Tagged: mind control

Superiority Complex of Meditators

Meditation systems often instill followers with harmful ideas of superiority.

The attitude of superiority by meditators, yogis, and avatars is morally, spiritually, and scientifically bankrupt. Violence or agression need not be overt or expressed physically to be harmful. Destructive ideas, even notions of passivity, can breed indifference and incite actions of hostility towards others, especially outsiders. Meditation and yoga, as a spiritual ideology, as a soteriology1, has embedded within it harmful superiority complexes.

This article examines harmful superiority complexes within meditation and yoga practitioners, within their systems of ideologies and soteriologies.

Soteriology is the study of religious doctrines of salvation, liberation, or release:

  • In Hinduism is the primary concept of moksha (liberation, release).
  • In Buddhism is the primary aim of liberation from suffering, ignorance, and rebirth.
  • In Mysticism, generally, is the primary notion of liberation of soul or self through union with a transcendent being.

Many meditation practitioners have one or more of these soteriological aims or goals. If not, top of mind, then somewhere in the background is the desire or seeking of liberation, release, or salvation from suffering, ignorance, and rebirth.

Nothing wrong with the desire to reduce suffering or ignorance. However, systems of yoga and meditation that promise liberation often also instill followers with superiority complexes and psychic conflicts.

Psychic conflict and superiority complexes

First, in this article we use “complex” to describe a group of emotionally laden ideas that are repressed that cause psychic conflict leading to abnormal mental states or behavior2. Superiority3 in this article is defined as an exaggerated sense of one’s importance that shows itself in the making of excessive or unjustified claims.

Superiority complex, then, is an explicit or implicit attitude of superiority that conceals feelings of inferiority and fears of failure.

Yogis, masters, and avatars (exalted persons supposed to be enlightened, compassionate, and “One” with everything) and their followers usually proclaim that yoga (their particular spiritual ideology or practice) is the highest, ultimate, and superior path for humanity.

The ideological or soteriological systems of yoga and yogi-masters typically proclaim to achieve for practitioners “Oneness”, inclusion, and compassion towards all beings. While in actuality there are internal conflicts. Everything outside their particular yoga system, tradition, or ideology is seen as inferior, illusory (Maya, Satanic), and ultimately worthless.

“Weird Statue of figure ontop of temple Batu Caves Malysia” by amanderson2 is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Yoga scriptures illustrate superiority complexes

To illustrate the ideological superiority complexes embedded within yoga systems, consider the following examples:

Shiva, the Hindu god of yoga, in the Rasārṇava4 condemns all other forms of yoga or religious practice, not sparing even the six major philosophical schools of Hinduism–which allow liberation with release from the body upon death5:

“The liberation that occurs when one drops dead is indeed a worthless liberation. [For in that case] a donkey is also liberated when he drops dead. Liberation is indeed viewed in the six schools as [occurring] when one drops dead, but that [kind of] liberation is not immediately perceptible, in the way that a myrobalan fruit in the hand [is perceptible] (karamulakavat).

In The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India, David Gordon White, explains that the Hindu yoga god, Shiva, continues in the Rasārṇava to emphasize that the yogic quest is superior to all other religious practices:

Liberation [arises] from gnosis (jnana), gnosis [arises] from the maintenance of the vital breaths. Therefore, where there is stability, mercury [sexual fluid of Shiva] is empowered and the body is stabilized. Through the use of mercury one rapidly obtains a body that is unaging and immortal, and concentration of the mind. He who eats calcinated mercury (mrtasutaka) truly obtains both transcendent and mundane knowledge, and his mantras are effective.

It is now known that exposure to mercury and its compounds causes hydrargyria or mercury poisoning, which may lead to peripheral neuropathy, damage to or disease affecting nerves, which may impair sensation, movement, gland or organ function, or other aspects of health, depending on the type of nerve affected. Perhaps to the Raseśvara the symptoms from mercury poisoning and nerve damage was believed to be a sign of spiritual achievement, liberation, and superiority?

Greater than followers of other paths?

The Bhagavad Gita, Song of the Lord, is a part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata. In it the Lord Krishna, who is proclaimed a great yogi and avatar (Lord come to earth to save humanity), extols the superiority of yogis.

“Such an one ranks Above ascetics, higher than the wise, Beyond achievers of vast deeds! Be thou [a] Yogi, Arjuna! And of such believe, Truest and best is he who worships Me With inmost soul, stayed on My Mystery!”6

Famous yogi guru, Paramahansa Yogananda, claimed he was a channel of Krishna/Christ- Consciousness in his interpretations of the Bhagavad Gita, God Talks with Arjuna:

“The Lord Himself here extols the royal path of yoga as the highest of all spiritual paths, and the scientific yogi as greater than a follower of any other path”7.

Shiva, Krishna, and the mahesvaras (great yogis or avatars) belittle other religious systems and practitioners as inferior. Meditation practitioners are led to believe they and their particular techniques are superior, and that all followers of other systems are inferior.

“Misa dominical” by Serge Saint is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Implanting superiority to get and keep followers

Meditation and yoga traditions and systems use their Super Men (avatars and masters), like Krishna, Shiva, and spiritual gurus, to impose their values and implant their superiority complex into their yoga followers.

The spiritual Superman (avatar or master) proclaims all other systems of liberation (soteriologies) are inferior, “worthless” in an effort to get and keep followers. All other people who do not practice the Guru Lord’s version of “royal” yoga (meditation techniques) are explicitly and implicitly deemed inferior, ignorant, or damned–doomed to wander in darkness of Maya.

Instilling fear in followers

Fear is instilled in followers of these systems. The system, with the spiritual authority at the head, needs to ensure its continuance by keeping followers, and fills them with ideas that instill fear should they consider leaving the system. Remember these are ideological systems: built and maintained on ideas. They are not dependent on physical proximity or even actual adherence to practice.

Feelings of guilt for questioning the system is one way to prevent you from leaving. Followers when trapped inside these systems of ideas justify their loyalty to the system, group, or teacher to protect themselves from questioning their doubts and repressed feelings.

Competing for followers

Yogis, avatars, and spiritual masters compete for followers. It’s not enough to follow any system of yoga or meditation. Theirs is superior. Their followers are told they are superior. It has to be this way for this system to survive, to keep its followers. If gurus or yoga systems are not perceived by their followers as superior to any others, why follow that particular ideology, system, or meditation practice?

The “others”–followers of other systems to liberation–are therefore condemned as inferior by the “superior” meditators, yogis, and so-called spiritual masters of a particular system. Or, at best the “others” and their inferior systems are pitied (with condescending “compassion”) as those other peoples are in “reality” lost, ignorant, and part of the mindless masses.

To err is human. We often believe our team or tribe is the best (superior) and everyone else’s is inferior to ours. That in itself is not the problem. Repression of superiority complexes and the lack of awareness of followers is the problem.

Overcoming superiority complexes of yoga and meditation systems

Superiority complexes, like we discussed above, are often implicit or explicit within the ideological or soteriological systems followed by meditation practitioners. Repressed within these systems followers often have hidden feelings of insecurity and feelings of failure. By transforming feelings of inadequacy or inferiority into superiority complexes, these systems pretend to be more spiritual, to be greater than others. The harm and dangers lurk in this repression of inferiority that pretends to be superior.

I am not saying all practitioners or all yoga or meditation systems have superiority complexes.

What I am saying is followers of these systems are at higher risk of repressing their feelings through claims of superiority, having all the answers, following an infallible authority or unchallengeable system. Hence the popularity of articles hyping the “scientific” benefits of certain meditation methods.

Feelings of being “chosen”, “special”, or greater that others can be an indicator there is superiority complex. If one person or system is superior, then the other must be inferior.  A system, like yoga or meditation, that claims to be superior, infallible, and unchangeable is a potentially harmful ideology.

Ideological superiority = This is a natural, human trait, but dangerous thinking. The yogis, avatars, or spiritual masters are not exempt (indeed in this article we’ve shown them to often be the perpetrators) of needing and competing for followers who seen them as superior to others, especially to other spiritual systems or techniques. Anyone claiming to be superior to others or to be a part of an infallible, unchallengeable system is at increased risk or harming themselves and others. Awareness of this fact is an important step towards doing less harm to oneself and others.

Notes

Image #1: “Alchemy” by Riding on a comet is licensed under CC BY 2.0

1 Soteriology. Wikipedia. Accessed May 31, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Soteriology.

2 Complex in this article, is used in the psychological or psychoanalytical context. Google definition. Accessed May 30, 2017 https://www.google.com/search?q=complex+definition&oq=complex+defin&aqs=chrome.0.0j69i57j0l4.4331j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

3 Superiority and it’s synonyms. Merriam-Webster. Accessed Jun 2, 2017 at https://www.merriam-webster.com/thesaurus/superiority

4 “Raseśvaras, like many other schools of Indian philosophy, believed that liberation was identity of self with Supreme lord Shiva and freedom from transmigration. However, unlike other schools, Raseśvaras thought that liberation could only be achieved by using mercury to acquire an imperishable body.” Wikipedia. Accessed May 24, 2017, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raseśvara].

5 The Alchemical Body: Siddha Traditions in Medieval India, David Gordon White, University of Chicago Press. 1996. Print.  p174. https://www.amazon.com/Alchemical-Body-Siddha-Traditions-Medieval/dp/0226894991

6 Bhagavad Gita, VI:45-46, Sir Edwin Arnold’s translation http://hinduism.about.com/library/weekly/extra/bl-gitatext6.htm

7 God Talks with Arjuna, Ch 6 v45-46, Paramahansa Yogananda. Self-Realization Fellowship. Print. https://www.amazon.com/God-Talks-Arjuna-Self-Realization-Fellowship/dp/0876120311

Guru versus Educator

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.

Notes
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.

Obsessive-compulsive symptoms & role of meditation beliefs and practices

David Masters, Flickr, CC BY 2.0
David Masters, Flickr, CC BY 2.0

Studies show a link between obsessive-compulsive behaviors and high religiosity, thought-control, and magical thinking.

Many meditation beliefs and practices contain high religiosity, thought-control, and magical thinking.

Eastern- or yoga-meditation practices hold a variety of beliefs in subtle energies, chakras, spirits, gods, and mystical realms.

Meditators who heighten or intensify these beliefs and practices may increase their likelihood of obsessive-compulsive (OC) behaviors.

Clinical psychologists, E. Eremsoy and M. Inozu, at the University of Ankara, Turkey, studied1 165 adult participants who had no history of psychiatric conditions.

  • Participants completed four standard psychological questionnaires: Magical Ideation Scale, Thought Control Questionnaire, Obsessive Compulsive Inventory, and Demographic Information Form.
  • The results showed a significant link between magical thinking, religiosity, and thought control in determining obsessive-compulsive symptoms.
  • The researchers concluded that further studies are needed to identify whether heightened magical thinking, religiosity and thought control are direct causes in the development of OC symptoms.

Obsessive-compulsive defined

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is a brain and behavior problem that is characterized by recurring and disabling obsessions (thoughts, images) and compulsions (uncontrollable actions) that won’t go away. The unwanted intrusion of these thoughts and activities may appear suddenly, interrupt the stream of consciousness, and evoke anxiety and distress.2

I do not claim that everyone who meditates has pathological OCD. Neither do I claim that all meditators have obsessive-compulsive symptoms. Yet some may. What I am suggesting is that many Eastern-inspired meditation beliefs and practices encourage a heightened religiosity, thought-control, and magical thinking, which recent psychological studies have linked to OC symptoms.

My history of meditation beliefs and practices revealed to me that spiritual teachers implanted a high degree of magical thinking, religiosity, and thought-controls–all foundational concepts in classical and contemporary yoga-meditation. Studies show these kinds of beliefs and practices play a key role in OC symptoms.

OC symptoms: Role of meditation beliefs and practices

To point you to what I see as strong relationships between OC symptoms and meditation beliefs and practices, I’ve quoted the Eremsoy study and provided my comments below:

Magical thinking is one of a number of OCD-related faulty beliefs. It refers to broader cognitive distortions about causality: real-life events are seen as being caused by a person’s thoughts and actions that are physically unconnected to the events.3

New age religions and occult often hold magical beliefs in the “law of attraction”, karma, and “thoughts are things” that bring the thinker either good or evil, prosperity or poverty, enlightenment or delusion. Read my post Gurus on the Financial Plane.

Several empirical studies have found that magical thinking was related to general psychopathology measures, anxiety, dissociative experiences, neuroticism, and schizotypal personality.4

In severe cases, meditation beliefs and practices have reportedly led some to extreme dissociative experiences (depersonalization/derealization)–that is, feelings of being outside one’s body, detachment from self or others, or as if looking from behind a glass. It is easy to see that some people who may be prone to OC behaviors could be attracted to meditation practices, or, that intense meditation beliefs and practices could cause psychopathology.
Read my post on Depersonalization/Derealization.

Magical thinking seems to have two functions: a) it increases sense of threat as an input; and b) it motivates a person to regain the control by showing neutralizing behaviour as an output.5

We may imagine certain thoughts or actions are “out of tune” with divine harmony, bring bad karma, or lead to sin or hell and so on. We then get anxious and fearful, which motivates us to meditate more and to try to neutralize and control our thoughts. We inevitably fail. A vicious cycle keeps us bound to spiritual teachers and religious practices who further instill worry and fear of punishment for our physical, moral, and spiritual failures. Read my post on Duped by Meditation.

Strict religious beliefs and moral codes may motivate highly religious individuals to attach strong personal meaning to the content and occurrence of intrusive thoughts. Some highly religious people may easily conclude that some thoughts can represent a type of moral failure and that may shake their complete faith in God; therefore immoral thoughts should be removed from the stream of consciousness in order to regain a feeling of purity and right standing with God.6

These beliefs about the importance of thoughts might activate deliberative thought-control efforts…. Recent studies have reported that highly religious individuals endorsed significantly more maladaptive beliefs about the importance and control of intrusive thoughts than did low religious individuals. These individuals also may show a higher tendency to believe in the power of their own thoughts.7

People use diverse strategies to control their unwanted thoughts, including distraction, thought replacement, thought stopping, analyzing thought, and suppression. Unfortunately, directing awareness away from unwanted thoughts is not always easy, and failure is inevitable….Individuals with OCD may have a belief that perfect control is possible and inability to achieve it is a sign of increased threat and failed mental control.8

Meditation teachers often falsely lead us to believe it is possible to achieve perfect control, perfect stillness of mind or permanent cessation of suffering–if we surrender our wills and energy to following their teachings. It is these teachers who instilled in us the worry and fear of punishment if we don’t properly follow and believe in their magical claims.

Although every act of magical thinking does not need to rely on supernatural agents (e.g., a spirit, ancestor, god, angel, saint) as seen in the case of prayer, some kinds of magical thinking are dependent on supernatural agents. The basic notion of intercessory prayer is that a specific supernatural agent might cause or prevent an event on the supplicant’s behalf.9

I recall a chant from Self-Realization Fellowship meditations, “Guru, image of Brahma, deliver us from delusion.” Chants, affirmations, prayers, or visualizations–these are often used to supplicate the gods, angels, or miraculous agents to intercede on our behalf. Magical thinking.

Strong devotion to religion may increase the tendency to engage in magical ideation, which in turn increases the need to remove these [unwanted] thoughts from the stream of consciousness through control strategies. However, these intentional thought-control efforts usually increase the frequency and intensity of intrusions.10

If a person with magical thoughts uses certain thought-control strategies, such as worry or punishment, in order to control his or her thoughts, he or she may suffer from OC symptoms, mainly because the effort in controlling the thoughts would further increase the thought itself, which creates a vicious cycle.11

Religious individuals seem to use worry and punishment as thought-control strategies, which then result in increased OC symptoms…. Magical beliefs often manifest themselves as superstitious behaviors, religious sacraments, and personal rituals.12

In summary, recent studies show a significant link between high religiosity, magical thinking, beliefs and needs for control of unwanted thoughts, and obsessive-compulsive (OC) behaviors. Many meditation beliefs and practices are rooted in various degrees of religiosity, thought-control, and magical thinking. When these factors are heightened in meditators it may increase OC-type symptoms.

Notes
1 C. Ekin Eremsoy and Mujgan Inozu, The Role of Magical Thinking, Religiosity and Thought-Strategies in Obsessive-Compulsive Symptoms in a Turkish Adults Sample, Behaviour Change, Vol 33:1 Apr 2016 pp. 1-14, Cambridge University Press. Read the abstract at http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=10215218&fileId=S0813483915000169

2 A more detailed definition of OCD can be read at the International OCD Foundation website https://iocdf.org/about-ocd/

3 C. Ekin Eremsoy and Mujgan Inozu, The Role of Magical Thinking, Religiosity and Thought-Strategies in Obsessive-Compulsive Symptoms in a Turkish Adults Sample, Behaviour Change, Vol 33:1 Apr 2016 p. 2

4 ibid

5 ibid

6 ibid

7 p. 2-3

8 p. 3

9 ibid

10 ibid

11 p. 10

12 ibid

Meditation techniques offer illusion of control

Esther Simpson, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Esther Simpson, Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Meditation techniques, like religion, offer an illusion of control, a false promise of personal mastery.

Helplessness, insecurity, and uncertainty are part of the human condition. Unable to find permanent freedom from our ailments, we willingly surrender our bodies and minds, our time and resources, to uselessly following the advice of charlatans, of spiritual teachers, gurus, or buddhas.1 Meditation techniques may act as a placebo (sham or fake) treatment to our ailments that give us an illusion of control.

To begin, let’s define “illusion” as a thing that is or that is likely to be wrongly perceived and that probably we have wrong ideas about. Now, let’s proceed with our discussion of the illusion of control offered by meditation techniques.

Helplessness and the human condition

Life largely operates beyond our control. Our birth, death, and much of life’s events unfold mostly outside our power. We crave security and certainty and want to exert our influence over other people. Many people believe that meditation techniques provide them with unlimited access to secret knowledge, to magical cures, and to personal mastery over one’s body, mind, and world.

Meditation philosophy, inspired by Hinduism and Buddhism that will be discussed below, is built upon the false premise that there is something wrong, missing, or corrupt within us, which is beyond our awareness and control. (Read my post Duped by Meditation? for further elaboration on false premises underlying many meditation practices).

Charlatans, gurus, and spiritual teachers implant in our minds the need of a cure (from our unawareness, asleepness, or out-of-controlness), and then offer us sham products that offer the illusion of control.

Mind-control disguised as self-control

Meditation teachers are seen by many of their followers as moral authorities who implant in their minds the necessity of self-control. Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad, in their book The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, warn, “All mind control operates under the guise of self-control”.2 Under this psychological, spiritual, and theological pretext, meditation is a fraudulent technique that is sold on the pretense of offering self-control.3 Practitioners often willingly surrender control to teachers who have already implanted in them the need for self-restraint as the right path to ultimate freedom of body, mind, and spirit.

Self-Realization Fellowship, a Hindu-inspired religion that I used to follow, promises that disciples who correctly practice the given meditation techniques every day will eventually, if not in this life then in a future incarnation, attain total self-realization, self-mastery bringing complete awareness of Self or God.

In the Samadhi Padi chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra says, “Yoga is the restraint of mental modifications” (“Yogaś citta-vritti-nirodhaḥ”).4 Mental control or restraint, a core component of yoga, is supposed to eventually lead the practitioner to the penultimate state of Dhyana (meditative trance and total absorption in self-awareness or Samadhi).5

For many people, meditation techniques offer a theological or moral framework that appeals to their unmet needs to control body, mind, and world.

Masters, frauds, and the uncontrollable self

The more we feel helpless, the more we want to assign control to someone or something else to cure or fix us and our world. We attribute magical agency to spiritual teachers, religions, and meditation techniques.

Kramer and Alstad, point out that in the East the prevailing idea is that the self is limited and to be transcended (Hinduism) or that the idea of the self is a false identity of the mind that is to be transcended (Buddhism). These Eastern ideas are biased towards the reduction or elimination of the self or ego to attain a permanent selflessness or egolessness.7 Any teacher or mystic who claims to be totally selfless or egoless must also claim to be totally conscious.

In Strangers to Ourselves, Timothy Wilson, a psychology professor at University of Virginia, gives reasons why our unconscious is inaccessible: “The bad news is that it is difficult to know ourselves because there is no direct access to the adaptive unconscious, no matter how hard we try…. Because our minds have evolved to operate largely outside of consciousness, it may not be possible to gain direct access to unconscious processing.”8

For gurus and spiritual teachers to admit that unconscious factors are at play within oneself would mean that no one can be certain that any person can ever be completely self-aware or can be totally selfless and egoless. It is debatable that so-called advanced masters, mystics, and saints are what they say they are: totally self-aware, in complete self-control, and perfected in selflessness or egolessness; and that the teacher knows what is best for disciples who strive to follow in her footsteps.

Kramer and Alstad write, “If there were even the remote possibility that a totally realized being had an unconscious, how could anyone (including the realized one) be certain that all motives and actions were pure and selfless?”9 Many Eastern-inspired religious teachers negate or devalue Western psychology because its concepts about the unconscious (uncontrollable self) undermines their power and authority.

Countless people look to charlatans, spiritual teachers, or gurus who they believe are completely conscious, totally selfless, and have foolproof answers and magical cures.

Results from meditation: placebo effect?

Our feelings of powerlessness feed anxieties and hunger for coping mechanisms.10 The times we feel most uncertain and helpless is when we most want answers and control. Even an illusory sense of control is enough to satisfy.

Our expectations that a technique or treatment will be helpful can sometimes give us beneficial effects. A meditation technique can enhance a practitioner’s condition simply because the person has the expectation that the practice will be helpful. Medical scientists say that the placebo effect–when a fake treatment or technique (an inactive substance like a sugar pill or meditation technique)–can sometimes improve a patient’s condition simply because the person has the expectation that it will be helpful.11

In Snake Oil Science: The Truth About Complementary and Alternative Medicine, R. Barker Bausell, a former Research Director of the National Institute for Health-funded Complementary Medicine Program, points out that, “If a completely inactive pill, ointment, or procedure (in other words, a placebo), accompanied by the expectation of effectiveness, can result in pain relief, then surely any therapy–no matter how bizarre–that we consider credible enough to seek out (and pay for) can also result in pain relief [or give us feelings of control and well-being], compliments of the placebo effect.”12

The effects we may feel from meditation practice then may be largely a sham, a treatment that creates temporary relief and illusion of control.

The Journal of American Medical Association published a landmark meta-study of 47 clinical trials with 3,515 participants on the effects of meditation. The researchers at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore concluded that meditation treatments were not better than drugs or exercise. (Read my post Meditation Not Better than Drugs or Exercise, Study Finds). “The studies overall failed to show much benefit from meditation with regard to relief of suffering or improvement in overall health, with the important exception that mindfulness meditation provided a small but possibly meaningful degree of relief from psychological distress,” wrote Allan H. Goroll, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School-Massachusetts General Hospital.

A wish for you

In summary, meditation techniques may act as a sham or fake (placebo) treatment for ailments and give an illusion of control. Whether any person is ever able to be completely self-aware, self-controlled, and selfless is debatable. The false promises of personal mastery and magical cures from charlatans is something everyone needs to guard against by using critical thinking.

If you suffer, are in pain, or feel powerless; if the meditation techniques you practice help, then, I am happy for you. Or, if you discovered that meditation techniques didn’t ultimately help, like I did, then I hope you find an effective treatment or another placebo. Understanding that illusions or placebos may have benefits also means there are countless ways you could improve your situation and get a sense of control over your life.

Notes

1 The seed idea about the illusion of control was gleaned from James A. Lindsay’s, Everybody Is Wrong About God (Durham, NC: Pitchstone Publishing, 2015) p. 79

2 Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad, The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power (Berkeley, CA: Frog Books, 1993) p. 225

3 James A. Lindsay, Everybody Is Wrong About God (Durham, NC: Pitchstone Publishing, 2015) p. 79

4 Quoted from “Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoga_Sutras_of_Patanjali

5 See “Samadhi”, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Samadhi

6 James A. Lindsay, Everybody Is Wrong About God (Durham, NC: Pitchstone Publishing, 2015) p. 79

7 Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad, The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power (Berkeley, CA: Frog Books, 1993) pp. 101-102

8 This quotation of Timothy Wilson is from On Being Certain: Believing You Are Right Even When You’re Not by Robert A Burton, M.D. (New York, NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2008) p146

9 Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad, The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power (Berkeley, CA: Frog Books, 1993) p. 102

10 James A. Lindsay, Everybody Is Wrong About God (Durham, NC: Pitchstone Publishing, 2015) p. 80

11 See “Definition of Placebo Effect”, MedicineNet.com, http://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=31481

12 R. Barker Bausell, Snake Oil Science: The Truth About Complementary and Alternative Medicine (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007) p. 256

Duped by Meditation?

Jonathan Kos-Read, Silk Road #7, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0
Jonathan Kos-Read, Silk Road #7, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

Many people believe false premises about meditation. Some keep meditating for years, handing over control to teacher, guru, philosophy or religion.

In the present post, it is argued that there are implicit premises critical to why many people meditate. Examples of these premises are provided. The implication is that the meditation practitioner must believe in the reality of these premises, while at the same time these premises are actually beyond the awareness and the verification of the practitioner. Therefore, the meditator relies on a given teacher, guru, philosophy or religion to validate the reality of meditation experiences. The conclusion is these premises along with meditation techniques are a method of psychological control that keeps the practitioner dependent on the given teacher, guru, philosophy or religion.

Based on Meditation: Deconstructing Nonsense, Gnostic Media interview with Bill Joslin

To keep practicing meditation techniques many people believe in one or more of the following premises:

“You are unaware. Meditation is the way to unbroken awareness. If you are not fully aware, keep meditating.

You are god but don’t know it. Meditation is the path to know you are god. If you don’t know you are god, keep meditating.

You are asleep (ignorant of your delusion) and don’t know it. Meditation is the way to wake up from delusion. If you are in delusion, keep meditating.

You are suffering. Meditation is the path to transcend suffering. If you are suffering, keep meditating.

You are Nothing, the Void. Meditation is the path to realize you are Nothing, the Void. If you don’t know you are Nothing, the Void, keep meditating.

Each of these premises implies that “there is something wrong, missing, or corrupt within you, which is beyond your awareness and control.”1

These premises are beyond the ordinary verification of the practitioner. The supposed way to verify if these premises are true is by validation from the teacher, guru, philosophy or religion. The practitioner must hand over self-validation to the teacher, guru, philosophy or religion that implanted these unverifiable premises in the first place.

Are these premises true? Who decides when the desired outcomes have been attained?

If these premises were true, then we would expect to find millions, if not billions, of people since the Buddha (500 BCE) to today to have ended their suffering or to be walking around as god or gods. These premises appear to be false. The premise and experiments that meditation techniques can end suffering or transform people into infallible gods has failed. With meditation techniques we find what we would expect to find if the above premises were indeed false. We rely not on self but on external authority for self-validation.

Watch or listen to the Meditation: Deconstructing Nonsense, Gnostic Media episode #202, interview with Bill Joslin

It was argued there are implicit premises critical to why many people meditate. Examples of these premises were shown. The implication is that the meditation practitioner must believe in the reality of the accepted premise, while at the same time the premise is beyond the awareness and the verification of the practitioner. As a result, the meditator actually relies on the given teacher, guru, philosophy or religion to validate the reality of meditation experiences. The conclusion is that the premises held by many meditation practitioners create a dependence on and a hand over of control to the given teacher, guru, philosophy or religion.

Many variations of the above false premises

There are many variations of the above premises. Below are some others that I filled in the blanks with:

You are ________. Meditation is the ____________. If you are not yet ___________, keep meditating.
immortal path to immortality immortal
breath path to breathlessness breathless
beyond body/mind way to transcend body/mind beyond body/mind
ego/self-centered path to transcend ego/self egoless/selfless
pure consciousness path to pure consciousness pure consciousness
peace, love, joy path to peace, love, joy peace, love, joy
blocked life force way to unblock/control life force in control of life force

 

What other compelling premises for meditation practice could fill in those “blanks”?

Notes

1 Joslin, Bill. (2014) Duped From the Beginning slide, Interview ‘Meditation: Deconstructing Nonsense’, Gnostic Media episode #202