Sunday 23 January 2022

Meditation as panacea - from what basis does this idea originate?

There have-ben and are plenty of religions, spiritualties and people in the world who regard meditation as a panacea - that is, a single cure for all ills, always good for everyone. 

...Whatever ails you, whatever kind of personality; meditation will help if you do it right - and the more meditation you can manage (building up by steps), the better. 

I think it likely that this idea arises from a particular metaphysical conception of deity and the world. Someone who regards deity as always the same - changeless; 'pantheistic', everywhere immanent, to be found in all things. 

This is seen among self-identified Christians of an esoteric and mystical type; as well among Hindus, Buddhists, and New Agers. 

As, for instance, the conception of Jesus in the famous saying from the ('Gnostic') Coptic Gospel of Thomas: Split wood, I am there. Lift up a rock, you will find me there.    

If this is the case, and if only we could perceive it, we will never be closer to God than we are now - we are living in Heaven already... 

Also from the Thomas Gospel: The kingdom of the father is spread out over the earth, and men do not see it.  

But if we are already in God's presence because God is everywhere, and God is good; then why don't we know it: why aren't we always blissful? 

Why do we perceive change, decay and death; if reality is unchanging perfection; and we are always immersed in that reality? 

Something must be blocking our capacity to perceive this; and the answers given are usually twofold: we are blocked by the self-centered ego, and by the body. 

Meditation is regarded as a panacea that is good for everybody and works for everybody; because from the above perspective all men suffer the same problem: all Men have an ego and a body. 

Meditation is regarded a universal solution because it treats a universal problem. That is its theoretical and experiential basis.  

When God is Not regarded as a personal being - there can be no personal relationship with God - and there is no need (or possibility) for any personally-specific solution to the problems of life. 

In meditation - with sufficient effort, training and the right kind of personality - the 'ego' can be eliminated temporarily; and a vision achieved of how reality looks to one who has the assumptions of a changeless, timeless and all-pervadingly divine impersonal reality. 

This is always 'a good thing' because it shows the meditator what he could have later, permanently. 

Such meditators then often yearn for the time after physical death when they can discard the body - with its many distractions and localized vision - and can become pure spirit

The great, and unfixable, flaw in such a perspective is to explain why an all pervading and good deity would create, or allow, a situation to arise in which ego and body was permitted to prevent understanding and delay the advent of a purely spiritual existence. 

Especially when considering that egos and bodies are wholly dysfunctional - why bother inventing and implementing them in the first place? 

There can be no satisfactory answer - nonetheless so strong is the desire, in some souls, for a bodiless life of changeless and wholly-receptive bliss, of passive (action-less) awareness of the all-pervading presence abstract divinity; an existence of peace, stillness, serenity...

Such that such rational, logical, commonsensical quibbles are set-aside in anticipation of the bliss to come, which - meanwhile - can be sampled by learning effective meditation.

This, I think, is how it comes about that so many people, for so long, have recommended meditation as a panacea.    


William Wildblood said...

I meditated for 20 years and found many benefits from it in terms of inner peace, sense of communion with universal spirit etc. But it's not all gain. Meditation can actually desensitise you from other people and their joys and sufferings purely as human beings. You can become too detached, too wrapped up in your self and your higher (supposedly) consciousness. Luckily, I had someone who warned me of the dangers and said that prayer was just as, if not more, important so I didn't get cut off from the outer world or from God and Creation. Because that's what meditation can do. Who needs God as the personal living God if you believe you are God in his most spiritualised aspect? Who needs other people if you are absorbed in a self-centred bliss?

Bruce Charlton said...

@William - This post proved topical since the death of Thich Nhat Hanh was announced on the same day - who did as much as anybody (or at least, the influence was attributed to him) to promote this idea of 'mindfulness' meditation as a panacea.

(He was also a good example of how minfulness/ oneness meditation always goes with leftism - since it was his leftist 'activism' that made TNH famous.)

As you say, meditation is a partial solution to the problem of alienation - it can be an effective analgesia or palliative for existential angst.

What meditation cannot do is provide a purpose or meaning to this mortal life - indeed meditation (when the focus of spirituality) aims to make people do without purpose and meaning.

I suppose this is why it goes with leftism - because lacking any innate purpose, meditators absorb their purpose from the world around them - with a tendency to gravitate to the universalist and impersonal abstract altruism that leftism affects.

But meditation is not worthless as a 'means' to Christian ends. I personally find that meditative techniques are a good preliminary, a bridge that modulates into prayer or sometimes final participation. What needs to happen is that the momentary impression of an all pervading and impersonal benign deity needs to transform and 'condense' into the person of God, and a personal relationship with God.

William Wildblood said...

"What needs to happen is that the momentary impression of an all pervading and impersonal benign deity needs to transform and 'condense' into the person of God, and a personal relationship with God." That's a superb way of putting it, one that clarifies exactly what should take place and often doesn't if the meditator remains content with his somewhat anaesthetised condition.

Jack said...

I've just now started to read Owen Barfield. I think the meditation craze is obviously a symptom of people trying to flee backwards to what Barfield calls Original Participation; they want to feel again "a part" of the universe, of creation, of humanity as a living organism, of God; as opposed to feeling cut off and alienated in what Barfield calls Non-participation, that's accelerated rapidly over the last few generations. The difference between a flight backwards towards Original Participation and a march forwards to Final Participation is, I think, that in the case of Original Participation we are still guilty of what Barfield calls idolatry, in that we are conceiving the universe, nature, God, etc., as something radically external and apart from ourselves which we must mechanically conform to, whereas in Final Participation we are taking full responsibility for ourselves in being co-creators of the world with God. I think there's currently an enormous barrier to Final Participation in the form of postmodern Mammon idolatry, which is a parody of Final Participation in that you are supposed to be a "self made man", "choose your destiny", "follow your dreams", etc., but the value and validity of these acts has to be checked externally by how much riches and popularity they bring you; an utterly gross form of idolatry, completely cut off from Christ and the fact that Final Participation also includes suffering and self-sacrifice as necessary elements in true and loving co-creation.

Rather than meditation as a means of sinking back into the awareness of Original Participation, what we need is the creative choice of helping to redeem, sanctity, and co-create the world within and around us, made authentic in its union with Christ, who has already completed Final Participation by taking the world and all humanity within Himself through self-sacrificial love.

Alexeyprofi said...

What do you think about Buddhist concept of ego death and that there is no casusation, only conditions?

Bruce Charlton said...

@Ap - I don't know.

BTW your other comment was so full of typos and grammatical errors that I could not understand what it meant. Proofreading...

Anonymous said...

Insofar as some mindfulness training can help a person quiet down long enough to engage in some lectio divina or prayer, I see no downsides.

Some form of meditation is found in all Abrahamic contexts (Hassidic niggun, Christian hesychasm, Islamic zikr)- so for anyone to claim contemplative practices are somehow "foreign" isn't credible at all.

In Islam, it is said that there is no outer without an inner, in other words, no praxis without theoria, and no theoria without praxis.

Bruce Charlton said...

@B - "Insofar as some mindfulness training can help a person quiet down long enough to engage in some lectio divina or prayer, I see no downsides."

But (assuming we are talking of meditation training that actually makes some difference) since that is Not what is being pushed, then there Are downsides.