This afternoon at the International Symposium for Contemplative Studies, I attended a double session titled Heartfulness as Mindfulness: Affectivity and Perspective in Abrahamic and Dharmic Traditions. The presenters spoke from several different faith traditions.
One of the things so refreshing about this panel was precisely that the speakers spoke from within their faith traditions. A large part of the Contemplative Studies movement is secular in its orientation. Practices are borrowed, largely from the Buddhist tradition, but removed from their Buddhist context. They are presented as individual practices for individual goals: to reduce stress, improve health and so forth.
Part of the thrust of the panel was to suggest that contemplative practices from the Buddhist and other traditions are not disconnected from values; they are communal – in the sense of being in the service of loving encounter. The speakers suggested that much is lost in divorcing the practices from their moorings.
I tend to agree. This panel, combined with the comments yesterday of the Dalai Lama, helped me understand my hesitance about the contemplative studies movement. Don’t get me wrong: I’d rather people engage in (secular) mindfulness practice than no practice at all. But I’m uncomfortable about limiting something with such great potential to an atomistic individual-centered activity. And I wonder at how effective practices removed from their context can be in fostering compassion (as opposed to improved memory, productivity, reduced stress, etc.).
[PS: for those who receive my postings by e-mail, sorry if you got an earlier incomplete version of this. I intended to hit “save” and I hit “publish” instead.]