Secular “mindfulness” courses, promoted as stress-reduction treatments, have become more popular than Buddhism. A meditation method based on modern vipassana is their core.
Many Buddhists have strong mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it’s great that so many more people are experiencing the benefits of Buddhist-style meditation. On the other hand, “mindfulness” seems like weaksauce kitsch; it’s missing most of what’s important about Buddhism. There’s a worry that if Buddhism is “unbundled,” with its most attractive part available separately, it will disintegrate,1 and critical aspects of the whole will be lost. And isn’t the whole greater than the sum of its parts?
But… what is the important rest of Buddhism?
That’s a genuinely difficult, important question. I wrote about it in a post three years ago that foreshadows this one.
As I wrote that, Consensus Buddhism was organizing a political consensus that ethics is what makes it different from, and better than, secular mindfulness.2 They promoted and argued this in dozens of blog posts, mainstream media op-ed pieces, and pseudo-academic journals.3
In my 2012 post, I asked:
Is there any significant point on which American “Buddhist ethics” and mainstream American secular liberal ethics disagree?
My last several posts have explained why the answer is no. “Buddhist ethics” has nothing to do with Buddhism; it just is mainstream American leftist ethics. People who want that can get it elsewhere with less hassle, just as people who want meditation can get it elsewhere with less hassle.
So if Buddhism = mindfulness + ethics, there’s nothing left of Buddhism. It’s over.