Teaching Meditation To Classes In Philosophy

3615 words - 15 pages

Teaching Meditation to Classes in Philosophy

ABSTRACT: In alignment with the overall theme of the congress, "Philosophy Teaching Humanity," this paper proposes that teachers of philosophy consider instructing their students in simple techniques of meditation. By meditation I mean the practice of mindfulness which typically begins by paying clear, steady, non-reactive attention to the sensations of one's own breathing, and then extending this attention to embrace all bodily sensations, feelings, moods, thoughts, and intentions. I discuss how to integrate meditation practically in the philosophy classroom and then respond to three objections that have been raised to that practice. I then ...view middle of the document...

And so we ask ourselves how can we best use the power that we have?

Clearly we can help our students and fellow human beings by teaching them skills of discursive rationality; when we can define our meanings precisely, use our terms consistently, argue coherently, and adhere to high standards of evidence, then we are better able to avoid dogmatism and bring an effective intelligence to bear on the problems of living that face us. These skills will always be a precious resource philosophy can offer humanity.

And yet there is much more to philosophy than this. Even in the classic European tradition there is vision as well as analysis, the intuitive as well as the discursive, noesis as well as dianoia (Plato ), intellectus as well as ratio (Aquinas ), meditative thinking as well as calculative thinking (Heidegger ). The classic Asian traditions of Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism are, of course, even stronger in their emphasis on meditation as a path to wisdom. As we seek to inspire our students with a love of wisdom, then, we need to convey both dimensions of philosophic thought.

And that brings me to my particular proposal: I propose that teachers of philosophy seriously consider instructing their students in simple techniques of meditation. Competency in basic meditation is not that difficult to achieve, and the long term benefits of conveying this skill and perspective to a wide spectrum of people is potentially very great. I believe that the benefits that can be gained are academic, personal, social, and potentially even planetary in scope. I have been exploring the uses of meditation in the undergraduate classroom for 13 years now originally in connection with courses in Asian philosophy and would like to 1) share some thoughts on how practically to integrate meditation into a philosophy classroom and 2) sketch out some of the potential benefits just alluded to.

II. A Model: Introducing Meditation to the Classroom

By meditation I mean the practice of mindfulness, training the mind to focus in a steady and non-judging way on the different phases of human experience. Mindfulness is an ancient practice cultivated strongly in Buddhist traditions but which overlaps contemplative practices in many other traditions. Mindfulness practice typically begins by paying clear, steady, non-reactive attention to the sensations of ones own breathing and then extending this wise and compassionate attention to embrace all bodily sensations and then feelings, moods, thoughts, and intentions. One way to describe the goal of mindfulness is the cultivation of bare attention: the ability to focus on any aspect of life whatsoever with this calm concentration.

Introducing students to meditation takes some careful preparation; turning the lights out and asking them to sit up straight, close their eyes, and pay attention to their breathing would otherwise be distractingly strange to them. I have found the following process to be successful. On the...

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