Why meditate?

Discussion of meditation in the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions.

Why meditate?

Postby Challenge23 » Wed May 16, 2012 4:10 pm

I was cruising the net and came across this essay which talks about meditation which is kinda disturbing, especially as it seems to be written by someone who is an experienced meditator. What are some of the thoughts that you have in regards to this? Does it synch up with your experience? Does meditation really get this rough? Is the foundation for why one would want to do it really that weak?

http://alohadharma.wordpress.com/why-meditate/
I'm an agnostic in the same sense that Robert Anton Wilson was, except his reaction was laughter. Mine isn't.

I am not a teacher in any tradition, Buddhist or otherwise. Anything that I have posted should not be taken as representing the view of anyone other than my own. And maybe Larry S. Smith of Montgomery, Alabama. But most likely just me.
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Re: Why meditate?

Postby justsit » Wed May 16, 2012 5:23 pm

Challenge23 wrote:Is the foundation for why one would want to do it really that weak?

What part do you consider "weak?"
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Re: Why meditate?

Postby Challenge23 » Wed May 16, 2012 6:11 pm

justsit wrote:
Challenge23 wrote:Is the foundation for why one would want to do it really that weak?

What part do you consider "weak?"


Good question. My apologies for being unclear.

Ron Crouch wrote:Even though the sense of “I” doesn’t know why, there is still a drive that impels some people to meditate. It is an undercurrent in your life that nags at you that is much deeper than the “I.” You may not fully understand what it is, and you will likely express it in all kinds of ways, but when you hear that there is a way to wake up from the dream of the self, you will be intrigued.


Which, in a nutshell I take to mean as, "The reason you should meditate is because you want to meditate." This is almost the textbook definition of a circular argument. The whole article not only doesn't positively define the benefits but it also knocks out any of the stated reasons other people have given.

I think the best way for me get my concern across is to use an example of something where the foundation of why you would want to do it are very strong.

If you run three times a week(around 30 minutes per run) you will increase your cardiovascular health, bone density, your life span, it will assist in treating depression, increase energy and mental clarity, assist in proper long term weight management, and overall increase one's quality of life. There are independently verified studies which have confirmed all of these benefits.


That is not weak because it has a variety of proven points that even if there is controversy in regards to one or two, the others can pick up the slack.
I'm an agnostic in the same sense that Robert Anton Wilson was, except his reaction was laughter. Mine isn't.

I am not a teacher in any tradition, Buddhist or otherwise. Anything that I have posted should not be taken as representing the view of anyone other than my own. And maybe Larry S. Smith of Montgomery, Alabama. But most likely just me.
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Re: Why meditate?

Postby justsit » Wed May 16, 2012 6:39 pm

Re: the Crouch quote:
I think he was only referring to "some people" here, not people in a more general sense. He is indicating that the
desire to meditate may come from something other than a logically reasoned idea that "Yes, I've looked into Buddhism, I want to be a better person, therefore I will meditate." It can come from a much more subtle and hidden place, deep inside, without a conscious basis.

There are many reasons why people want to meditate - like your running example, pick the one or ones that you find "strong" and leave the weak ones out. If, for example, you really want to help people and you find that a good reason to meditate, then good!, use that as your intention. As you explore your mind more deeply, however, you may find that your motivation changes. When your mind begins to calm, it's kind of like the stilling of an old pond - as the water clears, you start to see all the old junk at the bottom, maybe a bunch of stuff you'd rather not see. And then you have to deal with it. And when the sense of "I" begins to lose it's solidity, meditation takes on a whole different flavor.

So, bottom line, meditation has different "benefits" for practitioners on different stages of the path.
Take what you need, leave the rest.

Another take on meditation that might be of interest here.
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Re: Why meditate?

Postby Wesley1982 » Wed May 16, 2012 8:19 pm

better understanding of human behavior
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Re: Why meditate?

Postby Challenge23 » Thu May 17, 2012 6:02 pm

To put it in perspective here is a bit more of what I found.

For the past few years Willoughby Britton has been doing research into negative side effects of meditation(she did an interview on the podcast Buddhist Geeks, the transcript of which is here. A lot of the things she found were, to me, pretty disturbing. People experiencing strong fear because they no longer have a sense of self and can't reconcile that with performing mundane actions(which resulted in words spontaneously coming out of their mouths or walking happening without intervention on their part because there was no "they" to intervene) is one of quite a few examples she mentioned in the podcast. The other points was that all of the teachers interviewed were quite explicit in that they believed that 100% of students would go through this negative period she observed and that this period(defined by her as "clinical impairment", effects that hamper everyday interactions with reality) averaged out at over 3 years.

Honestly, as a practitioner I'm not 100% sure that the end goal is worth it(as I'm skeptical of any form of existence of consciousness after death).
I'm an agnostic in the same sense that Robert Anton Wilson was, except his reaction was laughter. Mine isn't.

I am not a teacher in any tradition, Buddhist or otherwise. Anything that I have posted should not be taken as representing the view of anyone other than my own. And maybe Larry S. Smith of Montgomery, Alabama. But most likely just me.
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Re: Why meditate?

Postby justsit » Thu May 17, 2012 6:58 pm

Challenge23 wrote:The other points was that all of the teachers interviewed were quite explicit in that they believed that 100% of students would go through this negative period she observed and that this period(defined by her as "clinical impairment", effects that hamper everyday interactions with reality) averaged out at over 3 years.

The interview really highlights the importance of a sangha and direct teacher-student interaction. People who learn meditation from a book or CD, flying on their own, may be practicing incorrectly; guidance is crucial.

Meditation can be difficult, painful, and scary. You will confront all your personal bullsh*t head on. :jawdrop: Personally, I have experienced dark times in meditation, but they have been short lived and did not "hamper everyday interactions with reality;" and I am fortunate to have a teacher with whom I can consult. It would be interesting to see where the data on "three year" idea came from. Of course people begin meditation histories of depression, neuroses, and other more severe psychiatric disorders, and these issues can be magnified under the scrutiny of meditation. Again, the importance of guidance, especially in the early stages, cannot be overestimated. Meditation may not be helpful for everyone.

What is the point of meditation? You need to be very clear about why you are meditating.
What do you consider the "end goal?"
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Re: Why meditate?

Postby Paul » Thu May 17, 2012 7:19 pm

Challenge23 wrote:I was cruising the net and came across this essay which talks about meditation which is kinda disturbing, especially as it seems to be written by someone who is an experienced meditator. What are some of the thoughts that you have in regards to this? Does it synch up with your experience? Does meditation really get this rough? Is the foundation for why one would want to do it really that weak?

http://alohadharma.wordpress.com/why-meditate/


This is written by a follower of Daniel Ingram, a modern teacher who focuses a lot on what he calls the "dark night". As he focusses a lot on it his fans will inevitably do. Not everyone will agree with his presentation or the emphasis he places on things. But I do agree that there is a point where meditation reaches a point of no return - when you actually get some small experience of freedom.

When meditating you will have both positive and negative experiences. All teachers explain that one should just not cling to them - they're just a fruition of karma.
This nature of mind is spontaneously present.
That spontaneity I was told is the dakini aspect.
Recognizing this should help me
Not to be stuck with fear of being sued.

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Re: Why meditate?

Postby Challenge23 » Thu May 17, 2012 8:23 pm

justsit wrote:
What is the point of meditation? You need to be very clear about why you are meditating.
What do you consider the "end goal?"


That is an excellent question and one that I have been asking myself a lot lately. It is actually the reason I created an account here in the first place. To gain information and research in order to positively define the "end goal" of Enlightenment and evaluate if it is something that is worth the rather high price.

My main reason is I don't want to be clinically depressed anymore. After years of work I've been able to only have to take ambien for sleeping and instead go to the gym 3x a week one hour each visit(consistently, like I have "Norm from Cheers" people at the gym)and take st john's wort(on and off). The end game would be to be not to have to take any medications at all or be taking the short road to becoming a "beast"(someone whose life revolves around physical fitness). Also critical is that I don't delude myself. Convincing myself that red is actually green would be awesome until I tried to cross the street.

Now you might point out that one of the things that I didn't state as an "end goal" is Enlightenment. There is a reason for that. I don't know what Enlightenment is, really, and therefore don't know if it is a good thing. I know what Enlightenment isn't but that doesn't tell me what it is. The closest thing to a positive definition I have heard of Enlightenment is that it is the end of all suffering. However, I'm not at all sure if that doesn't happen when we die(as in, when we die consciousness ceases and suffering ceases with it) and putting in a whole lot of work and suffering for a goal that we will achieve anyway doesn't make sense.

I hope that was clear.
I'm an agnostic in the same sense that Robert Anton Wilson was, except his reaction was laughter. Mine isn't.

I am not a teacher in any tradition, Buddhist or otherwise. Anything that I have posted should not be taken as representing the view of anyone other than my own. And maybe Larry S. Smith of Montgomery, Alabama. But most likely just me.
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Re: Why meditate?

Postby Jesse » Fri May 18, 2012 3:44 am

My main reason is I don't want to be clinically depressed anymore.

As far as depression goes, I'm in the same boat and I can tell you that Meditation / Buddhism can help. Though I'd warn that with enough meditation, it may bring up some thing's that could worsen it, but imo it's part of the process.

Also critical is that I don't delude myself.

I can assure you that were all equally deluded, why not have fun with it.

I know what Enlightenment isn't but that doesn't tell me what it is.

I don't know if anyone can tell you what enlightenment is aside from the 'end of suffering', but you don't need to be enlightened to become happier, wiser and more free.

putting in a whole lot of work and suffering for a goal that we will achieve anyway doesn't make sense.


-- It sound's like your suffering as is, so continue living that way or do something about it.
"We know nothing at all. All our knowledge is but the knowledge of schoolchildren. The real nature of things we shall never know." - Albert Einstein
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Re: Why meditate?

Postby catmoon » Fri May 18, 2012 3:54 am

Don't worry about what enlightenment is for now.

If you have any materials on mindfulness-based stress reduction, review them.

Take your meds.

Read HHDL's "Healing Anger". I know, anger is not your primary problem. Read it anyhow.

Get a little meditation done every day.

Doing these things got me out of the pit. Well mostly anyhow.
Sergeant Schultz knew everything there was to know.
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Re: Why meditate?

Postby daelm » Fri May 18, 2012 1:05 pm

Challenge23 wrote:I was cruising the net and came across this essay which talks about meditation which is kinda disturbing, especially as it seems to be written by someone who is an experienced meditator. What are some of the thoughts that you have in regards to this? Does it synch up with your experience? Does meditation really get this rough? Is the foundation for why one would want to do it really that weak?

http://alohadharma.wordpress.com/why-meditate/



the general answer is that Buddhism requires meditation because it creates certain specific conditions, under which the meditator is in a position to empirically verify the Buddha's contentions about reality (contentions related to emptiness, absence of self and dependent arising). It is a further contention of the Buddha that if a person does empirically validate those contentions - that is, in their own experience - certain structures in their consciousness collapse, giving rise to eventual liberation from suffering.

so, if you're meditating as part of a Buddhist practice, then that or some variation of that will be "why meditate". on the other hand, you may meditate as part of a Hindu practice, or as part of a mental health regimen, in which case you should look to the claimed role and effects of meditation in those domains.

in secular circles meditation is being studied specifically to determine the effects of shamatha on human beings. that might also answer the question "why meditate", and the answer would then likely be analogous to "why exercise".

hope it helps.


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Re: Why meditate?

Postby Challenge23 » Mon Jun 04, 2012 3:26 pm

First, thanks to everyone who responded. There is some really good stuff here. Catmoon, as my bookcase is already full I'm contemplating getting a Kindle so that I can snag "Healing Anger" as well as a few other books. I'm still trying to figure out the economics of getting a Kindle as opposed to ordering it from my local bookstore.

ghost01 wrote:
Also critical is that I don't delude myself.

I can assure you that were all equally deluded, why not have fun with it.


With respect, I'd have to say this is one of the rare times I'd agree with the idea, "all people are equal, some are more equal than others". I think we might be talking about different things. When I think of "deluded" I think of having a noose in one's trunk, feeling like I am not in control when the words to answer a question come out of my mouth, believing that I am a primordial spirit charged by the Goddess to collect pebbles, or thinking I've entered in a reality where no one sees me and I am chasing angels and magical keys. Please note that all of those examples but one are things that either I have personally witnessed(the first and third) or has been listed as a side effect of meditation(the second one). The last one is from a TV show by Neil Gaiman(Neverwhere, which is pretty good, btw).

From abundant personal experience I have seen that you can use any spiritual practice to mentally destabilize yourself. Buddhism is no different. This is, to me, an exceptionally important point to be careful of. For those that are absolutely and firmly grounded in sanity it might not be anywhere near as important. As someone who is almost a skeptic(in the sense that I'm not 100% sure that the reality that I am observing exists in any form outside of my own perception, not that materialism over supernaturalism is true) I tend to be a little more worried about straying a bit too far from consensual reality.
I'm an agnostic in the same sense that Robert Anton Wilson was, except his reaction was laughter. Mine isn't.

I am not a teacher in any tradition, Buddhist or otherwise. Anything that I have posted should not be taken as representing the view of anyone other than my own. And maybe Larry S. Smith of Montgomery, Alabama. But most likely just me.
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Re: Why meditate?

Postby Spirituality » Mon Jun 04, 2012 4:06 pm

From what I understand, meditation generally doesn't solve clinical depression, but it can help in dealing with it, breathing through it.

As for people losing their sense of self: that's one explicit goal of Buddhist meditation, so it's not surprising it happens- including people overdoing it. They'll need a Sangha and good teacher to keep their feet. To prevent this as a problem, I guess taking it slow is in order.

Personally I find that meditation makes me a lot happier. I was never clinically depressed, I think, but my natural temper wasn't of the happiest either. Unfortunately with meditation there are no guarantees. And yes, there are risks. For those on medication and under professional guidance, I'd say: combine the two for maximum benefit. If meditation makes medication less or unnecessary, that's great. If it destabilizes, tone it down and try grounding activities like volunteer work.
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Re: Why meditate?

Postby Spirituality » Mon Jun 04, 2012 4:35 pm

Personally I would be somewhat suspicious of a type of meditation that makes people less instead of more aware. Doesn't sound right to me at all.
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Re: Why meditate?

Postby Phoenix11 » Tue Aug 07, 2012 2:09 pm

There has been several studies pointing to the health advantages of meditation. This is because meditation reduces levels of stress and relieves anxiety. If we can help to eliminate stress, many health benefits follow.
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