Row of Buddha statues

Images of mindfulness: the Monk

In All articles, Making sense of mindfulness by Norman Lamont0 Comments

In the last article musing on the ‘archetypes’ of mindfulness fans described by Chris Goto-Jones in the course De-Mystifying Mindfulness we looked at the Scientist, who is attracted by separation of mindfulness practices from any religious backgrounds but may be worried that mindfulness teachers have a hidden agenda to re-introduce irrational and superstitious spirituality by the back door.

Row of Buddha statues

The Monk takes the opposite view.  Are you more like the Monk?

More than a therapy

The Monk believes that mindfulness is not just a therapy to make people slightly happier in their jobs, slightly less stressed in their pursuit of material goods, and slightly more efficient in their productivity on behalf of capitalist economies.

So far from adding credibility to the practices of meditation the Monk thinks modern mindfulness trivialises and devalues a much deeper wisdom. The Monk’s aim is not to make the self more comfortable but to transcend the self completely.  The Monk is the most likely to decry courses as  ‘McMindfulness’ and to be outraged by the use of mindfulness techniques by the military and police as well as big business.

Not of this world

The Monk wants to point to an alternative moral order.  In the media, the monk is often represented as a sage so unconcerned with worldly life that they are presented as amusingly incompetent with everyday technology or social niceties. I’ve seen this myself in a visit to a group of followers of a Tibetan lama in England, who swung from revering his insight to laughing in a motherly way about his recklessness on his motorbike.

This is enough

So people who come to mindfulness with this mindset will be the ones attracted by the imagery of Buddhas and lotuses, and quotes from Zen masters in calligraphic fonts. But while they may aspire and believe in a radical transformation of the self, they may find an 8-week MBSR course is enough of a challenge for now, and not be ready to go on an intensive silent Buddhist retreat. I think that’s fine.  I think a simple, secular mindfulness course can be the start of a much deeper journey but equally, for some people, it’s enough in itself and I wouldn’t look down on anyone who sees ten minutes sitting per day making them a better person to live with.

Incensed by incense?

Just as the Scientist view can in some cases lead to arrogance and the use of pseudo-science as a credential, so the Monk viewpoint can give rise to problems.  One is around ‘trappings’ – incense may be unnecessary but are bells for timing out periods a cultural throwback? Should the hands be placed in a certain way seen in Buddha statues? Is sitting on a cushion on the floor more conducive to good meditation than sitting on a chair? Another is around what might be called ‘orientalism’ – the idea that the aesthetics and language of the East are somehow either better or, if you are turned off by the Monk view, repulsive.  And which part of the East?  I know myself I’d rather sit in a spartan Zen hall than an ornate Tibetan hall, but equally I’d rather teach in a conference room on comfortable chairs.

So like the Scientist you may be either attracted or repulsed – or both – by the bundle of associations Chris Goto-Jones calls the Monk.  How does it make you feel?

Leave a Comment