in Meditation

The aim of many meditation practices (within the system of Eastern enlightenment) is to quiet the mind, still the thoughts, transcend human consciousness, and to pierce the nature of super “reality”. Implicit in that aim is ordinary thoughts, feelings, and sensations are devalued–made inferior, lower, or egoic. What is valued–made superior or “spiritual”–are the prescribed thoughts, feelings, and sensations of the teacher, tradition, or group. Practitioners will repress or push down their own thoughts, feelings, and perceptions to mold themselves to the “spiritual” system of the external authority, teacher, or group.

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Sometimes meditation practice can be valuable. But many meditation techniques are bundled within a manipulative authoritarian system. The practitioner is told what most to value (e.g. stilling thought), what to least value (e.g. thinking), what to expect (e.g. “spiritual” perceptions), and how to interpret experiences. Of course, these values and experiences are prescribed– a prepackaged worldview–and supposed to take the practitioner “higher” (e.g. superior) in spiritual evolution in this or a future life.

The practitioner’s thoughts, emotions, and experiences are bound within an authoritarian system. Meditation practice often operates within a system of a double bind.

What is the double bind?

double bind meditation practice

The double bind is a no-win kind of communication, according to U.S. anthropologist Gregory Bateson, designed to keep you obeying the authority figure. The double bind, i.e., two irreconcilable demands, often traps meditation practitioners. Here’s some examples of double bind messages implied with meditation practice:

You are asleep or ignorant. Meditation is the path to awakening or knowledge of God. You are asleep or ignorant, so keep meditating.

You are ego/self-centered. Meditation is the path to transcend ego or self. If you are not yet egoless or selfless, keep meditating.

You are bound by earthly desires. Meditation is the path to filling or transcending all human desires. If you are not yet desireless, keep meditating.1

These examples show the underlying premises for practicing meditation give responsibility to an external authority. These false premises form the basis for getting and keeping students to practice meditation.2 Further, the premises within the double bind blame the student–not the techniques or authorities–when students fail to attain the promised results. Worse yet, practitioners blame themselves when they experience negative side-effects from meditation. These underlying premises with their double bind make meditation-based worldviews corrupt.

Corruption in meditation-based worldview

meditation double bindNeither meditation nor authority is the real problem. The problem is when disciple’s hand over responsibility to the authority. Disciples assume the authority, teacher, and techniques are perfect and have all the answers. Likewise the guru or teacher depends on disciple-followers for adulation and validation. Without student-disciples, the guru-teacher loses their identity and power. Consciously or unconsciously the master or guru cannot but be too invested in appearing perfect, all-knowing, and imparting superior techniques. Both master and student are corrupted within these double binds. Students give up (renounce) self-trust and hand over responsibility to external authority.

Renounce self to find Self?

The double bind of meditation practice requires renouncing one’s self to supposedly find one’s self. The practitioner’s worldview is validated only through complying with external authority. It matters not that the meditation practice is supposed to be be validated by internal perception or experience. The corruption occurs before the experience and creates the experiences and its interpretations. The double bind of meditation practice is dictated and accepted by students.

The external authority dictates for students what to value (stilling thought), what to devalue (thinking), what to expect (experiences, e.g. thoughtlessness), what to practice (techniques), and how to interpret personal experiences (e.g. validate or invalidate feelings and perceptions). This worldview, with its double bind, corrupts student’s trust in self, corrupts thinking and feeling. Student’s self-trust is devalued while trust in the external authority is valued, made superior.

Seeing bind is half the battle

Noticing that we are trapped in a double bind is half the battle. The other half is taking back responsibility. As discussed above, the double bind and its underlying premises form the basis for handing over responsibility to an external authority. The double bind of meditation practice keeps us trapped in a meditation-based, authoritarian worldview. It keeps us giving adulation and seeking validation from the teacher, teaching, or group. When we see that we are trapped in the double bind we can then begin our journey to finding self, whatever that is or isn’t.

It may take months or years to build self-trust versus defer trust to an external authority. In an ironic twist, taking back trust in self–in trusting one’s feelings and abilities to think critically–can take us naturally to a state of being “enlightened”, free, and intellectually and emotionally mature.

What do you think of the double bind of meditation practice?


Special thanks to Scott D. Jacobsen, Editor at Conatus News, and Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing for his editorial assistance and comments prior to publication of this post.

Featured image by jocelynyan1, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

1,2 Read Duped by Meditation?, my post discussing the underlying premises of meditation practices.

Leave a Reply

  1. The double bind sounds like what a lot of Christians and Muslims are caught in. They give themselves to an external authority and their salvation is outer-based rather than inward knowing. As for meditators caught up in the double bind, I suppose that happens to some people within groups of meditators who have peer pressure and leadership pressure on them. I’ve been using the srf meditation techniques since 1970 and have easily avoided the double bind trap. As you wrote in your conclusion, you just have to be aware of it.

  2. @onenessguy: I wonder if you are the guy who wrote the Gospel book mentioned on your blog. I appreciate your enthusiasm to connect with nature and the world around. (I saw many photos on your blog).

    I wonder how confident (scale of 0-100%) any person can be fully aware of self? And, what would we do to measure or know we are not influenced by double bind (e.g. external authority).

    In my post, I mentioned awareness one is trapped in a double bind is 1/2 the battle. But only the beginning and perhaps the journey is not in certainty or answers but in doubt, wonder, and being open to not knowing for sure.

  3. Hi Scott, thanks for responding to my comment. I will try to answer your questions. Yes, I wrote the book “Gospel of One; Letters of Aul” back in 2006. I started the blog to comment on it as a way to further explain things, but I have not added any posts to that blog for two years, just too busy working.. I have another blog that i have listed below. I turned the first 108 questions into an e-book, (Question and Answers about the Gospel of Oneness) and started my second volume with question 109. As for my connection with nature, I have another little e-book on “How to help nature spirits clean-up the environment.” I have a larger book on nature yet to be published.

    As far as being confident of our awareness of Self on a scale of 0-100%, from my observations of religious and spiritual people, I would say 60-70% would be pretty good. But this is hard to evaluate as many religious people act and talk with a lot of confidence about their “truth”, yet have no inner realization. That’s my opinion anyway. I’m thinking of well-known pastors and preachers who seem to be in it for money, power, and prestige.

    As for measuring how much we are influenced by external authority, i think we can get an idea by making a check list: Parents, immediate family, extended family, best friends. teachers from grade school to college professors, other adults, books we like, music, movies, television, celebrities. pastors, priests, gurus, radio hosts, tv hosts, our larger culture in general, and world culture. and our languages too. If we introspect about all of these influences, we can see where some double binds may come into play.

    I agree about being open to uncertainty. We can be pretty certain about some ideas and viewpoints, but i know that i have been wrong and that i still have much to learn. The whole ocean of truth has barely been discovered by people on Earth.

  4. @onenessguy: I was asking about your own % of certainty in your own awareness. You wrote: “…you just have to be aware of it.” Again, that awareness may be a first step. Part of my point in my post is that the “binds” are underneath our conscious awareness. I don’t think we can ever be totally aware (too much is unconscious).

  5. Hi Scott, Ok, You didn’t ask me directly the first time. I have thought more about your % question though and I realize that it is too difficult to answer precisely because I don’t know how big the fie of consciousness is. It may be infinite.

    However, I did give you a list of possible influences on our lives that we can introspect about. And besides looking for double binds we can also look at how much love we have, how much egotism, how much resentment or jealousy we have, how much kindness and consideration we have, We can look for passive-aggressive behavior in ourselves. How many racist tendencies, how many sexist tendencies, and how much superiority or inferiority feelings we have are also important to look at.

    I’ve been introspective since my childhood and I think it helps with my awareness of what or who is influencing me. Let me give you some examples. I was draft age during the Viet Nam war. Many of my friends were supporting the war. Three of my brothers were in the military. My Lutheran church was not a traditional “peace” church. However, I was in the Peace Corps teaching school in the upland jungle area of Borneo (E. Malaysia). The people were similar to the common people in Viet Nam. I applied for conscientious objector status because I refused to engage in a war against people who were struggling to get free of colonial dominance. To my amazement (even to this day), the draft board granted me CO status. ( I think I had good recommendations on my character and peaceful attitudes and behavior.)

    Example two, about that same time I realized that our money system was rigged in favor of the elite banking and financial powers. They created the money supply out of thin air so to speak and charged interest on it. The whole corrupt system helps the rich become richer and the poor continue to struggle. For three years I dropped out of the money system almost completely, but I did compromise by thinking that I can still live by giving and receiving rather than earning and spending the debt money we are saddled with.

    One more example (of how aware I think I am): Most of the Christian churches and leaders that I know of have made Jesus into an idol and an external savior. They say his death on the cross paid for the sins of all humanity, past, present and future. All you have to do is accept that truth and say that belief in Jesus as your savior is the only way to heaven. But Jesus said the kingdom of God is within us, so that must mean the kingdom of God is to be found in our inner consciousness. And that is why I meditate, contemplate, introspect about my thoughts, feelings, and behavior and reach out to others with love and respect.

    If you want to help people be aware of and avoid double binds, I suggest that you post a list of questions we can ask ourselves about it. I know that SRF recommends daily introspection. Did you ever talk about double binds in the ashram? How free did you feel about bringing up any doubts or questions about the organization or the leadership? Did you have a chance to have open and free discussions with your counselors. Were you there when Br. Premamoy was in charge of training? Did you think devotees were making an idol out of Yogananda? What is your path now, and what is your worldview? By the way, I do appreciate skeptics. Maybe that is your role for now? And that is just a role isn’t it. You are way more than just a skeptic about meditation.

  6. @onenessguy: Thanks for sharing history about your life. Sounds like you have much life experience.

    You asked me many questions:

    “If you want to help people be aware of and avoid double binds, I suggest that you post a list of questions we can ask ourselves about it. I know that SRF recommends daily introspection. Did you ever talk about double binds in the ashram? How free did you feel about bringing up any doubts or questions about the organization or the leadership? Did you have a chance to have open and free discussions with your counselors. Were you there when Br. Premamoy was in charge of training? Did you think devotees were making an idol out of Yogananda? What is your path now, and what is your worldview? By the way, I do appreciate skeptics. Maybe that is your role for now? And that is just a role isn’t it. You are way more than just a skeptic about meditation.”

    1) Good suggestion to have a list of questions for people to ask themselves. I’ll try to include something like that in future posts.

    2) SRF Ashram was not conducive to open, honest communication. Yes, I had a selected few monks I could talk openly with. However, it was not safe to do so. Monks’ could not trust each other as the leadership encouraged loyalty to itself above all. So anyone with dissenting views was quickly “put in their place”–even punished, shunned, or not given “opportunities” that “loyal” obedient monks received.

    3) Yes, I knew Brother Premamoy. He was the house brother while I was a monk in training. You knew him? How?

    4) SRF students and disciples, of course, worship Yogananda and the SRF gurus as gods, as God. I’d thought you’d know this if you were at the level of detail of familiarity of Brother Premamoy.

    5) My views on meditation: It’s not all bad. It’s not all good. Meditation is like everything else: sleep, music, exercise, sex, nature–it can be valuable as part but not necessary to “practice”. Do we say we practice sleep? Or, being in nature? Maybe.

    If there truly is some kind of “Oneness”, as a real thing, not as an abstraction only in the human mind, then what need for meditation? or Contemplation? IF all is One… Nothing is better nor worse, higher nor lower? valuable or non-valuable…if all is truly One, not just in the abstract of the human ideal.

  7. Hi Scott, thanks for your reply. I will start by commenting on your last two points, which I did not understand very well. The activities you mentioned along with meditation all have techniques, even sleep, so they can be practiced and be improved upon.

    I didn’t understand your comment about oneness at all. You seemed to imply that oneness is all blah….sameness and meaningless.

    Actually, it’s late, I will relate my experiences with SRF next time. I attended the San Diego temple for 6 years (70-76) and the Encinitas temple for 14 years (79-93).

  8. @onenessguy: No worries. I know–we can “practice” anything I suppose. Sleep is not necessary to practice, nor eating, etc. We humans, animals, do it naturally. Of course, we can improve if we not living a natural life-style. But practice sleep? Sleep and meditation are not ends in themselves. But means to other ends.

    I’m not saying blah. My point is, and I’m assuming by Oneness, the abstraction implies everything is One or perhaps the supreme aim of human existence or awareness is to be aware that everything is One. But if that Oneness is really a thing, not just a human abstraction, and if everything is already One, why do we need to “practice” being in Oneness? This just chops up the concept of Oneness into Oneness and not-Oneness, higher lower, good bad, spirit or ego…