Mindfulness expands and challenges Buddhists in Japan

Mindfulness meditation is returning to its origins in Japan, though the more secular style it has assumed in the West is proving difficult to integrate with Buddhism in that country, reports Karen Jensen in Tricycle magazine (Winter). In 2017 at least three major Japanese news magazines ran cover stories praising the benefits of mindfulness meditation, and mindfulness events are cropping up across the country. Buddhist leaders have taken note of this surge and have tried to integrate the practice into their teachings, but it is a difficult feat in a society where Buddhism is seen as old-fashioned and irrelevant, Jensen writes. Most Buddhist temples and monks no longer teach meditation and are valued for the memorial services they provide for deceased followers. Buddhist leaders and organizations have been stereotyped as engaging in moneymaking schemes though marketing their funeral services to the public.

But Zen priest Takafumi Zenryu Kawakami is part of a small group of monks who are promoting mindfulness in their temples and through public outreach. Other Buddhist priests have emerged as critics of the mindfulness phenomenon, charging that Buddha’s eight-fold path to enlightenment cannot be simply extracted for general use, regardless of beneficial health effects. For now, Kawakami acknowledges that he mainly teaches his version of mindfulness in English to foreigners. He argues that mindfulness is at a crossroads in Japan; it can became a shallow “McMindfulness” that will prove damaging, or be integrated with traditional Buddhism, enriching both the practice and the Buddhist religion in the process.

(Tricycle, https://tricycle.org/)