Monday, 23 September 2013

Mindfulness and Traditional Western Philosophy Part 5: Existentialism and Contemporary Philosophy

This is the last post in a five part series illustrating how dominant Western Philosophical ideas are reflected in ancient mindfulness teachings and their legacy in modern secular 'Western' mindfulness. The previous posts are as follows:

Part 1 - The Pre-Socratics
Part 2 - The Socratics
Part 3 - The Renaissance and The Enlightenment
Part 4 - Romantics and Idealists

Part 5 concerns the Existentialists and Contemporary Philosophy. As before, a single quote closest to each philosopher's most radical and meaningful ideas has been used to represent their core value to history.

"We appeal as human beings to human beings: Remember your humanity, and forget the rest. If you can do so, the way lies open to a new Paradise; if you cannot, there lies before you the risk of universal death." - Bertrand Russell (1872-1970).
  • "When ordinary humans become Buddhas, they take up their humanity to harmonize their humanity and become a Buddha." - Japanese 'Soto Zen' Founder Master Eihei Dogen, Shobogenzo (Translated by Hubert Nearman, 2007), p785.
  • "...termed Bodhisattva Functioning (bosatsu-gyō), in which the actor is no ordinary ego but a “transcendent Person or transcendent humanity,” operating on the basis of “the whole of mankind as width and such transcendent humanity as depth.” And as indicated by the “Vow of Humankind,” Hisamatsu argues that humans must transcend their differences and work together to solve not only the fundamental religious problems of sin and death, value and existence, but also the various other forms of suffering in the world." - Zen Masters (2010, Oxford University Press), p229-229.
  • "...all human beings are friends, we should help them even if it means violating a Buddhist precept." - Japanese Soto Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki, Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness (1999), p102.
  • "We have to continue to practice mindfulness and reconciliation until we can see a child’s body of skin and bones in Uganda or Ethiopia as our own, until the hunger and pain in the bodies of all species are our own. Then we will have realized nondiscrimination, real love. Then we can look at all beings with the eyes of compassion, and we can do the real work to help alleviate suffering." - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step (1991), p121.
  • "As human beings we see life by means of a certain sensory apparatus and because people and objects seem external to us, we experience much misery. Our misery stems from the misconception that we are separate. Certainly it looks as though I am separate from other people and from all else in the phenomenal world. This misconception that we’re separate creates all the difficulties of human life." - American Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck writes in Nothing Special - Living Zen (1995), p75.
  • "If we include in our own pursuit of happiness an understanding of the need for others’ happiness, we will practice “wise self-interest” and ultimately act according to the mutual interest of all humanity." - The Mindfulness Revolution (2011), p.xvii.
  • "The world itself is weeping and begs for us to bring an entirely different level of attention and resolve to its suffering, based on our inherent beauty, goodness, and creative imagination as human beings. Perhaps mindfulness can play a significant role in the healing not only of ourselves but also of our world in ways little and big, and yet to be imagined." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p.XXXII.

"Philosophical troubles are caused by not using language practically but by extending it on looking at it. We form sentences and then wonder what they can mean." - Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951).
  • "...the nature of all things is like illusion, like a magical incarnation. So you should not fear them. Why? All words also have that nature, and thus the wise are not attached to words, nor do they fear them. Why? All language does not ultimately exist, except as liberation. The nature of all things is liberation.'" - The Buddha, Vimalakirti Nirdesa Sutra (Translated by Robert A. F. Thurman, 1976), Chapter 9.
  • "Understanding comes in midsentence. What good are doctrines? The ultimate Truth is beyond words. Doctrines are words. They’re not the Way. The Way is wordless. Words are illusions. They’re no different from things that appear in your dreams at night, be they palaces or carriages, forested parks or lakeside ‘lions. Don’t conceive any delight for such things." - The First Zen Patriarch Bodhidharma (early 5th century AD), Bloodstream Sermon.
  • "When we say something, our subjective intention or situation is always involved. So there is no perfect word; some distortion is always present in a statement." - Japanese Soto Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (1995), p87.
  • "Talks like these are not words to ponder; we get something from them and then throw them away and return to simple, direct practice." - American Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck writes in Nothing Special - Living Zen (1995), p231.
  • "During the hour-long discussion there are frequent stretches of silence in the group, as if we have collectively gone into a state beyond the need for talk. It feels as if the silence is communicating something deeper than what we are able to express with words. It binds us together. We feel peaceful in it, comfortable." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p128.
  • "We do not just think about things, we are also aware that we are thinking. And we don’t need language to stand as an intermediary between us and the world; we can also experience it directly through our senses." - Professor Mark Williams, Mindfulness: A practical guide to peace in a frantic world (2011), p11.

"We do not “have” a body; rather, we “are” bodily." - Martin Heidegger (1889-1976).
  • "...this real body is your mind. And this mind, through endless kalpas without beginning, has never varied. [..] You can’t possess it and you can’t lose it." - The First Zen Patriarch Bodhidharma (early 5th century AD), Bloodstream Sermon.
  • "When we meditate on our body, we are our body; we limit our observations to our body, even though we realize that our body is not separate from the rest of the universe." - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, The Sun My Heart (1988), p43.
  • "When we give up this spinning mind, even for a few minutes, and just sit with what is, then this presence that we are is like a mirror. We see everything. We see what we are: our efforts to look good, to be first, or to be last. We see our anger, our anxiety, our pomposity, our so-called spirituality. Real spirituality is just being with all that." - American Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck, Everyday Zen (1997), p13.
  • "Learning how to stop all your doing and shift over to a "being" mode, learning how to make time for yourself, how to slow down and nurture calmness and self-acceptance in yourself, learning to observe what your own mind is up to from moment to moment, how to watch your thoughts and how to let go of them without getting so caught up and driven by them, how to make room for new ways of seeing old problems and for perceiving the interconnectedness
    of things, these are some of the lessons of mindfulness. This kind of learning involves settling into moments of being and cultivating awareness." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p20.
  • "The ways we use language tell us a lot about the automatic way we personalize our symptoms and illnesses. For instance, we say "I have a headache" or "I have a cold" or "I have a fever," when it would be more accurate to say something like "the body is headaching" or "colding" or "fevering." [...]. By seeing the headache or the cold as a process, we are acknowledging that it is dynamic and not static, that is not "ours" but is rather an unfolding process that we are experiencing." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p282.
  • "Doing mode needs to think. It analyses, recalls, plans and compares. That’s its role and many of us find we’re very good at it. We spend a great deal of time ‘inside our heads’ without noticing what’s going on around us. The headlong rush of the world can absorb us so much that it erodes our sense of presence in the body, forcing us to live inside our thoughts, rather than experience the world directly.[...] The Doing mode involves judging and comparing the ‘real’ world with the world as we’d like it to be in our thoughts and dreams. It narrows attention down to the gap between the two, so that you can end up with a toxic variety of tunnel vision in which only perfection will do. Being mode, on the other hand, invites you temporarily to suspend judgment. It means briefly standing aside and watching the world as it unfolds, while allowing it to be just as it is for a moment." - Professor Mark Williams, Mindfulness: A practical guide to peace in a frantic world (2011), p38-39.

"The first effect of existentialism is that it puts every man in possession of himself as he is, and places the entire responsibility for his existence squarely upon his own shoulders. And, when we say that man is responsible for himself, we do not mean that he is responsible only for his own individuality, but that he is responsible for all men." - Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980).
  • "Seeking happiness, afraid of pain, loss and death, man walks the delicate balance between good and evil, purity and defilement, progress and decline. His actions are strung out between these moral antipodes, and because he cannot evade the necessity to choose, he must bear the full responsibility for his decisions. Man's moral freedom is a reason for both dread and jubilation, for by means of his choices he determines his own individual destiny, not only through one life, but through the numerous lives to be turned up by the rolling wheel of samsara. If he chooses wrongly he can sink to the lowest depths of degradation, if he chooses rightly he can make himself worthy even of the homage of the gods. The paths to all destinations branch out from the present, from the ineluctable immediate occasion of conscious choice and action." - Bikkhu Bodhi,  Dhammapada: Introduction, p19-20.
  • " totally owning the pain, the joy, the responsibility of my life—if I see this point clearly—then I’m free. I have no hope, I have no need for anything else." - American Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck, Everyday Zen (1997), p68.
  • "...our responsibility is always right here, right now, to experience the reality of our life as it is. And eventually to blame no one. If we blame anyone we know we’re caught; we can be sure of that." - American Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck, Everyday Zen (1997), p142.
  • "If we can submit to an authority, have it tell us what to do, then we can give someone else the responsibility for our lives and we don’t have to carry it anymore. We don’t have to feel the anxiety of making a decision." - American Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck writes in Nothing Special - Living Zen (1995), p11.
  • "...when all is said and done, the responsibility to preserve our humanity sits squarely on each one of us, no matter what our rank or status in society." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Coming To Our Senses (2006), p105.
  • "The whole point of mindfulness based stress reduction — and for that matter health promotion in its largest sense — is to challenge and encourage people to become their own authorities, to take more responsibility for their own lives, their own bodies, their own health. I like to emphasize that each person is already the world authority on him - or herself, or at least could be if they started attending to things mindfully. A great deal of the information each of us needs to learn more about ourselves and our health — information we desperately need in order to grow and to heal and to make effective life choices — is already right at our fingertips, at the tips of, or rather, right beneath, our noses." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are (1994), p191-192.

"Classificatory thought gives itself an essential space, which it proceeds to efface at each moment." - Michel Foucault (1926-1984).
  • "The way that becomes a way is not the Immortal Way, the name that becomes a name is not the Immortal Name" - Daoist Sage LaoZi (~6th Century BC), DaoDeJing (Red Pine translation, 1996), 1.1.
  • "Zen master Panshan [720–814] addressed the congregation, saying, “When there are no affairs in the mind, the myriad things are not born. In the inconceivable mysterious function, where would a speck of dust alight? The Way itself is formless, but because of form, names are established. The Way itself is nameless, but because of names, there is classification. “If you say, ‘Mind is Buddha,’ then you still haven’t entered the mystery. If you say, ‘No mind, no Buddha,’ then you’re just pointing at the traces of the ultimate. Even a thousand saints can’t transmit the higher road to others. You students are tormented by form. You’re like apes grabbing at shadows.”" - Zen's Chinese Heritage - The masters and their teachings (2000), p114.
  • "Who we are is beyond words—just that open power of life, manifesting constantly in all sorts of interesting things, even in our own misery and struggles." - American Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck writes in Nothing Special - Living Zen (1995), p116.
  • "We use words to point to something — an object or a concept — but they may or may not correspond to the “truth” of that thing, which can only be known through a direct perception of its reality. In our daily life we rarely have a direct perception. We invent, imagine, and create perceptions based on the seeds of the images that we have in our store consciousness." - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, Understanding Our Mind (2001), p12-13.
  • "If you observe this process of Selfing with sustained attention and inquiry, you will see that what we call "the self is really a construct of our own mind, and hardly a permanent one, either. If you look deeply for a stable, indivisible self, for the core "you" that underlies "your" experience, you are not likely to find it other than in more thinking. You might say you are your name, but that is not quite accurate. Your name is just a label. The same is true of your age, your gender, your opinions, and so on. None are fundamental to who you are." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are (1994), p237.
  • "Every time the word “sit” appears in a poem by Han Shan or Shih Te, it means to sit, cross-legged on the ground or on a simple straw mat, in meditation. For the Taoist, it is the “sitting forgetting” that is intended to free him of the memory of words, the memory which separates him from the Tao, which, according to Lao Tzu, cannot be described in words." - Cold Mountain Poems (2009), Introduction, p8.

For me it's useless to attempt to artificially perpetuate a system, because culture became a system of values, it's no more an organic, symbolic organization of sociality, now it's a system of market values, but of aesthetic values, not so much economic values. As a system of aesthetic values it is a very antinomic proposition, because culture perishes from this mixture of the symbolic and of values. - Jean Baudrillard (1929-2007).
  • "Bestowing no honours keeps people from fighting, prizing no treasures keeps people from stealing, displaying no attractions keeps people from making trouble, thus the rule of the sage empties the mind but fills the stomach, weakens the will but strengthens the bones, by keeping the people from knowing or wanting, and those who know from daring to act, he thus governs them all" - Daoist Sage LaoZi (~6th Century BC), DaoDeJing (Red Pine translation, 1996), 3. 
  • "...the tradition attributed to Bodhidharma of not relying on scripture but instead on “turning the light inward.” ...this approach naturally led to a de-emphasis or outright rejection of religious symbolism and to iconoclastic tendencies..." - Zen's Chinese Heritage - The masters and their teachings (2000), p85.
  • "Because mortals have shallow minds and don’t understand anything deep, the Buddha used the tangible to represent the sublime. People who seek blessings by concentrating on external works instead of internal cultivation are attempting the impossible. [...] The people I meet nowadays are superficial. They think of merit as something that has form. They squander their wealth and butcher creatures of land and sea. They foolishly concern themselves with erecting statues and stupas, telling people to pile up lumber and bricks, to paint this blue and that green. They strain body and mind, injure themselves and mislead others. And they don’t know enough to be ashamed. How will they ever become enlightened? They see something tangible and instantly become attached. If you talk to them about formlessness, they sit there dumb and confused." - The First Zen Patriarch Bodhidharma (early 5th century AD), Breakthrough Sermon
  • "...the absolute, where there is no exchange value or materialistic value or even spiritual value — the world that our words and thinking mind cannot reach. Living in the realm of duality, we must have a good understanding of the absolute... " - Japanese Soto Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki, Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness (1999), p111.
  • "We try not to consume things that nurture our anger, frustration, and fear. To consume more mindfully, we need to regularly discuss what we eat, how we eat, how to buy less, and how to have higher-quality food, both edible and the food we consume through our senses." - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, Anger - Wisdom for Cooling the Flames (2001), p22.
  • "It is amazing to me that we can be simultaneously completely preoccupied with the appearance of our own body and at the same time completely out of touch with it as well. This goes for our relationship to other people's bodies too. As a society we seem to be overwhelmingly preoccupied with appearances in general and appearance of bodies in particular. Bodies are used in advertisements to sell everything from cigarettes to cars. Why? Because the advertisers are capitalizing on people's strong identification with particular body images." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p75.

"You record it, but then you'll re-write it, re-frame it, build a new context, and perhaps, my sentence will sound different. So, I trust you but I know that it is impossible to control the publication of everything I say." - Jacques Derrida (1930-2004)
  • "A translation cannot be perfect. It is difficult, almost impossible, to translate because there are no exact equivalents." - Japanese Soto Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki, Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness (1999), p116.
  • "Understanding, in humans, is translated into concepts, thoughts, and words. Understanding is not an aggregate of bits of knowledge. It is a direct and immediate penetration. In the realm of sentiment, it is feeling. In the realm of intellect, it is perception. It is an intuition rather than the culmination of reasoning. Every now and again it is fully present in us, and we find we cannot express it in words, thoughts, or concepts. "Unable to describe it," that is our situation at such moments. Insights like this are spoken of in Buddhism as "impossible to reason about, to discuss, or to incorporate into doctrines or systems of thought." - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, The Sun My Heart (1988), p51.
  • "All thoughts occur in a specific context. That’s the whole point: to see the specific context, not just the general thought. Our reaction to a person or thought will be different today than next week, depending on each situation. If you had a million dollars in the bank, you probably wouldn’t care whether you got that job or not. You’d sail in calmly and just enjoy the interview. All reality is specific, immediate. We can meet the same people and have one thought about them today, yet next week (depending on the changing personal situation) they’ll look different to us." - American Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck writes in Nothing Special - Living Zen (1995), p178.
  • "Awareness means seeing the whole, perceiving the entire content and context of each moment. We can never grasp this entirely through thinking. But we can perceive it in its essence if we get beyond our thinking, to direct seeing, direct hearing, direct feeling." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p438.

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