I’m intrigued by Zen meditation as a supposed path to enlightenment.
I’ve tried repeatedly — lying silent in bed, blanking out my mind, hearing nothing but the rhythm of my breath, seeing nothing but dark blurs behind my eyelids. But all it does is put me to sleep. In the end, I never get a smidgeon of enlightenment. I’m still just the same old me.
I wonder whether anyone finds enlightenment — or whether the quest is self-deceptive, a fantasy leading nowhere.
American Buddhism is a mushrooming field with many gurus. It’s followed by intellectuals such as brilliant atheist Sam Harris. Researcher John Horgan wrote some years ago: “The number of Buddhist centers in the United States has more than doubled to well over 1,000. As many as 4 million Americans now practice Buddhism, surpassing the total of Episcopalians. Of these Buddhists, half have post-graduate degrees.”
Horgan wrote in Slate that he plunged ardently into the exotic pursuit, but … “Eventually, and regretfully, I concluded that Buddhism is not much more rational than the Catholicism I lapsed from in my youth. Buddhism’s moral and metaphysical worldview cannot easily be reconciled with science — or more generally, with modern humanistic values.”
Buddhism’s insistence that suffering is an illusion theoretically could make followers less concerned when bigoted police kill unarmed Black men, or women are victimized by predators, or other outrages occur.
Horgan added that supposedly enlightened gurus can be unappetizing: “Chogyam Trungpa, who helped introduce Tibetan Buddhism to the United States in the 1970s, was a promiscuous drunk and bully, and he died of alcohol-related illness in 1987.”
Robert Fuller, former president of Oberlin College, made an intense study of meditation gurus and their adoring followers. Writing in Psychology Today, he summed up: “Getting a close look at several individuals who were advertised as enlightened led me to conclude that there’s a lot of hype and hypocrisy in the business. A good many of them, not unlike a fair number of academics I’d known, seemed to be in it primarily for the lifestyle. Many gurus are treated like deities and hold absolute power over their devotees. As ‘enlightened beings,’ they’re accountable to no one, and their foibles, appetites and excesses are given a pass.”
“The language of enlightenment tended to be esoteric, obscurantist and elitist, and the teachings attracted more credulous dabblers than credible seekers,” he continued. “In my quest, I did not come across anyone who could be said to dwell in a state of permanent enlightenment.”
I’ve never known any meditator who seemed enlightened. Have you? Have you ever seen amazing insights or remarkable creative output by an enlightenee?