A SCEPTIC’S VIEW OF MEDITATION

Posted: July 26, 2015 in Chat
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I have had the opportunity of observing through practice how meditation works on a number of occasions. I have used the TM method: transcendental meditation, and the methods used by another group.

I am aware of the changes to mood and sense of self such practices bring. I have, though, over time and with reflection become dubious of the practices that go under this description.

This questioning was partly prompted by an exchange with an academic. We discussed various items and also meditation. The person signed-off by saying they had that summer attended a guided meditation, and through it had achieved one of the four meditation states of the Buddha. The exchange was around a text I had sent.
The person had not properly read the text, and so made many errors in their comments. I have had opportunities to observe the person in discussion before and after their guided meditation experience. Personality-wise there was no difference. The person may feel they have had a worthwhile and life-changing experience – but there were no indications to the objective observer that anything was different. The person was no more tolerant, open-minded, astute, observant or understanding.

We cannot know, of course, how the person would have been otherwise. My structure of argument here suggests the person could have been worse off.

So much how structuring.

To be aware of the short-comings of one’s structures is a workable way round this. What the structure also suggests is that the expected outcome would be one of incontrovertible change in behaviour and cognitive abilities.

So much for expectations.

There was an objective study of meditation published by Oxford University Press. The conclusion was to the effect that on the question of relaxation, and deep rest, meditation appeared no more beneficial than normal relaxation methods.

There have been times I have wondered whether meditation aids the absorption of the problems we are taught it helps dispel: they become us and so no longer appear as outside and disruptive. Meditation usually is part of a bigger learning package – does the practice help us absorb what we learn, and so become what we study, which is usually an identity, whether of a holy person, enlightened  being, or whatever the aspirational image put forward?

My overall conclusions about these practices are that on the whole their aim is to get the follower to lead an exemplary life.

It employs a form of Pascal’s Wager. Pascal wrote addressing gamblers and atheists that it  was much the better gamble to follow God and Christ’s teachings, on the basis that if it turned out there was nothing in it, then they would have lived an exemplary life to the benefit of all. If it turned out that the belief (part of the old faith vs revelation basis of religiousness) then they would be ‘rewarded in heaven.’

What are experienced as the ‘states of being’ the system has the follower experience are foregrounded normal peripheral states, usually encountered  on the edge of sleep or in trance/daydreaming.

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Comments
  1. Daedalus Lex says:

    You don’t seem overly skeptical to me. If meditation yields the same physical and psychological benefits as “normal relaxation methods,” then it presumably accomplishes much. (This depends on how you define the very broad “normal relaxation methods,” of course; e.g., if one normally relaxes with two pints of Guinness in front of the TV, the results may be different than 30 minutes of deep, slow breathing in a stationary posture that facilitates tranquility.) Meditation’s advantage, as you point out, is that it usually accompanies a holistic lifestyle adjustment toward tranquility and good will. However “incontrovertible change in behaviour and cognitive abilities” may set expectations too high. Over a long period, one would hope for this, but many people may be able to find some level of internal stability without those incontrovertible differences being obvious. My sense is that meditation fosters inner growth and a reflective aspect of identity that has been largely lost in the bustle of modernity. Works for some people and does no harm in others, anyway. As far as the transcendental claims, it’s interesting to compare meditative states to what Timothy Leary said about LSD.

  2. Thanks enomously for your comments! I always LSD hard work. I suppose I was really writing about transcendental states, which as you point out cannot be quantified. Thanks once again. Good man!

  3. saijanai says:

    TM is what results when you go through the official 4-day long TM course. You may have actually done this, but your wording, “I use the TM method,” suggests that you have not done so, or perhaps you did, but brought a lot of misconceptions to the table when you went through the class, and the class wasn’t sufficient to enable you to get rid of them.

    TM isn’t really a method, period.

    • Thanks, and I appreciate your response.
      I did complete the TM 4-day course. It was way back in early 1970s.
      How do you classify a misconception, other than by saying there are such as a clear-cut meanings? My difficulty rests partly on the doubt that such things can exist, that are not simplifications. The mind is so devious – how do we know that practicing does not enable us to create what we think should be there ie clarity, emptiness, peace etc.

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