The Risks of Meditation

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Wet Paint, modified 13 Years ago at 7/5/09 6:32 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 7/5/09 6:32 AM

The Risks of Meditation

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: pookee
Forum: Dharma Overground Discussion Forum

My own teacher warns that it is possible to do more harm than good if one doesn't practice correctly. And here is another such warning:

"Many will be without access to a teacher and some may like to try a period of solitary meditation in some quiet part of the country. This should only be attempted if one has already developed a good power of mindfulness. Otherwise what was meant to foster meditation may become a very unprofitable time, perhaps accompanied by the seeming intensification of the mental defilements." Practical Advice for Meditators, Bhikkhu Khantipalo, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/khantipalo/wheel116.html

I'm not sure if this is true, but I've also read that meditation was proscribed in Europe during midaeval times becaues a silent mind was thought "to let the demons in". Anyone who's experienced a strong sankhara will understand where this belief came from!

"Intensification of mental defilements" seems dangerous enough, but why would this occur? How can it be known? How does this differ from the normal arising of strange reactions during meditation? How do you notice this as a teacher? As a student?
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Florian, modified 13 Years ago at 7/5/09 7:51 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 7/5/09 7:51 AM

RE: The Risks of Meditation

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi pookee,

You wrote: "Intensification of mental defilements" seems dangerous enough, but why would this occur?"

I cannot speak for Ven. Khantipalo. Dangers I see (solitary practice or not) are: "losing touch" during A&P, taking manifestations of "energy" and pretty deep insight somehow at face value or for granted, not seeing through them (which does require mindfulness, among other things). There's a list of ten "defilements of insight" which I'd associate with the "dangers" of the A&P. Extreme "cases" of A&P "danger" would look like the symptoms of a manic episode: losing grasp of finances, career, relationships. There's a page on this aspect of the "dangers of meditation" here:

http://dharmaoverground.wetpaint.com/page/Bipolar+Disorder+and+Insight

Then there are the "dangers" of the Dark Night, the dukkha nanas, depicted in many passages in MCTB. And again, mindfulness is necessary to see through these things.

All of these can be viewed as dangers to be aware of, but just as well as challenges to be met with appropriate means. I think both are necessary: knowledge of the potential pitfalls, and knowledge of how to deal with them. In the absence of a teacher, the maps are indispensable for the former, in my opinion; much more useful anyway than dropping dark unspecific hints about dangers.

For one, dark unspecific threats will have the effect of only encouraging people of a certain mindset to try regardless. emoticon

You also wrote, "how does this differ from the normal arising of strange reactions during meditation?" - Intensity? Failing to even keep them in mind (mindfulness!), total failure to investigate them at the sensate level, totally buying into their "content" instead?

Nice topic!

Cheers,
Florian
beta wave, modified 13 Years ago at 7/5/09 9:18 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 7/5/09 9:18 AM

RE: The Risks of Meditation

Posts: 5 Join Date: 8/30/09 Recent Posts
Pookee, thanks for a (potentially) practical question!

Here goes: Are you asking for a particular reason in your own practice? Are you trying to supplement what your teacher has said? Why are you asking?
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Wet Paint, modified 13 Years ago at 7/5/09 3:19 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 7/5/09 3:19 PM

RE: The Risks of Meditation

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: bboyYen

Heyy, I think it would be like. Instead of sitting down and deliberately cultivating wholesome thoughts and mindfulness, you would actually be deliberately and maybe directly cultivating the exact opposite of those thoughts like hatred et..c

That would be like, the wrong part of the path, aka wrong mindfulness and the like I guess.

Perhaps it is indeed possible though that if there is meditation in which you deliberately cultivate good thoughts for some time, you could do the exact opposite which meditation that cultivates bad thoughts.

Please don't take too seriously (or at all) what I'm going to say.

http://www.thehumanist.org/humanist/MaryGarden.html (< effects of meditation)

Before I thought that in meditation one would deliberately cultivate wholesome thoughts, I'm not sure if it's possible to do the exact opposite.

Is it possible cultivate greed, hatred etc? Usually I wouldn't think so, because if you wanted to cultivate greed and hatred you probably wouldn't meditate, in fact you might just go around with normal life and forget bettering yourself and mindfulness altogether.

Unfortunately I think it might be possible to directly foster those defilements in meditation sort of in the way one might foster mindfulness and other good qualities.


In your own link: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/khantipalo/wheel116.html

There is a section that says "Dangers of Meditation" or something like that, this is kind of similar to what I mean.

It seems that jhanas are always only wholesome and that one in jhana is incapable of bad thoughts, but is it possible to concentrate and meditate on bad things and thus cultivate unwholesome thoughts? We read stories of demons who would meditate and train for a long time to empower themselves and I think I read somewhere that the asuras meditated on war.
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Wet Paint, modified 13 Years ago at 7/5/09 3:29 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 7/5/09 3:29 PM

RE: The Risks of Meditation

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: bboyYen

In order to fix this problem... Well I'm not really sure. The Buddha did not leave (in my opinion) many exact instructions for meditation. I think it's because you can forget instructions. If you intend well, then you intend well and you think those thoughts, I think a person who has this problem would have to reassess what their intention is in meditation. Because when you're meditating and you're wondering what's going on and why progress isn't being made, that's not what's going on, what's going on is you're meditating or just waiting and wondering for progress to be made. I don't think it's like you just apply instructions you don't understand and wait for some magic to happen, you have to honestly try to change yourself. So for ex. you notice that you lack some quality or you know some way or thing you would do which bring so much more benefit but you think you must stick to noting or what you're doing, it would probably be better to go do the other thing (maybe).
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Wet Paint, modified 13 Years ago at 7/5/09 3:35 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 7/5/09 3:35 PM

RE: The Risks of Meditation

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: bboyYen

Anyways

"

"It wasn't the case, brahman, that the Blessed One praised mental absorption of every sort, nor did he criticize mental absorption of every sort. And what sort of mental absorption did he not praise? There is the case where a certain person dwells with his awareness overcome by sensual passion, seized with sensual passion. He does not discern the escape, as it actually is present, from sensual passion once it has arisen. Making that sensual passion the focal point, he absorbs himself with it, besorbs, resorbs, & supersorbs himself with it.

"He dwells with his awareness overcome by ill will...

"He dwells with his awareness overcome by sloth & drowsiness...

"He dwells with his awareness overcome by restlessness & anxiety...

"He dwells with his awareness overcome by uncertainty, seized with uncertainty. He does not discern the escape, as it actually is present, from uncertainty once it has arisen. Making that uncertainty the focal point, he absorbs himself with it, besorbs, resorbs, & supersorbs himself with it. This is the sort of mental absorption that the Blessed One did not praise.


"

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.108.than.html


http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an04/an04.159.than.html

Above all says that it is by desire that we abandon desire. Some guys also had some different motivations for practicing, for example Nanda practiced because apparently he wanted heavenly maidens but he later abandoned this.
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Daniel M Ingram, modified 13 Years ago at 7/5/09 9:41 PM
Created 13 Years ago at 7/5/09 9:41 PM

RE: The Risks of Meditation

Posts: 3231 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
A curiously practical question, that of how meditation can cultivate unwholesome qualities that may be of danger...

Anyone who has been on a large meditation retreat in the West with small group meetings will know all too well that most are there simply cultivating the ability to spin in their own neurotic content, dredging those circular trenches deeper into their mind, wiring their brain to do that with greater strength and conviction rather than to investigate the nature of sensate reality, develop strong concentration on an object (other than neurotic content), and the like, and this is with the guidance of the teachers, so imagine what would be possible without them saying again and again, "Don't be lost in the stories and tape loops of the mind. Follow the meditation instructions!"

Just as with anything, the more we practice something, the more that is what we do naturally, and much of what the mind does when left to its own devices on the cushion is not very skillful in most people, and that practiced in an intensive setting may cause bad habits of mind to solidify, increase fixation on useless psychological content, and cause one to be further than one started from such useful things as bare sensate investigation, strong concentration on the mantra or image, etc.
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Wet Paint, modified 13 Years ago at 7/6/09 5:21 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 7/6/09 5:21 AM

RE: The Risks of Meditation

Posts: 22924 Join Date: 8/6/09 Recent Posts
Author: pookee

@monkeymind (Florian) Thanks for the list of observable pathologies: that's precisely what I was after. Can you expand on recognizing these events, both in oneself and in others? Or is it contained in the Bipolar article you reference? In other words, does the pathology always resemble a manic or depressive episode? Also, what does "totally buying into their 'content'" mean? Is that like suppression?

@betawave I am asking so that I can identify any such pathologies, should they arise, in myself and potentially in others. I am also asking because it concerns me that my teacher mentions "serious dangers" inherent in the process, but then says no more about it! It's also an interesting point of practice, differentiating between the expected, normal, and actually beneficial discomforts that arise, and the abnormal harmful events which may occur and impede progress. (Excellent questions, by the way.)

@daniel "Digging deeper trenches": very evocative imagery. Is it possible to detect it in others? Is the pathology highly individual, or universal? And is the remedy always the same, to focus on bare sensate experience?
beta wave, modified 13 Years ago at 7/6/09 7:44 AM
Created 13 Years ago at 7/6/09 7:44 AM

RE: The Risks of Meditation

Posts: 5 Join Date: 8/30/09 Recent Posts
Okay, gotcha!

To use your imagery, when "demons" appear... it really depends on the practioner's viewpoint if they are coming in or being released, right? That's the heart of it. Either the practioner sees these as objects in their awareness (and thus not the same as oneself), then no big deal -- just a little mind noise, sensations. Or the practioner says, dang look at these horrible things, my essence must be horrible -- which is buying into the content, digging deeper trenches, identifying with it, etc.

As far as noticing it in others, the truth is that the more you really uncover your own bad habits, the more other's habits will scream out to you. YET -- and this is a huge point -- the more you really have seen your own bad habits, the more you recognize that people have these habits as a way of creating a sense of self and a semblence of order in their lives. So someone that has sat with and dissolved some of their own pathologies will also know that the pathologies in others are there for a reason. A flawed reason, but a reason none the less.

I think you are right on when you say "beneficial discomforts that arise", that's a great expression. It seems like some things are easy to drop, other things have to become bigger problems before they are easily dropped.

That's also why sometimes it is very compassionate to let others have their problems! emoticon