White also discusses how the narrative of ‘scientism’ is motivated by “what stories best support our own self interests” with the intention of “stories that you want everyone to see themselves in” as an impetus of mass social manipulation.
One concern White raises toward the end of the interview, is the rise of neo-mindfulness trends in the mainstream corporate world. (underlined emphasis mine)
- “As for Silicon Valley, it has a legitimate interest in the health of its workers, but it has little interest in Weil’s notion of the “the authentic and pure values.” Its primary aim is to bring Buddhist meditation techniques (as neuroscience understands them) to the aid of corporate culture, such as in the Search Inside Yourself program developed at Google. This is from the Search Inside Yourself Institute website:
Developed at Google and based on the latest in neuroscience research, our programs offer attention and mindfulness training that build the core emotional intelligence skills needed for peak performance and effective leadership. We help professionals at all levels adapt, management teams evolve, and leaders optimize their impact and influence.
Mindfulness is enabling corporations to “optimize impact”? In this view of things, mindfulness can be extracted from a context of Buddhist meanings, values, and purposes. Meditation and mindfulness are not part of a whole way of life but only a spiritual technology, a mental app that is the same regardless of how it is used and what it is used for. It is as if we were trying to create a Buddhism based on the careful maintenance of a delusion, a science delusion. It reminds me of the Babylonian captivity in the Hebrew Bible, but now the question for Buddhists is whether or not we can exist in technological exile and still remain a “faithful remnant.”
Bringing Buddhist mediation techniques into industry accomplishes two things for industry. It does actually give companies like Google something useful for an employee’s well-being, but it also neutralizes a potentially disruptive adversary. Buddhism has its own orienting perspectives, attitudes, and values, as does American corporate culture. And not only are they very different from each other, they are also often fundamentally opposed to each other.
A benign way to think about this is that once people experience the benefits of mindfulness they will become interested in the dharma and develop a truer appreciation for Buddhism – and that would be fine. But the problem is that neither Buddhists nor employees are in control of how this will play out. Industry is in control. This is how ideology works. It takes something that has the capacity to be oppositional, like Buddhism, and it redefines it. And somewhere down the line, we forget that it ever had its own meaning.”
Grist for the mill of White’s argument is the article The Mindful Revolution in this months TIME magazine, giving us two factors that set this Dharma-lite apart from tradition, “…giving it a practical veneer that is helping propel it into the mainstream.” One is the “smart marketing” of Jon Kabat-Zinn et al, who are “…careful to avoid any talk of spirituality when espousing mindfulness. Instead, they advocate a commonsense approach: think of your attention as a muscle. As with any muscle, it makes sense to exercise it (in this case, with meditation), and like any muscle, it will strengthen from that exercise.” (I notice that this advice is without ethical direction, what to say of the structure and aim of dependant-arising to understand what practice is aimed at.) The second factor mentioned is one of science-to-the-rescue with reference to neuroplasticity and the benefits of brain exercises, but the article is rather lite on evidence here.
Clinical mindfulness modalities such as MBCT/MBSR are having an impact in the mainstream community, at least a popular one. And there has been, and will emerge, studies showing the benefits. But are these really refinements of ‘mindfulness’ as understood in Buddhist tradition? Do these lead to the same ultimate goal of liberation? I cannot say I agree with everything White is saying, but some of his cautions, especially with regard to what seems a recent trend in the scientific and industrial communities, do resonate.
[Edit 4/11: location of articles cited]