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In Episode 37, I spoke with Kathleen Gregory about her chapter “The Modern Mindfulness Movement and the Search for Psychological Redemption” recently published in Richard Payne’s new edited volume, Secularizing Buddhism (Shambala Publications, 2021).
Kathleen offers a unique perspective on modern mindfulness as she is both a licensed therapist and clinician, as well as long-time Buddhist practitioner. Our conversation explores the process by which mindfulness was psychologized, which accounts very much for its widespread diffusion and popular appeal in Western cultures. One of the key lines of inquiry in this conversation is how mindfulness meditation was reimagined and repurposed as a technique – that speaks to familiar ways of how we see ourselves. Mindfulness became a tool for fixing the self, namely, for addressing the seeming deficits that are in need of improvement and psychological redemption.
A little more about Kathleen Gregory…Kathleen is an Australian psychologist with a PhD in Comparative Philosophy; she has taught for many years as an associate professor in graduate counselling programs both in Australia and the US. She currently works in the graduate careers development program at RMIT University. She is also former Dean of the Graduate School of Counselling and Psychology at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. She has been a student of late Traleg Kyabgon Rinpoche IX.
Richard Payne is the Yehan Numata Professor of Japanese Buddhist Studies at the Institute of Buddhist Studies in Berkeley, California and the Graduate Theological Union. I spoke with Richard about his new edited volume, Secularizing Buddhism: New Perspectives on a Dynamic Tradition, published by Shambala. Our conversation explores how the discourse of secularization with its binary oppositions such as "religious" vs. "secular" are constructed categories that are influencing how modern people are understanding Secular Buddhism. Richard explains how the legacy of Protestant theological ideas are overlayed on what we now view as "modern" Buddhism, as well as how so-called "traditional" Buddhism is a response to such modernization.
In this episode I had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Sarah Shaw, who is an Honorary fellow of the Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies; and lecturer for the Oxford University Department of Continuing Education. We spoke about her new book, Mindfulness: Where It Comes From and What It Means – published in paperback by Shambala. This is a very accessible and very well researched book – and we explored the history of mindfulness as it first appeared in the English language, the important role of memory and the oral chanting tradition in early Buddhism – to the multiple functions of mindfulness. We also touch on the significance of the Abhidharma and Abhidharmakosha – and how mindfulness is situated and functions in these schools.
Sarah draws from her decade of practicing, researching, and teaching the history of mindfulness.
Sarah read Greek and English at Manchester University, where she took a doctorate in English. It was later in her career that she decided to study Pali at Oxford, and she has a deep interest in Early Buddhist (Pāli) suttas and Abhidhamma material on meditation, the Pali chanting traditions. In addition, Sarah practices with the Samatha Association of Britain.
In this episode, I was fortunate to speak to Gregory Kramer who is the founding teacher of the Insight Dialogue Community. Back in 2015, I invited Gregory to be one of the keynote speakers at an international conference that I organized on Mindfulness at SFSU. I knew of his work on Insight Dialogue. I recently stumbled upon his new book, A Whole-Life Path: A Lay Buddhist’s Guide to Crafting a Dharma-Infused Life, and I immediately knew that I had to have him on the podcast.
In this deep and free-flowing conversation, I explore with Gregory how he came to a pragmatic understanding and creative application of the Eight Fold Noble Path into his daily life. This conversation was itself a living example, perhaps a spontaneous unfolding in real-time of the power of dialogue – when the intention is turned to full awakening. We explore the importance of the first path factor – Right View – and why it is critical to getting all of the other path factors right. We also riff on how many Western Buddhists have acquired a wrong view – a meditation-fixation, a mindfulness-only approach to practice – that not only lacks a guiding Right View, but fails at integrating a small fraction of time that is spent in sitting meditation with their daily life.
We both get a little geeky at times pondering the meaning and implications of scriptural terms and teachings – but I think you will feel the intensity and dynamism of this down-to-earth conversation on the Buddhadharma. I think you will enjoy this episode very much. But first, a little more about Gregory Kramer.
Gregory teaches meditation, writes, and is the founding teacher of the Insight Dialogue Community. He is also author of Insight Dialogue: The Interpersonal Path to Freedom, from Shambhala Publications; Dharma Contemplation: Meditating Together with Wisdom Texts; Seeding the Heart: Practicing Lovingkindness with Children; and other books and articles. Gregory has practiced meditation since 1974 and studied with esteemed monastics, including Anagarika Dhammadinna, Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maitreya Mahanayaka Thero, Achan Sobin Namto, Ven. Punnaji Mahathero, and others.
In this episode, I spoke with Daniel Simpson about his wonderful new book, The Truth of Yoga: A Comprehensive Guide to Yoga’s History, Texts, Philosophy, and Practices, just published by North Point Press. It’s an easy read because Daniel is a professional writer having left a burgeoning career in journalism after he became disillusioned with mainstream media. Our conversation dives deep into the complex and patchy history of Yoga, swimming through early, classical and hatha yoga – along with some interesting observations on modern yoga, including whether Silent Disco Yoga is a thing! Kidding aside, this is a serious conversation – and I learned a great deal, especially just how fertile the soil was when the yogic traditions were taking hold – and the creative cross-fertilization between classical yoga traditions and the Buddhists at the time. This episode is a nice complement to our previous episode with Andrea Jain whose book was a scholarly critique of modern, global yoga.
A little more about Daniel….
Daniel Simpson teaches yoga philosophy at the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies, and at Triyoga in London. He earned his Master's degree from SOAS (University of London), and his thesis critiquing mindfulness in schools was published in the journal Contemporary Buddhism. He previously worked as a foreign correspondent – for Reuters, then the New York Times – after studying at Cambridge. His interest in yoga developed in parallel, including frequent trips to India since the 1990s.
I hope you buy his book, The Truth of Yoga – it’s well written and researched – but accessible and a quick read. Enjoy this episode!
In this episode I spoke with Andrea R. Jain, Associate professor of religious studies at Indiana University, Indianapolis about her new book Peace Love Yoga: The Politics of Global Spirituality, published by Oxford University Press. Our conversation explores how modern, commodified yoga serves a neoliberal agenda by containing social activism and political dissent, something she calls gestural subversion. As a religious studies scholar, Andrea takes modern yoga seriously – viewing its practitioners not as passive dupes but as people with agency – but whose identities have been shaped and formed to serve neoliberal ends. We touch on a range of topics and issues – from the “feel good” neoliberal discourse of yogaware – such as Spirtual Gangster clothing products, cultural appropriation and contested claims of spiritual “authenticity,” the global spread of capitalism where even in India neoliberal forces have led to coopting yoga for extremist and exclusionary nationalist agenda, as well as QAnon’s followers attraction to yoga.
Andrea is also author of a previous book - Selling Yoga: From Counterculture to Pop Culture and is currently the editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion. Her areas of research include religion and capitalism; global spirituality and modern yoga; the intersections of gender, sexuality, and religion; and theories of religion.