On July 21, the Kanshoji monastery had the honour of welcoming Professor Bernard Faure.
Bernard Faure is an academic. Having previously taught at Cornell and Stanford in California, he is currently professor of the history of Asian religions at Columbia University in New York. He is a renowned specialist in Buddhism, particularly in the Chan-Zen school. He is the author of many books published in English and French
(latest book published: Les mille et une vies du Bouddha, Seuil, 21/09/2018).
It was therefore a great opportunity for our sangha to be able to attend the conference he held on the theme of “mindfulness”; a fashionable and controversial subject.
The term mindfulness is an approximate translation of the term “mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR)”. Jon Kabat-Zinn is both the inventor and the artisan of this “meditation in full consciousness”.
After initially inscribing MBSR in the Buddhist tradition as Vipassana meditation, Jon Kabat-Zinn has since freed it from any religious context and Buddhist filiation.
MBSR is the subject of various assessments, sometimes laudatory, sometimes very critical, which were commented upon by Bernard Faure in his presentation. MBSR has had very convincing results in hospitals, relieving many patients from their mental or physical suffering. Outside any medical context, it is a valuable tool to increase the practitioner’s attention; attention to others, to oneself and to the environment.
Concerning its differences with Buddhism, Bernard Faure points to the absence of an ethical position and any metaphysical context in MBSR. Moreover, where Buddhist practice aims to realise the illusion of the self, MBSR aims to strengthen it and enhance personal well-being. The most criticisable abuses of “mindfulness” are related to its success: instrumentalised, it is used in large companies to improve staff performance, in the army to increase the concentration of snipers! MBSR has become the ally of the most virulent consumerism. More than a thousand applications promote it for use in all everyday situations. This drift is caricatured by the expression “Mac mindfulness” for Mac Donald mindfulness.
Bernard Faure wanted to end on a more optimistic note: a critical “mindfulness” would emerge as the antidote to “Mac mindfulness”.
After a period of discussion, the Abbott Taiun invited the assembly to question their own practice in the light of what had just been presented. He warmly thanked Professor Bernard Faure and stressed the importance of a fruitful exchange between scholars and practitioners of Buddhism.
Bernard Faure promised to return to Kanshoji, for which he was thanked.