, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 1–13 | Cite as

Traditional and Contemporary Mindfulness: Finding the Middle Path in the Tangle of Concerns

  • Lynette M. MonteiroEmail author
  • R.F. Musten
  • Jane Compson


Contemporary mindfulness has grown through innumerable secular and clinical programs. This rapid growth has raised two main concerns from the Buddhist community: the accuracy of the teachings and the impact of not explicitly including ethics as part of the teachings. Specific concerns include a potential weakening of the concept of right mindfulness and, as a corollary, misunderstanding the intent mindfulness as being a technique for symptomatic relief. With respect to the absence of explicit ethics in the teachings, concerns are expressed that this omission risks misappropriating mindfulness practices so that they do more harm than good. This article explores the main criticisms expressed by Traditional Mindfulness community and assesses the validity of these criticisms. The dialogue between traditional and contemporary mindfulness practitioners is an opportunity to examine the conceptual integrity of mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) with respect to what comprises right mindfulness, assess whether MBIs include the factors that can extend them beyond symptomatic relief, and reflect on the issues related to teaching ethics as part of an MBI program. Because ethics is viewed in Traditional Mindfulness as a foundation for a meditative practice, it is explored in detail for its potential contribution to MBIs.


Mindfulness Buddhism Secular Mindfulness-based interventions Ethics 



The authors are grateful for comments and thoughtful suggestions offered on early drafts of this manuscript by Gordon Bermant, Ph.D., J.D., Boris Bornemann (Ph.D. candidate), Seth Segal, Ph.D., and Justin Whitaker (Ph.D. candidate) and to Ms. J. Sotozaki for copyediting.


  1. Analayo. (2003). Satipatthana: The direct path to realization. Birmingham: Windhorse.Google Scholar
  2. Armstrong, K. (2001). Buddha. New York: Penguin Putnam.Google Scholar
  3. Armstrong, K. (2009). The great transformation: The beginning of our religious traditions. Google Scholar
  4. Avants, K. S., & Margolin, A. (2004). Development of spiritual self-schema therapy for the treatment of addictive and HIV risk behavior: A convergence of cognitive and Buddhist psychology. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 14, 253–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Baer, R. A. (2011). Measuring mindfulness. Contemporary Buddhism, 12(1), 241–261.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Baer, R. A., Walsh, E., & Lykins, E. (2009). Assessment of mindfulness. In F. Didonna (Ed.), Clinical handbook of mindfulness (pp. 153–168). New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bernhard, T. (2010). How to be sick: A Buddhist-inspired guide for the chronically ill and their caregivers. Somerville: Wisdom.Google Scholar
  8. Black, D. (2014). Mindfulness research guide: Informing mindfulness research and practice. Retrieved from
  9. Bodhi, B. (1999). Abhidhammattha Sangaha: A comprehensive manual of Abhidhamma. Onalaska: BPS Pariyatti Editions.Google Scholar
  10. Bodhi, B. (2008). The Noble Eightfold Path: The way to end suffering. Onalaska: BPS Pariyatti Editions.Google Scholar
  11. Bodhi, B. (2011). Dhamma and non-duality. Access to Insight. Retrieved from
  12. Bush Jr., J. (2006). Gentle shepherding: Pastoral ethics and leadership. St. Louis: Chalice.Google Scholar
  13. Bush, M., & Goleman, D. (2013). Working with mindfulness: Research and practice of mindful techniques with organizations. Google Scholar
  14. Cayoun, B. A. (2011). Mindfulness-integrated CBT: Principles and practice. Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Coffey, K. A., Hartman, M., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2010). Deconstructing mindfulness and constructing mental health: Understanding mindfulness and its mechanisms of action. Mindfulness, 1, 235–253.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Cullen, M. (2011). Mindfulness-based interventions: An emerging phenomenon. Mindfulness, 2, 186–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Dreyfus, G. (2011). Is mindfulness present-centered and non-judgmental? A discussion of the cognitive dimensions of mindfulness. Contemporary Buddhism, 12(1), 41–54. May 2011.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Dunne, J. (2011). Toward an understanding of non-dual mindfulness. Contemporary Buddhism, 12, 71–88. May 2011.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Eberth, J., & Sedlmeier, P. (2012). The effects of mindfulness meditation: A meta-analysis. Mindfulness, 3, 174–189.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fjorback, L. O., Arendt, M., Ornbol, E., Fink, P., & Walach, H. (2011). Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy—a systematic review of randomized controlled trials. Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, 124, 102–119.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Gendlin, E. (1981/2007). Focusing (2nd ed.). New York: Bantam.Google Scholar
  22. Germer, C. K., Siegel, R. D., & Fulton, P. R. (2013). Mindfulness and psychotherapy. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  23. Gethin, R. (1992/2001). The Buddhist path to awakening: A study of the bodhi-pakkhiya dhamma. Oxford UK: Oneworld.Google Scholar
  24. Gethin, R. (2004). Can killing a living being ever be an act of compassion? The analysis of the act of killing in the Abhidhamma and Pali commentaries. Journal of Buddhist Ethics, 11, 166–202.Google Scholar
  25. Gethin, R. (2011). On some definitions of mindfulness. Contemporary Buddhism, 12(1), 263–279. May 2011.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Goldstein, E. (2013). Beyond McMindfulness: Throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Psych Central. Retrieved from
  27. Goldstein, J. (2013b). Mindfulness: A practical guide to awakening. Louisville: Sounds True.Google Scholar
  28. Gombrich, R. (2009/2013). What the Buddha thought. Bristol: Equinox.Google Scholar
  29. Grabovac, A., Lau, M., & Willett, B. (2011). Mechanisms of mindfulness: A Buddhist psychological model. Mindfulness, 2(3), 154–166. doi: 10.1007/s12671-011-0054-5.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Grossman, P., & Van Dam, N. (2011). Mindfulness, by any other name…: Trials and tribulations of sati in Western psychology and science. Contemporary Buddhism, 12(1), 219–239.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Gunaratana, B. (2012). The four foundations of mindfulness in plain English. Boston: Wisdom.Google Scholar
  32. Hanh, T. N. (1999). The miracle of mindfulness: An introduction to the practice of meditation. Boston: Beacon.Google Scholar
  33. Harvey, P. (2000). An introduction to Buddhist ethics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Hayes, S. C., Strosahl, K., & Wilson, K. G. (2011). Acceptance and commitment therapy: The process and practice of mindful change (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  35. Irving, J., Dobkin, P., & Park, J. (2009). Cultivating mindfulness in health care professionals: A review of studies of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice, 15, 16–66.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Jha, A. P., Stanley, E. A., Kiyonaga, A., Wong, L., & Gelfand, L. (2010). Examining the protective effects of mindfulness training on working memory capacity and affective experience. Emotion, 10(1), 54–64.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Kabat-Zinn, J. (1990). Full catastrophe living. New York: Delta.Google Scholar
  38. Kabat-Zinn, J. (2011). Some reflections on the origins of MBSR, skillful means, and the trouble with maps. Contemporary Buddhism, 12(1), 281–306.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Keown, D. (2001). The nature of Buddhist ethics. New York: Palgrave.Google Scholar
  40. Keown, D. (2005). Buddhist ethics: A very short introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Krasner, M. S., Epstein, R. M., Beckman, H., Suchman, A. L., Chapman, B., Mooney, C. J., et al. (2009). Association of an educational program in mindful communication with burnout, empathy, and attitudes among primary care physicians. Journal of the American Medical Association, 302(12), 1284–1293.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Leiter, M. P., & Maslach, C. (2005). Banishing burnout: Six strategies for improving your relationship with work. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.Google Scholar
  43. Linehan, M. M. (1993). Cognitive-behavioral treatment of borderline personality disorder. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  44. Loy, D. (2003). The great awakening. Somerville: Wisdom.Google Scholar
  45. Maex, E. (2011). The Buddhist roots of mindfulness training: A practitioner's view. Contemporary Buddhism, 12(1), 165–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. McCown, D. (2013). The ethical space of mindfulness in clinical practice: An exploratory essay. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley.Google Scholar
  47. McCown, D., Reibel, D., & Micozzi, M. S. (2010). Teaching mindfulness: A practical guide for clinicians and educators. New York: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Monteiro, L. M. (2003). The Ottawa Mindfulness Clinic (pp. 51–55). Fall-Winter: The Mindful Bell.Google Scholar
  49. Monteiro, L. M. (2012). An ethical path to compassionate community: The fire in the heart of mindfulness. Retrieved from
  50. Monteiro, L. M., & Musten, R. F. (2013). Mindfulness starts here: An 8-week guide to skillful living. Victoria: Friesen.Google Scholar
  51. Monteiro, L. M., Nuttall, S., & Musten, R. F. (2010). Five skillful habits: An ethics-based mindfulness intervention. Counselling and Spirituality, 29(1), 91–103.Google Scholar
  52. Morgan, S. (2012). Growing through ethics. In C. K. Germer & R. D. Siegle (Eds.), Wisdom and compassion. New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  53. Musten, R. F., & Monteiro, L. M. (2013). Minding the life you have: Resilience training for engaged high performers. Ottawa: Ottawa Mindfulness Clinic.Google Scholar
  54. Nanamoli, B., & Bodhi, B. (2005). The middle length discourses of the Buddha: A translation of the Majjhima Nikaya. Somerville: Wisdom.Google Scholar
  55. Niles, B. L., Klunk-Gillis, J., Ryngala, D. J., Silberbogen, A. K., Paysnick, A., & Wolf, E. J. (2012). Comparing mindfulness and psychoeducation treatments for combat-related PTSD using a telehealth approach. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 4(5), 538–547. doi: 10.1037/a0026161.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Olendzki, A. (2008). The real practice of mindfulness. Buddhadharma, 7, 8. Google Scholar
  57. Olendzki, A. (2011). The construction of mindfulness. Contemporary Buddhism, 12(1), 55–70.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Owens, G. P., Walter, K. H., Chard, K. M., & Davis, P. A. (2012). Changes in mindfulness skills and treatment response among veterans in residential PTSD treatment. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy, 4(2), 221–228. doi: 10.1037/a0024251.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Purser, R., & Loy, D. (2013). Beyond McMindfulness. Huffington Post. Retrieved from
  60. Rahula, W. (1974). What the Buddha taught: Revised and expanded edition with texts from suttas and dhammapada. New York: Grove.Google Scholar
  61. Ricard, M. (2008). Happiness: A guide to developing life's most important skills. New York: Little, Brown and Company.Google Scholar
  62. Ricard, M. (2009). A sniper's mindfulness. Retrieved from
  63. Saddhatissa, H. (1997). Buddhist ethics. Boston: Wisdom.Google Scholar
  64. Salzberg, S. (2013). Real happiness at work: Meditations for accomplishment, achievement, and peace. New York: Workman.Google Scholar
  65. Scharf, R. (2013). Mindfulness or mindlessness: Traditional and modern critiques of “bare awareness”. Paper presented at the Conference on Mindfulness in Cultural Context: McGill University Montreal QC.Google Scholar
  66. Segal, Z. V., Williams, J. M., & Teasdale, J. D. (2012). Mindfulness based cognitive therapy for the prevention of depression relapse (2nd ed.). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  67. Segall, S. (2013). In defense of mindfulness. The Existential Buddhist. Retrieved from
  68. Senauke, A. (2013). Wrong mindfulness: An interview with Hozan Alan Senauke. Retrieved from
  69. Shapiro, S., & Carlson, L. E. (2009). The art and science of mindfulness: Integrating mindfulness into psychology and the helping professions. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Shapiro, S., Jazaieri, H., & Goldin, P. R. (2012). Mindfulness-based stress reduction effects on moral reasoning and decision making. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 7(6), 504–515.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Silananda, V. U. (2002). The four foundations of mindfulness. Boston: Wisdom.Google Scholar
  72. Smith, C. (1962). The meaning and end of religion. New York: Fortress.Google Scholar
  73. Thanissaro, B. (2012). Right mindfulness: Memory and ardency on the Buddhist path.Google Scholar
  74. Titmuss, C. (2013). The Buddha of mindfulness. The politics of mindfulness. Retrieved from
  75. Wallace, B. A. (2008). Interview: A mindful balance. Tricycle, 17, 60–67.Google Scholar
  76. Wallace, B. A. (2012). Meditations of a Buddhist skeptic: A manifesto for the mind sciences and contemplative practices. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  77. Williams, J. M., & Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Mindfulness: Diverse perspectives on its meaning, origins and applications. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lynette M. Monteiro
    • 1
    Email author
  • R.F. Musten
    • 1
  • Jane Compson
    • 2
  1. 1.Ottawa Mindfulness ClinicOttawaCanada
  2. 2.Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences GWP 329University of Washington at TacomaTacomaUSA

Personalised recommendations