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Are there ever situations where practicing mindfulness is not recommended during Buddhist practice. Could it ever have undesirable side effects or cause hindrances on the path. Or is it always the case that the more one practices mindfulness the better?

The motivation for this question comes from my own practice. I've really felt recently that mindfulness can have a negative effect on me. Perhaps swelling the ego and a lot of time contemplating what my emotions are, what I am doing and what I am thinking. This has ultimately seem very inward looking and counterproductive.

I don't really expect or want someone to diagnose my own particular quirks (you can have a go if you really want). But I do want to know if there is general advice from established teachers about the possible negative side effects of mindfulness practice and when it might be contraindicated.

  • Are you practicing mindfulness as described in the Satipattana sutta? – Kaveenga Wijayasekara May 9 '16 at 7:43
  • @KaveengaWijayasekara the practice is mindfulness of breathing so more anapanasati - well derived from it i guess – Crab Bucket May 9 '16 at 13:11
  • practically anapanasati is instructed to be practiced in a stationary sitting or perhaps even standing position. I would think it would be dangerous to practice it while say driving or walking, where other forms of mindfulness are required. – Kaveenga Wijayasekara May 9 '16 at 22:39
  • However suitably applied the diverse practice of Sati is said to be always beneficial unlike the other 4 faculties of saddha samadhi viriya panna which need to be applied at suitable times and balanced with each other. – Kaveenga Wijayasekara May 9 '16 at 22:42
  • It feels like this thing we call "Mindfulness" is just a fad of the modern world. Like a marketing buzzword. It's just another mental concept that I personally felt needs to be thrown in the garbage bin. The less concepts we create the better it is for peace of mind. Let it be whatever it is. – esh May 10 '16 at 4:53
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Yes, practicing mindfulness can be a bad idea.

When one practices mindfulness, he opens his eyes and comes to see more and more things that were previously unnoticed. That is the reason why beginners tend to think "When I sit on a cushion, there's a fireworks of thoughts, images, etc. coming to my mind. It seems like an endless waterfall of thoughts, etc.". This is a mistaken conception, though, since these "fireworks" were actually already present, but merely unnoticed. Thus, cultivating mindfulness (along with vigilance) helps one understand better what delusions are the master of him. He also comes to feel that he is enslaved by these afflictions (which is a necessary step in Dharma practice, since it leads to generate the wish to abandon afflictions, recognizing them as the origins of suffering).

All this is painful and stirs the mind quiet a lot. Through cultivating mindfulness, we exhume "demons" that we might not be able to face yet, or to understand. We might shed the light on things we are not able to look at yet. That is one of the reason it is necessary to rely to a teacher who gives you practical (and boring) exercises and with whom you have interview every so often. Moreover, opening one's eyes is necessary but not sufficient. We have to change what we pay attention to and the way we pay attention to them (these are usually part of the exercises). This is difficult because karma drives us to pay attention to always the same things that feed our deluded mind more and more. In addition to relying on a teacher, one must study, because by way of studying the teachings of the Buddha, you will come to know what to pay attention to, where to look, and how.

  • Thanks you very much for this answer. It feels pertinent as (for various reasons) I have stopped attending my local Buddhist centre and thus have no current contact with anyone who would fit the description of 'teacher'. So the necessity for that kind of regular contact is a welcome reminder. Thank you – Crab Bucket May 9 '16 at 13:15
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Mindfulness isn't about self-diagnosis but it can easily lead to self-criticism if one isn't careful.

It is about being present and objectively being aware of what it is without judgment.

This is rarely a bad thing.

Even if you are out partying, you can be mindful of your wacky dance moves and so long as you do this correctly (without judgment) it will not necessarily interfere with your ability to have a good time.

Even with the most worldly examples, everything is in its right place when mindfulness is practiced correctly: making love, playing video games, eating, etc. It can be nice to stop even in the midst of enjoyment to be detachedly mindful... it often produces great insights.

Moresoover, the non-worldly activities are helped through mindfulness as well.

The problem is when people use mindfulness to stack thoughts on top of thoughts due to self-judgment. Mindfulness is not about that.

If one enters a state where one cannot stop one's thoughts and one cannot calm oneself, one should practice samatha not vipassana (mindfulness)... or just try to force oneself to go to sleep.

Proper mindfulness always leads to an effective course of action but one should always hold more important an attitude of self-acceptance and non-attachment as the heart of mindfulness.

  • I really love this core idea -- "one should always hold more important an attitude of self-acceptance and non-attachment as the heart of mindfulness" – Pair Sir Parser May 8 '16 at 22:05
  • for others who are also new to these terms -- [samatha vs vipassana] buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/3547/… – Pair Sir Parser May 8 '16 at 22:09
  • from above link: "samatha means tranquility - it is a necessary aspect of any wholesome meditative practice." – Pair Sir Parser May 8 '16 at 22:10
  • "vipassana means seeing clearly or in a special way - it is a quality specific to Buddhist meditative practice." – Pair Sir Parser May 8 '16 at 22:10
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Look up satta bojjhaṅgā or 7 Factors of Enlightenment.

From Aggi Sutta, example of the wrong time to cultivate 3 of 7 Factors of Enlightenment (tranquillity, concentration, equanimity)

At such times, monks, as the mind is sluggish, that is the wrong time to cultivate the enlightenment-factor of tranquillity, the enlightenment-factor of concentration, the enlightenment-factor of equanimity. What is the reason? A sluggish mind is hard to arouse by these factors.

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“But mindfulness, bhikkhus, I say is always useful.” -- SN 43.56

  • 2
    Sadhu! Excellent correction here. – Samana Johann Nov 28 '17 at 16:12

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