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How NOT to meditate July 24, 2011

Posted by dissident93 in Meditation.
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I’ve meditated regularly since my early 20s – something I’ve always been slightly embarrassed to admit. The last book I read was The art of meditation, by Matthieu Ricard (a buddhist monk and dabbler in science). Although it’s a “mainstream” effort (it has approving blurbs by the Sunday Times, etc), it has some decent bits, eg a basic primer on mindfulness. It also contains some meditations that I would NOT recommend, eg this:

Meditation Two: Compassion
Now imagine that someone dear to you has been the victim of a terrible accident. It is night time, and she is lying covered with blood on the roadside, suffering from terrible pain [...] You feel this person’s suffering intensely [...] At this moment, let yourself go into an immense feeling of love towards this person [...] Imagine that each atom of her suffering is replaced by an atom of love… [etc, etc] (The art of meditation, p110; Matthieu Ricard)

No doubt there’s a good idea behind this somewhere, but consider the script: Basically, you, a kind of Saintly Being, arrive on the scene to save someone with the power of your love. What’s the probability that any “good” achieved by this meditation will be undermined by a subtle sense of superiority? Or worse, that it functions almost like an “unconscious” revenge fantasy (I mean, “victim of a terrible accident”!). Without getting too cod-psychological about it, I recall Nietzsche’s warning about the hidden revenge motive within “altruistic” philosophies: Sklavenmoral, the ethics of the powerless, or, in modern clinical parlance, “passive aggressive”.

Unfortunately, there are quite a few “Buddhist” meditations like this. But we can return to the Sanskrit originals (before the humour was lost in translation) for inspiration. Here’s my loose translation of an early text (recently recovered Pārāyanavagga commentary):

Meditation Alternative
Imagine that you’ve just awakened to the realisation that you’ve wasted your life in chronic masturbation. This has left you with weakened mental faculties, resulting in over-dependence on beliefs and ideology. As you lie there in a feeble, mediocre state, someone symbolising everything you oppose (eg Dick Cheney, Rupert Murdoch, Alan Rusbridger, etc), walks in. They look at you with hatred. But as they notice your pitiful state, this turns to pity, and then a brief moment of compassion towards you. Imagine that this compassion expands to fill the universe, becoming luminous, replacing all pity, hate, suffering [etc]. Briefly contemplate the cosmic irony. Then cease thinking altogether for 20 minutes (if you can do that, you’re illuminated – contact me immediately for a certificate).
RS

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