Sunday, September 19, 2010

Episode 74 Mindfulness

For this, the second in a three part series on Buddhism, the doubtcasters turn their attention to the Noble Eightfold Path and its emphasis on mental discipline. While some meditation techniques aim at achieving deep trance-like states, Vipassana or "mindfulness" meditation is relatively free of mysticism. The goal of mindfulness is to carefully observe every aspect of ones experience in order to break free from habitual patterns of thought and behavior which cause suffering. In recent years, mindfulness has become popular in western therapeutic circles. Many insist that meditation is an effective treatment for a variety of mental health problems including depression and anxiety disorders. Is there any solid data to support these claims or is mindfulness meditation just the latest fad in a long series of pseudoscientific psychotherapies?

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Anonymous said...

Thanks for doing this series - I appreciate the secular Buddhist framework and I am glad to see you do a thoughtful, scholarly series on Buddhism for Skeptics (more or less). I haven't listened to Episode 74 yet, but I will.

On another note - what's up with feed burner? It's showing the last bunch of podcasts as being posted from December 13th - 19th?

bannock-eating-wooly-nanuk said...

Great series! I guess my biggest problem with Buddhism are the esoteric dogmas of karma and rebirth. Besides easily being sliced away by Occam's razor, they can keep adherents resigned to their fate - whatever they're led to believe that is. If they believe they're repaying a karmic debt, then they will more willingly bear things like the deplorable conditions of poverty, and will be less likely to challenge authority and disturb "higher classes".

Lausten North said...

Best show yet. Thanks for the personal research Jeremy, especially the comment from your teacher about having to be perfect before you can go out and do anything about the problems in the world. It's fine that there are a few masters in the world that focus only on their "inner selves" or whatever you call it, but they shouldn't tell their students to act that way. In "The Art of Happiness at Work", the Dalai Lama admits that he leads a protected life, away from some of the normal stresses, and thus might not be qualified to comment on all of the problems one might encounter with their stupid bosses. His perspective is valuable IMHO, but we can't all be Dalai Lamas, or nothing would ever get done.

FYI - On the subject of book burnings, I tried having a virtual book burning of books like "The Secret" on my Facebook page. It didn't go over very well. Don't recommend it.

Anonymous said...

another anon here, thanks for this podcast too.

Anonymous said...

I recommend you guys mention the date issue in the podcast itself. People have brought it up in the comments on like the last five episodes.

Anonymous said...

please refrain from trying to be funny.

AJ said...

I'm enjoying the series on Buddhism. It would have been handy 6 months ago when I was studying Buddhism.

Re Stephen Hawking, a friend who's a William Lane Craig acolyte, posted this comment of FB, that he probably picked up from a WLC bulletin board: "Stephen Hawking spends the first third of his new book asserting post-modern anti-realism, then later argues for 'scientific' determinism. Do these philosophical defeaters not apply?:
1) To say there is no objective truth in reality - what gives that statement truth?
2) If scientific determinism is true, then everything he's written wasn't based on truth value but determined necessarily by physical law."

I have no idea what this means, but if you've read the book you might be able to tell me!

Mike said...

I really enjoy the podcast but every once in a while your attempt at spin is just as bad as any bible thumper. Appreciating the fact that you claimed not to have the whole story or tried to find out from a knowledgable source you just ridicule from a misperception. One quick example the "you should not help others" segment. The proper context for that sentiment is don't be the blind leading the blind. the main focus of buddist practice is self introspective but at no point have I ever heard that that some how precludes giving aid and or relieving suffering or being indifferent to how your actions affect others. Other than that good job. And like you mentioned on the podcast early buddist teachings are non supernatural it was only as the teachings spread that they took on metaphysical properties. The evolution of buddist thought is a fine example of the human need to over embellish.

Jeremy said...


The comments you were referring to were about a monastic culture that does not place enough emphasis on activism. They were qualified by statements like "there is no barrier in Buddhism to helping people, in fact one third of the eightfold path is about ethical obligations to others" (jeremy) and "one could still engage in activism and use Buddhist philosophy to recognize when ego is the motivation" (Luke). We also referenced the "Engaged Buddhism" movement as one that is trying to counteract complacency and promote activism. We also acknowledged the unique social circumstances out of which Buddhist monasticism arose and why disengaging from society made sense in that context. Many contemporary Buddhist teachers make the same criticism(including you will seen in the next interview). So why you would characterize our comments as "spin" or "just ridicule from a misperception" is beyond me.

Anonymous said...

Great podcast from what I've heard so far (the WWJD episode and now the first two Buddhism episodes). Would you mind posting the title/author of the book on meditation research that you mentioned? (Or is there some place I haven't found yet where you post references from each episode...?)

Also, yes, please fix the date thing in the feed. :-)

Brad said...

Yes, great series! I've been active in Insight Meditation Society groups and have heard Stephen Batchelor speak a couple of times - a very smart and insightful fellow. Always a pleasure to hear or read him again.

I, too, echo the meditation results mentioned on the show and also the props and concerns about Buddhism (ESPECIALLY the accretions and woolly woo you'll surely be discussing next time versus the original teachings in the Pali canon).

Anyway, yours is the most thoughtful and balanced commentary on the subject I've heard by non-Buddhists - no surprise.


Anonymous said...

Fascinating as always, guys. One thing puzzles me: why do you keep pronouncing the 'u' 'buddhism' like
'booty' rather than, properly, like 'book'? Your interviewee from the first ep pronounced it that way throughout the entire interview.

Jeremy said...

Because I'm from ChicAAHgo and thats how us mid-western crackers talk

Derek said...

TrackBack: Planet Money and Reasonable Doubts: my two favourite podcasts - " an atheist myself since childhood, I find that I don't know much about the religions that influence most people around the world. And the Reasonable Doubts team talks about them: Christianity (Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox), Islam (Shiite, Sunni, and other sects), Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism, and more..."

Jeremy said...


Thank you for the very kind write-up. It means a lot to know there are people spreading the word.


Anonymous said...

Yah, that was a helpful response. Btw, I'm from Chicago, too, and somehow managed to overcome my inner cracker. Also, can you send me a combo from Al's? Sweet and hot peppers, please.

Jeremy said...


Well, if you can do it perhaps I'll learn to talk pretty someday too. Al's? I'm more of a Portillo's guy. Sweet on the beef, hot on the dog.

Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this show and the series all together. Thanks!

Paul P. Mealing said...

Someone on another blog referred me to this, knowing I have an interest in such things.

I've listened to the first 2 in the series and I think they're excellent so far.

I'm not sure why you got in a tiz about Hawkings' position, though I haven't read his latest book, but I read an editorial comment in Scientific American under the heading, Hawking vs God. The idea that the universe could be 'something for nothing' is not new. Paul Davies discussed it over 20 years ago in God and the New Physics (1983) in a chapter titled:Is the universe a free lunch? He says almost exactly what Hawking is credited with saying (according to Scientific American): the universe (according to the 'free lunch' scenario) can account for itself, the only thing that is unaccountable are the laws of nature that apparently brought it about.

Davies quotes physicist, Alan Guth: "It's often said that there is no such thing as a free lunch. The universe, however, is a free lunch."

Davies, of course, is himself a physicist, philosopher and astro-biologist. The fact is that any physics concerning the origins of the universe is highly speculative physics. Even string theory and all its derivatives have no supporting scientific evidence - they are purely mathematical models.

I'm currently reading Roger Penrose's latest book, Cycles of Time, which has a completely different take on the subject: a cyclic universe. Penrose by the way, won the 1988 Wolf Prize for physics jointly with Hawking.

Otherwise, great job.

Regards, Paul.

Brother Mark:) said...

I just got through listening to this podcast, a comment was made concerning how the Buddha detached from society instead of engaging in it for better social change, and how that's why you're a humanist instead of a Buddhist, etc.

You seem to have forgotten that the Buddha was well aware that to follow the teaching, one did not need to be a renunciate. One could live the house holder life as a member of the laity and part of the Buddhist sangha.

Now go back and re-study your Pali Canon, and while you're at it...have a great day.

Brother Mark:)