Self and No-Self in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Open Access

Saunders, David (2015)

Permanent URL:


Interest in the Buddhist underpinnings, clinical efficacy and neuropsychological mechanisms of mindfulness meditation has increased exponentially in the last three decades. Scholars in the fields of neuroscience, psychology, medicine, psychiatry, religious studies and philosophy, among many others, are increasingly interested in addressing these questions from their respective disciplines. This dissertation seeks to further our understanding of how mindfulness meditation modulates the self and subjectivity, approaching the topic from an inter- and multi-disciplinary perspective that relies, in part, on all of the above lines of inquiry. First, we work toward a novel formulation of the narrative self that will facilitate discussion on how mindfulness interacts with and regulates the self. Second, looking specifically at Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), we defend the claim that mindfulness exerts its beneficial effects by dereifying the narrative self. Next, we consider the ways in which Buddhist notions of no-self, as well as modernity, inform the self/no-self dynamic within primary MBSR texts. In the conclusion, we address the ways in which this study can contribute to future research in the fields of clinical medicine, neuroscience and philosophy.

Table of Contents

Chapter One: Introduction 1

1.1 Background 1

1.2 Methodology and Intended Audience 4

1.3 Outline 9

Chapter Two: Thickening the Narrative Self 14

2.1 Introduction 14

2.1.1 Objectives 15

2.1.2 Layout 19

2.2 The Narrative Self 22

2.2.1 The Narrative Self: One Among Many Selves 22

2.2.2 Narrative Proper 26

2.2.3 Key Features of the Narrative Self 28

2.2.4 Varieties of the Narrative Self 34

2.2.5 Criticism for the Narrative Self 41

2.3 The Embodied Self 45

2.3.1 General Features of the Embodied Self 46

2.3.2 Key Accounts of the Embodied Self 52

2.3.3 Intertwined Selves: the Embodied Self and the Narrative Self 57 The Disembodied Narrative Self 58 The Embodied Narrative Self 60

2.4 The Thickened Narrative Self 62

2.4.1 Narrative Universe 63

2.4.2 Narrative Content 67

2.4.3 Narrative Phenomenology 70

2.4.4 Advantages of the Thickened Account 74

2.5 Conclusion 78

Chapter Three: The Thickened Narrative Self in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction 81

3.1 Introduction 81

3.1.1 Objectives 84

3.1.2 Methods 86

3.2 Mindfulness in MBSR 88

3.2.1 Key Features of Mindfulness in MBSR 89

3.3.2 History and Development of Mindfulness in MBSR 98

3.2.3 Buddhist Underpinnings of Kabat-Zinn's Mindfulness 105

3.3 Mindfulness and the Self: Current Proposed Mechanisms 122

3.3.1 Current Models 123

3.3.2 Criticism for Extant Models 132

3.4 Reification and Dereification 139

3.4.1 Reification and Dereification: Theoretical and Empirical Considerations 140

3.4.2 Dereification in Contemplative Practice 145

3.5 Dereification of The Thickened Narrative Self in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction 147

3.5.1 What is Being Dereified? The Role of Object Orientation 148

3.5.2 How are the Targets of Dereification Identified? The Role of Reflexive Awareness 156

3.5.3 Dereification of the Narrative Self 160

Chapter Four: Self and No-Self in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction 169

4.1 General Features of the Self/No-Self Dynamic 175

4.1.1 General Structure of the Self/No-Self Dynamic 176

4.1.2 The Self Refuted in Early Buddhism 179

4.1.3 The Self Affirmed in Early Buddhism 181

4.2 Self and No-Self in Non-Dual Traditions 184

4.2.1 Tathagatagarbha 185

4.2.2 Effortlessness, Non-Striving and Self 188

4.2.3 Self As Non-Conceptual/Non-Discursive 189

4.2.4 Self as World 192

4.2.5 Self Refuted 193

4.3 Self and No-Self in Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction 195

4.3.1 Features of Self Affirmed in MBSR 197 Non-conceptuality, Embodiment and the Present Moment 199 Self as Interdependent, Self as World 203 Effortlessness and Non-Striving 204

4.4 Modernity, Self and No-Self 208

4.4.1 Detraditionalization and The Eclectic Self 210

4.4.2 Psychologization of the Self 214

4.5 Conclusion 217

Chapter Five: Conclusion 217

5.1 Summary 218

5.2 Clinical Considerations 221

5.3 Limitations 224

5.4 Future Directions 227

Bibliography 232

About this Dissertation

Rights statement
  • Permission granted by the author to include this thesis or dissertation in this repository. All rights reserved by the author. Please contact the author for information regarding the reproduction and use of this thesis or dissertation.
Subfield / Discipline
  • English
Research Field
Committee Chair / Thesis Advisor
Committee Members
Last modified

Primary PDF

Supplemental Files