Richard Ollier has recently published an essay in the Journal of Global Buddhism "Dharmavidya’s Engagement with Hōnen: How a Contemporary British Pureland Buddhist Teacher Retrieves his Japanese Spiritual Heritage"*

It is a good academic article and, of course, interesting for me to read. I discovered that I am a post-secular Buddhist (but not a post-"secular Buddhist"). Well, I suppose that is true. Also that I reaffirm that Buddhism is a religion while undermining the academic understanding of the category "religion". I suppose that that is true as well. In fact, the article is very good all round.

The only point where I would quibble is on the references to mindfulness. Richard says that outside Asia Buddhism is now more or less synonymous with mindfulness but that in my approach that mindfulness is hardly mentioned and that mindfulness is not part of my understanding of Buddhism. What he means is correct, but this way of putting it is not. In fact, mindfulness is absolutely central to my approach to Buddhism, it is just that my understanding of what mindfulness is is quite different from what is generally put about in the West these days. I assert that my mindfulness is the real mindfulness and the common sort is a distant derivative psychological exercise that has lost the function that it had when Buddha deemed it a factor of enlightenment.

How I understand it is the way almost any scholar would have understood it a few decades ago, which is the same way as the people who originally chose the word mindfulness to translate sati (Pali) or smtiri (Sanskrit) understood it, namely as the practice of keeping something holy in mind. In particular, what a Buddhist keeps in mind is the Buddha and the Buyddhadharma. It makes no difference if this is a samghogakaya Buddha such as Amitabha or Quan Shi Yin or Manjushri. The point is that the core of Buddhism is refuge and keeping refuge in mind is Buddhism. All other practices reduce to or are built upon this one. Mindfulness is refuge.

In Pureland Buddhism, this takes the practical form of reciting the nembutsu. Nembutsu means "mindfulness of Buddha" since butsu is Buddha and nem is mindfulness. Pureland and all forms of Amidism are therefore practices of mindfulness in the original sense. All the other factors of enlightenment rest upon this foundation.

What is contemporaneously called mindfulness is something different. It is an alertness exercise. Such an exercise can have its uses, but it is a long way distant from what Shakyamuni was talking about.

* Journal of Global Buddhism Vol. 19 (2018): 43-59
DOI: https://doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.1494233

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This Holds Me

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