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Thread: Mental health risks of meditation?

  1. #1

    Mental health risks of meditation?

    Jundo's blog recently linked this PDF file debunking Ken Wilber. When I read it, I noticed there was a section (in Chapter IV) on the negative side effects of meditation.
    Long-term meditators reported the following percentages of adverse effects: antisocial behavior, 13.5%; anxiety, 9.0%; confusion, 7.2%; depression, 8.1%; emotional stability, 4.5%; frustration, 9.0%; physical and mental tension, 8.1%; pro-crastination, 7.2%; restlessness, 9.0%; suspiciousness, 6.3%; tolerance of others, 4.5%; and withdrawal, 7.2%....
    I'm not quite sure where this data came from? I think it was a few late 70s/ early 80s TM studies? Maybe? (I had a bit of trouble understanding this eBook.)

    Does anyone know of any recent information on adverse effects of zazen? Because I'm a little confused now. :?

  2. #2
    Zazen is not really a typical meditation as such. It's mindfulness practice. Meditation a lot of the time usually refers to a type of introverted concentration or imaging technique. Zazen is actually the opposite of a lot of meditation. Focusing attention, like a lot of meditations do, can definitely cause one to be more introverted along with other side effects.

    If Zazen is done wrong it can also have such effects. It is important to be clear about what you are supposed to be doing when sitting Zazen.

    Gassho Will

  3. #3

    Re: Mental health risks of meditation?

    Quote Originally Posted by paige
    Jundo's blog recently linked this PDF file debunking Ken Wilber. When I read it, I noticed there was a section (in Chapter IV) on the negative side effects of meditation.
    Long-term meditators reported the following percentages of adverse effects: antisocial behavior, 13.5%; anxiety, 9.0%; confusion, 7.2%; depression, 8.1%; emotional stability, 4.5%; frustration, 9.0%; physical and mental tension, 8.1%; pro-crastination, 7.2%; restlessness, 9.0%; suspiciousness, 6.3%; tolerance of others, 4.5%; and withdrawal, 7.2%....
    Hi Paige,

    I need to speak from personal experience and common sense on this (I am not a psychiatrist, I just play one on TV). I would say that particularly intense forms of meditation, seeking supposed 'special states' under extreme conditions (for example, locking someone in a sensory deprivation tank for hours, subjecting a person to intense pressure to 'realize' in a multi-day retreat, cult-like techniques of sleep and dietary deprivation, and the like) could easily bring about some or most of those symptoms in most or all of us. No doubt. Also, some very susceptible people, with egg-shell personalities, will have particular negative reactions just as a result of very gentle meditation. Anyone leading a Sangha that holds retreats needs to be able to recognize when someone is having a bad reaction, and to deal with it. I myself have felt various degrees of depression, anxiety, paranoia and the like during a long Sesshin, although it all quickly passed in my case. I have seen some people have seriously bad reactions in retreats where I have been sitting (fortunately, very rare).

    On the other hand, ANY activity if done to excess (for example, running or jogging) will trigger the identical reactions in people (I have known runners who were addicted, and exhibited many of the above symptoms when they needed to 'withdraw' from the running habit).

    Now, with regard to the benefits of meditation, study after study has shown that the psychological (and physical) benefits are much clearer and prevalent than any such risks (again, just like running and jogging done in moderation). That is particularly true, I believe, for types of meditation that have a basically relaxing effect as opposed to those seeking extreme emotional states or which involve a hard pushing for 'attainment' (Yes, Paige, I could make a comment about Koan meditation in some extreme 'your hair is on fire' forms ... not perhaps the gentle forms you describe at the Ch'an temple).

    The book you are looking at is most interesting for its description of the cultish behavior that can form in groups teaching Eastern religion and philosophy. It is a good description of the cult of personality that can build up around a 'Guru.' (It is one of the reasons that I am working very hard to keep Treeleaf down to earth, the claims of what we 'seek' through our Zen practice 'magical' for being so ordinary, and the personality of the teacher as that of a clown and 'bozo on the bus' ... ). I recommend that EVERYONE interested in Eastern philosophy and religion, and involved in groups, read for example Chapters 9 and 10 of the 'Norman Einstein' book. Also, PLEASE have a look at this blog with writings from folks who escaped from the mind games of the Andrew Cohen cult:

    http://whatenlightenment.blogspot.com/

    These are written by insiders, and show the mentality that creeps up in so many of these groups. Buddhist groups, and even Zen groups, can go exactly the same way (It happened at San Francisco Zen Center in the 'Shoes by the Door' days of Richard Baker). (You posted a check-list of cult behavior a few months ago, and I will look for it).

    I keep things around here down to earth and make few silly claims about what we are doing here. At least I try. I believe that the ordinary IS 'magic', that not seeking for special states IS a special state, that being at home right where you are IS finding nirvana here and now. If you ever find me pulling any of the psycho-babble crap or guru stuff or other cultish activity described in this book or that blog, please call me on it right away and make your escape from here. I will give you your money back (by the way, I will never ask for any).

    By the way, Kelly M, you should also read criticisms such as the following of the TM cult in its more 'advanced' stages. That does not mean that it applies to the local group in your town.

    http://www.suggestibility.org/

    Again, if you find any of that around here, call me on it.

    Gassho, Jundo

  4. #4
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Since I have a chronic health problem, discovered about two years ago, I've been paying more attention to medical news and information. I follow a couple of serious sites that report medical study summaries, info on new meds, etc. What strikes me about what Paige posted is how similar that list of "side-effects" is to the list of side-effects of just about any medication, or even those that people taking placebos in studies develop. In other words, isn't that just a description of human nature and society in general? :-)

    Kirk

  5. #5
    Please don't get me wrong ... I think the form of 'just sitting' meditation that we are practicing around here is pretty powerful stuff, true dynamite and life changing medicine ... It is so, even for all its seeming simplicity. It is not merely some form of relaxation technique, or a lightweight practice or watered-down Zen. It is precisely because it is such a powerful medicine, with the potential to redically realign our ways of thinking and experiencing life, that it must not be abused and not taken in the wrong dosage, must be kept out of the reach of children. Nor should misleading claims about its power and efficacy by made by some quack, guru snake-oil salesman merely to sucker in some patients. There are plenty of 'Eastern Wisdom' snake oil salesman out there.

    Anything can be abused or misused. I think.

    Gassho Again, J

  6. #6

    my 2 cents

    As a person under a doctor's care and prescribed medications for Depression & Generralized Anxiety Disorder I can give my thoughts! yay for me!
    Basically, when I first started zazen it was very difficult because those depressive/anxiousness thoughts kept bubbling up. Through patience, and a little pharmaceutical adjustment to my brain chemistry, I realized that during zazen I needed to dismiss those thoughts and just sit. I think, in fact, those thoughts WANTED to be dismissed. Started making it easier for me to dismiss the irrational fears when not in zazen sitting too
    So, this is a case where meditation is counteracting those supposed side-effects...
    Just like all those miracle-cure commercials on tv. Personal results my vary,

  7. #7
    Hi Guys,

    Here is a typical list of warning signs.

    I did find a 'danger' sign for Treeleaf Zendo, and that's that the 'leader' (Jundo) is ALWAYS RIGHT. Please do not forget that. :-)

    Also, we could do a bit better on financial disclosure ... except for the fact that donations are not accepted (By the way, anyone wishing to make a donation to Treeleaf, I encourage you to make a donation instead to a charity of your choice, one that helps folks, e.g., feeding the hungry, finding a medical cure, world peace, etc.)

    Gassho, Jundo the Infallible

    __________________________________________________ _____

    Ten warning signs of a potentially unsafe group/leader.

    1. Absolute authoritarianism without meaningful accountability.

    2. No tolerance for questions or critical inquiry.

    3. No meaningful financial disclosure regarding budget, expenses such as an independently audited financial statement.

    4. Unreasonable fear about the outside world, such as impending catastrophe, evil conspiracies and persecutions.

    5. There is no legitimate reason to leave, former followers are always wrong in leaving, negative or even evil.

    6. Former members often relate the same stories of abuse and reflect a similar pattern of grievances.

    7. There are records, books, news articles, or television programs that document the abuses of the group/leader.

    8. Followers feel they can never be "good enough".

    9. The group/leader is always right.

    10. The group/leader is the exclusive means of knowing "truth" or receiving validation, no other process of discovery is really acceptable or credible.

    Ten warning signs regarding people involved in/with a potentially unsafe group/leader.

    1. Extreme obsessiveness regarding the group/leader resulting in the exclusion of almost every practical consideration.

    2. Individual identity, the group, the leader and/or God as distinct and separate categories of existence become increasingly blurred. Instead, in the follower's mind these identities become substantially and increasingly fused--as that person's involvement with the group/leader continues and deepens.

    3. Whenever the group/leader is criticized or questioned it is characterized as "persecution".

    4. Uncharacteristically stilted and seemingly programmed conversation and mannerisms, cloning of the group/leader in personal behavior.

    5. Dependency upon the group/leader for problem solving, solutions, and definitions without meaningful reflective thought. A seeming inability to think independently or analyze situations without group/leader involvement.

    6. Hyperactivity centered on the group/leader agenda, which seems to supercede any personal goals or individual interests.

    7. A dramatic loss of spontaneity and sense of humor.

    8. Increasing isolation from family and old friends unless they demonstrate an interest in the group/leader.

    9. Anything the group/leader does can be justified no matter how harsh or harmful.

    10. Former followers are at best-considered negative or worse evil and under bad influences. They can not be trusted and personal contact is avoided.

    Ten signs of a safe group/leader.

    1. A safe group/leader will answer your questions without becoming judgmental and punitive.

    2. A safe group/leader will disclose information such as finances and often offer an independently audited financial statement regarding budget and expenses. Safe groups and leaders will tell you more than you want to know.

    3. A safe group/leader is often democratic, sharing decision making and encouraging accountability and oversight.

    4. A safe group/leader may have disgruntled former followers, but will not vilify, excommunicate and forbid others from associating with them.

    5. A safe group/leader will not have a paper trail of overwhelmingly negative records, books, articles and statements about them.

    6. A safe group/leader will encourage family communication, community interaction and existing friendships and not feel threatened.

    7. A safe group/leader will recognize reasonable boundaries and limitations when dealing with others.

    8. A safe group/leader will encourage critical thinking, individual autonomy and feelings of self-esteem.

    9. A safe group/leader will admit failings and mistakes and accept constructive criticism and advice.

    10. A safe group/leader will not be the only source of knowledge and learning excluding everyone else, but value dialogue and the free exchange of ideas.

    Don't be naÔve, develop a good BS Detector.

    http://www.rickross.com/warningsigns.html
    _____________________________________________

    Here is another, more detailed list ...

    http://www.factnet.org/headlines/destru ... signs.html

    http://www.i4m.com/think/recovery/mormo ... nation.htm

  8. #8
    Good Advice.

    especially
    Don't be naÔve, develop a good BS Detector.
    By the way Jundo. Did you recieve the pm I sent you? I'm just looking for more teacher student interaction, but am not sure how that is done.

    Gassho Will

  9. #9
    Thank you guys, especially FeMonky for sharing your story!

    I don't think that koan meditation, or the visualisation techniques of Vipassana are 'risky' in and of themselves. But I do think that people can easily run into difficulties when they use meditation to try to achieve a special state. So there's a danger to sitting down expecting to solve koans or enter jhanas. But shikan taza practitioners aren't immune from seeking higher states either. So everyone has to be careful.

    It reads as though Norman Einstein author's exposure to these Eastern cults has soured him on meditation generally. Especially in his Stripping the Gurus work, he seems to be of the opinion that the purpose of zazen is to produce enlightenment experiences. And that the scarcity of 'fully enlightened human beings' (like Jundo! ) in the world shows that zazen doesn't work as advertised.

    These cults and fake gurus certainly do a lot of damage.

  10. #10
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    But some of the Rinzai groups _do_ prone meditation to reach satori. That's what threw me when I read Three Pillars of Zen. Perhaps thas' where the author got most of his info.

    Kirk

  11. #11
    Hi Kirk,

    I've never read The Three Pillars of Zen so I didn't know that. But it doesn't surprise me too much either. I've never practised within the Japanese Rinzai tradition, but I've heard 2nd and 3rd hand accounts of zendos that sound almost Fight Club!

    I'm sure that the 'push for satori' attitude crops up in Soto groups too though. It's probably not wise to conclude that 'just sitting' retreats/ classes/ teachers/ etc. are always safe.

  12. #12
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Well, part of Three Pillars is three stories of people obtaining satori. I recall one that describe a woman who meditated day and night, until she was drenched in sweat, sayiing Mu! over and over again. Quite the opposite of just sitting.

    Much of the book describes this type of dynamic quest for satori.

    Kirk

  13. #13
    Hi Paige,

    Quote Originally Posted by paige

    I'm sure that the 'push for satori' attitude crops up in Soto groups too though. .
    That's the point. If a "push for satori" crops up, it cannot be Soto. It would be much like a local "Christian" church that does not believe in Christ(*), or better, a baseball team that practices football. There simply cannot be a "push for satori' with "just sitting".

    That is why the "White Plum" Lineage of Maezumi Roshi is Rinzai in Soto trappings ... It is just a fact. I think that EVERY serious Zen student, sometime, should locate and read a copy of this book (sadly out of print) ...

    http://www.amazon.com/Once-Born-Twic.../dp/0893415243

    ... reviewed here (although I can only get the first page)

    http://links.jstor.org/sici?sici=0095-6848(199122)17%3A2%3C372%3AOTZTSA%3E2.0.CO%3B2-Q

    I think that it is no coincidence that Genpo Roshi, of "Big Mind" fame, is a leading member of said "White Plum" ... thus the emphasis there again on life changing states ("wham bam thank you maam" Zen) in Big Mind.

    You know, Paige, I don't want you to get the impression that I am critical of every Zen/Buddhist teacher and school of Buddhism but "me myself and I plus my teacher". Far from it. It is just that several deserving comment have come up recently.

    Gassho, Jundo

    PS (*) Such Christ denying Christians have existed, by the way, at least as far as denying his divinity e.g., the Arians.

    http://jbotscharow.wordpress.com/2007/0 ... -part-one/

  14. #14
    Senior Member kirkmc's Avatar
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    Jundo,

    I think it's a Good Thing that you offer such criticism, because it helps you better understand where you're coming from, and, frankly, reassures me a great deal. :-)

    Kirk

  15. #15
    I beg your pardon everyone! I hadn't meant my post as either a defense or condemnation of any teacher or school.

    I seem to be doing a terrible job of expressing myself lately. Sorry.

    The only reason I've ever heard of Genpo Roshi is that Jundo and Brad Warner have written about how they don't like him! I do know that seeking special states in order to attain satori isn't universal amongst Lin Chi traditions (for example, Seung Sahn wrote a great book Wanting Enlightenment Is a Big Mistake).

    But it's hard to find a balance between "Wanting enlightenment is a big mistake" and "Strive with earnestness" (the Buddha's last words). Maybe some people can manage to practice zazen without having push themselves quite hard, but I certainly can't! I'm too lazy of a person to be at risk of seriously over-doing it though.

    I really hope that any reputable meditation instructor would teach their students to not become attached to states. I know all of mine have - despite being from a couple of different traditions.

  16. #16
    Genpo Roshi's focus seems to be on this Big Mind. However, at the end of the one that I watched on youtube, he also said that meditation is important. If you go to Big Mind.com or Zen eye, you can see that they are involved in the meditation side. Now, charging that amount of money seems strange, but a lot of zen monasteries and centres charge for a days retreat, or overnight retreat and some aren't cheap.

    All I know is that it is not Soto Tradition, and it didn't do much for me when I tried it. It lasted about half a day. Didn't help me with anything really. I still got angry, I still got tense, I still thought to much. Zen is not a quick fix for me. I have to work at it ie. sit. Personally I think they should pay more attention to the meditation side. It might get some people more interested in zen practice, but it is not a practice. Now, perhaps I will write Genpo Roshi or the organization and ask.

    Gassho Will

  17. #17
    ===I have written Zen Eye the following email:

    -----------------------------------------------------------------
    Gassho

    I am a student in the Soto Zen tradition. I have participated in your Big Mind session and am wondering ,to avoid scepticism, what is your objective towards these Big Mind conferences?

    Do you emphasise the importance of sitting and meditation? You might come from a school other than Soto Zen. It doesn't matter. What matters is that it is stressed that practice is important. So, do you?

    You can obviously see the skepticism of many traditional teachers. In order to not presume anything, I am writing you. I will also, perhaps,post your response in the Sangha I am a part of.

    Thank you

    Gassho Will

    ----------------------------------------------------------------------------------

  18. #18
    Hi Paige,

    I just want to make clear, if I haven't done so, why I make comments on some other teachers and teachings. Personally, I believe that there are infinite paths up the same mountain we are climbing. (You know, the mountain we climb while going no where). Everyone has to find their path. That kind of thing.

    I just need to contrast what I teach around here with other forms of Practice so folks don't misunderstand what I am doing, why I am teaching what I am teaching. Some folks think Zen is Zen (and it is), but their are very different approaches. You can sometimes mix them, but sometimes you can't. Like baseball using tennis equipment.

    I just teach what I have been Practicing for 25 years, what I know, what I have faith in and found to be a good way. I think it will also be a good way of Practice for many people. Other ways, taught by other teachers, may be good too. The thing is, though, that you can't really mix 'just sitiing' sometimes with other approaches and philosophies ... if you are playing baseball, bring a bat ... not a tennis racket.

    Brad recently had a nice, Bradish quote about this on his Blog ... (He was talking about someone who came to a retreat he led, but wanted to do a type of Practice different from what he was teaching):

    If you attend a Dogen Sangha Zazen retreat it means you are agreeing to spend the time doing Dogen Sangha style Zen under a Dogen Sangha teacherís instructions. This is the same with any retreat. If I go to an Ashtanga Yoga retreat, I expect to do Ashtanga Yoga and I canít complain that itís not Iyengar Yoga. I guarantee you that every decent Zen teacher believes that his or her conception of Zazen is the only one that matters. In fact Iíd even say that if you find a teacher who does not appear to believe that you should stay away from that person. Thatís one of the clearest telltale signs of a teacher whoís no good and will probably rip you off.
    Sometimes I criticize certain teachers cause I suspect (as an outsider) that they may selling a bit of snake oil ... But, ultimately, that is not for me to say and I might be wrong. It is only a matter between those teachers and their students, and for the students to decide for themselves.

    Infinite roads up the mountain, though some may be dead-ends. However, it is for each climber (a mountain climber to no where ... who IS herself the mountain, but may not realize that) to find out for herself.

    Gassho, Jundo

  19. #19
    Anne McQuade (a student of Genpo Roshi) on Brad Warner's Blog posts:

    http://www.movedigital.com/go/fallingfr ... iosity.mp3

    Gassho

  20. #20
    thanks will

    i didn't find it to be as controversial as the disclaimer made it seem. in the end i was just kinda "um...ok."



    R

  21. #21
    Hehe. Yeah. "controversial"

    I just like that her attitude is not so judgemental and she doesn't sound like a brainwashed groupy

    I kind of just wanted to post it to show that we should not presume things about others, but that we are all in the same boat. However, I am a firm believer of the Soto Tradition of practice, practice, practice.

    Gassho Will

  22. #22
    hey will,

    it's like you said my friend, we shouldn't presume things. so really, just going off a very short amount of time, we can't say that she is or isn't judgmental or a brainwashed groupie.

    I checked out the Big Mind site a while back just to see what got Brad's feathers in a ruffle (not too long before I joined Treeleaf as a matter of fact). To be honest I can't say that what I saw swayed me one way or the other as far as the "controversy" went. All I know is that it didn't seem to offer anything to enrich my practice.

    This outsider wanders on.



    a rare gassho
    R

  23. #23

    it's like you said my friend, we shouldn't presume things. so really, just going off a very short amount of time, we can't say that she is or isn't judgmental or a brainwashed groupie.
    hehe. yeah.

  24. #24
    Quote Originally Posted by will
    we should not presume things about others, but that we are all in the same boat. However, I am a firm believer of the Soto Tradition of practice, practice, practice.
    Thanks Will! I completely agree on both counts, but I'm not very good at expressing myself.

    I have met some "just sitting" folks who've completely over-done meditation - for example damaging their knees by sitting long hours without adequate support. Like Jundo's analogy about running/ jogging - anything can be done to excess. That was what I was thinking when I said that Soto-shu wasn't automatically 'safe.' (Yes, I know that bad knees are different from mental health risks.)

    I thought you were in China, Will? When did you go to a Big Mind retreat?

  25. #25
    Hey Paige,

    I didn't actually go. I did the one on youtube. Pretty much the same, I'm guessing, only can't ask question.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zT9y1YEUjy0[/video]]

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7a7okvWbVXk&mode=related&search=[/video]] ... ed&search=

    There's about 11 parts.

    Actually, I just recieved an email from Bruce of (Zeneye) about what they do there. I'm going to post it on the forum when he gives me the go ahead. Don't want to post it without asking first.

    Gassho

  26. #26
    Many visualisation meditation practitioners that I've spoken with have complained of headaches and severe migraines. It wasn't uncommon when I was practising Shingon-shu to hear of migraines and such from too much exertion. Hallucinations were also a common occurrence.

    This was due to over-exertion on visualisation techniques without first having cultivated mindfulness.

  27. #27
    Stephanie
    Guest
    1) I think any form of meditation can foster what I have experienced as a mild form of a psychotic break. Let me explain--any meditation that seeks to turn the light inward to illuminate the self sets up conditions in which one watches the content of the mind without identifying with it. In other words, one is subtly deconstructing the ego by seeing that "I" am not making or in control of "my thoughts." The question arises then, "Well who is then?" or "Well where does it all come from?" Can turn into hall-of-mirrors phantasmagoria very quickly. The self "selves" off into multiple selves and it all comes crashing merrily down. If one is not prepared for such an experience, has no reference point (such as Zen teachings), this could quickly become a frightening experience of psychological derailment.

    I have "zazen'd" through some rough emotional periods and I find that intense emotional states can increase the disorientation factor a lot. When someone around whom I had begun to build a lot of expectations and construct a lot of identity-scaffolding suddenly broke up with me, I was able to watch in fascination as my whole identity fell apart. This didn't last very long--the ego is very resilient and rebuilds itself quickly--but I got enough of a window into the process to feel like I had watched what might be experienced as psychosis by others, the loss of a self and its familiar reference points.

    Of course, throw someone who already has an unstable ego or identity, or shifting and unreliable reference points, such as a person with schizophrenia, into practices that foster such experiences, and it's quite possible in my mind that it could precipitate what in the professional lingo is termed "decompensation," or the prelude or direct passage into a psychotic break. Of course, it always depends on the individual.

    2) I've practiced a good bit in the White Plum lineage and have had very positive experiences. Certainly, I would agree there is more of a Rinzai leaning to it, but the Soto influence is there in more than name only. It's basically up to the student--if the student has a certain bent of mind or a hunger for a spiritual experience, they can take the koan/Rinzai path, but students also can take up the path of "just sitting." Such students take up the Shobogenzo as an object of study rather than koans. And by my unenlightened point of view, John Daido Loori is a sublime interpreter of Dogen both in art and written word. Of course, it can be hard to resist the culture of kensho-seeking, which does seem predominant, but as far as I know from other practitioners to whom I've spoken, it can be, and is, done (I never got past breath counting, so I couldn't tell you from personal experience).

  28. #28
    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    1) I think any form of meditation can foster what I have experienced as a mild form of a psychotic break. Let me explain--any meditation that seeks to turn the light inward to illuminate the self sets up conditions in which one watches the content of the mind without identifying with it. In other words, one is subtly deconstructing the ego by seeing that "I" am not making or in control of "my thoughts." The question arises then, "Well who is then?" or "Well where does it all come from?" Can turn into hall-of-mirrors phantasmagoria very quickly. The self "selves" off into multiple selves and it all comes crashing merrily down. If one is not prepared for such an experience, has no reference point (such as Zen teachings), this could quickly become a frightening experience of psychological derailment.

    I have "zazen'd" through some rough emotional periods and I find that intense emotional states can increase the disorientation factor a lot. When someone around whom I had begun to build a lot of expectations and construct a lot of identity-scaffolding suddenly broke up with me, I was able to watch in fascination as my whole identity fell apart. This didn't last very long--the ego is very resilient and rebuilds itself quickly--but I got enough of a window into the process to feel like I had watched what might be experienced as psychosis by others, the loss of a self and its familiar reference points.

    Of course, throw someone who already has an unstable ego or identity, or shifting and unreliable reference points, such as a person with schizophrenia, into practices that foster such experiences, and it's quite possible in my mind that it could precipitate what in the professional lingo is termed "decompensation," or the prelude or direct passage into a psychotic break. Of course, it always depends on the individual.

    2) I've practiced a good bit in the White Plum lineage and have had very positive experiences. Certainly, I would agree there is more of a Rinzai leaning to it, but the Soto influence is there in more than name only. It's basically up to the student--if the student has a certain bent of mind or a hunger for a spiritual experience, they can take the koan/Rinzai path, but students also can take up the path of "just sitting." Such students take up the Shobogenzo as an object of study rather than koans. And by my unenlightened point of view, John Daido Loori is a sublime interpreter of Dogen both in art and written word. Of course, it can be hard to resist the culture of kensho-seeking, which does seem predominant, but as far as I know from other practitioners to whom I've spoken, it can be, and is, done (I never got past breath counting, so I couldn't tell you from personal experience).
    Hi again Steph,

    Although Dogen was a hardass about daily Sitting, he also spoke (in Fukanzaengi) of Zazen as "It is just a peaceful and effortless gate to reality." When you write ...

    Let me explain--any meditation that seeks to turn the light inward to illuminate the self sets up conditions in which one watches the content of the mind without identifying with it. In other words, one is subtly deconstructing the ego by seeing that "I" am not making or in control of "my thoughts." The question arises then, "Well who is then?" or "Well where does it all come from?"

    It may be my imagination, but there is a sharpness and intensity to the way you phrase this. It might be my imagination, but I want to jump to the conclusion that this is the influence of Maezumi Roshi's White Plum. Although they teach Dogen, they do so through a Rinzai lens. This is less true these days, and was more true when the Sanbo-Kyodan influence on the lineage was stronger. But, I still hear it in many talks by Daido Roshi and others (I am a BIG Daido fan, by the way. Don't get me wrong. It is just that you have to see that different chefs cook differently and recognize what he is doing ... and I think he is not a true "Sjhikantaza" chef for all his talents with other cuisine. Don't order the hamburger in a Chinese restaurant.). I like to say that Rinzai style is more about dynamiting the wall or knocking out some bricks, while traditional Soto is to be like air which naturally surrounds and passes through the wall, becomes the wall. The White Plum is more on the Soto side, but they still talk about battling and banging on that wall quite a bit. As you put it, the "culture of kensho seeking" is predominant.

    If you are still counting the breaths, and talking about "never having gotten past breath counting" after so many years, then something is off tune, I think.

    Again, I may be jumping to conclusions.

    Gassho, Jundo

  29. #29
    This push seems to miss the point. It seems that the only thing one need do is just sit on the cushion day after day without any goal in mind. Dropping likes, dislikes, strategies, techniques, hopes, fears, pains. How does that happen do we need a technique? Not really. Sit day after day with no goal in mind. The only goal is to sit. That's it. Nothing more. Not sit for 30 minutes, but to just sit.

    It's a little disturbing when practice is associated with some big insight or awaking, or kensho. That could very easily lead to a much longer path or confusion.

    When someone sits and has a lot going on, what do you say? Sit.

    I think too much.
    Sit.
    I don't get it.
    Sit.
    I get it.
    Sit.
    Emptiness is form. Form is emptiness.
    Sit.

    Gassho Will

  30. #30
    Stephanie
    Guest
    Thank you for the feedback, Jundo. You seem to have some sharp insights about the style of the Maezumi lineage, and I can't disagree with any of them. My point elsewhere was that they at least nominally incorporate shikantaza as a practice path, but I agree that it's not what they do "best."

    Let me be clear about my practice with a sangha and teacher--it has always been sporadic. I have not (yet, if ever) made a commitment to a teacher, and have really only worked with one on a handful of retreats and one month-long residency. The fact that I haven't "progressed" "beyond" breath-counting is by my own choice and measure, really, as I could do whatever I wanted on the cushion at home and no one ('cept me) would know the difference.

    I believe that developing concentration is important for me. I have a very intelligent, but a very flighty and fickle mind. Having the count or the breath-sensation as an anchor is very helpful. But as I've written elsewhere, it's not all that "happens" when I sit.

    Of course, I could be doing something "wrong." How would I know? I had a strong desire for some time to find a teacher, but my recent disillusionments have nipped it in the bud for a while. I'm not looking for an enlightenment that no one else out there seems to have found. Maybe eventually my faith in this area will stir back up again. As for now, the greatest peace that seems possible to me comes from actively relinquishing the self in acts of love and service, catching the mind in anger and bringing it gently back to compassion. It's a practice that mirrors the rhythm of zazen.

    Developing a gentle, loving, forgiving attitude toward myself, my loved ones, people who have hurt me, people who have showed me kindness, beings I pass on the street, is the focal point of my practice and my greatest source of peace and happiness. Even when I am lonely, defeated, distraught, this kindness rejuvenates and reanimates. What I do on the cushion facilitates and supports this practice, so I don't worry so much any more that it doesn't seem like I'm "getting anywhere" in terms of impressive meditative feats (the zazen Olympics! :lol: ).

    What peace I haven't found in my life isn't because of my practice. It's because of my loneliness and my hunger to be loved, which I am tired of trying to use zazen to assuage. I can numb myself into pseudo-happiness with the power of my mind, but not only am I too stupidly committed to this increasingly distant ideal of "truth," I know I will always feel that animal ache if my animal life lacks certain comforts, no matter how much equanimity I develop in spite of it. Perhaps if I were a great saint, I could completely relinquish this hunger and offer it to all beings. But alas, I am not such a one.

    Perhaps it is the combination of my aggressive personality and this deep hunger for truth that makes my "style" seem more Rinzai. I'm not really sure it's the influence of my limited training within White Plum, though certainly I cannot say it hasn't had its influence as well. But I'm a pretty sorry Rinzai Zen student, as I can hardly even sustain joriki, much less have a kensho. But I'm a little less disappointed in my inabilities there, as I have an "ex" who claimed to me some months ago to have had a kensho experience at a sesshin, promptly after which he began to act like even more of a moron than before. :lol: He's not the type to make up extravagant claims like that, so I just suspect that kensho ain't all some make it out to be...

    And will, I get where you're coming from. You make your point eloquently. And I think that sort of practice is very important. But I think it may boil down to something as mundane as a personality difference. I love to push myself; there's an inner fire that seeks expression. And there's also that hunger for "truth," which in the end may prove to lead nowhere, but that doesn't change the fact that I feel it, and very intensely.

  31. #31
    Dear Steph,

    This is beautifully stated, and is a wonderful Practice ...

    As for now, the greatest peace that seems possible to me comes from actively relinquishing the self in acts of love and service, catching the mind in anger and bringing it gently back to compassion. It's a practice that mirrors the rhythm of zazen.

    Developing a gentle, loving, forgiving attitude toward myself, my loved ones, people who have hurt me, people who have showed me kindness, beings I pass on the street, is the focal point of my practice and my greatest source of peace and happiness.


    As to the rest, yes, I think you need to reign in or drop a bit your "aggressive personality" and "inner fire" that causes you to push yourself (to use your expressions). There are Zen styles that emphasize that, and that is fine. And if I meet someone too passive, or without an inner fire, I often tell them to be more agressive. But I recommend you loosen up on this. I Ibid my comments to you elsewhere on ths Forum ...

    viewtopic.php?p=6123#6123

    Gassho, J

  32. #32
    Stephanie
    Guest
    Thank you Jundo.

    I thought about your advice on the way to work this morning. I sometimes worry that I hold life too loosely. I can actually be quite passive at times, to the extent it can be detrimental in some areas in my life. And that's what grabs me sometimes... this feeling that if all I do is find some measure of peace with my life as it is, I might one day find myself on my deathbed (if I am so lucky as to be aware of my impending death when it comes) and wonder, "Did I miss something...?" I've wanted to know "the truth" as long as I can remember; I'm not sure I can really give up that hunger to know without losing vital energy, without giving up or losing something of my "soul" (to use a poetic expression). But perhaps I am actually stifling or dampening that vital fire or energy by using it the way I do.

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