Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Mindfulness, Meditation, and Self-Hypnotism

In the last post below I mentioned,"caveat emptor especially when it comes to 'guided meditations.'"

I think that this is a useful topic to explore, and while I don't have the time here, would like to raise the questions:

  • How is guided meditation like/unlike self-hypnosis or hypnosis and should we care?
  • What is the difference between mindfulness and meditation?
  • What's the difference between guided meditation and the Buddha's instructions to his disciples on meditation?
  • What's the difference between guided mediation and instructions on meditation in general?
  • What's the difference between the Zen practices of koan practice and shikan taza and "guided meditation?"

Given that whatever you do, whatever you practice or do not practice, it is you who signs on the dotted line, these questions are important, I think.


Petteri Sulonen said...

Me! Me! Pick me!

IMO the difference lies in power relationships. In guided meditation or hypnosis, you put yourself in the hands of the hypnotist or facilitator, partly or, possibly and eventually, completely. This is also the case in many other practices, such as shaktipat, the sacrament of confession, televangelism, and various more or less nasty gurus from Death Ray to Zen Master Rama.

(Incidentally, IMO this is a potentially dangerous and fundamentally flawed approach to "spiritual growth" -- yuck, I hate the term -- or whatever you want to call it; I even wrote a bit about shaktipat on my blog a while back.)

Plain ol' meditation, on the other hand, is something you do, ultimately on your own terms. Sure, you might get a few pointers from somebody -- Shunryu Suzuki, Dogen, the Dalai Lama, the Buddha, whoever -- but it's ultimately you who's sitting there, practicing, and experiencing what happens when you're doing it.

It's sometimes said that "zazen isn't meditation." That's IMO true only if you understand meditation in the narrow sense of meditating on an object -- a mantra, a mandala, the rosary, the end of your nose, whatever. However, I think that Zen practices are still squarely within the broad category of things that can be called meditation.

Mindfulness itself, OTOH, is something broader. Zazen is practice of mindfulness. However, once you get the hang of it, it's possible to be mindful when you're not meditating too -- it's just that it's hard to learn or maintain without regular zazen.

(How'd I do?)

Mumon said...


You're absolutely right. Moreover, as will try to get to later, Rinzai koan practice is exactly along the same lines, and has very definite correlates in those parts of the Pali canon discussing mindfulness. It can also be expressed (imperfectly I'm afraid), as "mindfulness of a question" or "being" a question, (and the answer).

(Brad Warner, BTW, compared koan practice to reciting a mantra somewhere, I believe, but as a practitioner of it, I can say he's wrong.)

Petteri Sulonen said...

I'm not working on a koan or a hua t'ou (yet?), but that agrees with what I've understood from our teacher's teishos on the topic. I practice in the Harada-Yasutani tradition, so koan practice is very much a part of the curriculum.

Many Soto people do seem to have a suspicion of koan practice. I can even see why -- there are plenty of fairly obvious ways it can go wrong, and has, historically speaking, too. But that doesn't mean that it can't go right, either. I think it's a bit like a buzz saw -- a very effective tool if used right, but not so good if you stick your hand in it, or try to cut a steel bar with it.

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