Mindfulness in the US military – is it mad?

Mindfulness in the US military  – is that mad?

———– This post was written before I started the whole series of posts on radical meditation. It’s outdated but I left it up anyway. Please see the new index page to meditation posts. ——–

I meditate. A lot. Meditation is profoundly life-changing and when I imagine a happy future for the human race, I imagine meditation being as normal as eating. But when I read recent coverage of mindfulness meditation, I’m only rescued from a whiff of despair by hysteria-tinged laughter.

To understand why, and what this post is about, please visit this link. It pictures US soldiers practising Buddhist mindfulness meditation to prepare for the stress of battle (including the stress of killing). 

“Though its roots are found in Buddhism, leaders say soldiers do not need to be Buddhist to gain benefits from it,” the article explains.  Well, yes. But Gautam Buddha was a most loving and compassionate man, entirely non-violent. His teachings are not a religion in the Western, Judao-Christian sense, which you can choose to believe or not. His original teachings contain no reference to any god or gods, any belief in any divinity or causal creative force, any soul or afterlife. His dying words were “Ananda, make no statues of me,” and he intended no worship of himself or anyone else. [Some Buddhism today contains all these things, but that’s 2500 years of dilution by human stupidity.]  Buddha was a meditation teacher. His teachings simply extended instructions to experience the tranquility that begins with mindfulness, deeper and deeper and deeper, arriving to an ultimately deep existential peacefulness.

So to me it’s actually very strange to try to prise mindfulness as a technique away from mindfulness as part of a wider teaching of meditation, and very strange indeed to use it as a combat technique. Yet just why  is not easy to articulate. There is a vast gulf between Gautam Buddha’s worldview and the mindset that we in the West grow up in. It’s so vast that the basic shared assumptions needed for communication are missing.

I’m going to have a go at explaining the difference between mindfulness as a technique (makes sense in the military context) and mindfulness as part of a wider meditation teaching (kind of mad in the military). Along the way I hope to explain the potential and the limitations of mindfulness in everyday life.  I hope to show how it’s both a very potential advance, and yet only the foothills of radical meditation.

This will take a number of posts. To end for now, here is an article on the same subject by Buddhist teacher Michael Stone in Salon.

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