Utilitarian Buddhists

On her blog Wandering Dhamma, Brooke Schedneck writes about how meditation is often presented in terms of its practical benefit.

One idea that was repeated frequently in my reading of the stack of books the librarian continued to pile higher and higher at my desk was the ‘practical benefits’ of meditation. The way that contemporary meditation teachers are discussing these more mundane benefits I would say is a kind of reinterpretation. In the early suttas we don’t see a proliferation of writings about how meditation will help with stress at work or managing emotions during complicated family situations. Obviously this has much to do with changing the tradition so it fits into a modern context, but it is more than just updating—there is a reinterpretation here that focuses more on practical benefits. But the question is why? Why is discussing more practical benefits necessary? Why this persuasion? Can the technique and the tradition of meditation within Buddhism speak for itself?

I certainly fall into this group of people who reinterpret meditation in terms of its usefulness. I suppose that this framing of meditation makes it easier to sell because it aligns with themes understood by a broad audience (anxiety reduction, blood pressure, concentration building, etc.) and also is easy to prove. But it’s another thing altogether were our only understanding of meditation to be in the context of simpler utilitarian terms.