Many who read these posts on the primary errors of Buddhist Meditation will jump to the conclusion that I feel there is no benefit to studying Buddhist Suttas or practicing mindfulness meditation.
This is not the case.
What I am saying is that people who study Buddhism, or any other form of meditation need to do so with an open mind. This will help them see both the truth as well as that which may possibly be significant error in the teachings they are studying.
In general any form of highly organized religion will resemble all other forms of highly organized religion in a number of ways. The teachers of Catholic meditation will share some common features, both positive and negative with the teachers of Buddhist or Sufi, or Hindu, or Greek Orthodox meditation.
A primary negative feature the more orthodox teachers of any tradition will have in common is this: they will act and teach as though their way of truth is perfect and without error.
They will act and teach as though Moses, or Jesus, or Buddha, or Muhammad possessed perfect knowledge in either all things or at least all important things. They will act as though deviation from their view of things will lead one to either not reach the great prize of liberation, or will lead them into the pit of eternal suffering.
To defend this omniscience and authority, orthodox teachers of any tradition will sometimes have to twist themselves into knots trying to cover up obvious problems in their teachings. Here is a good example. Sutta 38 of the Majjhima Nikaya discusses an important problem in Theravada Buddhist teachings. Most Theravada Buddhist teachers assert with vigor the idea there is no permanent self or soul within the individual. But these same teachers go on to say with equal commitments that the karma of one life follows a person from one life to another and that this is an inexorable law of nature.
There is no way to resolve this contradiction. If there is some aspect of karma that survives death and generates merit or pain in a future life then this aspect of karma can be considered a permanent self or soul. If there is no permanent self or soul, when the body dies, everything that is part of a person’s life simply disintegrates and there is no rebirth.
Instead of being open about the problematic nature of this critical problem in Theravada teaching, both the writers of the Suttas and the orthodox teachers simply pretend the problem has been solved. And anyone who questions the official solution is silenced or marginalized and of course will be punished. Sutta 38 notes “But you, misguided man, have misrepresented us by your wrong grasp and injured yourself and stored up much demerit; for this will lead to your harm and suffering for a long time.” (Majjhima Nikaya Wisdom Publications Somerville, MA translated by Bhikku Nanamoli and Bhikku Bodhi 4th edition 2009 page 350.
The message is clear. Anyone who disagrees with us, even if it is only a sincere disagreement of opinion on difficult matters, will be punished and not for a short time.
Pretending an open question has been solved, shutting down debate on open questions, threatening (actually promising) punishment to those who hold different views on complex questions these are classic errors of organized religion in general and conservative monastic cultures in particular. Be careful not to fall into the trap of being silenced by this orthodox bullying or to simply repress important doubts and questions,
I do not know if karma somehow transfers from one life to another. I do not know if reincarnation is generally a true teaching or a significant error. I do not know if God does or does not exist.
What I am sure of is that no one else knows for sure the answers to these questions either. The tendency of conservative teachers of religious cultures to pretend they know for sure the correct answers are a classic trap to be avoided.
None of this is to imply there is no benefit to studying Catholic or Buddhist, or Jewish, or Muslim or Hindu meditation and the classic texts of these traditions.
What is being said is to not be fooled by the authoritarian tendencies in all these traditions to shut down honest debate, inquiry and differences of opinion. What is also being said is that, within certain boundaries, ongoing study of open questions can be of decisive importance in renewing an ancient culture.
For sure there is a time to set aside all questions, analysis, and all debating. But there is also a time to honor the serious doubts and questions you do have about any religious teaching.
Will Raymond Author of “The Simple Path of Holiness” host of Meditationpractice.com
will at meditation practice dot com (spelled out to limit spam)