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The Popularization of Meditation

The Popularization of Meditation

(p.17) 2 The Popularization of Meditation
Michal Pagis
University of Chicago Press

This chapter offers a social movement perspective on the westward diffusion of vipassana meditation from its monastic context in Burma to the contemporary Western secular sphere, illustrating how meditation was carried by social, political and economic changes. First, as a reaction to colonialism, Buddhist evangelistic movements moved vipassana from its traditional monastic sphere into that of the laity, a development that was picked up by Burmese politicians as a way to produce a new national and collective identity. Second, vipassana was a small slice of the exotic “Oriental” interests of intellectual and economic elites in the US and Europe, alongside esoteric societies and occult-oriented groups such as Theosophy. Third, in the sixties vipassana was imported to the West by middle-class European and American young adults as a part of their search for lifestyles that defied normative authority. Last, vipassana was picked up by parts of the intellectual stratum in the West—neuroscientists, psychiatrists, and university students who bridged science and meditation, moving meditation from Buddhism and counterculture to the mind/body health model.

Keywords:   social movement, western, diffusion, Burma, counterculture, science, health, meditation, Buddhism, Theosophy

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