Saturday, May 21, 2011

MINDFULNESS IN THE BIBLE


As a fearless fighter against the pretensions of religious fundamentalism – a wicked ideology if ever there was one – and illiberalism of all kinds, I say that it’s time for freethinkers and libertarians to ... reclaim the Bible!

What is the Bible?

There is no single Bible.

For a Jew the Bible consists only of the Hebrew Scriptures.

As for Christians, they can’t even agree on what the Bible is!

I always use a Catholic version of the Bible comprising 73 books – 7 more than the 'Protestant Bible'. Why? Because Jesus used the Septuagint, which is the oldest Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures. Now, the Septuagint contains those very same 7 'additional' books – the so-called Apocryphal, more correctly entitled Deuterocanonical, Books. Indeed, more than two thirds of the Old Testament passages quoted in the New Testament are taken from the Septuagint.

The audacity of the Protestant “Reformers” who chucked out those books of the Bible – books that had been embraced by Jesus and his apostles! Don’t believe the silly evangelical Protestant nonsense that those additional 7 books were supposedly added by Rome in the 16th Century. That is simply not the case.

Moving on – Once you free yourself from the notion that just because the Bible says something, it must be true, and true for all time, a whole new world opens for you. The Bible has much in it that is beautiful and inspiring ... and also much that is simply appalling. Do not accept anything that offends against your sensibilities or is contrary to reason.

Today, we are going to look at some Bible passages that touch on certain aspects of life or the human mind that are relevant to the practice of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is not peculiarly Buddhist

Now, mindfulness can refer to a specific type or practice of meditation used as a psychological and educational tool in Theravāda Buddhism (a naturalistic form of Buddhism of which there are a number of different schools) known as Vipassanā Meditation.

However, mindfulness is not restricted to Buddhism, Buddhists or Buddhist meditation. Indeed, there are several different types or forms of Buddhist meditation, and Buddhists do not claim to “own” or have a monopoly on mindfulness and mindfulness meditation.

Also, mindfulness is totally different from all other forms of meditation in that it is something you do throughout the whole day, namely, remembering to stay present, in the present, from one moment to the next. whilst paying attention, on purpose, to what’s happening in the present moment, without judgment. Your whole life becomes one extended exercise in meditative awareness of what is.

Any person can practise mindfulness, irrespective of their religion or lack of religion.


Mindfulness requires an attentive mind – bare attention is the phrase – but also a curious state of mind. What could be more 'curious' than this (and notice also the openness and perceptiveness of the senses) ...

What is that coming up from the wilderness,
   like a column of smoke,
perfumed with myrrh and frankincense,
   with all the fragrant powders of the merchant? (Sg 3:6)

So vivid! You can almost smell it in your very own nostrils.

Mindfulness as a calm acceptance of what is

Now, if there is an underlying 'philosophy' to mindfulness it is a calm acceptance of whatever may befall us. Listen to these wonderful passages from the world-weary book Ecclesiastes:

A generation goes, and a generation comes,
   but the earth remains forever.
The sun rises and the sun goes down,
   and hurries to the place where it rises.
The wind blows to the south,
   and goes round to the north;
round and round goes the wind,
   and on its circuits the wind returns.
All streams run to the sea,
   but the sea is not full;
to the place where the streams flow,
   there they continue to flow. (Ec 1:4-7)

[Hey, those last four lines are pure Zen!]



For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace. (Ec 3:1-8)

... the same fate comes to all, to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil,* to the clean and the unclean, to those who sacrifice and those who do not sacrifice. As are the good, so are the sinners; those who swear are like those who shun an oath. (Ec 9:2)

Mindfulness as joy

Don’t get the wrong idea. Mindfulness is not mere Stoicism. There is much joy associated with the regular practice of mindfulness, so beautifully typified in this passage from that naughty book the Song of Songs:

for now the winter is past,
   the rain is over and gone.
The flowers appear on the earth;
   the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtle-dove
   is heard in our land.
The fig tree puts forth its figs,
   and the vines are in blossom;
   they give forth fragrance. (Sg 2:11-13)


Notice, once again, the non-judgmental bare alertness and attention to detail, and the choiceless awareness of what is ... the flowers ... the sound of the turtle-dove ... the figs on the fig-tree ... the grapes on the vine, and their fragrance. That’s mindfulness in action!


The practice of mindfulness

Listen to this sound advice with respect to your mindfulness meditation:

... ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ (Mk 6:31)

Of course, mindfulness is to be practised from moment to moment ... even in a busy street. I love this passage from Isaiah:

... in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. ... (Is 30:15)

Yes, quietness ... even amidst the hurly-burly of everyday life. The choice is yours, so make up your mind to be open and attentive to whatever is your consciousness ...

You will decide on a matter, and it will be established for you,
   and light will shine on your ways. (Jb 22:28)

Mindfulness is a non-judgmental state of mind. The Bible constantly advises us not to judge. Maybe life is unfair ...

... for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. (Mt 5:45)

... but, ‘do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment’ (Jn 7:24). So, let us watch our minds and maintain emotional equanimity and right relations with other people ...

Keep your heart with all vigilance,
   for from it flow the springs of life. (Pr 4:23)

One who is slow to anger is better than the mighty,
   and one whose temper is controlled than one who captures a city.
(Pr 16:32)

If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
(Rm 12:18)

Do not worry

The Bible advises us not to worry:

‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink,* or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?* And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God* and his* righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

 ‘So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today. (Mt 6:25-34)



Mindfulness as a source of strength and power

No matter what happens to you in life, you need not despair:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; (2 Co 4:8)

for, ‘as your days, so is your strength’ (Dt 33:25). Live from day to day and, even more importantly, from one moment to the next ... and you will have all the power you need!

Mindfulness is about being patient and gentle on yourself. Here is some sound advice from Romans:

Blessed are those who have no reason to condemn themselves because of what they approve. (Rm 14:22)

Finally, mindfulness, which gives us so much insight into ourselves, other people and life generally, is highly transformative. Why else would we do it? I have always loved this passage from Romans:

... be transformed by the renewing of your minds ... (Rm 12:2)

That’s the spirit!


This blog sets out a simple form of mindfulness sitting meditation.


Scripture references are taken from the Catholic edition of The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, © 1989, 1995 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. The New Revised Standard Version Catholic Edition is fully approved for study by Catholics by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. All rights reserved.


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MINDFULNESS IN THE CHRISTIAN TRADITION (Part 2)


FAMOUS CHRISTIANS ON THE 'SELF' 

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6 comments:

  1. Dr. Jones, I have enjoyed your blog. I Google searched Bible scriptures on mindfulness and your blow was the first thing that came up. I was reading in the bible from the Epistle of James after a session of meditation and I noticed two scriptures that I thought also were quite related to mindfulness and the four noble truths.

    The first is 1 James:8
    A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.

    I loved this! It helps us to understand the importance of focused attention.

    The second is 1 James:13-14 which relates to the second noble truth; the cause of suffering.

    Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: but every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.

    I look forward to seeing more posts on your blog! By the way are you currently living in Japan? I noticed the JR Station in the background of your first picture. I used to live in Japan and will return to Japan this summer as part of a study abroad program.

    -Jordan Ring

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  2. Many thanks, Jordan, for your appreciative and insightful comment. I really appreciate your taking the time to publish a helpful, positive comment on my post. And you are very observant---yes, that is Shinjuku JR Station in the background. Although I am based in Sydney, Australia, I have travelled to Japan, and spent some time there, on a couple of occasions in recent years---mainly studying Buddhism in Japan, and meeting with likeminded friends. All the best to you with your studies. We might meet up in Japan when next I'm there. Cheers, Ian.

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  3. Hi Dr, I cant find your email so I post my questions here instead:

    1. About non self in mindfulness, it that means that there is always a changing self from moment to moment? Maybe in there present I might see my self as person X, but this is not fixed, in the next moment who knows? I might be person B, however in the present I aware that I am X.
    But it doesn't mean in our thoughts, we couldn't have any component of "self" right? I mean if I am mindfully think, thought like "Oh, I remember!" arise. Since there is a "I" component there, it that means I am not mindful?

    About concept of all things are changing, for example, I aware that my computer is computer at present, but who knows it will be degraded in the future, so in a sense that nothing is fixed. But I label it as computer in the present only for mutual understanding and communication, deep down in my heart I know it will change in the future.

    About conceptualizing, my administrative jobs required me to conceptualize thing, if I am aware that I am conceptualizing during my job, can I consider it Mindfulness. I heard some people conceptualizing is bad. But in my view, I has to conceptualizing things and facts based on what it is the present. But I know this concept can be changed, yes things change. Or else I can't even do my job.
    It that correct?

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    1. Thanks for your comments and questions. Much appreciated.

      In my view, there is no evidence to support the assertion that there is a constant, permanent, separate, independent, non-changing entity known variously as the ego-self, transcendental self, or soul. Everything is impermanent and ever-changing, from one moment to the next. Our sense of self is the result of habit, memory, conditioning, and the like. What you are is a person among persons, a person being a mind-body phenomenon. You think thoughts, but you are not those thoughts. You feel feelings, but you are not those feelings. You have a body, but you are not that body. Consciousness is characterised by impermanence in the sense that it arises and passes away at every moment.

      Buddhist psychology, to which I ascribe, teaches the doctrine that ‘self is illusion,’ and that belief in the existence of some supposedly permanent and substantial ‘self’ or soul is a delusion. Now, the concept of anattā is bedrock to Buddhism. The Pāli [being the main language of Buddhism] word anattā (anātman [Sanskrit]) means ‘not-self’ or ‘non-self’ rather than ‘no-self’. The Buddhist teaching of anattā---of which there are several different (and even discordant) interpretations in Buddhism---affirms that there is no actual ‘self’ at the centre of our conscious---or even unconscious---awareness. The ‘self’ does not exist---at least it does not exist in the sense of possessing a separate, independent, unchangeable, material existence of its own.

      Our so-called consciousness goes through continuous fluctuations from one moment to the next. As such, there is nothing to constitute, let alone sustain, a separate, transcendent ‘I’ structure or entity. We ‘die’ and are ‘born’ (or ‘reborn’) from one moment to the next. Whence comes our sense of ‘I-ness’? In the words of one leading writer and commentator:

      Problems arise when we choose, hundreds of times each day, to identify with our ‘false’ (or ‘illusory’) sense of ‘self’ (or ‘I-ness’). We try, ever so hard, to convince ourselves---that is, the person that each of us really is---that we actually are those ever waxing and waning, arising and subsiding, hundreds and thousands of I’s and me’s (‘selves’) that, in a dynamic, ongoing, ever-changing and seemingly endless process of ‘self-ing’, parade before us like 'mental wallpaper,' from one moment to the next.

      The so-called ‘self’ is the content of its awareness, no more, no less; as this content changes so does the ‘self.’ Now, hundreds of thousands of separate, ever-changing and ever-so-transient mental occurrences (‘selves’) harden into a mental construct of sorts which is no more than a confluence of impermanent components (‘I-moments’)---that is, mental states (cittas)---cleverly synthesized by the mind in a way which appears---note that word, appears---to give them a singularity and a separate, independent, unchangeable and material existence and life of their own. The so-called ‘ego-self’---as well as the so-called ‘mind’---has no separate, independent, permanent existence in the sense of being ‘compact, all of one piece, doing all these different mental functions’ (Vipassana Bhavana, 1988: 3).

      Having said that, it is a paradox of immense proportions that, for something which has no separate, independent, unchangeable and material reality of its own---and certainly no singularity---the non-existent so-called ‘self’ causes us so much damn trouble---mainly because we let ‘it’.

      So, in conclusion, I submit that there is no unifying consciousness, and no ultimate ‘self.’

      Jesus recognised the 'unreality' and impermanence of the self when he said, 'I of myself can do nothing.'

      All the very best.

      Ian

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  4. Ian, THANK YOU for this post. It is exactly what I was looking for. I am writing a book on depression, and want to emphasise that mindfulness meditation is as western/Christian as eastern. I will include a link to this page, so please, don't let it disappear!
    I am a Buddhist (a Christian minister told me this when I was 23. I looked up Buddhism, and found my philosophy there), but also, I do my imperfect best to implement Jesus' message of unconditional love. This is why I am a Professional Grandfather. :)
    I would be honoured to interview you on my blog https://bobrich18.wordpress.com on a topic of mutual interest. I'll now look around the rest of your site and see what that might be.
    Have a good life,
    Bob

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    1. Thank you, Dr Bob. I appreciate your kind words and appreciation. Like you, Buddhism appeals to me as a philosophy as opposed to a religion, although it certainly is the latter in some places where there is faith and worship on top of the basic Buddhist philosophy and way of life. I would be happy to be interviewed on your blog. I am off to France for 2-3 weeks but after then I'll be free. Just contact me by email or LinkedIn. All the best to you, personally and professionally, thanks once again--and congratulations regarding your book. Ian.

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