A: Thank you very much for taking the time today for an interview during the congress of the Akademie Heiligenfeld on the topic: Mindfulness, Evolution, Consciousness, Being Human. What do these terms or qualities mean to you?
B: We will have to see this in the context of the European history of the last 100 years. We are moving technically and technologically in a tremendously accelerated dynamic of progress that has not only brought positive results. It has made our world more pleasing on the outside and has enabled enormous progress to be made in the medical field, for example, in curing infectious diseases. But it has also made a significant contribution to the destruction of the human inner world through a kind of mental decay. We see this in the increase in psychosomatic or psychological disorders, stress phenomena, diseases of the cardiovascular system and possibly also in oncology. There is a destructiveness and destructiveness that we have not had in the history of mankind. Technologically we are very advanced, but not human. As a result, two great historical models emerged in the first half of the 20th century, documented in Oswald Spengler’s work “The Fall of the Occident” on the one hand and Jean Gebser’s model “Origin and Present” on the other, in which he depicts the development of consciousness into a diaphanous transnational consciousness that overcomes the European dualism of body and soul or of matter and spirit. It is a matter of becoming aware of these forms of consciousness, also of promoting potentials of our consciousness through attention and of awakening to new levels of consciousness, as one says in Buddhism. This is the practice of mindfulness. Mindfulness is not a bit of stress reduction, and mindfulness is not at all a tried and tested means to conceal the consequences more cleverly with our desert destructive power, but it is an exercise in which we experimentally deal with our own consciousness involving cognitive, emotional and social elements in such a way that we promote potentials to overcome this fundamental dualism.
A: In your lecture on Mindfulness and Creativity at the Congress, you will explore how increased vitality can emerge from within ourselves. How would you define this self that enables an intensification of experiential and creative processes?
B: Against the background of the differences or contradictions between Buddhist and European (ultimately Platonic or Aristotelian) worldviews, the question always arises: What is the ego, what is the self? This is a philosophically complex question. I answer this question pragmatically. This self is a will that is informed, shaped by a view and a feeling, by something cognitive, and the self also has an emotional component. So cognition, emotion and will play together. What does this insight mean? The realization of the connection of all things. The feeling of discovering this connection brings deep joy. And if this comes together with the will of creation, then creativity, the transgression of self-imposed, self-inflicted or through our cultural development self-drawn boundaries arises. To cross such borders through creativity means: man is not as he appears or is defined, but man can become, he is a being of possibilities.
A: To what extent, for example, can the medium of calligraphy contribute to this, to which you will refer in your lecture?
B: This is a central theme for me, also because I wrote my last book about it together with the composer and conductor Hans Zender (Sehen-Verstehen-Sehen. Meditations zu Zen-Kalligraphien, 2019). Calligraphy is a wonderful exercise in which body and soul or body and spirit become one. The calligraphy is formed at the moment, it is a mirror and a presentation of what is in consciousness right now. Calligraphy is an echo of one’s own state of consciousness. By writing or looking at a calligraphy, I discover something within me that corresponds to the artistic power of the person who wrote it.
A: Does the quality of mindfulness work there?
B: I distinguish between mindfulness and attention. Attention is a state of consciousness that persists, mindfulness is rather an exercise with which I want to approach a state. When I am in the creative process, there is no mindfulness, only spontaneity.
A: In his book “The Power of Meditation”, Peter Sedlmeier has compiled scientific findings on the various meditation practices. At one point in the book he refers to a study carried out at the Aurobindo Ashram which concludes that meditation is about giving up the ego, calming the mind and learning to feel the presence of something greater.
At the beginning they talked about the fact that man is no longer able to follow inwardly with his outer form. Would you say that the quality of mindfulness might be important here?
B: I want to answer on two levels. On the first level, a brief commentary on these studies. Sedlmeier describes this in great detail, he refers to many studies and metastudies. And my impression is that we still know too little to actually be able to make precise and verifiable quantifying statements here. For example, when we talk about compassion, we may mean very different states. Above all, psychosomatically oriented cognitive science is still too early to describe the very subtle relationships of cognitive and emotional processes more precisely. Perhaps our questions are also wrong, far too narrowed or too much determined by one-sided European guidelines or Greek philosophy. In Buddhism we have enormously differentiated systems of states of consciousness and of consciousness factors with which we know nothing to do. We do not know how to translate this because we have no categories. We don’t know whether the long enumerations that are made there are only concerned with the systematization needs of states, i.e. whether the 10-number or the 12-number of states should simply represent something “complete”, or whether these numbers actually represent distinguishable states of consciousness that were already empirically determined at that time.
The second level of the answer is my meditation work. As a mediation teacher in the Zen tradition, I experience that the individual diversity of altered states of consciousness is very pronounced. It’s like in art, we can distinguish certain styles, but the crucial thing about every work of art is the individuality of the artist. That’s why these states are scientifically impossible or very difficult to grasp. We can describe individual elements, but the constellation of such force fields is unique for every human being, in art as well as in meditation. This is what makes them so beautiful and therefore meditation states can ultimately be described in aesthetic rather than cognitive categories.
A: May I ask what has led you in your personal life to be so intensively involved in the exploration of spiritual consciousness and its effects on society?
B: The encounter with people who have come into such deep states and radiate liveliness, joy and a turning to other people. Of course, I first studied texts as an academic. But the inspiration to practise and to create my own path through life came from encounters with people.
A: Imagine, we are 10 years further. What would be your vision, your wish towards a clear change?
B: My wish and my vision is that we shape the ecosophical experience – both in our relationship to the world around us and in our relationship to the inner world – in such a way that we can still live well on earth in the future. 10 years can be enough to put the world on a good track, but they can also drive it completely against the wall. I deliberately say not ecologically, but ecosophically, because for me the restriction on the logos, the logical, is too narrow. We cannot solve these things by improved technologies or improved strategies of all kinds alone, but we need Sophia, the wisdom. This is a complete restructuring of our lifestyle, our way of thinking and our way of feeling. Everything we have in our lifestyle must be put to the test: Is it ecosophically helpful or not? And the same applies to the mental inner states. Many of our meditation practices lead us into states that are not helpful, that encapsulate us, that perhaps also make us arrogant. We have tendencies towards narcissistic behaviour that can be caused by mediation. Meditation can therefore lead to very different states, which we must be aware of. I wish to develop spiritual practice in psychic and social wholeness, and I am confident that if we practice in this sense, we can reshape ourselves as a part of the world around us. In my experience as a university teacher, as a mediation teacher, as a father of children, as a grandfather of grandchildren, the raised index finger does not change anything. The fear of environmental disaster will not change our behaviour. It’s about concentrating on enjoying a sip of water, an erotic encounter or a nature encounter and experiencing the joy that lies in it. It depends on quality and not on quantity, and this enables joy of life and fulfilment of life. To point this out is, in my opinion, the great task of us who are engaged in these areas.
A: That was a nice concluding word. Thank you very much for this interview.
Interview made by Patricia Lüning-Klemm.