The Buddha’s Psycho-spirituality at the Service of Ignatian Spirituality
Lawrence Soosai SJ

[In this article, in Part-A, I express the fact that the Buddha’s discovery of Universal Human Psychology and its Dynamics is a great help for all those who want to grow in self-awareness, self-purification, self-mastery and spiritual perfection. Also here, I point out some of the similarities between the Buddhist Psycho-spirituality and the Ignatian Christ-centric Spirituality. In Part-B, I describe how the Buddha’s psycho-therapeutic Meditation, namely, Mindfulness Exercises facilitates one to practice Ignatian Spirituality more effectively in many ways. In this article, only Theravda Buddhist Spirituality is considered.]


Introduction: St. Ignatius of Loyola, before his conversion, was a man given to worldly pleasures, power, pride and vain glory. But once God intervened in his life, he got converted and then entirely offered his life for the service of the Kingdom of God in companionship with Jesus Christ. To carry on the Mission of Christ he also established the Society of Jesus so that many more men may join his company in serving the Lord. To make all his companions rooted, grounded and centered in Jesus Christ, St. Ignatius wrote the Spiritual Exercises (SE) which, each and every Jesuit undergoes to become a member of this Society of Jesus which he founded.

Though encountering Jesus through contemplating upon his birth, life, values, mission, suffering, death and resurrection is at the core of the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius has introduced in and through his SE a few spiritual practices which collectively constitute what is known as Ignatian Spirituality (IS). Some of the significant spiritual practices of IS are:

1) Daily Particular Examination of Conscience ( SE: 24-26 )
2) General Examination of Conscience (Thoughts, Words, Deeds; (SE: 32-43)
3) Contemplation to attain Love (SE: 230-237)
4) The Discernment of Spirits (SE: 313-336)

How to train oneself in these spiritual practices is well explained by Ignatius in the SE. The hall marks of IS are Introspection, Self-purification, Indifference, Discernment, Interiority, and Being men of God or living in the Spirit. The Buddhist Meditational Practices too aim at these spiritual and interiority skills though their terminologies to refer to these spiritual skills could be different.

The two main aspects that I deal in this paper are :

Part- A) The relevance of the Buddha’s Psycho-spirituality in our development as spiritual beings and its similarity with Ignatian Spirituality (Theory: Psycho-spiritual Soteriological Philosophy)

Part- B) A few Buddhist Meditational Practices which can help us practice various aspects of IS very effectively. (Practice: Soteriological Psycho-therapy)

The Buddha’s Contributions in the discovery of Universal Human Psychology, (Human Psycho-system):

Before we go into the Buddhist Meditations proper, it is good to dwell upon those facts related to a human person, which are so to say the specific contributions of the Buddha to the entire humanity. It is important to note that these useful facts are not sufficiently explained in Christianity. Nevertheless they are very essential and relevant for anybody’s growth in Interiority, Self-examination cum exploration and Spirituality.

Some of the main contributions of the Buddha that promote in us introspection, self-awareness, self-purification, interiority, composure, compassion and diligence are his discoveries and explanations on:

1) The parts that constitute a human individual ( This answers the question, ‘What is a human being?) : According to the Buddha, the material (physical) and immaterial (psychological) parts that make up a human person are: a) One material part, namely, Body and four immaterial parts, namely, b) feelings c) Perceptions d) Mental Formations and e) Consciousness. (S III 86-91; BD 98-102). These five parts or dimensions of a human being are otherwise called as the five aggregates and they together form a unit which, according to the Buddhists, is conventionally called a human person.

2) Their unity and inter-connections: The five aggregates are very much inter-connected and inter-dependent and they function as one unit. The psychological (immaterial) dimensions cannot exist on their own without the body (the material dimension) and the body cannot survive on its own without the psychological dimensions.

3) Human Psycho-dynamics; (Interaction between the human individual and the external world through sense-faculties:

The importance of Senses: We human beings encounter, experience and enjoy realities around us through our five sense faculties (eye, ear, nose, tongue, body) and their coordinator the mind. In Buddhism, the mind is also considered as a sense faculty since it can reproduce mentally, the objects of all the five sense faculties through memory, imagination, ideation and reflection. Hence, the number of sense faculties is counted as six in Buddhism. According to the Buddha, for a human individual, who is a combination of five aggregates, the six sense faculties and their respective objects make up the whole of Universe and once these six faculties are no more, the Universe too is non existent for that individual. Thus in Buddhism, the six sense faculties in a human being along with his constitutive five dimensions, form the basis for existence, knowledge, moral action, suffering, happiness, rebirth and final liberation (Nibbna).(A. II. 48)

Role of our Senses in our life: In our day today life we all know, how important our sense faculties are. We interact and learn about Nature and all existing realities through our senses. We enjoy and cherish the beauty and wonders of all that exists by means of our senses. Our eyes delight in attractive sights; our ears enjoy melodious sounds; our nose looks for sweet fragrances; tongue craves for tasty foods; body longs for warm touches; and our mind, through memory, recollection and imagination indulges in the pleasures and enjoyments of all the above mentioned senses. Though enjoying pleasures through all our senses is approved in all the religions, over-indulgences in sensual pleasures are not approved by any religion. Moderation in the enjoyment of sensual pleasures is thus advised in all the religions.

That we enjoy pleasures through objects that are pleasing to our senses is a common knowledge. Also it is true that we long for or crave for or desire things which are pleasing to our senses. But it is also a fact that there are things in life which are displeasing to our senses. Our natural reaction to things that are displeasing to us is aversion or rejection or sometimes even hatred. And there are also things in life, about which we do not have any knowledge or understanding. Towards such things we are generally neutral. For example, if we hear somebody speaking an unknown and strange language, we may like or dislike the sound of the language but with regard to its meaning we will be totally unaware and so we will be neutral (neither liking nor disliking) towards it. From these deliberations, we understand the truth that liking or disliking a thing very much depends on our knowledge or understanding of that thing and that towards things in life we respond in three ways, namely, liking or disliking or in a neutral way based on the knowledge we have of them. And this basic psychological truth that based on our perception of things that we interact with, we like or dislike or be neutral to them and that right perception of things (Wisdom) is very much necessary for our appropriate and healthy dealings with them is the pivotal point in Buddhist morality and spirituality.

Human Psycho-dynamics according to Buddhism : As we have seen earlier, in Buddhist understanding, a human being is constituted of five dimensions, namely, Body, Feelings, Perceptions, Mental Formations and Consciousness. According to Theravda Buddhism, the five sense faculties, namely, sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch are situated in the physical sense organs of eye, ear, nose, tongue, and skin; and the sixth sense-faculty mind is located at the heart base respectively. When a person is awake and active these six sense faculties constantly influence and determine the nature and dynamics of the five dimensions of that person.

For example, if the eyes of a conscious person come in contact with a beautiful and ripe mango, the coming together of the three, namely, the sense organ-eye, the sense object- mango and the consciousness of that person, produces the image or sense impression of that mango in the mind of that man. Immediately perception and feeling with regard to that mango arise in the man. With his previous experiences, if he perceives that mango to be good for both his physical as well as psychological dimensions then pleasant feelings will arise in him but if he perceives it to be bad for his both the dimensions then unpleasant feelings will arise in him. (a physical activity of eating a mango can produce both physical as well as psychological benefits; The mango can physically nourish the one who eats it and as well as can make him happy mentally). Suppose if he has no previous knowledge about mangoes, then he may study and investigate the truths about mangoes; once he has collected the truth about mangoes, he might reason out (mental formations) whether a mango with such and such qualities would be helpful to him or harmful to him. And once he has made the judgment, he would make the decision (with some intention and volition- aspects of mental formations) whether to eat that mango or to discard it. Once he has made a decision, he would actualize the decision by doing according to his decision. In this case, he might either eat (bodily action) the mango or discard it. Here we see how a simple act of a sense organ (the eye, seeing a mango) influence and activate the five dimensions of a human being.

Principles of Buddhist Psycho-dynamics: From the above description, we come to know how much inter-connected and inter-related the five dimensions of a human being are with the sense faculties. The same psycho-dynamics (operation between senses and the five dimensions of a human being) takes place when other sense organs, like ear, nose, tongue, skin and mind of a human being come in contact consciously with their respective sense objects, namely, sound, smell, taste, touch and memory. The various steps of the above mentioned psycho-dynamics are noted below in their chronological sequence:

1) Firstly, Contact (between sense organ, sense object and Consciousness) takes place; then
2) Sense Impression of the object occurs in the consciousness of the person; after that
3) Perception (identification) and Feeling (affective simultaneous response) about the object arise in the mind; (according to the Buddha perception and feeling arise simultaneously M I 293.); that leads to
4) Thinking, reasoning out, judging, Volition and decision-making with regard to the object in consideration; (all these aspects constitute Mental Formations and they are essentially mental activities (M I 112); finally the decision, which is a mental action is executed externally through
5) Physical Action either in the form of speech or bodily activities.

In the 5 steps mentioned above, we see that before the physical action (of speech or any bodily activity) is done the mental action of judging and decision- making (with some intention or motivation) takes place first. According to the Buddha each and every external moral action, necessarily has to be preceded by corresponding mental action in the form of judging, intending, willing and decision- making. In fact, for the Buddha, primarily, the mental action of willing (volition) and decision- making in itself is action already done; and speech and bodily actions are just mere external expressions of that action done internally. Cetanham bhikkhave kammam vadmi;.. Cetayitva kamma karoti kyena vcya manas Nibbedhika-pariyy Sutta (A III 415)

Further for any decision making (in other words for any moral action to be done), knowledge about the things or individuals about whom the decision is made and the disposition and intention of the decision- maker (in short, Wisdom of that person) are very important. Though the sense organs, sense impressions and the corresponding feelings they generate are also very important and very powerful in any moral action, they are just the initial factors of moral actions. But the key and master factor or the deciding factor which finally helps the doer to choose which type of action to be done is his knowledge, experience, judgment and discernment concerning the issue at hand. In other words, the Wisdom of an individual is the root or the key factor that helps that individual to choose the right or wrong course of action at all circumstances.

4) The Psychological-Causality operative in moral and spiritual realm (The Four Noble Truths):

According to the Buddha the psychological roots of craving for things we like; hatred for things we dislike and the ignorance of why we like and dislike things, are the negative mental motives or roots which cause all our sufferings. And detachment, compassion and wisdom are the mental roots which cause happiness and liberation in us. Therefore the Buddha suggests that we constantly remove these negative mental states (craving, hatred and ignorance) through meditation and refill our hearts and mind with detachment, generosity, compassion, and wisdom. Now the questions that arise are, why and how do the negative mental roots of craving, hatred and ignorance arise in our minds? And how can we replace them with positive qualities of detachment, generosity, compassion and wisdom? To answer these questions, the Buddha has discovered Human Psycho Mechanics based on Human Psycho Dynamics through which we can understand who a human being is and how he interacts with himself and the world through his senses and how he becomes happy or unhappy.

5)The Dependent Co-origination: The Dependent Co-origination, according to the Buddha is a Causal Reality that governs the entire Universe and Existence and all the living and non-living beings in them. This Causality states that each and every thing, event and being is affected by causes and conditions in this Universe. But the central search of the Buddha was to find out the Causality that affects Human Suffering and Liberation. After his noble search, the Buddha arrived at a Psycho-ethical Causality as a solution to Human Suffering and Liberation. The various factors that are operative in this Psycho-ethical Causality are:

a. i) Ignorance conditions Mental Formations ii) Mental Formations condition consciousness iii) Consciousness conditions Mentality-Materiality iv) Mentality-Materiality conditions Sense-Faculties v) Sense-Faculties condition Contact vi) Contact conditions Feelings vii) Feelings condition Craving viii) Craving conditions Clinging ix) Clinging conditions Becoming x) Becoming conditions Birth xi) Birth conditions ageing, death, sorrow, suffering and lamentation etc. This is the causal link for the origination of suffering. (M Sutta 38)
b. The causal link for the cessation of suffering is : i) With the cessation of ignorance comes cessation of Mental Formations ii) Cessation of Mental Formations leads to cessation of Consciousness iii) Cessation of consciousness leads to cessation of Mentality-Materiality iv) Cessation of Mentality- Materiality leads to cessation of Sense-Faculties v) Cessation of Sense-Faculties leads to cessation of Contact vi) Cessation of Contact leads to cessation of Feelings vii) Cessation of Feelings leads to cessation of Craving viii) Cessation of Craving leads to cessation of Clinging ix) Cessation of Clinging leads to cessation of Becoming x) Cessation of Becoming leads to cessation of Birth xi) Cessation of Birth leads to cessation of ageing, death, sorrow, suffering and lamentation etc. (M Sutta 38)

We see in these causal links, the involvement of all the five aggregates of a human person; namely,

Ignorance > [1) Mental Formations- 2) Consciousness- 3) Body (Mentality-Materiality + Sense-Faculties)- 4) Perception (Contact)- 5) Feelings] > Craving > Clinging > Becoming > Birth --leads to Suffering.

In the above sequence, we see ignorance as the root and the initial cause of the chain and which conditions the Mental Formations. And in turn, the Mental Formations conditions the rest of the factors in the chain. In fact ‘ignorance’ is not a thing in itself but it is a quality or status of mind (Mental Formations). It is characterized by lack of true knowledge or and the presence of wrong knowledge. So primarily, ‘ignorance’ is the wrong perception of reality or distorted or constructed perception of reality by the mind. This wrong and distorted perception of reality by the mind which is otherwise called as Mental Formations leads one to suffering whereas when this wrong perception of the mind is replaced by correct perception of reality which is wisdom itself, then this transformed mental condition will lead one to happiness.

The particular perception of reality by a person (i.e. by his mind) whether it is a wrong or correct perception, can be referred to as his/her world-view or value system. If our value system is based on wrong perception of reality then that will lead us to sufferings whereas if our value system is based on correct perception of reality then that will lead us to happiness. Fitting this into the causal chain of the Buddha, we can say that the value system of a person affects and influences his/her thinking (feeling included), decision-making and behaviors. This causal link can be explained in another way in the following manner:

Our Values affect our thinking and decision-making, which in turn affects our speech, actions and habitual living; (below, the sign ‘---‘= conditions)

Values (Wisdom) ---Thinking----Decision-making-----Speech---Action----Habits

How our values are formed; and how they affect our behaviors; and how our values can be transformed for the better are explained below:


Human beings interact with the world through their senses for the purpose of acquiring both Economic (material) and Psycho-social (psychological) securities (which can be put together and called as Wholesome Security) so that they can be healthy and happy. Hence the criterion of Wholesome Security becomes a deciding factor for people to give value to things. Based on their sense experiences, social up-bringing, traditions and education, people judge the potentials of a thing to bring Wholesome Security to them, and accordingly they give value and importance to it (this mental and moral activity and can be referred to as value-construction). The important point to be noted here is, that the value a person gives to a thing may be right or wrong (since his lack of experience and bias can influence his interior activity of value-construction) but whatever value he gives to things that will certainly influence his feelings, thinking-pattern and behaviors everyway.

This kind of value-construction, attitude-formation, inclination, orientation and determination towards things and people in the world become part and parcel of Mental-Formations of a person, which we have mentioned earlier as one of the five dimensions of a human being. These constituent aspects of Mental Formations in a person, namely, values, attitudes, inclinations, orientations and determinations become a driving or directing force when he interacts with the things of the world through his senses. As a result, the other four dimensions of a human being, namely, Feelings, Perceptions, Consciousness, Body as well as his moral actions are influenced and determined by the dominating forces of his Mental Formations.

Since the Mental Formations of a person, which includes his values, attitudes and inclinations, play a decisive role in his interactions with the world through his senses, the interior activities of value-construction and attitude-formation in a person with regards to things in the world are very important and crucial. Therefore, to the extent a person has right and noble values, to that extend his thinking, speaking and behaving will be right and noble. And since transformation of value systems are possible in a person, the more and more a person transforms his/her value systems (i.e. his way of looking at things/people/events or way of giving meaning or value to things/people/events) for the better, the better and better would be his/her thinking, speaking and behaviors. And when one’s value system, thinking, speaking and behaviors become better and nobler, then his/her happiness increases and suffering decreases.

(Below, the sign, ( ) denotes ‘leads to’

Transformation of Values Transformation (Tra) of Thinking Tra. Decision

Making Tra. Speech Tra. Action Tra. Habit.

Therefore the main purpose of the Noble Eight-fold Path (which is the Middle Path discovered by the Buddha for the ending of suffering and for the attainment of Liberation) is to bring about transformation in the value systems of people since their value system is the root cause for their suffering or happiness. According to the Buddha, when people wrongly perceive beings as permanent, pleasurable, and with selfhood, then they become greedy, proud and delusive. This leads them to the value system of craving for possessions, hatred towards all those who challenge their pride (Ego) and ignorance towards reality and so they end up in suffering. But when people begin to realize beings as impermanent, without self and suffering-laden then they acquire the value system of detachment, humility cum compassion and wisdom and that leads them to true happiness.

Diagram that represents Transformation of Value System suggested in Buddhism:

a) Wrong Perception of reality: Permanence Ego Pleasurable

Corresponding value system: — Craving----Hatred------Delusion

b) Transf. in the perception of reality: Impermanence No-self Suffering

Corresponding Transf. in Values: ----- Detachment—Compassion—Wisdom

The Noble Eight-fold Path of the Buddha (M I 49) aims at this type of transformation of values from Craving, Hatred and Delusion to the values of Detachment, Compassion and Wisdom. The 8 steps of the Noble Eight-fold Path are:

1) Right View 2) Right Thought 3) Right Speech 4) Right Action 5) Right Livelihood 6) Right Efforts 7) Right Mindfulness and 8) Right Concentration.

These 8 steps are classified into the 3 groups of; Wisdom (1,2); Virtues (3,4,5) and Concentration (6,7,8).

When an individual by following the Noble Eight-fold Path gradually and constantly grows in Wisdom, Virtues and Concentration (Single mindedness), he/she sees the reality as it is (with the characteristics of impermanence, soulless-ness and suffering-laden-ness) and becomes detached, humble, compassionate and wise and proceeds towards Nibbna, the final liberation. Thus the essential psycho-spiritual dynamics of the Noble Eight-fold Path is the transformation of one’s value system based on wrong perception of reality to a liberating value system based on true perception of reality obtained through introspective and insight-producing mindfulness meditations.


The spiritually transforming dynamics of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, is that a sinful and this worldly individual is invited to purify himself/herself in the forgiving grace of God and then is made to encounter the historical Jesus through contemplative meditations on his birth, life, values, death, resurrection and on-going saving presence through the Holy Spirit. Through this spiritual process, the individual is challenged by the life, love and values of Jesus Christ and is called to transform himself/herself in accordance with the values and life of Christ to grow fully in the image, nature, wisdom and holiness of Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth and the Life (Jn.14:6-7). This is the central and the essential spiritual dynamics of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

Jesus Christ, the Way-----the Truth----the Life

Therefore, the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius is aimed at transforming each and every individual who makes it, into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ by following him faithfully and fully. In other words, the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are meant to train persons to die to their worldly values of selfish attachments and ego-centered pride, in the manner of and union with Jesus Christ and to grow in fullness in the life, nature and liberating values of Jesus Christ, namely, Poverty, Humility and Contempt.

The Value Transformation that is brought about through the Spiritual Exercises is represented here below:

a) Values of a Worldly Person before encountering Jesus Christ :

Worldly Values 2nd Tempt. 1st Tempt. 3rd Tempt of Jesus Christ

The Standard of Satan (SE.142) ---- Riches--- Pride----- Vain Glory

b) Value-Transformation in that Person after encountering Jesus in his heart:

Encounter with Jesus’ Incarnation Service Suffering

The Standard of Christ (SE.146) --- Poverty----Humility---- Contempt

Phil. 2: 5-11. (The Values and Attitudes of Jesus Christ)

The need for every Christian to grow in the personhood of Jesus Christ is expressed in the following Biblical passages:


Col. 2: 2-3; “Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

Col. 2: 6-7; “So, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, walk in him, rooted in him and built upon him and established in faith as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

Col. 2:9-10; “For in him dwells the whole fullness of the deity bodily, and you share in this fullness in him, who is the head of every principality and power.”

Col. 3: 17; “And whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving to God the Father through him.”

The Eight-step Dynamics of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius: The Value or Spiritual Transformation that is expected to take place in oneself who makes the Spiritual Exercises can be represented as taking place in eight steps as shown below:

i) Self-purification in the love of God, ii) Encounter with Jesus Christ, iii) Assimilating the values of Christ, iv) Having the Heart and Mind of Christ (growing in the personhood of Christ), v) Thinking like Christ, vi) Speaking like Christ, vii) Acting like Christ, viii) Living in the Spirit (living in union with God the way Jesus lived in union with God). By repeatedly making the Spiritual Exercises and practicing its spiritual fruits in daily life, one goes through these eight steps again and again and grows more and more in the likeness of Jesus Christ.

It is interesting to note that these above mentioned eight steps of the Spiritual Exercises have similarity with the eight factors of the Buddha’s Noble Eight-fold Path, namely,

i) Right Concentration, ii) Right Mindfulness, iii) Right Efforts, iv) Right View, v) Right Thought, vi) Right Speech, vii) Right Action and viii) Right Livelihood.

The Psycho-Spiritual Liberation Dynamics (intra-personal activity through introspection) that is operative in the Noble Eight-fold Path of the Buddha is seen to be taking place in the Liberating and sanctifying Spirituality of the SE of St. Ignatius also but through an inter-personal activity of growing in a relationship with Jesus Christ. Also the three groups into which the Eight-fold Path of the Buddha are classified, namely, Wisdom, Virtues and Concentration has similarity with the idea of Jesus as the Way, the Truth and the Life.

Wisdom the Truth; Virtues the Way; Concentration the Life.

Further, the Right View, according to Buddhism is knowing that each and every being is Impermanent, suffering-laden and without any self-sufficient self. And therefore there should be no craving for anything in the world. This view of Buddhism resonates with the First Principle and Foundation of the SE which states that we should not get caught up with created things but use them to the extent they help us to reach God.

In the above pages we have seen, firstly the Psycho-spiritual Dynamics of Buddhism and then a few similarities between the Buddhist Psycho-spirituality and the Ignatian theistic (Christ-centric) Spirituality. It is very amazing to note that how an atheistic Buddhist spirituality and a theistic Ignatian spirituality have more or less the same spiritual transformation (perfection) as their final goal. And though their paths to the final goal are different, yet they too have some similarities, as we have seen earlier.

To conclude Part-A, the Buddhist emancipative path is intra-personal and of self-efforts while the Ignatian salvific path is inter-personal and of grace. But according to me whether the approach is intra-personal or inter-personal, the emancipation or liberation or salvation takes place in the core and depth of a person where and when the self becomes empty and inactive while grace becomes abundant and very active. All the same, we have to agree to the fact that the Buddha, by rooting his emancipative path on universal common human psychology and introspective psycho-therapy, he has made his spiritual path more sensible, experiential and appealing to human beings of all cultures, languages and religions. As a common, universal and emancipative mental science Buddhist Wisdom helps people of all religions to pursue their respective spiritual goals more consciously, concretely and effectively.

In fact, by basing his emancipative Path on universal and concrete psychological experiences, the Buddha sets the universal common human liberating standards (Detachment, Humility, and Wisdom) with which we can evaluate the meaningfulness, effectiveness and the relevance of other Soteriological Paths (Religions) in the world. And if we evaluate, Ignatian Spirituality from the standards of Buddhism, then Ignatian Spirituality stands out as a liberating, meaningful, relevant and effective Spiritual Path that concretely addresses to the human existential situation (sinfulness of Greed-craving, Pride-hatred, Delusion-vain glory), and ensures his constant inner aspiration (purification, peace, love and hope through Detachment-generosity, Humility-Compassion; Wisdom-truth ) and his final eternal destination [Total Liberation through Union with God) ] in Jesus Christ.


Here I deal with the practical aspects of Buddhist Psycho-spirituality, that is, about Mindfulness Meditation and its relevance for Ignatian Spirituality. As we have seen in the previous Part-A, when an individual interacts with the world with his/her six senses, all the five aggregates of that person are affected. And if that individual is unmindful of all the changes and the movements that are taking place in his/her five aggregates, then he/she would end up in suffering by doing evil thoughts, speech and action. But if he/she is diligently mindful of all that happens in his/her five aggregates, then that person can discern well and choose only good thoughts, speech and action and thus be happy always. And this is the central and essential purpose of Buddhist Mindfulness Meditation, that is to keep track of one’s five aggregates constantly (that is one’s entire interior world) and thereby to be a master of one’s thoughts, words and actions by ordering them to be wholesome and thus to be happy always.

To keep track of one’s five aggregates constantly or in other words, to be aware of oneself always, the Buddha, in the Satipahna Sutta,(M I 57) advocates Four Foundations of Mindfulness Exercises for every person so that each individual person can be mindful of his entire and interior personality as well as the entire mental and material realities that surround him/her so that he/she can gain mastery over himself, that is over his thoughts, words and deeds. The Four Foundations of Mindfulness Exercises as prescribed by the Buddha are:

1) The Contemplation of the Body

2) The contemplation of Feelings

3) The Contemplation of the States of Mind and

4) The Contemplation of Mental Contents.

Though all these Four Foundations of Mindfulness Exercises produce many spiritual benefits in a person, in this Part-B, which is a brief study on the relevance of Buddhist Meditation for Ignatian Spirituality, I want to deal with a few Buddhist Meditation Exercises which help us practice some of the aspects of Ignatian Spirituality very effectively. To do this, I have selected a few Exercises from the First Foundation of Mindfulness, namely, The Contemplation of the Body. According to the Buddha, the contemplation of the body should be done in six different steps. The six steps that come under The Contemplation of the Body are:

a) Mindfulness of Breathing,
b) Mindfulness of the Four Bodily Postures
c) Mindfulness on all physical activities of the Body
d) Mindfulness on the parts of the Body
e) Mindfulness on the four primary material elements of the Body and
f) The Charnel ground Contemplations on the nine stages of a decaying dead human Body.

For our purpose I take here only the first three Mindfulness Meditations (a,b,c) as given above. These three Mindfulness Exercises help a person to calm down his body and mind and to grow in tranquility, silence, concentration and steadiness of mind. These three Meditations enhance a person to begin the skill of Mindfulness which in turn helps that person develop interior calm and the art of introspection (the ability to perceive clearly by oneself all that goes on inside a person). This skill of Mindfulness or in other words, the art of Introspection is very helpful for any one who wants to do examination of his/her heart or mind.

The Buddhist Meditational Practices and their helpfulness in practicing Ignatian Spirituality

The Buddhist Mindfulness Exercises of, a) Mindfulness of Breathing, b) Mindfulness of the Four Bodily Postures and c) Mindfulness of all Physical Activities, facilitate greatly one to practice the following aspects of Ignatian Spirituality:

a) Daily Particular Examination of Conscience (SE: 24-26)
b) General Examination of Conscience (Thoughts, Words, and Deeds; SE: 32-43)
c) The Discernment of Spirits (SE: 313-336) and
d) The Spirituality of being a Contemplative in Action (SE 230-237)

Once we know the right procedures, salient features and the specific advantages of these Buddhist Mindfulness Exercises (BME) listed above, then we will easily understand how they can facilitate one to practice Ignatian Spirituality effectively. So here below, I deal with the procedures and advantages of BME first.


The appropriate preparations, the Buddha suggests for the one who wants to practice this Exercise well are:

- Selecting an appropriate external environment, like a secluded and quite place;
- Taking a suitable physical posture: Folded legs crosswise in the sitting position and keeping the body erect with a straight back and head slightly bend to align with the spinal cord. Sitting with an erect body in alignment with the spinal cord can enable one to meditate even 2-3 hours without any interruption. (Those who have problems in sitting on the ground can sit on a chair or a raised seat);
- Establishing concentration on the Nostrils (or on the Abdomen);
- Maintaining full awareness on in-breathing and out- breathing;

The way to do the Actual Practice:

-The person who does the exercise while breathing in with a long breath, should be aware that ‘now I breathe in long’;
-And while breathing out with a long breath should be aware that ‘now I breathe out long’
-Similar awareness has to be maintained while breathing in and out with a short breath;
- As the next step the person has to train himself/herself in experiencing the whole body while breathing in and out to see whether there is any pain or disturbance in the body;
-Then the person has to train himself/herself in calming the body while breathing in and breathing out since calming the body is a necessary step required to calm the mind;
-As the next step one has to develop the awareness of one’s feelings, thoughts and attitudes or the current status of his/her mind;
-And then the person has to maintain inner calm and peacefulness by not having any attachment or hatred in his/her mind and heart;

Advantages: Mindfulness of breathing has a peaceful character and leads to stability of both posture and mind. The mental stability prevents distraction and discursive thought. Also this practice can lead one to deep concentration and penetrative insights. The npnasati Sutta (M III 80) describes about 16 steps connected with Breathing Meditation, starting from the bodily phenomena of breathing to feelings, mental events and the development of insight. Thus mindfulness of breathing becomes a skillful tool for self-observation (Sa p.131).

As we know the art of self-observation is very much necessary for one’s examination of conscience. The Buddhist Mindfulness of Breathing Exercise, as a skillful tool for self-observation is very helpful for the practice of Ignatian, Daily Particular Examination of Conscience as well as General Examination of Conscience. The inner calm, the steadiness and sharpness of mind produced by this Mindfulness of Breathing Exercise facilitates one to examine one’s conscience (both particular and general) very clearly, thoroughly and deeply. Therefore for one who becomes proficient in Mindfulness of Breathing, the Ignatian practices of Daily Particular Examination of Conscience and General Examination of Conscience becomes very easy and effective.

Another benefit of Mindfulness of Breathing (i.e. steadiness of mind) is being in the Joy, the Peace and the Tranquility of the PRESENT.


When we are in the PRESENT God comes to reside in us or we reside in God. When we are silent, still, calm and present interiorly, God draws his picture inside us and we become an authentic representative and a true image of God. Thus by making us to be in the present, the practice of Mindfulness of Breathing enables us to grow in the image and likeness of God (Jesus), which is also one of the goals of Ignatian Spirituality.


We have seen above how Mindfulness of Breathing, is helpful for the practice of Ignatian General Examination of Conscience. There are other doctrinal aspects of Buddhism which are also very helpful for any one to examine his/her conscience clearly. One such aspect is the psycho-morality of Buddhism. According to Buddhist psycho-morality the three roots of evil (sinfulness) are Craving, Hatred and Delusion. This kind of moral understanding helps one to examine clearly and thoroughly his/her mistakes and sins done under these three evil roots. For example, the sins of lust, greed, inordinate attachments and excessive desires for anything, come under the evil root of Craving; and the sins of anger, fights, violence, character-assassination and so on come under the evil root of Hatred; and acts committed in ignorance, insensitivity, failure in doing duties and such sins come under the evil root of delusion.

There is another doctrinal aspect of Buddhism which also helps one in examining one’s own Conscience. That is the Buddha’s code on Right Speech as given below:

• Not saying lies
• Not speaking harsh words
• Not bearing tales
• Not doing empty talks
To examine one’s conscience thoroughly, St. Ignatius advices that we examine our thoughts, words and deeds (SE: 32-42) to find out the sins and mistakes committed through these basic activities. The Buddha’s Right Speech Code as given above facilitates us to examine our sins committed through our words. (Whether we said lies or harsh words or did empty talks so on.)

In another place, the Buddha clarifies the quality of talk of an inferior person and contrasts it with that of a superior person as shown below: This clarification of the Buddha also serves us to examine the quality of our speech as well as the mistakes we may have committed through our speech.

Talk of an Inferior and Superior Person (A IV:73):


~Even unasked reveals the faults of others, how much more so when he is asked.

~He reveals his own praiseworthy qualities even unasked, how much more so when asked.
~ When asked, however, and led on by questions, he speaks others’ faults without omitting anything, without holding back, fully and in detail.
~He does not reveal what is praiseworthy in others, and still less so when not asked. When asked, however, and obliged to reply to questions, he speaks of what is praiseworthy in others with omissions and hesitatingly, incompletely and not in detail.
~He does not reveal his faults even when asked, still less so when not asked. When asked, however, and obliged to reply to questions, he speaks of his own faults with omissions and hesitatingly, incompletely and not in detail.
~When asked, however, and led on by questions, he speaks of his own praiseworthy qualities without omissions and without hesitation, fully and in detail.

~Even unasked, reveals what is praiseworthy in others, how much more so when he is asked.

~Even unasked, he reveals his own faults, how much more so when he is asked.
~Even when asked, he does not reveal the faults of others, and still less so when not asked. When asked, however, and led on by questions, he speaks of others’ faults with omissions and hesitatingly, incompletely and not in detail.

~When asked, however, and obliged to reply to questions, he speaks of what is praiseworthy in others without omitting anything, without holding back, fully and in detail.
~When asked, however, and obliged to reply to questions, he speaks of his own faults without omitting anything, without holding back, fully and in detail.
~Even when asked, he does not reveal his own praiseworthy qualities, still less so when not asked. When asked, however, and obliged to reply to questions, he speaks of his own praiseworthy qualities with omissions and hesitatingly, incompletely and not in detail.


Our thoughts, words and deeds also can be evaluated from the view point of the three Buddhist evil roots, namely, Craving, Hatred and Delusion. So far we have seen that not only Buddhist Mindfulness Meditation but some of its doctrinal aspects as well as the preaching of the Buddha also contribute to the effective practice of Particular and General Examination of Conscience of Ignatian Spirituality. Now let us take up the second exercise of Contemplation of the Body, namely, Mindfulness of the Four Bodily Postures and see how it can help for the practice of Ignatian Spirituality.

B) Mindfulness of the Four Bodily Postures:

Here the four common and basic human activities are taken for Meditation.
The person, who is making this Meditation, should be aware:

while walking, that he/she is walking;
while standing, that he/she is standing;
while sitting, that he/she is sitting;
while lying down, that he/she is lying down;
In short, he/she has to be aware of his/her body in whichever way it is disposed.

The Advantages of this Meditation are :

• It helps to be aware of the body in a general manner, to be “with” the body during its natural activities, instead of being carried away by various thoughts and ideas, and therefore to be mentally anchored in the body.
• Provides a firm grounding of awareness in the body; thus controls considerably mental distractions.
• By performing even the least important movement of the body in a conscious and deliberate manner, the most mundane activities can be turned into occasions for mental development.
• The four bodily postures can also be used as objects of insightful investigation.
• Helps us to be aware of predominant mental events such as fear, unwholesome thoughts, or overcoming the five hindrances (M I 21). (Lust, anger, doubts, laziness and restlessness.)
• Helps us to be aware of the concurrent state of mind at any posture.
• Removing the unwholesome states of mind should be done at all postures not only while doing sitting meditation.
• Bodily posture and state of mind are intrinsically interrelated, so that clear awareness of the one naturally enhances awareness of the other.
• According to the discourses, walking meditation benefits bodily health and digestion, and leads to the development of sustained concentration. The commentaries (Ps I 257) document the insight potential of walking meditation with instances of its use that led to full realization.
• The standard instructions for walking meditation found in the discourses take mental events as their main object of observation. The instructions, mainly speak of purifying the mind from obstructive states, which is the main goal of sitting meditation also. (M I 273)
• To cultivate awareness in regard to the reclining posture, meditators should lie down mindfully on their right side to rest during the middle part of the night, keeping in mind the time to wake up (M I 273). According to other passages, falling asleep with awareness improves the quality of one’s sleep and prevents bad dreams and nocturnal emissions. (Vin I 295 and A III 251)

The helpfulness of Mindfulness of Four Postures in the practice of Ignatian,
1) Discernment of Spirits and 2) Being a Contemplative in Action:

From the advantages of the art of Mindfulness of Four Postures as we have seen above, it is clear that it enhances in oneself the ability to be constantly in touch with his/her both positive and negative states of mind. Also it develops the capacity to discard form oneself the negative states of mind and heart and thus enables oneself to constantly purify one’s plans and intentions and to choose noble and virtuous ideas and activities. Thus this meditational practice will certainly help one to practice the Ignatian Spirituality of Discernment of Spirits. Also since this meditation, makes the person interiorly alert while doing the four basic and common activities which fill our day, the constant practice of it transforms him/her to be a contemplative in action.

There are a couple of other Mental Exercises (Meditation) which the Buddha prescribes for his followers so that they may grow in proper discernment, correct decision-making and in virtuous life. They are C) Right Efforts and D) Purification of one’s mental, verbal and bodily actions. And no doubt that these Mental Exercises also enhance one to grow in the Ignatian practices of Discernment of Spirits and Being a Contemplative in action.

C) Right Efforts of the Noble Eight-fold Path (MN III 252):

The Right Efforts is one of the factors of the Buddha’s Noble Eight-fold Path. It is more of a mental exercise than of a physical one though physical action may follow at the end. There are four steps that make up the Buddha’s of Right Efforts. They are:

a) Here a bhikkhu/bhikkhuni (or any one) awakens the zeal for the non-arising of unarisen evil unwholesome states, and he makes effort, arouses energy, exerts his mind and strives.
b) He/she awakens zeal for the abandoning of arisen evil unwholesome states, and he makes effort, arouses energy, exerts his mind, and strives.
c) He awakens zeal for the arising of unarisen wholesome states, and he makes effort, arouses energy exerts his mind and strives. And
d) He awakens zeal for the continuance, non-disappearance, strengthening, increase and fulfillment by development of arisen wholesome states, and he makes effort, arouses energy, exerts his mind, and strives.
These four steps can be simplified into two main steps, namely, i) through self-observation, the removal of negative ideas and plans from one’s mind and ii) through self-observation, the development of positive ideas and plans in one’s mind. These kind of interior mental efforts help one to discern the movements of different spirits in one’s heart and mind. So without hesitation we can say that this mental practice of Right Efforts of the Buddha certainly enhances the Ignatian practice of Discernment of the Spirits. And when one is constantly making Right Efforts to remain positive minded then he/she becomes a Contemplative in Action as St. Ignatius wanted his followers to be.

D) Purifying one’s bodily, verbal and mental actions by repeated reflections (MN I 415-420):

This is another Mental Exercise prescribed by the Buddha for his disciples so that they may do all their activities (whether mental or verbal or physical) with proper consideration and discernment. According to him this consideration of activities has to be done at 3 stages as given below: The Buddha instructs his disciples that:

a) First Stage: “ When you wish to do an action by body or speech or mind, then you should reflect upon that action the following way:
- Would this action that I wish to do, lead to my own affliction, or to the affliction of others, or to the affliction of both?
- Is it an unwholesome action with painful consequences, with painful results?

If the answer is ‘yes’, that is, if the consequences of the action will bring painful results to any one or both, then you definitely should not do such an action.
But if the answer is ‘No’, that is, if the consequences of the action will bring positive results for all, then you may do that action.”

b) Second Stage: “While you are doing an action by body or speech or mind, then the same kind of reflections as above should be taken up.

And after reflection, if it is found that it would bring suffering for all, then immediately that action should be suspended.
But after reflection, if it is found that it would bring positive results to all, then that action can be continued."

c) Third Stage: “After having done any action (by body or speech or mind), you have to evaluate the results and consequences of your actions.

And if the results were negative and harmful for all, then the doer of that action should confess for his/her action, reveal it, and lay it open to the Teacher or to wise companions in the holy life. Having confessed it, revealed it, and laid it open, the doer should undertake restraint for the future.
But if the outcome of the action is positive and helpful for all, then the doer can abide happy and glad, training day and night in wholesome states.”

The above mentioned Buddhist method of reflection can be a helpful tool for the practice of the Ignatian Spirituality of Discernment of Spirits very effectively.

The essential qualities necessary to be a contemplative in action are, Interiority, Alertness, Union with God, Being kind and loving and positively oriented with pleasant dispositions. Since the above mentioned four (A,B,C, and D) Buddhist Meditations have the scope for being aware of oneself constantly, to purify one’s heart and mind from negative and unwholesome states, certainly they can help one to be a contemplative in action.

E) Mindfulness on all physical activities of the Body (Full Awareness):

This third Exercise of the Contemplation of the Body deals with all the activities of a person done when he/she is awake. Here the person is advised to be fully aware of each and every activity (even a small activity like turning the face this side or that side) he/she does.

Procedure: The Buddha instructs that “When going forward and returning he/she acts clearly knowing; when looking ahead and looking away he/acts acts clearly knowing; when flexing and extending his/her limbs he acts clearly knowing; when wearing his/her robes and carrying his/her outer robe and bowl he/she acts clearly knowing; when eating, drinking, consuming food and tasting he acts clearly knowing; when defecating and urinating he acts clearly knowing; when walking, standing, sitting, falling asleep, waking up, when talking, and keeping silent he acts clearly knowing.” (M I 57)

Advantages of being clearly aware of all the activities done by a person:

a) The discourses (A II 104) emphasize in regard to these activities, that they should be performed in a graceful and pleasing way. This particular set of activities stands for a careful and dignified way of behaving, appropriate to one who is living as a monk or nun.
b) To keep in mind the purpose of an activity to see how far it is oriented for one’s progress in holy life.
c) To be aware constantly the suitability of an action for dignified behavior.
d) To promote sense-restraint since, this is the proper pasture of a monk or nun.
e) To have a clear understanding of the action undertaken without any delusion.
f) Thus the practice of developing clear knowledge in regard all activities, combines purposeful and dignified conduct with sense-restraint in order to build up a foundation for the rising of insight.

This Mindfulness Exercise, by training a person to be aware of all his/her activities constantly so that all his/her activities are purposeful and dignified makes that person a Contemplative in action and also a person of Discernment.

So far we have seen five (A, B, C, D and E) Buddhist Meditations which can facilitate a person to practice effectively some of the important aspects of Ignatian Spirituality, namely, Daily Particular Examination of Conscience, General Examination of Conscience, Discernment of Spirits and Being a Contemplative in Action. Further more, there are a few more Buddhist Meditations which can enhance the Ignatian Spirituality of Contemplation to obtain Love. I shall list a few here below:


F) Loving-kindness Meditation: In this Buddhist Meditation, first, a person fills his/her heart with love for himself/herself. Then he/she would expand his/her love towards her parents, friends and other beloveds. After that he/she would extend his/her love towards his/her so called ‘enemies’ and people who are unfriendly to him/her. Next, he/she would send forth his/her love towards the rest of the humanity. And finally he/she would fill all the other living beings and the entire Universe with his/her love. When one repeats this Loving-kindness Meditation, automatically that person is filled with Divine Love which is the goal of the Ignatian, Contemplation to obtain Love.
G) Meditation on Divine Qualities as said by the Buddha: According to the Buddha, the qualities of Loving-kindness, Compassion, Altruistic Joy and Equanimity are divine qualities. Therefore he says if anyone wants to get united with the Divine (since people of his time sought for union with God), he/she should develop these divine qualities fully in him/her through meditation. In this Meditation, a person must first calm down himself/herself through breathing meditation and then gradually should fill his/her heart and mind with these divine qualities of Loving-kindness, Compassion, Altruistic Joy and Equanimity. So this is another Buddhist Meditation which can help one to obtain Divine Love and Union with God.

St. Ignatius also stressed union of minds and hearts among his companions. Here below we have an incident from the Buddha’s life, from which we can gain wisdom from the Buddha’s Sangha (Community of Buddhist Monks) to promote union of hearts and minds among people who live in communities:

To build up a happy, loving and united Community Life and Union of Hearts and Minds (M I 207):

The Buddha asked venerable Anuruddha (one of his disciples), “How (in your Community) are you living in concord, with mutual appreciation, without disputing, blending like milk and water, viewing each other with kindly eyes?”

Venerable Anuruddha answered, “Venerable Sir, as to that, I think thus: ‘It is a gain for me, it is a great gain for me, that I am living with such companions in holy life.’ I maintain bodily acts of loving- kindness towards those venerable ones both openly and privately; I maintain verbal acts of loving-kindness towards them both openly and privately; I maintain mental acts of loving kindness towards them both openly and privately. I consider: ‘Why should I not set aside what I wish to do and do what these venerable ones wish to do?’ Then I set aside what I wish to do and do what these venerable ones wish to do. We are different in body, venerable sir, but one in mind.”
“This is how, Venerable Sir, we are living in concord, with mutual appreciation, without disputing, blending like milk and water, viewing each other with kindly eyes.”

Is it not something wonderful to learn from the Buddha’s Sangha, the wisdom to promote union of hearts and minds in our religious communities?


From whatever we have discussed so far, the following facts can be declared:

1) The Buddha’s discovery of Universal Human Psychology and its Dynamics helps us to understand our inner psycho-spiritual realities/truths very clearly and quite accurately. Therefore his discovery of human mental science is a very useful tool for self-awareness which is a pre-requisite for the spiritual growth of any person. Thus the Buddhist Human Psychology unravels the inner mystery of a human person and functions as a key tool for finding the meaning and purpose of human existence.
2) The Buddhist Psycho-dynamics enables us to understand how we relate and interact with the external world through our senses.
3) The Buddha’s discovery that our thoughts precede our actions by words or deeds helps us to discipline our external actions of words and deeds by keeping a control our thoughts.
4) Our attitudes and value system affect our way of looking at things, people and events and influence our decision-making, words and behaviors.
5) False value system and wrong attitudes lead us to suffering whereas value system and attitudes based on truth (wisdom) bring us happiness.
6) The root evils of Buddhism, namely, Greed-attachments, Pride-hatred and Ignorance-Delusion are similar to the Standard of Satan as described by St. Ignatius, namely, Riches-inordinate attachments, Pride and Vain Glory.
7) The root virtues of Buddhism, namely, Detachment, Compassion and Wisdom are similar to the Standard of Jesus Christ, namely, Poverty, Humility and Contempt.
8) Transformation of one’s false and selfish value system of Greed, Hatred and Delusion into a realistic and human value system of Detachment, Compassion and Wisdom is the core-purpose of Buddhist Meditational Spirituality. Similarly, through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, one is expected to purify him/her from sinful ways and attitudes and is directed to transform himself/herself into the nature and the person of Jesus Christ. Thus we see a parallel Transformative Spiritual Dynamics operative both in the Buddhist Meditational Spirituality and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.
9) Thus a similarity can be drawn between the Noble Eight-fold Path and Eight-step Dynamics of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius as shown in the Essay above.
10) The classification of Noble Eight-fold Path into three groups of Virtues, Wisdom and Concentration corresponds to Jesus being the Way, the Truth and the Life in Christian Spirituality.
11) Some of the Buddhist Mindfulness Exercises are very much helpful for the effective practice of some of the important aspects of Ignatian Spirituality, namely, Particular and General Examination of Conscience, Discernment of Spirits, Being a Contemplative in Action and Contemplation to obtain love.
12) The one main difference between Buddhist and Christian Spiritualities is that Buddhist Meditational Spirituality is intra-personal and of self-effort whereas the Christian Spirituality is inter-personal and of Grace.

As a whole, the Buddhist Psycho-therapeutic Meditational Spirituality certainly helps people to grow in Interiority, Purity, Freedom and Self-mastery which are necessary for believers like us to progress in Union with God in Jesus Christ and to excel in humble and self-less service to God, Humanity and Nature. In fact, as an universal Psycho-spirituality Buddhism helps each and every person irrespective of his/her religion to grow in Introspection, Interiority, Self-discovery and Self-mastery.


In view of the advantages that Buddhism offers for the spiritual growth of any person, can the Vatican II Document (Nostra Aetate No. 2) be modified in the following manner?

“Prudently and lovingly, through dialogue and collaboration with the followers of other religions, and in witness of Christian faith and life, acknowledge, preserve and promote the spiritual and moral goods found among these men as well as the values in their society and culture (and also benefit from them to the extent they are helpful for us to follow Jesus (the Way, the Truth and Life) very closely). Nostra Aetate No.2


[“The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth.

If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world it is this: It has proved to the world that holiness, purity, and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character. In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written, in spite of resistance: ‘Help and not Fight’, ‘Assimilation and not Destruction’, ‘Harmony and Peace and not Dissension’.] by Swami Vivekananda: From his address at the final session of The World’s Parliament of Religions, Chicago, 27 September 1893.


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Fr. S. Lawrence .s .j. 15/08/2012
Patna Province