In this episode, I spoke with Dr. Miguel Farias from Coventry University in the UK on his seminal book, The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You? (2nd ed. Watkins Media, 2019) (co-authored with Catherine Wikholm). Miguel was one of the first academic researchers to expose the dark side of meditation. Our conversation touched on the history of Transcendental Meditation (TM), the use of science as a means to justify the legitimacy of meditation, and the many parallels between TM and the modern mindfulness movement.
Miguel Farias received his doctorate in experimental psychology from the University of Oxford where he was a lecturer until 2014, and a research associate at the Psychology of Religion Group at Cambridge University. He currently leads the Brain, Belief and Behaviour research group at Coventry University. Dr. Farias has pioneered research on the analgesic effects of religious beliefs and the stress-buffering effects of science beliefs. He led the first randomized-controlled trial on the effects of yoga and meditation in prison and is the lead author of The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change -- a book that examines the science and myths about the effects of these practices, now in its 2nd edition published by Watkins Media. Dr. Farias is chief editor of the forthcoming Handbook of Meditation, to be published by Oxford University Press.
How many times have you heard people claim that Buddhism isn’t really a religion, that it’s a philosophy, a way of life, that its spiritual but not religious, or even that it’s a “science of mind”? These familiar tropes are a legacy of Buddhist Modernism, what Evan Thompson aptly has coined “Buddhist exceptionalism.” In this episode we explore these common claims, especially how they have been taken up by Secular Buddhists, mindfulness teachers and even scientists. We explore in this interview the historical reasons for why Buddhism has received special treatment, with its modernist claim that it is fundamentally different than Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism. We dive into the confused understandings of mindfulness meditation which has been portrayed as a privatized “inner telescope” to objectively view our interior minds (brains), along with the misguided attempt to map meditative experiences onto brain states and neural correlates (Neural Buddhism). Evan challenges the popular view that Buddhism is compatible with science, and that science can validate Buddhist insights. Drawing on his intimate friendship and collaboration with the late Francisco Varela (a key founder of the Mind & Life Institute) he takes aim at how the so-called Buddhism – Science “dialogue” has been one-sided and stifling of mutual learning.
Evan Thompson is a Professor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. He writes about the mind, life, consciousness, and the self, from the perspectives of cognitive science, philosophy of mind, phenomenology, and cross-cultural philosophy (especially Buddhism and other Indian philosophical traditions). As a teenager, Evan was home-schooled in Southampton, NY and Manhattan at the Lindisfarne Association, an educational and contemplative community founded by his parents, William Irwin Thompson and Gail Thompson. He received his A.B. in Asian Studies from Amherst College (1983) studying with Robert Thurman, and his Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Toronto (1990). Evan has been actively involved as one of the leading researchers and advisers for the Mind & Life Institute.
We spoke today with Evan about his new book, Why I Am Not A Buddhist, published by Yale University Press in 2020. He is the author of Waking, Dreaming, Being: Self and Consciousness in Neuroscience, Meditation, and Philosophy (Columbia University Press, 2015); He is also the co-author with Francisco J. Varela and Eleanor Rosch, of The Embodied Mind: Cognitive Science and Human Experience (MIT Press, 1991, revised edition 2016).
In this Episode, I spoke with Dr. Michael Ungar, who is a Professor of Social Work at Dalhousie University and Canada Research Chair in Child, Family and Community Resilience, as well as a family therapist – about his new book, Change Your World: The Science of Resilience and The Path to Success (Sutherland House Book, 2019). Michael dispels the myths of the self-help industry with its victim-blaming messages and emulation of the rugged individual. For too long, the familiar tropes have espoused a cruel form of optimism, telling us that our success and happiness can all be self-determined by simply pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps and that all change comes from within us.
Based on his years of research on children, families, and communities, Michael tells that resilience has more to do with the resourced individual – and changing the environment.
In Episode 21, I speak with Rabbi Michael Lerner, author of Revolutionary Love: A Political Manifesto to Heal and Transform the World and editor of Tikkun magazine. Lerner's social activism goes far back to when he was a leader of the Free Speech Movement at UC, Berkeley in 1964. Rabbi Lerner shares with us his vision for a Caring Society, and how to address the unmet psychological and spiritual needs that the Left has ignored. He explains the importance of developing 'prophetic empathy' as a means for building a progressive movement that infused with love and caring for all.
In Episode 20, I speak with Winton Higgins, a scholar of political science and Dharma Insight Meditation teacher in Australia and New Zealand. We explore the importance of politics within Western Buddhism, socially-engaged Buddhism, and the notion of the "Dharmic citizen".
In Episode 19, we speak with Candy Gunther Brown, Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University about her new book, Debating Mindfulness and Yoga in Public Schools: Reforming Secular Education or Reestablishing Religion? (University of North Carolina Press, 2019).
In this episode, we join David Forbes and special guest host Nomi Naeem to discuss David’s book, Mindfulness and Its Discontents: Education, Self and Social Transformation, published by Fernwood Press (2019). The first half of the interview was recorded at the Brooklyn Public Library, so the audio quality is not quite up to par, but it’s acceptable. Our wide ranging discussion examines the shortcomings and problems of how mindful school programs that have fallen prey to a neoliberal agenda, reinforcing individualistic skills of “self-regulation” of anger and stress. We explore how mindful school programs have failed to resist the sources of stress that stem from racist, inequitable, social unjust systems. David also provides a sketch of a “counter-program” that offer a way to make mindfulness a force for democratic education.
David Forbes, PhD, is an emeritus in the Urban Education Doctoral Program at the CUNY Graduate Center where he teaches a course on critical mindfulness in education. He has written on and consults with K-12 educators about pivoting from neoliberal to transformative integral social mindfulness practices in schools. He is coeditor, with me, of the Handbook of Mindfulness: Culture, Context, and Social Engagement (Springer 2016) and co-host of this podcast, The Mindful Cranks.
As a counselor educator David taught School Counseling at Brooklyn College/CUNY for nineteen years and wrote Boyz 2 Buddhas: Counseling Urban High School Male Athletes in the Zone (Peter Lang 2004) about his experience practicing mindfulness with a Brooklyn high school football team. At Brooklyn he was co-recipient of a Contemplative Program Development Fellowship from the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society and is a member of the Mindfulness and Social Change Network based in the UK from which he is featured on a website, "Being Mindful of our World: A Collection of Social Mindfulness Voices."
Muhammad Naeem, Nomi, is a Senior Librarian at the Brooklyn Public Library.
In this episode, we discuss David Loy’s latest book, ECODHARMA: Buddhist Teachings for the Ecological Crisis, available from Wisdom Publications. EcoDharma is a landmark work that is simultaneously a manifesto, a blueprint, a call to action, and a deep comfort for troubling times. David masterfully lays out the principles and perspectives of Ecodharma—a Buddhist response to our ecological predicament, introducing a new term for a new development of the Buddhist tradition.
David Robert Loy is a professor, writer, and Zen teacher in the Sanbo Zen tradition of Japanese Zen Buddhism. David began Zen practice in Hawaii in 1971 with Yamada Koun and Robert Aitken, and continued with Koun Roshi in Japan, where he lived for almost 20 years. He was authorized to teach in 1988 and leads retreats and workshops nationally and internationally at places such as Spirit Rock, Barre Center for Buddhist Studies, Omega Institute, Upaya Zen Center and many others. David was a formerly a professor of Buddhist and comparative philosophy, and recently received an honorary PhD from his alma mater, Carleton College for his scholarly work on socially engaged Buddhism. David Loy is one of the founding members of the new Rocky Mountain Ecodharma Retreat Center, near Boulder, Colorado.
Dr. Steven Stanley is a critical psychologist in the School of Social Sciences at Cardiff University, Wales. He is interested in the history and philosophy of psychology and its intersection with Buddhism and is currently studying the therapeutic culture of late modernity with a particular focus on the mindfulness movement. Alongside his academic research, Stanley has a 20-year meditation practice, and has undertaken the two-year Committed Dharma Practitioner Programme at Gaia House, Devon, and Pāli Summer School at Oxford Centre for Buddhist Studies, Oxford. He is leading co-editor of the Handbook of Ethical Foundations of Mindfulness and the Principal Investigator of a three-year research project Beyond Personal Well-Being, a landmark study which is mapping the mindfulness movement in the United Kingdom, funded by The Leverhulme Trust.
In this episode, Steven Stanley shares with us the critical research he has been conducting on the mindfulnesss movement, ranging from his historical scholarship of meditation and mindfulness, particularly as applied to ethical and moral issues, to his qualitative analyses of what contemporary mindfulness teachers actually do in their interactions with students MBI courses, as well as his innovative breaching experiments that incorporate contemplative methods. A recipient of a prestigious grant from The Leverhulme trust, Steven provides an overview of his fascinating empirical research that is “mapping” the mindfulness movement in the United Kingdom.
Wakoh Shannon Hickey has been an Associate Professor of Religious Studies at Notre Dame of Maryland University in Baltimore. Her research interests include American religious history, particularly minority traditions and women leaders; Buddhism in East Asia and the West; religion and medicine; and inter-religious dialogue, with particular interests in Buddhist-Christian dialogue and issues of race and gender. Wakoh currently is a Spiritual Support Counselor (chaplain) in Sonoma/Napa, California, for Hospice by the Bay, one of the oldest and largest non-profit hospice agencies in the United States. Wakoh was ordained in 2003 as a priest of Sōtō Zen Buddhism, which she has practiced since 1983.
In this Episode, we interview Wakoh Shannon Hickey, author of The Mind Cure: How Meditation Became Medicine (Oxford University Press, 2019), as she traces the 18th and 19th century Mind Cure and New Thought movements, and how this early history shaped and paved the ground for the modern self-help and mindfulness movements. Many of the first Americans to advocate meditation for healing were women leaders of the Mind Cure movement, which emerged in the late nineteenth century. They believed that by transforming their consciousness, they could also transform oppressive circumstances in which they lived, and some were activists for social reform. Trained by Buddhist and Hindu missionaries, these women promoted meditation through personal networks, religious communities, and publications. Some influenced important African American religious movements, as well. For women and black men, Mind Cure meant not just happiness but liberation in concrete political, economic, and legal terms. The Mind Cure movement exerted enormous pressure on mainstream American religion and medicine, and in response, white, male doctors and clergy with elite academic credentials appropriated some of its methods and channeled them into scientific psychology and medicine. As mental therapeutics became medicalized, individualized, and then commodified, the religious roots of meditation, like the social justice agendas of early Mind Curers, fell away. After tracing how we got from Mind Cure to Mindfulness, Wakoh tells us what got lost in the process.
In this Episode, we interview Jaime Kucinskas, author of The Mindful Elite (Oxford University Press, 2019), as she draws on first-hand accounts of the elite mindfulness circuit and describes how white, affluent and privileged networks became co-opted and beholden to institutional and corporate interests. In their efforts to "scale" mindfulness and make it accessible to the masses, Jaime tells us how this messianic movement led to a glaring social myopia, coming to reinforce the problems the Mindful Elite aspired to solve.
Glenn Wallis holds a Ph.D. in Buddhist studies from Harvard University's Department of Sanskrit and Indian Studies. His training was mainly philological, concentrating on Sanskrit, Pali, and Tibetan Buddhist literature. Glenn has been concerned with how to make classical Buddhist literature, philosophy, and practice relevant to contemporary life. Since the early 1990s, Glenn has taught in the religion departments of several universities, including the University of Georgia (where I received tenure), Brown University, Bowdoin College, and the Rhode Island School of Design, and the Won Institute of Buddhist studies.
Glenn Wallis is the founder and director of Incite Seminars. As he describes it, “Glenn founded Incite Seminars as a very personal response to the escalating social inequality, intensifying racial unrest, and eviscerating techno-consumer capitalism that he increasingly witnessed all around him.” Incite Seminars was thus founded on the conviction that education in the humanities offers us a means to recognize, resist, and counter the forces of personal alienation and social division—forces such as hopelessness, bigotry, passivity, and self-delusion.
In this episode, David Forbes and I discuss with Glenn the ideas in his recent book, “A Critique of Western Buddhism” (Bloomsbury, 2018). We cover a wide range of topics, some from his provocative blog, Speculative non-Buddhism, such as the “Elixir of Mindfulness.”
Our conversation dives into a critique of Western Buddhism via Laurelle’s “non-philosophy” – in our case, “non-Buddhism.” Glenn helps us to understand such notions as the Principle of Sufficient Buddhism, “decision,” the “organon,” and how Western Buddhism backs away from the potency of the Real. Typical Western Buddhist concepts such as wisdom, emptiness, anatta (no-self), “the Dharma” – ideas which could be forces for thought and transformation – are turned around, and returned to the safe and familiar shores of the already known. Western Buddhism seems to suffer from a perpetual parapraxis – a series of misturnings – that relegates it to a form of spiritual self-help, ensuring its entrapment in a self-sealing echo chamber. Thinking things through is itself a form of practice/praxis. Glenn joins us in challenging the common tropes of the mindfulness movement – particularly Jon Kabat-Zinn’s diagnosis that our ADD Nation is suffering from a so-called “thinking disease.” Turning this nonsense on its head, we discuss how thinking – how a force for thought – can cut through the tendency to stay ensnared in the World, liberating thinking for a counter-subject formation that resists capitalism and the neoliberal order.
Dr. Deborah Rozelle is a clinical psychologist who trains widely on psychological trauma and its relation to contemplative practice. She is co-director of the Jewel Heart Buddhist Chaplaincy Program, co-editor of Mindfulness-Oriented Interventions for Trauma: Integrating Contemplative Practices, and was Senior Fellow for the Initiative for Transforming Trauma at Garrison Institute. She is a long-time Buddhist practitioner under the tutelage of the late Gelek Rimpoche.
Dr. David Lewis is a student and independent researcher of western and eastern philosophical and psychological traditions. David is a retired computer scientist, mathematician and software development manager, and served on the faculty of Brown University, Cornell University and Ithaca College. He is a long-time Buddhist practitioner under the tutelage of the late Gelek Rimpoche.
In this episode, Deborah and David begin by discussing their work with trauma and its relationship to contemplative practice. Our discussion examines mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs), comparing these psychological treatments to the fundamental tenets and ultimate goals of the Buddhadharma. Deborah and David employ a unique analogical methodology to compare key aspects of the MBIs and the Buddhadharma teachings and practices, focusing on commonly used terms as suffering (dukkha), impermanence, and no-self. Our discussion takes aim many of the claims put forth by Jon Kabat-Zinn – the MBSR (and other MBIs) embody the essence of the Dharma. This discussion is based on their chapter, "Mindfulness-Based Interventions: Clinical Psychology, Buddhadharma, or Both? A Wisdom Perspective," which was published in the Handbook of Mindfulness: Culture, Context and Social Engagement (Springer, 2016).
After a summer hiatus, Ron Purser and David Forbes, discuss what they have been up to on our summer break, as well as make mention of upcoming episodes.
In Episode 10, we interview Justin (Lama Karma) Wall, a mindfulness teacher trained in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. We explore his paper, "Sacred Groundlessness: Deepening the Ethics of Mindfulness in the Midst of the Global Crisis."
Justin Wall (Lama Karma) has over seven years of teaching experience, both as a facilitator of Mindfulness training through Clear Light Mindfulness and in more traditional contexts. He graduated with honors from Columbia University with degrees in English Literature and Religious Studies and completed two three-year retreats and one six-month retreat in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. He completed a year-long certification course in Mindfulness Facilitation through the Mindful Awareness Research Center at UCLA
He is also an accredited facilitator of the 8-week Open Mindfulness Training through the Altruistic Open Mindfulness Network, as well as the Tibetan Inner Yoga Training. He is the spiritual director of the Milarepa Retreat Center in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, and founded the Earth Vase Pilgrimage project in the Smoky and Blue Ridge Mountain region.
In this episode Brian Victoria, author of Zen at War, discusses how Buddhism, and Japanese Zen in particular, have a long history of violence. From Japanese kamikaze pilots in World War II to Corporate Zen training of "industrial warriors," Brian Victoria expounds on the dangers and risks of religion serves the powers of nationalism and the state.
Ruth Whippman is an author, journalist and documentary film-maker from London, living in the USA.
Ruth’s humorous essays and comment pieces have appeared in The New York Times, Time Magazine, The Guardian, The Independent, The Huffington Post, Glamour Magazine and The Pool among other places. She is a regular contributor to Time.com and a blogger for the Huffington Post.
She is the author of America the Anxious, How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks (St Martin’s/ Macmillan, out 4th October 2016)
Before becoming a full time writer, Ruth was a producer and director at the BBC making numerous documentaries and current affairs shows for BBC television
Barry Magid, MD, is a psychoanalyst in private practice in New York City. He received Dharma Transmission from Charlotte Joko Beck in 1998 and has been teaching Zen at the Ordinary Mind Zendo for the past twenty years.
In this interview, Katie Loncke begins by sharing her personal journey of how she came to be both a Buddhist and activist for social justice. As a granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor from the most infamous Nazi concentration camps, and her grandmother a descendant of Afro-Caribbeans who survived the Middle Passage, Katie’s activist roots go deep. Her mother--an attorney for Planned Parenthood in Sacramento; her father--one of the first black students to attend Yale and become a state judge. From her education at Harvard University to the Buddhist Peace Fellowship, Katie offers a wealth of insights forged from being on the front lines of socially engaged Buddhism.
Katie Loncke is a Co-Director of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF), combining dharma with social justice. She connects with others similarly fixated on the paradox: how to love and accept the world as it is, while fighting like hell to change it. Nationwide she speaks, facilitates, and trains groups on combining Buddhist ethics with concrete skills for nonviolent direct action. Her writing has appeared in digital and print publications — most recently, she authored the chapter on race and racism in A Thousand Hands: A Guidebook to Caring for Your Buddhist Community (2016, Sumeru Press), edited by Nathan Jishin Michon and Daniel Clarkson Fisher.
Katie loves lemons, cats, warm nights, Black Power, clean water, and the Temptations.
Go to the Mindful Cranks website.
In this interview, Funie Hsu provides a very personal account of why she became increasingly critical of the mindfulness movement, particularly given her Asian heritage. She explains why it’s time we recognize the contributions of Asian American Buddhists by taking notice of the racism and cultural appropriation that has marginalized their voices.
Funie Hsu, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of American Studies at San Jose State University. She received her Doctorate in Education from the University of California, Berkeley with a Designated Emphasis in Women, Gender and Sexuality and served as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California, Davis in the School of Education.
Go to the Mindful Cranks website.
Will Davies, Ph.D., is a sociologist and political economist and a Senior Lecturer at Goldsmiths, University of London and also Co-Director of the Political Economy Research Centre.
Dr. Davies is author of two books, The Limits of Neoliberalism: Authority, Sovereignty and the Logic of Competition (Sage, 2014) and The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Wellbeing (Verso, 2015).
In this interview, we explore wide-ranging questions as to why corporations have suddenly become interested in measuring and quantifying the well-being and happiness of their employees. Will Davies explains the phenomena of psychological collapse, and how neoliberalism has given rise to the psychosomatic worker. Likewise, we probe the links between the neoliberal ideology driving the quest for employee well-being and social harmony, manifesting recently in corporate mindfulness programs. From Frederick Taylor to Elton Mayo to Hans Seyle, Will Davies articulates the common philosophical thread of utilitarianism underlying these various schemes, which all have relied on messianic messages and charismatic authority characteristic of management gurus. We explore the explosion of surveillance technologies, wearable monitoring gadgets, and data analytics--which are increasingly employed in the service of "well-being optimization." Finally, we discuss the purpose and value social critique in a world fraught with economic inequalities, social suffering and concentration of global elite power.
C. W. Huntington, Jr. translates and interprets Sanskrit and Tibetan Buddhist texts. He is Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at Hartwick College and author of Maya: A novel, and The Emptiness of Emptiness: An Introduction to Early Indian Madhyamaka, as well as a number of scholarly articles on Buddhist doctrine and practice. Huntington is particularly interested in exploring new avenues for the translation of ideas and practices of Asian Buddhism into a modern Western idiom.
In this episode, we explore his recent article, "The Triumph of Narcissism: Theravada Buddhist Meditation in the Marketplace," which was published in the Journal of the American Academy of Religion, September 2015.
Manu Bazzano has a background in philosophy and rock music. He is an author, psychotherapist, supervisor in private practice and visiting lecturer at Roehampton University and various other schools and colleges. He facilitates workshops and seminars internationally and teaches philosophy in adult education. He studied eastern contemplative practices for 35 years and was ordained as a Zen monk in the Soto and Rinzai traditions. He edited two best selling anthologies, Zen Poems (MQP, 2002) and Haiku for Lovers (MQP, 2004) and is the author of Buddha is dead: Nietzsche and the Dawn of European Zen (Sussex, 2006); Spectre of the Stranger: towards a Phenomenology of Hospitality (Sussex, 2012) and The Speed of Angels (Perfect Edge, 2013). He edited After Mindfulness: New Perspectives on Psychology and Meditation (Palgrave, 2014). He is co-editor of Person-Centred and Experiential Psychotherapies International Journal, Therapy and the Counter-Tradition (with Julie Webb, 2015), and book review editor of Self&Society – international Journal for Humanistic Psychology. www.manubazzano.com
Recording of Ron Purser's talk given at the International Contemplative Studies Symposium, sponsored by the Mind and Life Institute, November 2014, Boston, MA