The Eastern Traditions and Meditation
Most now know that the mainline religions are not the only paths to spirituality, so the end of the twentieth century and beginning of this century have seen a surge in interest in Eastern paths to spirituality as an alternative to fill the spiritual vacuum. However, that has resulted in dogmatic assertions by those following the Eastern traditions that meditation and the nondual awareness that is to accompany it are necessary to be truly spiritual or attain spiritual maturity. The result has been that many people feel themselves to be spiritual failures because they just can’t meditate, and if they can, most feel frustrated and failures because nothing happens. It’s a fine path for those who wish to engage in it, but meditation isn’t necessary to gaining spiritual maturity.
I confess my own inability to meditate, although I’ve tried a number of times. But the fact is that even the devotees of meditation admit that most people are not able to meditate: "People want to meditate and they really give it a try. However. a majority of them find it quite difficult to meditate." ("Reasons for Failure in Meditation," Meditation Is Easy. Retrieved November 10, 2007, from http://www.meditationiseasy.com/mCorner/failure_in_meditation.htm.) Another advocate of meditation, Ross Bishop, notes the same truth on his Web site devoted to meditation training: "Almost everyone has tried and failed at meditation." (Ross Bishop, "Why Can't I Meditate." Retrieved November 15, 2007, from http://www.rossbishop.com/Articles/ Monthly0411_Meditate.htm.)
Karen Armstrong, who began as a nun and is now a theologian and writer, found she was simply unable to meditate in the Christian tradition:
I tried meditation for years in my convent and I really flunked at it, it was not my thing. . . . I think that my whole failure with meditation left me with such a sense of weariness, a sense of failure, that the thought of sitting silently now leaves me with a sense of dread.
(Karen Armstrong, in an interview with host Terry Gross, NPR program “Fresh Air,” February 21, 2001.)
Among those who do manage to engage in a meditation practice, many find it simply unrewarding and not fulfilling. John Giorno, the well-known North American poet and performance artist, states that he is a Buddhist with a Tibetan teacher, but admits flatly, “My meditation is a complete failure.” He continues,
Great meditators are Olympic Gold Medal winners anonymous and completely effortless. Tibetan lamas are the only ones I know who've done it. Then you take it again down to a low level like the phenomena that's happened in America in the last 10 years--the TM trip, Hindu trip, the born-again trip, EST, and the Tibetan trip. Everyone’s meditation is a complete failure, personally and generally. Everyone feels secretly completely disappointed and embarrassed. So this kind of line--"My meditation is a complete failure"--is deeply personal and culturally all-pervasive.
(“A Conversation With John Giorno,” Artful Dodge, Department of English, College of Wooster. Retrieved from http://wooster.edu/ArtfulDodge/ interviews/giorno.htm, October 14, 2007.)
Understanding Psychological Issues
Is Absent in Meditation
A primary problem with meditation as a path to spiritual maturity is that it doesn’t address the assumptions and perspectives the person has that are creating realities that are counterproductive and frustrating. Masters in Buddhist practice such as Jack Kornfield have acknowledged that even if someone is successful in having a consistent meditation regime, it is not enough to address the issues that make people prisoners of their childhood:
Meditation alone is not enough. [Kornfield] makes the extraordinary claim that at least half the students at the annual three month retreat at the Insight Meditation Society cannot do traditional Insight Meditation, "because they encounter so much unresolved grief, fear, and wounding and unfinished developmental business from the past" (246). He follows up this revelation with a number of stories relating how specific students were blocked in their meditation but successfully resolved these blockages once they were able to identify traumatic events or unsatisfactory or even abusive relationships in their past. He also narrates stories of spectacular failure in spiritual practice when these issues were neglected. Indeed, much of Kornfield’s argument is based on case histories of meditational success and failure that all go to support his view of the limitations of traditional meditation without psychotherapy.
(Jack Kornfield. A path with heart: A guide through the perils and promises of spiritual life. [New York: Bantam, 1993].)
Learning and Growing in Community within the World Are Minimized in Eastern Practices
A British Web site devoted to self-help describes the fact that retreating into the mind in solitude doesn’t help to discover the underlying assumptions and perspectives that are creating problems in social settings. Understanding them requires being engaged in social interaction and retreating in meditation enables the person to withdraw from social development and facing these issues with people:
Motivation usually involves the person's social relationships. Buddhist meditation detaches the observer from what he is observing. Whereas to investigate motivation the person has to identify with what he is observing (how he is reacting to his social relationships). This is done best in ordinary life, rather than meditating in solitude.
The limitation of meditational self-observation is that it does not go very deep into the core of a person. It will not penetrate the defensiveness that a person throws up as a shield against the pain of life. To penetrate this shield, the person has first to bring to the surface his psychological stratagems by identifying with them. As he lives his social relationships, so he lives his patterns of identifications. Therefore, by using self-observation to analyse his social relationships during his acts of relating, he can go deeper into himself than he can by relegating self-observation to times of meditational solitude.
(Patrick Kearney, “Still Crazy after all these Years.”)
Tom Huston quoted spiritual teacher and executive coach Robert Rabbin in the journal, What is Enlightenment?:
The transcendent ideal of spiritual attainment is flawed. It is an incomplete, distorted picture of who we are. Ramana Marashi . . . did not go far enough on his journey of self-discovery. He only went away; he didn’t come back. And we, in our hunger for truth, peace, and meaning, have come to mistake going away as the ideal. Ramana Maharshi needed to come back into a full, robust, sensual, sexual, passionate embodiment of that silence. We should not make his mistake.
When these spiritual gurus enter the state of culpa samadi, they empty themselves. There, they find nothing, and that is the goal. However, they find nothing because they admit nothing. By emptying themselves of the physical realm and the self, they empty themselves of the spirit. They decapitate the self whom they really are, leaving a lifeless spiritual body.
(Tom Huston, “Everyday Advaita,” What is Enlightenment? Issue 36. April-June 2007. pp 48-50).
The focus is on the individual in the Earthly plane, whether it’s materialism or nondual awareness. Both have the individual as ascendant. Instead, spirituality must be in community in active, everyday living. It is servanthood. Instead of losing ourselves into the emptiness of nondual awareness, we should be losing ourselves in love and service to others. We should relinquish the individual and see ourselves as inseparable from others.
Ken Wilbur wrote,
Relationship seems to be more important than ever and yet more elusive than ever. That’s the real irony of the postmodern situation.”
Disturbing Reports About Damaging
(Andrew Cohen and Ken Wilbur, “Creative friction: community and the utopian impulse in a post-modern world,” What is Enlightenment? Issue 36. April-June 2007. p. 55. )
Effects of Meditation
Worse than not addressing the psychological issues that may be blocking spiritual growth, there are convincing indications that transcendental meditation can have harmful side effects:
. . . [This study] reviews 75 scientific selected articles in the field of meditation, including Transcendental Meditation among others. It summarizes definitions of meditation, psychological and physiological changes, and negative side-effects encountered by 62.9% of meditators studied. While the authors did not restrict their study to TM, the side-effects reported were similar to those found in the "German Study" of Transcendental Meditators: relaxation-induced anxiety and panic; paradoxical increases in tension; less motivation in life; boredom; pain; impaired reality testing; confusion and disorientation; feeling 'spaced out'; depression; increased negativity; being more judgmental; feeling addicted to meditation; uncomfortable kinaesthetic sensations; mild dissociation; feelings of guilt; psychosis-like symptoms; grandiosity; elation; destructive behavior; suicidal feelings; defenselessness; fear; anger; apprehension; and despair.
(Perez-De-Abeniz, Alberto and Holmes, Jeremy. “Meditation: Concepts, Effects and Uses in Therapy.” International Journal of Psychotherapy, March 2000, Vol. 5 Issue 1, p. 49, 10p.)
A site devoted to warning the public about the potential harmful effects of Transcendental Meditation lists 16 studies and books describing the harmful psychological effects of Transcendental Meditation. Also included are descriptions of three civil suits alleging damage from Transcendental Meditation.
(“Research Demonstrating Harmful Effects from TM,” http://www.behind-the-tm-facade.org/ transcendental_meditation-harmful-abstracts.htm, October 14, 2007.)
Healthy Use of Meditation,
Contemplation, and Prayer
There is also research showing that mediatation aids in treatment of cancer, sleep disorders, headaches, depression, psoriasis, chronic pain, high blood pressure, and aging (http://www.yogajournal.com/health/116). Undoubtedly, relaxation, quieting the noise of the eternal world, and opening to the inner self will have positive effects on the body and mind. The harmful effects seem to be associated with becoming compulsive about meditation and engaging in it to separate from reality.
In the heaven on earth that is beyond the horizon of our understanding now, we will spend large parts of the day in contemplation, called if you wish, prayer or meditation or relaxation. Our alone time will be valuable because we won’t be setting material goals for ourselves that become compulsions. Instead, we’ll be able to relax into quiet time without being concerned about whether we’re getting things done.
In any event, the path to spiritual maturity will likely always include meeting regularly and spontaneously with others to have times of peace, love, sharing, and meditation. That’s impossible for us to think of now; it sounds like a waste of time when we have to make a living and get the kids to soccer practice and pay the bills and all the hundreds of other things we just have to do. But that’s only because of who we are as society has reared us. We’ve decided we have to do them; no one is making us do them.
We know that when a circle comes together in love and cordiality, the veil between this life and the next drops. We know that physical manifestations, materializations, apports, voices from those on the next plane of life come to those in these circles. The love, relaxation, peace, and cordiality create the atmosphere in which this can happen.
And in addition, this spiritual society, spiritual environment, and spiritual group will uplift and renew everyone who participates. It will eradicate feelings of depression and hopelessness. We believe today that these are inevitable. They’re not. They’re artifacts of the focus on materialism and lack of spiritual underpinning in us as individuals and our society. Life, the world, we, our loved ones, and all of humankind will be different, from the inside out.
We also know that love and peace in the environment changes the physical surroundings. Matter and the ether become imbued with the love. The place becomes sacred, and the ambiance encourages further spiritual development.
We can at least approach some of that love and a sacred environment today. Spend quiet time each day or time in discussion with someone else. Talk about your eternal self. Listen to recordings of those in spirit speaking about the afterlife and spiritual growth (youreternalself.com). Think about who you are and seek to understand. Ask for answers to your questions and listen as they come to you. If you ask, you will receive.
Read books containing accounts of people’s experiences with the Higher Power, the Greater Reality, and those who have crossed over. You can see a list of such books and Web sites at youreternalself.com.
Look at yourself and life with perspective. See yourself and life from the point of view of you as the eternal self. You will begin to see things differently.