Should some devotees continue or stop wasting time in meditation practice? Or, is faith in meditation, in a guru, or in perseverance–despite insignificant results–a virtue?
This post examines long-time meditation practitioners who continue despite little or insignificant results.
Many gurus and their institutions claim that meditation is a science, that if practiced correctly meditation brings empirical results.
One such claim, that is extraordinary, can be found in a quote by Paramahansa Yogananda, guru of Self-Realization Fellowship (SRF):
“The yogic science is based on an empirical consideration of all forms of concentration and meditation exercises. Yoga enables the devotee to switch off or on, at will, life current to the five sense telephones of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. Attaining this power of sense disconnection, the yogi finds it simple to unite his mind at will with divine realms or with the world of matter”.1
Some devotees may practice meditation for decades and have little if anything to show for it, let alone “empirical” results to speak of. These meditation practitioners may often rationalize and justify away their lack of significant results.
For example, below are quotes from two long-term SRF meditators, Walter and Bryan, who were interviewed by Lola Williamson, which are excerpted from her book, Transcendent In America: Hindu-Inspired Meditation Movements As New Religion (New York University Press: 2010).
Walter, practiced meditation for forty-three years
“Although he [Walter, a disciple of Paramahansa Yogananda and SRF devotee] had been practicing meditation for forty-three years, he expressed uncertainty about how much progress he had made….I was curious why he had stuck with the practice for so many years if he was not seeing results. He replied…’If I don’t meditate, I miss it….It’s seeing the world as consciousness, not as physical reality.’” p. 9
“Seeing the world as consciousness” is a seemingly profound statement, but is vague and vacuous of comprehensive meaning. Is Walter merely justifying his decades of meditation practice as-is rather than examining the actual results from the time, energy, and money he invested into meditation?
Bryan, after decades of meditation, “It’s just not what I expected”
“Bryan’s dramatic mystical experience occurred continuously over a period of two to three months. They happened before he started meditating….He puts forth tremendous effort to follow the daily disciplines he has learned through Self-Realization Fellowship, yet he does not feel he has gained control over his experiences. I [Bryan] kept asking, ‘Where’s some dramatic stuff? Where’s the beef?’…’It’s hard. In hindsight I know what I’ve gotten back; it just hasn’t been what I thought it would be. Meditation has made me a much calmer person. It’s helped to be in the present moment. And this is a lot. It’s just not what I expected.’” p. 165
The meditation practice and particular worldview that is often taught with it, such as in SRF, may be difficult for many devotees to question or to not stay attached to. Psychologists call the tendency in people to be attached to their investments, despite heavy losses, the sunk-cost bias2. It may take a person years to give up on poor investments. The greater the loss of the investment often the longer it may take a person to let the investment losses go.
After thinking critically about my experiences with meditation practice and in SRF I realized that the results I got from meditation practice were insignificant compared with the great investment of my time, energy, and money.
Are long-time meditation practitioners too invested to quit or at least to question the value of continuing to meditate as-is? What other excuses or arguments might devotees have to try to convince themselves or others that they are not wasting precious time in meditation?
No True Meditator Argument
At this point, I’m guessing that some devoted meditators who read this will invoke the No True Scotsman3, or, what I will call the No True Meditator, argument to try to rationalize why they may not, nor anyone else may not, get significant results from meditation.
The fallacious No True Scotsman (No True Meditator) argument may go something like this:
Walt: Meditation practitioners will get tremendous results of concentration and realizations.
Tom: Then why are there so many meditators who don’t get results?
Walt: They were never true meditators.
Tom: What’s a true meditator?
Walt: Only those who get results.
Question for readers: What other reasons or arguments are there for why some long-time practitioners don’t quit meditating when results are insignificant?
1 Autobiography of a Yogi, Chap 26: The Science of Kriya Yoga, Paramahansa Yogananda (Self-Realization Fellowship)
2 The sunk-cost bias or fallacy is described as “reasoning that further investment is warranted on the fact that the resources already invested will be lost otherwise, not taking into consideration the overall losses involved in the further investment.”–Logically Fallacious, http://www.logicallyfallacious.com/index.php/logical-fallacies/174-sunk-cost-fallacy
3 No True Scotsman, also known as No True Christian, and what I’ve taken the liberty to call here the No True Meditator argument or fallacy that is described as “when a universal (“all”, “every”, etc.) claim is refuted, rather than conceding the point or meaningfully revising the claim, the claim is altered by going from universal to specific, and failing to give any objective criteria for the specificity.”–Logically Fallacious,