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July 21, 2017


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Anonny Prof

"Popular" because professors use the conference as a way to get a school-funded vacation for their families. Funny how it's alway held at a beach resort during the summer ...


Can there be ANYTHING more risible than the "mindfulness" meme ... basically, a bunch of hacks trying to peddle psychology (about which they know little or nothing) to A type, uptight, over privileged, phonies who can't appreciate or understand even the simplest ways of not being bullying, self absorbed, status seeking a holes. Having once encountered, close up and first hand, one of the pdddlers of this poop, one would be compelled to say, free vacation or not: No thanks.

Patrick S. O'Donnell

Empirical evidence increasingly suggests there are various physiological, emotional, and mental benefits (and thus interpersonal benefits as well!) from meditation practices which, I believe should be grouped under the heading “spiritual exercises” (and thus ‘mindfulness praxis’ is but one of these) which are found in both religious and philosophical traditions (e.g. of the latter, Hellenistic philosophies, especially the Stoics), East and West. What interests me is the extent to which such practices have become detached (in varying ways and degrees) from the worldview traditions in which they were cultivated and honed over hundreds if not thousands of years, much like yoga, which is often a somewhat exotic (or ‘Orientalist’) gymnastic exercise in this country, reduced more or less to commodified New Age “Yoga,” with āsanas the paramount or representative form and practice of same (there are of course exceptions to this generalization). Traditions can be both unduly constricting or “burdensome” as well as enabling structures, but it is the latter function under consideration here.

Let me illustrate this this reduction in the case of Indic yoga by way of coming to the conclusion that we should have an analogous if not identical concern with “mindfulness” practices as publicized or marketed in a manner largely severed from the traditions in which they emerged and flourished.

The term “yoga” can be used in a general and loose sense to mean something like “disciplined thought” or meditative concentration, in which case it refers to “disciplined work in any number of areas, including law, medicine, art, ritual, language, and so forth” (Gerald Larson). My focus here is on the first and more technical meaning of Yoga as “that specific system of thought (śāstra) that has for its focus the analysis, understanding and cultivation of those altered states of awareness that lead one to the experience of spiritual liberation [here: kaivalya, elsewhere: moksa]” (Larson).

Patañjali’s Yoga system is one of the six āstika (orthodox) darśanas, hence a distinct philosophical school and a spiritual praxis, as elaborated in his Yoga Sūtra (3rd to 4th century CE). This Sūtra (usually read together with its indispensable commentary, Vyāsa’s Bhāsya) is also known as the “Eight-Limbed Yoga” (astānga-yoga), only one limb of which, the third and “outer member” (āsana), is found in contemporary “YMCA” and “classified ads” yoga (there are all-too-few exceptions to this generalization). The long-term goal of yoga is asamprajñāta-samādhi, a non-conceptual awareness beyond all thought, attribute and description (nirvikalpa). As such a state of awareness becomes more than intermittent, it is capable of eliminating samskāras (karmic predispositions, i.e., it is karmically ‘seedless’). Classical Yoga largely assumed or took over Sāmkhya metaphysics: as Larson reminds us, Pātañjala Yoga, ”as a philosophical tradition is unintelligible without the Sāmkhya ontology and epistemology,” sharing many of the latter’s basic philosophical presuppositions and assumptions, but more importantly, its foremost aim is the disassociation of “pure consciousness” from the mind-body complex (the latter a product of prakrti). Unlike Sāmkhya, however, Yoga introduces a deity essential to contemplation (īśvara-pranidhāna) and a model of the yogi’s ultimate goal, for “The Lord is a special [kind of] purusa, untouched by hindrances, karma, its fruition, and latent-deposits [of karmic actions]” (Yoga Sūtra 1.24). This is a peculiar deity indeed, for the Lord does not create the universe, remaining an utterly transcendent deity never in touch with the world (thus completely set apart from the manifestations of prakrti).

Although Patañjali’s Yoga is both a darśana and an ascetic or meditative practice, we can distinguish Yoga as a classical philosophical system and school from Yoga as a spiritual tradition of “experimental or experiential practice (whether ritualistic, devotional, meditative, therapeutic, alchemical or magical)” (Larson), for there are many traditions of Yoga “that run parallel to philosophical Yoga from the earliest centuries of the Common Era through the medieval and modern periods,” only two of which we’ll mention here: the Yoga of the Bhagavad Gītā and Moksadharma portion of the epic Mahābhārata (e.g., bhakti-, karma-, and jñāna-yoga), and the yoga praxis (Kundalinī yoga) found in the monistic Śaivism of Abhinavagupta and Ksemarāja. Alas, among the later, “popular extensions” of these parallel traditions one finds “peripheral” and “tangential” sub-traditions, writes Larson, “which sometimes have degenerated into pointless superstition and aberrant psychological behavior. Unfortunately, some of this peripheral and tangential material has found its way into New Age spiritual practices. New Age bookshelves continue to be filled with the most incredible nonsense that passes itself off as Yoga, ranging from so-called Yoga massage books to au courant techniques for new and improved tantric orgasms.” Both New Age “Yoga” and commodified gymnastic āsanas are, to put it feebly, a far cry from Patañjali’s Yoga philosophy and praxis or the yogas of the Bhagavad Gītā. Somewhat distinct from either of these contemporary expressions of Yoga, what we’ll term “hybrid-Yoga,” is well represented in the following article from the Los Angeles Times, “Bending yoga to fit their worship needs:”

“Christian pop music played quietly in the background as instructor Bryan Brock led a recent yoga class at the nondenominational Church at Rocky Peak in Chatsworth [California]. Incorporating prayer and readings from the Bible, Brock urged his class of about 20 students to find strength in their connection to their creator through yoga’s deep, controlled breathing. ‘The goal of Christian yoga is to open ourselves up to God,’ he said. ‘It allows us to blur the line between the physical and the spiritual.’ The instructor then recited the Lord’s Prayer while his students moved slowly through a series of postures known as the sun salutation. Such hybrid classes, which combine yoga practice with elements of Christianity or Judaism, appear to be growing in popularity across Southern California and elsewhere. Some Christians call their versions of the discipline holy yoga or Yahweh yoga and some teachers urge participants to ‘breathe down Jesus.’ Jewish yogis, in turn, have developed—and in some cases, even trademarked—Torah yoga, Kabbalah yoga and aleph bet yoga, applying Eastern meditative movements to Jewish prayer and study.” [….]

Mindfulness practices are found in Hindu, Buddhist, and Daoist religio-philosophical traditions as well as some Hellenistic philosophies, such as Stoicism (there may be in other traditions as well, but these are the ones I’m familiar with). Within the last, for example, we discover

“many Stoic treatises entitled ‘On Exercises,’ and the central notion of askesis, found for example in Epictetus [incidentally, ‘the philosophy of Epictetus is well known in the U.S. military through the writings and example of James Stockdale’], implied not so much ‘asceticism’ in the modern sense as a practical programme of training, concerned with the ‘art of living.’ Fundamental to such programmes was learning the technique of prosoche—attention, a continuous vigilance and presence of mind (a notion, incidentally, that calls to mind certain Buddhist techniques [prosoche was also fundamental to the ‘spiritual praxis” on one of the salonnières of the Enlightenment’s Republic of Letters, Suzanne Necker]). Crucial also was the master of methods for the ordering of the passions—what has been called [by Martha Nussbaum] the therapy of desire” (John Cottingham).

The spiritual exercises integral to the “art of living” were intended to transform the whole person, including one’s habitual patterns of emotional response. Thus we might pause to consider what it means to teach “mindfulness” practices in the manner exemplified by this “conference within a conference,” in other words, what is missing when such spiritual (in the widest sense, hence we could speak of a humanist or non-religious spirituality) exercises are sundered from the philosophical and religious traditions which fill them out with companion practices as well as supportive metaphysical and ethical views (e.g., see how Buddhists place mindfulness praxis within the “discourse” or doctrinal context of the threefold division of the Eightfold Path). I don’t doubt that individuals might nonetheless benefit from such teachings (in this case, it’s probably true that something is better than nothing), and I’m intimately familiar with our country’s inordinate ideological fondness for psychologically and sociologically distorted or stunted conceptions of individualism, but let’s not lose sight of the proverbial bigger picture here, one in which worldviews and traditions locate “mindfulness” practices within wider and deeper … and abiding philosophical, psychological, and spiritual contexts and communities.

References and Further Reading:

• Bryant, Edwin, translation and commentary. The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. New York: North Point Press, 2009.
• Cooper, John M. Pursuits of Wisdom: Six Ways of Life in Ancient Philosophy from Socrates to Plotinus. Princeton University Press, 2012.
• Cottingham, John. Philosophy and the Good Life: Reason and the Passions in Greek, Cartesian and Psychoanalytic Ethics. Cambridge University Press, 1998.
• Cottingham, John. The Spiritual Dimension: Religion, Philosophy and Human Value. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2005.
• Ganeri, Jonardon and Clare Carlisle, eds. Philosophy as Therapeia, Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement: 66. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
• King, Richard. Indian Philosophy: An Introduction to Hindu and Buddhist Thought. Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1999.
• Larson, Gerald James and Ram Shankar Bhattacharya, eds. Encyclopedia of Indian Philosophies, Vol. XII, Yoga: India’s Philosophy of Meditation. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass, 2008.
• McGhee, Michael. Transformations of Mind: Philosophy as Spiritual Practice. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
• Nussbaum, Martha C. The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic Ethics. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1994.
• Phillips, Stephen H. Yoga, Karma, and Rebirth: A Brief History and Philosophy. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.

Patrick S. O'Donnell

erratum: [prosoche was also fundamental to the ‘spiritual praxis’ of one of the salonnières of the Enlightenment’s Republic of Letters, Suzanne Necker]


An exercise is wiping one's mind of all thoughts, almost like repeating a mantra, can be had by simply reading the lecture above.

Distilled: "mindfulness," as purveyed by status seeking novices posing as experts in practices and beliefs about which they are so obviously unqualified, is a mind numbing activity (and topic), and has little or no substance or effect other than to provide a virtue signaling opportunity for over privileged legal academics who are constantly seeking to avoid doing anything that might resemble doing "law" or "legal studies" (those activities are now delegated to the lower castes: clinical, lrw, etc.)

TM? Psycho therapy by hacks? What next? Home economics? How to make your spouse a really kick ass lasagna? Sure, our law schools should fly pampered law professors to luxury locations to engage in these "enrichment" activities: it makes them more arrogant and self centered, the keys to being a good teacher and legal scholar.


Whenever I think of "spiritual enlightenment" the first thing that comes to mind is a bunch of conceited legal academics, crawling all over each other for a bit of attention and recognition, vacationing "at a five-star facility" on the water to engage in self aggrandizing navel gazing that will change their arrogant personas NOT AT ALL.

If tuition dollars are spent to support this sort of activity seemingly to simply pamper professors, then some sort of inquiry should be conducted and the responsible parties held to answer for what appears to be a blatant example of feather bedding.


Mindfulness? Mindlessness!

Patrick S. O'Donnell

There’s a recent article that in several important respects addresses the concerns broached in my comment: Thalia González, “Root to Rise: Mindful Lawyering for Social Justice,” N.Y.U. Review of Law & Social Change, Vol. 41, 2017: 91-120. González is a “social justice lawyer, activist, and, now, professor.” The article is available online at the website for the N.Y.U. Review of Law & Social Change and as a pdf doc.

She proffers a particular “mindfulness” approach to cause lawyering.1 It is based on Patañjali’s Yoga system—also known as the “Eight-Limbed Yoga” (astānga-yoga)—one of the six āstika (orthodox) darśanas. Especially refreshing is the frank acknowledgment that “the practice of yoga asanas comprises only one small aspect of the practice of all Eight Limbs.” Here is a portion of the abstract:

“ … [T]he dominant approach to contemplative practice and pedagogy has yet to meaningfully explore the connection between mindfulness and transformative social change.2 This article seeks to fill that void. Rather than continue to associate—and often isolate—mindfulness as individualized, this article decenters the identity of “mindfulness and law” from the individual and expands it into the collective. Specifically, this article re-envisions social justice lawyering through the lens of yogic practices. It seeks to reveal how the Eight Limbs of Yoga can expand the domains in which social justice lawyers act and how mindfulness can nurture the growth of both the individual and the collective. Rather than expound a “universal” theory, this article proposes one possibility for understanding mindful social justice lawyering aimed at redefining the contours and meaning of contemplative legal practice, with the goal of expanding the ontology of the contemplative law movement. Instead of simply looking at one layer, experience, or relationship, mindful lawyers and law students should develop a practice that is grounded in approaching others with dignity and respect­—one which promotes equality and inclusion, resists subordination, and fosters self-expression and self-determination.”

1. For those not familiar with “cause lawyering,” I have a selection of titles and other related material at a blog post from the RLL archives: Toward a Manifesto of Inspiration for A People’s Law School (Religious Left Law on 6/22/2012).
2. This may be true of the legal world, but it certainly is not the case in the wider world, for example, among the spiritual or religious Left (cf. the Buddhist Peace Fellowship). No less than the Dalai Lama has described his worldview at both “Marxist and Buddhist.” See, for example, this interview: “Crossing Materialism and Religion: An Interview on Marxism and Spirituality with the Fourteenth Dalai Lama,” in Rethinking Marxism 28(3-4): 584-598, October 2016.

Orin Kerr

"Whenever I think of "spiritual enlightenment" the first thing that comes to mind is a bunch of conceited legal academics, crawling all over each other for a bit of attention and recognition, vacationing "at a five-star facility" on the water to engage in self aggrandizing navel gazing that will change their arrogant personas NOT AT ALL."

OK, but what's the second thing?


Orin Kerr.

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