MEDITATION is fast becoming a fash­ion­able tool for improving your mind. With mounting sci­en­tific evi­dence that the prac­tice can enhance cre­ativity, memory and scores on stan­dard­ized intel­li­gence tests, interest in its prac­tical ben­e­fits is growing. A number of “mind­ful­ness” training pro­grams, like that devel­oped by the engi­neerChade-​​Meng Tan at Google, and con­fer­ences like Wisdom 2.0 for busi­ness and tech leaders, promise atten­dees insight into how med­i­ta­tion can be used to aug­ment indi­vidual per­for­mance, lead­er­ship and productivity.

This is all well and good, but if you stop to think about it, there’s a bit of a dis­con­nect between the (per­fectly com­mend­able) pur­suit of these ben­e­fits and the pur­pose for which med­i­ta­tion was orig­i­nally intended. Gaining com­pet­i­tive advan­tage on exams and increasing cre­ativity in busi­ness weren’t of the utmost con­cern to Buddha and other early med­i­ta­tion teachers. As Buddha him­self said, “I teach one thing and one only: that is, suf­fering and the end of suf­fering.” For Buddha, as for many modern spir­i­tual leaders, the goal of med­i­ta­tion was as simple as that. The height­ened con­trol of the mind that med­i­ta­tion offers was sup­posed to help its prac­ti­tioners see the world in a new and more com­pas­sionate way, allowing them to break free from the cat­e­go­riza­tions (us/​them, self/​other) that com­monly divide people from one another.

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