Tagged: free thinker

meditation devalues thought

How Meditation Devalues Thought, Thinking, Acting

Techniques for quieting the mind can be valuable. But valuing silence or stilling thought as superior devalues thought, thinking, and acting. Here are some other ways to find similar benefits to meditation techniques.

Commenter: I’m interested in hearing of other ways to find similar benefits to yoga and meditation techniques. What other ways can you think of?

SkepticMeditations: Techniques for quieting thought can be valuable: being quiet with yourself, being out in nature, hearing music or bird song, sitting or lying comfortably can help us relax and be more centered, to counter the busyness and distractions of a modern life.

But valuing silence and stilling thought as superior or more valuable than thinking or acting is the problem. It devalues thought, thinking, and acting in the world.

“Who” says certain techniques for stilling or quieting thought are superior? “Who” says withdrawing from the world is superior?

Eastern spiritual authorities promise superior techniques, concepts, and worldviews. The irony is that the thought withdrawing into thoughtlessness (stilling or silencing thought) is a thought, or web of thoughts, embedded in a certain ideology or worldview that claims to be superior.

Techniques for quieting and relaxing can be valuable. Select whatever works best for you. Unicuique suum (Latin: to each their own). Approval from others does not validate your ideas or your technique. Some ways, especially those purportedly superior, could be harmful. What are some other ways to find similar benefits of meditation techniques?

Other ways to find similar benefits of meditation techniques

There are many ways to still thought, to relax, to counter the busyness of modern life. Be quiet with yourself, be out in nature, listen to music or bird song, sit or lay comfortably to relax and be centered. Or, engross yourself in some activity so much that you forget yourself, your thoughts and your distractions. Who says meditation techniques are superior?

Meditation techniques can be helpful. They also can be harmful, especially when embedded in a worldview that values stilling thought (meditation techniques) as superior. This devalues thought, thinking, acting. There are countless other ways to quiet thought, to relax, and to be engrossed in meaningful activities. What benefits you will not be withdrawing from thought, thinking, or acting that is embedded in second-hand testimony from Buddha or any other Eastern or Western spiritual authority.

If you have any thoughts on other ways to “still thought” while valuing thought, please write in the Comments link or in the box “Leave a Reply” at the bottom of this post.

A Guru Dictates the Questions and Answers

What’s the difference between a guru and an educator?

A guru fashions a doctrine and disciples. A guru dictates the questions and answers which are permitted. Disciples are discouraged from independent thought. Their job is to distribute the doctrine and to allure more disciples. Gurus demand obedience and compliance.

Educators, on the contrary, foster learning and encourage questioning and searching for answers. Students are allowed to engage in independent thought. Unexpected answers or questions are welcomed by educators as part of the process of learning and discovery. Educators stimulate creativity, skepticism, and intellectual explorations.1

Gurus seldom, if ever, doubt their doctrines and tend to see themselves as infallible. Educators, on the other hand, are doubtful about many of their beliefs. Educators lack absolute certainty. Gurus are absolutely certain of their doctrine.

Adi Shankara with Disciples, by Raja Ravi Varma (1904)
Adi Shankara with Disciples, by Raja Ravi Varma (1904)

Guru behaviors

It’s important to define words that often have multiple meanings. A popular definition is that a guru fits the East-Asian notion of an enlightened spiritual teacher. Most important, is not the personality or person, but the actions and attitudes that differentiate an educator from a guru.

Below are two examples using different Eastern, Hindu-inspired gurus.

When a visitor named Shyam Basu asked [guru] Ramakrishna: “How can you say that sin is punishable when you say that He is doing everything?”. The [guru] was cheesed off and quipped: “What calculating cunning (sonar bener buddhi)! You asshole (Ore podo), just eat the mango. What will you gain by counting the trees, branches, and leaves in the grove?”2 [Read more quotes and a brief biography in my post Ramakrishna Paramahamsa: Smoking, Cussing Godman?]

To a dissatisfied student, [the guru] Paramahansa Yogananda said: “Don’t doubt, or God will remove you from the hermitage. So many come here looking for miracles. But masters do not display the powers God has given them unless He commands them to do so. Most men don’t understand that the greatest miracle of all would be the transformation of their lives by humble obedience to His will.”3

The behaviors and attitudes expressed by these two East-Asian, Hindu-inspired god-men is emblematic of gurus. It doesn’t matter whether a person is popularly called a guru or disciple. What matters most is how a person acts and how disciples surrender and obey.

Donald_Trump_by_Gage_Skidmore_6-minMany more gurus than educators

A guru aims to produce disciples who obey and comply. Disciples are discouraged from independent thought. Independence is discouraged as being egoic, rebellious, and “doing your own thing”—opposing the guru and doctrine. Educators encourage students to question and search for answers. When it no longer serves, doctrine may be discarded. An educator aims to stimulate creativity, skepticism, and intellectual explorations.

In many schools teachers are more like gurus than educators. In politics many citizens act more like disciples. Making distinctions—between guru versus educator—is important. It illustrates and impacts the way we think and act in daily life, in private and public.

Top photo credit, walking buddha and disciples, by AntanO – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=39371295.

1 Many of the distinctions of guru versus educator made in this post were gleaned from Russell L. Ackoff’s, Differences That Make a Difference, London: UK, Triarchy Press, 2010.

2 Quote of Ramakrishna Paramahansa from Narasingha P. Sil’s,
Ramakrishna Revisited: A New Biography, Lanham: MD, University Press of America, 1998, p. 163.

3 Quote of Paramahansa Yogananda from Sayings of Paramahansa Yogananda, Los Angeles: CA, Self-Realization Fellowship, 1980.

Questioning Skeptic Meditations

Disillusioned with yoga, meditation, or mindfulness? Or, devoted practitioner exploring other viewpoints?

What brings you here? I’d like to know. Vote in this poll. In a future post, I will share the results of voting.

Below is a list of the top three posts and a retrospection about Skeptic Meditations, the website, and additional questions to you, my cherished reader, for your recommendations.

In December 2013, I launched Skeptic Meditations website with a goal of exploring the hidden side of yoga, meditation, and mindfulness. Primarily, I started this website as an outlet for my own education, to clarify my thinking, and to bounce off you the results of my research and its conclusions–to get your feedback and to challenge me when my thinking may be off. Thanks for that.

Top Three Posts of all time (by number of views)

  1. OM: Sound of Spirit OR of Tinnitus? 
  2. Dark Side Of Meditation 
  3. Depersonalization and Derealization [Infographic]

Top Five Tags and Categories of Posts (by number of views)

  1. Hinduism
  2. clinical studies
  3. Phenomenal Experiences
  4. yoga
  5. Self-Realization Fellowship
Question. Kevin Dooley. Flickr. CC BY 2.0
Question. Kevin Dooley. Flickr. CC BY 2.0

In the 20 months since launch of Skeptic Meditations, I’ve shared 122 blog posts with you, an average of one blog post per week. I’m checking with you, my cherished reader, to see what you think the direction for this website, Skeptic Meditations, should be. Should I continue posting regularly, as-is? And, if so, what direction do you recommend for blog content and conversations? Would you be interested in guest blogging for this site? What other out of the box ideas are possible?

In future posts, I would like to share, anonymously, some of the email correspondence I receive from Skeptic Meditations readers. I wonder how many of you have similar or different challenges or interests that bring you to this site.

Thanks for voting, reading, and commenting at Skeptic Meditations.


Secret, Underground Libraries of Monks

read book-min
Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

Hundreds of “censored” books adorned the shelves of the Mt. Washington Monks’ Library. Who inspected and sterilized the texts? A Council of Senior Monastics carefully vetted and only allowed “approved” publications in the Monks’ Library.

Rationale? The Rules of Conduct of a Resident Disciple of the Monastic Self-Realization Order dictated “…absorb Self-Realization teachings.” Warning: “Comparative reading and study, particularly in the early training of the novice, tend to confuse the mind and divert the attention from the main goal.” This ultimate goal was self-realization. While the intermediate rule was obedience and loyalty to the spiritual master-guru, the elders and counselors.

“People can lose their lives in libraries. They ought to be warned.”
Saul Bellow, Nobel Prize for Literature

However, savvy monks had the gall to circumvent the Rules and accessed books on the underground black market. Underground texts were not necessarily subversive, but were not officially sanctioned (vetted and censored) by the Monks’ Council. However, most of the black market texts I read definitely were subversive.

Below is a partial listing of texts I read during my 14 year tenure within the Self-Realization Fellowship Monastic Order. First, I list the books I read that qualify as approved by the Council to be in the Monks’ Library. Next, I list black market books, mostly subversive, that I obtained underground and read in secret.

Partial list of books I read while a monk

Borrowed from Monks’ Library (approved/censored by Monastic Council)

Entire catalog of publications by Self-Realization Fellowship

Practicing the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

Mahabharata (Hindu Epic) by Kamala Subramanium

Ramayana (Hindu Epic) by Kamala Subramanium

Life of Milarepa: Tibetan Yogi by Heruka (translation)

The Conquest of Fear by Basil King

How to Win Friends and Influence People by Dale Carnegie

Dozens on Catholic Saints by various authors [see my post Her Stigmata Crashed Into My Karma]

Holy Bible: King James and other versions

Kabir: Biography

Guru Nanak: Sikh Saint

Dozen books on Buddha by various authors

The Miracle of Fatima (Catholic), forgot the author

Life After Life: The Investigation of a Phenomenon–Survival of Bodily Death by Raymond Moody

Closer to the Light: Learning from the Near-Death Experiences of Children by Melvin Morse and Paul Perry

G. Washington Carver: Biography

Luther Burbank: Biography

Samurai Warrior: Miyamoto Musashi: Biography

[More to be listed as I recall or as fellow monks remind me]

Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0
Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

Underground, unapproved texts (obtained in secret, monks’ “black market”)

When Helping You Is Hurting Me: Escaping the Messiah Trap by Carmen Renee Berry

Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself by Melody Beattie

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers

Cults in Our Midst: The Hidden Menace in our Everyday Lives by Margaret Thaler Singer

Dozen books on religious cults [I’ll try to recall the titles and enter here]. These books I secretly ordered through Amazon while visiting family and had them shipped discreetly–with much trepidation–to my address in the monastery. I shared these only with a few trusted monks.

Contemplation in a World of Action by Thomas Merton

Several books by Trappist Monk Thomas Merton. The Merton texts I read were about the challenges of living an authentic monastic life and the turmoil in the Orders from Vatican Council II. Surprisingly candid about the challenges of monastic life, Merton wrote of monastic superiors who exercised ruthless authority and peer power struggles. Common characteristics, apparently, of those who live in spiritual communities.

Civil War: A Narrative, 3 Volume Set by Shelby Foote

Finding the Leader Within You by John C. Maxwell

The Killer Angels: The Classic Novel of the Civil War by Michael Shaara

[More to come when I recall or when a monastic buddy reminds me of others]

The “black market” books I read in secret during my mid-to-late monastic profession. While the sanitized, Monks’ Library books I read during my early-to-middle monastic career. Contrary to the Rules of the Order noted above, “black market” books did not confuse me. The underground, uncensored texts challenged and clarified my thinking (and kept me sane in the cloister). If I had consumed only the approved, whitewashed Monk’s Library books my intellect would have remained stunted and my emotions kept blunted. The breakthrough realizations occurred as I ventured outside the sanctified texts of the Monks’ Council and studied in the underground library.

Question for readers: Is it disingenuous or dangerous for clergy to read materials that may be considered subversive to official doctrine?