Monday, March 16, 2015

Does Meditation Have a Dark Side?

Everything has a dark side. But this is because people are not perfect. Whether politics, business, religion or family, our ideals and goals are wonderful but the people striving for them are flawed. As the practice of meditation continues to grow exponentially, this aspect will become increasingly visible.

There's an internet article on aspects of the downsides or shortcomings of meditation. If you are interested (and I didn't find it very illuminating) here it is:

In fact, it's a bit like whining! None of us who teach meditation should ever hold out meditation as the singular cure for our personal shortcomings and psychological cracks. Nonetheless, meditation CAN change your life and I maintain it is (as my previous blog article asserts) the FUTURE, holding out great promise for humanity. Historically, in fact, so has religion functioned, however flawed, to uplift society and rescue many from utter darkness. So, let's not whine about the reality of the human experience.

But, then, since "you" brought the subject up, let's focus on it.

I've been on a campaign for many years to get meditators to be mindful of the purpose of their meditation practice-----and not mistake the practice for the goal. Meditation is not merely the temporary cessation of ego-active mental and emotional meanderings and self-identities. The fact that becoming still and mindful brings relief to stress and other self-involved emotions doesn't guarantee anything more profound than the effects of sleep: a temporary cessation or suspension of our problems!

Well, perhaps I exaggerate. Yes, the daily practice of mindfulness gives us a tool to become more conscious and aware of our mental processes and unexamined habits. It certainly helps give us greater range of choices in behavior and attitude: all towards the more positive. But, as the practice grows in popularity, you can be sure that most will eagerly accept that diluted promises of "only 15 or 20 minutes" a day benefits! Or, the promise that it's not "religious" (meaning, don't worry, there's no god whose going to tell you what to do or to whom you are accountable!). In other words: no threat to the ego.

Well, Bud, I've got news for you! Meditation is a greater threat to the ego than suicide! Yes, ok, I again exaggerate. (In the metaphysical tradition of reincarnation, the ego never dies until it voluntarily surrenders! No "outside" force or God will "kill" or "destroy" the ego!)

But as meditation grows in popularity, its true intention and tradition will become known. The clinical practice of meditation is largely taken from and influenced by Buddhist traditions. I respect and love these traditions as truth and compassion but the real reason our culture is attracted to them (according to our spin upon them) is that they "appear" not to ask the ego to surrender its control. Ha, ha, ha! Wrong, again!

Long before our beloved Buddha appeared in India, yogis were meditating and seeking Self-realization. The Indian tradition is less appealing to our western ego-affirming culture because in India there is a confusing plethora of deities and ego-surrendering vocabulary and imagery. Buddha simplified all of that in favor of focusing on what our job is, without regard to more subtle realities that we had not yet encountered nor yet are our responsibility. Yet, the Buddha himself, at the last moment of his enlightenment was beset by alluring demons of temptation. His role in spiritual tradition was to emphasize self-effort: chop wood, carry water. Forget the rest. A wonderful, practical and life-saving tradition, to be sure!

For the millions and some day billions who meditate for health and sanity, none of these issues need surface. Meditation will be a part of physical and mental hygiene and that's enough. But because of this far more limited use of meditation, many of our other human shortcomings will only be addressed superficially or even inadequately.

But even clinical mindfulness is not, technically, suppression. Hence its value in achieving greater self-awareness. And hence the invaluable contribution to the evolution of human consciousness on a mass scale.

But so long as the true and highest purpose of meditation is ignored or suppressed or denied, no single human will make notable or permanent progress toward full integration of their humanity into action. 15 to 20 minutes a day is child's play. Yet, transcendence (enlightenment) cannot be cheaply bought by the clock. Too many of those who are sincerely seeking enlightenment imagine the mere act of sitting for a longer time will do it. Not that simple, Bud!

If you want to ignore the time-honored and otherwise undeniable tradition of surrender to divine consciousness, well, fine! Good for you! Keep "coming back" for more, lifetime after lifetime. Your choice! The pathway to enlightenment is too narrow for both ego and soul to walk. Moses, and those born in "captivity," could not enter the Promised Land because (in the allegory of the story), ego consciousness is, by definition, held captive by delusion (of separateness). It must surrender by self-offering. When it does so, it discovers, like the after-death experience itself, that not only has it not died but it has never lived so fully before! The great irony and paradox of enlightenment.

Like Abraham being asked to sacrifice his beloved son, Isaac, his faith and humanity was challenged but when he passed the test, he was rewarded. When life challenges us, we think we are "going to die (fail)" but when we rise to occasion with faith and energy, we find that we can be victorious and strengthened by the experience.

In the great Indian epic, the Mahabharata, the warrior Bhishma represents ego. As such, Bhishma is gifted with the boon that he can never die until he surrenders. On his deathbed, his body riddled with arrows, he gives a great speech on leadership and governance before he surrenders his life.

The real "dark side" of meditation lies not in the seeming failure meditation supposedly has in solving a person's psychological hang ups. The real dark side is that the path to enlightenment requires engaging and strengthening the ego (via will power, self-discipline, non-attachment, etc.). At various points in the process of purification, the ego can rise like a "demon" and tempt one to use one's newly found psychic abilities for ego gratification. Worldly fame, power, beauty, wealth and influence have their natural enemies in the form of time and competition (which we call "karma" and "duality"). But spiritual power has no equal for it is our true Self and is the only real "wealth," because "god-like."

When, therefore, the ego is tempted to keep spiritual power for itself, it can and will inevitably "fall." Hence the long history in drama, mythology and in real life where spiritually advancing person (teacher, etc.) is tested and sometimes falls. (I will add, in place of "sometimes," "always." Enlightenment is not, nor cannot be, a straight line. Space-time is curved!) The inner path of meditation has for its most obvious flaws arrogance, indifference, and aloofness. These the true devotee combats by developing the natural love of heart: through devotion, compassion, and servicefulness.

Thus, until meditation becomes prayer; becomes self-offering; becomes uplifted by devotion, courage and faith into a greater Power (named, unnamed, defined, or undefined according to your own lights), we cannot truly make notable progress in achieving our true humanity, which is, in its essence, divine.

In my last blog post, "Meditation: A Revolution Rising," I commented that ours is an age of Individuality. The dark side of that is, obviously, egotism! The antidote of that isn't only unselfishness or humility, as the ego itself might imagine (though both are fine, so far as they can take us), it is the recognition of a higher Power! To quote Paramhansa Yogananda, "How can there be humility when there's no ego." True "humility" is self (ego) - forgetfulness. So long as there is a sense of personal doership, even in virtue, we are bound by the constraints of our hypnosis of ego-identity and existential separateness. Perhaps in a future article I will discuss the "Confrontation with God."

Any unwillingness to be open to and to, later, acknowledge the natural limitations of ego-born self-effort, is doomed to failure. Thus we find in the 12 Step Recovery tradition the acknowledgement of a Higher Power and the need for us to turn and look up (unto the hills) for divine assistance.

Lastly, just as we scan the universe perceiving hundreds of billions of galaxies, so too, perhaps, we might have the openness to imagine that our personal evolution towards true greatness might take, shall we say, more than one lifetime! We are greater in size, time and space than we can possibly imagine when we limit ourselves only to view one another as human bodies and egos, defined and constrained by gender, age, health, talents, and culture.

I know this "thesis" transcends the appropriate limits of clinical research and vocabulary, and ego-protective consciousness, but this is "the truth that shall make us free." And this is the truth that meditators will, eventually, see (or come to learn about). So, stop whining and keep meditating.


Swami Hrimananda!