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Posted 10 October 2015 - 04:23 AM
In 1971, a meditation teacher named Satya Narayan Goenka led a 10-day retreat in Bodh Gaya, the Indian birthplace of Buddhism. Raised in an Indian Hindu family in Burma, Goenka had turned to the Theravada Buddhist practice of vipassana, or insight, meditation to help deal with his debilitating headaches. Eventually he became a devoted student of a Burmese meditation instructor named U Ba Khin. After 14 years of study, Goenkas master authorized him to teach the vipassana method, which emphasizes close, detached attention to the breath, the sensations of the body, and the coming and going of thoughts. Goenka went to India to pass on what hed learned.
Once in India, however, he had a dilemma. He was a layperson and so didnt carry the natural authority of a monk. Hes in a non-Buddhist culture, so he cant claim cultural authority there, said Jeff Wilson, a religious studies professor at Renison University College and author of the 2014 book Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture. Thus, in what Wilson calls a very savvy move, Goenka separated the vipassana technique from its Buddhist origins, presenting it as a universal practice that transcends religious boundaries. According to Wilson, Goenka, who died in 2013, was trying to attract Hindu students. Instead, he found a following among Western countercultural seekersincluding the Jews who would create Americas mindfulness movement.
In recent years, mindfulness has become an industry. Corporate behemoths like General Mills, Aetna, Target, and Goldman Sachs offer mindfulness training to their employees. Mindfulness is being taught in the public schools, the hospitals, and now even to the military, Wilson writes in his book. Former ABC News anchor Dan Harris had a No. 1 New York Times best-seller with his mindfulness book 10 Percent Happier. A Harvard Business Review piece from earlier this year said that mindfulness is close to taking on cult status in the business world. Psychoanalysts all over the country use mindfulness techniques with their patients.