Mindfulness in Health Care
One of the most significant Buddhist influences in the West does not call itself Buddhist at all. This takes the form of mindfulness in health care, practiced every day in the United States and the rest of the Western world. Medical patients with chronic pain and other debilitating conditions engage in the same meditation that the Buddha did centuries ago, except that they are not practicing “Buddhism” at all; they are developing skills to get relief from their conditions.
The fulcrum for this worldwide movement resides in Worcester, Massachusetts, at the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Healthcare, and Society, founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn in 1979. Since that time, hundreds of thousands of people have been exposed to Buddha outside the context of formal Buddhism. Almost every major medical center in the United States has a mindfulness-based stress reduction program (MBSR), and there are hundreds or professionals worldwide who do this work. These include programs and professionals at prestigious university hospitals such as Harvard and Duke Medical Schools. This is, perhaps, the most widespread application of Buddhism in the world.
This practice helps people from all walks of life and from all religious traditions. Since MBSR patients are not being trained in Buddhism, they carry on with whatever beliefs and practices they have. What makes MBSR so special is that it has translated the Buddha's teaching into a practical and readily-learned eight-week format that is effective. Thirty years of research has confirmed its effectiveness in reducing stress and negative emotions, improving coping skills, and helping patients to get on with their lives.