Gautama Sidhartha who became the Buddha or Enlightened One was raised in a wealthy Hindu family. As a young man he was deeply troubled by the poverty, suffering and death he saw on the streets of his town. His solution was to leave his wife and children and go meditate in a cave for much of the rest of his life. His goal was to deal with suffering by meditation, “chilling out,” and reaching Nirvana or absorption into the universe. Did he believe in God? It is not clear.i How have his teachings affected civilization?
A modern day man who followed the Buddha left his wife and children, quit his job and spent years meditating in his garage. This is not standard behavior in Buddhist regions of the world. The wives probably do not allow it. Indeed, this level of meditation is not to be practiced until old age when family responsibilities are past. But the notion that pain and suffering are solved by passivity leads to ongoing, unresolved social and economic problems. If you were Gautama walking the streets, seeing the sick and destitute, what would you do, meditate or support the Red Cross?
A woman described her grandmother, a devout Buddhist, saving up money sent to her by her son for several years to help him establish a medical practice in Taiwan. Before he returned she had given all the money to the Buddhist monks. This woman also tells us that whenever there were disasters the Red Cross or Salvation Army would come in with help, but the Buddhist monks never seemed to be mentioned as helping out.
In Buddhism, alms or almsgiving is the respect given by a lay Buddhist to a Buddhist monk, nun, spiritually-developed person or other sentient being. It is not charity as presumed by Western interpreters. It is closer to a symbolic connection to the spiritual and to show humbleness and respect in the presence of normal society.ii
Tantric practices found both in Hinduism and Buddhism involve ancient rituals and potions. The government in India tries to stamp out these practices, but they are not always successful. One example which occurred in 2003 was the ritual human sacrifice of a neighbor’s six year old son.
The perpetrators were childless neighbors who were desperate to have a son of their own. It was the 25th killing this year linked to Tantric practices – an ancient Indian form of witchcraft that many Indians use to solve problems like unemployment and infertility…iii
Mary Garden shared a disturbing report of her years in Eastern mysticism.
I heard of Sathya Sai Baba a few weeks before I was due to leave. I met some of his Western devotees (one was a medical practitioner) and was astonished by what they told me—tales of Baba healing the sick, curing the lame, resurrecting the dead, transporting himself great distances, manifesting in many places and bodies simultaneously; also, of his drawing necklaces, bracelets, and rings from thin air, and a sacred ash called vibhuti from the palm of his hand. Evidently he had millions of devotees in India, and Westerners from all over the world were flocking to him. They considered him to be the Avatar of the age: a direct incarnation of God. Even India’s prime minister was a devotee.
Most of the gurus I met taught the need to give up all thinking and to surrender totally. At the entrance to Rajneesh’s ashram in Poona was a sign: “Leave your minds and your shoes outside the gate.” (p. 182)
The guru-disciple relationship is probably the most authoritarian of all in its demands for surrender and obedience. Hence it can be the most destructive. And so far from achieving the enlightenment and freedom that many of us “wannabe” spiritual pioneers of the 1970s sought (and were promised), we experienced mental imprisonment and confusion. We were seduced by yogis and swamis telling us what we wanted to hear: that we were special and that they were God incarnate. Our need was our downfall.iv
RISKS OF MINDFULNESS
What is Buddhist meditation, sometimes described as “mindfulness”? You let whatever comes to mind, come to mind. It will pass over your head like an ocean wave, and be gone. “Chill, man.” If the negative thinking doesn’t pass, focus on a sound like “Ooooommmmm”. Mind you, this is not western meditation where you think positive THOUGHTS – pray, and give thanks. Is there any scientific evidence as to what happens when you practice mindfulness meditation?
Sam Geppi of S.F. Yoga says, “Negative side effects from meditation? There really are none. Meditation is just about going within, toward what is real. There is nothing ‘created’ through meditation. We create our problems and negative side effects more by escaping into the world, escaping from meditation. Meditation is a long-overdue look within. Sometimes a student will discuss their initial fear of the inner void once the space and depth of being is first encountered, or that they feel like they are going crazy. I simply tell them, ‘Meditation is not making you crazy. It is making you aware that you are already crazy.’”v
But Geppi does not know the science of what is happening in the brain during meditation. Meditation raises serotonin levels – good if your serotonin levels are low. Taking SSRIs like Prozac and Paxil raise serotonin levels in depressed people. But raising serotonin levels in folks with normal levels is not a good thing.
Dr. Michael Persinger, a psychologist at Laurentian University in Canada, found in 1993 that meditation induces epilepsylike brain seizures in some people. His study of 1,081 students showed that the 221 meditators among them had a higher rate of hallucinating floating spots of light, hearing voices, and even feeling the floor shake. Other studies reported that meditators complained of feeling emotionally dead and seeing the environment as unreal, two-dimensional, amorphous. Those results aren’t surprising if meditation reduces blood flow to the parietal lobe. In longtime meditators, unreality can strike spontaneously. Singer describes it as “involuntary meditation.” One of her patients took anti-seizure medication for 25 years after quitting meditative practice to regain control of his mind.vi
RELIGION DOMINATED STATE
The People’s Republic of China is the current government of Tibet. During the Summer Olympics of 2008 the Dalai Lama, backed by much of the Western world, protested the fact that he is exiled from Tibet. I found myself wondering why we living in a free society would push to have a religious leader take over a nation. Do we want the Pope to restore the Holy Roman Empire? The Western Shugden Society, a branch of Buddhism, is opposed to restoring the Dalai Lama.
Like a dictator, the present false Dalai Lama has complete control over both religious and secular life within the exile Tibetan community.
For many years the Dalai Lama repeatedly said that he was not seeking Tibetan independence and that he has not done anything to promote it, yet in 2008 he suddenly organized demonstrations in Tibet against China for this purpose. Although the demonstrations were intended to embarrass the Chinese government in the year when the Olympic Games were held in China, the widely distributed video footage of Buddhist monks involved in looting and violence brought Buddhism into disrepute. He himself enjoys life in his luxurious palace in India, while the poor Tibetan people experience great suffering and danger. His senseless actions have caused Tibetans living in Tibet many difficulties, again through destroying their internal trust, peace and harmony.vii
Whatever wrongs and new oppressions introduced by the Chinese after 1959, they did abolish slavery and the Tibetan serfdom system of unpaid labor. They eliminated the many crushing taxes, started work projects, and greatly reduced unemployment and beggary. They established secular schools, thereby breaking the educational monopoly of the monasteries. And they constructed running water and electrical systems in Lhasa.viii
Buddhism speaks to us in a troubled world because it seems to give the individual peace. But what price do we pay when “peace” amounts to hiding your head in the sand and never dealing with reality? What real problems does that solve?
v Sandy Brundage, SFweekly.com/8/28/02, http://www.rickross.com/reference/brainwashing23.html
vi Sandy Brundage, SFweekly.com/8/28/02,http://www.rickross.com/reference/brainwashing23.html