western meditation

Wrong meditation technique

Many Westerners think meditation is about having a blank empty mind with no though occurring at all.

They get upset when they can’t achieve an empty thoughtless mind. But actually this is an incorrect understanding of meditation and the wrong goal to aim for.

You’ll never get a blank empty mind, meditation is actually about observation, just watch whatever is going on, witness it without getting involved.
Be just a witness without any action or reaction to whatever you witness.

Namo Amida Buddha

“Let’s look at this thing from another point of view, which you will at first think highly depressing. Let’s suppose we can’t do anything to change ourselves. Suppose we’re stuck with it. Now that is the worst thing an American audience can hear: ‘There’s no way of improving yourself!’ Because every kind of culture in this country is dedicated to self improvement! So here’s the situation: the whole idea of self improvement is a will-o’-the-wisp and a hoax. That’s not what it’s about. Let’s begin where we are. What happens if you know beyond any shadow of doubt that there is nothing you can do to be better? Well, it’s kind of a relief, isn’t it? Seeing that there isn’t really anything we can do to improve ourselves or to improve the world, if we realise that that is so, it gives us a breather in the course of which we may simply watch what is going on—watch what happens. Nobody ever does this, you know. It sounds terribly simple. It sounds so simple that it almost looks as if it isn’t worth doing. But have you ever just watched what’s happening and watched what you are doing by way of reaction to it? Just watch it happen. And don’t be in a hurry to think you know what is happening!”

Alan Watts

Harvard neuroscientist: Meditation not only reduces stress, here’s how it changes your brain
Meditation's benefits may derive from its impact on the shape of the brain, thickening parts associated with mind-wandering, memory and compassion, and shrinking the fear center

Read this. It explains the science of how the brain changes from meditation and it is fascinating to read about one of the pioneers of studying this from a western perspective. Brilliant woman. 


Dear sisters and brothers, dear seekers of the ultimate Truth, I wish to give a talk on spirituality. As we all know, spirituality is a vast subject, and here, in an hour, I can never do justice to it. But let me at least make a beginning.

In spirituality we come to learn of two significant terms: ‘meditation’ and 'dedicated service.’ All of us here are fully aware of these two terms. Some of you may use the terms 'knowledge’ and 'work.’ Knowledge is the result of meditation. When we dive deep within, we see, we feel and we grow into the highest Knowledge. Work, when it is done in a divine spirit and for a divine purpose, is dedicated service. The combination of meditation and dedicated service makes a man perfect.

In this world, many are of the opinion that spirituality cannot offer a balanced life, but I wish to say that they are badly mistaken. It is spirituality alone that can offer us a real life, a balanced life, a practical life. Who is practical? He who knows the truth and who knows how to apply the truth in his daily life. A spiritual person is he who tries to know the truth today, to discover the truth tomorrow and to apply the truth the following day in all his multifarious activities. A spiritual person is someone who goes to the very root of the Truth, for he knows that if there is no root there cannot be any tree. And the root of the Truth is love. A spiritual person meditates not for his own sake alone; he meditates for all and sundry. He meditates for his dear ones, and he meditates for every human being on earth. His is a life of love and dedication.

Each individual has his own way of reaching the ultimate Truth. One may find it easier to reach the Truth through dedicated service, by loving God in each human being, by seeing and feeling the divinity in humanity. Another may want to dive deep within and first reach the Source, and then work on the earth-plane. Both are doing the right thing. But the person who does not aspire and does not want to aspire in any way — who is useless in society — is either a fool or a dead soul.

Each seeker should feel that it is his bounden duty to realise the Highest. But each seeker must know that God-realisation, the realisation of the ultimate Truth, need not and cannot be the sole monopoly of any one individual. Everyone is destined to reach the Highest. But there is a way that leads a seeker to his destination quite fast, and that is the way of the heart. If we empty the heart and welcome the eternal Guest, our eternal Beloved, He comes in and fulfils His own transcendental Reality in our day-to-day existence. The other way, the way of the mind, is lengthier and more difficult. But if we can silence the mind, then Peace, Light, Bliss and Power in infinite measure can enter into us also.

We are all seekers. In our inner life, our spiritual life, we have already travelled millions of miles. Although we may at times fall victims to our animal qualities and indulge in quarrelling, fighting and other negative and destructive actions, still we no longer cherish or appreciate the animal in us. We know that what we actually want from our lives is Peace, Light and Bliss. The animal in us has played its role, and now the human in us is playing its role. We are cherishing the hope that today’s human qualities will be transcended and transformed into divine Reality. When we meditate, we feel that this is no longer a hope, but a certainty. When we meditate deeply, profoundly, in the very depths of our heart, we feel that there is no such thing as impossibility. As we have transcended the animal kingdom, so also must we transcend our human weaknesses, imperfections, limitations and bondage.

In the Western world, meditation is not as common as prayer, but I wish to say that prayer and meditation are like two most intimate brothers. If we pray soulfully, we can get what meditation offers us. When we pray, we feel that something from within, from our very depths, from the inmost recesses of our heart, is climbing high, higher, highest. And we feel that somebody is there to listen to our prayer, or somebody is there to receive us at the pinnacle of our aspiration’s height. When we meditate soulfully, devotedly, in pindrop silence, we feel that a divine Guest is descending into our heart to guide us, to illumine us, to perfect us and to fulfil His own transcendental Reality within us. We feel that the Infinite is entering into the finite for their mutual fulfilment.

In this world there is a need for peace. This peace comes only from within, and we can bring it to the fore only through meditation. If we can meditate soulfully for ten minutes every day, we will energise our entire being with Peace. Peace houses light, bliss, fulfilment and satisfaction. We can have Peace not by possessing the world or leading the world, but by becoming a lover of the world.

Now when we become a lover of the world, we may commit a most deplorable mistake: we may expect something from the world in return for our love. We are ready to accept the limitations and imperfections of the world as our very own. But if in spite of our best efforts, our best intentions, our deepest love and compassion for the world, the world does not listen to us or does not offer us enough gratitude, at that time we make an inner demand on the world. At the beginning of our service, we demand everything from the world in return for our offering, our life of sacrifice. If we give something, we expect the same amount in return, if not more. Then there comes a time when we give as much as we have, we give to the utmost of our capacity, and we expect in return only an infinitesimal measure of what we have given. But even if we expect just an infinitesimal quantity of appreciation from the world, I wish to say that we are bound to be unhappy; we are bound to be wanting in peace. Let us give to the world unconditionally what we have and what we are: Love. The message of love we get only from our daily prayer and meditation. We know that love means oneness, inseparable oneness. And in oneness there is no expectation, no demand.

There are two ways to love. One way is to go first to the human love and then reach upward to the ultimate Love, the divine Love. The other way is to reach the divine Love first and then enter into and transform the human love. The divine Love always inspires us, guides us and moulds us into something immortal, which we can offer to humanity. The human love frustrates us, disappoints us, and finally constrains us to try to enter into the kingdom of divine Love.

We have to love life and also love truth. Truth and life can never be separated. When we try to separate truth and life we cannot make any progress. In our human love, frustration may loom large. But in the divine life, love is constantly building us and shaping us into the very image of God.

We have spoken about peace and love. If someone asks us to speak about peace, we will be able to speak most eloquently. But speech does not help us to establish the kingdom of peace on earth. It is our silent prayer and soulful meditation that can give us the peace of mind which our little world, our own personal world, badly needs, just as the entire outer world needs it. To begin at the beginning with ourselves is the only way we can eventually bring peace to the world. If I do not have peace myself, how can I offer peace to others? Impossible!

We have a body, which we regard as the only reality. When we satisfy the need of the body for earthly food, for nourishment, we feel that we have fulfilled our task. But in our inner life also we have someone to feed every day, and that is our soul, the divine being within us, the conscious representative of God on earth. Although we feed our body every day, somehow we fail to feed this divine child within us. Since we never do the first thing first, we remain unsatisfied here on earth. First we must go deep within, and then — from within — we must go without. The inner life must constantly embrace, guide and inspire the outer life. The outer life is eventually liberated by the inner life, which already has liberation in fullest measure.

The inner life and the outer life can and must run abreast. The inner life will constantly receive messages from above, messages of Infinity, Eternity and Immortality. Infinity, Eternity and Immortality are not vague terms. When one becomes an advanced seeker, he sees and feels infinite Peace, Light and Bliss within himself. One need not be a God-realised soul to have this experience. All of us have Peace, Light and Bliss in infinite measure in the very depths of our aspiring spiritual heart.

But right now the door of our heart is locked by ignorance. We have to open the door and dive deep within to go beyond ignorance to where our own Peace, Light and Truth reside.

We are God’s children, His chosen instruments. God abides within us as a constant Dream, and we live in God as His only reality. He lives in us as a Dream that will ultimately be transformed into reality; and we live in Him as a reality that will grow into His ever-ascending, ever-blossoming Dream. We are all seekers, and we are all in a boat. Our journey can never come to an end, for God, the eternal Pilot, is our Pilot, and we are in His Boat. He is the Boatman, He Himself is the Boat and He is the Golden Shore of the Beyond.

- Sri Chinmoy, Fifty Freedom-Boats to one Golden Shore, part 2

On Dangerous Technology

(Epistemic status:  Generally how I feel about the stupid shit I try in terms of mind hacking)

In Stellaris, a space strategy game by Paradox, the tech tree is kinda variable based on a card system that deals semi random technologies every time you research a technology, based on tier, prerequisites, and weighting of the card.  The important part is that there are sometimes technologies, highlighted in reddish orange, that are considered “Dangerous Technologies.”  These technologies are dangerous for two reasons.  The first is they can anger other civilizations if you pursue them and even make powerful enemies.  The second is that they can provoke end game crises.  This is a useful metaphor for a recent trend I’ve noticed in myself and others: various high effect mindhacks that don’t strictly track with truth.

You see, mind hacking and trying weird things is relatively similar to researching Dangerous Technologies.  The typical example of a dangerous technology that I bring up is “sparkliness”.  It’s basically a weird blend of hypomania and introspection that can be directed outward, combined with an understanding of narrative and social reality.  It feels like something people independently realize if they have the right neurotype and it starts to feel like a real thing in thingspace when other people start validating these intuitions.  The drawback is obvious; hypomania that gets fed and pushed tends to become mania.  Mania is generally considered a rather broken state because of that whole unfortunate detachment from reality thing.  Sparkliness, or at least my conception of it, is therefore a dangerous technology.

There are other dangerous technologies out there in terms of mind hacking.  The category is generally defined by high variance interventions.  Dabbling in meditation is unlikely to be a dangerous technology but it’s recently become clear that the more you follow that rabbit hole, the more destabilizing it can become.  I’m sure people have read thinkpieces on how western meditation practices basically take the practice without respect for the tradition and then westerners are left lost and confused because they don’t have anyone to guide them through the rougher experiences meditation can lead to.  Nootropics are also a bit of a dangerous technology, some more than others; I mean, I doubt anyone is going to start highlighting caffeine in orangish-red.

The power of belief is also an up and coming dangerous technology.  We know the placebo effect exists and you can do really cool things with it.  You also can end up thinking you’re bulletproof when really you’re just working well together with the rest of your village because your risk assessment is skewed.  My basic understanding of conviction charisma also falls into the category, i.e. the infamous reality warping field of startup founders.  Belief is a powerful drug, but it’s one you inflict on yourself to inflict on others.

I will note that there are mindhacks that aren’t dangerous technologies.  Things like double cruxing, developing normal charisma through social practice, calibration games, various techniques for overcoming bias, these are unlikely to make you insane.  The notable thing is how these are largely in the rationalist canon, whereas dangerous technology seems to fall more into postrationalist territory.

Overall, dangerous technology is incredibly appealing in terms of really fast living and creating An Outcome, whether it’s good or bad, without having to do a lot of work (well, depending on your definition of “a lot of work”).  It just may, you know, literally break your mind; it also tends to be unreliable/unprovable enough that using it too much tends to make enemies of the more grounded people around you, especially those that have learned to properly fear and respect dangerous technology.  It’s a risk reward analysis where the data is opaque; if you aren’t already engaging in dangerous technology research, I would heavily advise against it.  If you’re already there…be sure to take a few moments and stop from time to time.  

Discussion:  Do you use any dangerous technologies in your life?  How would one approach a risk/benefit analysis when the risk is literally going insane or worse?  Are nondangerous technologies proven and powerful enough to be worth the work without trying to take dangerous shortcuts?

When I was in India living close to Tibetan monks and lamas, I was often surprised at the apparently easy-going, laid-back way in which many of them seemed to live their practice. They often responded to my intensity and fervor with the expression kale kalepe TOnang (literally “please go slowly”). Essentially, what they were saying was take it easy, go slowly, and you get there. They seemed highly amused by the attitude I had towards my practice, as though they could not understand why I was so driven. They did not have the underlying emotional disposition in their psyches that said they were not good enough. This does not mean they did not practice and work hard. It meant that they let things be and did not have the neurotic intensity of striving many of us suffer from in the West.

Rob Preece.

Photo by Anorak’s Appendix.

As one prominent Buddhist leader has said, “80 percent of meditators at Buddhist centers have a background of trauma and abuse, and the other 20 percent are lying.” To put that statement in a more positive light, people who have suffered a lot know something already about Buddhism’s first noble truth – that human life is marked with suffering. They don’t need to be convinced.