Secular Mindfulness

In the recent article, Google Likes Thich Nhat Hanh, we saw that mindfulness has made a lasting impression on certain types of business such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and the like. The companies are offering classes in mindfulness in hopes of increasing the productivity of their workers. We call this secular mindfulness, because it leaves out the ethical dimensions of precepts, wisdom, and compassion.

The Dalai Lama thinks that even though these ethical dimensions are ignored, it is all right to teach mindfulness because it is going to reduce suffering.

Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence, talked about the Dalai Lama in an interview about his latest book, Focus:

Daniel Goleman-FocusWhen mindfulness came to the West, one of the things that was left behind was the ethical dimension, which underlies that technique. The technique in isolation can be used to justify anything, even violence. I think the Dalai Lama’s take on this is quite interesting. What he says is that the secular use of mindfulness is not going to make people saints, or change their values, but is going to lessen their suffering. That’s his goal. That alone is good in itself.”

I tend to agree with the Dalai Lama on the point. Many of my fellow OI1 members think that we should limit the scope of mindfulness in business because of the missing ethical dimensions. They echo what Daniel Goleman said about being able to use mindfulness to “justify anything, even violence.”

I recall Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh saying something like, “It is possible that continued practice in mindfulness may produce concentration and insight and this will help bring on ethical behavior.” Don’t quote me on this, even though I agree with Thich Nhat Hanh.

What are your thoughts about teaching mindfulness without the ethical dimensions? Please share.

Emotional Intelligence Focus
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1OI is the Order of Interbeing founded by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in 1966. Members agree to study, practice, and observe the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings.

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