While Buddhist thought has been awakening the West the church has been sleeping. The influence of Buddhism on Western spirituality and psychology is part of a wider spiritual revolution and cultural quest for inner freedom in a society that is post-secular.
I particularly want to focus on the influence of Buddhist psychology and mindfulness on Western psychology because it serves as an illustration of this wider picture. I also believe it is the central and most significant import, not only for its subject matter but because it is being taken very seriously.
Mindfulness from Buddhist roots has influenced cognitive behavioural therapy, psychodynamic therapy, humanistic psychology, brain science, ethics, spirituality, health psychology and positive psychology, to name just a few. There are many Buddhist approaches but it is the Theravade tradition of insight meditation that has particularly influenced Western clinical practice.
The pioneer who introduced Buddhist mindfulness meditation into Western clinical practice was Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in 1979, founding a stress-reduction programme in 1979 known as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR).
He was influenced by teachers at the Insight Meditation Society also in Massachusetts, who get their mindfulness meditation practices from teachers within the Theravada tradition, in particular the forest monastic tradition, and the practice of intensive satipathana vipassana (insight) meditation.
His MBSR approach has also influenced the development of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), the Third Wave of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which uses the same mindfulness meditation practices.
In the literature that first came out within psychotherapy pioneers asserted these meditation practices had been separated from their religious roots. In more recent literature Buddhist psychology is much more part of the debate, with Buddhism being reframed as a wise and ancient psychology rather than a religion.
Mindfulness as a capacity for human awareness and attention is a universal human capacity, and there are Buddhist, psychological and Christian theories about this capacity; there are also Buddhist, psychological and Christian practices that develop mindful awareness.
However, Christian theories and practices do not feature in the market place. As Christians we have been guilty of what has been called the sin of religion, so full of ourselves, that we have neglected our contemplative/mindful roots and failed to notice a new spiritual awakening within Western culture.
Within mindfulness learning theory there is a saying that 'the certain person has stopped paying attention.' We have stopped paying attention and need to wake up.
There is a huge opportunity for the church to engage in contemplative evangelism. One way is to get Christian contemplative practices out there in the market-place.
I have written 'A Book of Sparks A Study in Christian MindFullness' to try and enable this.
We ourselves won't see the potential for contemplative evangelism until we become people of contemplation. We do have something to offer. The great distinctive of Christian mindfulness is being filled with all the fullness of the presence of God (Ephesians 3:19).
The other great distinctive we have to offer is the honesty of not trying to take out the hard bits of the spiritual journey. But we ourselves cannot do the easy thing of turning our back on this spiritual awakening. We have to go out there with respect and love bringing the one who is the master and commander of attention and awareness, Jesus of Nazereth.