Is the goal of mindfulness to develop ultimate dissociation?
In this essay, Ven. Thanissaro begins to explain that the goal is to develop "appropriate attention":
If, for example, you're a doctor in an emergency room [...] If you frame the symptoms in the wrong light, you can do more harm than good. If you frame them in the right light, you can save lives.
The same principle applies in solving the problem of suffering, which is why the Buddha gave prime importance to the ability to frame the issue of suffering in the proper way. He called this ability yoniso manasikara — appropriate attention — and taught that no other inner quality was more helpful for untangling suffering and gaining release
I came across this interpretation of Buddha's teaching that suggests that the Buddha ultimately sought a dissociative state, rather than one of freedom.
Reviewing the two pages you referenced...
key words such as ‘mindful’/ ‘mindfulness’, for sati (instead of ‘rememorative’, ‘rememoration’);
From this I get the impression that 'Richard' has learned about the vocabulary used in the Pali suttas.
For thousands of years, human beings have searched for genuine freedom, peace and happiness. Now, for the first time, a proven method has been devised to eliminate the genetically-encoded instinctual passions of fear, aggression, nurture and desire that are the root cause of human bondage, malice and sorrow. Actual Freedom has nothing to do with the traditional spiritual path of transcendence and avoidance – the promise of a mythical ‘freedom’ in an imaginary life-after-death. This new, non-spiritual method produces an actual freedom from our instinctual animal passions, here and now, on earth, in this lifetime. Actual Freedom offers a step by step, down-to-earth, practical progression to becoming actually free of the Human Condition of malice and sorrow – to be both happy and harmless
This was the description of "Actual Freedom" which the author seems to be promoting (advertising, describing) on that web site.
First of all, the buddhistic mindfulness meditation does not ... (a) stress genuine freedom, peace and happiness ... and (b) does not eliminate the genetically-encoded instinctual passions of fear, aggression, nurture and desire (the root cause of human bondage, malice and sorrow) ... and (c) does promise a mythical ‘freedom’ in an imaginary life-after-death (‘Parinirvana’) ... and (d) is not a new, non-spiritual method ... and (e) does not produce an actual freedom from the instinctual animal passions, here and now, on earth, in this lifetime ... and (f) does not offer a step by step, down-to-earth, practical progression to becoming actually free of the human condition of malice and sorrow ... to be both happy and harmless.
This is to contrast with the previous paragraph, intended to show that "the buddhistic mindfulness meditation" does not have the effects described.
That seems to be an accusation but I'm not sure how to answer it.
Buddhism clearly and explicitly does stress freedom (vimutti), peace (upasama) and happiness (sukha).
So I guess he must be saying it isn't "genuine".
But that's a "no true scotsman" argument -- so it's hard to know what he's arguing or why and therefore difficult to answer.
Other statements like, "does not eliminate the genetically-encoded instinctual" are odd.
They sound as if they're meant to be true by definition, or unarguable -- "after all you're still genetically human!"
And it seems to ignore people training or conditioning of themselves (i.e. it's not all to do with genetics).
As for "does not offer a step by step, down-to-earth, practical progression", suttas do say that Buddhism should be taught step by step and gradually and practiced.
So again it's hard to know what his complaint is.
There's a hint at the end of this page -- perhaps part of what he's complaining about are modern interpretations of Buddhism, summaries and extracts -- but I don't think it's useful to try to explore that further here, in the context of this question.
More to your point, however, Mr. Gotama the Sakyan’s mindfulness meditation is primarily about detachment/ dissociation from life – all existence is Dukkha due to Anicca (impermanence) and Dukkha comes from Tanha (craving) for Samsara (phenomenal existence) – and any meditation technique which stresses involvement with such is anything but what Mr. Gotama the Sakyan taught.
There's more to Buddhism than "mindfulness meditation".
It's described as a Threefold Training, a training in "virtue" (including social ethics), and in "wisdom", as well as in "mind" (i.e. effort, mindfulness, and concentration, in other words meditation).
Mr. Gotama the Sakyan’s advice was to dissociate from all of the above
‘Freed, dissociated, and released from ten things the Tathagata dwells with unrestricted awareness. Which ten? Freed, dissociated, and released from form (...) Freed, dissociated, and released from feeling (...) Freed, dissociated, and released from perception (...) Freed, dissociated, and released from fabrications (...) Freed, dissociated, and released from consciousness (...) Freed, dissociated, and released from birth (...) Freed, dissociated, and released from aging (...) Freed, dissociated, and released from death (...) Freed, dissociated, and released from stress (...) Freed, dissociated, and released from defilement (...) the Tathagata – freed, dissociated, and released from these ten things – dwells with unrestricted awareness.
That's quoting AN 10.81. What he calls "dissociated", Ven. Sujato translates as "detached" (visaṃyutta).
And the author's saying tat "Mr. Gotama the Sakyan’s advice is" seems to imply that that was all that the Buddha advised -- but, there is a lot of Buddhist doctrine -- and the sutta above is some of that doctrine, but not all he taught.
If you want to know more, you could try Chronological or other sequence for beginners and/or perhaps an introduction by a modern author, possibly one of these books -- or perhaps a teacher.
In other words: a total withdrawal from the physical world and the physical body
I think it's ceasing to identify -- "Woe is me! I am dying! etc."
There are a lot of posts about anatta on this site, that topic must be hard to understand or to explain -- abandoning "identity view' is one of the stages of enlightenment.
He clearly indicates that life as this flesh and blood body, on this verdant and azure planet, in this immeasurably vast universe, is the pits
See Did the Buddha really say that "life is suffering"?
the main problem in life is that peoples everywhere are already separate from the actual world and to practice detachment is to be twice-removed from actuality. Vis.:
- Actual freedom: By being born a separative ‘self’ one lives in a painful reality (being detached from actuality) and sensuousness ends this detachment with the resultant apperception revealing the actual world.
- Spiritual freedom: By becoming detached from the separative ‘self’ (and thus being twice-removed from actuality) dissociation from painful reality manifests a metaphysical greater reality in the psyche rendering the physical world a nightmarish dream.
I think that's saying that "Actual Freedom" (which he promotes) involves sensuousness as an antidote to "detachment" or "a separative self" (possibly "alienation") -- possibly as a way to reintegrate with the world.
And that so-called "Spiritual freedom" (including Buddhism, which he deprecates) involves becoming detached from the separate self (so "twice-removed from actuality").
I think that's wrong for at least three reasons.
Buddhism too teaches people to be aware of sensuality -- there are Buddhist practices like "guarding the senses", understanding "dependent origination", "scanning" and vipassana.
Buddhism emphasises living in the world -- within (lay or monastic) society -- ethics, self-control, and so on.
And Buddhism teaches the Middle Way -- avoiding extremes -- neither hedonism (pursuing sensuality for its own sake) nor e.g. asceticism (extremes of self-mortification).
So my question is: is anyone that practices mindfulness, as advised by Buddhist teachers, heading towards developing a sort of dissociation from their feelings?
I think it's meant to be understanding the causes of suffering, and undoing (unbinding from) those causes so that suffering ceases and doesn't arise again.
If not, how can anyone explain the fact of enlightened Buddhists still getting angry without referencing psychological dissociation?
I still don't understand this question. I find "enlightened" and "getting angry" kind of difficult to reconcile:
@ChrisW I've clarified by editing the question.
To answer the last part of the question, I think that says, as a syllogism:
- It's axiomatic (because Richard says so) that "emotions and self are the same thing" and "my feelings are me" etc.
- Buddhists claim to be enlightened and free from illusion of self, yet they feel emotions like anger
- Therefore all they're doing is dissociating from their self (their feelings), isn't that so?
IMO the Buddhist doctrine on the subject is more or less:
Feelings are non-self
Doctrines of self, or self-views (e.g. "this is myself") are wrong in the sense they tend to make things worse e.g. they increase suffering either now or in the future
Feelings come and go, arise and cease (which is one reason why they're not worth regarding as "self")
Attaching to or grasping unskilful feelings (e.g. hatred) will prolong or worsen them -- more so when combined with an unskilful sense of self, for example:
"He abused me, he ill-treated me, he got the better of me, he stole my belongings;"... the enmity of those harbouring such thoughts cannot be appeased.
"He abused me, he ill-treated me, he got the better of me, he stole my belongings;"... the enmity of those not harbouring such thoughts can be appeased.
Also consider the feelings of others, they're universal:
- All tremble at violence; all fear death. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.
- All tremble at violence; life is dear to all. Putting oneself in the place of another, one should not kill nor cause another to kill.
- One who, while himself seeking happiness, oppresses with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will not attain happiness hereafter.
- One who, while himself seeking happiness, does not oppress with violence other beings who also desire happiness, will find happiness hereafter.
- Speak not harshly to anyone, for those thus spoken to might retort. Indeed, angry speech hurts, and retaliation may overtake you.
- If, like a broken gong, you silence yourself, you have approached Nibbana, for vindictiveness is no longer in you.
- Irrigators regulate the waters, fletchers straighten arrow shafts, carpenters shape wood, and the good control themselves.
To give a different, non-Buddhist example -- if you're a preschool teacher (in Ontario) you might be trained to never say, "You're a bad boy!"
Because "I am a bad boy" is not the lesson you want the children to be learning.
So instead you teach things about good and bad behaviour -- e.g. "Don't bite, use your words", or, "Thank you for putting the toys away" -- so that children learn what behaviour and reactions are socially appropriate, without developing and attaching to "self-views" (e.g. "I am bad" or "you are bad").
This isn't what I'd call "dissociating", in the pathological sense of that word.
I think that Buddhism also involves an interest in what's nowadays called "emotional intelligence". With young children (again, in a non-Buddhist context) I think think the doctrine for preschool teachers is that you're supposed to help them recognise and label emotion (e.g. "I can see you're angry about that. What are you going to do?"). Perhaps Buddhist are meant to recognise emotions -- e.g. "this is anger" -- not dissociate from them. And having seen or felt that an emotion exists, investigate what's causing it -- the purpose being to reconsider or undo the cause.
Buddhist monks, for example -- I get the impression that they reckon there are a lot of reasons or causes for suffering, for example financial greed (wanting more), fear (never having enough to be safe), interpersonal conflicts (zero-sum relationship problems between selfish people), and so on ... and train themselves to do without, so those problems don't arise.
That's not exactly dissociating (having a problem but being unaware of it), it's doing something (training and discipline and choosing wisely) to avoid the condition in which the situation arises.
And Buddhist laypeople are meant to at least try to be a bit generous, happy that they can be generous -- IMO that's not dissociating but is enlightened -- and perhaps to recognise wisdom (e.g. Buddhist doctrine), even though the rules of discipline they abide by isn't as strict as monks'.
Another thing is that Buddhism is a Middle Way i.e. neither extreme -- for example:
A Western monk at WatBa Pong became frustrated by the difficulties of practice and the detailed and seemingly arbitrary rules of conduct the monks had to follow. He began to criticize other monks for sloppy practice and to doubt the wisdom of Achaan Chah's teaching. At one point, he went to Achaan Chah and complained, noting that even Achaan Chah himself was inconsistent and seemed often to contradict him self in an unenlightened way.
Achaan Chah just laughed and pointed out how much the monk was suffering by trying to judge others around him. Then he explained that his way of teaching is very simple: "It is as though I see people walking down a road I know well. To them the way may be unclear. I look up and see someone about to fall into a ditch on the right-hand side of the road, so I call out to him, 'Go left, go left' Similarly, if I see another person about to fall into a ditch on the left, I call out, 'Go right, go right!' That is the extent of my teaching. Whatever extreme you get caught in, whatever you get attached to, I say, 'Let go of that too.' Let go on the left, let go on the right. Come back to the center, and you will arrive at the true Dharma."
So I think it's misleading to quote a single piece of Buddhist doctrine, for example AN 10.81 which is the basis of Richard's quote -- I think that's like saying, "Buddhist teaches 'Go left, go left' which is clearly not the way straight forward".
Another thing is that AN 10.81 is a description of Jhana practice which isn't easy -- or not the first thing -- to explain. Ultimately it may be unexplainable (see e.g. "jhana-range" here and here) though I think Buddhists are taught how to practice, to "see for themselves". I think that's true of a lot of human expertise though -- it's difficult to teach a language (Chinese or Pali), or Maths, or Medicine, or any other "advanced" topic, especially to people who don't have the training, the interest, or a receptive attitude -- plus it's a matter of practice (training, acquired skill).
There's some truth to the dissociation idea though -- this "Zen story" might be an example of dissociation:
Yamaoka Tesshu, as a young student of Zen, visited one master after
another. He called upon Dokuon of Shokoku.
Desiring to show his attainment, he said: "The mind, Buddha, and
sentient beings, after all, do not exist. The true nature of phenomena
is emptiness. There is no realisation, no delusion, no sage, no
mediocrity. There is no giving and nothing to be received."
Dokuon, who was smoking quietly, said nothing. Suddenly he whacked
Yamaoka with his bamboo pipe. This made the youth quite angry.
"If nothing exists," inquired Dokuon, "where did this anger come
In that story though, IMO, the youth might be dissociating and not meant as example of "enlightened" -- he is "desiring to show his attainment" etc.
And Dokuon's intervention is meant to contradict or undo that dissociation.