Against One Method: Toward a Critical-Constructive Approach to the Adaptation and Implementation of Buddhist-based Contemplative Programs in the United States Open Access

Dodson-Lavelle, Brooke (2015)

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This dissertation adopts a critical-constructivist approach to the development of secular, Buddhist-based contemplative programs in the United States. Mindfulness- and compassion-based programs--including in particular Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT) and Innate Compassion Training (ICT)--offer distinct models for healing that rest on different Buddhist assumptions of the causes of suffering and the means for overcoming suffering. MBSR, CBCT, and ICT have been influenced by and respond to the American cultural context in which they are delivered. They developed within what Charles Taylor terms the "immanent frame," and have been shaped by their assimilation into and critique of other discourses of modernity, including scientific rationalism and romanticism. Each program variously interprets and rhetorically employs the categories of the secular, the scientific, and the spiritual to create frames permitting different claims to universal applicability. Such universalizing rhetorical strategies are effective tools insofar as they provide these programs with internal coherence, as well as access to various audiences. Yet these universalizing rhetorical strategies also ignore important contextual factors key to the success, adaptability, and sustainability of the programs, while simultaneously obscuring alternative healing methods that may be more effective for individuals or communities in particular settings. This dissertation adopts a critical-constructivist approach to this growing field. It first deconstructs the universal rhetoric employed by these programs through an analysis of their theoretical and cultural frames, and then considers potential reframes of their approach and rhetoric in a contemporary context, including a broader interpretation of the Buddhist doctrine of skillful means and of the category of the secular. However, there are also downsides to the simple dismissal of the notion of a universally applicable approach. Thus this dissertation attempts a constructive inquiry into which approaches and methods may be most effective for individuals and communities within particular contexts, while holding open the question as to whether there are shared principles or methods that are generalizable or essential to the larger aims of these programs. In the final analysis, this work calls for more context-sensitive and principle-driven approaches to the ongoing development, adaptation, and implementation of contemplative-based programs in the United States.

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Introduction. 1

Mindfulness- and Compassion-Based Contemplative Programs in North America. 3

The Search for a Universal Approach: A Personal Story. 12

Against One Method. 17

The Limits of Frames. 24

Contemplative Practice in Context. 28

Toward a Critical Constructive Approach. 34

Outline of the Dissertation. 38

Chapter Two: Buddhist Theoretical Frames. 40

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). 40

The Problem, Its Cause(s), and the Goals of MBSR. 40

The Path of MBSR: Cultivating Mindfulness. 41

Roots of MBSR: The Buddhist Theoretical Framework. 46

Analyzing MBSR's Frame. 51

Cognitively-Based Compassion Training (CBCT). 53

The Problem, Its Cause(s), and the Goals of CBCT. 53

The Path of CBCT: Cultivating Compassion. 54

Roots of CBCT. 65

Analyzing CBCT's Frame. 67

Innate Compassion Training (ICT). 68

The Problem, Its Cause(s), and the Goals of ICT. 68

The Path of ICT: Awakening Compassion. 69

Roots of ICT. 76

Analysis of ICT's Frame. 77

Preliminary Analysis of Competing Frames. 78

The Debate. 80

The Debate's Influence on Contemporary Programs. 82

Chapter Three: North American Cultural Frames. 88

The Secular Frame. 89

Competing Models of the Secular. 91

CBCT's Secular Frame. 95

ICT's Secular Frame. 100

MBSR's Secular Frame. 107

The Scientific Frame. 111

The Spiritual (But Not Religious) Frame. 119

An American Civil Religion? Or Stealth Buddhism?. 130

Chapter Four: Frames, (Re)Frames, and New Directions. 133

A Buddhist (Re)Frame: Skillful Means. 136

A Secular (Re)Frame: Towards Interfaith Dialogue. 147

Spiritual (Re)Frame: Against "One Dharma". 155

Scientific (Re)Frame: Toward a Richer Conceptualization of Suffering. 160

Frames: The Map is Not the Territory. 175

New Directions: From An Egological To An Ecological Approach. 179

References. 183

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