“Siddhartha’s Brain” is a book by the veteran science writer James Kingsland. The subtitle of the book is “Unlocking the Ancient Science of Enlightenment.” Should you not know, Siddhartha, a well off noble who became a pauper to learn about suffering and, more importantly, how to deal with it, became known as the Buddha. If people think they know one thing about Buddhism, it is probably that Buddhists believe in repeated rebirths after death. However, when the Dalai Lama was asked whether it is necessary to believe in rebirth to be a Buddhist, he emphatically replied: “It doesn’t matter! The most important thing was to practice the essence of the Buddha’s teaching—impermanence, selflessness, and compassion.” He went on to say that with increasingly refined states of meditation, one would invariably gain the insight that rebirth was real and that to escape from the cycle of suffering, one must attain nibbana. The Dalai Lama does not proselytize Buddhism. What he does strongly advocate is secular humanism. Even Buddhists in traditional schools dismiss any speculation about rebirth as a waste of time. They believe instead that we should focus on the karma that determines out psychological well being in this life. It is important to realize that Buddhism is not a belief system. Rather it is a religious approach based on experience.
Nor is it claimed that Buddhists developed meditation. Rather it is believed that individual humans stumbled upon the meditative experience. Moreover, meditation has been practiced by contemplatives in virtually every substantive religion. Meditation can and should be expanded into mindfulness. One is tempted to attribute the current state of the world, as well as the historical record, to a famine of mindfulness. It is hoped that some day there will be a feast of mindfulness, The practice of mindfulness involves regarding oneself in the third person and trying to understand others from their perspectives, and to be concerned about their well-being.
One learns much about Siddhartha and Buddhism in this volume to include practices of meditation and mindfulness. But it does not cover all the different branches of Buddhism. They range from the extremely ascetic Zen Buddhism to highly commercial versions. There are Buddhist priests who marry and have families. HM has been to Japan several times and has marveled at the selling of fortunes by some versions.
There are Buddhists who strongly object to the way the private companies have adopted mindfulness and meditation practices. Philosophically, they are far from the Dalai Lama who presses for secular humanism. Regardless, HM predicts that in the future it will be commonplace for businesses and agencies to have dedicated spaces for meditation and mindfulness. Dedicated facilities for physical exercise have become commonplace, but dedicated facilities for meditation and mindfulness will not only promote physical health, they will also promote psychological health and beneficial interactions among personnel.
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