Mindfulness and inter-spirituality


Mindfulness and inter-spirituality              by John Dupuche

Mindfulness contains at least two elements: a concept for directing the intention, and experience. It is a valid spiritual practice.

Rejection of other traditions?

Jon Kabat-Zin dissociates Mindfulness from any particular religious tradition, even though it may originally have had a Zen Buddhist connection. Does it actually dismiss other meditative traditions as irrelevant? Are they judged to be too complex? Have religious conflicts between religions caused such scandal that all religions must be rejected? Did the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) between Catholics and Protestants so discredit faith that reason was deemed to be the only way? Since the wish for deep interiority persists, have people turned to reason instead and sought justification in the scientific observation of success? Is Mindfulness exclusivist or does it admit the possibility of other valid meditative traditions? Is it fundamentalist and reductivist? Is Mindfulness open to interfaith experience?

The interplay of experience and expression

According to Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-394 CE) the illumination of the ‘burning bush’ (Ex 3) is surpassed by the darkness of the ‘cloud’ (Ex 24). The highest theology is the knowledge that is found in darkness. Diadochus of Photike (+c.468 CE) adds an important element. For him the experience of mystery also involves the inspired impulse to express in words the glory that has been contemplated.[1] The apophatic leads to the kataphatic, which is found in the tradition handed down through the generations.

There is a dynamic relationship between experience and tradition. Fabrice Blée comments:

“Tradition provides a specific view of the world that has its influence on the experience. In return, the experience gives rise to a particular view of the world which in turn enhances the tradition.”[2]

Meditators need to be educated in a tradition, but that is not enough. They must find their own path. Authenticity is essential to meditative success. Their search does not mean a smorgasbord, however. Whatever opens their mind and heart must be consonant with tried and true paths if they are not to end up in dissipation. Furthermore, there is a need for coherence in their ideas and approaches as Blée says often in his article. The result will enhance the tradition.


Can Mindfulness be enriched by encountering other meditative traditions? Here are two suggestions.

  1. Non-dualism

Is Mindfulness dualist? Some have interpreted Jon Kabat-Zin’s view as non-dualist because of its origins in Zen and the Theravadan Satipatthana Sutta. Mindfulness may be seen as dualist if the experiencer is advised to be detached and dissociated from the experience, especially when the experience is that of suffering. This detachment means not being identified with the pain, being superior to the pain, and in this limited sense being in control of the pain.

But what of the experience of joy? In moments of intense bliss the distinction between experiencer and experience disappears. Dualism ceases. There is only bliss. Gregory Palamas, using a different image, states that when a meditator has acquired the fullness of knowledge, there is no distinction between subject of knowledge and means of knowledge and object of knowledge.

“If it (the visual faculty) sees itself, it sees light; if it beholds the object of its vision, that is also light; and if it looks at the means by which it sees, again it is light. For such is the character of the union, that all is one ….”[3]

The various elements of mindfulness then cohere and become one.

2. Subject

In Mindfulness the focus is on an object, such as breath or body. But the experience changes when the focus is on another subject. Martin Buber (1878-1965) notes that it is openness to the other “that defines the human being”. He cautions against that frame of mind which reduces the subject, the other, to an objet or to an idea.[4] He also notes that it is precisely the awareness of the other, the ‘you’, that gives a fleeting glimpse of the transcendent ‘You’ who is called God.

Concluding comment

The value of Mindfulness is readily acknowledged. However, it can be enhanced by dialogue with other traditions. Similarly these can be enhanced by the method of Mindfulness, in that it places success squarely within the grasp of ordinary people.

[1] M.-J. Congar. Théologie. In Dictionnaire de Théologie Catholique. Paris: Letouzey et Ané, 1946. Vol. 15, p. 345.

[2] “La tradition véhicule une certaine vision du monde qui oriente l’expérience. De son côté, l’expérience donne naissance à une vision du monde particulière, laquelle nourrit à son tour la tradition.” Fabrice Blée. ‘Quelle voie chrétienne-bouddhiste ?’ Denis Gira et Jacques Scheuer. Vivre de plusieures religions; Promesse ou illusion? Paris, Editions de l’Atelier, 2000. pp. 151-160. p. 156.

[3] Gregory Palamas. Triads. Edited with an introduction by John Meyendorff, translated by Nicholas Gendle, Preface by Jaroslav Pelikan. London: SPCK, 1983. 66.

[4] Cassidy, E. (2006). Journeying towards the ‘other’: a Challenge for religious, spiritual and moral education. In M. de Souza & G. Durka, K. Engebretson, R. Jackson, A. McGrady (Eds.), International handbook of the religious, moral and spiritual dimensions in education (pp. 869-884). Dordrecht (The Netherlands): Springer. p. 880.


About interfaithashram

Rev. Dr. John Dupuche is a Roman Catholic Priest, a senior lecturer at MCD University of Divinity, and Honorary Fellow at Australian Catholic University. His doctorate is in Sanskrit in the field of Kashmir Shaivism. He is chair of the Catholic Interfaith Committee of the Archdiocese of Melbourne and has established a pastoral relationship with the parishes of Lilydale and Healesville. He is the author of 'Abhinavagupta: the Kula Ritual as elaborated in chapter 29 of the Tantraloka', 2003; 'Jesus, the Mantra of God', 2005; 'Vers un tantra chrétien' in 2009; translated as 'Towards a Christian Tantra' in 2009. He has written many articles. He travels to India each year. He lives in an interfaith ashram.
This entry was posted in Buddhist Christian dialogue, Buddhist Christian relations, Experiences in meditation, Meditation in the Christian Tradition. Bookmark the permalink.

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