My training in the history of science and medicine told me that things were not that simple. When you move a technique from one place to another, you also take a huge, complicated web of tacit assumptions and practices with you. Put simply, if someone spent years trying to practice the Buddha’s teachings and were now working hard to bring them to others, wouldn’t that make them a Buddhist?
Although I didn’t feel as strongly about it as JP did, it seemed to me too that something strange was going on. It was hard not to see the idea of mindfulness being “freed” from its religious context as a ruse.
Responses from my interviewees were variations on a theme. Buddhism doesn’t have exclusive rights of ownership over mindfulness. Mindfulness is in lots of different religions – or, at least, something very like it. Mindfulness is bigger than Buddhism, even if it came (partly) from Buddhism. Anyway, the label ‘Buddhism’ is a modern invention used by Westerners obsessed with their identities.
I remained sceptical. These ideas smacked of post-hoc justification. The fact was, surely, that if they told people they were doing Buddhism, nobody would have been interested in mindfulness.