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The category "experience" has played a cardinal role in modern studies of Buddhism. Few scholars seem to question the notion that Buddhist monastic practice, particularly meditation, is intended first and foremost to inculcate specific religious or "mystical" experiences in the minds of practitioners. Accordingly, a wide variety of Buddhist technical terms pertaining to the "stages on the path" are subject to a phenomenological hermeneutic-they are interpreted as if they designated discrete "states of consciousness" experienced by historical individuals in the course of their meditative practice. This paper argues that the role of experience in the history of Buddhism has been greatly exaggerated in contemporary scholarship. Both historical and ethnographic evidence suggests that the privileging of experience may well be traced to certain twentieth-century Asian reform movements, notably those that urge a "return" to zazen or vipassanā meditation, and these reforms were profoundly influenced by religious developments in the West. Even in the case of those contemporary Buddhist schools that do unambiguously exalt meditative experience, ethnographic data belies the notion that the rhetoric of meditative states functions ostensively. While some adepts may indeed experience "altered states" in the course of their training, critical analysis shows that such states do not constitute the reference points for the elaborate Buddhist discourse pertaining to the "path." Rather, such discourse turns out to function ideologically and performatively-wielded more often than not in the interests of legitimation and institutional authority.
This presentation explores how contemplative practices, especially those anchored in an active listening to silence, are integrated into creative writing courses. It pays particular attention to a course taught at the United States Military Academy at West Point and to a course on the poetry of war and peace taught at the University of Connecticut. The presentation includes not only excerpts from student writing during the courses but also ongoing correspondence with students as they have maintained meditation practices during their military service in Iraq.
Objective and Participants: The authors evaluated the effects on stress, rumination, forgiveness, and hope of two 8-week, 90-min/wk training programs for college undergraduates in meditation-based stress-management tools. Methods: After a pretest, the authors randomly allocated college undergraduates to training in mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR; n = 15), Easwaran's Eight-Point Program (EPP; n = 14), or wait-list control ( n = 15). The authors gathered pretest, posttest, and 8-week follow-up data on self-report outcome measures. Results: The authors observed no post-treatment differences between MBSR and EPP or between posttest and 8-week follow-up ( p > .10). Compared with controls, treated participants ( n = 29) demonstrated significant benefits for stress ( p < .05, Cohen's d = -.45) and forgiveness ( p < .05, d = .34) and marginal benefits for rumination ( p < .10, d = -.34). Conclusions: Evidence suggests that meditation-based stress-management practices reduce stress and enhance forgiveness among college undergraduates. Such programs merit further study as potential health-promotion tools for college populations.