Is mindfulness meditation a capitalist tool or a path to enlightenment?

It was sometime between the 1950s, when Zen Buddhism seeped into the beat generation, and the early 21st century, when mindfulness meditation seeped into Wall Street and Silicon Valley.

And “space is like a rock because it is empty.” Fast forward half a century, and hedge fund manager David Ford, in an interview with Bloomberg News, was summarizing the benefits of meditation this way: “I react to volatile markets much more calmly now.” Buddhist practice, once seen as subversive and countercultural, now looked like a capitalist tool.

It had gone from deepening your insight to sharpening your edge.

Most of today’s meditators aren’t following the guidance of the Bloomberg News headline that accompanied Ford’s quote: “To Make a Killing on Wall Street, Start Meditating.” Still, the past decade’s wave of interest in mindfulness meditation has had a utilitarian air.

First, because goals like stress reduction are so clear, attainable, and gratifying, many people now sing the praises of meditation—which deeply annoys some people who don’t.

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