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UKABS (UK Association for Buddhist Studies) Conference

2018-10-03 22:02:03 Rajinda Channa

The UKABS (UK Association for Buddhist Studies) conference was recently held at London's Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple.

The Fo Guang Shan Buddhist Temple based in London's Oxford Circus recently hosted the UKABS (UK Association for Buddhist Studies) conference exploring mindfulness courses in the non-secular sector. The line up included professors, scholars, religious leaders and course leaders, who presented mindfulness studies, research and opened up discussions around the subject.

After an introduction to the day's schedule by Abbess, Miao Shiang, Professor Peter Harvey, a contemporary British scholar of Buddhism as well as Emeritus of Buddhist Studies at theUniversity of Sunderland, gave a talk entitled “Is Mindfulness Buddhist? Mindfulness in strands of Buddhism and in Secular Mindfulness.” The talk presented research surrounding the understanding and practice of Theravada Buddhism and touched upon Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, the overlap between Buddhist and secular mindfulness and how they both share the qualities of self-therapy through quiet, peace and more focused attention in daily life.

The second segment kicked off with a talk by Richard King, Professor of Buddhist and Asian Studies at the University of Kent entitled “Neoliberal capitalism and contemporary representations of mindfulness.” Professor King explained how mindfulness is now being used in different areas of society such as in corporations and the government to help employees become more focused by running mindfulness courses. Such methods can also be seen in the military operations of some nations. The need for mindfulness was viewed from the perspective that society today is so fast-paced that people must adapt quickly or else fail. Professor King also stated that living in a society where people have large internal and external demands placed upon them makes it more urgent to find a means to free oneself.

During the following workshop participants discussed the topic further and raised several key points, most importantly that non-secular mindfulness courses allow people in the wider community to identify with the need to do something about daily suffering in their lives.

After a vegetarian lunch offered by the temple, Venerable Miao Lung talked about her own training at the Fo Guang Shan Headquarters in Kiaoshuong, Taiwan. The method employed by the temple is to encourage concentrating on a subject, usually some kind of daily task and then test the subject continuously. The reason for this is to ask “are you really paying attention?” One example was having to clean 3000 bowls every mealtime! One broken bowl was proof of one not being mindful.

The London Buddhism Research Support Group, led by Maggie and Ricky Wong then introduced the four ways of 'Dignified Comportment' as taught by the Buddha. These essentially encompass the way we manage our bodies and one must “walk like the wind”, “stand like a pine”, “sit like a bell”, and “lie like a bow.” Emphasis is placed on beinglight, straight and relaxed with the purpose of improving health.

Later in the day Venerable Jian Cheng Shi from the University of Lancaster gave a talk on the Chan methods of teaching mindfulness and presented her PHD studies on the way "Mindfulness is seen and practiced in contemporary Chan monasteries.” Her research involved her full participation in monastic practice in her home Chan monastery in Chung Tai, Taiwan and also Yunmen Monastery in China, which she visited once a year over four or five years to conduct research.

The Monasteries were selected as their respective Abbott’s have been trained with a lineage tracing back to Master Hsu Yun who was responsible for re-establishing firm Chan practice in the late 1800's to 1900's. Both monasteries in effect maintained a similar practice, but the social-cultural conditions were the key variants. The practice follows a structured timetable between walking, sitting meditation and drinking tea, in a similar way the participating monastics are tested with the slightest moment of “inattention” being spotted and punished.

The meditation methods employed as part of the training routine are 'breath counting', 'the Chan method' and 'the middle way reality method'. Counting methods are traditionally used in the first few days to calm the busy mind. To begin with, the mind counts the numbers clearly without being interrupted by thoughts, this is referred to as Samatha, while Vipassana is counting and following which number you are on. The second method indicates a state of mind before any single thought arises, yet this is used rarely as a very refined and calm mind is required. This is a very vigilant inner-reflective practice to observe where thoughts arise from. For example, if we say “A Mi Tuo Fo”, we investigate where the “A” came from and look into the original thought. This method is sometimes by-passed and practitioners proceed straight to the final method. The third method, is the mind of enlightenment, that is to reside and abide in ones true nature, which is neither long, short, hot, cold, large or small, transcending duality and all concepts.

Jane Sill was the final speaker of the day and she talked about the Jamyang Buddhist Centre, which offers mindfulness classes to anybody willing to attend. It is very much a community-based service with a variety of people from locals in the South London area to finance bankers who all benefit from mindfulness classes. The organizers aim to make the centre available as a 'haven', a place where people can escape the pressures of daily life and find inner peace. The centre has also enabled course attendees to become trainers in mindfulness with a program in place to ensure that trainer's meet certain standards before teaching.

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