Tuesday, 25 January 2022

Meditation and its Limitations

Bruce Charlton wrote a piece recently about meditation  and how it is sometimes regarded as a panacea for the problems inherent on living in a body and with a mind, problems which we can sum up as those associated with the idea of duality, the sense that there is the 'me' and then there is the world, everything outside of our self. In meditation the split between these two things can be overcome as they are made, or seem to be made, one. Thus, suffering is banished and the one meditating knows peace.  

But is this the aim of life in this world? Are we here merely to escape being here, having learnt or gained nothing from the experience of duality? Does duality exist only to be destroyed or, if you prefer, seen as non-existent in reality? Assuming that we derive from the spiritual world of oneness and bliss why would we leave that world only to re-enter it the same as we left it? That makes no sense. If impersonal bliss is the goal, if the spiritual end is to lose all sense of self and be absorbed into oneness, there is no point in coming to Earth. No point in becoming aware of or valuing qualities of the good, the beautiful and the true, no point in love because all these things dissolve in pure oneness. Yes, even love which depends for its fulfilment and expression on the reality of the person. Universal compassion is not love and is a sorry substitute for it.

Through meditation we may escape the alienation and suffering to be found in the physical world of duality but we also escape the good which becomes an illusion of the unenlightened.

The only conclusion is that we come to this world in order to learn to be more than naked spirit. That means to have a personal relationship with God, the living God, and that means to be a person. Spiritual approaches that emphasise the impersonal aspect of deity are only half right. There is a part of God that is impersonal but this is an aspect of his overall Person not a higher part of it and we can know this because a theistic approach that sees God as personal includes whereas the impersonal approach excludes. What is included or excluded? Everything! It is creation and the reality of created beings. These have no reality in impersonal spirituality. Neither me nor you have any fundamental reality. And if you think about it how could the personal arise from the impersonal? The idea is that it comes about through faulty identification, as pure consciousness mistakes itself for the form it takes. But why should consciousness do this if there was no self to do this to begin with?

Those who pursue the path of impersonal spirituality seek to deny or destroy their personality, the sense of themselves as individual beings. Perhaps this is possible (it may not be, it may lead, if pursued rigorously, to complete destruction) but they have misunderstood their spiritual purpose. In a comment to his original post Bruce added that in meditation "What needs to happen is that the momentary impression of an all pervading and impersonal benign deity needs to transform and 'condense' into the person of God, and a personal relationship with God." This is a superb way of putting the matter. The impersonal state of bliss known in meditation is a bit like formless chaos on which cosmic order needs to be imposed to bring it into the clear light of day and give it cohesive and coherent form. For God is not just formless being, He is that plus personal reality. He is the All not the part. He includes for ultimately what is impersonal oneness but a particularly extreme form of separation, the separation of one part of life from the rest, of spirit from matter and of the One from the Many? We come to Earth to learn to reconcile and bring into harmony the polarities of life, of being and becoming, universal and individual. To effect a cosmic marriage not a divorce.


Bruce Charlton said...


It seems to me that many people want God to be a formless being - and God's love to be something like a state of continuous bliss - so that experiencing God's love is more like soaking in a warm bath than having a relationship.

This is an attitude closer to the atheist who believes and wants to be annihilated at death, than it is to the Christian seeking to know and to return the love of God as a person.

Abstract love cannot fulfil the function that personal love of a personal God does in the first Great Commandment - and therefore the second commandment to love neighbour becomes, de facto, dominant - and also impersonal - linking directly to the inverted morality of leftism

William Wildblood said...

Yes, I used to equate that mindset with spiritual sunbathing. Very pleasant for a while but ultimately self-indulgent.