Monday, 9 September 2013

Mindfulness and Traditional Western Philosophy Part 3: Renaissance and The Enlightenment

Part 1 looked at the relationship between mindfulness teachings and some of the main themes in the philosophies of some of the most prominent ancient Pre-Socratic Greek philosophers. Part 2 looked at the main themes of the Socratic philosophers of the Ancient Greek period, and this post moves on 1500 years to the Renaissance and The Enlightenment. It appears a lot of Western philosophical exploration was stifled by the dominance of state religions until that period.

Presented here are eight key quotes from the most famous philosophers of the Renaissance and Enlighenment period with accompanying quotes from the Eastern and secular Western mindfulness traditions to illustrate that the same ideas or phenomena were investigated and recognised.

"The simplest answer is the best answer." - William of Ockham (1288-1348).
  • "The most important thing is to express your true nature in the simplest, most adequate way and to appreciate it in the smallest existence." - Japanese Soto Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (1995), p48.
  • "Our practice is simple: mindfulness in our daily life. We practice the meditation techniques of stopping and looking deeply. We do this to keep from being pulled along in many directions." - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, Understanding Our Mind (2001), p383.
  • "Awareness is completely simple; we don’t have to add anything to it or change it. It is unassuming or unpretentious; it can’t help but be that way. Awareness is not a thing, to be affected by this or that. When we live from pure awareness, we are not affected by our past, our present, or our future. Because awareness has nothing it can pretend to, it’s humble. It is lowly. Simple. Practice is about developing or uncovering a simple mind." - American Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck writes in Nothing Special - Living Zen (1995), p255. 
  • "The knowing is skylike, airlike. Like space, it is everywhere, boundless. It is nothing other than  awareness itself. Pure. Utterly simple. It is also utterly mysterious for it is not something that I am creating but rather a quality not separate from being..." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Coming To Our Senses (2006), p207.

Man... can do and understand so much and so much only as he has observed in fact or in thought of the course of nature. Beyond this he neither knows anything nor can do anything. - Francis Bacon (1561-1626).
  • "Our faith is always based on empirical evidence. We do not believe it just because it has been repeated many times by others." - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, Fidelity: How to Create a Loving Relationship That Lasts (2011), p98.
  • "...the fundamental attitude of Buddhism is intensely empirical and antiauthoritarian. Gotama the Buddha was a highly unorthodox individual and a real antitraditionalist. He did not offer his teaching as a set of dogmas, but rather as a set of propositions for each individual to investigate for him- or herself." - Ven. Henepola Gunaratana, Mindfulnessin Plain English (2011), p28.
  • "...what must be increased is the ability to observe. What we observe is always secondary. [...]  As the ability grows first to observe, and second to experience, two factors simultaneously increase: wisdom, the ability to see life as it is (not the way I want it to be) and compassion, the natural action which comes from seeing life as it is." - American Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck, Everyday Zen (1997), p51-52.
  • "In some ways it is appropriate to characterize dharma as resembling scientific knowledge, ever growing, ever changing, yet with a core body of methods, observations, and natural laws distilled from thousands of years of inner exploration through highly disciplined self-observation and self-inquiry, a careful and precise recording and mapping of experiences encountered in investigating the nature of the mind, and direct empirical testing and confirming of the results." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Coming To Our Senses (2006), p136.

“I think, therefore I am.” - René Descartes (1596-1650).
  • "...the Buddha showed that this “I” does not exist: you cannot find it anywhere. This “I” appears only through thinking. Descartes wrote, “I think, therefore I am.” When you completely cut off all thinking, where is this “I”? [...] ...every thought that appears in our mind is conditioned or formed by other thoughts. What we believe is “I” is just the coming together of various habit energies. There is no concrete, unmoving “I” behind it all. Thoughts are always appearing and disappearing through the constant interplay of the five skandhas. What we think is our self is just a collection of thoughts, feelings, perceptions, impulses, and consciousnesses that are constantly revolving around and around and around." - Korean Zen teacher Seung Sahn (1927-2004), The Compass of Zen (1997), p47.
  • "As long as mind and body are not together, we get lost and we cannot really say that we are here. [...] Thinking has two parts — initial thought (vitarka) and developing thought (vichara). [...] In the first stage of meditative concentration (dhyana), both kinds of thinking are present. In the second stage, neither is there. We are in deeper contact with reality, free of words and concepts." - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Buddha's Teaching (2008), p59.
  • "As far as thoughts themselves are concerned, through mindfulness we can cultivate a new and very different relationship to them, allowing thoughts simply to be here instead of analyzing them, trying to work out where they came from, or trying to get rid of them in any way. In awareness, we see them immediately for what they actually are: constructions, mysterious creations of the mind, mental events that may or may not accurately reflect reality. We come to realize that our thoughts are not facts. Nor are they really "mine" or "me."" - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, The Mindful Way Through Depression (2007), p164.
  • "You will gradually come to learn that your thoughts are not you – you do not have to take them so personally. You can simply watch these states of mind as they arise, stay a while, and then dissolve. It’s tremendously liberating to realise that your thoughts are not ‘real’ or ‘reality’. They are simply mental events. They are not ‘you’." - Professor Mark Williams, Mindfulness: A practical guide to peace in a frantic world (2011), p64.

"Nothing comes to pass in nature, which can be set down to a flaw therein; for nature is always the same, and everywhere one and the same in her efficacy and power of action...." - Baruch Spinoza (1632 - 1677).
  • "Zen master Xiqian entered the hall and addressed the monks, saying, “[...] You should each recognize your miraculous mind. Its essence is apart from temporary or everlasting. Its nature is without pollution or purity. It is clear and perfect. Common people and sages are the same. [This mind] reaches everywhere without limit. It is not constrained by the limits of consciousness."- Zen's Chinese Heritage - The masters and their teachings (2000), p81.
  •  "When your whole being exists, your whole being has no impediments: it is perfect in its completeness and is everturning, like the rumbling on of cart wheels." - Japanese 'Soto Zen' Founder Master Eihei Dogen, Shobogenzo (Translated by Hubert Nearman, 2007), p40.
  • "When reality is experienced in its nature of ultimate perfection, an almond tree that may be in your front yard reveals its nature in perfect wholeness. The almond tree is itself truth, reality, your own self." - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness (1987), p58. 
  • "We aren't practicing to make things perfect or to do things perfectly. Rather, we practice to grasp and realize (make real for ourselves) the fact that things already are perfect, perfectly what they are. This has everything to do with holding the present moment in its fullness without imposing anything extra on it, perceiving its purity and the freshness of its potential to give rise to the next moment." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are (1994), p45.

"...being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions..." - John Locke (1632-1704).
  • "Being compassionate is a gate to what the Dharma illumines, for thereby we do not kill or harm any living being. Being morally good is a gate to what the Dharma illumines, for thereby we rid ourselves of all that is not morally good." - Gomyō Bodhisattva, Scriptural Collection of the Past Deeds of the Buddha, after Japanese 'Soto Zen' Founder Master Eihei Dōgen (1200-1253), Shobogenzo (Translated by Hubert Nearman, 2007), p40.
  • "If men and women are the same, then the distinctions between men and women have no value. Because men and women are different, men are valuable as men and women are valuable as women. To be different is to have value. In this sense all things have equal, absolute value. Each thing has absolute value and thus is equal to everything else." - Japanese Soto Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki, Branching Streams Flow in the Darkness (1999), p41.
  • "The two hands work together effortlessly to accomplish many wonderful things and they never harm each other. Could this become true for any two human beings?" - Jan Chozan Bays, How to Train A Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulnes (2011), p32.
  • "Why not try to live so as to cause as little damage and suffering as possible? If we lived that way, we wouldn't have the insane levels of violence that dominate our lives and our thinking today. [...] The willingness to harm or hurt comes ultimately out of fear. Non-harming requires that you see your own fears and that you understand them and own them. Owning them means taking responsibility for them. Taking responsibility means not letting fear completely dictate your vision or your view. Only mindfulness of our own clinging and rejecting, and a willingness to grapple with these mind states, however painful the encounter, can free us from this circle of suffering. Without a daily embodiment in practice, lofty ideals tend to succumb to self-interest." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are (2004), p217.

"...besides the principle of the change, there must be a particular series of changes, which constitutes, so to speak, the specific nature and variety of the simple substances." - Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1646-1716).
  • "The Buddha once said in verse:
    Merely of various elements is this body of Mine composed.
    The time of its arising is merely an arising of elements;
    The time of its vanishing is merely a vanishing of elements.
    As these elements arise, I do not speak of the arising of an ‘I’,
    And as these elements vanish, I do not speak of the vanishing of an ‘I’.
    Previous instants and succeeding instants are not a series of instants that depend on each other;
    Previous elements and succeeding elements are not a series of elements that stand against each other.
    To give all of this a name, I call it ‘the meditative state that bears the seal of the Ocean’.

    We need to make a diligent effort to fully explore these words of the Buddha." - Japanese 'Soto Zen' Founder Master Eihei Dōgen (1200-1253),  Shobogenzo (Translated by Hubert Nearman, 2007), p436.
  • "Meditate on the sun in every cell of your body. Meditate to see the sun in plants, in each nourishing morsel of the vegetables you eat. Gradually you will see "the body of ultimate reality" (Dharmakaya) and recognize your own "true nature."" - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, The Sun My Heart (1988), p99.
  • "The cosmos is beginningless, and in its movement from phase to phase it is governed only by the impersonal, implacable law of arising, change, and passing away." - Bikkhu Bodhi,  Dhammapada: Introduction, p19.
  • "Everything is related to everything else and, in a way, simultaneously contains everything else and is contained by everything else. What is more, everything is in flux. Stars are born, go through stages, and die. Planets also have a rhythm of formation and ultimate demise. New cars are already on their way to the junk heap even before they leave the factory. This awareness might truly enhance our appreciation of impermanence..." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are (2004), p214.

"...whether you wear green robes, turbans, black robes or surplices, cloaks and neckbands, never seek to use authority where there is question only of reason." - Voltaire (1694-1778).
  • "Even though you try to put people under some control, it is impossible. You cannot do it. The best way to control people is to encourage them to be mischievous. Then they will be in control in its wider sense. To give your sheep or cow a large, spacious meadow is the way to control him. So it is with people: first let them do what they want, and watch them. This is the best policy. To ignore them is not good; that is the worst policy. The second worst is trying to control them. The best one is to watch them, just to watch them, without trying to control them." - Japanese Soto Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind (1995), p32.
  • "Free from attachment to wrong views and prejudices, you are filled with tolerance. The door of your compassion is wide open, and you also suffer the sufferings of all living beings. As a result, you do whatever you can to relieve these sufferings." - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, The Sun My Heart (1988), p121.
  • "Cambodians, Bosnians, Palestinians, Israelis, Tibetans, all of us suffer from injustice and intolerance. Instead of being brothers and sisters to each other, we aim guns at each other. When we are overtaken by anger, we think that the only response is to punish the other person. The fire of anger continues to burn in us, and it continues to burn our brothers and sisters. This is the situation of the world, and it is why deep looking is needed to help us understand that all of us are victims." - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, The Heart of Buddha's Teaching (2008).
  • "When we feel that our interests or our social status is threatened, we are capable of reacting unconsciously to protect or defend our position before we know what we are doing. Usually this behavior compounds our problems by increasing the level of conflict. [...] But since we also have the ability to reflect, think, and be aware, we have a range of other options available to us that go well beyond our most unconscious and deeply ingrained instincts. But we need purposefully to cultivate these options. They don't just magically surface, especially if our mode of interpersonal relating has been dominated by automatically defensive or aggressive behavior that we have not really bothered to look at. Again, it is a matter of choosing a response rather than being carried away by a reaction."  - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living (2005), p369.

"For my part, when I enter most intimately into what I call myself, I always stumble on some particular perception or other, of heat or cold, light or shade, love or hatred, pain or pleasure. I never can catch myself at any time without a perception, and never can observe any thing but the perception. When my perceptions are remov’d for any time, as by sound sleep; so long am I insensible of myself, and may truly be said not to exist." - David Hume (1711-1776).
  • "The reality of your own self-nature the absence of cause and effect, is what’s meant by mind. Your mind is nirvana. You might think you can find a Buddha or enlightenment somewhere beyond the mind, but such a place doesn’t exist." - The First Zen Patriarch Bodhidharma (early 5th century AD), Bloodstream Sermon.
  • "If you are impermanent, you do not exist. What you are composed of is always changing and moving, nonstop—there is no thing that permanently “exists.”" - Korean Zen teacher Seung Sahn (1927-2004), The Compass of Zen (1996), p125.
  • "I am here because you are there. If anyone of us does not exist, no one else can exist either. Reality cannot be confined by concepts of being, non-being, birth, and death. The term "true emptiness" can be used to describe reality and to destroy all ideas which imprison and divide us and which artificially create a reality. Without a mind free from preconceived ideas, we cannot penetrate reality." - Vietnamese Zen teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, The Sun My Heart (1988), p94.
  • "The list of complex cellular processes and their seamless integration into a society we call the living organism is a long one... [...] ... and that process, when you look deeply into it, is also somehow empty of any fixed, enduring selfhood. There is no "us," no "somebody" in it that can be identified, no matter how hard we look. [...] It is a mystery, as is every other phenomenon that emerges through our senses, including our mind and our sense of being a separate existing self. Our senses build a world for us and situate us within it. This constructed world usually has a high degree of coherence and a strong sense of there being a perceiver and whatever is being perceived, a thinker and whatever is being thought, a feeler and whatever is being felt. It is all impersonal process, and if there can be said to be a product, it is nowhere to be found in the parts themselves." - Mindfulness teacher Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, Coming To Our Senses (2006), p177-178.

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