Jon Kabat-Zinn: “I transmit the essence of the Dharma by referring to common sense, without Buddhist connotation, because this practice is a powerful and beneficial tool for all humanity. »

- through Henry Oudin

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While in Paris, Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, the Stress Reduction Clinic and professor of medicine at the University of Massachusetts, spoke about his teaching of MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), a training in Mindfulness meditation. He explains here the difference between this technique, developed in a medical and scientific context, and the original teachings of Buddhism, situating the place and the future of the teachings of Mindfulness in the contemporary world.

Why didyou are required to specify during your intervention that the practice of Mindfulness does not represent Buddhism? CThis statement is-it is linked to the position of France with regard to spirituality ?

No, I express myself the same way everywhere: my training is linked to Zen practice, in which it is said that the practice is beyond the form, therefore the name. So the term Buddhism is just a name and a form. But from my deep adherence to Buddhism, I know that meditation, liberator of suffering, is addressed to all. So I wondered how to teach Americans, who disregard Buddhism. And, beyond the Americans, as many people as possible, because everyone is suffering. So I looked for a way to present this practice without having to identify it as Buddhist, the majority of people not wishing to convert to Buddhism: I teach the essence of Dharma, without the Buddha Dharma. I had moreover publicly posed the question to the Dalai Lama, in Washington, asking him if he saw a difference between the universal Dharma and the Buddha Dharma, to which he replied: “No”. His answer confirmed to me that the Dharma is beyond Buddhism. And I transmit the essence of the Dharma by referring to common sense, which allows me to address the whole world, without Buddhist connotation, because this practice is a powerful and beneficial tool for all humanity.

Was the reaction of the United States different from that of other countries?

My first book came out in the United States twenty-two years ago, in Germany immediately after, then in England, Japan, and France eighteen years later. All of Europe was receptive, except France! There are, however, Buddhist centers in France. So why ? I was told: "Descartes, the church and the state, the soul and the body, rationalism..." And it is true that the French are suspicious of a practice, in the absence scientific evidence. But now that they are proven, that should change.

"I will continue on this path of Mindfulness, always remembering that it is an ancestral practice that I did not invent, but a teaching of Dharma in a new form, in a new context, more mainstream, less Buddhist. »

The French were therefore very slow compared to other countries, probably for cultural and philosophical reasons. But when they move, they do it seriously and stick to it for the long term. In 2010, young French people came to see us in the United States to follow a session of MBSR, when they had spent six years in retreat with Tibetan lamas in the Dordogne! So I asked them: why come here, after six years of retirement? They replied, "We want to learn how to teach the Dharma in the world." I am very happy that the teaching of MBSR is considered Dharma (a term we do not use except when referring to the origin of the teachings).

From what era your approach been accepted in the United States?

Right from the start, at the hospital where I practiced, and without any criticism or rejection. But I have a PhD from MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) in molecular biology, which I conducted with Salvador Luria, Nobel Prize winner. So people must have thought, "He knows what he's doing." So I was left alone, which allowed me to progress serenely for twenty years, which bore fruit: little by little, thanks to scientific results concerning stress reduction, doctors (in neurology, psychiatry... ) took an interest in it, seeing the condition of their patients improve and hearing them declare: “These eight weeks of session have been more beneficial to me than all the years of treatment! »

In the United States, where the private and paying medical system obliges to have results, the sense of time is different from France, where medicine, public, East free. Is this one of the reasons why research on MBSR has been favorably received there, presenting a gain in time for processing, and therefore a saving?

Consciousness of time is indeed an essential factor in meditation, and this dimension is part of the therapeutic approach. Because by learning to be in the moment, we access a new awareness of time. With this practice, and this perception of time, the genes change and the body as a whole. Everything changes: the brain being very plastic, its structure changes during the eight weeks. Time is therefore indeed an essential datum, certainly understood differently in the American context.

What's your next step?

As the teachings intensify, I will continue on this path, always remembering that this is an ancestral practice that I did not invent, but a Dharma teaching in a new form, in a new context, more mainstream, less Buddhist. I spend a lot of time delivering this message, so people don't think it's just a behavioral practice. I teach today in China, I was received there at the School of Medicine and at the Academy of Sciences. They showed great interest, ignoring the history of their teachings, which came from the Ch'an tradition. Chinese Buddhist monks have told me that the only way to teach the Chinese is through Western transmission, with the Chinese rejecting their discourses. It is therefore necessary to find a new language to teach the same Dharma to people who are not very spiritually or religiously oriented, but motivated by healing and happiness. China is going to become the largest economy on the planet, and if the Chinese were to come to terms with their own Dharma story, it could have huge consequences for planetary geopolitics and bring balance to the world, stopping a cycle of suffering – especially those inflicted on the Tibetans. The overall situation would improve, this is an exciting project

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Henry Oudin

Henry Oudin is a Buddhist scholar, spiritual adventurer and journalist. He is a passionate seeker of the depths of Buddhist wisdom, and travels regularly to learn more about Buddhism and spiritual cultures. By sharing his knowledge and life experiences on Buddhist News, Henry hopes to inspire others to embrace more spiritual and mindful ways of living.

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