Have you ever laid awake at night thinking about what has to be done the next day, what was done the day before or trying to figure out the future? If you’re anything like me this is a common occurrence and stress is what leads to it. Almost every person at some point in their lives stress about something whether it is school, work, family or where your next meal is going to come from. However according to Perry Garfinkel’s Buddha or Bust, Buddhism’s main focus is to alleviate this suffering by following the Buddha’s “Four Nobel Truths:
1. That there is suffering in the world, whether mental or physical.
2. That there is an origin of suffering, namely, a fundamental ignorance of the cause-and-effect relationship of all actions, called karma.
3. That by eliminating the cause, you can eliminate suffering.
4. That there is a method to eliminating the cause, and that method is called the Eightfold Path, a moral compass leading to a life of wisdom (right views, right intent), virtue (right speech, right conduct, right livelihood), and mental discipline (right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration).” (pp 21)
Now most of us out there would like to make our suffering go away, maybe this Buddha guy was on to something. So why does it take an American, someone from western culture to put the two together? Buddhism as a means of stress reduction is at the center of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in Worcester. The founder of the program molecular biologist Jon Kabat-Zinn suggested that Garfinkel go and seen Helen Ma when he arrived in Hong Kong. Ma has introduced Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in an institutional setting. Ma works with hospice patients, and is another example of engaged Buddhism. “The relationship of Dr. Kabat-Zinn and Helen Ma was just the latest example of how Buddhist seeds blown fromEast to West to East again were part of the cross-pollination that has been creating hybrids for centuries, if not millennia.” (pp 157-158)
But can this be true; can thousands of years old Buddhist teachings really help to reduce the stress of our modern lives? “In a study reported in 2004 in the Journal of counseling and clinical psychology Helen Ma tested the ability of Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy to reduce the risk of recurrence of major depression in patients.” (pp 162) Garfinkel experiences this process first hand. At this point he seems skeptical of the process and that shines through in his writings. He attends a session at the Center on Behavioral Health. At this he meets an Indian man whose story resonated with him. According to Garfinkel “we both suffered from the same malady, and, I suspect, we weren’t alone.” (pp 165) Garfinkel is referring to what hecalls e-mail-itis as the cause of suffering. The man from India works with people in New York, since they are on a different continent and have different time zones the man suffers from anxiety over the response time for his e-mails to and from his superiors. He came to this place to help him sleep though the night without getting up to check his e-mail. He shared with Garfinkel that the MSBR program was helping.
In the end I believe that this process has the potential to alleviate the suffering of many individuals that choose to use this for their stress reduction. However many Americans and others in the world might not believe it to be a legitimate practice only time and more study can help to change these people’s minds. The more people who succeed the less stress there will be in the world, and that would be a good thing.
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