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Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture Hardcover – August 1, 2014


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 280 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (August 1, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199827818
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199827817
  • Product Dimensions: 9.4 x 1.1 x 6.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #358,195 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Review


"Mindful America could not be more timely: mindfulness is widespread, at its height of its influence, and significant both in terms of the history of American religion and of Buddhism. This book is well researched, thoughtfully conceived, provocative, intelligently theorized, and accessible to both scholarly and lay audiences. Any serious consideration of mindfulness in the West must address the issues Wilson brings up in this important book." --David L. McMahan, author of Buddhism in the Modern World


"This is a much-needed guide to the mindfulness movement that has moved onto central stage in American Buddhism over the course of the last two decades. Jeff Wilson demystifies the current mindfulness vogue by setting it in historical perspective and providing insightful analyses of the way in which an Asian Buddhist religious practice and value has been spiritualized, medicalized, psychologized, and secularized as it has been reshaped to address the needs of middle class Americans. General readers, practitioners, teachers, authors, and promoters alike will value Wilson's insights into the way in which mindfulness as a technique to address suffering has come to mean many different things for many different people. Wilson again shows himself to be the leading interpreter of the American Buddhist scene." --Richard Seager, Bates and Benjamin Professor of Religious Studies, Hamilton College


"In this well-honed study, Jeff Wilson explores the mindfulness movement in the context of modern American religion and culture. As he does so, we are invited to reflect upon the multi-faceted phenomena of religious transformation, appropriation, and commodification of old world meditation techniques and new world realities. An engaging and enlightening read." --Jan Willis, author of Dreaming Me: Black, Baptist and Buddhist-One Woman's Spiritual Journey


About the Author


Jeff Wilson is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and East Asian Studies at Renison University College (University of Waterloo). He is the author of Mourning the Unborn Dead: A Buddhist Ritual Comes to America (2009) and Dixie Dharma: Inside a Buddhist Temple in the American South (2012).

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Peter King on September 23, 2014
Format: Hardcover
I found this book interesting and thought-provoking. It helped clarify for me the rapid evolution of mindfulness from its relatively ignored position as the seventh factor of the Noble Eightfold Path to the buzzword that seems to have launched a thousand self-help manuals. Jeff Wilson picks his way methodically and non-judgmentally (though occasionally he may have his tongue in his cheek) through his subject. Although he is a Buddhist himself, his interest is not in whether mindfulness "works" so much as in the coming together of different cultures and the resultant dynamics that play out. "I seek not to be an advocate or a critic of the mindfulness movement, but a chronicler and an analyst."

He begins with the history of how the term mindfulness evolved. It was as recently as 1910 that the Rhys Davids (husband and wife team) settled on the translation of "mindfulness" for the Pali "sati" in their translation of the Mahasatipatthana Sutta, and subsequent translators of the Pali Text Society followed suit. Wilson picks out Nyaponika Thera's "Satipatthana, The Heart of Buddhist Meditation" as particularly influential prior to the 1970s, in that he clearly promoted the practical benefits of mindfulness though Nyaponika Thera saw it in the context of a Buddhist practice and one that primarily benefited from a retreat setting. However, the 1970s saw a number of new factors emerging, including: (1) The return to the USA of western teachers trained in Asia, such as Joseph Goldstein and Jack Kornfield (2) The emergence of Thich Nhat Hanh into popular best seller awareness (3) Jon Kabat-Zinn beginning to offer MBSR.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on August 11, 2014
Format: Hardcover
Wilson provides a lucid scholarly analysis of mindfulness in the US. This book does not advocate for or against the practice of mindfulness, nor does it engage with the question of whether mindfulness actually results in the benefits practitioners and proponents of it claim. Rather it shows how mindfulness fits into the larger historical and social context of Buddhism and religion in the US. Throughout the book readers will find how well-known Buddhists came to emphasize mindfulness and present it as something practical for everyone, while often downplaying its connection to Buddhism or anything religious. Wilson astutely points out how most publications on mindfulness in English before the 1970s were not about using mindfulness to enhance common everyday activities (e.g., eating) nor about using it to deal with stress. Mindful America is highly recommended for anyone seeking a deeper knowledge of mindfulness and why so many Americans have come to embrace it.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Dan Smith on November 19, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In his book, Wilson does a great job of critiquing the commercialization of mindfulness and sketching a history of the evolution of the concept. I particularly enjoyed his discussion of the rhetoric of science being applied in the Western world as a selling point.

However, there were many inconsistencies in the book that were frustrating. Wilson is a religious scholar and has significant knowledge in Buddhist studies, so it puzzles the reader when he seems to be ignorant about the most basic connections in Buddhist thought (for instance, that desire and insecurity are considered inherently linked rather than being separate concepts altogether, pg. 167).

I was also surprised at how poorly he misrepresented his argument about Western mindfulness leaders pushing the "science" of mindfulness. This is definitely worthy of investigation, but in his quest to defame these leaders, he misrepresents the evidence by not citing the Dalai Lama's numerous commentaries on this exact point. He did such thorough research, but I got the impression he was purposefully ignoring evidence - in several cases - simply to further his arguments. He also cites random "mindfulness teachers" to support his points or poke fun at their "ridiculous" words, many times without explaining who they are or why their comments are relevant.

In general, it seemed like a very condescending attempt at a take-down of mindfulness, with particular defaming (and often puzzling) words aimed at popular mindfulness teachers, such as Thich Nhat Hanh, Jack Kornfield, and Jon Kabat-Zinn. There were parts where I wondered, "Why is this relevant?" On pg. 140, he attacks Jon Kabat-Zinn for posting his academic credentials in a bio on a book sleeve.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mark J. Knickelbine on December 18, 2014
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The first full look at the impact of Buddhism and the mindfulness movement on American culture makes for a fascinating and important read. Wilson tells the story of how both Asians and Westerners contributed to the evolution of Buddhism from a supernatural religion based in monasticism to a secular movement based on the personal benefits of meditation. As he relates, Buddhism has always been enmeshed in the economic and cultural dynamics of every society in which it existed; the "selling of mindfulness" in American market capitalism is an extension of that process. Wilson loves to detail some of the lurid ways mindfulness has been used to promote better sex, a better golf swing, better performance in the board room and on the battle field, etc. He sometimes overgeneralizes from these juicy tidbits, and paints the entire mindfulness movement with salacious characteristics as a result. Wilson also focuses on commercial marketing of mindfulness without observing the many free and low-cost resources available to those who wish to practice. And his conclusion that American mindfulness is a form of metaphysical religion akin to Christian Science was hard for me to swallow. But this book is indispensable for anyone who wants to know how the practices and ethics of Buddhism are changing American culture, and how Buddhism is being transformed in return. Plus it's fun to read!
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Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture
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