Bhikkhu Bodhi on mindfulness, ethics, responsibility and justice with angel Kyodo williams

Bhikkhu Bodhi on mindfulness, ethics, responsibility and justice with angel Kyodo williams May 16, 2015

Mindfulness is the “pop-tune of the 21st Century.” So suggests Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi with a smile in an interview published today with Ven. angel Kyodo williams. He continues by praising mindfulness teaching insofar as it is helping people but he worries that mindfulness is perhaps being taught only to make workers more productive or soldiers better combatants.

williams responds, suggesting that he means that a Buddhist ethical framework is missing and is really needed for mindfulness to reach its true potential.

Bhikkhu Bodhi agrees, saying that right view and right intentions (commonly identified with the prajna or ‘wisdom’ portion of the path) and ethical foundations of Buddhism  are needed for mindfulness’s full benefits to come to fruition.

In a perhaps surprising moment, Bhikkhu Bodhi praises Slavoj Žižek’s criticism of Western Buddhism as a tool for making people accepting of corporate capitalism. This is because, Bhikkhu Bodhi explains, Buddhism as it is presented in the West teaches that one should “accept whatever arises.” 

williams asks how Buddhism can be presented to avoid this pitfall. Bhikkhu Bodhi responds that what he calls “conscientious compassion” must be taught, and this includes a sense of responsibility to help others based on our capacity and a sense of justice, which seeks to, “establish a social and economic order and a political system which is respectful to every human being, and which enables every human being to unfold their full potential and capacities.”

The interview concludes with Bhikkhu Bodhi leading a meditation on connecting with victims of the Nepal earthquakes and members of the Baltimore community.

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  • Thanks for this essay; I agree with Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi. I also looked at your earlier discussion on “critics and defenders” of mindfulness, and was disappointed to see that everyone you cited is male. I published a critique of “meditation as medicine” in 2010 in Crosscurrents, based on my PhD dissertation, completed in 2008, which offers five critiques of the Mindfulness movement. You can read it here: https://www.academia.edu/1835211/Meditation_as_medicine_A_critique . I am now working on a history of this phenomenon that I hope will revise the usual narrative. Stay tuned!

    • justinwhitaker

      Hi Wakoh,

      Many thanks for the feedback and link. I’ll do my best to follow your work and would love to do a Q&A or guest post when it’s published. As for women in the “Critics and Defenders” post, Genju (Lynette Montiero) is a woman and is cited/discussed several times in the post, as her work is quite central I think to current debates between Buddhists and secularizers. I mention Tara Brach and Sharon Salzberg, but only in passing and I didn’t get to Toni Bernard until the comments (after she commented).

      In any case, it is still deeply gender-imbalanced and I’ll strive for better balance in future posts – starting with downloading your paper 🙂 ; two more women who are doing great work now that I would include are Mushim Patricia Ikeda and Maia Duerr.

      • I stand corrected. I agree, Mushim and Maia are great! I’d be happy to converse some time. Thanks for your good work.