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Which meditation instructions not to follow?
February 6th, 2016

illustration (attribution, if any possible, is at the end of the article)

Which meditation instructions not to follow?

   Even if one gives the benefit of the doubt and acknowledges good intentions from the author, many meditation instructions are so wrong, it's painful to see… and irresponsible to stay silent.
   If you're interested in buddhist meditation, there are a few criteria you might use to partly assess whether a 'teacher' is improvising:
• a key notion in Buddhism is causality. Instructions are to be consistent with considering cause and effect;
• another key notion in Buddhism is relinquishing views, or letting go of prejudices, preconceptions, preferences, biases… in order to focus on the situation at hand. Instructions are to be consistent with appropriateness to the context, with allowing specific conditions and circumstances to be navigated creatively, without one-size-fits-all dogma or blame games ("if you're experiencing this-or-that [negative phenomenon], you're doing it wrong / you're not correctly following my [obviously good] instructions").

   A key aspect to remember —at all times— is that "good intentions" aren't enough: execution matters too.
   Good intentions are not an excuse to squander an opportunity.
   Good intentions do not magically make the world comply with one's wishes., not even the wish to constructively and efficiently help others.
   No matter how good intentions about one phenomenon might be, a negligent execution will betray the presence of less wholesome intentions interfering… to the point of possibly causing more suffering than ease. An example of such a classic less wholesome intention is impatience (craving for fast results, ignoring some causal constraints).
   Cf. also

   Recently, I saw some instruction which presented the arising of pain during meditation as an opportunity for mindfulness (of body) and for training oneself not to immediately / automatically run away from discomfort (all perfectly valid points, in general), but then concluded thus:
   « But if after a time, the pain has increased and becomes unbearable, you must ignore the pain  and continue with the contemplation of rising and falling. »
   This conclusion is extremely unhelpful advice!

   First, buddhist meditation is not  asceticism. There certainly is a point in disciplining the mind, and in not immediately reacting to what's unpleasant, yes, but that's different from falling into stupidity or stubbornness! Cultivating stubbornness isn't helpful.

   Second, people can actually hurt themselves by a bad posture (rendering them less able to practice, less able to help others, etc.), and a bad posture will usually be more and more painful before it turns plain dangerous! Even if you don't want to let your body decide for you, it remains wise to consider whatever information your body gives you, before taking a decision on what to do next!
   Causality? Your body is unlikely to be screaming if everything is fine. Ignoring relevant information is not a sign of freedom, it only manifests blindness! You don't want to be fidgety? Sure! This doesn't imply being stuck, however. Adjusting your posture, as you gradually 'learn your lessons', is integral to manifesting the fruits of learning!

   Mindfulness is not blindness.
   Concentration and stability are not stubbornness.
   Wisdom lies in responding appropriately to the conditions at hand: only fools stick to prejudices and preconceptions (dogma), regardless of reality. Dogma about meditative postures or practices is no exception to that.

   It's fairly easy enough to copy meditation instructions, and to spread them with good intentions. Many practitioners believe they help others by doing so. Sometimes, it's true. Other times, it's not!
   When instructions are (made) dogmatic, it doesn't help. Even with a positive intention of striving for clarity and simplicity, it still doesn't help! In a world of ineffable richness, nuances count. Simplicity is great only as long as it doesn't fall into caricature.
   When there's not enough understanding of causal processes to deal with what might go wrong, it doesn't help either. Most people might suggest an aspirin or a paracetamol for a headache, but what happens when the 'patient' has an allergic reaction afterwards? One doesn't improvise oneself a medic! One doesn't even improvise oneself a first aider! Similarly, one doesn't improvise oneself a psychologist or a meditation instructor… without having the tiniest clue on how to deal with the difficulties that might arise.
   Behaving responsibly is not optional on the eightfold path!

#meditation   #Buddhism   #Dharma  
Illustration: very common mistake, which easily goes unnoticed when meditating moderately every day at home, and which therefore easily becomes a bad habit… but it turns into a very painful habit once meditating many hours a day e.g. during a retreat! « Ignore the pain, and continue with the contemplation of rising and falling » is certainly not the appropriate response once you realise the problem! And to let go of the unhelpful habit, one needs to repeatedly  correct one's posture, until the habit ceases! 'Knowing' what to do is not enough: adjusting one's posture (based on one's circumstances: maybe the cushion ought to be adjusted too!), again and again, is required! And even 'knowing' what to do is not necessarily simple; it often is 'simple' only in hindsight  ( Neither fidgeting, nor stuck, the middle way: a constructive engagement with reality… a creative engagement, not a dogmatic engagement! Don't ignore pain.