Fact and Fiction About Meditation

Book Reviews

Kaiyum analyses the alleged scientific conclusions and hype about a new book, The Buddha Pill.

Lovers of Osho quickly learn that ‘the way out, is in’, that there’s nothing mystical about meditation. On the contrary, it is a tried and tested way of gaining distance from the Mind. They discover that meditation is a way of entering into oneself, into an inner source of silence, where the constant chatter of the Mind – the incessant flow of thoughts – loses its significance. This ‘going inwards’ expands access to the truth that can only be found in the boundless reaches of the heart.

Although the heart is on the left, it’s always right.


The Buddha Pill

Cultural perspective
In the East, meditation is considered a normal and natural part of life, whether an individual consciously practises it or not. In the West, where cognition and scientific objectivity prevail, the subjective value of meditation continues to be relegated to minority, alternative (i.e., non-mainstream) sections of society.

Perhaps this is simply continuing the Church tradition of rejecting meditation as dangerous, a risk to health and an abomination of the cognitive acts of sacred prayer and contemplation.

The Buddha Pill
is the title of a new book that – in a nutshell – draws scientific conclusions about the (dubious) value of meditation. The general implication is that meditation is certainly not all it’s made out to be, that it has its negative aspects and no objective scientific value in supporting mental health.

Catherine Wikholm and Miguel FariasThe authors
Medical doctor Miguel Farias, head of the brain, belief and behaviour research at Coventry University, UK is co-author with Catherine Wikholm. Ms Wikholm works in the UK National Health mental health services and at the time of writing was studying clinical psychology at the University of Surrey, UK. There is little evidence that these two writers have much personal, subjective experience of meditation, let alone any of the more spiritual aspects or emotional benefits of any meditative experience.

Interesting conclusions
When a meditator reads a phrase like ‘the dark side of meditation and mindfulness’, then alarm bells will probably ring. But that sort of statement or implication seems to be inherent to this book, which claims that ‘treatment (sic) can trigger mania, depression and psychosis’ and that:

– theoretically, the techniques help relieve stress and live for the moment

– one US study found that 60% of those who had been on a meditation retreat had suffered at least one negative side effect, including panic, depression and confusion

– ‘experts’ consider the shortage of rigorous statistical studies into the negative effects of meditation a ‘scandal’

Thus spake Farias
In an interview with The Times, Farias is quoted as having said: “The assumption of the majority of both TM and mindfulness researchers is that meditation can only do one good.

This shows a rather narrow-minded view. How can a technique that allows you to look within and change your perception or reality of yourself be without potential adverse effects?

The answer is that it can’t, and all meditation studies should assess not only positive but negative effects.”

Thus spake The Daily Mail
“The guiding principle of mindfulness is to live more ‘in the moment’, spending less time going over past stresses and worrying about future problems.

It is a secular practice that is said to help people recognise and overcome negative thoughts while noticing small pleasures.”

More than TM and ‘mindfulness’?
Although Osho was fond of contradicting himself, he was often scathing about TM and any use of mantras. (At other times, however, he recommended mantras as a powerful tool of transformation.) As a regular medical practitioner, Kabat-Zinn has brought an essence of traditional Buddhist meditation within reach of many by making it ‘respectable’. As most readers of Osho News will know, the simplicity of becoming ‘the watcher on the hill’ constitutes the pure essence of meditation as mastery of the Mind

Wise review
A somewhat balanced review states:
“The authors were under the impression that meditation lead to every practitioner becoming calm and balanced. Yet they found evidence, when collecting testimony from yoga teachers and practitioners that having a bad reaction wasn’t uncommon. When they approached various Buddhist and Hindu meditation teachers/gurus they found that, among these groups, at least the belief held that personal change doesn’t come about by meditating alone, but as part of a worldview – right thinking, right action. It seems fairly obvious that if you’re going to stir up the pain without suitable support then some people are going to struggle with dealing with what comes to the surface.”

Long live the numerous therapy groups that Osho introduced! Stir up the shit, express it, cathart, clean it up… and move on into the glorious place that (deep) meditation can lead to!

Review by Kaiyum, Osho News

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