This coming Saturday (Feb. 15, 2014) my talk at Hill Street Center will be Spreecast live. You’ll be able to interact with the group and ask questions! Do it! Just go to the link I provided above at 11 AM Pacific Time.
I’m really looking forward to the event with Kaz. It will be amazing and there’s still time to sign up. I’ve been plugging it at the end of this blog for the past month or so. Kaz translated the Shobogenzo with the folks at the San Francisco Zen Center and produced one of the best editions available. He’s a great calligrapher and just all around interesting arty person. So the retreat will be very fun.
Also, all this month I am the Meditation Doctor over at Tricycle.com. I’ve done this a couple times before and it’s always interesting. I do my best to deal with people’s meditation questions. Some of them are about things I can’t really address, like the use of mala beads, for example. But the most recent one today was pretty good. I hope they won’t mind too much if I quote it (it’ll drive business over there anyway, right?).
A Tricycle reader named John said:
Hi Brad, in Hardcore Zen at the end of the chapter Why Gene Simmons is not a Zen Master you said:
“Lots of Zen students also fall into this trap: they think that balance occurs only when they are deeply in Zazen and at no other time. Students like this often spend far too much time doing zazen and the practice ultimately leads them further and further from true balance.”
The idea that meditation could lead us away from true balance struck me as quite worrying. I’d be grateful if you could say a bit more about what you meant here. What is happening when someone falls into this trap and what does it means to get further and further from true balance?
This is a tough one. I wrote that book ten years ago. I would express it differently now. And it’s hard to recall precisely what I was thinking when I wrote that line.
I feel like meditation practice can get you into some very deep introspective places. And these places can be extremely fascinating and entertaining. They can also seem incredibly important. You can start to feel like if only you could get more deeply into these spaces you’d know The Big Answer to Everything and could then bring it back and SAVE THE WORLD!
But it’s not really true. People have been attempting to do this for centuries and nobody has ever succeeded. It’s pure egotism to feel like you alone will be able to do what all the great masters of every tradition were not able to. I may have written this line more to myself than anyone else, because that’s kind of what I was going through at the time.
Or else you become what the Buddhist traditions call a “self-enlightened one.” That’s somebody who keeps going deeper and deeper and deeper into her/himself until nobody and nothing else matters at all. You end up sitting under a blanket with admirers feeding you oranges but you can’t really do anything for them because you’re so far gone.
The reason I’d probably either totally rephrase this now or maybe even cut the line completely is because this is a rare thing. That is to say, it’s fairly common among serious practitioners. But my book ended up being read mainly by people who were not that deeply into the practice (though many later went that direction). I didn’t anticipate such a wide audience when I wrote it. Heck, I didn’t anticipate any audience at all! I thought the book would never be published!
That’s what I said for Tricycle. I’ll continue a little for you fine folks.
The danger of over-meditating is not a widespread problem throughout human society. Rather, most people don’t meditate at all. And that is a much bigger problem!
Still, I do often come across people who appear to me to possibly be overdoing it. It’s not easy to talk to someone who is in that phase of practice because they’re usually so deeply impressed with themselves that they’re not going to listen to anyone. They don’t know, of course, that they’re deeply impressed with themselves. They’ve externalized all the ego stuff into ideas about the Great Way of the Ancestors or God or whatever name they’ve decided to call that which they like best about the stink of their own behinds. Often they’ve amassed a following of people who feed back into their fantasy trip because they’d like to go along for the ride or because they like the buzz of worshipping at the feet of a Great Master.
It appears to me that there is a limit to the practicality of this kind of deep introspection. The vast, v~a~s~t majority of people aren’t introspective at all. And this is a huge problem for the world. So most of us will never have to worry about this stuff. Which is why I now kinda wish I didn’t put that line in Hardcore Zen. It’s good to be introspective. But that rabbit hole goes down and down and down forever and it may not be necessary or even possible to get all the way to the bottom. You have to come up for air sometime! The reason we keep ending up back in this so-called “mundane world” even after the greatest transcendental experiences is because this “mundane world” is the one that’s actually the most important place for us to be and to remain.
When someone tries to get all the way down that rabbit hole, it tends to invite a whole lot of weirdness. The strangest cults I’ve encountered all seem to be centered around people who, to me, seem to have gone off the deep end with meditation.
If you have a competent teacher who has a grounding in the real world, this kind of thing is very unlikely to happen. By having a “grounding in the real world” I mean a teacher who doesn’t allow her/himself to be worshipped or to be waited on hand and foot. That’s a killer. It makes people lose all sense of reality.
A bit of deference to a teacher is appropriate. Teachers should be respected. Helping teachers is also appropriate. It’s a tough job sometimes and a teacher often needs an assistant or two. But I think it’s really vital to watch that the lines don’t get blurred too much.
If your teacher is a good one, she can see when you’re starting to overdo it and help you get back to the real world.
In short, don’t worry too much about meditating too much!
* * *
In 2013 I once again failed to make enough to live on through book sales. Your continued donations are my lifeline that allows me to continue working.
(If you get a warning about an expired security certificate, ignore it. It’s just some company trying to get money from us. We’re gonna fix that. The PayPal link is not associated with my blog and is completely secure.)
You can see the documentary about me, Brad Warner’s Hardcore Zen, at the following locations (I’ll be at all screenings):
• March 11, 2014 Ithaca, NY
• March 15, 2014 Brooklyn, NY
• April 20, 2014 San Francisco, CA