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Thursday, December 25, 2014

Is Mindfulness a Religion in Disguise?


In their review of Lisa Dale Miller’s Effortless Mindfulness: Genuine Mental Health Through Awakened Presence, Melvin Miller and Melissa Sivvy point to a possible ethical problem in the surging mindfulness movement:

Can we offer a psychotherapeutic technique with religious underpinnings without running into ethical complications? If Buddhism is a religion (one of the five major religions of the world) and mindfulness, as declared by Miller, is a Buddhist psychology, then might it be said that psychotherapists who promote the use of mindfulness with their patients are offering a cure through the adoption of a religion and/or religious practices? (section "The Conundrum," para. 1)

Do you believe this is an ethical problem?  Should we continue to delve into Buddhist philosophy as an underpinning of mindfulness, or does that run the risk of endorsing a religious approach to the solution of mental health issues? 

Read the Review
ReviewThe Contributions of Mindfulness Practice in a Secular Profession
By Melvin E. Miller and Melissa Sivvy
      PsycCRITIQUES, 2014 Vol 59(47)


Joanne Rubin

Miller and Sivvy's timely question might be answered differently by the reviewed author vs. other proponents, e.g., Ellen Langer or Jon Kabat-Zinn. An answer depends upon what stimuli a person is being mindful of, e.g., 5 senses-based perceptions, or one's breathing. The latter can be further divided by implicitly set intentions, e.g., a search for subtler states of consciousness, relaxation training, or increasing spontaneity and openness to experience. But the question of religiosity remains with all of this, since "parapsychological" experiences can come unbidden and unexpected. Since I appreciate Melvin Miller's writings on postconventional adult maturity, I'd be interested to know his opinion.

Melvin E. Miller

Hi Joanne, Thanks for posting this comment and question about our recent review of Effortless Mindfulness. I must say that I am not exactly sure what you are getting at in your question/comment. As I think you know from some of my earlier writings, I am confident that there are many paths through which a person might experience psychological and/or spiritual transformation. And, I certainly don't deny the efficacy of mindfulness as one of those paths, whether it is used by itself, as part of a formal meditation practice, or as an ancillary component of a psychotherapy or psychoanalysis. In our book review, we are simply challenging the logical extension of Lisa Dale Miller's claim that mindfulness IS Buddhism. If we accept her claim, then aren't we in fact treating psychological disturbance with a religion. Then, by extension, we ask if this is a stance that an arguably secular organization like the American Psychological Association is prepared to take. In brief, we were hoping to prompt some kind of dialogue around this issue.

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Editor of PsycCRITIQUES

Danny Wedding, PhD

Chair of Behavioral Sciences,
College of Medicine,
American University of Antigua

Associate Editors of PsycCRITIQUES

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