copyright Robert Ellis 2008

'The Trouble with Buddhism' Chapter 11

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The meditation bazaar

Meditation practices are one aspect of Buddhism which is clearly of direct practical usefulness. However, the metaphysical beliefs discussed in the previous chapters can hamper Buddhists here too, into making meditation an end in itself rather than a tool, or taking some of its trappings far too seriously.

Click on the summaries below for the full text of each section:

a) Meditation as an end in itself

In Buddhist theory, meditation is clearly part of a wider path rather than an end in itself. However, excessive respect for tradition, concern with aesthetic pleasure, or the Buddha's own example may lead it to become so in some contexts.

b) Instant enlightenment

Zazen meditation is of great practical usefulness, but the accompanying Zen claim that the aesthetic experience of dhyana is also one of insight is dogmatic, and the discontinuity of Zen's 'instant enlightenment' is not compatible with the Middle Way.

c) Secret sadhanas

The visualisation of figures representing enlightenment in sadhana practices may provide imaginatively stimulating meditative benefits, but the representation of enlightenment is irrelevant to this. The secrecy surrounding instruction in sadhana practices is also not an appropriate way of guarding their specialness in individual experience.

d) Mantric mumbo-jumbo

The special powers sometimes associated with mantras do not depend on the words themselves but on the associations surrounding them, so any random words could do the same job. Since undue respect for tradition tends to take Buddhists away from the Middle Way, it would be better to use non-traditional random words than the traditional mantric ones.


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