What is mindfulness, and how does it vary as a concept across different cultures? How does mindfulness find expression in practice in the Buddhist cultures of Southeast Asia? What role does mindfulness play in everyday life? J. L. Cassaniti answers these fundamental questions and more through an engaged ethnographic investigation of what it means to "remember the present" in a region strongly influenced by Buddhist thought.
Focusing on Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Myanmar, Remembering the Present examines the meanings, practices, and purposes of mindfulness. Using the experiences of people in Buddhist monasteries, hospitals, markets, and homes in the region, Cassaniti shows how an attention to memory informs how people live today and how mindfulness is intimately tied to local constructions of time, affect, power, emotion, and selfhood. By looking at how these people incorporate Theravada Buddhism into their daily lives, Cassaniti provides a signal contribution to the psychological anthropology of religious experience.
Remembering the Present heeds the call made by researchers in the psychological sciences and the Buddhist side of mindfulness studies for better understandings of what mindfulness is and can be. Cassaniti addresses fundamental questions about selfhood, identity, and how a deeper appreciation of the many contexts and complexities intrinsic in sati (mindfulness in the Pali language) can help people lead richer, fuller, and healthier lives. Remembering the Present shows how mindfulness needs to be understood within the cultural and historical influences from which it has emerged.
Part I. Thailand
1. Monks' Mindfulness
2. The Feeling of Mindfulness in Meditation
3. The Ghosts of Insanity in Lay Thai Life
Part II. Burma and Sri Lanka
5. Sri Lanka
"Remembering the Present is a wonderfully interesting book. In addition to the religious studies audience, anthropologists will find much to engage in this book, offering a rare comparative study that provides provocative examples ripe for further engagement."
Felicity Aulino, Assistant Professor, Department of Anthropology, University of Massachusetts, Amherst
"This is an important and fascinating book, examining a key concept, 'mindfulness,' from multiple perspectives: religious studies, Southeast Asian studies, anthropology, psychology. The book should be of interest to a wide range of readers, to anyone interested in meditation. The author is an outstanding scholar who explores mindfulness as understood—and lived and practiced—in individual lives and in Theravadan religious traditions, throwing invaluable light on its meaning and therapeutic aspects."
Devon Hinton, M.D., Associate Professor of Psychiatry, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School
"This remarkably original and fascinating ethnography of mindfulness (sati) in Thailand, Burma, and Sri Lanka looks at traditional and modern(ist) Buddhism, western-derived scientific psychotherapy, and the everyday discourses of monks and laity. It should be read by Buddhists, scholars of Buddhism, and all modern practitioners and advocates of mindfulness training."
Steven Collins, Chester D. Tripp Professor in the Humanities, University of Chicago
"J. L. Cassaniti has produced a well-written, clear, and concise study... [that] focuses on her fieldwork, voices of her interlocutors, and her own observations."
Justin McDaniel, Professor of Religious Studies, University of Pennsylvania