All are courses are secular, and can practised by anyone regardless of religious, cultural or ethnic background. There is no assumption of knowledge or interest in Buddhism. However, this page is intended as background for those who wish to know more.
Paticcasamuppada (‘conditioned co-production’ or ‘actions have consequences’) is the essential insight on which all the Buddha’s teaching, dhamma, is based. Exploring the consequences of one’s actions in depth, with wise attention, kindness and ethical awareness, is central to Buddhist practice.
A key application of patticasamutpadda is to be aware that mundane life has an unsatisfactory element, known as dukkha. In today’s developed world, most of us will avoid the chronic suffering experienced through war, famine or drought. However, many will suffer from other adversity such as loneliness, illness, bereavement or even addiction at some stage of our lives. More commonly: “a lot of suffering is mild, but chronic, such as a background sense of anxiety, irritability or lack of fulfilment” (Hanson, 2009, p. 23).
“Working with the mind and body to encourage the development of what’s wholesome — and the uprooting of what’s not — is central to every path of psychological and spiritual development” (Hanson, 2009, p. 15). Buddhism, unique among the world’s major faiths, places the understanding of the function of one’s mind, usually through the practice of meditation, at the forefront of its practices.
As a Buddhist practitioner, reflection on one’s ‘experience in mind’ refers to the practice of morality or ethics — sila — which is usually enumerated in groups of five or ten precepts (panca-silani or dasasila). “… the silas are, in reality, patterns of ethical behaviour. They are the natural expression of certain skilful mental states” (Sangharakshita, 1990, p. 39).
The five precepts are abstention from: harming living beings: taking the not given (stealing), sexual misconduct, false speech and taking drink and drugs that result in a loss of awareness. Each precept has a positive counterpart: the practice of loving kindness; generosity; fidelity; truthful speech; and the practice of mindfulness (Ashvajit and Cittapala, 1990, p. 11).
Skilful actions — kusula — result in happier and more refined, integrated states of mind than unskilful actions — akusla — which are accompanied by unhappy, coarser and disintegrated states of mind. In other words, ‘we reap what we sow’. The principle of ethics provides the crucial framework for mindfulness practice in Buddhism.
Although dukkha is inevitable, the Buddha taught a path to help the individual seek liberation from the ‘dis-ease’ of mundane life. Rather than reject our day-to-day experience, the Buddha taught that, on the contrary, by opening up to the reality of our experience, we can radically alter our perception of, and response to, dukkha.
One of the most important elucidations of this approach is the ‘Noble Eightfold Path’, or ariya-atthangika-magga. Reflecting upon one’s ‘experience in mind’ firstly gives rise to ‘perfect vision’ and consequently: ‘perfect emotion, speech, livelihood, effort, awareness and samadhi (absorption)’, leading to eventual ‘awakening’ (nibbana) (Sanghakshita, 1990 p. 18).
To conclude, the concept of mindfulness permeates every aspect of Buddhist teaching and practice.
Asvajit, Cittapala (1995), Garland of terms, Padmaloka Books
Hanson, R. (2009), The practical neuroscience of Buddha’s Brain: Happiness, love and wisdom Oakland CA: New Harbinger Publications
Sangharakshita. (1990), Vision and transformation: An introduction to the Buddha’s noble eightfold path Glasgow: Windhorse Publications