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Steve Haberlin's picture
Steve Haberlin is an assistant professor of education at Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia. He holds a Ph.D. with a specialization in elementary education from the University of South Florida. His...
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Was Buddha Gifted Because He Meditated?

Born Siddhartha Guatama, the “Buddha”as he would later be known, was born a warrior prince in what is present day Nepal. Not wanting his son to see the outside world (which according to the story would cause him to transform into this enlightened being and leave the monarchy), the king built several walls around the kingdom and sheltered his son during the early years. But the curious Guatama would eventually venture outside the walls and embark on a spiritual quest. After experimenting with a number of methods, the prince settled under a tree, where he meditated night and day and became “awakened”, reaching enlightenment.

Whether you believe the story, and religion aside, I think most would agree that Guatama, or this Buddha figure, was a gifted individual. The proof? His thinking, or doctrine, spread like wildfire through India into Central, East, and Southeast Asia, and morphed into a number of variations—schools and movement—and continues to be one of the oldest practiced religions today. Yes, there is no complete consensus on the definition of “gifted,” but if for the sake of this writing, we can generally agree that a gifted adult is someone that makes a significant contribution in their field, achieving a level of eminence, then the Buddha was clearly “gifted.” Now, whether those accomplishments came from above-average intelligence, business savvy, a magnetic personality, leadership, hard work , creativity or luck-or maybe a combination of these different qualities—the Buddha managed to have a major, lasting impact on the world.

Now, for my second point: Assuming I convinced you that the Buddha was a truly gifted guy, how much of his giftedness came from his practice of meditation or, in today’s popular terminology, mindfulness training? In other words, did Buddha’s mindfulness practice (like the term “gifted,” we can’t agree on an exact definition of mindfulness either, but I like this one—the practice of directing your attention), enable him to be more focused, have more energy, deal better with stress, and more easily tap into his natural abilities?

Mindfulness shows promise.  Studies targeting the practice of mindfulness –and understand there are many mindfulness programs out there—have revealed significant benefits, which have prompted researchers to investigate the effects  on mindfulness on children, including in school settings. And while empirical data on this point remains in the early stages, some studies have shown that when kids practice mindfulness they experience improved concentration, better sleep, more positive socialization, and improved well-being. For example, one study found that college students who meditated were able to better retain the information they learned in class.

Of course, it’s a little hard at this point to test whether Buddha’s long meditation sessions under a peepal tree contributed to his giftedness. Here’s my central question:  If mindfulness can help with concentration, focus, remaining calm, etc., what impact does it have on a gifted mind—a mind that comprehends more, thinks faster, thinks more creatively, makes deeper connections? Can this practicing mindfulness bring out more of one’s giftedness? Is there any correlation? I think it’s a question worth investigating.