What is meditation?

What is meditation?

There are many conflicting ideas about what meditation is.

Western culture has adopted meditation as another form of self-improvement. The cultural assumption is that meditation is about stilling the mind or entering altered states of consciousness. There is a common belief that the goal of meditation is to get rid of thoughts, kill the ego, or enter an otherworldly blissful trance.

Such ideas are erroneous and misleading. They expose a worldview based in the cosmology of insufficiency. There is a fundamental assumption—primarily informed by the Judeo-Christian notion of original sin and subsequent need for salvation—that something is innately wrong with us. Theism postulates God and his ordained instruments as the answer to the supposed problem. But what if no such problem exists to begin with?

Popular understanding of meditation often removes the orthodox notion of God and religion from the equation, but fails to investigate the insidious assumption that one is in need of saving. In the core teachings of spiritual traditions where meditation is foremost, no such idea arises. In fact, Buddhism, Daoism, and Vedanta postulate the exact opposite: that everything is just fine.

All things are faultless from the beginning.

The central teaching proposes that it is through mental projection and error of perception that we find flaw with the world and ourselves. Ignorance is the root cause of suffering. A verse from the Pali Canon reads, “The heart’s nature is intrinsically radiant, defilements are only visitors.”

Meditation, then, is not a tool for fixing what is wrong or attaining what is absent. It is a way of directly realizing the truth, of savoring reality as-it-is. Meditation is not something esoteric. It is not an Asian aesthetic hinting at transcendence. It has very little to do with stone Buddha statues and lotus flowers.

Plain and simple: meditation is an immediate relationship with what is right in front of you. Uncolored by culture, religion, or politics, true meditation exists only in the context of your direct experience.