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Recontextualizing Mindfulness: Theravada Buddhist Perspectives on the Ethical and Spiritual Dimensions of Awareness.

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Abstract

Although mindfulness has been embraced by the West, this has mostly been a secular “decontextualized” form of mindfulness, disembedded from its original Buddhist nexus of beliefs/practices. This has arguably deprived the practice of its potential to effect more radical psychospiritual development. This article therefore argues for the “recontextualization” of mindfulness, drawing explicitly on Buddhist teachings to enhance our appreciation of it, and offers a contribution to such recontextualization. It presents a novel (in the context of Western psychology) theoretical model of mindfulness, drawing on concepts in Theravada Buddhist literature. In particular, it suggests that Buddhism identifies 3 main “forms” of mindfulness: sati (awareness of the present moment), appamada (awareness suffused with ethical care), and sampajañña (awareness suffused with a sense of spiritual development). Although, currently, only sati has been recognized in the West, we have much to gain from also recognizing the potential ethical and spiritual dimensions of mindfulness.
Running head: RE-CONTEXTUALISING MINDFULNESS
Re-contextualising mindfulness:
Theravada Buddhist perspectives on the ethical and spiritual dimensions of awareness
T. Lomas
Department of Psychology, University of East London, Water Lane, London, E15 4LZ
e-mail: t.lomas@uel.ac.uk
Note: This article may not exactly replicate the final version published in the Mindfulness. It is not
the copy of record.
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Abstract
Although mindfulness has been embraced by the West, this has mostly been a secular ‘de-
contextualised’ form of mindfulness, dis-embedded from its original Buddhist nexus of
beliefs/practices. This has arguably deprived the practice of its potential to effect more radical
psychospiritual development. This paper therefore argues for the ‘re-contextualisation of
mindfulness, drawing explicitly on Buddhist philosophy to enhance our appreciation of it, and offers
a contribution to such re-contextualisation. It presents a novel (in the context of Western
psychology) theoretical model of mindfulness, drawing on concepts in Theravada Buddhist
literature. In particular, it suggests that Buddhism identifies three main ‘forms’ of mindfulness: sati
(awareness of the present moment), appamada (awareness suffused with ethical care), and
sampajañña (awareness suffused with a sense of spiritual development). Although currently only
sati has been recognised in the West, we have much to gain from also recognising the potential
ethical and spiritual dimensions of mindfulness.
Key Words: mindfulness; awareness; sati; ethics; precepts; spiritual development.
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Introduction
Recent years have seen a surge of interest in mindfulness in the West, both in academia and
professional practice, and in society at large. However, while these developments are to be
welcomed, concerns are beginning to be raised regarding the way in which mindfulness is being
interpreted and communicated to Western audiences. A key issue is the way mindfulness has been
largely de-contextualised from its antecedent Buddhist roots, taken out of the wider nexus of ideas
and practices in which it was originally developed (Van Gordon et al., 2015a). Among the scholars
and practitioners who helped bring mindfulness to the West, there has generally been an attempt to
convey it in a package that would be amenable to secular Western audiences, shorn of religious or
esoteric accretions that such audiences might find off-putting, and frequently eschewing explicit
reference to Buddhism (Shapiro, 1994). This kind of secularisation has mainly occurred through
mindfulness being operationalised using concepts and discourses taken from academic psychology,
particularly cognitive theories of attention (Bishop et al., 2004).
Before discussing why these secularising efforts may be problematic, let us acknowledge
that they have been (a) necessary and (b) useful. First, without this secularisation, mindfulness
would arguably not have made the impact in the West it has done (King, 1999). Second, even in its
decontextualized way, mindfulness has been utilized successfully across diverse academic and
professional fields, from education (Napoli et al., 2005) to healthcare (Fortney & Taylor, 2010).
However, while current secularised conceptions of mindfulness are valuable as far as they go, in
being decontextualized from its Buddhist roots, this current value is nevertheless limited. In its
original Buddhist context, mindfulness was embedded within a comprehensive system of philosophy
and practice aimed at personal transformation. Taken out of this context, its potential is arguably
thus neutered and diminished. This issue has been recognised by Kabat-Zinn himself, despite or
perhaps because of his key role in bringing mindfulness to the West by developing secularised
modes of delivery, such as his seminal Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme
(Kabat-Zinn, 1982). While of course still upholding the value of such programmes, he commented
that ‘the rush to define mindfulness within Western psychology may wind up denaturing it in
fundamental ways,’ and as such there is ‘the potential for something priceless to be lost’ (Williams &
Kabat-Zinn, 2011, p.4).
Thus, the current paper argues that, now mindfulness has been widely accepted in the West,
we might benefit from re-contextualising it, i.e., explicitly re-situating it in the context of Buddhist
theory and practice. Before setting out one way of doing so, it is worth emphasising that there are
many possible avenues such re-contextualisation might take. Since its origins some 2,500 years ago,
Buddhism has flowered into a rich and complex body of teachings, encompassing numerous schools
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of thought, rivalling Christianity (and indeed most main religions) in terms of denominational
diversity and schismatic complexity. In broad brush strokes, there are three main Buddhist branches:
Theravāda, Mahāyāna, and Vajrayana. Theravāda (‘Doctrine of the Elders’) is the oldest branch,
coming into being around the first century B.C.E (Collins, 2005). Its emergence is entwined with the
formation of the ‘Pāli canon’ (also known as the Tipiaka, or ‘three baskets’), in which the Buddha’s
teachings were preserved in writing (having hitherto only been transmitted orally). This comprises:
(a) the Vinaya piaka (monastic rules); (b) the Sutta piaka (discourses/sayings, mostly attributed to
the Buddha, divided into five Nikāya [volumes], the Dīgha [long], Majjhima [middle-length],
Samyutta [thematically linked], Anguttara [gradual], and Khuddaka [minor] Nikāya); and (c) the
Abhidhamma piaka (scholastic treatment of the suttas). The Theravāda school was the name given
to Buddhist communities who closely adhered to the canon (although even then, such communities
were engaged in selective exegesis and interpretation of these ‘original’ teachings). Mahāyāna is
used as an overarching label for diverse schools of thought that began to emerge around the first
century C.E., which started adapting/developing the Buddha’s teachings in new and innovative ways,
such as the dialectical philosophy of Nāgārjuna (circa 150250 C.E.) (Walser, 2013). Finally,
Vajrayana refers to a further efflorescence of philosophical and ritualistic development that
occurred from the third century C.E. onwards, particularly in Tibet (Davidson, 2003).
Given such denominational complexities, there are many possible ways of re-contextualising
mindfulness; as such, the current paper offers but one contribution to, or one aspect of, this kind of
re-contextualisation. Indeed, we are beginning to see other re-contextualisation efforts, such as
Kudesia and Nyima (2014), who focus on Tibetan Buddhism. So, in the aim of reflexive openness, the
current paper is written from a Theravāda perspective, and more specifically, Theravāda as
interpreted and elucidated by the contemporary English Buddhist teacher Urgyen Sangharakshita
(2003). (Sangharakshita was ordained within the Therevada tradition in India in 1950, returning to
the UK to found the Western Buddhist Order in 1967 (renamed in 2010 as the Triratna Buddhist
Order/Community), now one of the largest Buddhist movements in the UK (Bluck, 2006).) According
to Sangharakshita’s interpretation of Theravāda, it is possible to identify three different ‘types’
mindfulness in the Pāli canon, i.e., three different Pāli words which are all conceptually related to
awareness: sati (awareness of the present moment), appamada (awareness suffused with an ethos
of ethical care), and sampajañña (awareness suffused with a sense of spiritual progress). However,
somewhat by historical accident, only the first of these, sati, has been engaged with by the West,
and presented as the conceptual root of mindfulness. Consequently, Western conceptualisations of
mindfulness are to some extent missing the ethical dimension of awareness found in appamada, and
the spiritual dimension of awareness contained in sampajañña.
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In order to elucidate the differences between these three types, the paper draws upon a
teaching that is central to Buddhism, namely paṭiccasamuppāda, i.e., the law of conditionality.
Essentially, this teaching expresses the Buddha’s insight into the causal nature of the universe, into
the ordered relationship between conditions and their effects. As expressed by the Buddha (in the
ḷasakuludāyi sutta, as well as elsewhere in the Nikāya; Shulman, 2008): This being, that exists;
through the arising of this, that arises. This not being, that does not exist; through the ceasing
of this, that ceases’ (MN [Majjhima Nikāya] 79). Within Buddhist philosophy, this is arguably the
‘meta’ law that underpins all other laws, such as the second Noble truth (that suffering has a cause)
(Kang, 2009). Understanding this teaching is thus seen as the key to wellbeing, and ultimately to
freedom from suffering. As Sangharakshita and Subhuti (2013, p.49) put it, once we have
understood and are fully convinced about the nature of reality as paṭiccasamuppāda, we align
ourselves with those regularities or laws that lead us to liberation.’
This law has been expounded upon in various ways in Buddhist literature. One influential
analysis developed by Buddhaghosa in the 5th Century C.E. is the identification of five different
levelsof conditionality, known as the fivefold niyāmas. (It should be noted that the Buddha is only
recorded as discussing the niyāmas individually in the piakas (Jones, 2012). The synthesis of the
niyāmas into a fivefold schema was an act of interpretative exegesis on the part of Buddhaghosa.
This can be found in the Sumaṅgalavilāsinī (Sv ii.432), Buddhaghosa’s commentary on the Dīgha
nikāya, where it occurs in the context of a discussion of the meaning of dhammatā (i.e., order of
events) in the Mahāpadāna sutta (DA ii.432).) Niyāmas are ‘laws, conditions or constraints that
govern processes or phenomena’ (Keown, 2003); collectively then, the fivefold niyāmas identify five
different domains of life that are subject to causal law-like principles.
First, utu-niyāma is the law of the seasons,’ describing the observable cyclical regularity of
environmental phenomena (e.g., seasonal patterns). Regarded anachronistically (i.e., in the context
of contemporary scientific understanding), this is the domain of non-organic physical laws (e.g., the
law of gravity). Second, bīja-niyāma is the law of seeds, describing observable patterns in the realm
of organic phenomena (e.g., reproductive continuity). Again, regarded anachronistically, this is the
domain of biochemistry (e.g., genetic inheritance of phenotypes). Third, citta-niyāma is the law of
the mind, describing causal patterns among mental events (e.g., the way thoughts give rise to
particular feelings). Regarded anachronistically, this is the domain of psychology (e.g., phenomena
such as classical conditioning). Fourth, kamma-niyāma is the law of karma,’ which describes the way
actions have consequences (or, in Buddhaghosa’s phraseology, ‘the desirable and undesirable results
following good and bad action’); this is the domain of ethics and morality. (Karma’ is the Sanskrit
equivalent of the Pāli Kamma. Although karma has entered the English language, for consistency
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this paper will keep to the Pāli version.) Finally, dhamma-niyāma is the law of nature,’ which in this
context refers to the ‘spiritual potential inherent in the universe, such that it is capable of evolving
complex qualities such as consciousness and exemplary beings like the Buddha. Again, regarded
anachronistically, we might identify this law with the theory of evolution and, in particular, with
emergentist philosophies (e.g., Aurobindo, 1939-1940) which view the universe as evolving towards
complex outcomes such as self-consciousness.
The relevance here of paiccasamuppāda, and of the fivefold niyāmas specifically, is that
different types of mindfulness might regarded as being attuned to different niyāmas. As set out
below, sati (i.e., present-moment awareness) might be viewed as focused primarily on the first three
niyāma (utu, bija, and especially citta). However, it is arguably not until the cultivation of appamada
that one really becomes cognizant of kamma niyāma, i.e., appreciative of the ethical dimensions of
one’s actions. Then, it is only through the subsequent emergence of sampajañña that one truly
develops an understanding of dhamma niyāma, i.e., a conscious and over-riding concern with
psychospiritual development. As such, we will see that by focusing on sati-type mindfulness alone
as the West has hitherto largely done the more far-reaching, transformative potentials inherent in
appamada and sampajañña forms of mindfulness are largely missed out on. So, the current paper
aims to bring these concepts and teachings within the fold of Western psychology, thereby allowing
such possibilities to be embraced. These ideas will be expounded upon in three sections, discussing
the three types of mindfulness in turn. Each section will: (a) introduce the type of mindfulness; (b)
explore it from a Western psychological perspective; (c) examine it from a Buddhist perspective; and
(d) consider its therapeutic significance. At the end, a concluding section will offer recommendations
for how the central points of the paper can be harnessed in clinical/therapeutic practice.
Sati-mindfulness: Awareness of the present moment
Introducing sati
We begin by considering sati-mindfulness, since sati is invariably cited by pioneers such as Kabat-
Zinn (2003) as the conceptual origin for their conceptualisations of mindfulness. Indeed, the term
mindfulness was first coined by the great Buddhist scholar T. W. Rhys Davids as a translation of sati
(Gethin, 2011). Interestingly, as Gethin notes, Rhys Davids toyed with various terms before settling
on mindfulness: in Rhys Davids1881 publication of Buddhist suttas, sati was rendered as ‘mental
activity’ (p.9) and even simply ‘thought’ (p.63), but it was only with Rhys Davids1910 work that he
settled on the term mindfulness. So, what does sati mean? In Brahmanical India, the word connoted
‘remembrance’ and ‘recollection, though used within a meditative context, this does not refer to
historical/chronological memory per se, but to a mental state in which one recollects/remembers
the activity that ‘one is engaged in, in the present moment’ (Peacock, 2014, p.6). As Anālayo (2003,
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p.48) puts it, sati-mindfulness involves remembering to focus on ‘what is otherwise too easily
forgotten: the present moment.’
This is the type of awareness that is described in the Satipaṭṭhāna sutta (the Discourse on
the establishment of mindfulness; MN 10), regarded as the seminal text in the Pāli Canon on the
practice of mindfulness (Bodhi, 2011). This teaching includes the instruction: Establishing present-
moment recollection right where you are, simply breathe in, simply aware, then breathe out, simply
aware.’ This type of present-moment awareness is captured in Kabat-Zinn’s (2003, p.145) influential
definition of mindfulness which he stated was based upon sati as ‘the awareness that arises
through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally to the unfolding
of experience moment by moment.’ Thus, given that most contemporary analyses and applications
of mindfulness stem directly or indirectly from Kabat-Zinn’s (1982) pioneering operationalization of
mindfulness, it is fair to say that mindfulness as currently understood and practiced in the West is
based exclusively on sati-type awareness. It is worth, then, considering what type of awareness is
being encouraged here.
Sati from a Western perspective
One way to appreciate the type of awareness implied by sati would be to analyse sati in terms of
contemporary psychological constructs pertaining to attention and awareness. For instance, Lutz et
al. (2008) suggest that meditation practices can be classified into two broad types: focussed
attention (FA) and open-monitoring (OM). FA practices can be analysed in terms of modular
attention networks, including sustained attention (focusing on particular qualia, such as the breath),
executive attention (monitoring distractions from competing stimuli), attention switching
(disengaging from distractions), and selective attention (redirecting focus back to the meditative
object). Conversely, OM does not involve focusing attention on particular stimuli, but is a broad
receptive awareness, an ‘open field capacity to detect arising sensory, feeling and thought events
within an unrestricted ‘background’ of awareness, without a ‘grasping’ of these events in an
explicitly selected foreground or focus’ (Raffone & Srinivasan, 2010, p.2). Such awareness is
characterised by qualities including receptivity, clarity, stability/continuity, flexibility and non-
conceptual awareness (Brown et al., 2007). In this context, sati might be characterised as a form of
OM. (That said, as Chiesa et al. (2011) point out, most mindfulness sessions begin with a period of
FA, e.g., focusing on the breath. This is done to ‘stabilise’ one’s awareness for the more expansive
phase of OM, in which one strives to simply be non-judgmentally present to one’s phenomenological
experience.)
Sati from a Buddhist perspective
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From the perspective of our re-contextualising agenda here, another way to consider the question of
the nature of sati is to ask, what are we mindful of? What types of phenomena are encompassed by
our sphere of concern? From a Theravāda standpoint, we can address these questions through the
fivefold niyāmas. Sati is arguably centred mainly on the first three niyāmas: utu, bija, and citta. In
terms of utu-niyāma, one would be aware of causality operating in the physical world, appraised
through paying attention to our own physicality, our physical surroundings, and to the consequences
of actions (of ourselves and others) in this arena. A contemporary example might be the kind of
watchful attention one would hope to maintain while driving a car. Secondly, with bija-niyāma
(causality in the domain of organic matter), sati means being aware of our own organic nature,
encompassing embodied sensations, including biological processes such as respiration) and how
biological laws like aging affect our body. Secondarily, this niyāma encompasses mindfulness of
nature (of the natural environment). Finally, the third level of conditionality is citta-niyāma, the ‘law
of the mind’ (i.e., recurrent cognitive and phenomenological patterns), the significance of which is
discussed immediately below.
Therapeutic implications of sati
Arguably, sati-mindfulness of the citta-niyāma is the predominant form of awareness promoted in
Western approaches to mindfulness. Consider the proliferation of mindfulness-based interventions
that have followed in the wake of Kabat-Zinn’s (1982) seminal MBSR programme, all of which teach
people to be more aware of their cognitions and emotions, and to notice causal relationships among
such phenomena. For instance, the most prominent adaptation of MBSR is mindfulness-based
cognitive therapy (MBCT), designed to prevent depressive relapse (Teasdale et al., 2000). Its
theoretical premise is Teasdale’s (1988) ‘differential activation hypothesis, which holds that
previously depressed people are susceptible to relapse due to ‘dysphoria-activated depressogenic
thinking (Teasdale et al., 2000, p.615). For such people, negative emotions can potentially re-
activate negative thought patterns associated with previous depressive episodes, precipitating a
downward spiral of negative thoughts and worsening affect, leading to relapse. In MBCT then,
participants are helped to develop sati-mindfulness of thoughts and feelings, and of causal patterns
among these (i.e., habitual thinking patterns). With this awareness, participants are then taught to
‘decentre’ from these qualia – to regard these dispassionately with detached objectivity rather
than getting drawn into them. As Chambers et al. (2009, p.569) put it, MBCT involves ‘retraining
awareness,’ enabling people to ‘more consciously choose... thoughts, emotions and sensations...
rather than habitually reacting to them.’
The type of sati-mindfulness encouraged by interventions such as MBSR and MBCT is very
helpful. For instance, in randomised controlled trials, MBCT has been found to reduce relapse rates
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for people with three or more previous episodes of depression (Ma & Teasdale, 2004), and as such
has been approved by the UK National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (2004) as a treatment
for recurrent depression. However, in the context of Buddhist philosophy and practice, the value of
this kind of mindfulness alone is nevertheless limited, and one could argue that people might
experience even greater benefits were they to engage with these Buddhist teachings. This could
include trying to cultivate the other ‘forms’ of mindfulness featured here, namely appamada (with
its emphasis on ethical awareness and practice) and sampajañña (with its emphasis on spiritual
development). Of course, people practising sati-mindfulness may well be acting ethically and/or
developing spiritually. However, as Stanley (2012) notes, while the Pāli canon preserved an ethical
dimension to sati, when taken out of this context and conceptualised purely as an attention training
technique, there is the risk of it becoming de-ethicised and de-spiritualised. Such de-ethicisation of
mindfulness is unfortunate, for various reasons. For instance, ethical behaviour is not only desirable
from a societal perspective (e.g., maintaining civic harmony), but from a Buddhist perspective, it
benefits the actor too, as the next section explores.
Appamada-mindfulness: Awareness suffused with an ethos of ethical care
Introducing appamada
While recognising the value of sati, this section raises the idea that people might benefit further
from developing an appreciation of the importance of ethical behaviour. With this, we come to the
second kind of mindfulness in the Pāli canon, appamada. It is worth clarifying that this should not be
regarded as a separate type of mindfulness, distinct from sati; rather, it is a quality with which one
might try to augment sati (Peacock, 2014). Thus, in speaking of appamada-mindfulness, really this
means an enhanced form of awareness encompassing both sati and appamada. One way to discern
the qualities that appamada brings to mindfulness is to consider the range of English translations for
it, including earnestness (Müller, 1881), vigilant care (Soeng, 2006), unremitting alertness (Thera,
1941), diligence (Peacock, 2014), and carefulness (Nikaya, 2008). Arguably the best translation is
‘moral watchfulness’ (Rao, 2007, p.69); this reflects the commentary on the Dhammapada (suttas in
the Khuddaka nikāya), which describes appamada as ‘awareness… with regard to the sphere of
qualities of good conduct’ (The Old Commentary of the Dhammapada, p.431, cited in Carter, 2005,
p.280). As such, we might regard appamada as awareness suffused with an ethos of ethical care. The
significance of appamada is that it introduces an ethical dimension to mindfulness, taking it beyond
simply awareness of what is happening (i.e., sati), and explicitly connecting it to Buddhist teachings
on ethics and morality. Before considering such Buddhist teachings though, and the significance of
appamada in Theravāda, it is worth contextualising the discussion by noting the way ethics are
treated in Western psychology.
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Appamada from a Western perspective
In considering Western conceptualisations of ethics, it is first useful to clarify how they differ from
conceptually related phenomena such as values and morals. Values do not necessarily concern right
and wrong, but are ‘conceptions of the desirable’ that motivate behaviour and choices (Schwartz,
1999, p.24). In contrast, morals do explicitly involve ‘notions of right and wrong’ (Hazard, 1994,
p.451). However, the two are often closely connected, since shared values in a society frequently
become the basis for a common moral framework. Ethics then relate to morals in the sense that,
while the latter may be unarticulated or implicit, ethics is the explicit codification of such morals in a
communally defined and recognised framework. However, it has been suggested that outside of
specific contexts, many people tend not to be guided by an explicitly defined ethical code. Common
exceptions to this are: abiding by the law of one’s country (Gawande, 2006); being affiliated to a
profession that has a formal code (Mitchels & Bond, 2010); and following a religion (Pate & Bondi,
1992). In these cases, people are able to avail themselves of guidance (even if imperfect and fallible)
to help them ‘achieve the greatest good and minimise any potential wrongs’ (Mitchels & Bond, 2010,
p.5). Outside these cases though, it could be argued that people have to struggle on their own to
work out how to act in their own and others’ best interests.
That is not to say such people are acting immorally. For instance, Kohlberg (1981) examined
people’s responses to moral dilemmas, and found that people tend to develop through a standard
sequences of phases. First, a ‘pre-conventional’ phase, where morality is determined hedonically,
involving three stages: egocentric (what feels good); punishment/obedience (what gets
rewarded/punished); and instrumental-relativist (what meets one’s needs). Second, a conventional’
phase, with morality determined by societal norms/laws, comprising interpersonal concordance
(group approval), then law and order (upholding social order). Finally, a ‘post-conventional phase, in
which right/wrong are determined by ‘higher’ principles, featuring two stages: social contract-
legalistic (general rights) and universal ethical-principle (universal rights). Although some critiques of
the model have been aired for instance, Gilligan (1977) suggested women tend to develop through
the same stages in a different way from men, focusing on care rather than justice the framework
has been relatively well-validated over the years (Lapsley & Carlo, 2014). However, this article
contends that people might benefit from an explicit ethical code that could accelerate their moral
development. Moreover, the key point about appamada is not just that one has an ethical code, but
keeps ethical considerations at the forefront of their awareness, and acts accordingly, as discussed
next.
Appamada from a Buddhist perspective
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Like most religions, Buddhist literature is replete with teachings pertaining to morality, and with the
codification of such teachings into explicit ethical guidelines and prescriptions. For a start, three
aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path (see e.g., the Mahdcattdrisaka-sutta; MN III 71-78) the
Buddha’s central teaching about how to ameliorate and even escape suffering – are specifically
concerned with morality (sīla): right speech (sammā-vācā), right action (sammā-kammanta), and
right livelihood (sammā-ājīva). These three strands of the path are then elaborated upon in various
sets of precepts, which elucidate in detail what right speech, action and livelihood consist of. The
most widely known ethical framework in the Pāli Canon is the Pañca-sīla (‘Five precepts’), which
encourage abstinence from pānātipātā (harming living beings), adinnadana (taking the not given),
kamesu micchacara (misconduct concerning sense pleasures, e.g., sexual misconduct), musavada
(false speech), and suramerayamajja pamadatthana (unmindful states related to consumption of
alcohol or drugs). Sangharakshita (2003) points out that these precepts gain further strength if
formulated positively, namely as exhortations to cultivate (respectively) mettā (loving-kindness),
dana (generosity), appichatā (contentment), sacca (truthfulness) and sati (awareness). For instance,
whereas refraining from harm is arguably a minimum expectation of civilised behaviour, mettā is a
far stronger prosocial act, which actively incorporates love and care. This issue (of negative versus
positive formulations) may be partly a function of the English language, and of the difficulty of
finding discursive equivalents when translating terms from the original Pāli or Sanskrit. For example,
a Pāli term such as avihimsā (non-harm), while being negatively formulated (vihimsā means
harm/violence, with ‘a’ being a negative prefix), it nevertheless retains positive overtones
(concerning love and care) which are not preserved if translated into English as non-harm. As such,
Ostergaard (1977) argues that ‘love’ might be a more encompassing translation of avihimsā.
For more committed Buddhists, these five precepts are supplemented by more extensive
recommendations. For example, the Pāṭimokkha (Monastic Disciplinary Code) involves around two
hundred rules (versions vary) for monastic life (Keown, 2009). More generally, Buddhist teachings
feature exhortations to virtuous living. The Therevada tradition emphasises four brahma-viharas
(divine abidings): mettā (loving-kindness), karuṇā (compassion), muditā (sympathetic joy), and
upekkha (equanimity). Similarly, the Mahayana tradition encourages practitioners to strive towards
six pāramitā (perfections): dāna (generosity), sīla (morality), khanti (patience), viriya (perseverance),
samādhi (concentration), and paññā (insight). In this light, we might say that appamada-mindfulness
involves being aware of one’s actions in the light of these ethical guidelines, i.e., being mindful of the
extent to which one’s actions are in accordance with these recommendations. Indeed, we might
further say that while sati involves non-judgemental awareness of the present moment, appamada
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re-introduces an element of judgement (crucially though, a compassionate form), since practitioners
are encouraged to appraise the moral worth of their actions.
Therapeutic implications of appamada
In considering the ethical prescriptions above, it is vital to understand why these are recommended
in Buddhism. While of course recognising the importance to society of ethical behaviour (in
upholding civilizational norms), Buddhism makes the more profound (and persuasive) argument that
ethical action also serves the wellbeing of the actor themselves. In essence, the contention is that
skilful (i.e., ethical) actions generate future positive mental states, while unskilful (i.e., unethical)
actions lead to future negative mental states. As such, whatever else the benefits (i.e., to other
people) of ethical behaviour, this insight should help motivate the practitioner to move towards
skilful action as far as possible. This insight rests on the teaching of paṭiccasamuppāda, and in
particular on the fourth order of conditionality, the kamma niyāma, which is the application of the
principle of causality with respect to ethics (Jones, 2012). Now, although the notion of kamma has
entered Western discourse, it has often been misinterpreted. For instance, it is commonly taken to
mean that everything that happens to a person is a result of their past actions. However, this is a
misreading of the concept, at least from the perspective of Buddhaghosa. The nuance provided by
his fivefold niyāmas is that events happen for all manner of reasons, some of which are caused by
people’s past actions (kamma niyāma), and some of which are not (the other four niyāmas). At the
same time though, Buddhaghosa still holds that every present action will nevertheless cause or
contribute to an outcome in the future.
Thus, appamada-mindfulness means becoming aware of kamma niyāma, i.e., appreciating
that actions have consequences. This is not comparable to other religious teachings pertaining to
ethics, such as the Christian notion of sin, which holds that one is punished for one’s misdeeds
through divine retribution (Swinburne, 1989). Rather, the Buddhist notion of kamma does not
necessarily involve a supernatural agency (although some teachers do interpret it that way), but
rather proposes that we are rewarded or punished, in a causal sense, by our actions. As Kang (2009,
p.73) explains it, ‘the law of karma [kamma] states that any volitional action rooted in non-greed,
non-hatred and non-delusion (or in positive terms: generosity, love/compassion, and wisdom) gives
rise to virtuous or positive imprints in the mind that would subsequently result in experiences of
happiness and pleasure.’ Conversely, ‘any ethical action rooted in greed, hatred or delusion gives
rise to their opposite non-virtuous/negative mental imprints that later result in experiences of
suffering and displeasure.’ So, as noted above, Theravada holds that ethical actions do not only
benefit the recipient, but the actor too; thus, people have a vested interest in acting ethically, and
should be motivated to act as such. In Kang’s words, ‘a behavioural guideline that emerges from
Running head: RE-CONTEXTUALISING MINDFULNESS
13
such an ethical view of causality is that one ought to engage mindfully in positive karma rooted in
positive volitions (p.73). Thus, appamada introduces a further dimension to mindfulness that is not
present in sati alone: here the practitioner advances beyond simply being aware of their experience,
but reflects and judges (compassionately) whether their actions are skilful (e.g., in accordance with
the precepts). As such, as discussed in the conclusion, contemporary mindfulness interventions
might benefit from introducing appamada into their teachings.
Sampajañña: Awareness suffused with a sense of spiritual progress
Introducing sampajañña
This final section will suggest that our appreciation and development of mindfulness can be
augmented even further: in addition to cultivating sati and appamada, one can aim to foster a
spiritual aspect to one’s awareness, namely sampajañña, a third ‘form’ of mindfulness, which we
might define as awareness suffused with a sense of spiritual progress. Again, as with appamada, this
should not be regarded as a distinct ‘type’ of mindfulness, separate from the others, but a new
quality or dimension that one can bring to mindfulness, thus creating an enriched compound of sati-
appamada-sampajañña mindfulness.
So, what skills or qualities does sampajañña bring to mindfulness? Some scholars interpret
this as the ability to ‘effortlessly’ sustain sati. For example, the 8th Century (C.E.) master Śāntideva
(2002) states that ‘Samprajanya [sampajañña] comes and, once come, does not go again, if smti
[sati] stands guard at the door of the mind (cited in Maharaj, 2013, p.67). Maharaj interprets this as
meaning that the ‘assiduous practice of sati… culminates eventually in the achievement of
samprajanya, which seems to be a more spontaneous and effortless state of watchfulness of the
body and mind.’ Beyond this idea of ‘effortless’ mindfulness, many thinkers associate sampajañña
specifically with insight. For instance, in the foundational Satipaṭṭhāna sutta (MN 10), there is a
refrain of ātāpi sampajāno satimā, which Bodhi (2011) translates as ‘ardent, clearly comprehending,
and mindful.’ Thus, Bodhi suggests that the phrase encompasses three mental factors: atapi (ardent)
concerns the energy one needs to engage in practice; sati is watchful awareness; and sampajāno (an
adjective relating to the noun sampajañña) pertains to clear comprehension. More specifically,
Sangharakshita (2003) proposes that sampajañña means having insight or ‘clear comprehension’ of
the possibility of spiritual development. Thus, Sangharakshita argues that it might best be translated
as ‘mindfulness of purpose,’ in the sense that ‘everything we do should be done with a sense of the
direction we want to move in and of whether or not our current action will take us in that direction’
(p.13). From this perspective, this kind of awareness supersedes appamada-mindfulness. Whereas
appamada simply means appreciating the value of acting ethically which could be done in a secular
way (as indeed many people do) sampajañña means recognising the possibility of psychospiritual
Running head: RE-CONTEXTUALISING MINDFULNESS
14
development, and pursuing this goal accordingly. This, arguably, is the fundamental ‘point’ of
Buddhism: ultimately, all its teachings are focused on helping people overcome suffering and make
progress towards spiritual liberation (however defined).
Sampajañña from a Western perspective
Before discussing Theravada perspectives on psychospiritual development, it is worth considering
how spirituality is treated within Western psychology. In this, spirituality and spiritual development
are both contested notions. Regarding spirituality, there are at least four main types of perspectives
(Daniels, 2009): religious perspectives that invoke numinosity, e.g., the ‘quality of an individual
whose inner life is oriented toward God, the supernatural, or the sacred’ (Yamane, 1998, p.492);
psychological perspectives which aim to understand spirituality in terms of psychophysiological
processes, such as Newberg’s (2010) neurotheological paradigm; humanistic/existential
perspectives, which conceptualise spirituality in terms of developing deeper understanding of and
connection with self and others, such as an ‘inner search for meaning and fulfilment’ (Graber, 2001,
p.40); and the ecological perspective, which focuses on humanity’s connection to and responsibility
towards the natural world (Kinsley, 1995).
Given such diversity of perspectives, conceptualising spiritual development is perhaps even
more problematic. Attempts have been made of course, e.g., by systematising scholars like Wilber
(2007), who has sought to find commonalities across multiple structural-developmental schemas,
including those pertaining to faith (Fowler, 1981) and ego-development (Cook-Greuter, 2004), and
moral development (Kohlberg, 1981), together with non-Western sources such as Sri Aurobindo
(1939-1940) and the Tibetan Book of the Dead (Evans-Wentz, 1960). In Wilber’s schematic, people
progress through multiple quasi-independent developmental ‘lines’ (in the manner of Gardner’s
(1999) multiple intelligences), from Kohlberg’s moral stages to Cook-Greuter’s ego-development
progression. These lines all progress through the same broad phases identified by Kohlberg, i.e., pre-
conventional, conventional, and post-conventional (each of which are likewise differentiated into
multiple stages). Regarding spiritual development specifically, this is positioned: (a) as a separate
line in itself (concerning connection to the sacred), and (b) as the higher levels of all the other lines
(e.g., high levels of moral development are regarded as inherently spiritual, as these involve ego
transcendence through identification with increasingly wide spheres of existence). As innovative and
promising as Wilber’s framework is though and others like it, such as Spiral Dynamics (Beck &
Cowan, 1996) it must currently be regarded as somewhat speculative and untested (Bussey, 2010),
even if many of the models within it were developed through empirical analysis. As such, for now,
spiritual development is somewhat poorly understood and operationalised in Western psychology.
Sampajañña from a Buddhist perspective
Running head: RE-CONTEXTUALISING MINDFULNESS
15
Turning to a Theravāda perspective, spiritual development, and particularly sampajañña
mindfulness, can be understood by returning to the teaching of paṭiccasamuppādi. Sangharakshita
(2003) proposes that sampajañña involves awareness of the final niyāma, the dhamma niyāma,
which refers to the evolutionary potential of the universe to produce exemplary individuals such as
the Buddha. From Sangharakshita’s perspective, the emergence and cultivation of sampajañña
means that one would develop a deepening appreciation of the dhamma-niyāma, and its radical
implications. One such implication is the transformative notion that all beings possess the potential
of becoming a Buddha, and that the way to progress towards this is by following a spiritual path. Just
as appamada entails appreciation of the value of living ethically, sampajañña means being
convinced of the value and indeed necessity of diligently following such a path. This kind of
awareness would inextricably inform one’s actions, such that one would evaluate and choose all
one’s behaviours according to whether they facilitated progress along this path. One might argue
that practitioners may have already embarked upon a spiritual path as soon as they have begun
engaging with sati, and would certainly be making progress along this with the development of
appamada. However, the emergence of sampajañña means a person would make their spiritual
development a conscious, explicit and overriding priority in their life. As Buddhaghosa put it, while
awareness of kamma niyāma shows us ‘why we should be good,’ insight into dhamma niyāma
informs us why we should ‘try to better our good’ (Sv ii.432; cited in Jones, 2012, pp.548-549).
In considering the notion of spiritual development, there are numerous structural stage-wise
schemas in Buddhist literature. Even just within the Tipiaka, Bucknell (1984) identifies six different
lists of stages. However, rather than adumbrate these lists, we might just highlight one particular
framework of spiritual progression, the one promulgated by Sangharakshita (2003) (since he is the
prism through which we have viewed Theravāda in this paper). This is the Five Path schema,
developed by the Sarvāstivāda school (circa 240 BCE), as interpreted by Sangharakshita. This
conceptualises spiritual development in terms of four broad stages of deepening practice
(integration, skilful intention, spiritual death, and spiritual rebirth), followed by a fifth goal state
(enlightenment). Firstly, integration involves ‘cultivating ever-more skilful actions of body, speech
and mind, so that progressively more satisfying, subtle, flexible, and open states of consciousness
emerge as their fruit (Sangharakshita & Subhuti, 2013, p.128). One might say that this stage
emerges once sati-mindfulness begins to evolve into appamada-mindfulness, as one starts to
develop an emerging appreciation of the connection between one’s subjective experience (e.g., in
mindfulness practice) and one’s actions in the world. Then, as appamada develops, a person might
be seen as moving into the stage of skilful intention (sometimes referred to by Sangharakshita as the
stage of ‘positive emotions’). This builds upon the first stage through systematic cultivation of skilful
Running head: RE-CONTEXTUALISING MINDFULNESS
16
intentions and actions that bring the karmic fruit of a more finely tuned mind” (Sangharakshita &
Subhuti, 2013, p.133), such as a more explicit commitment to ethical precepts (e.g., taking vows of
ordination). As such, with the stage of skilful intention, practitioners could be said to be established
on a spiritual path. At this point, we might suggest that appamada evolves into sampajañña-
mindfulness, in which there is a definite, conscious and dominant feeling of being on such a path.
Subsequently, at some point along this path, the practitioner might enter the stage that
Sangharakshita refers to as spiritual death. This involves deepening insight into the nature of
reality, and in particular, into what Buddhism refers to as the three lakshanas (‘marks of conditioned
existence’): anicca (impermanence), anattā (insubstantiality), and dukkha (suffering). This central
teaching suggests that all phenomena are empty of a fixed, enduring, independent nature, but
instead are transitory (anicca) and interdependent (anattā). (The lakshanas are elucidated at
numerous points in the Pāli canon, including SN 22.46, 35.1, AN 3.47, and Dhammapada 277-279.) It
is the denial or ignorance of these fundamental truths, and the related attempt to attach to
phenomena that are inherently subject to change, that is seen as causing suffering (dukkha).
Spiritual death occurs when these insights are realised with respect to oneself, i.e., one understands
the impermanence and insubstantiality of one’s being. Thus, ‘dying’ in this context means
relinquishing one’s ‘self-oriented clinging’ (Sangharakshita & Subhuti, 2013, p.133). This does not
involve nihilistic self-annihilation, but is rather the precursor to the final stage of spiritual rebirth,
i.e., re-birth into a deeper sense of self, one that is coterminous with the dhamma niyāma, with the
spiritual path itself. At this point, Sangharakshita and Subhuti suggest that one’s own egoic concerns
dissipate, and one connects ‘more and more deeply with dhamma niyāma processes’ (p.134). At the
culmination of this fourth stage, one could be said to enter into a fifth and final goal state, known in
the Sarvāstivāda schema as the stage of ‘no more learning.’ Here, it is suggested that there is no
longer a ‘self’ per se that is making progress, just the dhamma niyāma itself working through the
medium of the person; this is the omega state of spiritual development, referred to in Buddhism as
enlightenment.
Therapeutic implications of sampajañña
In considering the potential therapeutic implications of sampajañña, it appears to be potentially very
valuable, and yet fraught with issues. In terms of possible benefits, there is much agreement that
spirituality can be very valuable and important, both in academic psychological literature (Koenig,
2009) and in ‘spiritual literature’ itself (Wilber, 2007). Positive outcomes associated with spirituality
range from a sense of meaning in life (Graber, 2001) to interpersonal connectedness (Bellingham et
al., 1989). Moreover, the notion of spiritual development, and the potential attainment of goal
states such as enlightenment,’ although conceptually opaque and poorly understood in a Western
Running head: RE-CONTEXTUALISING MINDFULNESS
17
psychological context, are frequently positioned within religious/spiritual literature as the most
important and valuable endeavour a person can engage in (Sangharakshita, 2003). As such, if people
learning (sati) mindfulness are minded to cultivate a sense of spiritualty through their practice, this is
to be welcome and perhaps even assisted (in a clinical/therapeutic sense), as addressed below.
However, there are caveats to this last sentence. For a start, the ‘if’ is important: many
people are drawn to mindfulness in a secular way, and potentially find the notion of spirituality
uncomfortable or at least unfamiliar (Kabat-Zinn, 2003). For instance, studying meditators in
London, Lomas et al. (2013) found that many only initially took up mindfulness as a stress-
management technique; some were then perturbed to find it presented as including spiritual ideas
and practices, and a few consequently disengaged from it as a result. As such, in whatever forum
mindfulness is taught from clinical/therapeutic settings to community groups the notion of
spirituality must be handled sensitively, with respect given to the divergent personal and cultural
views people may hold regarding this (Gonsiorek et al., 2009).
Then, even if people are minded to embark upon a journey of spiritual development,
however conceived, they would well be advised to tread carefully upon this. Although the notion of
spiritual development may be ostensibly appealing, it may yet be very challenging. For instance,
while spiritual ‘death’ and ‘rebirth’ may ultimately be liberating processes, they involve radically
challenging one’s sense of self, which can be a difficult process to navigate, especially if people lack
appropriate guidance (Lomas et al., 2015). Indeed, a study by Shapiro (1992) of long-term Vipassana
meditators (who might reasonably be regarded as being on a ‘spiritual path’) found that 62% had
experienced psychological problems relating to their practice (e.g., depression and anxiety), with 7%
describing more profound issues (e.g., depersonalization). Similarly, Lustyk et al. (2009) reviewed
mental health problems connected to meditation, and identified 17 relevant primary publications,
the majority of which were case studies of problems like psychosis occurring after intensive retreats.
For this reason, meditation has tended to be contraindicated for particular clinical groups, such as
those with a history of schizophrenia (Dobkin et al., 2012) (although exceptions to this are emerging;
e.g., Chadwick et al., 2005). It should be emphasised that most original Buddhist literature explicitly
acknowledges that spiritual development is likely to be challenging, with incumbent psychological
risks (Engler, 2003). Indeed, these teachings are designed to address and guide seekers through such
challenges, while part of the role of sanghas (religious communities) is to likewise help contextualise
and support practitioners through such challenges. As such, the idea of spiritual development must
be handled sensitively in a clinical or therapeutic context, as elucidated in the final section.
Conclusion
Running head: RE-CONTEXTUALISING MINDFULNESS
18
This paper has argued that current conceptualisations and utilisations of mindfulness in the West,
such as clinical/therapeutic mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs), tend to focus mainly on sati-
type mindfulness. However, as valuable as such interventions are, it has been suggested the West
may benefit from engaging with the ethical and spiritual dimensions of mindfulness found in the
‘original’ Buddhist teachings (recognising that Buddhism comprises diverse schools of thought).
Indeed, Van Gordon et al. (2015b) have suggested that we are beginning to see the emergence of
‘second generation’ MBIs, which do explore the ethical and spiritual dimensions of Buddhism. A
pioneering early example of such exploration is perhaps Linehan’s (1993) Dialectical Behavior
Therapy, which has successfully integrated cognitive-behavioural strategies with Zen Buddhist
principles and mindfulness practice in the treatment of borderline personality disorder (Robins,
2002). So, in the interest of contributing towards this second generation of MBIs, this paper finishes
with some observations based on the discussion above, dealing in turn with the idea of bringing an
ethical and spiritual dimension to MBIs.
First, introducing an ethical dimension to MBIs would be potentially very worthwhile. Most
MBIs founded as they are on the concept of sati generally do not involve any explicit ethical
considerations. If participants are experiencing negative thoughts or feelings, they are encouraged
to attend to these and to decentre from them. This is an effective mental response of course, hence
the positive impact such interventions have upon wellbeing (Ma & Teasdale, 2004). However, what
these interventions do not do is make causal links between such negative qualia and people’s
actions outside the meditation session. This is an unfortunate omission, since from a Buddhist
perspective, a prophylactic solution to distress would be to help people learn to live skilfully (i.e.,
ethically), thus lessening the likelihood of these negative qualia emerging in the first place. As such,
it could be argued that such interventions would be even more powerful if, in addition to teaching
sati-mindfulness of the present moment, they also encouraged appamada-mindfulness of the
ethical dimension of one’s actions.
So, what would introducing appamada look like in practice? There are already meditation-
based interventions promoting prosocial qualities such as loving-kindness (Fredrickson et al., 2008).
Moreover, most MBIs encourage practitioners to imbue their awareness with positive attitudinal
qualities like compassion (Kabat-Zinn, 2003). Indeed, Baer (2015) argues that the promotion of such
qualities means that first generation MBIs are already helping to inculcate beneficial ethical values.
However, there is arguably room for a more systematic empirical and theoretical enquiry into the
value of acting ethically, and for efforts to explicitly promote ethical awareness and action in the
context of MBIs. For a start, this could involve integrating an ethical element into existing MBIs (e.g.,
MBSR). For instance, participants’ attention could be drawn to the way that actions and events in
Running head: RE-CONTEXTUALISING MINDFULNESS
19
their lives tend to affect the kinds of experiences they have in meditation. This could then be the
platform for introducing a segment into one of the sessions, in which the notion of ‘skilful’ behaviour
is introduced, together with the idea of following an ethical framework (as a guide to skilfulness).
Here, the five Buddhist precepts could be highlighted as an example of such a framework, although
it might be emphasised that one would not need to be a Buddhist to follow these. Participants could
then unobtrusively be invited to engage with the precepts, and to explore the impact that doing so
had upon their meditation practice and overall wellbeing.
There is also the possibility of developing new MBIs specifically focused on ethics. For
instance, the author is currently developing an eight-week intervention, modelled on MBSR, entitled
Mindfulness-Based Ethical Living: the first session introduces mindfulness; the second session
presents the five precepts, and explains their relevance to wellbeing; the next five sessions focus on
each of the precepts in turn (one per week); and the final session draws all the strands together.
Each session includes mindfulness practice, including reflection on ethics themselves, and as per
MBSR, participants are also encouraged to undertake homework exercises (e.g., being mindful of
their behaviour in relation to the precept focused on that week). Here it is also emphasised that one
does not have to be Buddhist or spiritual to participate; participants are simply invited to explore the
impact that following the precepts has upon wellbeing. It is also important to avoid any implication
of judgement and guilt, which can be very unhelpful in a therapeutic context (Brazier, 2009); the
point is not to chastise people for acting ‘unskilfully,’ but simply to encourage them to notice any
positive effects when they do manage to act well.
The idea of introducing a spiritual dimension to MBIs is potentially more problematic. As
discussed above, spirituality can be a contentious notion for some people (Lomas et al., 2013), and
one should be wary about foisting it upon people in the context of secularised MBIs such as MBSR.
Alternatively, participants may already be on a different spiritual path, and may likewise resent
efforts to ‘convert’ them to Buddhism; indeed, the Dalai Lama has suggested it is preferable for
people to stay with the religious tradition in which they are raised than to ‘switch’ paths (Batchelor,
1999). That said, it may still be appropriate in secular MBIs to gently mention that mindfulness is
based upon a rich tradition of Buddhist spiritual practice, and to provide interested participants with
information regarding resources (e.g., local Buddhist groups) that they can engage with if curious.
For instance, while Lomas et al. (2013) found that many meditators had only taken up the practice
initially as a means of stress reduction (e.g., through an MBSR course), a majority of these had
subsequently become interested in exploring the wider Buddhist context of meditation, and had
since embarked upon a spiritual path (Lomas et al., 2014).
Running head: RE-CONTEXTUALISING MINDFULNESS
20
In terms of more in-depth journeys of spiritual development, this is arguably not the kind of
process that can be supported by time-limited clinical/therapeutic interventions, but requires either
a long-term psychotherapeutic relationship (Miller, 1999), or involvement with an established
spiritual tradition and community (Engler, 2003). It is perhaps only in such contexts that the type of
psychological challenges mentioned above can be contextualised, supported, and safely worked
through. This of course is not an argument against imbuing mindfulness with a spiritual dimension
far from it but simply a recognition that any such journey is often complicated and hard, and
usually requires the kind of on-going guidance and nurturance that only skilled therapists and/or
established spiritual communities can provide.
Summary
This paper has suggested that mindfulness in the West, particularly in academic and clinical settings,
has largely become de-contextualised from its Buddhist origins. This has meant that mindfulness has
to an extent been denuded of its power as a means of psychospiritual development. Thus, the paper
has argued for the value of re-contextualising mindfulness, and has offered one such way of doing
so. Drawing on Theravada Buddhism, it proposed that Buddhism identifies three main ‘forms’ of
mindfulness: sati (awareness of the present moment), appamada (awareness suffused with ethical
care), and sampajañña (awareness suffused with a sense of spiritual development). Currently, only
sati has really been recognised in the West. However, we have much to gain from also recognising
the potential ethical and spiritual dimensions of mindfulness, and from encouraging appamada and
sampajañña mindfulness. Recommendations were made for how to foster ethical awareness in
clinical/therapeutic practice. However, introducing spiritual awareness is potentially more
problematic, and is perhaps only appropriate in the context of long-term therapeutic relationships or
established spiritual communities.
Running head: RE-CONTEXTUALISING MINDFULNESS
21
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... Langerian mindfulness Mindfulness as the creation of new categories, openness to new information, and awareness of more than one perspective [95] Buddhist mindfulness Theravada mindfulness [96], Zen, Mahayana mindfulness [97] Modern mindfulness Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) [71], and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy [98] https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0264924.t005 ...
... Most research in this domain concerns whether a certain mindfulness practice is practised or researched according to an established scientific or religious process. The main debate within the mindfulness perspectives domain is whether contemporary mindfulness practices are stripping away the ethical values of the original Buddhist/Hindu practices [96]. Consequently, the debate in this arena is one of epistemology, axiology, and the moral worthiness of what is and is not 'mindfulness' from different perspectives (i.e. ...
... Within the short-term effects of mindfulness domain and the long-term effects of mindfulness domain, conceptual definitions have shared properties in their own domain and are distinctive to definitions in the other domain. On the other hand, the mindfulness perspectives domain had the most confusion and debate [96]. Considering the often-religious foundations of this domain, it is not surprising that such debates about orthodoxy are prevalent; after all, such debates exist wherever there is a battle for 'rightness'. ...
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There are ongoing debates about what is and is not 'mindfulness'. These debates are stifling rigorous academic research as scientific precision is a precursor to shared meaning. While mindfulness is a growing field of research, these divergent and conflated meanings are limiting deeper interdisciplinary research. Interventions designed in one practice context may not be useful in other contexts because meaning is not transferred between settings. This review clarifies the various research domains that study mindfulness and the conceptual and operational definitions in each domain. This two-stage study comprises a scoping review of mindfulness classifications and a comparative content mapping of mindfulness studies from 2015 to 2021. The initial comprehensive search strategy followed the preferred reporting items for scoping reviews and meta-analysis (PRISMA) method. The comparative analysis was conducted using Leximancer. Findings illustrate a complex growing research corpus on mindfulness that is somewhat confused. The results from the scoping review show three shared domains in mindfulness classifications: short-term effects of mindful-ness, long-term effects of mindfulness, and mindfulness practices. The results from the content mapping show four domains of mindfulness research: mental health, behavioural change, cognitive neuroscience, and ethical mindfulness. Operational definitions of mindful-ness are not articulated clearly in these domains. Conceptual and operational definitions in the 'ethical mindfulness' domain are not yet developed. To enhance scientific progress in mindfulness research, further investigations of mindfulness classifications need to be developed. Content mapping and semantic typology is a potential candidate for future classification. More attention should be paid to developing operational definitions according to specific research domains. Scholars in the ethical mindfulness domain will need solid conceptual and operational definitions to support their research efforts.
... Thus, one can observe seeming paradoxes in which positively-valenced qualities can have negative outcomes, and vice versa. So, for instance, although they may feel unpleasant, negatively-valenced emotions such as anger (Lomas, 2019a), sadness (Lomas, 2018c), and boredom (Lomas, 2017a) may neverthelessunder certain circumstances, and/or if handled skilfully -constribute to flourishing in some ways. One must note that PP's founders were aware of these nuances too. ...
... Through this evolving project I've been trying to expand and augment the nomological 'map' of concepts relating to wellbeing in psychology by incorporating ideas from other cultures (Lomas, 2020). This has enabled the identification of new conceptual nuances in 12 main categories, including positive emotions (Lomas, 2017a), ambivalent emotions (Lomas, 2017b), prosociality (Lomas, 2018a), love (Lomas, 2018b), character (Lomas, 2019d), spirituality (Lomas, 2019b), and eco-connection (Lomas, 2019c). Although still a work-in-progress, the project suggests that current conceptualizations and theories of wellbeing -Western-centric as they tend to bemay be missing out on important ideas and perspectives from other cultures. ...
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The past 150 years have seen remarkable advances in the study of wellbeing. To appreciate the value and significance of these developments, this paper offers a historical perspective on their dynamics, arguing that we have seen four great waves of wellbeing scholarship in the modern West. I begin by exploring the wave metaphor itself, and then propose that these waves have been unfurling in a Western cultural ‘ocean.’ As such, I then explore key historical currents that have shaped this ocean, including Greek philosophy, Christianity, the Renaissance, and the Enlightenment. From there, the narrative considers the emergence of the first wave (psychiatry and psychotherapy), second wave (humanistic psychology), and third wave (positive psychology). The paper concludes by suggesting we are seeing an emerging fourth wave of ‘global wellbeing scholarship,’ in which these Western waters are beginning to intermingle with other regional oceans (which have likewise progressed through their own developmental currents and waves), creating a more globally inclusive picture of wellbeing.
... Advancing even a short way along this path is regarded as likely to improve one's wellbeing (Lomas, 2017a). In the nearer term, doing so is thought to facilitate suḥkha (the antonym of duḥkha), which potentially aligns with some notions of hedonia. ...
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Happiness is an increasingly prominent topic of interest across numerous academic fields. However, the literature can sometimes imply it is predominantly a modern concern. Relatedly, critics have argued that contemporary scholarship on happiness is Western-centric, yet in so doing can appear to suggest that happiness is mainly a Western preoccupation. However, taking an expansive view of happiness-defining it broadly as a desirable mental experience-one can appreciate that versions of this phenomenon have been of interest to humans across cultures and throughout history. To articulate this perspective, this paper offers a brief overview of 14 different eras, spanning a range of global regions, in each case highlighting concepts and concerns that bear some close resemblance to happiness. In so doing, the paper encourages a deeper and more inclusive understanding of this vital topic.
... Consequently, our conceptualization of such factors is captured by the phrase 'multidimensional conditionality.' The idea of conditionality is influenced by Buddhist theorising on the nature of flourishingand life in generalin which all phenomena do not exist independently, but Running head: THE COMPLEX CREATION OF HAPPINESS 10 instead 'come into being' dependent upon a complex network of supporting conditions (Lomas, 2017b). The notion of multidimensionality then points to the way an outcome may be the product of numerous intersecting variables. ...
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Happiness is an increasingly prominent topic across academia, with a burgeoning array of research into its different aspects. Among the most dynamic and interdisciplinary work in this arena are studies exploring the myriad factors that influence it. These span multiple topics and fields of enquiry, from physiology and identity to politics and economics, covering analyses at both individual and national levels. This paper offers a comprehensive overview of such work, identifying seven overarching ‘conditions’ (in themselves multifaceted) that contribute towards the complex creation of happiness: temperament; health; demographics; relationships and communities; culture; economics and equality; and governance. Theoretically, these are conceived as constituting the ‘multidimensional conditionality’ of happiness (i.e. conditions that contribute to its arising, which interact in complex ways). The paper also highlights issues with current scholarship, providing a stimulus for further work on this important topic.
... De plus, tout comme la pratique religieuse, la pratique de la méditation doit être motivée et orientée par des buts non égoïstes pour avoir des effets profonds et authentiques sur le bien-être (Lomas, 2016 ;Van Gordon et al., 2016). Chez les bouddhistes, la pleine conscience n'existe pas de façon isolée, elle soutient le développement d'une éthique et d'une sagesse (Kang & Whittingham, 2010). ...
Thesis
La littérature sur la pleine conscience, ou mindfulness, est maintenant foisonnante et indique un certain nombre d’effets bénéfiques de cette pratique sur la santé mentale et le bien-être. La régulation des émotions a été identifiée comme une capacité centrale qui se développe grâce à la pratique de la pleine conscience, celle-ci permettant d’expliquer l’augmentation des émotions positives et une diminution des émotions négatives. De plus, on observe une diminution de l’intensité des réactions et de l’interférence créées par les stimuli positifs et négatifs, une évaluation plus neutre de ceux-ci et une augmentation de la stabilité émotionnelle. Il a été démontré, entre autres via des mesures neurologiques, que la mindfulness entrainait un type de régulation des émotions qui lui était spécifique, où la relation entre l’individu et ses émotions est modifiée profondément et précocement. L’équanimité a alors été proposée comme une explication possible à la spécificité de la régulation des émotions par la pleine conscience. La littérature sur ce thème est pourtant restée très peu abondante, et les études expérimentales existantes n’ont pas testé empiriquement cette hypothèse. L’équanimité, en tant qu’état mental stable, calme et non perturbé par la valence des stimuli, semble pourtant une composante essentielle du vécu émotionnel lié à la mindfulness. L’objectif de cette thèse est d’aborder l’équanimité comme une qualité de régulation des émotions, d’en examiner la présence dans la littérature existante et d’offrir les premières bases à son étude en psychologie expérimentale. Une première partie est consacrée à constituer une définition opérationnalisable de l’équanimité et à valider un questionnaire destiné à mesurer son niveau chez les individus méditants et non méditants. Nous examinons ensuite la relation entre la pratique de la méditation et le niveau d’équanimité. Puis, nous avons utilisé une tâche d’approche et d’évitement afin d’étudier la relation entre l’équanimité et les tendances motivationnelles envers des stimuli positifs et négatifs. Enfin, dans l’optique d’explorer les liens entre l’équanimité et la régulation des comportements de santé, nous nous intéressons à son impact sur l’évaluation de plusieurs types d’aliments. Les résultats de nos études montrent que l’équanimité augmente avec la pratique de la méditation de pleine conscience et qu’elle est reliée à une diminution des biais d’approche et d’évitement face à des mots positifs et négatifs. L’équanimité, en outre, s’accompagne d’une plus grande neutralité dans l’évaluation hédonique des mots et d’évaluations plus saines des aliments. Cette thèse dresse un portrait de l’équanimité qui, nous l’espérons, ouvrira la voie à de nombreuses études théoriques et appliquées sur cette thématique.
... The report also concluded that an average person experiences depression at least once in his/her lifetime (Patwardhan, 2016). An American statistics has shown that women are more prone to depression due to multiple roles that demand multiple responsibilities and around the age of 36 years (Lieber, 2018). ...
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We have progressed to a phase where there is very little difference between men and women, but the reality in many countries is that women are looked down as the inferior gender and not given career opportunities to explore. They are not let into the decision-making roles at the organization even when they have an equal qualification, experience and skill. They are placed low in the hierarchy which allows them to witness the functions at the higher level of the organization but restricts them from participating in them. There are a lot of factors like cultural, socio-demographic factors and society itself that influence this disparity in the organization. These contributory factors create the glass ceiling phenomenon at the workplace, thereby generating emotional and psychological imbalances in women employees. This is a conceptual paper aiming to explore the concept and impact of mindfulness, and various concepts of mindfulness could be used as an emotional aid to treat the psychological effects of the glass ceiling. It further explains some of the mindful concepts like mindful walking, mindful life and mindfulness-based stress reduction technique in treating some of the psychological and emotional issues like depression, anxiety, frustration, traumatic experiences, adjustment issues, addiction, stress, low self-esteem, low self-confidence and aggression. It also elucidates adopting mindfulness techniques in real organizational scenarios where women are constantly discriminated because of their gender and opportunities are taken away.
... As a result of this rapid growth, researchers have strived to practically define mindfulness, with two key components called awareness and attitude (Bishop et al., 2006). However, Cardaciotto et al. (2008) have conceptualized mindfulness as a general tendency toward greater awareness of one's experiences, bringing an attitude of acceptance and nonjudgment to those experiences as a typical inclination toward improved awareness, creating a perspective of acceptance and nonjudgment (Lomas, 2017). A perspective of acceptance and nonjudgment is also recognized as a vital process of alteration in developing the advantages related to mindfulness (Shapiro, 2009). ...
Article
Mindfulness and acceptance have demonstrated associations with alexithymia facets. As a very limited body of research has explored the predictive strength among alexithymia-related constructs, this study aimed to investigate the prediction of alexithymia based on acceptance and mindfulness among students. The study group consisted of 586 university students, 237 (40.9%) females and 349 (59.1%) males. As for data collection, the five-factor mindfulness questionnaire, Acceptance and Commitment Questionnaire, and the Toronto Alexithymia Scale-2 were applied. A stepwise multiple linear regression was calculated to predict alexithymia based on components of commitment and action, mindfulness facets, and demographic variables (F[5,578] = 77.26, p ≤ 0.001), with an R2 of 0.41. The predictive variables including description (B = -0.59, t = -8.02, p < 0.001), commitment and action (B = -0.13, t = -4.38, p < 0.001), observation (B = -0.15, t = -2.94, p < 0.01), and no judgment (B = -0.16, t = -2.56, p < 0.05) exhibited significant prediction effects on the adjusted index of alexithymia. The findings contribute to the potential mechanism between mindfulness and alexithymia in intervention that seeks to improve mindfulness and acceptance skills and could prove more effective in treating patients with alexithymia.
... However, mindfulness was first harnessed in the West within clinical settings as a treatment for chronic pain (Kabat-Zinn, 1982). And it was initially developed as a psychospiritual practice in Buddhism around 2,500 years ago (Lomas, 2017). Thus, by no stretch of the imagination does mindfulness "belong" to coaching. ...
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Positive psychology has fruitfully interacted with numerous other disciplines, creating new hybrid paradigms. One such instance involves coaching and coaching psychology, which share the field's focus on enhancing wellbeing and performance across life domains. As a result, there is an emergent interest in exploring their interaction with positive psychology, and developing frameworks for their integration. To shed further light on their relationship, this paper explores four perspectives on the intersections between these emerging fields, including (a) the fields as essentially coterminous; (b) positive psychology encompassing coaching psychology; (c) coaching psychology encompassing positive psychology; and (d) the fields as overlapping but not coterminous (the author's preferred perspective). More generally, the paper offers suggestions for how positive psychology can integrate with the various kinship fields in these processes of hybridisation.
Chapter
For some women and families, pregnancy is a time of excitement and anticipation; however, for others, pregnancy can induce feelings of worry, anxiety, and stress. The human body is designed to respond to acute forms of stress biochemically, which allows for resolution or escape from a perceived threat. However, when a stressor is perceived as unrelenting, the system designed to manage stressors can become dysregulated, resulting in toxic systemic inflammation that is believed to contribute to many disease states. In pregnancy, this process can also affect the uterine environment and the developing baby, which may affect health and wellbeing across the baby’s lifespan. In contrast to the actions of a perceived stressor, love, connection, and attachment result in a health-promoting and anxiety-reducing neuroendocrinological cascade that not only assists in bonding but promotes wellbeing. In this chapter, we review the stress responses in humans and the effects of chronic stress and attachment in preconception, pregnancy, and the postnatal period and examine mindfulness and meditation in stress management during pregnancy.
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Mindfulness meditation has been shown to improve or protect the executive functions of inhibition, shifting, and updating. However, the unique effects of mindfulness meditation are unclear as many studies demonstrating benefit did not randomize participants to groups nor use active controls with equated expectations of cognitive improvement. Additionally, many studies did not observe executive function benefit following mindfulness meditation; it is possible that unmeasured variables (e.g., trait anxiety) moderated the efficacy of these mindfulness inductions. Finally, the state effects of brief mindfulness meditation (< 1 h) on executive functions are not well-understood. In a well-controlled experiment with three separate participant sets, the current study investigated the unique state effects of brief mindfulness meditation on the executive functions of inhibition, shifting, and updating. Trait anxiety was also examined as a potential moderator of these effects. Undergraduates (n = 391) were recruited from a psychological sciences subject pool to examine the effects of brief cognitive training; data from 384 participants were analyzed. Participants were randomly assigned to an inhibition, shifting, or updating task and either 15 min of focused-attention mindfulness meditation or an active control (i.e., drawing) task. Participants completed their executive function task before and after the mindfulness meditation or active control task. There were no unique state effects of brief mindfulness meditation on executive functions (Fs < 1), nor did trait anxiety moderate these effects (p < .42). Given the null results of the current research, novice practitioners should appropriately calibrate their expectations for brief mindfulness meditation impacting executive functions.
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This paper comments on an article by Monteiro, Musten, and Compson (Mindfulness 6: 1-13, 2015) and a series of replies that explored the issue of ethics training for participants in contemporary mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs). The perceived need for explicit ethical training stems from concerns about potentially harmful or misguided applications of secular MBIs, particularly in settings whose activities may be inconsistent with the ethics of the Buddhist traditions from which mindfulness training originates. Much of the discussion in the target article and replies focused on whether ethical foundations of mindfulness in MBIs should remain implicit or should be taught from a Buddhist perspective. The present commentary argues that psychological science provides well developed alternatives for researchers and clinicians interested in secular approaches to ethics-related issues in MBIs. The experimental psychology literature provides a strong foundation for working with personally meaningful, prosocial values in MBIs. Positive psychology provides a complementary perspective on moral virtues and character strengths that have been widely recognized across cultures. Organizational psychology and related disciplines provide empirically based perspectives on the ethical implications of mindfulness training in the workplace. An approach to ethical issues in MBIs that is firmly grounded in psychological science and suitable for secular settings is recommended.
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It is increasingly asserted that mindfulness represents one of the fastest growing areas of mental health research (Shonin et al., 2014). In addition to featuring in the practice guidelines of the American Psychiatric Association and the UK’s National Institute for Health and Care Excellence for the treatment of recurrent depression in adults, emerging evidence suggests that mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) have applications for treating diverse psychopathologies including (for example) pathological gambling, PTSD, and schizophrenia (Shonin et al., 2014). Mindfulness is also recommended by the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists as a non-first-line treatment for binge eating disorder in adults.
Chapter
Clinically-based interventions using mindfulness in various forms appear to have integrated themselves in a significant manner into Western approaches to mental health care. Whether this is for people with recognized mental health problems, or for those who are simply using mindfulness for the enhancement of well-being, ‘mindfulness’ can no longer be considered esoteric and the preserve of a minority fringe engaged in a ‘religious’ activity. However, this integration has not come without a cost, and that cost has been the mutual suspicion that has arisen among practitioners on both side of the ‘divide.’ The divide mentioned is none other than that which is usually characterized as the clash between empirically-based scientific approaches and ‘religion’, here specifically the Buddhist ‘religion.’ Nonetheless, the suspicion can be seen as mutual. Not only do some engaged with the ‘scientific’ approach often view the Buddhist background as unnecessary, perhaps even irrelevant, those within the Buddhist fraternity have come to characterize mindfulness-based approaches as somehow ‘dharma’ light, something I will return to below.
Article
As theories of developmental psychology continue to define educational goals and practice, it has become imperative for educators and researchers to scrutinize not only the underlying assumptions of such theories but also the model of adulthood toward which they point. Carol Gilligan examines the limitations of several theories, most notably Kohlberg's stage theory of moral development, and concludes that developmental theory has not given adequate expression to the concerns and experience of women. Through a review of psychological and literary sources, she illustrates the feminine construction of reality. From her own research data, interviews with women contemplating abortion, she then derives an alternative sequence for the development of women's moral judgments. Finally, she argues for an expanded conception of adulthood that would result from the integration of the "feminine voice" into developmental theory.
Book
British Buddhism presents a useful insight into contemporary British Buddhist practice. It provides a survey of the seven largest Buddhist traditions in the United Kingdom, including the Forest Sangha (Theravada) and the Samatha Trust (Theravada), the Serene Reflection Meditation tradition (Soto Zen) and Soka Gakkai (both originally Japanese), the Tibetan Karma Kagyu and New Kadampa traditions and Friends of the Western Buddhist Order. Based on extensive fieldwork, this fascinating book determines how and to what extent British Buddhist groups are changing from their Asian roots, and whether any forms of British Buddhism are beginning to emerge. Despite the popularity of Buddhism in Britain, there has so far been no study documenting the full range of teachings and practice. This is an original study that fills this gap and serves as an important reference point for further studies in this increasingly popular field.