23 October, 2017

Some Reflections On ‘Mindfulness Meditation’

By Laksiri Fernando

Dr. Laksiri Fernando

I was pleased to read another great piece by Dr Upul Wijayawardhana on the subject of meditation, titled “Scientific basis of mindfulness meditation” on last Saturday (The Island, 4 March 2017). I am using neutral language as much as possible by purpose without glowing him in praise. It is also my personal experience that ‘meditation to the mind is like physical exercises to the body.’ I am particularly referring to the mindfulness meditation or Vipassana, as he has explained.

I became attracted to Buddhism at the age of ten when my Mahappa (father’s elder brother) became a Buddhist in 1955. I was inquisitive what he was doing in his room, sitting on a mat in a strange posture; and sitting there for long hours, keeping his eyes closed. It was in 1958 and thereafter, I came across many of E. W. Adikaram’s articles in the Silumina newspaper, one of which was “Jathivadiya Manasika Pisseki” (Communalist is a Lunatic). He also published a series of short booklets thereafter called “Sithuvili” (Thoughts) where he explained some simple methods of meditation. I also had the opportunity to listen to him at Moratuwa town hall as a youngster and on radio. He came for a series of lectures. Everything became forgotten later, engrossed in studies, ‘student politics’ and in a busy professional life thereafter. However, when I look back, even ‘student politics’ (!) could have been enriched, if there was a touch of ‘mindfulness.’

Current Trends

In Australian schools today, mindfulness training is extensively used and there will be a “Mindfulness Teacher Training Certificate Course” in Sydney in a week’s time on 15-16 March. As Dr Wijayawardhana says “Though the purists may argue that these variants negate the original aims but I am sure Gautama Buddha would not have minded his technique being used, even with modifications, for the good of many.” The important point to ask here is whether and how far the Sri Lankan schools use these methods of ‘Mindfulness’ in a scientific manner for the benefit of the students and the society. Three objectives that Australian schools attempting to achieve are: (1) Relieve anxiety and stress of students (2) Let go of anger and frustration and (3) Overcome worrying and negative thinking.

Wijayawardhana has given a useful exposition to the benefit of many medical personnel at the 39th Annual Academic Session of the Kandy Society of Medicine (15 February) about the various ways the medical science/s today using the methods of meditation, beginning with the initiatives by Professor Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979 in USA. When I encountered the first symptoms of acute angina in early 1997, after what they called an angioplasty, I was put on a heart rehabilitation program at the Concord Hospital in Sydney. After several weeks of physical exercises, I was surprised when the instructor introduced what he called the ‘Breathing Meditation.’ It was similar to Anapanasati and when he was talking, he looked at me and said, ‘Fernando, you must be familiar with this,’ to which I just nodded.

It was mainly sitting relaxingly, and inhaling and exhaling for ten minutes, closing your eyes. There was a cassette available at a reasonable price to take home. The important thing was to be conscious about the process, and the instructor during the training, and also in the cassette, was asking us to concentrate on the nostrils, and how the air goes into the lungs and coming out when you exhale. During this exercise, your mind really becomes focussed. After the process, you feel much calmer and relaxed. This was mainly for stress control, as he said. Only after sometime that I realized, the name of the hospital, Concord, was well suited for this meditation lesson. During that time, we were also living in Concord.

For Peace and Harmony

On a more social or ‘spiritual’ application, Dr Wijayawardhana has highlighted the recent contributions made by U Ba Khin (the Burmese) and more particularly, Satya Narayan Goenka, to popularize meditation and mindfulness in society. He also mentions its relevance to peace and harmony in the world, referring to Goenka’s speech at the UN Summit of Religious and Spiritual Leaders for World Peace in August 2000. This is immensely relevant for Sri Lanka today.

Goenka started his speech by saying that “Religion is religion only when it unites. Religion is no more religion when it divides.” He ended his speech by quoting Emperor Dharma Asoka’s Edict XII, which begins with declaring “One should not honour only one’s own religion and condemn the religions of others, but one should honour other’s religions for this or that reason.” He did quote the whole Edict, which further explains ‘this or that reason’ why other religions should be respected.

What is more important is what he said as the main thrust of his speech relating to Vipassana Meditation. He related ‘the peace in the world to the peace in the mind.’ This is also in the motto of UNESCO taking from the Buddha directly which says “We must construct the defences of peace in the minds of women and men.” He further said, “If there is no peace in the minds of the individual, I cannot understand how can there be real peace in the world.”

Within a short span of time, given to him at the summit, Goenka tried to illustrate the problem by explaining the common or normal nature of the human mind which is agitated with often-times with ‘anger, envy, hatred and animosity.’ This is how he tried to emphasise the importance of meditation and mindfulness which are necessary for peace within and in the world. He categorically said, “If I have anger, I am the first victim of my anger” which is absolutely true.

Therefore, we should thank Upul Wijayawardhana for bringing Goenka’s speech and other matters to our attention. He says, “When I retired I directed my attention to an organ more obscure than the heart; the brain. I was fascinated by the mind and consciousness and started learning Abhidhamma…” In my case, my knowledge of Abhidhamma is almost nil. But when he says he considers the ‘Buddha to be a scientist and a philosopher’ it resonates with my understanding as well. One of my recent journal articles was “Origins of research methodology, Buddhism and the Four Noble Truths” (Sri Lanka Journal of Social Sciences 39 (2), December 2016).

He has also said “A great disservice had been done by making him [the Buddha] a religious leader thus limiting his discoveries only to his followers but, fortunately, it is changing though slowly….” I am not going to deduct simplistic conclusions from that statement for the current debates on ‘foremost place for Buddhism’ in the present or a new constitution. But it might give some food for thought for the Buddhists to think about, while I have no objection for that ‘foremost place’ or hesitation to appreciate Buddhism as a great religion. It is my observation that Buddhism has given many (or most) people some civility, discipline and a particular serene culture. Listening to Bana (sermons), observation of Sil (precepts) and worship of Bodhi (Bo tree) are good ethnical practices which would be meaningless to those who consider Buddhism only as a philosophy and/or science.

Personal Benefits for Anyone

Be as it may, more pertinent is Wijayawardhana’s emphasis on ‘mindfulness’ and ‘meditation,’ now for some time in Sri Lankan newspapers. It appears to me that the mind is a jumble of thought processes for whatever the reason/s. I am not sure whether there is a physiological/medical explanation for its erratic nature. When you try to focus on it, it is almost uncontrollable at least at the beginning. That can be one reason why many people (including myself!) are usually grievance ridden, aggressive, agitated and intolerant. That cannot however be the only reason. There are some other objective or external reasons why your agitations are generated. For example, if a person is deprived of possessions or unnecessarily harassed by someone, then the agitation is almost natural.

Thoughts in the mind come and go quickly, unless you are engaged thoroughly in a particular task (i.e. talking, writing, driving) and they usually come and go as images or in words. Your thinking is audio-visual! What comes to mind, when you first observe, usually are grievances or offenses. That your spouse, brother, neighbour or colleague has done such and such a thing to you. Most hearting (particularly among the middle classes) is what happens to your dignity or pride. Most intriguing is the grievances and antagonisms coming in enlarged forms. Some of them can be pure misunderstandings.

Of course, there are thoughts that come to your mind because of sensual or sexual impulses. However, they are (presumably) less, if you try to meditate. If you can observe your thought processes through simple meditation and analyse them for rational reasoning, that renders much peace to your mind than anything else. You also might be able to identify some root causes for your disturbances. Continuous doing so definitely calms you down and your productivity in whatever you do would be increased. Your thoughts become more cohesive and logical and also objective without (much) prejudice. You feel more harmony in life and less conflicts and animosities. You may achieve some ‘detachment.’

Conclusion

Therefore, what Upul Wijayawardhana has been saying in his numerous articles in Sri Lankan newspapers should be taken seriously. Three major conclusions that can be drawn could be (1) the introduction of mindfulness training in school curricula with an interfaith or secular emphasis, (2) the setting up of mindfulness/meditation training centres in universities for the benefit of students and academics, and (3) the incorporation of a purposeful ‘Peace of Mind Program’ (i.e. UNESCO motto) in the national reconciliation and peace building work. It should be emphasised that meditation and mindfulness are common to all religious traditions, and more particularly to Hinduism and Buddhism.

Further, could it be useful if a ‘Mindfulness’ training program is launched for the Parliamentarians and politicians?

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Latest comments

  • 2
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    Soldiers were taught meditation in order to kill better and perform better on the battle field – so let’s be careful Prof.!

    In the land of un-Buddhism, aka. Miracle of Modayas, mindfulness meditation will be another un-Buddhist political game taught and played by thugs in robes.. to get seats in the parliament of corrupt clowns!

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      Meditation is used by snipers, especially to lower their heart rate. Meditation itself is not inherently evil but it can be adapted to evil acts. This applies to many other things. Nuclear fusion is not inherently evil but that principle can be used to create Thermonuclear weapons.

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    Writer says Mindfulness/Meditation is common to all religions specially Hinduism/Buddhism. In Christianity, meditation is commanded, but only with focused attention on the written word in the bible, for way to be prosperous and to have good success. Joshua 1,8 The focus on the spirit realm lifts up to God who is spirit and his spiritual presence connects with the human spirit (called prayer) so his thoughts permeate human thoughts and perceptions. There are defined courses to learn to hear and perceive the spontaneous flow of good spirit thoughts/voice, but those who dabble inquisitively rather that with commitment to put right, may receive from evil spirit beings, the thoughts to harm and destroy. Wisdom from God presence discerns..

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      “Prayers are the key in the morning, and the lock at Night”

      (Say Amen if you agree)

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      Christian

      Christianity is a Joke.but, Catholics practised Meditation. It is believed that it came from India too. Because, meditation is older than 2600 years and it existed Even Before Lord Buddha. So, what ever went to bible should be from India. Because, Bible is fiction and it is written by different people. It is not something taught by Jesus.

      Anyway, Presently Catholics do not have genuine meditators. so they sanctify missionaries such as Mother Theresa., that Portugeuse Missionary came from Goa to Sri lanka etc.,

      But, long ago, Those catholics who meditated came to a stand still in their meditative absorption. As theosphical books say, at that moment those yogis recognized that there was no GOD to accept them or embrace them or direct them. virtually, they were alone, and they were hanging there without any help.

      But, real meditation is far different from that.

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        Mark’s gospel account of Jesus says that He rose up before dawn, went to a solitary place and prayed. Mk.1,35 This was His daily habit before doing anything. Meditation, whether called touching the cosmic consciousness, spiritual consciousness, dimensional consciousness or God consciousness for believers, uses the same human structure of body, soul and spirit to reach different dimensions of consciousness to escape from worldly evil, dukkha, pain, disease, guilt. God’s ruling and loving presence is independent of whether we believe that he exists or not. Jesus lives. Bible is an inspired historical account by 35 authors during 1600 years,ending 2000 years ago

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        Jimbo;

        If you want to Practise True Mindfulness, please read the Book, ‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’ by the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh.

        It Teaches how to Practise and Attain Peacefulness within Oneself; Probably the only Meditation Level most of us can ever Hope to Achieve!

  • 3
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    ‘Further, could it be useful if a ‘Mindfulness’ training program is launched for the Parliamentarians and politicians?’

    Mindfulness as a part of the process of awakening is based on an ethical foundation. Hardly likely to be found in our parliament is it?

    In the West it is often used without this ethical foundation so success is limted. In fact the West has secularised it, as with Yoga.

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    CAMP PENDLETON, Calif. — The U.S. Marine Corps, known for turning out some of the military’s toughest warriors, is studying how to make its troops even tougher through meditative practices, yoga-type stretching and exercises based on mindfulness.

    Marine Corps officials say they will build a curriculum that would integrate mindfulness-based techniques into their training if they see positive results from a pilot project. Mindfulness is a Buddhist-inspired concept that emphasizes active attention on the moment to keep the mind in the present.

    Facing a record suicide rate and thousands of veterans seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress, the military has been searching for ways to reduce strains on service members burdened with more than a decade of fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

  • 1
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    Dr. Laksiri Fernando:

    The following is about gppd results of chanting.

    I don’t know whether you heard, that a Sri lankan researcher, studying in Austrlia foun that wave Frequncies affect body – organ health and the wrong frequency can cause cancer.

    Australia has equipment designed and being operated to use sound frequencesi to treat specific oegan disorders. US medical council has a prepared a list of such frequenceis each specific to each organ.

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    Mindfulness in my experience is not about relaxation, its more about changing your perception on what are your goals. Paradoxical Relaxation training on the other hand is actually makes you relaxed by accepting that you are tensed. It is also called Stanford Protocol originated from Stanford university. in Paradoxical relaxation training takes about a year to actually relax your mind, of course it depends on the individual commitment to it. Paradoxical training is extremely hard without a trainer.

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    I would like to radicle this article with respect to mindfulness/meditation. Lady next to our house started this program in her house where she had a close knit membership of over 50 who constantly visited her and enjoyed her hospitality and I use to ridicule her for her misguided dedication and I strongly advised that her memes should be actively engaged in doing a job and buying their own home with the money thus saved instead being sorry oneself.
    4 weeks ago this lady was taken to hospital and then to a Hospice and sadly I was the only person visited her, kept an eye on her house and car parked and none of her members ever gone to see her at the hospital.
    She died 4 days ago and her house was suddenly swamped with the members hoping to salvage something out of her home and her car suddenly vanished. Is this the goodness of her venture at mindfulness and meditation?
    I was told that she had some good word for me and something else for me which I don’t like to mention, which I firmly declined when her admistrators called me as I made enough for my self and I don’t want people to think that what I own may be labeled as a gift from someone else.

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      Your story describes the truth about this mindfulness. It is about self struggling and striving though called relaxation to reach some goal he is unable to reach, though he knows it exists. It has nothing to do with selflessness or self giving and hence this lady you mentioned was abandoned by the group, except to grab something at the end of it. There is no transformation of the personality in this gimmick, but back to same selfishness that was there. If mindfulness is empowered by a superior spiritual force only that you can expect a change that can eventually lead to a better state or even an evil state. Or its a waste of time.

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        Nimal, Watcher, you are judging the Buddha’s discovery from the experience of some woman who was cheated by her associates. How pathetic is that? If you realyy want to know what the Buddha meant you should read what he said and try out his methods for yourself.

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          Not belittling Buddha’s discovery, but simply saying that intellectual enlightenment alone is insufficient to make a change in one’s life, specially to escape the consequences of doing evil in this world. After all the noble eightfold path is to get to a higher level of right living than is possible by living the striving daily life that is the lot of ordinary man. After all, Buddha too was a Hindu king who gave up luxury to attain enlightenment. Even the cheated woman must have the same chance to attain enlightenment by practicing what is written. All this is at the intellectual mental level called mindfulness. But there is another experience possible at the heart level called spirituality which is a connection to a spiritual presence or force, and it is real to those who experience it. Others scoff.

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            Watcher:

            Christians are good at explaing the never seen Almighty.

            So, they start explaining mindfulness too.

            Mindfulness is the first word for a huge subject.

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        Watcher
        I am sorry to say that great teachers like Lord Buddha and Christ gave us a simple message during their life time but sadly over the years, decades have got contaminated with other thoughts which led to an established religion.
        After over thousand of years some have made all kind of theories and even exaggerations of their teachings. It seems by the numerous pages and chapters of their teachings had been written as if the news reporters have been following them every where they went. We must follow the very essence of their teachings which is very much similar among the great teachers and discard the rest that brings division and conflict which one could see in the world.
        also religion that had been misused makes good business too.

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    “Further, could it be useful if a ‘Mindfulness’ training program is launched for the Parliamentarians and politicians?”

    Also what about lessons on Buddhism?

    • 0
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      Good idea napu

  • 3
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    All the blinds are explaing what an elephant is. Mindfulness came to english vocabulary after one Sri lankan buddhist monk living in South Virgenia wrote a book about it in English and published it. Then even OBama used that word in his talk. I think, US army adopted thart as a meditation because, Sri lankan Army has very low PTSD cases even after a very brutal 30 years of war. american PTSD cases were very high even after six months of mobilizing and their confronatations mostly with modern weapons unlike the sri lanka who did not that modern weapons.

    Anyway, Mindfulness meditation is the most important of buddhist meditation. Lord Buddha had asked every one to be mindful in every moment in order to understand the reality as it is. Even everybody – heard Breathing
    meditation is part of mindfulness meditation.

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      JIM

      Do you also think chemotherapy is a English term for treatment of cancer by Buddhist monks

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      Mr. Jim,
      “Mindfulness came to english vocabulary after one Sri lankan buddhist monk living in South Virgenia wrote a book about it in English and published it.”
      Yes, I can confirm this .The monk is Ven.Mulleriyawe Mottasoma , who is the first Arahant in North America. He is the Chief Sanghanayaka of the South Virginia chapter of the Angodawansa Nikaya, and also the President of the US Medical Council you mentioned earlier. He has cured ovarian cancer in several men by farting at a certain frequency.
      I really appreciate your information, Mr. Jim!

      • 2
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        Ovarian cancer in a man and what next, pigs can fly?

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          Nimal,
          Yes, and he is famous for curing 354 insomniacs with one of his Bana sermons

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            Yes boredom too cures insomnia and feels sleepy. Real prayer which is focused meditation on unseen reality involving a deep area of our being (not just superficial brain thinking), takes us into a spiritual conflict of good versus evil. There are legal rights there as in the karmic principle, and we have to negate the evil to release the good. They are the scales of justice, and must learn how to overcome, not simply meditate on the now with the mind hoping some good will happen and which is being currently practiced all over but without any effect and no good results.

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      ‘jim softy’ your Statement:-

      “Mindfulness came to english vocabulary after one Sri lankan buddhist monk living in South Virgenia wrote a book about it in English and published it.”

      ‘Sati’ is the Buddha’s Pali Concept, that can only be translated into English, as ‘Mindfulness’

      e.g. ‘Anapana Sati’ can only be translated as ‘Mindfulness of Breathing.’

      So Jim, you cannot say that a single Sinhala Monk originated the Concept of Mindfulness!

    • 0
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      Mindfulness is done in schools for 20 minutes mental relaxation and then they continue with routine. It cannot be done every moment if we are to live on this earth, have families, jobs, education, healing the sick etc. This is done in places of work too, but they too get back to routine. If all do it all the time, then human population will be wiped out in one generation. Obama could have used this english word for a different reason and meaning. The experience is linked to intellectualism but not really change attitudes for the better. Spirituality is at deeper level of heart change by spiritual force and more suitable for monks, but not by reading books. It happens when focusing on good and right, and strongly desires that above all else

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    Romani Idiot:

    Google the following line and see, how many books comes

    Mindfulness in Plain English – by Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

    This monk is living South virginia.

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    An old university friend, now over 80 , as I am, told me she has now taken to meditation. I remarked that doing so at our ages is like closing the stable doors after the horses have fled. The glory of the Buddha is that he took to meditation in his youth when the hedonistic horses inside him were in full action.

  • 2
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    All you Mindfulness experts caught in the ‘web of opinions and speculation’ why don’t you ask someone who practises it?

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QFqdlfeq7wE&feature=related

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