Nobo Komagata: Meditation

Introduction

There were two major events that motivated me to start meditating: first, becoming a father in 2005; second, hip fracture in 2008. Meditation was certainly helpful to cope with psychological and other challenges during these years. For a while, I mainly followed the so-called the modern Vipassana approach. However, in 2014, reading more and more about meditation and Buddhism, I started to shift my approach. The main source is Thanissaro Bhikkhu's recent book, which emphasizes the active aspect of (right) mindfulness as taught in the original Buddhist context (rather than passively attending to the present moment). Below is a summary of my journey involving meditation, along with some other related topics. [By the way, the photo at right is of my daughter when she was three.]

Rediscovering Buddhism

I grew up in Japan, where Buddhism is considered one of the core religions, along with Shinto, Confucianism, and Taoism, i.e."four teachings" of Japan, cf. "three teachings" of China. Unfortunately, I feel that the kinds of Buddhism practiced in Japan (sometimes referred to as "funeral Buddhism") do not convey the original teachings of the Buddha very well (maybe except for the Zen traditions). In fact, I was never drawn to Buddhism until recently. Well, the modern Japanese people tend not to be very religious in the traditional sense anyway. While I am neither a Buddhist (especially being distant from its religious and certain philosophical aspects) nor belonging to any of the other religions listed above, the psychological aspect of the Buddha's teachings became the main inspiration to my self-directed mental development.

Buddhism and Attachment Theory

For the first few years of our daughter's life, we hoped that she would be "securely attached" to us in the sense of attachment theory. Then, when I learned Buddhist teachings, I started to value the notion of "non-attachment." On the surface, attachment (in attachment theory) and non-attachment (in Buddhism) might appear contradictory. However, as I explored the connection, I realized that not only there is no contradition but also the two notions are deeply related. This point has been written up as an essay (Attachment and Non-attachment).

Minfdulness, Learning, and Intrinsic Motivation

The idea of "non-attachment" (or non-craving/non-clinging) also applies to learning. As long as the learner is attached to a certain outcome, be it grades or even goals of a learner-centered approach (which I believe is a much better alternative to the conventional teacher-centered approach), there will be suffering, which will in turn disrupt the learning process. Then, what would be a learning process with no attachment? Here is a relevant essay of mine (On (Elementary) Education). There, one of the important element is intrinsic motivation, which is also discussed in my other essays (When We Really Want to Bring about Changes in People; Why Don't We Start from Students' Problems?).

Most Recent Development: Mindfulness as an Active Process

When I first read Right Mindfulness by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (2012), I was not really comfortable. That was because the book challenges the popular notion of mindfulness as present moment awareness without judgment (or "bare attention"). However, as I gain more understanding and realized that the limitations of my past meditation practice may well be associated with the limitations of this popular notion of mindfulness (even though there surely are many benefits). Now, this book along with some other articles/books is shifting my practice in a subtle way. Properly situated within the original Buddhist context, right mindfulness is to begin with a good understanding of the problem (e.g., suffering) and the underlying mechanisms (e.g., dependent origination), make appropriate efforts, and develop a meditative state (e.g., right concentration) that would let us recondition and then uncondition our minds. Probably, it's not that some other teachers are not saying the same thing. However, in my opinion, Thanissaro makes this point most explicitly and vigorously. While exploring the idea, I came up with the following metaphor. Bare attention is like chasing a mouse wherever it goes; while better than not chasing, we will never really be able to get hold of it. On the other hand, if we were actively engaged in the whole mental process of the mouse including its understanding and intention, we would know where it goes; we would no longer need to "chase" it. Here is another one. Bare attention is like practicing catching balls, instead of practicing hitting balls, in order to hit a home run. Surely, practicing catching balls does have certain benefits. We could still learn the nature of a home run; this would be impossible if we had never known baseball. But to hit a home run, we need to actually practice hitting.

The recent development has been written as an essay (Right Mindfulness through Diagrams).

[To be continued]


Last modified: June 12, 2017