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Eckhart Tolle Live Meditation
July 12, 2011 5:16 PM   Subscribe

“Life is fulfilling when you are rooted in the essential Beingness of ‘I Am.’ . . . Then you bring that state of consciousness—that spacious state of consciousness—you bring that into your interactions with other people of great importance. It’s only then that you will stop treating other people as possible sources of fulfillment or as a threat.” —Eckhart Tolle, spiritual teacher and author, on his June 26 live meditation broadcast.
posted by Houyhnhnm (83 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
I cannot express my dislike for this huckster fervently enough. That affectation of a voice and speech pattern, the utter nonsensical vagaries he spews with them. Or railing against materialism while charging thousands of dollars for his seminars.
posted by karmiolz at 5:58 PM on July 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


For some reason I thought this was the est guy.
posted by jonmc at 6:09 PM on July 12, 2011


They share an Eckhart.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:12 PM on July 12, 2011


I cannot express my dislike for this huckster fervently enough.

I felt that way until I actually met a couple of his ardent followers (they moved into a good friends' neighborhood). Having shared a few meals, drinks etc with them over the past few years (yup, early Tolle adepts who drink booze, eat red meat, like sports and cool music), I've found them to be decent, non-judgmental, socially liberal, good humored folks who seem to get only positive stuff from his teachings, which makes them among other things, darned good neighbors.

I've never read any of his stuff and I have NO DESIRE to any time soon, but based on this completely non-statistical analysis, I'd have to say his influence seems benign at worst, maybe even positive. Because we all need good neighbors.
posted by philip-random at 6:14 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah- understanding consciousness is approximately at the top me my list, and it's something I devour material on and write about a hell of a lot, but I'm a stickler for having a rational approach and keeping 95% of it empirical (the remaining ~5% generally for hypotheses & shits-n-giggles) , citing evidence and keeping logical consistency...

New Agey non sequitur is the most efficient way to0get oe to permanently ignore something.
posted by herbplarfegan at 6:15 PM on July 12, 2011


grar- "to get me" ... speaking of non sequitur. Damn tiny phone keys....
posted by herbplarfegan at 6:17 PM on July 12, 2011


Even though a lot of my foundation is based on a westernized vision of Buddhism. I still remind myself every day that the Dali Lama wears a Rolex.

What I'm saying is that, in the most peaceful of ways, this jackass needs to be chomped to death by a horde of angry gerbils.
posted by I love you more when I eat paint chips at 6:18 PM on July 12, 2011 [4 favorites]


Is this one of those things where you have to give money?
posted by Max Power at 6:22 PM on July 12, 2011


“Life is fulfilling when you are rooted in the essential Beingness of ‘I Am.’"

Ah, excellent! At last, I finally get a fresh example for my students of an unfalsifiable statement. I was getting really tired of Kitcher's "Quietness is wholeness at the center of stillness."
posted by el_lupino at 6:24 PM on July 12, 2011 [10 favorites]


I don't necessarily hate his devoutees, but the man himself is a complete ass. To paraphrase him, this was what someone who attended a conference of his in the Netherlands relayed to me, "I often forget that my girlfriend is in need of sexual gratification, as I do not feel the same pressing desire." Wow, you have become enlightened beyond the need for sex? I highly doubt this, and wouldn't respect it were it true. He is a snake oil salesman.
posted by karmiolz at 6:25 PM on July 12, 2011


gotta get a guru
posted by philip-random at 6:26 PM on July 12, 2011


Even though a lot of my foundation is based on a westernized vision of Buddhism. I still remind myself every day that the Dali Lama wears a Rolex.

What I'm saying is that, in the most peaceful of ways, this jackass needs to be chomped to death by a horde of angry gerbils.


Anyone know a Buddhist who might have some gerbils handy? Hmm...
posted by Sys Rq at 6:28 PM on July 12, 2011


Sys Rq, smacking that soft-toss out of the park haha.
posted by karmiolz at 6:30 PM on July 12, 2011


mock on, non-focused, unmindedness metafiles and metafillies!
He is at one with Oneness...so at ease that he gives white noise to the chatty frivolity of Non-Beingness.
Oh, ye of little faith...
posted by Postroad at 6:36 PM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Wow, you have become enlightened beyond the need for sex? I highly doubt this...

I know nothing about this guy, but quenching the need for things like sex is kind of the whole point of Buddhist meditation. Why do you doubt it? Because he still has a girlfriend? (That part is a little fishy...)

...and wouldn't respect it were it true

Why? Seems like a high attainment, actually.
posted by fivebells at 6:38 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Spend your time watching Sam Harris talk about meditation, if you missed it, rather than this muddlehead. It's possible to explain ideas like self-transcendence in a clear, rational and scientific way. Eckhart Tolle talks like Sam Harris put through a blender.
posted by abcde at 6:48 PM on July 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I like the guy. He's worth a read.

A lot of what he says we (most of us) already know, but it's good to be reminded.

Probably the primary thing we need to be reminded of is that our true selves and the chatter we hear in our heads is not one in the same.
posted by rougy at 6:50 PM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


...deeper, reaching a self that is not relative, but absolute.

I don't know if he's a huckster, but he's certainly missin the point.
posted by cmoj at 6:50 PM on July 12, 2011


My guess is that he means well, and there are worse ways to earn a living, so I have no wish to unleash the gerbils. I "read" one of his books when someone mentioned him in AskMe and from it I understood that he was having a hard time of it and then had this experience which took him out of his misery and now he wants to tell you how to do the same. Unfortunately, that really can't be done but he's doing his best anyway and nothing I've heard him say is actually wrong and he might actually help somebody with it.

Assuming, as I am, that he's for real, he's in a tough position because he's not part of any of the traditions which would give him a role so he's got to create his own, and when you "get it," you kind of want to share it and there's no good way available. Also, it's easy to get lost in the role of being "the person who gets it," which just means that you lost what you had and don't even know it.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:55 PM on July 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't think this guy is worse than any of the thousands of relatively successful self-help authors and he is a good deal better than many of the things I have seen around, such as the 'Secret'.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 6:56 PM on July 12, 2011


Spend your time watching Sam Harris talk about meditation

Or listen to Ken McLeod (my teacher.) I'm listening to the Ganges Mahamudra talks at the moment. It's good stuff.
posted by fivebells at 7:03 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


[Full disclosure, I interviewed him once and was basically pretty impressed.]

Given the many documented tales of spiritual teachers engaging in sexual misconduct, fraud, embezzlement, and even negligent homicide, I'm always a bit surprised by the degree of hostility in some quarters towards Tolle, about whom (as far as I'm aware) you'll find no such accusations.

The things that get people's backs up about him appear to be:

1. He speaks in a funny voice. — Well, OK.

2. What he says is "nonsensical" or not fully logical. — The problem here is that discussions of spirituality down the centuries have always failed to meet these kinds of standards, because they are efforts to talk about the ineffable/non-conceptual, topics that by definition can't be fully encapsulated by language. This of course doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of "spiritual writers" spouting absolute BS, but personally I don't think Tolle is one of them. You don't have to agree with what he says, obviously, but its not meeting logical standards of argument doesn't automatically mean it has no value.

3. He charges thousands of dollars for seminars, etc. — He may do, I don't know. (Not that this would automatically mean his ideas were valueless, either.) There's definitely a major issue around how these kinds of messages get commercialised. Can a spiritual teacher be commercially successful at all, in fact, or is that a contradiction in terms? Interesting debate. All that said, you can buy his book The Power of Now for a few dollars/pounds and have all you need to know. And actually, it's a book that any rationalist/science-championing/pseudoscience-hating atheist could quite happily read without encountering much to object to at all. (I think he does talk about "energy vibrations" here and there. Nobody's perfect.) And yes, it's a million miles away from all that unpleasant ultra-materialist quantum-physics-distorting crap in The Secret, and its ilk.
posted by oliverburkeman at 7:03 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Look Ma - I'm randomly Capitalising undefined Terms to give the Impression of Profundity!

I mean, Profundityness!
posted by obiwanwasabi at 7:07 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


You don't have to agree with what he says, obviously, but its not meeting logical standards of argument doesn't automatically mean it has no value.

The real test is whether when you lean on him about something which makes no sense he's able to help you experience what he's talking about.
posted by fivebells at 7:08 PM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Based on my limited Oprah-influenced knowledge of him, he just seems to have taken the "zagat-guide" or the "the week" method of using clips from all eastern-ish religious and spiritual traditions and tossed them together. And since all of it is harmless (I think) and relatable, and often from ancient-wisdom-sorts of sources, he has sold zillions (um, no citation) of copies of his books and has become a spiritual leader of sorts. Whether that's a good or bad thing..who's to say? I don't think he is a harmful influence.
posted by bquarters at 7:11 PM on July 12, 2011


What I always want to know about these people is what happens if I find the essential beingness of me and realize that it wasn't worth discovering and the best bits of me are the superficial ones? That would be hard to come back from, I think.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 7:29 PM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


It’s only then that you will stop treating other people as possible sources of fulfillment or as a threat.

I just can't help but read this as an attempt to simultaneously wiggle his way past my defenses and deny accountability for his teachings. I guess I still need to work on getting rooted in the essential Beingness of ‘I Am.’
posted by scalefree at 7:32 PM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


As far as credibility goes he's better than the likes of hucksters like Ken Wilbur or Lama Ole, but not even worthy enough to be mentioned in the same breath as dozens of lesser known but active traditional Buddhist teachers. Like yoga at the 24 Hour Fitness or cheap American yogurt. Bland.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 7:33 PM on July 12, 2011


I still remind myself every day that the Dali Lama wears a Rolex.

Do you have a string tied to your finger?
posted by ian1977 at 7:33 PM on July 12, 2011


Being rooted in the essential Beingness of 'I Am' is exactly what our problem is.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 7:34 PM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Is this one of those things where you have to give money?

The Eckhart Tolle™ marketing department would like to inform you that the phrase "have to give money" has been changed. The new phrase is "allow us to show our continued support", please make a note of it.
posted by doctor_negative at 7:43 PM on July 12, 2011 [3 favorites]


It is a shame he is a crock because the name Eckhart Tolle is so awesomely awesome.
posted by ian1977 at 7:45 PM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


That's okay, Meister Eckhart can meet all your Eckharting needs.
posted by mendel at 8:21 PM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


Read his book, it wasn't that bad. Updated new-agey-grab-bag of eastern philosophies? Yep. Applicable easy to use ideas? Sure, any kind of advice is helpful if you allow it to be.
posted by P.o.B. at 8:22 PM on July 12, 2011 [2 favorites]


I like his writing. He's an appealing combination of bright, well-read, articulate and relatively humble. He's a popularizer and synthesizer of a lot of ideas he genuinely understands, from personal experience as well as education.

There are a lot of worse places than The Power of Now to meet these ideas. I say that having read many of them in other forms.

If you suffer from depression, his story is worth knowing. His kind of escape from it is rare but remarkable.

Is he really a "huckster" because Oprah liked his small self-published book? I checked his web site for evidence of him charging "thousands of dollars for his seminars." The empiricists among you can do the same, and you'll find you can stream them for 20 bucks, or attend in person quite cheaply.
posted by namasaya at 8:25 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


oliverburkeman: The problem here is that discussions of spirituality down the centuries have always failed to meet these kinds of standards, because they are efforts to talk about the ineffable/non-conceptual, topics that by definition can't be fully encapsulated by language.

Mefi has a large number of people who believe that religion is a symptom of being in thrall to the invisible daddy in the sky. Someone like Eckhart Tolle who has the odor of being a messiah of his own making is insufferable.

mendel: That's okay, Meister Eckhart can meet all your Eckharting needs.

Another medieval psychotic in thrall to the invisible daddy.
posted by blucevalo at 8:27 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


Meister Eckhart was not psychotic. That's asinine.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 8:40 PM on July 12, 2011


I am mystified as to why you posted this here, unless it was to purposely elicit the inevitable snarkfest. This is not the kind of topic that MetaFilter excels at.
posted by Wordwoman at 10:07 PM on July 12, 2011


Eckhart Tolle is simply another illusion - whatever floats your boat. If some people like him, fine - and vice-versa. I'll take Meister Eckhart though; his sermons and other writings are simply priceless. Pure magic of the mystical; there are many ways to get there; getting there, at least some of the time, is something most would profit from.

Also, there is nothing about meditation or spiritual mastery that essentially eschews wealth. Peronally, I don't resonate with Eckhart's way, but again, that doesn't matter to those who find him helpful.
posted by Vibrissae at 10:28 PM on July 12, 2011


Quenching the need for things like sex is kind of the whole point of Buddhist meditation.

If you bring a "point" to your meditation, you're polluting it. One should come to it without an agenda.

There are different schools of Buddhist thought. But generally, the part of your sentence there that's important is the "need" (desire) part, and not the "things like sex" part. The third precept is to avoid sexual misconduct, not to avoid sex. Connecting to another human being in love through sexual activity is A-ok to many Buddhists.

Seems like a high attainment, actually.

Someone who "often forgets" about his girlfriend's needs probably isn't being very mindful and/or compassionate--both important attributes to all Buddhists I've ever met and in all Buddhist literature I've ever read.
posted by parrot_person at 11:29 PM on July 12, 2011 [1 favorite]


namasaya This empiricist clicked on the Personal Improvement Institute link offered by searching, "Eckhart Tolle seminar costs" and it is listed as $685.

http://web.mac.com/craig.schmidt/Personal_Improvement_Institute/Information_FAQs.html

I'm sure he has $20 options, but he also holds rather expensive seminars. All this from a man who claims materialism is a serious impediment to finding the enlightenment he has found. In fact the amount is almost superfluous, if he's charging at all he's a hypocrite. The fact that he charges large amounts just showcases the greed in his hypocrisy.
posted by karmiolz at 11:29 PM on July 12, 2011


I'm amazed that this wasn't 41 comments of unadulterated snark.
posted by jrochest at 12:07 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


It is. Tolle is just projecting a Positive Beingness field that prevents your centered I Amingness from Seeing it.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 1:05 AM on July 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


... Annnnd we're back.
posted by P.o.B. at 1:21 AM on July 13, 2011


So is there an Eckhart Tolle pizza joke?

Personally I think that there are better ways to read the same insights, for free, from buddhist sources, but that doesn't mean his book can't be helpful for people who aren't inclined to reach for 'eastern' stuff but who are more comfortable with a more mainstream-looking self-help book.
posted by dowcrag at 2:13 AM on July 13, 2011


If you bring a "point" to your meditation, you're polluting it.

Well, the Buddha taught meditation as part of a framework intended to end suffering, and I'm pretty sure he wasn't just messing with us. But let's not fight about this; that would be ironic:
    These disputes have arisen among contemplatives.
	In them are elation & dejection.
    Seeing this, one should abstain from disputes,
	for they have no other goal
	than the gaining of praise.
Someone who "often forgets" about his girlfriend's needs probably isn't being very mindful and/or compassionate

Yeah, that's part of why it's fishy.
posted by fivebells at 4:16 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


For a refreshing, palate-cleansing antidote to this talk, head over to TED for this lecture on happiness from a Buddhist perspective.
posted by Gordion Knott at 4:32 AM on July 13, 2011


Mefi has a large number of people who believe that religion is a symptom of being in thrall to the invisible daddy in the sky. Someone like Eckhart Tolle who has the odor of being a messiah of his own making is insufferable.

Which is ironic because, setting aside the funny voice etc, he is quite precisely not asking you to believe in things for which he can't provide proper evidence — the usual scientific rationalist objection to religion here on Metafilter as far as I can tell. It's an exercise in introspection: "look at your mind and tell me if you don't agree that this is how your mind seems to work". It's worth putting aside the dodgy atmospherics long enough to read a few chapters of The Power of Now and run this introspection exercise for yourself.
posted by oliverburkeman at 4:36 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


You can't reeaallly expect people to read his material or even listen to him talk. That would just take up time that they could use to make stupid jokes and insulting comments that aren't true.
posted by P.o.B. at 4:59 AM on July 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


So is there an Eckhart Tolle pizza joke?

Yes. He orders: "I'll have one with everything...thick crust, please."
posted by eggtooth at 5:52 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Tolle is boring and void of spontaneity. It is the kind of stuff my grandma might read.

I like to get down and dirty, so I'll stick with Alan Watts
posted by sneakyalien at 5:57 AM on July 13, 2011


Tolle is the Da Free John of Buddhism
posted by eggtooth at 6:06 AM on July 13, 2011


Alan Watts caused me a lot of confusion. He really didn't explain things very clearly.

I tried to watch the Tolle video, but it was boring. I went and meditated instead.
posted by fivebells at 6:22 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am mystified as to why you posted this here, unless it was to purposely elicit the inevitable snarkfest. This is not the kind of topic that MetaFilter excels at.

At first, I assumed the majority of commentators would resort to something lazy, expected, and unproductive, such as dismissing Tolle as a charlatan and brandishing their mockery ("snark") as if it were a badge of honor and evidence of their robust critical thinking skills. But then I thought I should be less negative and give the community more credit because perhaps it would surprise me and someone would have something insightful to say about why they disagree with his philosophy. I decided it was worth posting even if only one person watched the video and allowed Tolle to influence him or her positively.
posted by Houyhnhnm at 8:11 AM on July 13, 2011


I dunno. This site really doesn't seem like a good place to proselytize your favorite guru.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 8:13 AM on July 13, 2011


> Alan Watts caused me a lot of confusion. He really didn't explain things very clearly.

Watts was a drunkard and a social butterfly. His books should be read only if you want to have some debris to clean out of your head.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 8:20 AM on July 13, 2011


Er, to expand on that. Watts was a product of his moment in time, and I suppose should be lauded for helping to introduce concepts and themes from Eastern schools to Western readers. But, to pick him up now when there are much better sources to choose from would be taking a circuitous route.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 8:29 AM on July 13, 2011


Tolle's interview on the PBS program Speaking of Faith was what I needed to hear at the time I needed to hear it. If you're interested, I recommend the unedited interview.

Some of what he says is woo-woo hooey (I find his notion of the "pain body"—a parasitic energy field created by past pain—to be utterly goofy, even on the level of a metaphor), but some of his ideas have been valuable for me, and I touch on them regularly in my meditation practice and daily life.

I think as skeptics, we have the great advantage that we don't have to slavishly follow a guru and believe all his teachings—nor are we compelled to reject them wholesale if we disagree, even on many points. We can apply reason and logic to a guru's claims, and provisionally accept some ideas (even as we continue to scrutinize them critically) and reject the ideas that are fanciful and unsubstantiated.
posted by BrashTech at 8:51 AM on July 13, 2011


This site really doesn't seem like a good place to proselytize your favorite guru.

The snark will eventually be good for Houyhnhnm's practice. "Kill your parents, kill your teacher, kill the Buddha."
posted by fivebells at 9:11 AM on July 13, 2011


The problem here is that discussions of spirituality down the centuries have always failed to meet these kinds of standards, because they are efforts to talk about the ineffable/non-conceptual, topics that by definition can't be fully encapsulated by language. This of course doesn't mean that there aren't a lot of "spiritual writers" spouting absolute BS, but personally I don't think Tolle is one of them. You don't have to agree with what he says, obviously, but its not meeting logical standards of argument doesn't automatically mean it has no value.

How can you tell whether or not you agree in the first place, or separate the non BS from the BS if the topic is ineffable/non-conceptual/unable to be fully encapsulated by language?
posted by Marty Marx at 9:44 AM on July 13, 2011


he just seems to have taken the "zagat-guide" or the "the week" method of using clips from all eastern-ish religious and spiritual traditions and tossed them together.

This is still better than finding Buddha statues on clearance in Target.
posted by desjardins at 9:46 AM on July 13, 2011



"he just seems to have taken the "zagat-guide" or the "the week" method of using clips from all eastern-ish religious and spiritual traditions and tossed them together.

This is still better than finding Buddha statues on clearance in Target."

I agree. People who know naught of Buddhism and think it a "religion" might
read someone like Tolle and make a connection that way....even Lama Ole,
though I agree with his critics, could be a first step for some people.
posted by eggtooth at 10:17 AM on July 13, 2011


Marty Marx: How can you tell whether or not you agree in the first place, or separate the non BS from the BS if the topic is ineffable/non-conceptual/unable to be fully encapsulated by language?

I phrased that badly, because it's not really a question of agreeing or disagreeing. But basically I think the answer is: you listen and you see whether his particular way of talking about this stuff triggers a process of introspection that leads you (as fivebells says) to experience what he's talking about. Like I say, this needn't be a blank cheque for peddling BS. It's got more in common with how poetry or most fiction exerts its effect.
posted by oliverburkeman at 10:32 AM on July 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Lama Ole? Is that some kind of Buddhist Ole and Lena joke?
posted by msalt at 10:38 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


it's easy to get lost in the role of being "the person who gets it," which just means that you lost what you had and don't even know it.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:55 PM on July 12


thank you for this.
posted by herbplarfegan at 10:45 AM on July 13, 2011


Following up on what oliverburkeman just said, it's important to keep in mind that meditation does not lead to novel ontological insight, although there's a lot of careless language around it which would suggest otherwise. (E.g., IIRC, Tolle claimed that time is not real. What does that even mean in ontological terms? [I didn't pay close attention, so if he didn't actually say that, I apologize. But it's the kind of thing meditation teachers say all the time, and still a good example.]) Meditation practice leads to a shift in one's relationship to direct experience which has very little bearing on one's ontological understanding of the objective universe (it does tend to weaken one's personal identification with that ontology, though.) For instance, a teacher says that time does not exist, he's really pointing to a relationship to the sensations of the moment which are not mediated through a temporal model. Normally we relate the sensations of the moment to explanations for them from our past and their implications for the future, but in a meditative state of mind, you usually drop that whever it comes up.

People often get the idea, when I explain this, that I'm saying a temporal model has no place in the life of a meditator, but that's not what this means. It is still possible to think about past and future and derive the usual conventional benefits from that, but in conventional life there is a deep personal identification with the model which causes all kinds of distorted perception and behavior. The goal of the practice is to drop that identification.

Anyway, the point is that this process is not amenable to the usual methods of rationality because it is essentially concerned with personal experience, not the objective ontological insight which rationality usually works with. It's useful because it leads to a more peaceful and clarified relationship to life, and for that reason a teacher's efforts can only be judged in terms of whether their efforts lead to a peaceful and clear a relationship to experience.
posted by fivebells at 10:56 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Eckhart Tolle and Lama Ole...what a great tag team that would make!
posted by eggtooth at 10:57 AM on July 13, 2011


People who know naught of Buddhism and think it a "religion"

But it is a religion.
posted by desjardins at 11:09 AM on July 13, 2011


It's become a religion, but that's pretty clearly a corruption of the Buddha's original teachings. He said "I teach suffering and the end of suffering," and it's pretty clear that he meant that exclusively. The seminal Dhammapada says "Learn to do good, cease to do evil, train the mind: this is the whole of the Buddha's teaching." It's quite possible to practice what he taught without all the cosmological beliefs or any of the other religious cultural and authoritarian accretions which have since formed around it.
posted by fivebells at 11:19 AM on July 13, 2011


It's not a religion because there is no belief, no dogma. As the Buddha's final words say, one has to work out one's own "salvation"...he was a man, not a diety, and he showed a path. In fact, it was never called "Buddhism" by Asian practitioners...rather, it is referred to as the "dharma", or, "path of dharma", dharma meaning truth. All the (traditional) Buddhist teachings came directly from the experience of meditation, without which there is no "Buddhism", no dharma.
posted by eggtooth at 11:32 AM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


For instance, a teacher says that time does not exist, he's really pointing to a relationship to the sensations of the moment which are not mediated through a temporal model

But if the relationship is with one of sensations of the moment, they are being mediated through a temporal model. I think oliverburkeman is right that what Tolle and others like him are offering is better evaluated in the way we evaluate art. I don't agree or disagree with, say, dadaist tone poems; I just respond to them or don't. Pointing out that they don't make any sense just makes me look silly. And folks like Tolle can definitely be taken that way. It's just frustrating because, unlike the dadaist tone poems, they don't present themselves that way. Instead, they claim that they really do make sense and only fall back on the artistic interpretation as a last resort. It just looks like the whole thing is done in bad faith.

It's become a religion, but that's pretty clearly a corruption of the Buddha's original teachings
Then it must have a dogma after all. Otherwise, there'd be no way to distinguish what was corruption from what wasn't (or what was Buddhist from what wasn't)
posted by Marty Marx at 11:49 AM on July 13, 2011


Arguing that Buddhism is not a religion is like arguing that ice cube trays aren't meant to make ice.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 11:55 AM on July 13, 2011


Yeaaah, we're getting into a No True Buddhist fallacy here. Whenever you say "Well what the Buddha said was..." you gotta stop and think, this shit wasn't written down for hundreds of years, and it's been through several translations, so unless we discover some magical 2500 year old audio recorder, you don't know (and I certainly don't). Our knowledge of what he said (and certainly what he meant) is necessarily mediated by every other experience we've ever had. Hell, everything we type here is interpreted imperfectly, even though we're writing RIGHT NOW and (mostly) in our native language, with no translations.

Also, as soon as you say something is corrupted from its True Meaning, you've entered into Dogma Land.
posted by desjardins at 12:24 PM on July 13, 2011


Well, whether that is the core of what the Buddha actually taught is admittedly speculative, but certainly not everyone who practices Buddhism approaches it as a religion in the sense I think eggtooth meant.
posted by fivebells at 12:46 PM on July 13, 2011


Arguing that Buddhism is not a religion

I believe fivebells is arguing that it was not intended as a religion and there a plenty of aphorisms attributed to the Buddha that back that up, so even if the Buddha didn't say that then there are at least a couple of people who do believe that regardless of what how you want to classify things.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:59 PM on July 13, 2011


...if the relationship is with one of sensations of the moment, they are being mediated through a temporal model.

No, there doesn't have to be anything saying "this experience is happening NOW." If your foot tingles, you just experience that without struggle. If anger arises, you just experience that. A Mahamudra meditation instruction which is relevant here is "Don't recall the past, don't entertain the future, don't dwell on the present. Just rest."

I don't agree or disagree with, say, dadaist tone poems [or meditation instructions]; I just respond to them or don't.

That's because you don't understand the purpose of the meditation instructions. They do actually have a specific, explicit purpose of establishing a certain state of mind, even though that state of mind can't be reached through conceptual thinking.

The first twenty minutes of this talk concerns a guy pushing back on my teacher because he isn't experiencing the state of mind which the exercise is intended to induce. Not sure whether the conversation is going to make total sense in isolation (it is the fifth session of a five-session class), but it should make it clear that the two of them are reaching toward the student attaining a specific state of mind.
posted by fivebells at 1:00 PM on July 13, 2011


I've always thought Tolle was kind of an accidental Buddhist, although he can sound like a major New Age whatchamacallit at times. The current Wikipedia article seems like a reasonable summary of what he's about, and emphases that he's tried to avoid becoming associated with any specific belief system.

Is Buddhism a religion? Not in the same way that the Abrahamic belief systems are, in that it doesn't require belief in a dogma, as stated above. Or, as a Muslim friend put it rather forcefully: "Islam and Christianity come from God, but Buddhism came from Man. That's why it's not a real religion." Which works for me. YMMV.

I do think that, human nature being what it is, there's a tendency for people to want final answers. So it's kind of inevitable that Buddhism has branches that promise the same kind of rewards for good behaviour that Christianity and Islam offer.
posted by sneebler at 2:20 PM on July 13, 2011


If your foot tingles, you just experience that without struggle.
Experiencing something "without struggle" is not the same as experiencing it "without the mediation of a temporal model." As soon as you bring in an experience that is temporally located--my foot tingling, my being angry--you are experiencing it with the mediation of a temporal model. It is, after all, in the present tense.

Now, maybe that's taking the temporal issue too literally. Maybe the point is, as you say, to experience these temporally mediated tingles and emotions without struggling against them. That's fine, but not at all where we started, and has nothing to do with the temporal character of our existence.

I'm okay with that. As I said before, I think these meditation instructions are best viewed the way we view art. They are meant to evoke certain responses, but are not arguments. They are, as you say, about establishing a certain state of mind. I agree. That wouldn't even be strange, since, in addition to artistic performances, plenty of everyday statements aren't offered as truth-sensitive arguments, either (e.g., "Hooray for pancakes!").

I'm not arguing that meditation is pointless trickery or anything. I'm arguing that it shouldn't be offered as truth sensitive then offered as purely evocative when the truth of the claims is challenged. If there's something I'm really not getting, it is that I have trouble identifying just which parts are supposed to be taken as true and which parts are supposed to be taken as purely evocative. But is that any wonder given the way that this hypothetical example began with a teacher claiming that time didn't exit, which was meant to point at sensations that were not temporally mediated, which really meant not to struggle with temporally mediated experiences, past present or future?
posted by Marty Marx at 2:58 PM on July 13, 2011


Watts was a product of his moment in time, and I suppose should be lauded for helping to introduce concepts and themes from Eastern schools to Western readers. But, to pick him up now when there are much better sources to choose from would be taking a circuitous route.

Suggestions? I enjoyed his last book "Tao: The Watercourse Way," but I haven't read any of his Buddhism.
posted by msalt at 3:07 PM on July 13, 2011


Some of what he says is woo-woo hooey (I find his notion of the "pain body"—a parasitic energy field created by past pain—to be utterly goofy, even on the level of a metaphor), but some of his ideas have been valuable for me

It's definitely tricky writing clearly about spiritual subjects. I've recently tried my hand at it myself, in an article in the new MeFiMag (#4). But that's the writer's job, and we should all be judged on our success (or failure) at it.

Rather than giving extra allowance for subjects outside the normal bounds of traditional logic, I think writers need to be more skeptical and precise on spiritual subjects. Both because it's so easy to lose that thread and because of the temptations of guru-ing. Too many people don't want to think hard about stuff, and will pay for easy answers. To paraphrase Bob Dylan: "If you want to be an outlaw [of logic/rationality], you must be completely honest." No "dodgy atmospherics."
posted by msalt at 3:20 PM on July 13, 2011


Marty: Sorry, the "without struggle" part is something which leaked over from my own practice, and a red herring.

...it shouldn't be offered as truth sensitive then offered as purely evocative when the truth of the claims is challenged.

Totally agree with you. When people start talking about, say, postmortem rebirth as an objective fact, rather than as a metaphor for a forced shift in projected worldviews, I find that really tiresome.

If there's something I'm really not getting, it is that I have trouble identifying just which parts are supposed to be taken as true and which parts are supposed to be taken as purely evocative.

Strictly speaking, in the ideal meditative state, objective truth doesn't enter into the picture at all. Of course, for there to be effective communication student and teacher still need some common understanding relating to objective truth about the student's state of mind, which meditation methods have proven effective in the past, and questions about how to proceed in the business of conventional life. But generally, if I come across an apparent assertion of objective truth in the context of spiritual instruction, and I can't fit it into one of those categories, I tend to treat it as a metaphor, as an irrelevancy, or as a mistake. This has worked very well for me.

...is that any wonder given the way that this hypothetical example began with a teacher claiming that time didn't exit, which was meant to point at sensations that were not temporally mediated, which really meant not to struggle with temporally mediated experiences, past present or future?

There is definitely a lot of sloppy language surrounding this topic. Really, it was precision of language which drew me to my teacher in the first place. He trained as a mathematician as an undergraduate, then became a translator of Tibetan, and he is fanatical about expressing things precisely and in terms a smart Westerner is comfortable with. His Then and Now series is essentially an extended glossary mapping standard concepts from Tibetan Buddhist culture to descriptions of the corresponding internal experience in meditation practice. It's really saved me from a lot of the kind of confusion you're complaining about (which is rampant among spiritual practitioners.)

As soon as you bring in an experience that is temporally located--my foot tingling, my being angry--you are experiencing it with the mediation of a temporal model. It is, after all, in the present tense.

Think about how we construct our model of the world: We get a set of sensory data, which we then integrate with memory and a model of our surroundings to form an imputation of the objects which created our sense impressions. Our internal representation of the temporal location is established somewhere in this imputation, And when you say that an experience is temporally located, you are implicitly referring to the underlying temporal model. And there's no intrinsic problem with that because that is our common understanding of our experience. But when a meditation teacher says something like "time is an illusion," (or more accurately, "don't dwell in the present,") they are pointing to a relationship with experience which stops at the experience of the sense impression. In terms of objective reality, the current moment's experience necessarily occurs at some point in time, but in terms of the experience of meditation, you don't need to be aware of that temporal relationship.
posted by fivebells at 4:12 PM on July 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


People who start out in meditation are seeking results.
That’s logical. We usually don’t engage in any activity
without expecting some experience or outcome. When
we first study the Buddhist teachings, words such as
“enlightenment”, “peace” and so forth are used to
show that there is some direction to the path of meditation.
Some people hold one or more of these words in mind,
as reassurance that the activity of meditation has a worthwhile
goal...however, there doesn’t seem to be much of a
timetable for reaching any goals through meditation

There is no timetable. As one gains experience in
meditation, one begins to realize, perhaps, that
“just sitting” in itself is worthwhile. Let’s say someone
has been meditating regularly, an hour a day, for a year.
For most people, no one has achieved enlightenment…or
had any great meditation experiences to speak of. One’s
life is pretty much as chaotic as a year ago. Mind still yaps
away as always…perhaps one has become increasingly
aware of the mental chatter… irritatingly so even. Far from
experiencing the peace one had hoped for, all that meditation
seems to have done is heighten mental discursiveness…
though at times one recognizes that the chatter had always
been there. One continues to practice because just sitting
is grounding, feels healthy and wholesome…not for any
superior reason. At that point, it is possible
to see that the path is the goal. It is also possible to feel
“It’s not working”, i.e. , the meditation is not living up to
one’s expectations. Or, one could realize that just sitting,
breathing, coming back to one’s breath when distracted
is a simple, organic, uncontrived practice… a simple
cultivation of awareness. The path is continuous from
the first time we sit down to the attainment of enlightenment.
What changes is what we see when we’re sitting,
how we see. That takes place over time, as has been said,
like a pool of muddy water becomes clear over time
if left undisturbed. How can that have a timetable?
posted by eggtooth at 4:51 PM on July 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


He calms me like the TV painter guy, Bob?, who paints inticate details with house painting brushes. Oh, and Alan Watts is a genius. You need to listen to his lectures.
posted by MrBubble at 7:03 PM on July 13, 2011


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