Phenomenological Research Fails to Capture the Experience of Nondual Awareness
Over the past two decades, a comprehensive literature has emerged about the health benefits of mindfulness-based interventions. Many of the practices taught in such programs have been adapted from traditional Buddhist practices and were informed by Buddhist understandings of how the mind creates suffering. During the process of secularizing the practices for the broad application in psychological interventions, some of the traditional and ritualistic elements of mindfulness were removed. Recent criticism of secular mindfulness programs for the diminished role assigned to ethics and insight generated considerable debate, which has been met with elaborate responses. Another debate concerns the alleged focus of secular mindfulness practice only on alleviation of immediate health issues. This is in contrast to the transformative aspects of mindfulness practice that are fostered in Buddhism, such as the development of nondual awareness. Informed directly by Mahāyāna Buddhist teachings on emptiness and communicated as the dissolution of subject and object, nondual awareness relates to pre-reflective experience and superficially appears to be a suitable subject matter for qualitative approaches such as phenomenological inquiry. The relevance of mindfulness in the process of phenomenological research has been illustrated previously. However, as the present discussion demonstrates, phenomenology fails to appreciate the idea of true emptiness and thus cannot free itself from the limitations of reification and objectification. Because of its focus on co-generated essence and structure of experience as opposed to raw and pre-reflective experience, phenomenology fails to capture the experience of nondual awareness.
KeywordsMindfulness Nondual awareness Phenomenology Emptiness Buddhism Pure experience
This discussion is based on work presented at an international mindfulness conference at Wonkwang University in Iksan, South Korea, in May 2018.
Compliance with Ethical Standards
Conflict of Interest
The author declares that he has no conflict of interest.
Human Participants and Animal Studies
There was no research involving human participants and/or animals.
There was no informed consent.
- Bitbol, M., & Petitmengin, C. (2013). A defense of introspection from within. Constructivist Foundations, 8(3), 269–279.Google Scholar
- Chung, B. (2003). The scriptures of Won Buddhism: a translation of the Wŏnbulgyo Kyojŏn with introduction. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press.Google Scholar
- Depraz, N., Varela, F. J., & Vermersch, P. (Eds.). (2003). On becoming aware: a pragmatics of experiencing. Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.Google Scholar
- Duffy, J. T., Guiffrida, D. A., Araneda, M. E., Tetenov, S. M. R., & Fitzgibbons, S. C. (2017). A qualitative study of the experiences of counseling students who participate in mindfulness-based activities in a counseling theory and practice course. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 39(1), 28–42. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10447-016-9280-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Feng, X. J., Krägeloh, C. U., Billington, D. R., & Siegert, R. J. (2018). To what extent is mindfulness as presented in commonly used mindfulness questionnaires different from how it is conceptualized by senior ordained Buddhists? Mindfulness, 9(2), 441–460. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-017-0788-9.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
- Friedl, H. (2001). Global aspects of American pragmatist thinking: William James and Kitarô Nishida on the purity of pure experience. Amerikastudien/America Studies, 46(2), 177–205.Google Scholar
- Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994). Wherever you go, there you are. New York: Hyperion Books.Google Scholar
- Kozyra, A. (2007). Nishida Kitarō’s logic of absolutely contradictory self-identity and the problem of orthodoxy in the Zen tradition. Japan Review, 20, 69–110.Google Scholar
- Krummel, J. W. M. (2017). On (the) nothing: Heidegger and Nishida. Continental Philosophy Review. Online First. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11007-017-9419-3.
- Linehan, M. M. (2015). DBT skills training manual. New York: The Guilford Press.Google Scholar
- Medvedev, O. N., Norden, P. A., Krägeloh, C., & Siegert, R. J. (2018). Investigating unique contributions of dispositional mindfulness facets to depression, anxiety, and stress in general and student populations. Mindfulness. Online First. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-018-0917-0.
- Mills, P. J., Peterson, C. T., Pung, M. A., Patel, S., Weiss, L., Wilson, K. L., et al. (2018). Change in sense of nondual awareness and spiritual awakening in response to a multidimensional well-being program. Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 24(4), 343–351. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2017.0160.CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
- Monteiro, L. M., Compson, J. F., & Musten, F. (Eds.). (2017). Practitioner’s guide to ethics and mindfulness-based interventions. Cham: Springer Nature.Google Scholar
- Nishida, K. (1911/1990). An inquiry into the good, translated by M. Abe & C. Ives. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
- Purser, R., & Loy, D. (2013). Beyond McMindfulness. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huf ngtonpost.com/ron-purser/beyond-mcmindfulness_b_3519289.html.
- Stanley, S., Purser, R. E., & Singh, N. N. (2018). Handbook of ethical foundations of mindfulness. New York: Springer.Google Scholar
- Suzuki, D. T. (1934). Introduction to Zen Buddhism. New York: Grove Press.Google Scholar
- Thorpe, M. R. (2013). The process of conducting qualitative research as an adjunct to the development of therapeutic abilities in counseling psychology. New Zealand Journal of Psychology, 42(3), 35–43.Google Scholar
- Varela, F. J. (1999). The specious present: A neurophenomenology of time consciousness. In J. Petitot, F. J. Varela, B. Pachoud, & J.-M. Roy (Eds.), Naturalizing phenomenology: issues in contemporary phenomenology and cognitive science (pp. 266–329). Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
- Wells, A. (2014). Ontological experience. Journal of Scriptural Reasoning, 13(1), 1–11.Google Scholar