person with several neuroscientists who are researching meditation, and who wanted to understand Buddhist thinking and expectations better. I offered my concerns over how current studies are being done on meditation, the assumptions that are made, and the lack of differentiation between different types of meditation. I also expressed my concerns about negative effects of meditation and contemplative practices.

The scientists were eager to talk about all of these concerns, and I found out later that Willoughby Britton, who I mentioned earlier, had come across people who had been negatively impacted by this practice, and is doing research in that area as well. In fact, she has a great video on that topic that I’ll list below.

Martine Batchelor gave a wonderful talk on Creativity and Grasping. I’ve heard her speak on this topic before. Ted did a great podcast with her on a related topic, but in this talk some of it really hit home for me. I was delighted by her wonderful sense of humor, and what was even more exciting was to meet Martine and Stephen that evening for dinner.

I found both Batchelors very personable, easy to talk to, and open to ideas. I enjoyed scheming with them on a few ideas I had, which was in line with some ideas for projects they had. It was exciting. Stay tuned for more about that in the future!

Martine Batchelor

 

One area that is a problem for secular Buddhists, or as they were calling it at the conference, Do It Yourself (DYI) Buddhism, is that of a lack of teachers.  Stephen Batchelor answered to this problem with a suggestion: “If you are new to Buddhism, then I recommend studying one of the traditions. It doesn’t matter which one. Whatever tradition feels most comfortable to you will do. But by studying with a  tradition, you will learn the basics of Buddhism, the basics of practice, and then you can move into DIY Buddhism.”

And most certainly, reading books from various traditions can be really helpful as well. If it starts getting confusing, and it sure can, then pick one tradition and read all you can on that. Of course, also continue reading and listening to content here, and stayed tuned for some upcoming, very exciting projects!

There many other great talks as well, some focused on engaged Buddhism, such as the CEO, Matt Flannery, of Kiva.org, an amazing organization that lends money directly to people in need all over the globe, and Africa in particular. He was an inspiration to listen to. I can’t cover them all the talks now, but they’ll make their way onto the site one way or another. As soon as we have videos from the conference to post, I will.

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Dana

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Dana is Technical Director of the Secular Buddhist Association. She learned Buddhism through a DVD course on Tibetan Mahayana Buddhism, followed by a two-year course in person. She then studied Theravada Buddhism through the Insight Meditation South Bay with teacher Shaila Catherine. She has been a practitioner now for over a decade. Dana has been working in the internet industry since 1992, has held the positions of web developer, technical writer, and online community manager. She is a geek girl with a passion for science and computing.

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  1. Meditation No Panacea | Seeing The Roses | August 19, 2012
  1. NaturalEntrust says:

    Thanks Dana,

    I find this reference very interesting.
    Quote
    Willoughby Britten, Mindful Binge Drinking and Blobology, was about the current sad state of studies on meditation and contemplative practices, followed by the future of these studies. It was fascinating for me to learn that the majority of studies done on meditation don’t show evidence of anything, but the media gets a hold of these and has turned them into Meditation has been proven to . . .

    Being the neuroscientist/researcher that Willoughby is, she came equipped with numbers, and charts. She pointed out how meditation has not been defined well, and that it is being pulled out of the context of other contemplative practices.
    /quote

    ” the majority of studies done on meditation don’t show evidence of anything,”

    That is not what I hear Buddhists say?

    “She pointed out how meditation has not been defined well”
    That may be why I am so skeptical to all this recommendation
    here in SBA that I should do this and that.

    “that it is being pulled out of the context of other contemplative practices. ”

    What if these other “contemplative practices. ” has

    • Dana Dana Nourie says:

      Yeah, Eric, the media has had a huge hand at over-blowing studies. But I do want to point out, there are some very good and valid studies that do show meditation and mindful has benefits. Even so, I am super excited we have scientists now who understand meditation as a tool needs to be looked at in terms of type of meditation, who is doing the meditation, where it’s being done, etc. Ditto for mindfulness. I find it all very exciting that they will study what the results are, and not just aim for benefits. There is a downside as well, and we need to learn about that as well.

  2. NaturalEntrust says:

    Sorry the cursor suddenly started to run by itself and no way to
    copy and paste.

    What if these other “contemplative practices. ” has something
    to offer even to Buddhism? What other kinds are there?

    What view does SBA on other “contemplative practices. ”?

    I have no idea what she refers to at all? Could it be The Flow?
    Runners High? I feel embarrassed over that I have not heard of these?

    Could she come from Maharishi or something and refers to them?
    Maybe Martial Art have something that technically can be referred
    to as “contemplative practices. ” The text seems to take it for granted
    that one would know about these 🙂

    • Dana Dana Nourie says:

      Hey Eric,

      SBA focuses mainly on Buddhist practices, but secular Buddhist sometimes have other practices as well. Please understand there are no SBA rules for your practice, and we won’t ever dictate to you what you should be doing. Most people who come to this site are already interested in Buddhism, and they want to take a natural or pragmatic approach. That’s why I say, if there are practices you like in Shin, keep doing them! You don’t need anyone’s seal of approval. No one has said a secular Buddhist should not do that. Totally up to you:-)

      But I don’t know what other practices neuroscientists are studying. In these talks, the focus was on Buddhist meditation and mindfulness.

      I hope I answered you ok. Again, I don’t see these as flow, but again, I may not understand flow. I’ve only understand “writer’s flow” and for me that is separate from meditation, though I am mindful of being in writer’s flow during those times.

      Contemplative practices are practices that take you inward, rather doing something that causes you to focus outward. Yoga is another where you contemplate the body. Not sure what other practices are under the contemplative umbrella.

  3. NaturalEntrust says:

    Ooops I know nothing but seems to be an established term.
    I apology for being left behind. here is link.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contemplative_Practices_in_Action
    That one seems to be a plug for a particular book though.
    A kind of placed ad in wiki.

    The more I read about it the more skeptical I become.

    What if she is right. Willoughby Britten saying that
    ” the majority of studies done on meditation don’t show evidence of anything,”

    Ooops her name is Britton not Britten.
    http://med.brown.edu/DPHB/faculty/facultypage?id=1197496179

    • Dana Dana Nourie says:

      But keep in mind, she is also aware of studies that do show benefits. So she wasn’t saying it’s not without benefit, or that there aren’t good studies that do show benefits. She was saying many of these studies have been blown out of proportion and meaning added to them by the media. We always have to be careful of that with studies, no matter what kind! The US in particular is terrible at accurately reporting studies.

    • Candol says:

      “What if she is right. Willoughby Britten saying that
      ” the majority of studies done on meditation don’t show evidence of anything,””

      All it means is that there haven’t been any good enough studies yet. Getting studies right seems to be an artform in itself. Or less an artform and more a process that needs to be worked through when faced with a new problem that needs testing.

      But of course its possible that the studies will never be any better than those they’ve done with the psychotherapies. Why should they be any better. Its a damned difficult area to study – the way people improve their mental health issues or not. (I mean mental health in the broadest terms).

      I think all we can do before then is consider our own experience and decide whether we think it is helping us at all.

  4. Linda Linda says:

    Eric, I think what is being said is that the studies haven’t been designed to do what the media then says they are doing — she was not saying that studies on meditation have proven that meditation has no effect. It’s perhaps a case of “bad science” rather than “bad meditation”. Or perhaps “studies designed to look for X that then get read as addressing Y.”

    Buddhist meditation has specific goals: insight into the self (or what we perceive as the self) and into the ways in which our sense-of-self has us act, and how those actions involved with our sense-of-self tend to cause us problems. I imagine that any meditative practices from any other tradition anywhere that increase our abilities to get to those insights would be welcomed.

    I have even read (on David Chapman’s site) that the knowledge of “how to meditate Buddhist style” was completely lost and only reinvented recently (I seem to remember something about the King who gets portrayed in Anna and the King of Siam being the instigator of the revamping of Buddhism), so it seems likely that the meditative practices we have now didn’t come down to us in an unbroken line from the Buddha’s day to this. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that — we could invent something totally new (which seems to be what you are wanting to see happen) and as long as it achieved the insights that the Buddha was aiming for, that would be great.

    If when you said this:

    “” the majority of studies done on meditation don’t show evidence of anything,”

    “That is not what I hear Buddhists say? ”

    you were aiming for humor (solely or in addition to a serious point) you did a great job. : )

    • Dana Dana Nourie says:

      Linda, you bring up an important point that Britton launched right into and I thought it soooooo crucial. Scientists have not had a good idea about the purpose or goal of meditation. Many erroneously assumed it was to be happy. So they put meditation on this scale that starts with unhappy or depressed with happiness at the top, and degradation in between. Then they try to measure meditation in terms of that, and as we know that is way wrong for Buddhism!

      So, that is why Britton is going all over the world, talking to Buddhists, finding out why types of meditation we do, what the goal of each practice is, what a norm for a starting point is, and what goals are expected. This is a challenge to say the least, but this is also one of the reasons she is actually going into sutta study. I find that so exciting!

  5. Doug Smith Doug says:

    Thanks for the report, Dana. It sounds like Britton’s talk corroborates what I’ve heard from the scientific skeptics’ side re. meditation. It would be great if we could get a video of her lecture or a copy of the slides she used.

    I think you were also going to link to one of her other videos about the negative effects of meditation. The suttas emphasize that one shouldn’t begin meditation until one has a good ethical ground to start from. That goes equally for having good psychological health, since meditation is not a treatment for mental illness. I’ll be interested to see if those were some of the issues she pointed to.

    • mufi says:

      Doug: The suttas emphasize that one shouldn’t begin meditation until one has a good ethical ground to start from.

      That doesn’t seem to have stopped proponents of mindfulness practice, like Jon Kabat-Zinn, from spreading it to non-Buddhist audiences, whose prior notions regarding what qualifies as “a good ethical ground” might differ significantly from the Buddha’s.

      But then medicine and therapy, even in the West, carry on board certain normative assumptions (e.g. that it’s generally better for the body to be able to function in a way that’s adaptive to its environment, for as long as an average lifespan, and in a relatively painless way), and I seem to recall that Kabat-Zinn emphasizes that mindfulness practice makes certain normative assumptions that may at times seem alien to Westerners.

      Still, the practice in this case appears to be the vehicle by which these particular, Buddha-based norms are delivered.

      • Doug Smith Doug says:

        … non-Buddhist audiences, whose prior notions regarding what qualifies as “a good ethical ground” might differ significantly from the Buddha’s.

        I dunno. The five precepts (ethical grounds for all non-monastic practitioners) seem to me pretty uncontroversial, with the possible exception of the fifth, depending on how it’s interpreted. I’d interpret it as not to abuse intoxicants or get drunk, which I think is itself pretty uncontroversial.

        But yeah, meditation is often presented in the west as divorced from ethical strictures. For most audiences I don’t think that’s a big deal, because most people are generally pretty ethically astute, and anyhow most would be likely to agree that killing, stealing, lying, rape and drunkenness are things to be avoided.

        Of course, the monastic Vinaya is a different matter.

        • mufi says:

          Doug: Perhaps I’m more cynical than you are, but my sense is that most folks in the West – particularly here in the USA – would still balk at the First Precept, insofar as it implies pacifism and veganism. And it seems to me that the Third and Fourth precepts seem to be honored more in the breach, even though I agree that most folks would likely acknowledge them in principle.

          In any case, I think the question that arises here is: Can a violent, cheating, and lying person benefit from meditation (say, relieve his/her own suffering, and perhaps even improve ethically as a result)?

          As I understand you, the Buddha’s answer is: No.

          If so, then I would not be at all surprised if the Buddha was wrong on this count.

          • Doug Smith Doug says:

            Well, re. pacifism and veganism, as you know both are subject to interpretation. The Buddha himself relied on the protection afforded him by the local princes, as well IIRC to keep the sangha’s order in the breach. And early Buddhism as reflected in the Sutta Nipata and the Buddha’s own comportment was not vegetarian, much less vegan.

            As for your second point, the point is that if one lacks moral compass, one’s meditation will not lead to enlightenment. Here I’m thinking of the use of Zen meditation, for example, in the martial arts and the Bushido warrior code. It’s not that the Japanese Samurai failed to gain benefits from Zen meditation, it’s rather that the benefits they gained were not those that the Buddha intended. They would not lead one to enlightenment, and indeed could be used to any nefarious end.

            Think of Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass-murderer who claimed to use meditation to dull his mind. (See for example the article HERE. The article, I think, also gets into the trouble that arises when taking seriously all the ‘non-dualistic’ thinking that some believers propound).

          • mufi says:

            Think of Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass-murderer who…

            Yeah, I’ve cited Breivik myself as a counter-example to the idea that meditative practice necessarily renders one peaceful. Even if Breivik is an exceptional case (e.g. of someone who is, alas, wired for pscyhopathy), I certainly would agree that we should be very cautious about over-estimating the power of meditation – in this case, as it relates to promoting ethical behavior.

            Well, re. pacifism and veganism, as you know both are subject to interpretation.

            Yes, but some interpretations are closer to the plain meaning of the text than others (unless perhaps one is a post-modernist literary theorist).

            For example, whereas there is nary a hint of either pacifism or veganism in the Hebrew Bible (in which war and capital punishment are at times prescribed and/or praised and the dietary rules are clearly omnivorous), that is not the case for the Pali Canon (given its explicit praise of abstinence from “the taking of life”).

            Mind you, I’m not aware of any dominantly Buddhist country that can be accurately characterized as either pacifist or vegan. But that could mean that Buddhism is too demanding for most folks. Nonetheless, when compared with the USA – with its obscene rates of violent crime, militaristic buildup & arms industry, violence in entertainment (including hunting for sport), and meaty cuisine – I would expect at least some contrast here.

    • Dana Dana Nourie says:

      Yes, Doug, as soon as we are able to post her talk I will. She does have some great info on her site, which I posted below. There are several videos. Ted is also going to be interviewing her, and with that podcast he will post links to info she can provide.

      I know when I’ve signed up for meditation retreats, they also warn that you should have an established practice before attending. I didn’t really before my first and thought I’d be fine. I had a really, really hard time and almost left early. I found it incredibly challenging and difficult. I didn’t want to do another retreat for a long time!

      I did quite a few day longs, and had established a regular practice before going on jhana retreat with my teach Shaila Catherine. We talked at length several times before I finally decided I should be ok. I was, and she kept close tabs on me. It turned out to be a good experience for me. But I agree, meditation can be slippery and possibly dangerous to those with mental challenges or illness.

    • Candol says:

      “The suttas emphasize that one shouldn’t begin meditation until one has a good ethical ground to start from. That goes equally for having good psychological health, since meditation is not a treatment for mental illness. I’ll be interested to see if those were some of the issues she pointed to.”

      While i haven’t read this in the suttas but have heard it said by goenka, i find the second part of your sentence quite offensive and wonder which sutta you get this idea from.

      No meditation is not a mental illness but mental health is not mental illness in the first place. In the second place why can’t someone who has a mental illness benefit from meditation. And secondly i think that the examples of highly successful meditation teachers being somewhat dysfunctional beings (eg taizen maezumi , chogham trungpa (sorry not sure how his name goes) comes to mind why must one have perfect mental health to start with.

      Perhaps you could clarify which types of mental illness you think make a person unsuitable for meditation and explain why not.

      As it happens i also know a tibetan buddhist meditation teacher/monk/psychologist who admits to having extreme anxiety problems from time to time. What do you say about him. He should never have taken up meditation.

  6. Mark Knickelbine says:

    “The suttas emphasize that one shouldn’t begin meditation until one has a good ethical ground to start from . . .”

    Theravadin orthodoxy certanly emphasizes keeping the precepts as being preeminent over mindfulness, but one could certainly argue that the suttas themselves emphasize mind training as being foundational (check out the first chapter of the Dhammapada for good examples). This stands to reason, because if one has no ability to get outside their reactive thought patterns, it will be very difficult to distinguish skillful from unskillful intentions and acts.

    ” That goes equally for having good psychological health, since meditation is not a treatment for mental illness.”

    I know in my own case that mindfulness practice provided me the first relief from depression that I had experienced, and I know others for whom mindfulness helped them move past grief, anxiety, addiction, and other psychological difficulties. In fact, I would argue that being trapped in habitual reactive mind states is the ultimate “mental illness” in that it prohibits one from understanding and coping with any other problem they might have. Of course dharma practice is about so much more than just relief from psychological issues, but coping with such issues is bringing people like me to discover the value of practice every day.

    • Doug Smith Doug says:

      Hi Mark,

      Re. the Dhammapada, it’s true that the first chapter emphasizes meditation, but I wouldn’t necessarily assume that means it’s claiming one should privilege meditation over ethical conduct, nor that one should begin one’s practice by meditating.

      OTOH it is pretty clear that suttas like the Mahamangala Sutta of the Sutta Nipata (2.4) reveal that meditation is an advanced practice that comes after one gets one’s life ethically in order.

      Re. mental illness, I would be careful with that. I’ve noticed myself that meditation can aid in reducing some depressive symptoms. But depression comes in a great range, from mild to deadly, and it’s one thing to say it can help with the blue feelings of everyday life and another to say that it can help with serious cases. At any rate, meditation has not yet been shown to be a substitute for competent psychological care (viz., the points that Britton apparently made in her talk, which I’d like to know more about).

      Now, studies are ongoing and I agree that some are promising. Perhaps we can say that meditation may be a good adjunct to competent psychological care, with mild cases of mental illness or the daily foibles of life that don’t quite qualify as ‘mental illness’ but that may share some features.

    • mufi says:

      Mark: My understanding is that the psychological research to-date suggests that mindfulness practice is an effective treatment for the transdiagnostic factors (or dysfunctional coping strategies) of rumination and experiential avoidance. That’s it.

      Depression is a much bigger animal than those two factors alone. (BTW, those two factors are called “transdiagnostic” because they are criteria shared in the diagnosis of other emotional disorders, besides depression.)

      As far as self-help goes (which is compatible both with Doug’s advice and with mindfulness practice), I would look to physical exercise and yoga, for which there is evidence of their being effective treatments for depression.

      • Candol says:

        I certainly don’t think anyone who is deeply depressed could face doing meditation in that state. Nor are they likely to want to do yoga or anything more than take a short slow walk. At least that’s what i’ve noticed when depression is worst. But when they are somewhat recovered i think meditation can be very helpful. I am even averse to meditation when i am mildly depressed but the fact is, ones state of depression is always in flux. And i think its fair to say that most people who suffer from depression have dysfunctional coping strategies and perhaps other things going on as well. Its not just feeling down.

        I think its worth noting that even people who do not suffer from depression can have dysfunctional coping strategies and rumination and experiential avoidance. I’ve met quite a few in my time. Everyone has problematic “traits” its just a question how much impact those traits have on their life. Some people manage to mould their life around their traits so that their traits are not problematic in the context they find themselves in. However shift to another situation and they might seem quite odd or disturbed. Take someone in a street gang….

  7. Mark Knickelbine says:

    I mention the Dhammapada verses as an example of the fact that the suttas contradict themselves in many ways, and in order to make sense of them one must interpret. The ultimate authority has to be in one’s own experience; and in my experience, the equanimity and sensitivity to others that come with mindfulness practice have been a necessary prerequisite to being able to recognize and follow through with a more compassionate attitude toward others.

    As far as the efficacy of mindfulness in a psychological setting, I’ll bet there’s a department of integrative medicine somewhere near you where you could see it in action. The fact that there are inadequate research methodologies to demonstrate the effectiveness of mindfulness (or even a very explicit definition of what the practice entails) doesn’t mean it isn’t effective. The PsyD who diagnosed me seemed to think it was real depression — at any rate, you’ll have to trust me that it was a hell of a lot more than the “blue feelings of everyday life.”

    • Doug Smith Doug says:

      Hi Mark,

      True, just because it hasn’t been shown effective doesn’t mean it won’t be in the future. As I say, I find the claims plausible, though many plausible claims prove false.

      Re. your own experience, I am very glad you have passed through that bad stage, but one must avoid anecdotal evidence for health claims, even if the anecdote is one’s own experience. Illness has its own trajectory, and sometimes we get well for all sorts of reasons that have nothing to do with what we might expect. Or to put it another way, for every inefficacious cure ever offered to a gullible public, there are anecdotes of efficacy. It is very difficult to determine causation in these contexts, which is why what’s really needed are well designed, hopefully blinded and placebo controlled, tests.

  8. NaturalEntrust says:

    Thanks Dana for sharing your personal experience.

    Had you not shared it then I an others new to
    Secular Buddhism had had not idea such can happen.

    I don’t remember that either 4NT or N8PT anywhere
    warn about retreats or on meditation and there is
    thousands of years in those “Truths” so how can they
    miss something that important unless they consciously
    hide it?

    It confirms my take that Buddhist words doesn’t mean
    what the English translation usually means in everyday speech.

    I would prefer if Secular Buddhism would try to find words
    that are not like entering a New Religious Movement form
    of sect with their own words for everything.

    Can you write about that guy Chris Oates too?
    He also held a talk on Averse effects on meditation. 2010
    He is a former Buddhist Monk.

    • Dana Dana Nourie says:

      Hi NaturalE,

      Sorry I don’t know anything about Chris Oates. He was just on that other web site.

      The 8 fold path and the 4 Noble Truths don’t warn about retreats or meditation. Those warnings come from modern day teachers. In Buddha’s day meditation was common and a part of many religions.

      There are legit studies that do show benefits of meditation, and just that many are being talked about that don’t show anything in particular and people misread them. This happens with many medical studies. Journalists don’t always report accurately.

      I suspect over time we will see more evidence in favor of meditation, along with cases where it was not beneficial or even harmful. We will see!

  9. Mark Knickelbine says:

    I am aware of the placebo effect, but if we were only seeing scattered anecdotes mindfulness would not be becoming so widespread in the theraputic community. The evidence of the positive impact of mindfulness on depression may not be definitive but it is growing, to wit: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3311113/
    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3044190/

    to cite two recent examples. And if my experience were only my subjective sense of my own internal states, that would be one thing; but happily I get to sit with a whole room full of people every couple weeks sharing very similar anecdotes, which tends to reinforce my faith in the veracity of my own experience. If it’s a placebo, it’s a very powerful and consistent one. Obviously one wouldn’t expect to treat things like schizophrenia or bipolar disorder with meditation alone, and if someone runs the risk of being suicidal other interventions are called for. But I think the efficacy of mindfulness has richly demonstrated itself in clinical settings, and what we’re doing now is waiting for research methods to catch up with it.

  10. Ted Meissner Ted Meissner says:

    Will continue to try to get Willoughby on the podcast to talk about the specifics of what she has found with regard to even a clear definition of Mindfulness. What she was discussing at the conference is that it’s not really all that well defined, and though we do have a certain expectation of some kind of training being effective, it seems that it’s a bit open yet.

    Certainly more to come, things really do appear promising!

  11. NaturalEntrust says:

    Could you also ask her about the online
    forum or blogs for Buddhists that have
    had problems with meditation and that
    try to help each other online.

    Or was that Chris Oates? My poor
    memory says it where Willoughby
    Britton but who knows they took
    turn talking in the question part.

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