Tagged: mindfulness

consumers of meditation mindfulness and nirvana

Consumers of Meditation, Mindfulness, and Nirvana

By meditating the consumer believes they can find happiness, health, or Nirvana. Most of all, to practice mindfulness or meditation consumers believe they can collect pleasurable experiences (whether couched in physical, emotional, or spiritual terms).

Here we explore how mindfulness and meditation are used to get people to spend money and consume products that they otherwise might not buy1. We are exploited by elite authorities who tell us we should meditate. What causes us to be consumers of meditation mindfulness and nirvana?

Thus, meditation and mindfulness are the ultimate products, writes Jeff Wilson in his praiseworthy book Mindful America (2014). The act of mindfulness can not be packaged or measured. So the benefits of practicing are cleverly “packaged”, promoted, and pushed as workshops, retreats, and lessons (books).

Consumers of meditation, mindfulness, and nirvana

Peddlers of meditation and mindfulness use:

  • Scientific studies to promote the benefits of their products and services,
  • Testimonials of people who were once stressed out and unhappy, and thanks to meditation, are now blissed out and happy.
  • Marketing tactics used to sell “ancient” meditation techniques.

A quiet, empty mind is fairly easy to influence, manipulate, and fill with desires. We relax and empty our minds by practicing mindfulness and meditation. It’s then fairly easy to sell us more workshops, retreats, and lessons.

We desire after happiness, self-improvement, and Nirvana; desires that previously were not present before we bought the premises that are promoted by peddlers of meditation and mindfulness products. Ironically, there are thousands of other free products (exercise, relaxation, or sleep to name three) that work just as good or better than meditation.

consumer meditation yoga
Sombilian Photography, Flickr, CC BY-ND 2.0

Game of gain

Playing mindfulness and meditation is a familiar game. We quickly learn to seek and collect experiences. The practitioner accumulates meditative experiences and gains points. The goal is to earn rewards for health, happiness, and enlightenment. The “spiritual” equivalent to earning Frequent Flyer Miles is to meditate more often and longer. Meditators choose from a menu of aspirations and benefits. Practitioners accumulate Frequent Flyer Meditation Miles. The more they practice (fly) the more points they can earn towards rewards of health, happiness, or Nirvana.

There are negative consequences to playing the game of meditation. When players of the mindfulness meditation entertain “bad” thoughts or do “wrong” acts points are lost. In the Orient and Occident this is the notion of “karma”, the cosmic scoreboard, which tallies the meditator’s points for and against the attainment of happiness and ultimately arriving at their destination, Nirvana.

We are led to believe, by meditation peddlers, if we use their products we will gain happiness, health, and Nirvana. In believing, we rely on the authority of those who taught us about meditation products and benefits in the first place. We use mindfulness research studies to bolster our beliefs that our favorite products (techniques) “work”.

Consuming and trusting dubious authorities

Hence, we think meditation works (gives us beneficial experiences). And, when we want something to work we will seek evidence that supports our beliefs. At this stage in the post-purchase process, any experiences in meditation will confirm whatever beliefs we think we choose. In reality, we are not in control of this process. Rather we are conditioned to consume by an elite group who claims to know what’s best for us.

So we are conditioned to consume what we are told is best for us: fixes or gives us health, happiness, and Nirvana. Consumption is the heart of capitalism. “Consumerism”, remarked documentary film maker Adam Curtis in The Century of the Self, “is a way of giving people the illusion of control while allowing a responsible elite to continue managing society.”3 We consume meditation because we trust dubious authorities who created our wants and desires. These authorities then sell us the fix, meditation techniques.

Concluding thoughts

In conclusion, consuming meditation and mindfulness is to seek experiences: happiness, health, or Nirvana. We seek what has been promoted to us by meditation peddlers. When we buy into the underlying premises–that we are “broken” and meditation is the “fix”–it’s fairly easy for “authorities” to get us to consume workshops, retreats, or lessons.

[Read my post Duped by Meditation?]

Notes

[Featured image credit: Buddha Store by Gone-Walkabout, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0]

1 Mindful America: The Mutual Transformation of Buddhist Meditation and American Culture. (2014) Jeff Wilson. Oxford University Press: Oxford, UK. p156. [Read my post Mindful America]

2 Letters to a Young Contrarian. (2001). Christopher Hitchens. Basic Books: Cambridge, MA. p19

3 The Century of the Self. Episode 4. BBC. (2002). Quote from Director Adam Curtis ~0:53:00m. YouTube. Accessed 17 Jun 2017 https://youtu.be/VouaAz5mQAs?list=PLktPdpPFKHfoXRfTPOwyR8SG8EHLWOSj6.

Why Mindfulness Fails

Using mindfulness to fix or gain something is doomed to fail, say Buddhist meditation teachers.

The practice of mindfulness, Western Buddhists argue, should be a sustained, quiet exploration and awareness of inside out, rather than a practice for gain of self, power, or control.

As Buddhism has been mainstreamed, its teachings have often been offered not as part of a religious, spiritual, or ethical whole, argues Magid and Poirier, Buddhist lay meditation teachers, but as a relief for pain, a way to build skills, or to better oneself.1

“Practice as gain operates within a familiar frame of separate self, power, and control. …An ‘I’ seek to ‘fix’ something, whether ‘out there’ or ‘deep inside’, that is ‘broken’ or ‘unsatisfactory’, or to ‘gain’ something that is currently ‘missing’ [is what’s wrong with mindfulness].” (p43)

Buddhist lay-teachers: Critics of mindfulness

Barry Magid and Marc Poirier are critical of the Western mindfulness movement. Their essay, Three Shaky Pillars of Western Buddhism, appears in What’s Wrong with Mindfulness (and What Isn’t): Zen Perspectives [Read my post reviewing the book, coming soon].

Barry Magid is a psychiatrist and psychoanalyst practicing in New York City. He is a founding member of the Ordinary Mind Zendo in New York and author of several books, Ordinary Mind: Exploring the Common ground of Zen and Psychoanalysis, Ending the Pursuit of Happiness: A Zen Guide, and Nothing is Hidden: The Psychology of Zen Koans.

Marc Poirier (1952-2015) was professor of law at Seton Hall University Law School in New Jersey. He received lay entrustment from his teacher, Barry Magid, to teach meditation to students and faculty of his law school and was a longtime practitioner of meditation and active with Zen Teachers Association.

“McMindfulness”drive-through

Expecting meditation to produce a particular state of consciousness, that the practitioner hopes someday to be permanent, is doomed to failure writes Magid and Poirier. Why is it doomed to failure? The authors don’t directly say in this essay. However, the underlying Buddhist reasons for failure can be gleaned from other essays in What’s Wrong with Mindfulness.

Underlying reasons for mindfulness failure the book contends are: In Buddhism “nothing” is real and everything is impermanent. To expect anything to be permanent–especially enlightenment–is illusion and the path of suffering.

Magid and Poirier describe the “workshop” approach to meditation and mindfulness. Extracted from the religious and spiritual context of Asian Buddhism, mindfulness is being repackaged for mass markets and quick consumption, it is ridiculed by critics, including committed Buddhists, as “McMindfulness”.

[Read my article on Consumers of Mindfulness, Meditation, Nirvana, coming soon]

Buddhism repackaged for mass consumption?

Repackaging Buddhist meditation for mass consumption is counterproductive. The meditation technique, argues Magid and Poirier, needs its religious or spiritual context within Asian traditions.

Buddhist practices have, they argue, increasingly been adapted, simplified, and altered in the West. Often for the purpose of extracting meditation techniques from their Asian religious and cultural contexts.2. Extracting mindfulness from its Oriental roots puts the foundation of practice on shaky pillars.

Three shaky pillars of Western Buddhism

The Three Shaky Pillars of Western Buddhism described by Magid and Poirier are:

  1. Deracination,
  2. Secularization,
  3. Instrumentalization.

1. Deracination: Cutting off Buddhism at its roots?

Deracination is literally, “cutting off from its roots” the practices of mindfulness meditation from Buddhism. It has increasing led to a secularization (removal from religious context) of Buddhist meditation practices.3

“Mindfulness and meditation techniques are being marketed and increasingly institutionalized as therapy and as personal transformation”. (p41)

The mindfulness movement…

“Threatens to obscure the fundamental nature of Buddhism itself”. (p41)

2. Secularization: Buddhism that is areligious?

Secularization, removing the religious or spiritual context, has instrumentalized Buddhist practices as technique or therapy. Mindfulness or meditation becomes a commodified product for personal gain or self-improvement.

3. Instrumentalization: Mindfulness, instrument for gain?

The problem of instrumentalization, say the authors, is the value of the activity of meditation is not in the activity itself but in what it is to be gained. It’s commodified products or results.4

What’s the harm of removing mindfulness from Buddhism?

Removing Buddhism from its Asian cultural and religious contexts, say Magid and Poirier:

  • Obscures traditional practices [of Buddhism and distorts them].
  • Consequences [of practice ] are no longer considered sacred.
  • Loses lineages of Eastern tradition; mindfulness is no longer part of a religious container.

What is…

“Most important is experience of awareness, of life as it is. Nothing is needed to be gained.” (p44)

Meditation has always failed

Magid and Poirier argue that mindfulness is doomed to fail without a lifelong commitment to a practice, without a qualified instructor, and without a supportive religious Buddhist community. I ask: what is mindfulness meditation supposed to help us succeed at?

Mindfulness meditation, according to Fortune, is a billion dollar industry5. Many Americans are eager to consume mindfulness products, retreats, and workshops. Most consumers are not told that a lifelong or religious commitment is required for practice. The latter is the desperate plea from the authors of What’s Wrong with Mindfulness.

Last week a colleague confided with me that he has been struggling with depression and that he was considering using a mindfulness-based therapy. I cautioned him against expecting mindfulness or meditation to be beneficial. There are many adverse effects, read my posts on Adverse (Side) Effects, that are terribly underreported. I recommended he seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional to determine if meditation-based therapy might help.

We Americans can’t meditate away the problems we have behaved our way into. Meditation (and religion) has had more than 2000 years to prove itself as the ultimate solution to human suffering. Meditation has always failed.

Notes

1 What’s Wrong with Mindfulness (and What Isn’t): Zen Perspectives. (2016) Edited by Robert Meikyo Rosenbaum and Barry Magid. Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications. p41

2 ibid p39

3 ibid p39

4 ibid p40

5 Meditation Has Become A Billion-Dollar Business. Fortune. 16 Mar 2016. Accessed 16 Jun 2017 at http://fortune.com/2016/03/12/meditation-mindfulness-apps/.

Mindfulness Myths: Fantasies and Facts

Yes, mindfulness can change the brain. Everything we do changes the brain. Meditation included.

Relying on neuroscience to validate mindfulness implies meditation is not valuable in and of itself as a spiritual practice, says Robert Meikyo Rosenbaum, Zen Buddhist priest and coeditor of:

What’s Wrong with Mindfulness (and What Isn’t): Zen Perspectives1, a collection of 12 essays written by 12 Buddhist or Zen priests and Vipassana meditation instructors and therapists. All 12 essayists are committed, lifelong practitioners of Buddhism and meditation.

Rosenbaum, author of the essay Mindfulness Myths: Facts and Fantasies, is a psychologist and psychotherapist formally trained in Zen and Qigong. He received his lay [priest] entrustment from Sojun Mel Weitsman of Berkeley Zen Center and is authorized by Master Hui Liu as a senior teacher of the Taoist practice of qigong of Yang Meijun. Rosenbaum’s books include, Walking the Way: 81 Zen Encounters with the Tao Te Ching and Zen and the Heart of Psychotherapy.

What’s Wrong with Mindfulness (and What Isn’t): Zen Perspectives book as a whole is interesting and compelling read because it is written by Western Zen Buddhist priests who are thoughtful and skeptical of the mindfulness movement in America.

Below are some excerpts and summaries from Rosenbaum’s essay Mindfulness Myths: Fantasies and Facts and my commentary in brackets.

Myth and fantasy: But we know mindfulness practices changes the brain!

Fact: Yes, says Rosenbaum, but everything we do changes the brain2. Meditation included. But so does checking Facebook, listening to music, reading, closing your eyes–each activity or non-activity will register an EEG (electroencephalograph) or fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) change in the brain. So what?

[Closing one’s eyes, as in most meditation practices, is a non-activity. Sleep is a type of non-activity. Relaxation, as in meditation, is non-activity. Non-action is precisely the benefit–the  change in our brain. Disconnecting, disengaging from electronic devices or external stimuli is a non-activity. As beneficial as relaxation.]

Myth and fantasy: Mindfulness is proven effective in clinical trials

Fact:

“A careful examination of the research”, writes Rosenbaum, “reveals how enthusiastic proselytizing can sometimes be less than mindful of the complexities and caveats involved.” p59

[Proselytizers of mindfulness who push the research often lack awareness, are unmindful. Or, if they are aware or mindful of the caveats in the research, are dishonest with themselves or others.]

“In fact, the benefits of quiet, relaxation, and stress management are so powerful it is often difficult to demonstrate that meditation contributes much beyond potentiating and enhancing the non-specific mechanisms at play in deep relaxation”. p60

[All mindfulness studies face the same difficulty:

What are the measures of mindfulness?

  • There’s no objective measure for a psychological state described as mindfulness.
  • To measure mindfulness, many studies use participant self-reported data.
  • Self-report studies have advantages for researchers, but disadvantages include exaggerated answers and are biased towards the participants feelings at the time of filling out the questionnaires3.
  • Most advocates of mindfulness-based therapies recommend practice more as a lifestyle or stress reduction (relaxation) technique, which begs the question:
  • What is the mechanism or active ingredient in mindfulness? There may be none.]

The thrust of Rosenbaum’s essay and throughout the book is that mindfulness ought to be practiced with lifelong commitment within its Asian Buddhist religious context:

[What’s wrong with mindfulness is that it has been] extracted from its Asian religious and spiritual contexts proponents of mindfulness are grasping to demonstrate its verifiable and useful [that there’s something to gain from mindfulness outside of its religious or spiritual context]. P55

[The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You?, another book that critically examines mindfulness studies: “Listen, this new wave of studies on mindfulness is full of disingenuous scientists who are up to their necks in Buddhism”, remarked Jonathan Smith4, a 1970s pioneer in scientific research into effects of meditation practice. “Look carefully. Check the control groups they’re using.”]

Myth and fantasy: Mindfulness is superior to other techniques

Fact: Psychological studies compare one technique (such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or CBT) to another method (such as traditional psychotherapy or medication).

What sixty years of psychological research has uncovered is that client (participant or patient) factors are far more important than the techniques.

Factors such as motivation, desire, belief, psychological, relationship and socioeconomic status account for 85-98% of the outcomes of psychological treatments. That means, the techniques themselves such as mindfulness or meditation, according to Lambert and Wampold, account for at most 2-15% of outcome variance in psychological treatments. p64

In other words, that it is the client, not the therapist nor the technique, that is most important in the process of psychological change is not popular. P65

Rosenbaum warns:

“The ‘hard science’ of research swallowed uncritically makes us more credulous: it enhances the fantasy that meditation is somehow magical, that by meditating we will not have to confront the hard work of placing our difficulties within the context of how we are living our lives and the messy specifics of how to change our behaviors.” p67

Zen and Qigong lay-priest, Rosenbaum, continues:

“In the religious sphere, meditation can tempt us with the fantasy that we are more than human, some kind of super-being, if only we attain anuttara samyak sambodhi, [samadhi], or supreme perfect enlightenment. In the secular sphere, meditation can tempt us with the fantasy that we can control our thoughts, feelings, and achieve superproductivity and happiness just through our personal [individual] efforts.” p67

I agree with Rosenbaum. Many Westerners tend to be fantasy-prone with their expectations of mindfulness or meditation techniques. Rather than practice to gain or achieve anything, the Zen Buddhist priest says that mindfulness practices are not important. What is important is awareness of life as it is and ultimately the practice is to make us aware of what’s right in front of us.

Notes

Image credit: Public Domain. affen ajlfe, brain 18, www.modup.net/. Retrieved from Creative Commons Jun 11, 2017.

1 Robert Meikyo Rosenbaum and Barry Magid (Eds.). (2016). What’s Wrong with Mindfulness (and What Isn’t): Zen Perspectives. Somerville, MA. Wisdom Publications.

2 ibid p.55

3 Self-report study. Wikipedia. Accessed on Jun 9, 2017.

4 Jonathan Smith quoted from p132 of The Buddha Pill: Can Meditation Change You? by Miguel Farias and Catherine Wikholm (2015) [Read my book review of The Buddha Pill]. Smith had published a landmark study in Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 1976, pp630-637, Psychotherapeutic effects of transcendental meditation with controls for expectation of relief and daily sitting. Smith’s study  used equivalent expectancy controls, and he clearly demonstrated that a person’s predisposition toward anxiety (trait anxiety) is not reduced by the practice of meditation (TM method), but that it can be reduced by sitting with closed eyes in conjunction with an expectation of relief. Abstract of Smith accessed from TranceNet: TM_Independent Research on Jun 10, 2017 at http://minet.org/www.trancenet.net/research/abs.shtml.

Negative findings on mindfulness are underreported, suggests study

Mindfulness research is often “spun” to appear positive, says article in Public Library of Science

Researchers at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, analyzed 124 published studies of mindfulness-based therapy (MBT), and found studies reported positive findings 60% more than is statistically likely. Only three of the studies reported negative outcomes and those were often “spun” to appear positive. Also, 62% of registered, completed MBT studies are not being published–suggesting that negative or non-findings are omitted from publication and mindfulness research is overly positive.

The study, Reporting of Positive Results in Randomized Controlled Trials of Mindfulness-Based Mental Health Interventions, was published 8 Apr 2016 in PLOS One, a peer-reviewed open access scientific journal published by the Public Library of Science (PLOS) since 2006.1

“A bias toward publishing studies that find the technique to be effective withholds important information from mental-health clinicians and patients,” says Christopher Ferguson, a psychologist at Stetson University in Florida, who was not involved in the study. “I think this is a very important finding,” he told Nature.

McGill psychiatry professor Dr. Brett Thombs, one of the researchers, told Health News Review there is a “massive push to support and propagate it [the mindfulness message],” and that “it isn’t dissimilar to [the drug industry] pushing cures that don’t work like they say they do.”

Thombs and team examined the evidence to support the health benefits being pushed by advocates of MBT. “While I’d agree that those selling wares carry out all sorts of shenanigans to promote their work,” he said, “could this be happening with mindfulness?” Let’s look.

Survey of Mindfulness Studies

The McGill researchers searched the medical and scientific databases for published papers on randomized controlled trials of MBT. Their initial search yielded 1,183 unique publications. After systematic review and excluding duplicates, they were left with 124 unique randomized controlled MBT trials: 4 (3%) published before 2000, 40 (32%) between 2000-2009, and 80 (65%) in 2010 or later.

“For 124 trials, the researchers calculated the probability that a trial with that sample size could detect the result reported.” Nature explained, “Experiments with smaller sample sizes are more affected by chance and thus worse at detecting statistically significant positive results. The scientists’ calculations suggested that 66 of 124 trials would have positive results. Instead, 108 trials had positive results. And none of the 21 registered trials adequately specified which of the variables they tracked would be the main one used to evaluate success.”

The team also examined another 21 trials that were registered with databases such as ClinicalTrials.gov; of these, 62% were unpublished 30 months after they finished. The findings suggest that non-findings or negative results are going unpublished.

Andreas-photography, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0
Andreas-photography, Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

Cherry-picking “positive” findings

Serious risks of bias are introduced when researchers fail to pre-register or don’t specify the variables to be used to evaluate treatment success. Pre-registration introduces transparency into the scientific process. Researchers and publishers are then less likely to selectively pick data to support “findings” and to underreport non-findings or negative outcomes.

“Reporting biases are said to occur when statistically significant or ‘positive’ outcomes have been preferentially published compared to non-significant or ‘negative’ outcomes.” wrote McGill team.

Biases skew mindfulness research

A concern expressed in McGill study was the overwhelmingly significant results in favor of MBT and mindfulness-based stress reduction. The authors say MBT reporting is influenced by:

  • Publication bias: positive studies tend to be published, whereas negative not
  • Selective outcome bias: studies are selected for publishing that show positive outcomes
  • Selective analysis bias: data is analyzed using numerous methods and only positive results are reported
  • Other biases: non-significant outcomes are glossed-over and made to appear positive

Thombs and team point out data dredging may be playing an important role in biased MBT research. Data dredging2 (also called p-hacking, data fishing, data snooping, and equation fitting) mines data to uncover patterns in the data and then presents findings as statistically significant. Dredging of data may be avoided by scientists who first devise a specific hypothesis as to the underlying causality of treatment, and by pre-registering trials before collecting clinical data.

Widespread bias and publication omissions occur, not only in MBT studies, warns LiveScience.com in Dark Side of Medical Research. Medical journals and researchers have a strong incentive to report only “positive” results, leaving out non-findings or negative findings when a therapy or procedure may have proved more harmful than helpful.

Image: honor the gift , Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0
Image: honor the gift , Flickr, CC BY-NC 2.0

What are we to conclude?

Alan Cassels, a health policy researcher with University of Victoria and contributor to Health News Review writes, “Researchers in mindfulness, like almost anywhere, are capable of cherry-picking studies, some of which may make outrageous claims…”.

Mindfulness and meditation techniques may not be as miraculous as many want us believe. Certainly there always will be charlatans or delusional teachers who stand to profit from selling sham treatments and false promises.

Thombs admits: “I don’t believe that mindfulness training is completely ineffective or is harmful. I do believe–and I am supported by the evidence that we are publishing–that we don’t have a very good idea of how effective it is.”

Mindfulness studies are low quality and overly positive. Important health decisions require good research not pseudoscientific hype. “For the health-care system,” says Thombs, “it’s just as important to know what doesn’t work.”

Science has yet to prove the medical benefits of meditation are better than a placebo, a pretend treatment that one believes makes them feel better.

“If your particular form of meditation makes you feel good, do it!,” says John Horgan, writer at Scientific American.3 “But don’t kid yourself that its medical benefits have been scientifically proven.”

Many questions surround the practice of meditation and mindfulness. Seldom discussed are adverse side effects, including suggestibility, anxiety, psychosis and suicide. There is a cultish aspect to meditation: followers may be more vulnerable to psychological manipulation by charlatans and delusional teachers. (Watch Kumare, a disturbing and captivating documentary film of a fake Indian guru who built a following of real American devotees. We Westerners are so gullible for yogis and gurus.)

Before embracing or dismissing meditation, recognize the biases of its pushers and detractors. Thoroughly, intelligently, and methodically investigate claims.

Decide for yourself, read my posts on:

Adverse (Side) Effects

Escaping the psychological trap of meditation techniques

Meditation & Mindfulness

Notes

1 PLOS ONE, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/PLOS_ONE

2 Data DredgingWikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Data_dredging

3 Research on TM and Other Forms of Meditation Stinks,  John Horgan, Scientific American, 8 Mar 2013,  http://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/research-has-not-shown-that-meditation-beats-a-placebo/

References

Reporting of Positive Results in Randomized Controlled Trials of Mindfulness-Based Mental Health Interventions, Stephanie Coronado-Montoya, Alexander W. Levis, Linda Kwakkenbos, Russell J. Steele, Erick H. Turner, Brett D. Thombs, PLOS One, 8 Apr 2016, http://dx.doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0153220

Power of positive thinking skews mindfulness studies: Trials of mindfulness to improve mental health selectively report positive results, Anna Nowogrodzki, Nature, 21 Apr 2016. Accessed 27 Apr 2016 at
http://www.nature.com/news/power-of-positive-thinking-skews-mindfulness-studies-1.19776

The marketing of mindfulness and why that matters, Health News Review, Alan Cassels, 12 Apr 2016. Accessed 27 Apr 2016 at http://www.healthnewsreview.org/2016/04/the-marketing-of-mindfulness-and-why-that-matters/

 

Selfless Realization from Meditation?

Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain
Pixabay, CC0 Public Domain

Meditation techniques are often used to negate the self.

Assuming the “self” is a product of the human mind, and with the idea of self as limited or false, Hindus and Buddhists created mental methods to transcend or reverse this faulty self-identity1.

What is meant by self-identity is who and what one thinks one is. It is the pillar of one’s personality2.

Traditional Eastern Hindus and Buddhists often used techniques to deconstruct self-identity.

Hindu-inspired meditation movements treat self as delusion.

The ultimate aim in Hindu meditation is transcending the self. The self is to be sacrificed for a so-called Higher Self.

Buddhist-inspired practitioner’s try to perceive the self as illusion.

The ultimate aim for the Buddhist is destruction of the self. That is, the ideal is annihilation of self-concept that supposedly is the cause of one’s suffering.

Read my post about the Contradictions with Samadhi 

What many Hindu- and Buddhist-inspired meditation techniques have in common is that they involve negating thought to transcend thought.

Whether one can actually transcend or negate thought may be debatable. But these mental methods, that some claim are beneficial, even miraculous, contain contradictions and warnings.

Selflessness contains contradictions, including:

  • Self-identity is deconstructed and then built up using a guru’s or a group’s beliefs and worldviews;
  • One’s feelings are given more importance than thought. Negating thoughts may prevent the use of critical thinking which could protect one from unnecessary suggestibility and gullibility.
  • Valuing selflessness and denying selfishness is itself “self-centered”. Humans all are out for self-interest.

We may never know if negation of self is possible. Heck, scientists, philosophers, poets, and mystics have been debating for millennia what “self” may be. We may have many selves. Here we defined self-identity as what makes up one’s personality and sense of who and what one is at any given moment.

My decades of practice with meditation techniques demonstrated to me that thoughts are never actually transcended nor negated. The desire to permanently attain a selfless or thoughtless state of enlightenment seems to me to be a delusion, one that many gurus and groups use to lure and keep followers.

I have had many experiences in and out of sitting meditation where I felt like I was floating above my self, was bursting with love, or was one with everything. Most of these experiences occurred randomly outside of sitting meditation without any effort on my part3. Even while writing this I find that by simply thinking or imaging something intently I can experience overwhelming emotions well up from within. So-called self-transcendent experiences may occur often and may be ordinary to many people. Perhaps they are so ordinary we frequently discount them.

“Before enlightenment: Chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: Chop wood, carry water” a Zen monk supposedly told his students.

Can people transcend self using mental techniques that negate one’s thoughts? Might some gurus and groups distort people’s perceptions of the themselves to take advantage of them?

Notes

The Guru Papers: Masks of Authoritarian Power, Joel Kramer and Diana Alstad, Frog Books: Berkeley, CA, 1993, p. 101

2 ibid, p. 103

3 These so-called transcendent or mystical experiences that I have had I have interpreted in various ways at different times throughout my life. While I was fervent religious believer, I interpreted these experiences as supernatural, as a gift from god or guru. After I learned to think more critically, I have interpreted my past and present “mystical” experiences as natural, as part of being human. Just because there may not be a definitive explanation for self-transcending experiences does not give us license to say we know they have some extraordinary or supernatural cause.