The Risks of Rituals and Meditation

People going through altered states of consciousness, such as those experienced in deep meditation, become vulnerable. The neuronal commotion of those states results in a sort of mental anarchy during which the participants’ beliefs or biased opinions may affect their senses and, consequentially, their interpretation of reality. If a false teacher or a charlatan facilitates or induces the event, subjects may surrender their willpower to that person. The Buddha’s ‘design’ of meditation, commonly known as mindfulness meditation, prevents such hazardous situation.

The frequency of the electrical brain activity in normal waking condition is between 12 and 30 cycles per second. This frequency, known as beta rhythm, goes down when people relax, pray or meditate. Any state that deviates significantly from the beta rhythm is an altered state of consciousness.

Sometimes in altered states of consciousness (as in sleep dreaming) people may witness events that are not actually happening. This distortion is harmless, except when they take those fictions as real. During those non-beta rhythms, the subjects´ belief systems may have a determining effect on the illusions their brains construct; all their admitted metaphysical beings–gods, angels, saints, even demons–might become visible and audible in the fabricated reality. Whatever happens during the experience transforms into a revealed message or a manifestation of some higher-dimension entity.

Ecstasies are altered states likely to occur during both devout prayer and religious rituals. Mysticism is common to all religions; mystics from all creeds do undergo paranormal experiences that are beyond common understanding. Mystics interpret their raptures as direct interventions of their corresponding divinities.

Ecstasies also happen during meditation. If behind the exercise there are both supernatural beliefs and dishonest agents enter the scene, things turn unsafe. False teachers assume authority over their subjects’ will and manipulate them in wicked ways—financially, physically, sexually… Moreover, such crooked agents will do their best to enslave their subjects and block avenues toward freedom.

The foundations of mindfulness meditation do indeed control the possible manipulation of biased views by dishonest intermediaries. Behind the exercise of mindfulness meditation there must not be authoritarian figures–no spiritual masters, clairvoyants, seers, gurus…– Though written or recorded directions are enough for many people to start practicing, the guidance of trustworthy teachers, schools or centers may prove useful, particularly during the early sessions of the habit, until the new student flies solo.

The impartial observation of the breath is the mindfulness meditation star instruction; there is no room for misinterpretations around this simplicity. As students progress, they might choose to hold their attention around parts of their body or their sensations. And that is it. Beyond this, the use of any other artificial anchors, such as images, symbols, chants or mantras, is incompatible with mindfulness meditation.

There cannot be excessive emphasis on the nonjudgmental and non-religious character of mindfulness meditation. When people are meditating, they should not assess or search for explanations of the events they are going through. Meditators must just observe things as they come and go, and leave aside any intention to interpret what is happening.

The core intention of the practice is to improve the faculty of awareness; the only purpose of permanent mindfulness, on a second to second basis in daily life, is the reduction and eventual elimination of anxiety and stress–the suffering of Buddhism. There are no beliefs in immaterial entities or metaphysical events of any kind behind mindfulness meditation; there are no rituals to repeat or reverences to pay to any being. This neutrality sets apart mindfulness meditation from prayer.

Do people have to abandon their religion, deny its doctrine, stop going to temples, or ban religious ceremonies before start meditating? Absolutely not; practitioners will in due course look at their beliefs with different eyes. Mindfulness meditation does not intend to change current faiths or to seed new ones. Undoubtedly, however, the attitude toward which people will spontaneously evolve is one of understanding, impartiality and tolerance. What a reward! If apprentices do it rightly, there are no risks of any kind in the practice… And many benefits will show unexpectedly.

Atlanta, September 22, 2014


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