We should maintain that if an interpretation of any word in any religion leads to disharmony and does not positively further the welfare of the many, then such an interpretation is to be regarded as wrong; that is, against the will of God, or as the working of Satan or Mara.

Buddhadasa Bikkhu, a Thai Buddhist Monk

Friday, March 29, 2013

A Religious Technology That Works

We do not normally apply the term, "technology," to religious practices such as prayer or meditation, but those practices are, "the application of knowledge for practical ends," which is the second definitions of "technology" given by definitions.net.  Of course, the practical ends are religious in nature but that makes them no less practical for the religious.

The practice of mindfulness through meditation is one such practice.  In an introductory piece entitled, "The Art of Living," the Plum Village website defines mindfulness as, "the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment of daily life. To be mindful is to be truly alive, present and at one with those around you and with what you are doing. We bring our body and mind into harmony while we wash the dishes, drive the car or take our morning shower."  The article goes on to describe the practices associated with attaining a mindful state, that is the technology of mindfulness.

It turns out that mindfulness is a religious technology that has practical usefulness in the real world even for the non-religious. A team of psychologists at the University of California, Santa Barbara, have found that students who practice mindfulness even for a relatively short time do better at taking the GRE test. According to a press release from the Association for Psychological Science (here), "The researchers randomly assigned 48 college students to a mindfulness class or a nutrition class. The classes met for 45 minutes, four times per week, over two weeks and were taught by professionals with extensive experience in their respective fields." The press release goes on to state that, "The results were clear: Participants who received mindfulness training showed improved accuracy on the GRE and higher working memory capacity, compared to those who received instruction in nutrition. Analyses indicated that the improvement could be explained, at least in part, by reduced mind wandering during the task."

A growing case can be made that religious and scientific "webs of meaning" tend to converge rather than diverge once we cast the fundamentalists of both suasions into the outer darkness of irrelevancy.  Each web is distinct.  Each web points to a complex, multifaceted reality that is ultimately mysterious and awe-inspiring even when we think we can explain it.  Although their perspective on that reality is different, it is the same reality.  My sense is that the deeper science delves into the nature of reality the more it finds itself using religious terms, such as "spirit" and "awe".  And when scientists and religious thinkers dialogue rather than debate, there are points of convergence, a convergence beautifully captured in Krista Tippett's, Einstein's God: Conversations About Science and the Human Spirit.

In the same way, the technologies of science and religion can be mutually beneficial to all of us.  Meditation and my trusty iMac.  Amen.