"Mindfulness, Literature and the Affirmation of Ordinary Life"

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The application of mindfulness to finding more appreciative and skillful approaches to work, family, and all of the hectic activities of life is a phenomenon of the current age. The contemporary adaptation of Buddhist mindfulness practice: the meticulous attending to the quotidian objects of everyday life and the precise interactions of consciousness with them.

A number of modern Buddhists and commentators on Buddhism have explicitly attempted to connect the dharma – and meditation especially – with Modernist and contemporary literature. Mindfulness has become a specific technique for attending to the details of the world and the nuances of the mind in ways that bring about epiphanies similar to those the Modernist novelists have attempted to render in literature. This modern Buddhist affirmation of the ordinary is in tension with the more traditional Buddhist suspicion of the things of the world and their ability to mesmerize the mind and enchain it to suffering.

Some of the specific Buddhist sources, ideas, and practices that have become interlinked with this modern, epiphanic, dialectical interweaving of the prosaic and the profound are as follows. They include, first, the methods of mindfulness found in Pali suttas and meditation texts. The Mahasatipatthana Sutta and the Anapanasati Sutta are the most frequently cited of the Pali meditation texts. They are the core texts of the contemporary mindfulness movement and have been used to introduce mindfulness to countless monks and laypeople alike throughout the world.

Mindfulness, as the attentive appreciation of the everyday world, has assumed its place in the late modern world in another way: it has become a way of reenchanting the world that accords with the naturalistic tenets of modernity. Modernist iterations of mindfulness negotiate between the rationalist imperative to avoid supernaturalism and the Romantic longing for the reenchantment of the world. All of this suggests that recent configurations of Buddhist modernism have depended on a very particular combination of historical and cultural conditions.

Thus mindfulness has re-created itself as a Buddhist contribution to the cultural forces that seek the revivification of the mundane elements of life, whose sacrality the rationalizing, mechanizing forces of modernity threaten to banish.

 

Reference: McMahan, David L.: ‘The Making of Buddhist Modernism’, Oxford University Press, New York (2008): 215-40.



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