Meditation – Proof of the Pudding

Does it work? If you want to know the “truth” who should you ask? And are you asking the right questions.

Mathematics, it appears, offers some truths. Incontrovertible rightness, say those in the know. Perhaps science in general deals with “truths” although it will be difficult to tell. As in every other sphere of human endeavor, each has his own opinion.

Are there truths in psychology I wonder. Or do we still find that a subjective numbers game underlies the over confident pronouncements of the practitioners.

Subjectivity and small sample size is rightly derided by those seeking veracity in the realm of natural sciences, and yet I must consider what matters more to me. Some universal truth (which will undoubtedly be de-bunked at some stage in the future). Or something which works for me.

By this means will peace descend upon you, says one self appointed guru and seller of mystical pages by the million. Live in the “now” says another and all your worries will become as wisps in the wind. Again, impressive book sales suggest such a solution is craved, the world over. But is it delivered?

And so to Buddhism, or rather secular Buddhism, as it happens. My preferred form. A wise old Indian from way back Bihar taught that all life is suffering. But that there is a way out.

Suffering arises from our cravings, which can never be satisfied. The good news is that our suffering will end if we renounce our cravings, our attachments to the world, our desires.

How do we do that? By being a good person and following a simple eightfold path . And meditation is central to that path. By concentrating and going deep within, our true nature will be revealed and all suffering will end. Whatever goes on in the outer world, our inner world will be a fortress of calm equanimity.

Google Buddhism and its Four Noble Truths. Or its Eightfold path. How will you decide what books to buy. Who to listen to. What tutorials to watch on YouTube.

Good luck with all of that. I came to Buddhism over 30 years ago and wondered what on earth meditation was. How should I do it. How would I know if it was working. Would I disappear into the glorious state of Nirvana. That was certainly where I wanted to end up.

The proof of the pudding is in the eating. It doesn’t really matter what the Dalai Lama says (or anyone else). What matters (to you at any rate) is does it work?

Because at heart you see, Buddhism is desperately simple, once you pare away all the religious and supernatural accretions.

What have I discovered over the past 30 odd years. Is it “true” or isn’t it. Or, more precisely and pertinently, has it worked for me.

I’m going to equivocate I’m afraid. I’m going to tell you yes. And then again no.

Have I taken my practice seriously. Well I have certainly tried to be “good” although I will readily confess that at times I have struggled. Have I sat cross legged on a tatami mat for several hours a day for the past 30 years going inwards. I must admit that I have not. And yet contemplation has always been there. It has always been a part of my daily life and I have felt better for it. If I let my contemplation lapse and get too caught up in the world, I always suffer. I do not seem to be able to combine “world” with “meditation”. Mea culpa.

Recently I have been trying rather harder. Or perhaps not trying would be a better way of putting it – letting go, rather.

The effects are remarkable when I get it right. When I concentrate. When I refuse entrance to thought and let my mind stay clear as a bell. In such a state all thought becomes clutter – it is there, I can see it but it does not seem to be a part of who I am.

I seem to be a “consciousness” at such times, a being which is wholly independent of the mental constructs I perennially wear. I feel apart, something different entirely than the ceaseless worrying concerns which so often fill my day. I would not be stating my case too strongly to claim that at such times I am indeed, however temporarily, in a state a Buddhist might call nirvana.

My suspicion would be that I can make such states last, or at least spill over into the more active periods of my day. I have observed my mind work so closely that I can instantly sense the customary nonsense creeping back in. And often these days I can dispel such unwelcome intrusion by the power of will.

Over optimistic nonsense or real progress? I am hoping for the latter while remaining wary of the former.

Bin the books and videos and gurus. The rules are simple and the proof of the pudding is in your eating of it. Either it works for you or it does not.

23 Comments

  1. I agree, Anthony, that one’s “faith” should “work.” Of course, scientific truth, if such a thing exists, is quite different from historical truth. (Is not science SUPPOSED to always challenge its assumptions, to look for more facts, deeper understanding of the ‘apparent’ ones?)
    But that is defining faith as a set of beliefs or tenets of doctrine. Faith, when defined as trust, is quite a different matter. On what will you stake your life, your existence? That is the matter of faith that concerns me, and for which I pray for you that you will discover Who to trust. πŸ˜‰ ‘Course, you know Who I mean. :-)))

    Liked by 7 people

    1. I think one of advantages of secular Buddhism is that one is not required to subscribe to any “truth” other than “it works for me”. Subjective truth. I would not seek to claim that it “works for everyone”. Objectively, I have no idea. And thus meditation, as recommended by the jolly old fellow in Bihar, was a remedy for the endless miseries that we tend to suffer in human life. Deaths, illnesses, poverty, whatever. It is more “medicine” than belief system. Although medicine for the soul as well as the mind perhaps. For those who have received divine revelation, the matter must look entirely different. Perhaps I should visit Damascus!

      Liked by 3 people

  2. I read a beautiful and resonating explanation of Buddha’s observations on suffering that I want to share. It’s explained in Thich Nhat Hanh’s book “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching.” From my limited understanding, suffering is more than just a constant. It’s a lens through which we can understand ourselves. Practically, if you suffer (or, according to Jainism, have ANY emotional response – even joyous ones), you can use it to tell what’s important to YOU and ask why it is so. Why did the event cause an emotion? The answer should then prompt the next why and so on until you reach an irreducible observation and / or core assumption. In other words, perhaps, suffering (or any emotion) is a path to our individual nirvana. It’s an individualized prescription based on our individualized emotions.

    Liked by 7 people

    1. Wonderful thoughts. I read some of Thich Nhat Hanh’s books some years ago, with very great pleasure. Why did the event cause an emotion? A valid and valuable question, and a psychologically helpful. Yes, I can see that that chain of events you describe could have great value. A possible stumbling block of course is a physiological one. It may be the case that chemical reactions which are the ultimate “cause” of emotion just “are”. A mere factor of our physiology. Thus breaking that chain of cause and effect you describe. And limiting our powers to intervene without other chemicals – such as modern medicine . But it is certainly worth trying. As ever, the question is whether it will work for you. Or me. If it does, wonderful. If not, some other remedy must be sought. Meditation for instance is probably unlikely to cure schizophrenia or narcissism on the grounds those two abnormalities are physical or chemical in origin. Not caused by any particular life event – but merely endogenous, a part of your physical configuration. And try as one might, only a physical (chemical) remedy will have any effect. Nonetheless for those of us able to move or direct our minds with meditation, the train of events you describe is exciting.

      Modern medicine has rightly adopted meditation even in skeptical England. I am not sure that I have, to date at least, fully explored its powers. Perhaps I am wrong and by the mental willpower of deep mediation one can change ones brain. Change one’s mind.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. The core idea of Buddhism makes a lot of sense: rather than trying to change the world, change how we respond and think about it. The thing I wonder though, is does anyone really achieve nirvana? Or do they succeed in convincing themselves that they do? Of course, a practitioner might respond: does it matter? A fair response.

    What might be interesting is that, in the future, we might acquire the ability to change our minds using technology. Rather than suffer, we might be able to reengineer ourselves to simply enjoy our situation. Is it cheating to involve technology? If so, why? If not, the core (secular) Buddhist insights may have far reaching effects far beyond any other outlook.

    Liked by 6 people

  4. The way I interpret meditation is achieving the loss of self. Of banishing the “I” from our internal vocabulary. Deleting the sense of emotions or any cause or effect they have on us. Problem is, we are by nature a very emotional species. Achieving states void of emotion perhaps a fools errand. Or if attainable to any lasting degree, perhaps years even decades before true glimpses are achieved.

    Maybe that’s why the monks lock themselves away when they are young and practice everyday.
    At my age, I’ll stick to mentally exploring the “why’ of my emotions upon occurrence. That in itself is hard enough for me!

    Liked by 5 people

    1. Any beneficial effect is worth it, I would have thought. The more extravagant benefits claimed, especially by salesman gurus, are no doubt apocryphal. Difficult as you say to totally abandon the self but probably worth trying. Depends how desparate one is, I guess. In my case, I’m pretty keen!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I recently read a blog from India which made this valuable observation:
    “Let us first make the distinction between pain and suffering. Pain is physical; it is useful as a valuable wake-up call when there is injury to the body. Suffering, on the other hand, is psychological. It is 100% self-manufactured. You don’t have a choice about being in pain, but you can always choose not to suffer.”

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Some people moan over the slightest pain. Others live daily with pains without complaining. My wife is one of the latter. Rose has numerous physical problems, but rarely says much about them.

        Liked by 2 people

    1. I have, quite a number over the years. The “best” usually consist of oneness and a general feeling of gnosis and contentment. The most odd was when I appeared to be talking to a neighbor and friend who had recently died. Odd because she appeared with a male friend who I did not know – afterwards I described the friend to my wife and it did appear to be some real character who I had never met.

      I can not claim that these experiences have ever changed my life much. Pleasant and interesting as they were. The road to Damascus they were not.

      I have never met “god” although I did once sense some advanced aliens.

      I find myself slightly surprised by the ecstatic research from John Hopkins which describes numinous experiences which have apparently turned peoples lives around. I’m still waiting!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Did you get chills up your spine when your wife described the man you saw?

        I love that so much πŸ™‚

        Have been watching the Netflix series about life after death. It’s surprisingly well done and quite compelling. In one of the episodes someone was talking about connecting with and talking to people who’ve died & recommended asking those we wish to connect with to show us signs.

        I chose an old friend of my brother’s, who I was very fond of, who ended his life 20 years ago. I asked him to send me a visible sign. Within a minute, a black spider crawled over the blanket I (luckily) had over my legs. It freaked me out.

        He was a notorious trickster but honestly, if that *was* him, after not seeing him for that long and the first thing he does is scare me? Well, I got a bit irritated after a few days, being the humourless menopausal being I currently am, and I haven’t dared to ask for any signs since πŸ™‚

        Liked by 3 people

      2. Thank you for sharing your story Sue. How wonderful! Yes, I was quite fascinated by my experience. It was so very definite even though in my mind ~ no words were spoken out loud and I was aware of my surroundings, sitting quietly in our cottage in the country. Did I learn from the experience? Was I convinced of life after death? Hmm…. No I fear I am too cynical and pessimistic.

        Like

  6. Buddhism is a way of life. Master said it doesn’t matter how you practice introspection it matters why! Western Buddhist monks follow the footsteps of our Lord Jesus. Not idols of men. Meditation centres on silence alone. Within the silence, a voice comes through you, not from you. You are only vessels. Masters of Buddhism have no voice. I meet a Chinese Buddhist monk some time ago who was spent his entire existence practising transition meditation. That was an enlightening meeting. I had an uncle on my Father side who was a Catholic Buddhist Monk, R.I.P. He dressed in a gown of the white linen to the ground, no shoes and a cross hung around his neck to his feet made of wood. Doing Penance. This Order worldwide today is rare. I was blessed to have been in his company for many years. Buddhism is a lifetime of awareness. The morale: not meditation to achieve it’s about peaceful existence for all living things. Sharing food, roof…. goodness is a privileged being, after all, we are all trying to fit in together doing the best we can to hang on to rocks against the tides of life. Shalom Master πŸ˜”πŸ˜Œ

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Of the reality
    with the mind

    the senses take the inner world
    the outside world true
    without any of it
    the human view

    to correspond to the multitude of truths

    Here and now
    in the subjective moment
    an event
    the experience
    in the history of time

    Each in his own way
    must think before the act
    should I do what the left hand wants
    or should I practice the better with my right hand

    the suffering, the need, the fear, life and death
    are events of everyone
    who is not afraid of it

    what I can’t change, I want to endure

    the will-o’-the-wisp comes from our autonomous pure mind
    the wrong way
    the failure
    the vulnerability
    the inability
    the suffering and the need

    does not want to and cannot accept

    a way out
    from your own
    real life
    we are nature
    in the nature
    there is no detour in ourselves

    the awakened
    is like any other spiritual prince
    in me no event of my experience

    I don’t know what a good person should be

    thinking
    can the germ of the soul
    in daily immersion
    the body and soul unity
    not reach

    the no from others helps me
    not to build a fortress of equanimity

    i always suffer
    also under the suffering of others
    through my fault
    I can’t know the other

    I don’t have to let go of anything
    at my goal
    in death
    I have to
    leave unasked

    Bells
    and your

    do you hear
    the tone
    the thought?

    I do not know
    who really am
    I am

    i go with my worries
    day after day
    I am relaxed
    in me
    inwards and outwards
    the nirvana
    the other

    the nonsense
    the counterpart
    of meant
    pure
    chaste mind

    the meat
    in which I sit
    is stronger
    his endeavor
    than his will

    Liked by 4 people

      1. i’m out of nowhere
        lifted with the plumb bob
        in oblivion
        into existence
        into life

        i hear the sound
        still in the dark
        from the other end
        of my being

        Liked by 3 people

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