Because ELK-Health clinicians and mentors have been so closely associated with the development of mindfulness-centred clinical work, and ELK-Consultancy with Emotional Intelligence and Self-compassion based Management Supervision, we have occasionally been described as a “mindfulness organisation” or even a “Buddhist organisation”. In fact, we are neither of these.
ELK-Health is expert, qualified, registered, and insured clinicians, mentors, biomedical scientists and researchers dedicated to the public’s health and wellbeing, operating in as many places where the best care is difficult to access, as we can.
ELK-Consultancy is a world leader in monitoring and maximising key people’s mood and emotional wellbeing through our unique experience and understanding of the interaction between hormones and behaviour in those who lead and manage.
We are nothing more; we are nothing less.
We use evidence-based science in our work – never methods based on anecdotal, ephemeral, supernatural or untested theories.
Yet, still many people think of us as the people who brought mindfulness to their town or village – or clinicians who get groups to sit quietly using the occasional chiming of a bell in a way that seems strikingly like what seems to happen in a Buddhist temple.
So what is ELK-Health’s relationship with mindfulness and Buddhism?
Gautama Buddha saw himself as a healer of people with mood and emotional difficulties who needed a new viewpoint on their pain in order to gain insight into it to stop their suffering. Buddhism has become a religion, but it began with this simple philosophy about health and healing. ELK-Health uses much of this understanding about what causes stress, anxiety and suffering.
What ELK-Health doesn’t do is use, or become involved with, any spiritual or religious aspects associated with Buddhist teaching. Everyone who attends our clinical or preventative programmes, of any religion or none, feels comfortable. We have no philosophical or spiritual axe to grind: We are a health and wellbeing organisation. The only reason we use any of the many methods we employ (which include mindfulness, CBT, hypnosis and many other interventions also approved by NICE – The National Institute for Health & Care Excellence) is to help people become happier and healthier.
There are two or three major schools of Buddhism, depending on which scholar you choose to follow:
Theravāda (‘The School of the Elders’), prevalent in Sri Lanka, Thailand, the Lao Peoples’ Republic, Cambodia and Burma. It is a minority faith in Vietnam, Bangladesh, China, Malaysia and Nepal.
Of course, with a 2,500 year history, the interplay between the various schools of Buddhism are very complicated and not for this short essay, the purpose of which is to give a quick insight into the difference between religious Buddhism and the use of the teachings and inspiration of the Buddha in secular, clinical practice – which is one aspect of what we do at ELK-Health. However, it is safe to say that this school of Buddhism is often thought of as being the most ancient – perhaps because its underlying source is the earliest collection of teaching of the Buddha, the Pāli Canon, which is thought to have been first written down in 29BCE (450 years after the death of Gautama Buddha) after generations of it being handed down orally.
Theravāda is not the rather grey, conservative, even stern, and dull version of Buddhism (to be pushed aside in favour of seemingly more colourful and exciting versions such as the Vajrayana branches of Zen and Tantra) it is sometimes made out to be. A religion this old and widespread has few outright truths – it is sometimes flexible, giving and open in its interpretation; other times not.
Each of the two (or three depending on which reference source you go to) branches of the religion have areas that are conservative, liberal, ecumenical, dogmatic, nationalistic, universal, esoteric, supernatural and scientific. Buddhism is very old, geographically very widely distributed and has a large number of members practising it.
No religion on earth, of this age and with this number of people, has managed to avoid breaking into many sections and fragments. We should not be surprised that understanding Buddhism is not easy! Luckily, to be a fantastic and effective mindfulness-centred therapist, mentor or management supervisor, you don’t need to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of it.
Before we move on to the next major branch, you may like to take a quick look at modern Buddhist movements outside Asia.
Mahāyana (‘The Great Vehicle’) which teaches that one should put helping others reach nirvana before reaching it oneself – and, thereby, following the path of Bodhisattvayāna (or the ‘Bodhisattva Vehicle’) – this is often described as the ‘second turning of the wheel’ taught at Vulture’s Peak – the first turning being the teaching, by the Buddha, of the Four Noble Truths at Varanasi in the 5th century BCE.
As we mentioned, depending on which scholar you choose to follow, Mahāyana may, or may not, include Vajrayana – the ‘Tantric’ or ‘Mantrayāna’ Buddhism, sometimes called ‘The Thunderbolt Way’ which is practiced famously in Tibet, but also in Korea, China, Japan and parts of Vietnam, and sometimes (controversially) described as the ‘third turning of the wheel’. Vajrayana includes a complex mixture of teaching and esoteric beliefs.
In essence, if you are happy to accept a degree of simplification appropriate to a website article by a clinician on a very complex philosophy and accompanying religion in which he has a limited knowledge (smiley face available on request) then this is a start to understanding the complexities of Buddhism.