Mindfulness is one of the heart in the Buddha’ teachings with meditative practices that has been researched by many scholars to clarify its application to the real life. According to Kabat-Zinn (2009, p. 21), mindfulness originally comes from an ancient Buddhist practice that has great significance for the present-day lives in the modern time. More importantly, this application does not require becoming a Buddhist or engaging in Buddhism but it provides opportunities to cultivate a way to live in harmony with oneself and the world. Over the past 2500 years, the Buddhist tradition has a wide range of cultures throughout Asia from Eastern countries and continues to evolve today not only to the West but also worldwide (Mitchell 2002, p. 10). It is important to notice that teachings in Buddhism share in common with Western psychology the basic goal of releasing suffering (Bodhi 2005, p. 25). Hence, it can be seen that the effect of traditional Buddhist teachings, especially meditation and mindfulness meets modernity application and has movement toward wellbeing, a fundamental part of humanity.
In the research of Bodhi (2011, p. 19), the author put all effort to clarify what mindfulness does really mean. From this observation, mindfulness has travelled a long way from its homeland in India. Today, Buddhist meditation has transformed from its traditional setting in Buddhist doctrine and faith to new cultures with practical results. This paper will analyze the general effect of Buddhist meditation in the modern time and the influence of meditation on wellbeing in details to investigate its movement in the current social conditions.
2. Overall effect of traditional Buddhist meditation meeting modernity
Meditation practices that are originated from Buddhist traditions have ben recently adopted in the West. Specifically, Buddhist meditation has become a topic that engages widespread interest for both science and medicine. For the purpose of being suitable with modern Western values and worldviews, meditation practices have been generally decontextualized from the original Buddhist target of awakening and re-contextualized as clinical interventions in the aspects of psychological and physiological self-development (McMahan 2008, p. 250). The result of re-contextualization has caused modifications of the original goals of practice and in the way scientific studies declaration on the effects of meditation that can highlight certain features of Buddhist formulations to serve modern needs and values (Williams & Kabat-Zinn 2011, p. 15).
In the modern time, Buddhist meditation can be found in new accommodations in meditation centers and even in hospitals, pain clinics and treatment centers. Surprisingly, teachers and practitioners are people who are more likely to wear normal street clothing or white coats rather than ochre gowns that are symbolize for monastic in Buddhism. The fact reveals that these people can hold degrees in medicine and psychology, which is different from traditional practices including masters from Buddhist philosophy and scripture (Bodhi 2011, p. 35). Actually, meditation is being taught as an approach to help people to reduce and release sufferings, which is not coming from the cycle of birth and death, but starting from the tensions of financial pressures, psychological disorders and worrying relationships. The following paragraphs will demonstrate the effect of tradition Buddhist meditation in the context of modernism in more details.
2.1 Some main points to examine the effect of Buddhist meditation meeting modernity
As stated in the research of McMahan (2008, p. 183), Buddhist meditation has been considered as the path to achieve awakening but there is just a small population of Buddhists practice it in this serious way. Other majority of Asian Buddhists keeps practicing meditation as to learn dharma throughout ethics, rituals and service to the Sangha. While there is a movement of Buddhist meditation from Asia to the West, other religions also practice different forms of meditation and mindfulness techniques. Besides the practices of Buddhism such as ethical precepts, rituals for karmic merit, a number of human populations in the modern time show their interest in meditation as a necessary element when practicing Buddhism. However, this purpose has been widen to different people from all religious traditions in respect of increasing awareness, compassionate practices, peace of mind and enhancing the application of mindfulness in the daily life. Hence, there are many meditation centers that have been established to create classes and retreats to engage more participants, especially for lay people.
Meditation when coming into modern time, it has been reflected as a psychological method to investigate deeper to the unconscious state of the mind in order that the practitioners can develop transformation to allow creative and compassionate strengths naturally in the mind to activate (McMahan 2008, p. 184). The result is that in every day activities, it is possible for people to cultivate skillful and mindful engagement in life such as self-discovery, self-transformation and physical and mental health development. Additionally, for some psychotherapists and physicians, meditation and mindfulness practices can be used for stress reduction and pain management. The scope of Buddhist meditation is now popular in the prisons, hospitals, schools and counselors to increase performance, productivity and decrease stress. It seems that meditation and mindfulness are elaborated more in psychological, spiritual or scientific techniques rather than religious practices. For example, Mindfulness based stress reduction program from Jon Kabat-Zinn has customized meditation into medical and psychological applications.
Furthermore, the meeting of modernity and meditation is also elaborated in a turn to a new sense of selfhood toward the subject. Its dominance is an intensive subjective examination. As mentioned by McMahan (2008, p. 189), there is a movement between the individualism and universal unity. They put the ego as the lower form of selfhood and promote the interrelation with all things and the universe. It can be seen that meditation has made a development of individualism in respect of interior exploration and inner freedom. It is more about subjective personal development rather than cultural and religious context.
2.2 The effects in respect of psychological field
Traditionally, meditation is practiced in the context of religion. In the modern time, the skills and techniques of meditation have been obtained from spiritual and philosophical context and applied to the promotion of human psychology. In fact, most of literature in the area of scientific journals and research about meditation has been relied on this dimension to enhance the health of human. The core application of meditation is very different. It develops patience instead of quick solutions to any issues (Atwood & Maltin 1991, p. 368). The key point is to be aware of the problem before struggling to solve it. In other words, the strategy is to promote an attitude of nonjudgmental to assist a person to define clearly what is going on. The most important factor is this approach directing people to have a sense of comfort with doubt, unawareness and uncertainty. Practicing meditation, meditators learn to realize and believe in their inner power and wisdom. The personal responsibility is fostered during the time of meditation.
In reality, the technique of meditation includes various components such as physical postures, intensive concentration and breathing that are explained as the positive effects of meditation (Colby 1991, p. 157). Meditation proposes a time to enhance emotional experiences and increase acceptance as well as self-awareness. According to Shapiro (1992, p. 62), among the author’s research subjects, there is 88% of the subjects reported the results of meditation in the modern time having capabilities to cultivate greater joy, positive thinking, confidence and problem solving skills. Other effects are collected as compassion and patience to one self and others, especially more relaxation and improving ability to control feelings better.
2.3 The effects in respect of physiological field
Interestingly, meditation is claimed to have physiological effects such as increase cardiac output, reduce heart rate, relax muscle and enhance the brain system response (Telles 1994, p. 143). According to the investigation of three experienced Tibetan monks, it has been found that the metabolic rate rising up to 61% and lowering to 64% that improved the blood flow. It can be seen that meditation effect on physiological response in the short term. These effects are also connected with the brain activity that more hormonal and metabolic changes can be explored through experienced meditators.
2.4 The effects in respect of psychotherapy field
In the theme of psychotherapy, the enhancement of self-awareness is a principal value that is often proposed as the first step to release oneself from stressful symptoms and create the basic monitor of behaviors and responses. The effect of meditation allows practitioners to escape out of conceptual limitations and proceed into a deeper level of insight and creativity. This influence increases self-motivation and promotes strengths as well as personal values (Shapiro 1992, 65). Within the Buddhist tradition, the ultimate purpose is the realization of non-self that is contracted with the goals of psychotherapy to develop a well-defined ego. However, both Buddhist tradition and psychotherapy aspect focus on human growth and development. In general, meditation can be helpful for people at the level of personality but it also offers a way to get in touch with oneself or letting go a self. It seems that meditation provides the development beyond what most therapies propose in relation to self-issues such as self-esteem.
On the whole, although there are many literatures mentioned meditation in the framework of a religious philosophy, it is clear that the techniques of meditation influence on human development in respect of psychological, physiological and psychotherapy. The practice of meditation has benefits in short term and long term. The key role is a calm to self-control and relaxation.
3. The impact of Buddhist meditation on wellbeing
Health and wellbeing are two terms that can be used in various ways. However, in some cases, a trend of using wellbeing is more inclusive and encompassed health with multi dimensions such as physical (health), psychological and social aspects (De Chavez et al 2005, p. 70). From the view point of Pollard & Davidson (2001, p. 10), wellbeing is defined as a state of successful performance across the life that integrates physical, cognitive and social emotional function. Each of aspect focuses on different activities. For example, regarding to physical health, there are medical feature focusing on freedom from disease and environment feature emphasizing on adaptation to one’s situation (Larson 1999, p. 123). For psychological perspective, Hatch (et al 2010, p. 261) explains that wellbeing is intellectualized as the absence of mental disorders or sufferings including subjective wellbeing (SWB) and psychological wellbeing (PWB). For social elements, there are many factors that contribute to social wellbeing such as network relationships (Bradshaw & Ellison 2010, p. 196).
There are a number of scientific findings that expressed meditation having a link with positive health benefits such as more stable heart rate, lower blood pressure and increase immune function. Especially, meditators with long time experiences tend to become physiologically younger compared to non-meditators (Grossman et al 2004, p. 35). Besides physical health benefits, meditation provides benefits in respect of psychological characteristics such as mindfulness, forgiveness and wellbeing (Fredrickson et al 2008, p. 1045). In this part, the wellbeing in respect of psychology will be discussed to assess the impact of Buddhist meditation.
3.1 Subjective Wellbeing
Subjective wellbeing focuses the individual’s subjective judgment of one’s own affect and life satisfaction (Dambrun & Ricard 2011, p. 138). The individual’s subjective wellbeing depends on the achievement of pleasure and the avoidance of displeasure. The attainment of pleasure is due to the potential rewards and positive emotional experiences. On the other hand, the avoidance motivation is the anxiety of negative consequences that can arise. Hence, the subjective wellbeing fluctuates from pleasant to unpleasant feelings that are affected from external events before returning to a line level of happiness.
3.2 Psychological Wellbeing
While subjective wellbeing focus on a self, psychological wellbeing is described as a long lasting, inner peace and calmness that is independent from outside situation (Hanley et al 2015, p. 1425). Psychological wellbeing is originated from the concept of eudemonism, which is characterized as the recognition of one’s true potential. In additions, eudemonism can help to maximize talents, positive emotions and relations with others. Individuals high in psychological wellbeing put low importance on the self and tend to focus on more on relationships with others. The independent of self shares the same believe with the Buddhist meditative tradition.
3.3 Impact of Buddhist meditation on wellbeing
The practice of Buddhist meditation assists individuals to recognize the present moment and enjoy it with full of awareness and attention. The goal of meditation now is not trying to escape from the reality of the world but rather a careful consideration to the beauty of given moment. Despite of different types of meditation, the main point is true happiness that cannot be found in experiencing of external environment except for turning back to inner attention of mind to cultivate calmness and peace. The inner peace obtained through meditation shares the same core principles as the approaches to obtain a high level of psychological wellbeing. To be true, individuals with high psychological wellbeing keep detachment with pleasures or materials. The emphasis is an acceptance without judgment about the reality of present moment. The wellbeing is peace for individuals practicing Buddhist meditation.
More importantly, many researches on the relationship between meditation and happiness concentrate more on psychological wellbeing rather temporary subjective wellbeing from an affective state. For example, in loving kindness meditation, participants tend to develop more on psychological wellbeing compared to the group without engaging into meditation (Kozasa et al 2012, p. 745). In a research of contemplative practices, it has been found that participants engaging into meditations being reported greater psychological wellbeing rather than subjective wellbeing (Hanley 2015, p. 1423).
Remarkably, one research declared that meditation with a period over six weeks increased positive feelings (Lutz et al 2004, p. 16369). In contrast, during the normal state of consciousness, it often comes with control, analysis, judgment and rationality that can cause a reduction in cultivating positive emotions. Therefore, meditation can direct the brain to promote positive thoughts and feelings. The more time of this practice, it will train the brain to be oriented towards eudemonic happiness. It means that Buddhist meditation is valuable for individuals to increase their psychological wellbeing.
To summarize, Buddhist meditation and mindfulness have a strong influence on the society in the modern time and wellbeing of human development. Firstly, for the overall effect of Buddhist meditation meeting modernity, although Buddhist meditation traditions start from a religious background, the application of meditation has become widespread and popular in both science and medicine. The practice of meditation now expands to a large of population in the West despite of different cultures and religions. The power of Buddhist meditation attracts many followers as it has transformed to meet with modernity. To elaborate, the transformations include the application to lay people without monastic context, the retreat centers to engage more people and the use to many industries enhance the effect of Buddhist meditation. These effects are analyzed in respect of psychological, physiological and psychotherapy field. It can be seen that the practice of meditation has benefits in short and long term. Secondly, the impact of Buddhist meditation also influence on wellbeing of human. The wellbeing is not only from physical or social aspects but also from psychological area including subjective wellbeing and psychological wellbeing. More importantly, the benefits of Buddhist meditation provide more psychological wellbeing rather than subjective wellbeing. As explained by many researches, psychological wellbeing cultivates the happiness and peace from the mind that has an enduring effect without fluctuation or instability for individuals.
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