Mindfulness Meditation Research: Issues of Participant Scree

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Buddhist Teachers' Experience With Extreme Mental States in Western Meditators
by Lois VanderKooi
The Journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 1997, Vol. 29, No. 131
Copyright © 1997Transpersonal Institute

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Boulder, Colorado

In the past thirty-five years, Buddhism and its sophisticated meditation practices have attracted a large number of Western students, especially those in search of a psychologically oriented spirituality. Based on descriptive and qualitative research, this paper focuses on extreme mental states that can occur in emotionally fragile Western students undergoing intensive meditation and the adaptations that teachers have made to deal with these difficulties. Implications for the clinical use of meditation will also be addressed.

BUDDHIST BASICS

Goals and Methods of Practice


Freud approached Eastern practices with misgiving, equating mystical states with "oceanic feelings" and a search for "restoration of limitless narcissism" and the "resurrection of infantile helplessness" (Freud, 1961, p. 72). As Epstein (1986, 1988, 1995) points out, Freud was unaware of Buddhist methods and goals which involve the dismantling of narcissism and the notion of inherent selfhood. The process of reaching nirvana or the "Absolute" (italicized terms are defined in the glossary) is far from blissful, and nirvana is far from narcissistic grandiosity and self-absorption.

Buddhist training involves moral discipline (shila) to increase wholesome states of mind, training in concentration and mindfulness (samadhi), and training in wisdom or insight into the true nature of phenomena (prajna) (Brown, 1986; Goleman, 1988). The ultimate fruit of training is to end suffering by realizing the Four Noble Truths: that life is basically unsatisfying, that suffering is caused by attachment arising from ignorance about the nature of reality, that suffering can cease with release from clinging, and that freedom is realized by living the Noble Eightfold Path: right understanding, intention, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration. The three major defilements conditioning worldly existence, namely attachment (lust, desire, greed), aversion (hatred, anger, and aggression), and ignorance are overcome with realization of shunyata. Shunyata or "emptiness" is difficult to describe and explain, and there are doctrinal differences as to its meaning (Hopkins, 1983). It involves the "middle way" in that both inherent or independent existence and total non-existence are refuted. Through insight into the components of experience, one realizes that there is no "inherently existing I" and appreciates the representational and relative nature of reality (Epstein, 1989, 1990). One adopts neither an absolutistic stance involving belief in an eternal principle (godhead, self, eternal beyond) nor a nihilistic stance involving belief in voidness. One realizes that phenomena are interdependent and mutually condition each other. Realizing shunyata and interdependence, one lives with equanimity, wisdom, and compassion, fearless and awake to each moment of life. "In its true state, mind is naked, immaculate ... not realizable as a separate thing, but as the unity of all things, yet not composed of them; of one taste, and transcendent over differentiation" (Evans-Wentz, 1969, p. 211). It should be noted that there are degrees of enlightenment, and full enlightenment is more an ideal than an attainable reality. Brown and Engler (1986) found it extremely difficult to find people who had attained the last two paths of enlightenment (Nonreturner and Arhat) as outlined in early (Theravadan) traditional literature.

Buddhist meditation can be divided into two major branches, samatha, which stabilizes the mind, and vipassana, which is uniquely Buddhist and the basis of insight (Goleman, 1972a, 1972b; Gunaratana, 1985/1992; Lodro, 1992; Sole-Leris, 1986). Samatha practices involve concentrating on a prescribed object to attain tranquility and absorption. The mind gradually withdraws from all physical and mental stimuli except the object, and the usual conceptual mode of thinking is suspended. Mindfulness is used to guard against active senses and thoughts, which, on the one hand, scatter the mind, and, on the other hand, lend to a passive dullness which prevents clarity and focus. Body and mind become pliable as one progresses, and, in the end, one experiences samadhi or dwelling effortlessly, mind unified with object. In the Theravadan tradition, once adequate mindfulness and concentration are achieved, vipassana meditation begins. This involves paying "bare attention" to the rising and passing away of phenomena. One fully and precisely examines sensory and mental processes, moment by moment, to realize the nature of phenomena -- impermanent (anicca), unsatisfactory (dukkha), and lacking inherent essence or self (anatta). It is said that one of these marks of existence can serve as the gateway to nirvana and liberation from suffering.

As outlined by the Yisuddhimagga (a fifth-century work that supposedly collects the Buddha's teachings on meditative states), the process of realizing nirvana is fraught with troubling and sometimes excruciating states (Brown & Engler, 1986; Namto, 1989; Nyanamoli, 1976). Initially, confusion, hallucinations, disturbing feelings, and involuntary movements can occur as one gains knowledge of mental and physical states through increasing concentration and mindfulness. As samadhi is achieved, "pseudo-nirvana" experiences of rapture, tranquility, and bliss can be accompanied by frightening images, uncomfortable body sensations such as itching, heat, and stiffness, and gastrointestinal problems of nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea. Then, sadness, irritability, extreme fear, and a deep sense of the insipid nature of life may manifest as one becomes more and more aware of the arising and passing away of phenomena. A desire for deliverance can emerge, and one may wish to discontinue practice. For example, the body may itch as though being bitten by ants. Later, when deciding to practice to completion, one may feel odd sensations such as being slashed by a knife. Finally, as equanimity is achieved and mindfulness and concentration become balanced and natural, practice becomes smooth and one may be able to meditate for hours.

There are many types of meditative practices, and even within the major divisions of Theravada (Southeast Asia), Zen (China and Japan), and Tibetan (Himalaya region) traditions, practices vary. Theravada practices (see e.g., Goldstein, 1987; Goldstein & Kornfield, 1987; Kornfield, 1977; Namto, 1989; Nhat Hanh, 1987) usually involve detailed mindfulness of the aggregates which constitute personality, namely those of form (body senses, postures, and movement) and mind (feelings of pleasantness, unpleasantness, or neutrality, perception, mental states and contents, and consciousness itself). Initial practice involves developing concentration and mindfulness by alternating periods of sitting and walking meditation. The meditator focuses on the breath, then other sensations while sitting, and on the components of movement while walking slowly. When the mind wanders, mental noting is used to return to mindfulness. For example, when distracted by sound, the meditator notes "hearing" versus becoming lost in thoughts about the sound. Gradually, as skill develops, other objects are the focus, and the meditator develops "bare attention" or an awareness of phenomena without the usual self-consciousness and conceptual-perceptual elaborations. For example, in seeing or hearing something, one may see only color or hear vibrations.

Zen practices tend to focus more on concentration than detailed mindfulness, at least initially. Meditators are usually instructed to focus on the breath, first counting it and later just being aware of it without letting the mind wander. In the Rinzai tradition, once sufficient concentration is achieved, a koan, or question impervious to solution by logic, may be assigned. Some well-known initial koans are Chao-Chou's dog (Mu), the sound of one hand clapping, and your original face before your parents were born. The meditator becomes absorbed in the koan and eventually experiences kensho or breakthrough to an intuitive, nonconceptual experience. After that, other koans are assigned to deepen and extend the enlightenment experience (Loori, 1992). Shikantaza or "just sitting" is an alternative route and involves mindfulness as well as concentration by simply watching thoughts and sensations come and go (Goleman, 1972b). Rather than striving for kensho, proper posture and breathing are stressed, both to unify body-mind and to cut through attachment to the thinking mind. In both koan and shikantaza practices, attachment to thoughts lessens and then stops, and then the thinker too may disappear. Eventually, after years of practice, shunyata may be realized, and this realization penetrates daily life.

Tibetans utilize initial practices similar to those of Theravada and Zen except that they do not use koans (Gen Lamrimpa, 1992; Gyatso, 1991; Lodro, 1992; McDonald, 1984; Wangchen, 1987). Some schools emphasize philosophical analysis and study of texts, considering these as meditation because they help create wholesome states of mind and lay a foundation for later realization. Mandalas, visualizations, mantras, poly tone chanting, and complicated rituals are also used, which in conjunction with Tibetan cosmology and understanding of mind, can make practice complex indeed (Goleman, I972h). At advanced stages, more esoteric Tantric practices may he undertaken. Involving primal energy and emotion, these supposedly are quick paths to enlightenment ( i.e., they take only one lifetime) and provoke a wakefulness that is sharp in its ability to cut through habitual mind and pride. Because they can be dangerous and involve psychotic-like experiences, these practices require the guidance of a qualified teacher, and adequate ego strength and foundation in philosophy and meditation on the part of the practitioner.

STUDY RESULTS

Western psychology has usually focused on the short-term physiological and psychological benefits of meditation outside of a Buddhist context (see e.g., Carrington, 1977; Shapiro, 1982; West, 1987). As mentioned above, this study focuses on the experience of Buddhist teachers in dealing with problematic states that occur in some students during intensive meditation, some examples of which are described. Traditionally, although dealing with nonordinary states of consciousness (NSC) that occur during meditation, Buddhists did not deal much with extreme mental states, such as psychosis, because very troubled people were restricted from entering practice. With a focus on how prana or energy moves through channels in the body, Tibetan teachers probably have the most complex understanding of how extreme mental states can occur during meditation which is improperly done or excessive (Epstein & Rapgay, 1989). Buddhists also have not traditionally focused on dealing with students' personal history, emotions, and relationship problems. These have become more pertinent in the practice of Western students who often turn to meditation for psychological relief and help with problems in these areas. Brown and Engler (1986) note that unlike people in the East, many Westerners practice a form of self-exploratory therapy while meditating and consequently fail to develop the concentration and mindfulness which is necessary for formal meditation.

Descriptive and phenomenological research methods were used in this study because of 1) the historical and cognitive-subjective nature of the data, 2) difficulties in measuring such data "objectively" and in using a rigorous research design, and 3) the study's exploratory nature (Polkinghorne, 1989). Semi-structured interviews were conducted with a total of twelve experienced and sanctioned teachers, four each from Theravada, Zen, and Tibetan traditions, and four college-educated meditators who had major difficulties with meditation and volunteered to talk about their experience. Subjects were recruited through therapist and Buddhist contacts in Colorado. The teachers were asked about their meditation techniques and process and their experience with handling both vulnerable meditators and extreme mental states. The meditators were asked about their spiritual and psychological history and about the difficulties they encountered. Besides interviewing these subjects, the author attended nine meditation retreats led by various Theravada, Zen, and Tibetan teachers to gain personal experience with the meditation retreat milieu.

Three vignettes are presented to illustrate the range of motivations, personality structure, and experiences that meditators may have, and then teacher experiences are summarized to illustrate how they have adapted meditation practices to deal with meditator difficulties. Identifying information has been changed to protect confidentiality.

Meditator Experience (Three Vignettes)

Cracking the shell: Quest of unraveling.


Sara comes from an upperclass, ambitious family, which has no history of major mental illness. Her father, a successful businessman, wanted Sara to follow in his steps. She accordingly began work on a MBA, which was antithetical to her true desire to be an artist. In college, she generally felt depressed, saw a therapist a few times, and frequently turned to alcohol. She had an experience, however, while writing a paper about Blake, that everything was in her mind. This was freeing, and she felt that she had glimpsed a higher state of consciousness. After a year of misery in graduate school, she dropped out and turned to Zen, which was attractive because its simplicity and meditation practice promised freedom of mind despite life circumstances. Also, the Zen meditators seemed to constitute a more like-minded, understanding family than her family of origin.

Sara began working odd jobs and participating in all the activities of her Zen center. She attended morning, evening, and all-night sittings and seven-day retreats. The center was large, and she was "just a beginner," which meant that she did not have a position or duties. The center had a hierarchy of students with senior students playing major roles. Those who had "broken through" wore a special cloth, setting them apart. An "all or nothing" attitude pervaded the atmosphere, and people were encouraged to go to the extreme of practice. It was believed that the harder one worked, the longer and more one-pointedly one focused in meditation, the more likely one would experience kensho. The teacher, an American trained in Japan, was generally distant and formal. Sara admired him from afar, and they did not know each other well. She only talked with him during retreat interviews in which the teacher guides and tests each student's progress in meditation.

Sara does not remember whether students were screened in terms of their ability to handle meditation (this was in the mid-1970s). She said that one "had to be a good and devoted sitter" to attend a retreat. She never felt at risk in sitting strenuously and sat at least two hours a day when not in retreat. She had no problems until the retreat that preceded her psychotic break. That retreat occurred after she had seriously meditated for a year and a half. It was a seven-day retreat following another seven-day retreat that had ended a week before.

The retreat was intense. Sara meditated day and night with breaks for meals, chanting, work, and rest during the day and breaks for juice at night. She said that, fiercely intent on going deeper, she was able to sit full-lotus and did not experience pain. She had intense makyo (nonordinary sensations, perceptions, and emotions) but did not fear going crazy. The makyo involved mostly positive imagery except near the end, when there were demon-like faces. She also experienced going down a shaft, opening doors to different realities. At the end, she experienced an overwhelming sense of holiness and felt she had tapped into universal mind. She was able to let the makyo go and was sure she had broken through, as she could answer most of the teacher's questions, and he hugged her and seemed to appreciate her experience.

Following the retreat, Sara told others that she had broken through. Word got back to her teacher, and he told her otherwise. She thought that he just wanted her to go deeper, so meditated more. She experienced being like a bird in an egg, tapping to get out, and suddenly she heard tapping from the other side. She felt that God was revealing Himself and tapping to free her, and she was ready to "throw herself into the fire of consciousness to break through to His love." That was when she consciously decided to let her mind go. After that, everything seemed symbolic and had cosmological dimensions. She found her mind racing as she tried to figure everything out. She thought and thought and wandered around looking for her teacher, who she believed was God. Finally, she was hospitalized and received antipsychotic medication.


In the next few years, Sara went on and off medication and required further hospitalization. She returned to the Zen Center, but did not heed advice to take her medication, and eventually was not allowed to be there. She thought that she was going through an enlightening experience and did not understand people's concern. She felt hurt that they pushed her away.

Sara's experience in the mental health system was taxing. Few understood her experience and most were condescending. She felt that her mind was "unraveling," with all the major fears, desires, and "skeletons from the past" emerging into consciousness. She was helped most by a Buddhist psychiatrist who acknowledged the value and spiritual dimension of her experience and helped her remain grounded with medication and questions about mundane things.

Sara received a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
In trying to understand her experience, she assumes that she has some genetic, biochemical proclivity for psychosis and that her lack of control over the unraveling resembled schizophrenia. At the same time, the spiritual quest and her sense of release from past karma seemed different. Once the "unraveling" was complete, she felt more stable and peaceful than ever before and was able to discontinue medication.

Currently Sara meditates an hour a day. She follows her breath, thinks about things (though not in the prior searching way), and listens to her inner life. She lives alone and tries to live according to her ideas of simplicity and mindfulness. She believes that more intense meditation would be harmful. She also feels her spirituality is closer to Christianity at this point, in part because of her experience of God tapping at her shell.
She says that she does not often share her unique, personal, and somewhat mystical spiritual beliefs with others.

Terror alone: Snapping and song yet unsung.

Ada grew up in a "workaholic" home with parents too busy and striving to pay attention to a little girl. Sweets were soothers, and "happy and good" were the ways to be. As an infant, she was left to cry for hours, and she remembers three times of terror as a young child when she did not know where she was while in a familiar place. As a teenager, she experienced ecstasy while intensely writing poetry, which she felt was an avenue to a different type of consciousness.

Ada's involvement in meditation began in 1967 with TM (Transcendental Meditation), which helped calm her after a breakup with the "love of her life," Paul. Nine months later she entered a year-and-a-half practice of Vedanta, a form of Hindu mysticism, which involved meditating on a spiritual passage. Ada "upped the ante" after reading books by Watts (1957) and Kapleau (1965/1989) which describe Zen enlightenment experiences. She began practicing in earnest after meeting a Japanese Zen master in 1970 who was "dear and warm." Paul, also excited about Zen, came back into her life, and they sat and studied regularly with a group. It was a "high" time.

Ada was attracted to the "intensity, high drama, and do or die effort" of Rinzai Zen. It felt good to "bust her butt" and survive the pain of extended sitting. She does not remember which practice her teacher taught, but knows that she pushed herself to the limit. She took his words "just sit" to heart after seeking his help regarding a career in opera and a failed relationship with Paul. Thinking that her problems would be solved if she became enlightened, she meditated as much as possible. She attended at least one extended retreat a month with various teachers. When not in retreat, she sat for at least four hours a day and otherwise tried to remain in the moment. She felt peaceful and loving, more like herself than ever before. Veils fell from her eyes, and she experienced "everything just as it is." Yet, she still was unsure about her career. Conversations with others seemed trivial, and she cut off relationships and discontinued therapy. In retrospect, she thinks that her practice was an evasion of painful feelings, which would make themselves known at some point.

After six months of such practice, Ada attended a ten-day Theravada retreat involving concentration and mindfulness practices done alone in one's room. The teacher checked on each person daily and gave group talks. Ada had intense makyo during the retreat: crackling electricity traveled up and down her spine, and she felt profoundly relaxed as she recalled early memories of sounds and sights. Near the end of the retreat, she woke to an "absolute state" that she believed was kensho. First came cosmic pulsation with things flowing towards a single point and erupting back through it. Then appeared a sheet-like image with elements of reality floating. As she looked at them, she realized that they were her and that there was nothing in the universe except her. Rather than joy, she felt extreme fear and loneliness. The next morning, when she yearned for affirmation and advice, her teacher responded, "Now you know that you're afraid of being alone."

After the retreat and during the month prior to her "breakdown," Ada had another unbearable experience of loneliness. She also took LSD for the third time in her life and had a "terrifying trip" that involved disintegrating into bones. She willed herself out of that by refusing to accept it. She also was deeply "grabbed" (influenced) by Janov's "Primal Scream," and thought that if she reached and released her primal energy, she would be free. Then something "snapped," and she felt tremendous grief, then rage and terror. Only months later did she connect this experience to her grief about losing Paul.

The next few years were like "heavy labor with no rest" and "being in a tunnel without light." Ada could not talk about her pain and felt that people would lock her up if she did. She reentered therapy and tried other things as well: encounter and therapy groups, energy and body work, and Arica training, which involves meditation, yoga, body work, and psychological processing. The therapies never quite enabled her to reach and release her core problem. She also meditated and attended retreats, but found that her energies were too high to feel safe with meditation. She did not know how to transition back into the world of ordinary experience. She met with a Zen teacher who was also a psychoanalyst, but was not able to heed her advice because she (Ada) was too "freaked out" and emotionally disconnected. This teacher affirmed her kensho and "ripe" concentration practice, but advised that she needed more balance-work, singing, and a light meditation practice. Throughout this difficult period, she experienced one sign of hope: a dream of herself holding a tennis racket that resembled an Ankh, Egyptian sign of life.

Twenty years later and after even more therapy, Ada still struggles.
She believes that she has a borderline personality disorder and agrees with Engler's (1986) idea that you cannot go beyond yourself until you have a self. She does not meditate much for fear of what might come up but has worked with a Theravada-Zen teacher who meditated with her, demystified "enlightenment," and gave her feedback about her meditation. The technique of noticing what is prominent in the body and being with it helped her with pain a few times and offers hope. Ada says that when she first practiced, teachers were not psychologically sophisticated enough to ask about students' lives or to process emotional issues. She believes that she could have benefited from a moderate, gentle practice and advice to work, sing, and learn to relate better. I needed someone to investigate my big hurry and terrible race toward enlightenment, and to say that I was running from something."

Lost in thought: Twenty-four-hour practice.

Rose's family history involves mental illness: two siblings suffered psychosis or suicidal impulses, and her father, a physician and researcher, is riddled with phobias and compulsions. Rose's first psychotic episode occurred when she was nineteen and her second a year later. They were triggered by relationship stresses involving family and two gestalt therapists who she experienced as using her to work on their marital problems. The third occurred at age thirty-seven and the fourth at age thirty-nine. These related to not knowing her limits and becoming overextended and "lost" without realizing it. The last involved meditation, a "twenty-four-hour practice" as Rose calls it.

Rose first read a Buddhist book in her mid-twenties. She likes philosophy, thinking about mind and spirituality, and is interested in other cultures, and found Buddhism intellectually stimulating. Also, she felt frustrated with her psychosis and disliked the "deadening" effects of medication. She saw that TM helped a friend become less flighty and more able to be alone, and she hoped that meditation would help her gain control of her mind and be more content with herself. She did not begin meditating until her mid-thirties, however. At that time, stress over having a boyfriend in prison and exposure to Trungpa Rinpoche's (1969) Meditation in Action prompted her to seek instruction. She was told to follow her breath while sitting comfortably and to label any thoughts that arose as "thinking" and return to her breath.

Rose had two consecutive meditation instructors; she did not feel comfortable with either. She thought one was too strict and pushy about a particular type of training. She felt too intensely about the other and also worried that she was insensitive to him. Generally, she feels hemmed in and controlled by others' instructions. She ended up meditating on her own with little instruction and no supervision. She practiced at most three hours a week and generally did not meditate daily or at the same time every day.

Five years later, Rose met a Tibetan teacher who seemed to her to know what he was doing. He was not pushy about the practice, was careful about the effect of his words, and would stop if someone said he was going too far. He also tolerated doubt and skepticism and wanted people to think for themselves. She went to a weekend retreat that he led and was interviewed. Her only strange experience came before the interview. She felt driven to get up enough nerve to even have the interview and then experienced seeing a series of faces as she looked in a mirror. She had an "ordinary, down-to-earth conversation" with the teacher but did not mention the faces.

Rose did not tell her teachers about her prior psychotic episodes. They may have known about them through her therapist, but, if so, did not mention them to her. Her goal to overcome psychosis through meditation was never clarified.

The Tibetan teacher emphasized a "twenty-four-hour" practice of mindfulness as well as sitting meditation. This appealed to Rose and she began sitting for hours, letting her mind wander while half noticing her breath and other things. She discontinued her antipsychotic medication on her own a few months after the retreat. She also was working less, so she had less structure and contact with people. Moreover, the Los Angeles riots occurring after the Rodney King verdict of 1994 upset her greatly. Due to a foot injury, she then lost her usual way of stabilizing her mind, which was running. Running relaxed her and slowed her mind so that thoughts came more gradually and were more to the point. Around the same time, she saw another face in the mirror and began having intense fantasies involving reincarnation and Christian symbols. These experiences became more important than details of her everyday life, and she lacked her usual awareness and her usual fear that she was going too far. Her psychotic break occurred six months after the retreat.

Rose was hospitalized and she resumed medication. Her diagnosis has been paranoid schizophrenia. She finds the diagnosis hurtful and limiting, a label of being different and "all washed up." It also pressures her to become well and "enlightened." "Psychosis does not mean you're better or worse than others; it's just what has happened to a person in her life."

For her practice Rose now uses a Yoga tape that helps induce sleep through relaxation of different parts of the body. She thinks about seeing the Tibetan teacher again but does not feel ready to face questions about why she wants to meditate and see him. Her spirituality is private. She is trying to regain a sense of wonder and to accept her life, freed from the compulsion to be like everyone else.

Teacher Experience. Understanding of nonordinary states of consciousness (NSC).

The Buddhist teachers interviewed in this study (four Zen, four Theravadan, four Tibetan, all teaching in the U.S.) understand NSC as phenomena that often emerge as practice progresses. Similar to the "unstressing" cited in TM literature (Carrington, 1977; Goleman, 1971), NSC common in early phases of Buddhist meditation include disturbing emotions and fantasies, perceptual aberrations and hallucinations, memories, and proprioceptive sensations and movements (see also, Epstein & Lieff, 1986; Komfield, 1979). A Zen teacher noted that NSC at a later "preawakening" phase are different from earlier NSC. They tend to be either very alluring, often involving religious symbols and blissful feelings, or very frightening and evocative of doubt. Two Tibetan teachers noted that in advanced Tantric practices, visions of deified aspects of mind (yidams) can resemble psychosis in that they are both real and imaginary, external and internal.

The teachers defined psychosis as a problem of overidentifying with NSC and being unable to disidentify and let go. Also, several teachers said that psychosis involves an inability to function and respond in normal ways. Some Zen teachers noted that samadhi and kensho can involve a loss of functioning that can last from minutes to hours, however.

The teachers posited various reasons for NSC, some related to meditation and others not. All correlated NSC with deepening concentration, which seems to settle the usual discursive mind and allow other layers of mind to emerge, layers seen as tainted by the defilements of existence. The Theravadans especially emphasized that NSC emerge and become problematic when concentration is not balanced with adequate mindfulness, which can cleanse the mind of these defilements. Zen teachers suggested that incorrect posture and breathing also contribute. Tibetan teachers spoke of how an improper use of certain advanced meditation practices leads to an incorrect flow of energy in the body. All of the teachers noted that excessive effort and striving creates problems with NSC; the Asian teachers said that perhaps this was a bigger problem for meditators in the East because they have been culturally conditioned to seek enlightenment. Factors not related to meditation include health imbalances arising from lack of sleep, poor diet, and stress.

Dealing with NSC.

NSC are relatively common during intensive, prolonged meditation, and teachers are accustomed to dealing with them. Some Theravadans estimated that during a three-month retreat, about half of the students experience NSC. In dealing with these, teachers generally assure students that such phenomena occur with deepening practice but will pass. They try to help the student just observe the experience without denying, rejecting, or indulging it. They may supportively listen, such as when memories of trauma emerge, or on the other hand, they may make light of NSC that the student mistakes for enlightenment. Theravadans tend to focus on "mindfulness in the present moment" and may have the student "mentally note" the experience without getting caught up in its content. Zen teachers may correct the student's posture and breathing. A Tibetan teacher noted that he circumvents problems with NSC by checking for health imbalances that cause difficulties and has students start with a short practice and gradually increase time meditating as they gain insight.

When NSC is more extreme, a student may become paralyzed and unable to follow meditation instruction. At this point, most teachers advocate decreasing concentration on the meditative object, such as a koan or the breath; instead they ask the student to develop a more panoramic mindfulness of internal and external stimuli. This can mean "lightening up" and just watching the mind without judgment and effort to practice. Theravadans may have the student focus mindfully on the body or what is happening presently in the mind. Zen teachers may switch a student from a more concentrative koan practice, which tends to suppress unconscious material, to shikantaza or breath practice, which allows material to emerge more naturally and slowly. Teachers may also have more frequent interviews with the student, decrease the student's sitting time, and involve the student in "grounding" physical activities. A Tibetan and Theravadan commented that they sometimes confront a student's NSC as being "crazy." Some Theravadans have found that acupuncture treatment and heavier meals of meat and pasta can be helpful as well.

The teachers identified a number of signs that these extreme NSC could foreshadow a psychotic break. These include obsession with the NSC, more negative, fearful, and bizarre NSC, fear of going crazy, aberrant behavior, and emotionally disconnected "schizoid" states. One teacher thought that people prone to psychosis have more rage and self-pity and fewer moments of sadness and clarity than those who are not prone. Another teacher said that lack of humility is a sign of difficulty. These warning signs generally signal a need to discontinue or lighten up in practice.

The teachers found that psychosis, estimated to occur in far less that one percent of meditators, can develop at either initial or advanced stages of practice. During initial stages, it can rather easily occur in people with a history of psychosis; it relates to the student's inability to use meditation practices to stabilize the mind as defenses are relaxed. A Zen teacher said that he knows of a few cases where psychosis occurred after a retreat. He finds that stripped of their usual defenses, students can become depressed and overstimulated when they reenter ordinary life. In more advanced stages, psychosis is very rare because meditators have developed more equanimity or ability to observe and let go of mental content. Psychosis at advanced states usually relates to excess concentration and overexertion. The Tibetans called this a "sokrlung" disorder, which involves energy moving improperly in the body. Several teachers noted that Western meditators tend to give up meditation when they encounter difficulty. Few reach advanced stages of practice where meditation-related psychosis can occur.

If psychosis occurs in initial phases of practice, the student is asked to discontinue meditation and may be asked to leave the retreat or be hospitalized if they cannot return to ordinary functioning. A Theravadan said that, for more advanced meditators who develop true meditation-related psychosis, he may ask the student to focus on the state of mind as an object of mindfulness. If that fails, he may try to get at the deeper meaning of the problem or change the object of mindfulness. A Tibetan advised that advanced meditators need a qualified teacher to help with the practice used and to differentiate between psychotic states and true spiritual visions. Another Tibetan noted that advanced practices are meant to provoke confusion and extreme states. He tries to help people find balance between withstanding discomfort and knowing their limits so that they do not damage themselves.

Adapting to Western students.

The teachers reported that they have learned more about psychology in working with Western students, some with major mental illness and many with motivation to deal with psychological problems. Several teachers noted that they consult with mental health professionals regarding severe psychological problems in their students. Teachers who were demanding of students twenty years ago have become more moderate and gentle. They now believe that vigorous approaches help some students, but that in general, pushing students to "break through" does not facilitate integration of enlightenment experience and can damage students who are psychologically fragile. They emphasized knowing students so that practice can be tailor-made for each student's temperament and needs. Teachers with students who have a major mental illness said that they advocate moderation, teach initial mindfulness-breath practices, and increase their monitoring of the student's practice. Two said that metta or loving-kindness meditation can help as well, because such students often suffer from poor self-esteem. Many also encourage utilization of Western medication and therapy and restrict such students from attending retreats that last more than two days. Teachers also have instituted screening questionnaires and interviews to assess students' ability to handle meditation, asking about things such as prior history of psychosis and health status. Such screening has virtually eliminated problems with students becoming psychotic during initial practice, even though some students lied about their history. Teachers still have difficulty assessing students who do not have a history of psychosis. One noted that he knows of several high-functioning, articulate, and humorous people who had brief psychotic episodes during advanced Tibetan practices. Generally, teachers reported that too much effort and too much or too little anxiety can signal difficulties and that high-strung, emotionally volatile people have more intense and frequent NSC. The teachers tend to deal with these people by supportively listening and guiding, paying more attention than before to psychological issues. The Zen teacher who noted students' vulnerability after retreats has also started checking on fragile students a few days after a retreat.

DISCUSSION

It is apparent that Buddhist teachers have become more psychologically sophisticated in working with Western students over the past thirty-five years and have adapted traditional meditation practices to deal with extreme mental states that may arise during intensive meditation. The meditator vignettes illustrate some of the difficulties that can occur when a student's life, motivations, and vulnerabilities are not well understood, and when a student leaves the monitored and protected retreat milieu. The experiences of Sara and Ada suggest that narcissistic issues around grandiosity and borderline issues around abandonment can be activated in more advanced stages of meditation. They also illustrate how extreme effort to attain enlightenment can itself be a symptom and can create harmful imbalance in the mind and daily life. With such students, teachers may need to emphasize other aspects of Buddhist training besides meditation, e.g., relationships in the community (sangha) and moral precepts (shila). Rose's experience suggests that it may be difficult for students with a major mental illness to openly discuss their concerns with a teacher. Teachers may need to be more active with such students in discussing mental illness and being clear and supportive in their suggestions for practice. They can also foster community understanding and support.

Implications for the Clinical Use of Meditation

Meditation can enhance self-awareness and self-regulation, goals of most psychotherapies in working with a broad range of patients. Similar to expressive psychotherapies that aim at uncovering the unconscious, meditation has "derepressive" and destabilizing effects (Wilber, 1986). In both meditation and psychotherapy, one must deal with issues of personality structure, motivation, resistance, and relationship as the mind opens up to itself and becomes more integrated and stable.

This study has a number of implications for therapists who "prescribe" meditation or work with patients who meditate as a spiritual practice: 1) Most people will not have difficulties with meditation unless they meditate intensively. This is consistent with Glueck and Stroebel's (1975) findings that psychiatric patients benefited from TM at prescribed twenty-minute periods twice a day, but were prone to psychosis when meditating more. 2) Some meditative practices are more appropriate than others, depending on a patient's needs. Initial concentrative practices that focus on the breath can help patients calm themselves but, if engaged in over an extensive period of time, may result in NSC that are experienced as troublesome. Initial mindfulness practices involving breathing, mental noting, and awareness of body sensations may help patients become more grounded in the present. Metta meditation (Salzberg, 1995) can help develop a sense of kindness towards oneself and others. Any physical activity, including martial arts and yoga, can be an antidote for overwhelming thoughts and emotions. 3) Most meditators will discontinue meditation when frustrated or remain beginners because of the dedication, perseverance, and time it takes to develop meditation skills. As Allen (1995) points out, meditation and other self-regulation techniques are simple but require motivation and practice. Because of self-hatred, patients often fail to do things to care for themselves. Thus, resistance to self-care must be explored and encouragement to begin and maintain practice must be given. 4) Although Westerners tend to focus on Buddhist meditation, other aspects of Buddhist training, such as being a member of a community and practicing moral precepts, may be equally or more helpful for psychological and spiritual development.

In sum, Buddhist practices, as being adapted by teachers in the West, seem to offer a promising avenue of psychological and spiritual development. Possibilities for further study of the interface between Buddhist practice and Western psychology abound. For example, one could focus on the nature and use of transference in student-teacher relationships. A teacher in this study noted that he treats students differently at different stages of their practice: he is a parent in initial phases, a guide as the student becomes more independent, a spiritual friend who can also learn from the student, and finally not a teacher at all. Sexual relationships and the power differential between teachers and students have been topics of animated discussion and could be studied as well.

GLOSSARY

kensho-Zen expression for the experience of awakening or breaking through normal consciousness to realize one's true nature and the nonduality of the "Absolute" (nirvana) and "Relative" (samsara).

jhana (Pali) (dhyana. Skt.)-a degree of absorption on a continuum (eight jhanas altogether), beginning with a full break with normal consciousness that is characterized by absorption in the meditative object to the exclusion of other thoughts and sensory awareness.

koan-Zen teaching phrase or story that presents a paradox unsolvable through logic or reason. In concentrating on a koan and attempting to solve it, one is forced to transcend discursive thinking and realize a world beyond dualism. It is used to promote initial kensho and subsequently, to deepen realization.

makyo--Zen term for the deceptive, illusory sensations and feelings that arise in meditation.

nirvana (nibbana, Pali)-the "absolute" or unconditioned, uncreated, unformed realm beyond and underlying consensual. phenomenal reality (samsara), Awakening to nirvana and realizing it in samsara is the goal of meditation.

prajna (panna, Pali)-"insight wisdom." The definitive moment of prajna is insight into emptiness [shunyata], which is the true nature of reality.

prana-life force. "wind," or energy that in Eastern thought circulates through channels in the body and supports life processes.

Rinzai-one of the two major schools of Japanese Zen. Koans are an integral part of its practices.

samadhi-nondualistic state of consciousness reached when the mind becomes absorbed in an object through focus on the object and calming the mind.

samatha (Pali) (shamatha, Skt.)-"calm abiding" or "dwelling in tranquility." One of the two major branches of meditative practices in Buddhism. Samatha calms the mind and culminates in samadhi and jhana levels of absorption.

samsara-the "relative" or conventional, phenomenal reality conditioned by the three "unwholesome" roots (attachment, aversion, ignorance) that tie beings to worldly existence, which involves birth, sickness, old age, and death.

shikantaza- "just sitting," A form of Zen practice that involves a neutral, mindful observation of thoughts and sensations as they come and go.

shila (sila, Pali)-precepts or ethical guidelines for those on the Buddhist path. More broadly speaking, it refers to morality based on insight-wisdom.

shunyata (sunnata;Pali)-"emptiness." Central notion of Buddhism that phenomena, including "self," have no inherent or independent existence.

vipassana (PaU) (vipashyana, Skt.)-"special insight" or "clear seeing." One of the two major branches of Buddhist meditation practices. Vipassana develops prajna or insight-wisdom. It is sometimes used to describe Theravada meditation practices, which involve careful cultivation of mindfulness in early stages of practice. Technically, true vipassana does not begin until mindfulness and concentration are well-developed and balanced.

yidam-"deity" that practitioners visualize in advanced Vajrayana practices. Yidams involve primal energy and emotions.

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Re: Mindfulness Meditation Research: Issues of Participant S

Postby admin » Mon Feb 25, 2019 7:47 am

Mania precipitated by meditation: A case report and literature review
by Graeme A. Yorston
St. Andrew's Hospital, Northampton, UK
Mental Health Religion & Culture, November 2001

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ABSTRACT

Meditation is a popular method of relaxation and dealing with everyday stress. Meditative techniques have been used in the management of a number of psychiatric and physical illnesses. The risk of serious mental illness being precipitated by meditation is less well recognized however. This paper reports a case in which two separate manic episodes arose after meditation using techniques from two different traditions (yoga and zen). Other cases of psychotic illness precipitated by meditation and mystical speculation reported in the literature are discussed.

Introduction

Meditation as a method of relaxation and dealing with everyday stress is becoming increasingly popular in the West with an estimated six million practitioners in the USA alone (Graham, 1986). A variety of techniques are in use but most owe their origins to oriental practices. Meditation has also been used as a therapeutic tool in psychiatry for behaviour modification (de Silva, 1984), as part of a holistic programme for chronic schizophrenia (Lukoff et al., 1986) and as an adjunct to dynamic psychotherapy (Kutz, 1985). A number of recent studies have examined the effects of meditation on physical illness (Kabat-Zinn et al., 1998;Wenneberg et al., 1997)

Meditation is generally considered safe with beneficial effects on mental health rather than as a potential trigger for psychiatric illness but there are reports in the literature of the hazards of meditation: Walsh and Roche (1979) described three cases of psychotic illness precipitated by meditation in subjects already diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia who had discontinued medication. Garcia-Trujillo et al. (1992) described a further two cases of acute psychosis precipitated by oriental meditation in subjects previously diagnosed as schizotypal personality disorder. Chan-Ob and Boonyanaruthee (1999) report a further three patients who presented with psychotic symptoms after practicing meditation. French et al. (1975) reported a single case of ‘altered reality testing’ after transcendental meditation. The precipitation of psychotic illness by Jewish mystical speculation has also been reported (Greenberg et al., 1992). Krieger and Zussman (1981) reported a case of a brief reactive psychosis in a Thai immigrant to the USA which occurred after confronting a family Buddhist mortuary ritual.

A review of the literature failed to reveal any cases of affective disorder being precipitated by meditative techniques. This paper reports a case in which two separate manic episodes were precipitated by periods of intense meditation using techniques from two different traditions (yoga and zen).

Case report

Miss X, a 25-year old self-employed, university graduate presented with a two week history of increased talkativeness, sleeplessness, over-activity and disinhibited behaviour. The onset followed a weekend yoga course that encouraged psychological release. She telephoned her instructor frequently, often in the middle of the night, offering undying love. She also pushed her hand through a window and sustained minor lacerations. There was no past psychiatric history but she had experienced brief periods of low mood 10 and six years previously which had resolved without psychiatric intervention. There was a family history of depression in her father who had received electro-convulsive therapy, and of late life depression in her paternal grandmother. Her birth and milestones were normal. There was no history of illicit drug use.

She was admitted informally to hospital but was detained when she became irritable and aggressive and insisted on leaving. At interview she shouted and tried to embrace some members of staff, but struck out at others. There was pressure of speech, thought disorder with flight of ideas, her mood was elevated and there were grandiose delusions including the belief that she had some special mission for the world: she had to offer ‘undying, unconditional’ love to everyone. She had no insight. A diagnosis of manic episode was made and she was treated with haloperidol 10mg daily and lorazepam up to 4mg daily and her symptoms were gradually controlled over the next six weeks. She refused mood-stabilizing medication.

At outpatient follow up she was noted to be mildly hypomanic on two occasions (the second after a sesshin or intensive Zen meditation weekend) but these episodes responded to chlorpromazine without admission to hospital. She agreed to a trial of carbamazepine 800mg daily which she took for two years. She also underwent twice weekly psychodynamic psychotherapy for over two years.

Two months after entering a Zen Buddhist retreat that she had been associated with for two years, she re-presented with a five-day history of sleeplessness, decreased appetite and labile affect. At interview she laughed inappropriately and had outbursts of activity – lying on her bed one moment, jumping off the next. She made stereotypical praying movements, was sexually disinhibited, restless, distractible and irritable. She was thought disordered with pressure of speech. Though admitted informally she soon insisted on leaving and attacked a member of staff. She was detained and transferred to an intensive psychiatric care unit for three days where treatment with haloperidol 6mg and lorazepam 3mg was commenced. Her mental state settled over the next eight weeks. She continued to refuse mood stabilizing treatment and re-entered the Buddhist retreat.

Discussion

The precipitation of mania by meditation has not been described before yet descriptions of the altered state of consciousness (ASC) associated with contemplative practice abound in the mystic literature of different religions (Buckley, 1981). Zen is a Japanese school of Buddhism – the word itself derives from Sanskrit dhyana or meditation and it is meditation or mindfulness that forms the essence of the Zen philosophy of life. A euphoric state of enlightenment called satori is sometimes achieved by experienced monks (Humphreys, 1962). Thapa and Murtha (1985) compared the subjective accounts of ASCs in subjects with complex partial seizures, schizophrenia and meditators from ashrams and other religious organizations in India. They found the core experiential characteristics of perceptual distortion were common to all three ASCs but important differences existed such as only the meditative ASC being accompanied by a positive emotional effect. The authors did not include manic patients in their study so were unable to make direct comparisons with the experiences in mania. Lukoff (1988) however reported in a single case study that seven of the eight dimensions of mystical experience described by Stace (1960) were experienced by a manic patient.

There is evidence that mystical experiences have a neuro-biological basis possibly in the right temporal lobe (Fenwick, 1996) and contemplative meditation which can lead to such experiences can be studied in experimental conditions (Deikman, 1963, 1964). Lou et al. (1999) have shown a differential cerebral blood flow distribution in meditative states and normal consciousness.

Students practise Zen to develop concentration without thinking (Watts, 1962) but this can be difficult and novices are often bombarded by distracting stimuli – both external and intrapsychic which can continue after the meditation session leading to insomnia. There is evidence to suggest sleep deprivation may act as a final common pathway in the onset of mania (Kasper & Wehr, 1992; Wehr, 1991; Wright, 1993) and it is possible that it was the pressure of thought stirred up by meditation that disrupted the patient’s sleep and precipitated the manic episode in this case and in two of the cases reported by Chan-Ob and Boonyanaruthee (1999). Interestingly the patient herself likened both episodes of mania to a release of tension and blocked energy from years of not dealing with emotions in a helpful way.

Other evidence for psychological precipitants for mania comes from life events (Sclare & Creed, 1990) and expressed emotion (Miklowitz et al., 1986) research. These factors appear to be most important in the first episode of illness, the effects lessening with each subsequent episode. These observations have been suggested as evidence in support of the kindling hypothesis (Silverstone & Romans-Clarkson, 1989). The move to the retreat and adoption of a different lifestyle in this case must have been a significant stressor. Indeed, religious change in itself can be associated with psychiatric illness: Witztum et al. (1990) showed high rates of serious mental illness in converts to ultra-orthodox Judaism in Jerusalem and speculated that, for some, the conversion may have been an attempt to control emerging signs of psychiatric illness.

Other more established risk factors for mania in this case are the positive family history of affective disorder and the discontinuation of carbamazepine (Scull & Trimble, 1995).

The orthodox psychiatric diagnosis in this case was bipolar affective disorder. Grof and Grof (1986) have argued however that traditional psychiatric thinking fails to recognize the difference between mystical and psychotic experiences, tending to underestimate the potential for a healing and positive transformation of what the authors term a transpersonal crisis. It is important to remember that other cultures have and do classify what we now call psychoses in different ways and that, as Carey (1997) has advocated, knowledge drawn from different approaches should be respected and allowed to contribute to the scientific study of mental illness. The absence of previous reports of mania precipitated by meditation despite its apparent potency at inducing euphoric states of consciousness suggests that adequate practice and supervision may enable the subject to learn to control the emergence of intrapsychic material. If this is so, then it could have implications for reducing the risk of relapse in this patient and potentially in others. Thus, although our understanding of the psychology and neurobiology of meditation is growing (see West, 1987) for a comprehensive review) it deserves more study.

_______________

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Re: Mindfulness Meditation Research: Issues of Participant S

Postby admin » Mon Feb 25, 2019 8:30 am

Schizotypy and mindfulness: Magical thinking without suspiciousness characterizes mindfulness meditators
by Elena Antonova a, Kavitha Amaratunga a, Bernice Wright a, Ulrich Ettinger b, Veena Kumari a,c,*
© 2016 The Authors.

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a King's College London, Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience (IoPPN), Department of Psychology, London, UK b University of Bonn, Department of Psychology, Bonn, Germany c NIHR Biomedical Research Centre for Mental Health, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, London, UK

ABSTRACT

Despite growing evidence for demonstrated efficacy of mindfulness in various disorders, there is a continuous concern about the relationship between mindfulness practice and psychosis. As schizotypy is part of the psychosis spectrum, we examined the relationship between long-term mindfulness practice and schizotypy in two independent studies. Study 1 included 24 experienced mindfulness practitioners (19 males) from the Buddhist tradition (meditators) and 24 meditation-naïve individuals (all males). Study 2 consisted of 28 meditators and 28 meditation-naïve individuals (all males). All participants completed the Schizotypal Personality Questionnaire (Raine, 1991), a self-report scale containing 9 subscales (ideas of reference, excessive social anxiety, magical thinking, unusual perceptual experiences, odd/eccentric behavior, no close friends, odd speech, constricted affect, suspiciousness). Participants of study 2 also completed the Five-Facet Mindfulness Questionnaire which assesses observing (Observe), describing (Describe), acting with awareness (Awareness), non-judging of (Non-judgment) and non-reactivity to inner experience (Non-reactivity) facets of trait mindfulness. In both studies, meditators scored significantly lower on suspiciousness and higher on magical thinking compared to meditation-naïve individuals and showed a trend towards lower scores on excessive social anxiety. Excessive social anxiety correlated negatively with Awareness and Non-judgment; and suspiciousness with Awareness, Non-judgment and Nonreactivity facets across both groups. The two groups did not differ in their total schizotypy score. We conclude that mindfulness practice is not associated with an overall increase in schizotypal traits. Instead, the pattern suggests that mindfulness meditation, particularly with an emphasis on the Awareness, Nonjudgment and Non-reactivity aspects, may help to reduce suspiciousness and excessive social anxiety.

1. Introduction

Mindfulness is a translation of the Pali term sati that in meditation context refers to remembering to keep awareness of one's practice. Mindfulness practice normally proceeds in stages, starting from the mindfulness of bodily sensations to awareness of feelings and thoughts, ultimately aimed at developing a present-centered awareness without an explicit focus. These stages are apparent in most schools of Buddhism, as well as in Mindfulness-Based Interventions (MBIs) such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR; Kabat-Zinn, 1990) and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT; Segal et al., 2002). Mindfulness practice as incorporated in MBIs is often contrasted with more effortful concentration-based practices such as those taught in Theravada Buddhism (Bishop et al., 2004). The traditions of Buddhism most closely aligned with mindfulness as taught in MBSR and MBCT are Dzogchen and Mahamudra, which take a gentle approach to practice by letting go of any striving to achieve a particular mental state, and simply resting in a present-centered awareness free of emotional reactivity and conceptual elaboration (Dunne, 2011; Kabat-Zinn, 2011).

MBSR has been shown to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety, and to improve general well-being in a number of physical and psychological conditions (meta-analysis, Hofmann et al., 2010; Zainal et al., 2013), as well as in healthy populations (meta-analysis, Khoury et al., 2015). MBCT has been reported to prevent depression relapse (Teasdale, 2000), and to be at least as effective as anti-depressants (Kuyken et al., 2015). Mindfulness as a trait also inversely correlates with anxiety and depression in healthy individuals (Baer et al., 2004). Despite this transdiagnostic efficacy of MBIs, the relationship between mindfulness and psychosis is currently unclear.

There are persistent concerns that mindfulness might induce psychosis in vulnerable individuals and even in people with no previous history or known vulnerability to psychosis based on a number of single-case studies that appear to suggest that meditation can induce acute psychotic episodes in individuals with a history of schizophrenia (Walsh and Roche, 1979), as well as in people without a history of psychiatric illness (Sethi and Subhash, 2003; Yorston, 2001). However, as discussed in more detail by Shonin et al. (2014), in all these cases the individuals were involved in intensive meditation retreats, and it is unclear to what extent the meditation practices that the described cases were engaged with are in line with the approach employed in MBIs. A number of MBIs for psychosis conducted to date, although mostly preliminary, suggest that mindfulness practice of short duration can actually alleviate the distress associated with psychotic symptoms, such as hearing voices, and reduce depression and anxiety (Abba et al., 2008; Chadwick et al., 2008, 2009; Escudero-Perez et al., 2015; Moritz et al., 2015; Randal et al., 2015; Strauss et al., 2015; Tong et al., 2015; Ubeda-Gomez et al., 2015).

With a clinical prevalence of about 7 per 1000 in the adult population, psychosis is more common among the general population than previously assumed (Johns et al., 2004) and is expressed along a continuum (Verdoux and Van Os, 2002). Schizotypy is a psychological construct, encompassing a range of personality traits and cognitions that are similar to psychosis but less severe in nature (Ettinger et al., 2014). According to Raine et al. (1995), schizotypy is characterized by nine dimensions: ideas of reference, excessive social anxiety, magical thinking, unusual perceptual experiences, eccentric behavior or appearance, no close friends or confidants, odd speech, constricted affect and suspiciousness. Schizotypy clearly encompasses both psychosis-like symptoms and symptoms related to anxiety and depression.

The main aim of the present study therefore was to examine the relationship between regular long-term (N2 years) practice of mindfulness and the dimensions of schizotypy (Raine, 1991) in two independent studies. Based on the reviewed evidence for the positive effects of mindfulness on anxiety and depression, it was hypothesized that experienced meditators will score lower on the excessive social anxiety and constricted affect compared to meditation-naïve individuals. Given the lack of any direct data on this topic, no specific predictions were made in relation to other schizotypy dimensions. It was, however, anticipated that any associations present in both studies, even if with a small effect size,would represent true effects. Study 2, in addition to aiming to replicate the findings of Study 1, explored the relationship between the dimensions of schizotypy and the facets of trait mindfulness indexed by the Five Facets Mindfulness questionnaire (FFMQ) (Baer et al., 2006).

2. Methods

2.1. Participants and design


This investigation included two independent studies. Study 1 included 24 experienced lay meditators (19 males) and 24 meditation-naïve individuals (all males). The meditators were recruited from Buddhist centers across the UK via posters and advertisements. Meditators had to have been consistent in their practice for over 2 years, practicing at least 6 days a week for a minimum of 45 min a day, and were drawn from Dzogchen and Mahamudra traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. Meditation-naïve individuals had to have no experience of mindfulness-related practices including meditation, yoga, tai chi, chi gong, or martial arts and were recruited from a database of healthy volunteers as well as emails and circulars sent to the students and staff of King's College London. Study 2 included 28 experienced male meditators mainly from Zen, Theravada, Vajrayana and Triratna traditions of Buddhism, and 28 meditation-naïve male individuals, recruited in the same way as Study 1 using the same criteria.

Additional inclusion criteria for both studies included IQ N 80 as assessed by Wechsler Abbreviated Scale of Intelligence (Wechsler, 1999), age between 18 and 60 years, non-smoking and not drinking more than 28 units of alcohol per week. Participants with diagnosis of neuropsychiatric disorders, current or past, substance abuse and/ or regular prescription medication as assessed by the screening interview were excluded.

The study procedures were approved by King's College London research ethics committee. Participants provided written informed consent to their participation and were compensated for their time.

2.2. Assessment of schizotypal personality traits and mindfulness

All participants completed the Schizotypal Personality Questionnaire (SPQ) (Raine, 1991) which contains 9 subscales: ideas of reference, excessive social anxiety, magical thinking, unusual perceptual experiences, odd/eccentric behavior, no close friends, odd speech, constricted affect and suspiciousness. This 74-item assessment of DSM-III-R schizotypal personality disorder provides an overall score of individual differences in schizotypal personality in addition to the scores of the above-mentioned subscales. With high internal reliability (0.90), test–retest reliability (0.82), convergent validity (0.59) and discriminant and criterion validity (0.63, 0.68), it is considered a well-validated measure of schizotypy.

All participants of Study 2 also completed the FFMQ (Baer et al., 2006) to investigate the relationship between trait mindfullness and schizotypy. FFMQ has been derived from factor analysis performed on five of the most commonly used mindfulness measures. The five facets are observing (Observe), describing (Describe), acting with awareness (Awareness), non-judging of inner experience (Nonjudgment), and non-reactivity to inner experience (Non-reactivity) as assessed using Likert scale with 39 items. FFMQ has high internal consistency, ranging from 0.75 (Non-reactivity) to 0.91 (Describe).

2.3. Data analysis

Group differences in age, IQ, FFMQ and SPQ scores were examined using independent sample t-tests, run separately for the two studies. Given the significant difference in age and IQ between the meditator and meditation-naïve groups in Study 1 (Table 1), we examined the relationship of SPQ scores with age and IQ, and then re-evaluated the group difference in one of the SPQ subscales (no close friends) that showed a positive association with IQ (in Study 1), using analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) co-varying for IQ.

In Study 2, we examined the correlations between trait mindfulness (FFMQ) and SPQ (total and subscale) scores across both samples, and then separately in the meditator and meditation-naïve groups. Given the limited range of scores on some SPQ subscales, we report Spearman correlations (the same pattern of associations was observed with Pearson's r).

All data analysis was conducted using IBM Statistical Package for Social Sciences (version 22). The alpha level of significance (two-tailed) was set at p=0.05 in all analyses unless specified otherwise.

3. Results

Demographic characteristics of the meditator and meditation naïve groups, along with the descriptive statistics and group differences in SPQ and FFMQ scores, are presented in Table 1.

Table 1: Demographic characteristics, trait mindfulness and schizotypal scores of the meditator and meditation-naive groups.

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3.1. Study 1

Meditators were older and had higher IQ than meditation-naïve individuals (Table 1). Meditators scored significantly higher on ‘magical thinking’ and significantly lower on the ‘suspiciousness’, ‘constricted affect’ and ‘no close friends’ subscales of the SPQ relative to meditation-naïve individuals. The two groups did not differ in total schizotypy scores (Table 1). Unexpectedly, there was a significant negative correlation between IQ and ‘no close friends’ subscale scores (across all participants, r=−0.324, p=0.04) and the significant difference between the meditator and meditation-naïve groups in ‘no close friends’ scores was abolished when we controlled for IQ (p N 0.20). IQ and age were not correlated with ‘excessive social anxiety’, ‘magical thinking’ or ‘suspiciousness’ (or with any other SPQ subscale) scores.

3.2. Study 2

The meditator and meditation-naïve groups were comparable on age and IQ (Table 1). Replicating the observations of Study 1, meditators scored significantly higher on ‘magical thinking’ and lower on ‘suspiciousness’ relative to meditation-naïve individuals. They also scored lower, at trend-level, on ‘excessive social anxiety’ (a weak trend also present in Study 1). As in Study 1, total SPQ profile did not significantly differ between the two groups (Table 1). Age and IQ did not correlate with SPQ (total or subscale) scores.

Meditators scored significantly higher on the Observe, Nonjudgment and Non-reactivity mindfulness facets of FFMQ compared to meditation-naïve individuals (Table 1). Across all participants (n = 56), there were negative correlations of ‘excessive social anxiety’ with Awareness and Non-judgment; ‘odd speech’ with Describe and Awareness; ‘constricted affect’ with Awareness and Nonjudgment; and ‘suspiciousness’ with Awareness, Non-judgment and Non-reactivity (Table 2). Both the meditator and meditation-naïve groups contributed to all these relationships, except for the negative correlation between suspiciousness and Non-reactivity, which was present mainly in the meditator group (Table 2).

4. Discussion

In line with our a priori hypothesis, meditators, compared to the meditation-naïve individuals, scored significantly lower on ‘constricted affect’ in Study 1, and showed a trend level for lower scores on ‘excessive social anxiety’ in both studies. In addition, meditators scored significantly higher on ‘magical thinking’, and significantly lower on ‘suspiciousness’ in both studies. In relation to the association between (FFMQ) trait mindfulness and (SPQ) schizotypy dimensions (Study 2), lower ‘excessive social anxiety’ and ‘constricted affect’ scores were associated with higher Awareness and Nonjudgment; lower ‘odd speech’ with higher Awareness and Describe; and lower ‘suspiciousness’ with higher Awareness, Non-judgment and Non-reactivity scores.

‘Constricted affect’ relating to a form of emotional blunting (Raine, 1991) appears to be positively affected only by the mindfulness practice styles of Dzogchen and Mahamudra (Study 1) which are most similar to the MBSR/MBCT approach, as this schizotypy dimension did not significantly differentiate the long-term meditators drawn from Zen, Vipassana, Theravada, Vajrayana and Triratna traditions of Buddhism from the meditation-naïve participants in Study 2. The ‘excessive social anxiety’ subscale relates to overt physiological changes along with a high degree of nervousness and anxiety (Raine, 1991). The finding of lower scores in meditators on this subscale, albeit non-significant, is in line with the notion that mindfulness training reduces anxiety (e.g., Khoury et al., 2015). Significant inverse correlations of lower ‘excessive social anxiety’ and ‘constricted affect’ scores with higher Awareness and Non-judgment scores suggest that mindfulness trait alleviates the so called negative symptoms of schizotypy via non-judgemental present-centered awareness, and this effect could be strengthened by mindfulness practice as suggested by significantly higher scores on the Non-judgment facet in long-term meditators, compared to meditation-naïve individuals. This is in line with preliminary evidence showing ameliorating effects of mindfulness training on symptoms of anxiety and depression in people with psychosis by reducing self-critical attitudes and developing non-judgmental present-centered awareness, as well as self-acceptance and self-compassion (review, Shonin et al., 2014).

Table 2: Spearman rank order correlations between mindfulness facets (FFMQ) and schizotypy (SPQ) dimensions in Study 2.

[x]

One of our novel findings is that meditators scored significantly lower on ‘suspiciousness’ in both samples. Although not specifically hypothesized, this finding is highly relevant to the clinical applications of mindfulness for the prevention and treatment of psychosis. From the time of Kraepelin, suspiciousness and paranoia have been considered to be among the main symptoms of psychosis (Kendler et al., 1996). These symptoms may stem from the avoidance of personal exposure and negative self-image, distorting reality in the process so as to strengthen impaired self-esteem (Bentall et al., 2008; Oxman et al., 1982). This avoidant nature is in contrast to mindfulness, which promotes direct engagement with reality and attention to all aspects of the present-moment experience non-judgmentally and non-reactively. Similarly, the distorted view of one-self and the characteristics of suspiciousness and paranoia are in contrast to greater empathy, compassion, and prosocial behavior associated with mindfulness (Condon et al., 2013). Given that a) paranoid schizophrenia is the most common type of psychosis experienced (Lieberman et al., 2012), b) suspiciousness/paranoia carries a high predictive power for conversion to psychosis in high risk individuals, alongside genetic risk and unusual thought content (Cannon et al., 2008), and c) we found inverse correlation between ‘suspiciousness’ and Non-judgement in meditators only, MBIs might hold promise in preventing psychosis in high-risk individuals.

Another novel finding of our investigation is higher score on ‘magical thinking’ in meditators in both studies. Given that ‘magical thinking’ was not associated with any of the FFMQ facets that were significantly higher in meditators compared to meditation-naïve individuals in study 2 and, as such, does not appear to develop due to mindfulness practice per se, the most likely explanation for this finding is that our mindfulness meditators were mainly practicing within Buddhist tradition. The ‘magical thinking’ subscale measures beliefs into such supernatural experiences as telepathy, clairvoyance, astrology, and sixth sense, which are incorporated into Buddhist psychology and metaphysics, particularly in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. The higher scores on ‘magical thinking’ in the face of low scores on other schizotypy dimensions are in line with research showing that having a context for unusual experiences and/or beliefs makes a difference in terms of whether they lead to diagnosable mental health difficulties or whether they become integrated into one's life without causing a functional disruption (Brett et al., 2014; Heriot-Maitland et al., 2012; Peters et al., 2016). It is also possible that people attracted to meditation practice within the context of Buddhist beliefs and metaphysics are higher on magical thinking to begin with, or that higher score on ‘magical thinking’ simply reflects greater openness to experience in meditators, rather than actual beliefs in these ‘supernatural’ constructs. The latter possibility is more likely given that trait mindfulness has been shown to be associated with greater openness to experience (Baer et al., 2004; van den Hurk et al., 2011), and there is an association between schizotypy and openness to experience (DeYoung et al., 2011). Mindfulness meditators thus may simply have greater open-mindedness towards what constitutes ‘magical thinking’ in the SPQ than the average population. Whether higher ‘magical thinking’ is an ‘artifact’ of Buddhist belief system or whether it indexes greater open-mindedness of mindfulness practitioners could be addressed by further research by recruiting long-term meditators that practice mindfulness within a secular setting.

Particularly relevant to psychosis is our finding that higher ‘magical thinking’ in meditators was not accompanied with higher ‘ideas of reference’. The ‘ideas of reference’ subscale measures the tendency to self-reference the experience, i.e. over-subscribe personal relevance and meaning to inner experiences and external events. Mindfulness practice, on the other hand, attenuates self-referential tendencies and associated brain dynamics (Brewer et al., 2011; Farb et al., 2007); the same brain networks are found to be hyperactive in people with schizophrenia (Whitfield-Gabrieli et al., 2009). The combination of high magical thinking and low ideas of reference is in alignment with the frameworks of psychosis that suggest that it is not unusual beliefs and/or experiences per se that constitute a risk for psychosis, it is rather their interpretation and hyper self-referencing (Peters et al., 2012). Given that unusual beliefs and thought content constitute risk for psychosis conversion (Cannon et al., 2008), the reduction of self-referencing might be another rationale for mindfulness-based psychosis prevention.

The observed pattern of inverse associations between the dimensions of schizotypy (‘excessive social anxiety’, ‘odd speech’, ‘constricted affect’ and ‘suspiciousness’) and the Awareness, Non-judgment and Nonreactivity facets of mindfulness suggests that trait mindfulness reduces negative dimensions of schizotypy, whereas mindfulness practice might have further ameliorating effects on ‘excessive social anxiety’ and ‘suspiciousness’ as these were lower in meditators compared to meditation-naïve participants. These findings may have important therapeutic implications, suggesting that a) future MBIs with a strong emphasis on the Awareness, Non-judgment and Non-reactivity aspects of mindfulness may be particularly effective in reducing anxiety-related symptoms, depression, and suspiciousness in psychosis; and b)mindfulness could be used as a therapeutic tool for psychosis prevention by addressing suspiciousness and paranoia in high risk populations.

Our investigation has a number of limitations. First, it examined the relationship between schizotypy dimensions and mindfulness in a cross-sectional correlational design, without any knowledge of the meditators' schizotypy scores prior to them starting mindfulness practice. Future research could examine the effects of shorter duration MBIs on the relationship between these traits. Second, this investigation was opportunistic, using two existing data sets (from two independent psychophysiology projects, Antonova et al., 2015; Kumari et al., 2015), consisting of mostly (Study 1) or only men (Study 2). Our findings thus cannot be generalized to women. Third, both schizotypy and mindfulness were assessed using self-report methods. While self-reports have their strengths, such as in depth, detailed data gathered directly from the participant, whilst limiting experimenters' bias, they also have limitations, such as socially desired responses resulting in underestimation or overestimation of actual traits. Given that people's perceptions of themselves are known to be poor predictors of their behavior (Baumeister et al., 2007), future studies, wherever possible, should incorporate experimental analogues of relevant phenomena (e.g. Atherton et al., 2016).

In conclusion, to our knowledge, this is the first investigation to have focused on the schizotypy profiles of experienced mindfulness practitioners. The findings demonstrated lower (trend-level) 'excessive social anxiety', as well as significantly lower 'suspiciousness' and higher 'magical thinking' in meditators relative to meditation-naïve individuals. These differences, taken together with the pattern of correlational observations (i.e. inverse associations between 'excessive social anxiety' and Awareness and Non-judgment; and between 'suspiciousness' and Awareness, Non-judgment and Non-reactivity), suggest that mindfulness training with emphasis on developing the facets of Awareness, Non-judgment and Non-reactivity may help to reduce social anxiety and suspiciousness in psychosis and related populations.

Role of funding source

The sponsors had no role in study design; in the collection, analysis and interpretation of data; in the writing of the report; or in the decision to submit the paper for publication.

Contributors

Elena Antonova and Veena Kumari conceptualized the study. Elena Antonova and Bernice Wright assisted with participant recruitment and data collection. Veena Kumari and Elena Antonova undertook the statistical analysis and prepared the first draft. All authors contributed to the final version.

Conflict of interest

The authors report no biomedical financial interests or potential conflicts of interest.

Acknowledgement

The research was funded by the Bial Foundation (282/14) and the John Templeton Foundation, the Positive Psychology Center of the University of Pennsylvania (13759). VK is supported by the Biomedical Research Centre for Mental Health at the Institute of Psychiatry, King's College London, and the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust for some of her time.

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Ubeda-Gomez, J., Leon-Palacios, M.G., Escudero-Perez, S., Barros-Albarran, M.D., Lopez-Jimenez, A.M., Perona-Garcelan, S., 2015. Relationship between self-focused attention, mindfulness and distress in individuals with auditory verbal hallucinations. Cogn. Neuropsychiatry 20 (6), 482–488.

van den Hurk, P.A., Wingens, T., Giommi, F., Barendregt, H.P., Speckens, A.E., van Schie, H.T., 2011. On the relationship between the practice of mindfulness meditation and personality-an exploratory analysis of the mediating role of mindfulness skills. Mindfulness 2 (3), 194–200.

Verdoux, H., Van Os, J., 2002. Psychotic symptoms in non-clinical populations and the continuum of psychosis. Schizophr. Res. 1 (54), 59–65.

Walsh, R., Roche, L., 1979. Precipitation of acute psychotic episodes by intensive meditation in individuals with a history of schizophrenia. Am. J. Psychiatry 136 (8), 1085–1086.

Wechsler, D., 1999. The Measurement of Adult Intelligence. Williams & Witkins, Baltimore.

Whitfield-Gabrieli, S., Thermenos, H.W., Milanovic, S., Tsuang, M.T., Faraone, S.V., McCarley, R.W., Shenton, M.E., Green, A.I., Nieto-Castanon, A., LaViolette, P., Wojcik, J., Gabrieli, J.D., Seidman, L.J., 2009. Hyperactivity and hyperconnectivity of the default network in schizophrenia and in first-degree relatives of persons with schizophrenia. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U. S. A. 106 (4), 1279–1284.

Yorston, G., 2001. Mania precipitated by meditation: a case report and literature review. Ment. Health Relig. Cult. 4, 209–213.

Zainal, N.Z., Booth, S., Huppert, F.A., 2013. The efficacy of mindfulness-based stress reduction on mental health of breast cancer patients: a meta-analysis. Psychooncology 22 (7), 1457–1465.

* Corresponding author at: Department of Psychology (P077), Institute of Psychiatry, Psychology and Neuroscience, King's College London, De Crespigny Park, London SE5 8AF, UK.

E-mail address: veena.kumari@kcl.ac.uk (V. Kumari).
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Re: Mindfulness Meditation Research: Issues of Participant S

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Adverse Effects of Meditation: A Preliminary Investigation of Long-Term Meditators
by Deane H. Shapiro, Jr., Ph.D.
International Journal of Psychosomatics, Vol. 39 (Nos. 1-4), 1992 63
Manuscript submitted June 30, 1991 and accepted May 1 1992.

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Adverse effects of meditation were assessed in twenty-seven long term meditators (average 4.21 years) both retrospectively (time one) and prospectively at one month (time two) and six months (time three) following a meditation retreat. At both time one and time three subjects reported significantly more positive effects than negative effects from meditation. However, of the twenty-seven subjects, seventeen (62.9%) reported at least one adverse effect, and two (7.4%) suffered profound adverse effects. When subjects at time one were divided into three groups based on length of practice (16.1 months; 41.1 months; 105 months) there were no significant differences in adverse effects. How the data should be interpreted, and their implications both for the clinical and psychotherapeutic use of meditation as a relaxation/self control strategy, and as a technique for facilitating personal and spiritual growth, are discussed. Limitations of the study and suggestions for future research are also offered.

INTRODUCTION

Although the clinical use of relaxation strategies have shown positive effects in arousal reduction, there is a small but growing literature pointing out some of the potential adverse effects of these strategies. For example, Lazarus and Mayne (1) (p. 261) cited such negative effects for progressive, deep muscle relaxation as "relaxation induced anxiety and panic, paradoxical increases in tension, and parasympathetic rebound." There have been similar reports of negative effects for meditation (2-5). These reports indicate that meditation may be contraindicated for those with certain types of psychiatric illness (2); that too much daily meditation may precipitate psychiatric illness and impaired reality testing (4).

Most of these case reports were with short term meditators. However, in a reanalysis of his data, Otis (5) reported that negative effects of meditation (Transcendental Meditation) were stronger in 18 month meditators than in 3-6 month meditators. Further, even teacher trainees of TM with an average of 46.7 months practice, continued to report the same adverse effects. Otis concluded his study by noting that although 52-64% of his subjects did not list a single adverse effect, that the number of those reporting adverse effects was sufficiently high to warrant further investigation.

The current study can be seen as both a replication (with a different population) and an extension of the Otis study in two ways. First, adverse effects were assessed both retrospectively (as did Otis) as well as prospectively. Secondly, the longest term meditation group in Otis's study was 46.7 months, whereas in this study the middle group is 47.1 months, and the longest group is 105 months.

METHODOLOGY

Subjects and Setting


Subjects were 27 individuals, 17 men and 10 women, with a mean age of 35.6 years (sd 13.2), who had signed up for an intensive Vipassana meditation retreat in Barre, Mass, and agreed to participate in the research study. This number who agreed to participate represented 25% of those who were attending the retreat. All subjects had meditated previously, with the average length of meditation experience 4.27 years (sd 3.32). Seventy percent meditated regularly, more than an hour a day. Two thirds had previously practiced Vipassana; and the remaining 33.3% practiced different types of concentrative or opening-up types of meditation (eg., mantra; silent; mindfulness; Soto Zen; breathing concentration; yoga; visualization). A little less than 1/4 of the group were married; over 70% had completed college; over 1/3 were atheist/agnostic; and over 50% were in professional careers.

Grouping by Length of Practice

For some of the analyses, the meditators were divided into three groupings based on length of practice. Group one (n= 10) had practiced two years or less. Test Time One average was 16.7 months practice, approximately 45 minutes a day, 80% regular meditators. Group 2 had practiced from over two years to less than seven years. Test Time One average was 47.1 months, approximately 45 minutes a day, 88.8% regular meditators. Group three (N=8) had practiced seven years or more. Test Time One average was 105 months, 75% were regular meditators, over an hour a day.

Nature of Vipassana Meditation

The meditative technique practiced at the retreat was Vipassana, part of the Theravadan Buddhist tradition. Vipassana meditation is a mindfulness type of meditation practice, a quieting technique designed to observe the mind and develop concentration. The individual is instructed to develop a "bare awareness," observing "whatever comes into awareness" without judging or evaluating (6). Individuals filling out the questionnaire had chosen either to attend a two week or three month meditation retreat. In the retreat, the day is structured into 45 minute to one and one-quarter hour segments beginning at 5:30 a.m. until 10 p.m. Formal meditation, both sitting and walking, occurs a minimum often hours per day. Further, the explicit demand characteristics of the retreat are that mindfulness meditation should be practiced at all times during the day, from when the eyes first open in the morning, to when they close at night. Silence at meals and all other times throughout the retreat is observed by the meditators except for sessions with teachers, which occur once every few days.

Method of Assessment

General effects of meditation were assessed via a paper and pencil questionnaire as part of two larger questionnaires on 1) Adherence, Expectation, Motivation; and 2) Mode of Control. The questions on Meditation Effects followed three prior questions asking 1) Why had the individual started meditation; 2) What did they perceive to be the qualities of a gifted meditator; and 3) What specifically did they hope to get from the current retreat. These questions were designed to assess "expectation effects." Subjects were then provided space to list (in an open ended format) the effects of meditation on their life under three categories 1) Positive influences 2) Adverse influences; and 3) General influences.

Data Collection and Analysis

A questionnaire was filled out before the meditators entered the retreat (retrospective-time one) and information was then gathered prospectively at one month (time two) and six months (time three) after the end of each retreat. Each individual who did not respond to the one month or six month follow-up within two weeks was sent a second form requesting compliance.

Three types of data analysis were performed: to compare responders to non-responders; to compare frequency of adverse effects to positive effects; and general descriptive statistics to examine the nature of the adverse effects. Regarding non-responders, of the 27 individuals assessed at time one, 16 (59.3%) ruled out the questionnaire at time two; and 13 (48.1 %) at time three. To assess whether there were differences in those who responded versus those who did not, a Fisher exact chi-square (7) analysis was used to compare differences between those who completed follow-up questionnaires and those who did not. Two four celled chi-square were performed. The first, comparing time one and time two, examined those who reported adverse effects and those who did not at time one in terms of those who took the assessment at time two and those who did not. The second chi-square made a similar comparison for time one and time three. There were no significant differences in either case.

To compare the frequency of adverse and positive effects, a non-parametric sign test (7) was used to compare the reporting of at least one adverse and/or positive influence. On the questionnaire an individual was free to report one or more adverse effects (or none) and/or one or more positive effects (or none). For this analysis, regardless of frequency or intensity, a person was given either a 1 or 0 depending upon whether there was at least one positive effect, and a 1 or 0 depending upon if there was at least one negative effect. The sign test was used to determine whether there were more of one type of effect than another.

RESULTS

Frequency of Adverse and Positive Effects Compared


Subjects reported significantly more positive than negative effects from meditation at time one (2 tailed p=.002); and at time three (p=.0215).

Adverse Effects

Of the twenty-seven subjects, seventeen (62.9%) reported at least one adverse effect at one of the three time periods. The frequency of adverse effects was not affected by length of practice (chi-square=3.68; df=2; p=.16). Yet the trend is in the opposite direction from what one might expect: the fewest individuals reporting adverse effects were in group one (40%), which had practiced less than two years; and the highest frequency of subjects reporting adverse effects was from group three (75%), which had practiced the longest, over 8.5 years. These results were similar both retrospectively (time one) as well as prospectively (time two, time three).

Two (7.4%) of the twenty-seven individuals suffered profound adverse effects of such intensity that they stopped meditating. Both subjects were male, but one was in group one (shortest length of practice) who had taken the two week retreat; and the other was in group three (longest length of practice) and had taken the three month retreat. The group one individual wrote at one month follow-up that the retreat left him totally disoriented: "confused, spaced out, quit meditation since retreat."

The group three individual noted at the six month follow-up:

My experience of returning from the retreat was a difficult one. The mind set values that the retreat cultivated felt out of synch with the world I came back to and I've been slowly digesting the transformative changes that the retreat generated. Lots of depression, confusion, struggle during the last six months....experienced some severe shaking and energy releasing; eventually injured my back and stopped doing Vipassana practice.


Of those reporting adverse effects, intrapersonal were mentioned by 13 (76.4%); interpersonal by three (17.6%); and societal by three (17.6%) (More than one could be listed by an individual).

Intrapersonal adverse effects could be divided, heuristically, into four groupings. The first was increased negativity, which included statements such as increased awareness of negative qualities and emotions within myself (e.g., more judgmental, increased negative emotions, more emotional pain; increased fears and anxiety; more high strung. The second was increased disorientation, which included statements such as "confused about who I am; "loss of orientation; "loss of self'; "becoming aware of how low my self image is, how often I get down on myself;" "a feeling of incompleteness, that I need something else"; decreased attentional clarity: more spaced out, confused mind, ego strain; less motivated in life. The third was addicted to meditation, including such statements as "attached to quiet and withdrawal"; feel I am missing something between meditation retreats. And finally, boredom and pain.

Image
Table 1. Adverse and positive influences from meditation: Number of Subjects Reporting at Least One Adverse and/or Positive Influence.

Examples of worsened interpersonal relationships included "my family objects; I meditate as alternative to people; increased awareness of negative qualities of others, more judgmental of others, feel "false" superiority; increased discomfort with current friends; realize how bad my home situation is." Finally, examples of societal adverse effects included feelings of increased alienation from society; more uncomfortable in real world; hypersensitive to city environment; hard to adjust to the world.

Positive effects.

As noted in Table 1, eighty-eight per-cent (24 of 27) individuals listed positive effects at time one; 13 of 16 (81.3%) individuals at time two; and 12 of 13 (92.3%) at time three. These positive influences included greater happiness and joy; more positive thinking, more self-confidence; better ability to get things done (more effective); better problem solving; more accepting, compassionate, tolerant to self, and to others; more relaxed, less stressed, more resilient; better able to control feelings.

DISCUSSION

This preliminary investigation of long term meditators showed adverse effects occurring in 38% to 55.5% of the individuals reporting at different time periods. These figures, based on Vipassana meditation developed within the Buddhist tradition, is comparable to the 36% to 48% adverse effects reported in the Otis (5) study (with Transcendental Meditation developed within the Hindu/Vedic tradition). Further, rather than adverse effects decreasing based on length of practice, there is an increase in the percentage of those who report adverse effects based on the length of practice. This finding also replicates Otis's earlier finding that the adverse-effects of meditation (Transcendental Meditation) were stronger in 18 month meditators than in 3-6 month meditators, and even teacher trainees of TM with an average of 46.7 months practice, continued to report the same adverse effects. In this study, 75% of subjects with 105 months meditation experience reported adverse effects, compared to 40% of those with 16.7 months experience.

At first glance these data appear perplexing. With this high a percentage of self-reported adverse influences, why do these subjects continue to meditate, and even attend an intensive meditation retreat? Certainly one possibility is that the individuals must feel that, at some level, the positive benefits of meditation outweigh the negative. As noted, the data indicate that nearly 90% of the individuals at pretest cited positive influences of meditation; and expectation effects for the individuals regarding meditation at time one were 100% positive.

Second, individuals that listed an adverse influence often noted that there was a positive aspect to it, either currently, or within a philosophical context. One person noted; "-my family objects to my participation in the Buddhist way, but they enjoy being around me more". Another noted (time two) "brief but powerful experience of egolessness which brought deep terror and insecurity caused by reflex of mind. This is temporary; the fear will pass." At time three, this person said there were no adverse effects, noting that in meditation he is able to see that life is really "a roller coaster of powerfully pleasant and unpleasant experiences. Over time I learned the patience and forbearance and equilibrium to treat pleasant and unpleasant alike, with the same unattached awareness. This leads to a wonderful sense of strength and a lessening of fear." Thus, for some individuals, the adverse effects seem to be transformed over time, and are seen not as problems, but as something from which a person can learn.

One especially thoughtful and insightful explanation and description of this issue based on personal experience was given by another participant. His notes were quite instructive, and are therefore cited here in some detail.

As background, he noted that for two years he was disabled with active suicidal depression, including two hospitalizations and many forms of treatment, including psychotherapy, bioenergetic therapy, drug treatments of many kinds and electroconvulsive therapy. He stated that:

For me meditation is by far the most effective form of therapy... it is not a palliative; rather it eliminates the cause of mental suffering at its very roots. However, I have found in my own experience that I needed a certain degree of mental health and stability before I could undertake intensive meditation. Most psychotherapy seems to me a way of strengthening the ego. Meditation is a way of tearing it down.

The paradox is that one seems to need a relatively strong ego in order to endure its removal... Three months of intensive uninterrupted meditation seemed to me very much like a controlled breakdown, paralleling in many marked ways my own breakdown four years ago.

In order to reach a deeper stability, one becomes fundamentally destabilized. To undergo this, one needs considerable preliminary strength and faith. If that strength and faith do not exist, intensive meditation can be dangerous. One of my colleagues during the three month retreat was asked to leave early because he was becoming seriously unstable and delusive. Degeneration continued at home for a month and a half. Eventually he attempted suicide because he had "failed" to become enlightened. He is now hospitalized and is seriously mentally ill.


The above account suggest that for one individual, the adverse effects were part of positive personal transformation, but for his friend, they were not. Similarly, in this study, there were those for whom positive effects outweighed the adverse effects; but there were also two for whom the adverse effects forced the individual to stop meditating. And one individual noted that she realized that what she needed was psychological insight, not "bare awareness" of meditation.

Clinicians and health care professionals may use meditation as a relaxation technique (8) and as an adjunct in psychotherapy (9-11), and therefore should be aware of these possible adverse effects. Further, individuals may practice meditation for a variety of reasons, ranging from relaxation to personal and spiritual development (12,13). Some of these individuals may develop emotional, physical, and/or psychosomatic adverse effects, as this study indicates. Again, it is important that the clinician be sensitive to these adverse effects, the potential developmental issues, and the philosophical context in which meditation is being practiced. For example, the technique of meditation can occur within a context in which going beyond individual ego, learning surrender, and ultimate trust of the universe are positively valued. Meditation may be compelling for many individuals on different levels. Self-regulation goals can include mental peace and equanimity; and greater emotional discipline and concentration. Self-liberation goals can involve going beyond personal ego to an experiential belief about the sacred nature of the universe, a deepening of compassion; and an increased sensitivity and efforts to help end suffering in oneself and others. Depending upon the health care provider's orientation, these may or not be seen as signs of psychological well being or goals of positive health (14-17). Often a therapist may inappropriately pathologize that which does not fit neatly into his/her orientation.

On the other hand, the attainment of positive psychological and/or spiritual well being can be exceptionally difficult (16). At the risk of mixing nontheistic Buddhist and theistic Jewish metaphors, the sages of old reported in the Talmud nearly two thousand years ago the story of four Rabbis who entered Pardes to seek enlightenment. One dies, one becomes an apostate, one goes crazy; and only one returns with wisdom. These findings from this study cannot be easily dismissed, and suggest the critical importance of being sensitive to the adverse influences in short, as well as long term meditators. These potential negative effects may be true not only for meditation as relaxation, but also for meditation as a spiritual path.

PROBLEMS WITH THE STUDY AND FUTURE DIRECTIONS

Although collecting research data always presents some problems, collecting data from meditators presents special problems. For example, one commented "I found myself tense, angry, spaced out taking (the questionnaire) the second time (right after the retreat). I also found it painful and did not like doing it at all." Another noted "I am sorry to foul up your study, but I no longer feel able to make accurate generalizations about myself... one no longer knows 'what' one 'is' except in the moment -- which makes filling out this form nigh impossible."

Problems of the size of the sample, the low return rate, and the nature of questionnaire data in general, make it necessary to be cautious in generalizing from this study. Future research should attempt to determine whether it is possible to be more precisely predict, using psychological measures of defensiveness, ego strength, tolerance of ambiguity, attentional absorption, whether there is a certain subset of individuals who have more serious adverse effects. In addition, this study clearly highlights the importance of obtaining prospective, in addition to retrospective data. However, because this study so closely replicates the previous study of Otis, using a different meditation population, it does add one more piece to our understanding of adverse effects.

This article suggests a middle road, between uncritical hosannahs of meditation's effectiveness, and equally uncritical dismissal of that which does not neatly conform to the biases of rationalistic science. On the one hand, we as scientists and therapists may need to be open to exploring ultimate issues and world views which do not neatly fit within our preexisting paradigm. On the other hand, we also need to be careful that we not allow our belief systems to keep us from blindly seeing growth where there may in fact be harm occurring.

_______________

REFERENCES

1. Lazarus, AA. and Mayne, TM Relaxation: Some limitations, side effects, and proposed solutions. Psychotherapy 27,2,261266, (1990).

2. Walsh, R. and Rauche, L. The precipitation of acute psychoses by intensive meditation in individuals with a history of schizophrenia. American Journal of Psychiatry 138(8), 185-186, (1979).

3. Lazarus, AA (Psychiatric problems precipitated by transcendental meditation. Psychological Reports 10,39-74, 1975).

4. French, AP, Smid, AC, and Ingalls, E. Transcendental meditation, altered reality testing and behavioral change: A case report. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 161, 55-58, (1975).

5. Otis, LS. Adverse effects of transcendental meditation. In DH Shapiro and RN Walsh (Eds). Meditation: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives. New York: Aldine. 201-208, (1984).

6. Goldstein, J. The experience of insight, Santa Cruz, Ca: Unity Press, (1976).

7. Siegel, S.. Nonparametric statistics for the behavioral sciences. New York: McGraw Hill, (1956)

8. Benson, H., The Relaxation Response New York: Morrow, (1975).

9. Shapiro, DH and Giber, D Z Medication and psychotherapeutic effects. Archives of General Psychiatry, 35,294-302,.(1978).

10. Kutz, I; Borysenko, JZ, and Benson, H Meditation and Psychotherapy. American Journal of Psychiatry 142:1,1-8, (1985).

11. Shapiro, D. H. Comparison of meditation with other self-control strategies: biofeedback, hypnosis, progressive relaxation: A review of the clinical and physiological literature. American Journal of Psychiatry, 139(3),267-274, 1982.

12. Shapiro, D. H. Meditation: Self Regulation Strategy and Altered States of Consciousness, New York: Aldine, (1980).

13. Shapiro, D.H. and Walsh, R.N, (Eds,) Meditation: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives. New York: Aldine, (1984)

14. Shapiro, DH. Meditation, self-control, and control by a benevolent other: Issues of content and context. In Psychotherapy, Medication, and Health M. Kwee (Ed,) London: East-West, pp. 65-123, (1990).

15. Walsh, RN., The consciousness disciplines and the behavioral sciences. American Journal of Psychiatry, 137, (6), 663-673, (1980).

16. Walsh, RN and D. H. Shapiro (Eds) Beyond Health and Normality. Toward a vision of exceptional Psychological health New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 371-387.

17. Grof, S; and Grof, C. (Eds) Spiritual Emergencies: When Personal Transformation becomes a crisis. Los Angeles: Tarcher, (1989).

18. Shapiro, DH. The Role of Control and Self-Control in Psychotherapy and Health Care. New York: John Wiley, (in press).

19. Shapiro, DH. The Human Quest for Control. Los Angeles: Tarcher, (in press).

20. Shapiro, DH. The Shapiro Control Inventory (SCl): Measuring Personal, Interpersonal and Spiritual Sense of Control. Palo Alto: Behaviordyne, (1992).

Index Terms

Negative effects, Vipassana meditation, relaxation

Requests for Reprints:

Deane H. Shapiro, Jr., Ph.D.
1009 Canyon View Drive
Laguna Beach, CA 92651

Deane H. Shapiro, Jr., Ph.D. is an Associate Professor in Residence, Department of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, California College of Medicine, University of California, Irvine. Portions of this article have been presented at the International Association for Applied Psychology (Kyoto, Japan, 1990); First International Conference on Psychotherapy, Meditation, and Health (Amsterdam, Holland, 1990); and the Institute of Noetic Sciences Third Annual Meditation Research Seminar (Esalen, Big Sur, California, 1991).
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Re: Mindfulness Meditation Research: Issues of Participant S

Postby admin » Fri Mar 01, 2019 1:24 am

The Mahasiddha and His Idiot Servant [EXCERPT]
by John Riley Perks [John Andrews]
© 2004 by John Riley Perks

Somehow during this winter of the retreat year my handle on what I thought of as reality was becoming a little insecure. Out of seemingly nowhere I started having panic attacks, rapid heartbeat, and hyperventilation. I was sure I was going to die on the spot and I was certain there was a ghost following me around the house. So I asked Rinpoche if he had seen any ghosts in the house.

"Only two," he replied.

I almost fainted.

One night I had a dream of talking to a woman in her late thirties. She was wearing a long dress and holding my outstretched hand. She was talking about building the farmhouse where we were staying. "When were you born?" I asked.

"May, 1853," she said.

I did the math in my dreaming mind, pulled my hand away and sat up in the bed, awake, with my heart racing.

When I was physically with Rinpoche I did not have panic attacks but I was certain that he was somehow the cause of it all. It did not occur to me that Buddha's message, "Nothing whatsoever should be clung to," applied to me. My Britishness was part of "me." I had made my living by being British and if I gave that up what would I become? American, French, Italian? I mean, you can't just become nothing. But the fear was growing in me that Rinpoche was somehow nothing -- a gap. How could "I" act as nothing? Where do you start? After all, the Path of Accumulation was the Path of Accumulating, not the Path of Nothingness. The Path of Accumulation meant that I was going to get something. Here I was being invited to jump into empty nothingness. Not even invited, I was being pushed -- caught between a rock and a hard place. My memories of war became a welcome and safe distraction. I felt that if I could keep these away from Rinpoche I could hang on to some semblance of sanity. Every time the world would start melting around him I would take refuge in the only thing left in my thinking mind, my memories.


Rinpoche said he would like to target shoot. I had my .38 revolver, which I had purchased to protect Rinpoche (some joke), and a .22-caliber single-shot rifle. Now I went out and purchased a ruger .223-caliber semiautomatic with a thirty-round clip. I set up a target area in the garden that resembled World War II in miniature, with plastic soldiers, tanks, and trucks. Rinpoche, Max, and I would go out and blast them. Rinpoche called them the Mara Army. "You could be victorious over the troops of Mara, Johnny," he said. That sounded good but what the hell did it mean? I looked up Mara in the encyclopedia and it said "Mara is the Lord of the Sixth Heaven of the Desire Realm and is often depicted with a hundred arms and riding on an elephant."

Oh, I thought, mythology. I felt better. It's not real. But just in case, I started to look for an elephant rifle. Perhaps a Winchester .375 H and H Magnum might do the trick.

One evening Rinpoche and I were sitting in the kitchen. Max rushed in from shopping in town. Now, the closet and basement doors were next to each other and both doors looked the same. The basement stairs were very steep and ran down about twelve feet. Max was distractedly talking to us as he took off his coat, opened the wrong door, and, not looking, reached in to hang it up. Rinpoche yelled, "Shunyata," as Max and his coat fell into the basement. Unhurt except for a few scrapes, Max climbed out.

"Rinpoche," said Max, "You should have yelled to stop me."

"Why?" replied Rinpoche. "You could have gotten enlightened."

That night we went out to dinner at the local inn. Rinpoche had me purchase some cigars and secretly put some gunpowder in one of them for Max. the three of us sat in the inn causally smoking our stogies, two of us waiting in anticipation for the other one to explode. This went on for some time until Max, with the cigar still in his mouth, took a big puff and the cigar let out a big whoosh rather than an explosion. Flaming sparks and smoke shot out across the room from the cigar. Max remained pretty cool and said, "Your idea, I expect, Rinpoche." The three of us laughed.

However, the truth was that Max was a nervous wreck, and beneath my dignified British facade so was I. Finally, Max asked Rinpoche if he could go back to Boulder for a few weeks. Rinpoche gave his okay and Max departed, leaving Rinpoche and me alone in a house surrounded by deep snow. By necessity Max left his dog, Myson, with us. One night after supper Rinpoche said, "Get Myson and bring him in here." I dragged the shaking dog into the kitchen and following Rinpoche's instructions I sat him on the floor and covered his eyes with a blindfold. I set up stands with lighted candles by either side of his head. Myson couldn't move his head without being burned. Rinpoche took a potato and hit Myson on the head with it. When the dog moved, the fur on his ear would catch on fire. I put out the flames. Now and then Rinpoche would scrape his chair across the tiled floor and whack him again on the head with a potato.

"Sir," I began hesitantly, trying to stop him.

"Shut up," snapped Rinpoche, "and hand me another potato."

I started to empathize with the dog. In fact, I became the dog. I was blindfolded and was banged on the head with a spud and if I turned my head my hears would burn and there was the squealing sound of the chair on the floor. Pissing in my pants I was that dog not being able to move, feeling terrified and at the same time excited. Finally, the scraping chair and the potato throwing stopped and we released the shaking dog, who ran upstairs to Max's empty room.


"That's how you train students," Rinpoche calmly stated to me.

"Jesus," I thought, "that's pretty barbaric."

Rinpoche had me change the telephone number so that Max could not call us before he came back. He arrived, bags in hand, concerned that he had not been able to reach us. Before he could say much else, Myson rushed in and jumped all over him in exuberant delight. Rinpoche deliberately scraped the kitchen chair across the tiled floor. The terrified dog shot out of the house and fled across the field. Max was shocked and pointedly asked, "Rinpoche, what did you do to my dog?"

"I don't see any dog," he replied, looking at me.

"I got it!" I said, with the realization of being blindfolded and having three things happen to you at once, knowing the scraping and the disappearance of the dog were both somehow illusion. In fact, it was all illusion. Everything was illusion, but real. Rinpoche smiled and warmly greeted Max.

Did I get it? Not then.


“It was summer of 1985. I "married" Rinpoche on June 12th of that year. I met him around May 31st at a wedding of Jackie Rushforth and Bakes Mitchell in the back yard of Marlow and Michael Root's home. That year, we had our wedding at RMDC a few days before Assembly, then we had Seminary and Encampment happened during Seminary.

That was the year he spoke of limited bloodshed and taking over the city of Halifax and the Provence of Nova Scotia. We were in the middle of the Mahayana portion of seminary teachings. For weeks, CTR (Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche) had been asking everyone he saw if they had seen a cat. He asked the head cook, the shrine master, and all of his servants if they'd seen one. We returned to our cabin late one night after a talk and there was this beautiful tabby cat sitting on the porch. I said, "Here kitty, kitty" and it came right over to me, purring and rubbing against my legs. I picked it up and said: "Here, Sweetie. Here's the cat you've been wanting."

I can't remember exactly which guard was on duty, but I think it was Jim Gimian, and of course Mitchell Levy. Someone took the cat from me and Rinpoche ordered them to tie him to the table on the porch. He instructed them to make a tight noose out of a rope so the cat didn't get away. He stood over his guards to examine the knots and make sure they were secure. I was curious at this point, wondering what this enlightened master had in mind for the cat. I knew there were serious rodent problems on the land and I assumed he wanted to use the cat for this problem.

Then, he instructed the guard to bring him some logs from the fire pit that was in front of the porch, down a slight slope. We took our seats. Rinpoche was seated to my right and there was a table between us for his drinks. He ordered a sake. The logs were on his right side, so he could use his good arm. (His left side was paralyzed due to a car accident that happened in his late twenties.)

The cat was still tied by a noose to the table. Rinpoche picked up a log and hurled it at the cat, which jumped off the table and hung from the noose. It was making a terrible gurgling sound. He finally got some footing on the edge of the deck and made it back onto the porch. Rinpoche hurled another log, making contact and the cat let out a horrible scream as the air was knocked out of him.

I said: "Sweetie, stop! What are you doing? Why are you doing this?" He said something about hating cats because they played with their food and didn't cry at the Buddha’s funeral. He continued to torture the poor animal. I was crying and begging him to stop.

I said, "I gave you the cat. Please stop it!" I'll never forget his response. He looked at me and said: "You are responsible for this karma" and he giggled. I got up to try and stop him and he firmly told me to sit down. One of the guards stepped closer to me and stood in a threatening manner to keep me in my place.

The torture went on for what seemed like hours, until finally the poor cat made a run for his life with the patio table bouncing after him. It was clear he had a broken back leg. I'm sure that cat died. I looked for him or the table for the rest of Seminary and never found either. I imagined him fleeing up the mountain and the table catching on something and strangling him.

I was completely traumatized by the event, but it was never spoken of again. Rinpoche told me the "karma" from this event was good. I was dumbfounded. A common feeling I had when around Rinpoche was that there were things going on that I simply could not understand. It seemed like other people, with a knowing nod of their heads, understood things on a deeper level than I. I was in fear of exposing my ignorance, so i learned not to question and to go with the crowd around him. They didn't appear to have any problems with what he did. Such was the depth of their devotion. I just needed to generate more devotion to Rinpoche and one day I might understand.”

-- by Leslie Hays


It was during this retreat in Massachusetts that Rinpoche started envisioning a developing the Kingdom of Shambhala. The Kalapa Court would be Rinpoche's home and it was to be in my charge. Instead of being Rinpoche's butler I would soon be Master of the House. I would become a Dapon in charge of the Court Kusung, or servant guards -- in Buddhist terms, Bodhisattva Guardians. Molly, one of Rinpoche's students, came down from Karme Choling. She was an illustration artist and she and Rinpoche together designed the Shambhala flag -- a white ground with blue, red, white, and orange stripes on the leading edge and the yellow sun in the white field. Rinpoche designed and drew the Shambhala arms of the tiger, lion, garuda, and dragon, which are soon on the cover of Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior (published by Shambhala Publications, Inc., 1984)

I was excited about this creative time. This was going to be a real kingdom with its location in Nova Scotia, Canada. I would be safe within that reality, or so I thought. One day Rinpoche said to me, "Well, you know, Johnny, someone has to ask me."

"Ask you what?" I said.

"Ask me to become Earth Holder, the Monarch of Shambhala."

"Well, I'll ask you," I replied.

"Great!" said Rinpoche. We planed the event for the Tibetan New Year. I cut a tree for a flagpole and Max planned a dinner. Then at sunrise on the New Year the three of us got up and dressed in our best attire. As the sun rose in the eastern sky I asked Rinpoche formally if he would become Sakyong for the benefit of all beings.

He replied, "Yes."

I fired off a twenty-one shot salute from my pistol and Max ran the Shambhala flag up the pole. We saluted and shouted "Hip, hip, hurray!" then followed up by singing the Shambhala anthem. Max and I went into the dining room and feasted with the new Sakyong. I was joyful and excited, but underneath, my uneasiness continued to alternately swell and subside. Somehow the reality of the "gap" was still lurking below my world of this-and-that. On an intellectual level that was still fairly primitive I had some understanding of Buddhism. I knew what it was supposed to look like -- peaceful, calm, wise, compassionate. I knew enough to say, "Yes, I got it," but at the same time it was not in my gut on a visceral level. I thought perhaps I should do a retreat, since it would give me a change to get away, relax, and get myself together before things went too far.

I could see myself robed, sitting under a pine tree in meditation posture with the sunlight playing on my shoulders and the wind in the pines. "Yes, that's it," I concluded, so I asked Rinpoche.

"Not a chance," he growled.

"But, Sir, I could finish my prostrations and do the other practices ... take the Vajrayogini abhisheka with David and the Regent and ..."

"No hope of that," he snapped.

Shit. I was trapped again, stuck in the life of a servant bursting with resentment. Then he gave me one of those smiles that light up the whole dark universe. It penetrated into my murk and dissolved it and I was better and worse off simultaneously.

"One day you will be Sir John Perks," he said.

Wow, I thought. Sir John Perks of the Kingdom of Shambhala. I was full of hope again.

Aloneness, when it hit, ruined my hopes and expectations. I was walking to the car in Greenfield, having done the shopping, when it struck. I was suddenly overwhelmed with a sense of total aloneness and stopped dead in my tracks. There was no John Perks. There was nothing to be alone. Had "nothing" been a mental concept, it would have been something to hold onto. Then I panicked.

Only now, looking back, can I say that it was an overwhelming realization of nonexistence. The only way that I can convey what the experience was like is to ask the reader to imagine that all you think you are is totally fabricated. What you are is totally manipulated and conditioned by your own mind. Had I completely realized this at the time I would have died on the spot from a heart attack. For what was under assault was my thinking mind, its solid reality, what and who I thought I was. That which I thought was reality was, in fact, totally empty. This was the great "switcheroo," or turnaround.

Desperately trying to get back to what I still thought was my solidity I staggered to the car, trying not to hyperventilate. I managed to drive to the Howard Johnson's Motel bar. I ordered a double gin and tonic and drank it down like a glass of water.

"Are you okay?" asked the bartender. Where had I heard that phrase before?

"Fine, fine," I said and ordered another double. Sir John Perks had better get a suit of armor, I thought wryly.

But the attacks became more frequent. Then I had a realization. Sex! If I felt so alone why not have a partner? I asked Rinpoche if I could have a lady friend up on some weekends. To my surprise he said yes. So I invited a friend from Boston to visit. But it gave me no relief. In fact, it made the aloneness sharper and I felt as if I were going to die any second. One day at breakfast Rinpoche said to me, "Johnny, isn't it strange how orgasm and death feel the same?"

I blocked his words for the moment and panicked later.

Relief came several days later when he said, "Johnny, let's take a trip to London."


I pretended not to be excited, and to make sure, I asked, "To London, England, Sir?"

"Yes," he answered matter-of-factly. "We need to get some Shambhala medals made there and we could get some military uniforms." I brightened up. Trooping of the Colors meets sir John Perks. I had a mission.

"Let's stay at the Winston Churchill Hotel," he suggested.

National pride swelled in my chest. Shambhala was going to be British after all. As a safety procedure I went to the local doctor and got prescriptions of Librium and Tagamet for my panic and stomach pain. Sam, the publisher of Shambhala publications, was to meet us in London where he had an office. On the aircraft Rinpoche and I sat together. He was quite upbeat and talked about all the things we would do in London: restaurants, nightclubs, theater, and clothing stores. The air stewardess asked what we would like to drink. Rinpoche ordered his usual. "Ginandtonicus," pronounced as the name of the Roman general from the Asterisk Comic Books.

"You could teach people etiquette, Johnny," said Rinpoche. He went on talking about military uniforms, tuxedos, evening dress, balls, dancing, and formal dinners. Excitedly I joined in with further ideas. Rinpoche said, "Yes! Yes! Yes! Let's do it. We will grow old together." Bliss and joy returned, drowning out the emptiness.

And so it came to pass. In London we stayed at the Winston Churchill. We took the designs of the Shambhala medals to the jewelers to be made. We ordered uniforms at Grieves and Hawks on Savile Row -- a general's uniform for Rinpoche, a major's uniform for me. Rinpoche used his family name on the order form, Mr. C.T. Mukpo. I used my original birth name, John Andrews. The clerk looked at Rinpoche's form in a quizzical way and asked, "Who is Mr. C.T. Mukpo?"

I hesitated, my mind searching for a realistic answer. Finally I said the first true thing I had ever said in my life.

"I have absolutely no idea."


***

I felt my luck was turning. I believed that because I was willing to do anything to be close to Rinpoche -- especially the things that other people didn't want to do, like washing dishes, cleaning house, and ironing clothes -- I had somehow tricked Rinpoche into taking me on the retreat so that he could instruct me in how to become an enlightened siddha. It did not occur to me until years later that he was the one who had tricked me by going along with my whole trip. This was also the beginning of seemingly unrelated events that began to undermine my habitual patterns of operating.

It's interesting that Rinpoche was willing to go through my whole gun attachment with me even to the extent of making me his bodyguard. It was the beginning of his helping me create my ultimate fantasy world, with occasional hints that there might be other realities. These other realities had the effect on me of creating extreme anxiety and panic.

My mind could not grasp even intellectually the idea of impermanence or the idea of groundlessness. That challenged the idea of "I" being a solid entity. I was afraid of things I couldn't see and did not understand. And I was terrified of ghosts. Having experienced them in my early childhood they brought terror and panic. Rinpoche had the ability to make seemingly unimportant comments at the exact moment that they became magnified in my mind. It was his timing that terrified me. He seemed to be able to read my mind before the thoughts had been formulated. I began to have the uneasy feeling that I did not know what kind of being he was. And that meant that all my manipulated power over him to whatever end was useless. This brought up the interesting dilemma of how I was going to get what I wanted.


The acid trip where Rinpoche focused my mind by working with Duncan and the "great turnaround" was my first realization of looking at phenomena as they really are, without logical, intellectual, or other mental projections. Needless to say, that state didn't last very long -- a matter of hours; then I was thrown back to my ordinary mode of operation very quickly. My aggression in wanting to confront Max Rinpoche turned into playing tricks, so he introduced to my mind an alternative way of dealing with the situation which was more creative and playful. One might call it my early introduction to crazy wisdom, where one uses the energy as it arises then joins with it and presents reality. People say "Be here now." But for someone lost in illusions this makes no sense unless it can be shown in actual, ordinary, on-the-spot situations. That's what the crazy wisdom teacher does continually. Sometimes the student gets it and sometimes he doesn't. Most of the time, I didn't. But much later there was some realization.

The episode with Myson, the dog, blindfolded, sitting on the floor, reflected my basic state. The candles on either side of his head related to aspects of bad and good, or samsara and nirvana. The potato as a representation of the phenomenal world whacking one on the head was initiated by the guru. If one turns one's head one way or the other, one's ears catch on fire. At this point one is still blind. Reacting to the fear and pain by trying to escape, one is overpowered by even more emotional traumas. The conditioning aspect of scraping the chair across the floor formulates how one will react, thus perpetuating how we perceive the world. When the chair is scraped later on, in our confused state of mind we run because we are reminded of our basic pain. The sound of the chair is basic emptiness -- a state that we are most terrified of -- so we run.

The idea of my own death was extremely terrifying to me. It meant not only the termination of my bodily pleasures and delights but also the termination of what I had built up as the image of John Perks. The end of all of that created extreme anxiety, and somewhere within the deep recesses of my mind I panicked as my I-ness began slipping away. I would have run away, but I was in love with Rinpoche and he kept offering me new opportunities related to my fantasies to explore and feel safe in -- which of course he ultimately undermined. Although my devotion was somewhat primitive, it was there to stay forever.

Although I did not realize it at the time there seemed to be connections between the killing of the bird at the retreat and Siddha Vyadhalipa; between the hunting Mahasiddha Savaripa; and between the action with the dog and Mahasidda Kukkuripa. Later, while practicing the Sadhana of Vajrayogini and meditating on the actions of my guru while in retreat, I found my connection to these three Siddhas to be one of remarkable coincidence, in that I was able to take instruction from other beings such as birds, fishes, and dogs. And as examples, the compassionate lives of these Siddhas are always of great inspiration to me.


***

Spring came to the Massachusetts hill country with rain, mud, and peeping frogs. On one of our walks by the farm pond Rinpoche noticed the frog spawn jelly in the water. I explained how we could put it into an aquarium and watch them change into tadpoles. He seemed excited about that and helped me set up the aquarium next to his bed so we could watch the transformation every day. When Rinpoche awakened every morning we would peer into the aquarium and Rinpoche would exclaim, "Breaking out of the egg!" On the way to the bathroom he went, singing, "Breaking out, breaking out of the eggs."

Our bathroom routine was always the same I would prearrange the two kinds of soap, the shampoo, the towels, the toothpaste, toothbrushes, and the hairbrushes. I would follow Rinpoche into the bathroom and help him take off his kimono, which I hung on the door. Then he would peer into the mirror making faces and singing songs. This time it was the egg hatching song. I looked at my own image in the mirror and then over to his. I started to panic as I realized his image was not in the mirror. For a second, I stopped. Then, there it was, smiling and making faces. I was puzzled but I did not say anything, as I thought it was my faulty perception. As this began to happen more often, I felt that somehow he was playing a trick on me, so I paid extreme attention in the morning to the mirror antics. Nothing happened for several weeks, everything was quite normal, and I concluded that it had all been my hallucination. Then, when I was not expecting anything, he disappeared from the mirror again.

"How do you do that?" I asked him on the spot.

He chuckled and said, "You just do it."

While he was in the shower I handed him the soap and continued, "Is the trick with the mirror or my mind?"

"Both," he said, washing soap out of his hair. I was struck dumb. My reality was being stretched thin.

"You have a good heart, Johnny." Rinpoche's face is right in my face. His eyes are big and luminous, like two planets in space. "You have a good heart, Johnny," he says again. He smiles and the warmth of the sun washes over me penetrating throughout my body. Somehow I know I am dreaming, but I can't wake up. "You have a good heart, Johnny."

"But, Sir," I protest, "my ancestors were thieves, murderers, rapists, plunderers, enslavers, liars, hedonists, deceivers, destroyers, and I'm just a ghost." The pain of looking is horrendous. It's like a golden spear thrust into my heart.

I fall into the Thames and I am unable to swim. I touch the black mud in the river bottom, the sound of rushing water is in my ears. I enter midnight blue, vast and empty. The next thing I remember, I am sitting on the bank in the sunlight, my clothes muddy and soaked with water. I look around for my savior. There is nobody in sight. I must be a ghost, I think. Will I ever be human again? A living ghost, asleep, unable to wake up.

My mother does abortions. One young girl leaves a baby on the doorstep. It is small and delicate like a white porcelain doll. It has been carefully washed and wrapped in a white lace tablecloth. Its eyes are closed. Mother heats up the coal stove in the kitchen until it glows red hot. Picking up the dead child by the head, she drops it into the open flame and quickly replaces the metal round lid. In a few seconds the baby's head shoots out of the stove with the iron ring as a hat. Looking like a demon it discharges flames out of its eyes and mouth before descending, disintegrating in the heat. It is unnamed. No hands mourn the ashes.


Winnie comes for an abortion in a fur coat. She is always drunk. She stumbles against me, her whiskey breath enters my lungs. She vomits on the floor and my mother cleans it up. I wash down her coat.

"You have to go over to Winnie's house and clean it up. While you are there, go up to the bedroom and under the bed you will find cooking pots filled with money. Take some."

She thrusts Winnie's house keys into my hand. I take the train to Winnie's house, a few stops on the loop line. I open the front door and proceed up the stairs to the bedroom, but there is no doorknob on the door. Someone has taken it away so it can't be opened. But the ghost is clever. With a kitchen knife I open the door and there under the bed are many sizes of saucepans, pots, and kettles. I take the lids off them, one by one. The first is filled with pound notes, another with fives, and another with tens -- all stuffed full. I fill my pockets and rush home. Winnie is still sleeping on the couch, snoring her whiskey breath. I hand my mother the keys and three hundred pounds.

My father stands in the street at night, the searchlights swinging in the sky. Bombs are thudding, whamp. He has his rifle. Someone yells "parachutes." He opens the bolt and pushes a round into the chamber. The streetlights reflect off a white parachute carrying a flare. It floats out of the blackness. My father is wearing my mother's slip in the darkness. He put it on thinking it was his undershirt. He has on his army boots, his khaki wool pants, his tin hat, and he's holding his .303 Enfield rifle, but with my mother's lace-topped slip on his chest, in the flare light he looks like a ghost.

Five of us are living on a hill overlooking a placid pond with ducks and geese swimming in the still water. We are armed with various weapons, shotguns, and rifles. I yell, "Open fire!" The sound is deafening. The pond erupts. Nothing can live beneath the hail of lead missiles. Cordite fills the air. I run up the ridge and bayonet a Zulu. His blood spurts out from the aorta, splashing across the operating room wall. My gown and mask are drenched. The patient is dead within seconds, blood oozing over the green tile floor. The ping of the monitor stops. Helen is tied to the bed. Jeff and I are licking her body. Grace is sucking her vagina. Kay pushes me up against the shower wall in Taos. She holds me there, jerking me off into the raining water. Sperm runs down the drain. A chicken burns in the dustbin. I ride my butcher's bike, the basket full of meat, on a Saturday delivery. The "Keep Left" sign disintegrates. I fly through the air before I even hear the explosion. Blood runs from my nose and ears. The V-2 rocket has hit the next street. I vomit. "You have a good heart, Johnny." The pain of suffering is so intense, we all decide to become ghosts, like my father, his father, and their fathers in the mud trenches and the mothers coughing up dead babies, stacking them upon the parapets, fighting, unable to distinguish the living and the dead. Watch the game show as a ghost. Pretend over tea nothing is happening. Let me drink myself into painless ghostliness. The Nazi officer wants to shake hands in the middle of the death camp. The corpses are piled high, waxy skin over wretched bones. He offers his hand to the Allied officer. It is not accepted, as a bulldozer is plowing up the bodies. Jill is leaving Jeff. Henry is leaving Marcy and the kids. Chogyam is eating the leg of a dead baby in the charnel ground. The red sow-bitch is drinking pus out of a skull. Vajrasattva is in the mirror. I try to enter but I hit my face on the glass. It breaks my spectacles, cutting my face. Nancy is pretending none of this is happening by shopping at Bloomingdale's. William is bending down bare-bottomed waiting for the cane. Jenny is masturbating in the closet. Percy is dancing in Duluth.

Rinpoche says, "Johnny is hard to catch -- he's like a ghost."

Fuck you, I think. It's my right to run from suffering, to cry in the bottom of a hole for a million years, eating and screaming and fucking, trapped in a solid egg. It's my right, it's my ...

"You have a good heart, Johnny."

I cry out in my dream, looking around for my savior. There is no one in sight. Unable to swim I drown and become a ghost on the riverbank. Chogyam taps on the egg. I gasp and wake, dreaming into the day.

I listened to the sounds of the house. I could hear Rinpoche and his dog, Ganesh snoring down the hall. Max was still asleep. I wiped the sweat from my body, readjusted my thoughts, and went down the hall to the bathroom. As I showered I felt thankful it was only a dream. In time I could forget it. Ignoring the pain, I re-collected myself into the collection of images that maintained my self-illusion, dreaming I was awake.

Nevertheless, there remained in the recesses of my mind the paranoia that something was hidden. At unexpected times I was swept with the terror and uncertainty of my reality. My groundedness had begun to slip away and the terror of emptiness found me standing at the edge of an abyss.

***

My plans for moving to Nova Scotia proceeded. Some friends purchased an inn on the shore of the Bay of Fundy which I was to run as innkeeper. Rinpoche hosted a going away party for us at the Court. He gave a toast to "Johnny, the Pioneer" who was going to Nova Scotia to set up the Court and the Kingdom all by himself. I was happy to be going and sad to be leaving.

In Nova Scotia I had to deal with the reality of the poor economic prospect of running an inn in a remote area far from the tourist routes. While others were successful at running small businesses I was not, and earning a living became quite a struggle. During this time I was invited by the San Francisco and Los Angeles dharmadhatus to come and give talks on "The Kalapa Court." A tour was planned where I would start in Los Angeles and then proceed to San Francisco. Afterwards, I would go on to Boulder to be in attendance to Rinpoche at the Sakyong Abhisheka that Khyentse Rinpoche was to give to Rinpoche. Then I would go on to the military encampment before returning to Nova Scotia.

My first performance in Los Angeles went fairly smoothly but in San Francisco I began to have visions. The first one occurred while I was shopping for a pair of Highland dancing shoes to wear with my kilt. I began to notice points of light sparkling over everything. I put on my sunglasses but they were still there. I relaxed and began to enjoy the display while I waited for my companions to finish their meanderings. I sat down on a bench with a friend.

As we sit in silence a wind begins to blow around us in a circle, coming from a great blue lake off in the distance. As if we are looking at a movie screen, images of people climbing a mist­ shrouded mountain appear. They are dressed in ancient clothing and carrying weapons: bows and swords. They are involved in some sort of struggle against materialism. I recognize myself as "Dancer at the Gates of Dawn." Voices give messages. A crystal city of light appears across a great ocean and immense longing overcomes me. Other voices speak and in a flash I understand the whole of the Vajrayogini Sadhana. I understand that I have completely invented everything: my persona, my life, the pain, the pleasure, the good, the bad. The whole thing has been an illusion, something I have made up, completely fiction. The "I" never existed except in the self-created ghost. Then, suddenly, the vision ends and I am again sitting on the bench. The wind stops also.

I turned to my friend and said, "What the fuck was that?" Tears were streaming down her face.

She said, "I saw you with two women dressed in red. One was quite old and one was quite young and they were standing right next to you. The whole thing seemed so loving I just started to cry." What was immediate was the realization that I had caused immense pain to others through the propagation of my projection of myself. This self had been formed in the interaction of birth, mother, father, family, friends, and environment. Included in this realization was the painful truth that this "I" had done and would do anything to maintain the facade of that solid body of illusion. It would love, hate, fight, lie, flatter, conceal, be joyful, feign compassion, or anything else to confirm its existence. I was stunned by my recognition of this -- felt not on an intellectual level but as total realization beyond logic.

Over the next few days, unexpectedly, other visions would spontaneously create displays. Many were of past life situations. These were particularly painful to experience because the amount of suffering was condensed. It was like eating or taking into one's body both the visual and emotional experience of a Nazi death camp. When the visions seemed to be unending I became concerned that I was indeed going crazy. I had no control over these visionary events and my few attempts to relate them to my friends brought only alarm and concern to their faces: In secret places I cried a lot. I was alarmed at this world I had entered, in which I had no control or direction and no role except as a spectator.

I followed my original itinerary and traveled to the military encampment in Colorado. I went as the Lord Chamberlain Dapon, Sir John Perks, knowing there was nothing that existed in any reality. I was more than pleased to see Rinpoche, to whom I related the entire experience, along with the voice messages that were addressed to him. I asked him directly, "Doesn't one have to be careful when traveling in this world?"

He replied, "No, being careful is hanging on. Just let go." He continued, "The visions are our connection, your connection to me and the lineage."

"People think I am going crazy," I protested.

"Johnny," he said, "some people will love what you do. Others will hate what you do and others couldn't care less. Don't pay any attention to any of it."
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Re: Mindfulness Meditation Research: Issues of Participant S

Postby admin » Sat Jun 22, 2019 1:53 am

The Dark Knight of the Soul: For some, meditation has become more curse than cure. Willoughby Britton wants to know why.
by Tomas Rocha
The Atlantic
June 25, 2014

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Set back on quiet College Hill in Providence, Rhode Island, sits a dignified, four story, 19th-century house that belongs to Dr. Willoughby Britton. Inside, it is warm, spacious, and organized. The shelves are stocked with organic foods. A solid wood dining room table seats up to 12. Plants are ubiquitous. Comfortable pillows are never far from reach. The basement—with its own bed, living space, and private bathroom—often hosts a rotating cast of yogis and meditation teachers. Britton’s own living space and office are on the second floor. The real sanctuary, however, is on the third floor, where people come from all over to rent rooms, work with Britton, and rest. But they're not there to restore themselves with meditation—they're recovering from it.

"I started having thoughts like, 'Let me take over you,' combined with confusion and tons of terror," says David, a polite, articulate 27-year-old who arrived at Britton’s Cheetah House in 2013. "I had a vision of death with a scythe and a hood, and the thought 'Kill yourself' over and over again."

Michael, 25, was a certified yoga teacher when he made his way to Cheetah House. He explains that during the course of his meditation practice his "body stopped digesting food. I had no idea what was happening." For three years he believed he was "permanently ruined" by meditation.

"Recovery," "permanently ruined"—these are not words one typically encounters when discussing a contemplative practice.

On a cold November night last fall, I drove to Cheetah House. A former student of Britton's, I joined the group in time for a Shabbat dinner. We blessed the challah, then the wine; recited prayers in English and Hebrew; and began eating.

Britton, an assistant professor of psychiatry and human behavior, works at the Brown University Medical School. She receives regular phone calls, emails, and letters from people around the world in various states of impairment. Most of them worry no one will believe—let alone understand—their stories of meditation-induced affliction. Her investigation of this phenomenon, called "The Dark Night Project," is an effort to document, analyze, and publicize accounts of the adverse effects of contemplative practices.

The morning after our Shabbat dinner, in Britton’s kitchen, David outlines the history of his own contemplative path. His first retreat was "very non-normal," he says, "and very good … divine. There was stuff dropping away … [and] electric shocks through my body. [My] core sense of self, a persistent consciousness, the thoughts and stuff, were not me." He tells me it was the best thing that had ever happened to him, an "orgasm of the soul, felt throughout my internal world."

David explains that he finally felt awake. But it didn't last.

Still high off his retreat, he declined an offer to attend law school, aggravating his parents. His best friends didn't understand him, or his "insane" stories of life on retreat.

"I had a fear of being thought of as crazy," he says, "I felt extremely sensitive, vulnerable, and naked."

Not knowing what to do with himself, David moved to Korea to teach English, got bored, dropped out of the program, and moved back in with his parents. Eventually, life lost its meaning. Colors began to fade. Spiritually dry, David didn't care about anything anymore. Everything he had found pleasurable before the retreat—hanging out with friends, playing music, drinking—all of that "turned to dirt," he says, "a plate of beautiful food turned to dirt."

He traveled back and forth from Asia to home seeking guidance, but found only a deep, persistent dissatisfaction in himself. After "bumming around Thailand for a bit," he moved to San Francisco, got a job, and sat through several more two- and 10-week meditation retreats. Then, in 2012, David sold his car to pay for a retreat at the Cloud Mountain Center that torments him still.

"Psychological hell," is how he describes it. "It would come and go in waves. I’d be in the middle of practice and what would come to mind was everything I didn't want to think about, every feeling I didn't want to feel." David felt "pebble-sized" spasms emerge from inside a "dense knot" in his belly.

He panicked. Increasingly vivid pornographic fantasies and repressed memories from his childhood began to surface.

"I just started freaking out," he says, "and at some point, I just surrendered to the onslaught of unwanted sexual thoughts … a sexual Rolodex of every taboo." As soon as he did, however, "there was some goodness to it." After years of pushing away his emotional, instinctual drives, something inside David was "reattached," he says.

Toward the end of his time at the Cloud Mountain Center, David shared his ongoing experiences with the retreat leaders, who assured him it was probably just his "ego's defenses" acting up. "They were really comforting," he says, "even though I thought I was going to become schizophrenic."

According to a survey by the National Institutes of Health, 10 percent of respondents—representing more than 20 million adult Americans—tried meditating between 2006 and 2007, a 1.8 percent increase from a similar survey in 2002. At that rate, by 2017, there may be more than 27 million American adults with a recent meditation experience.

In late January this year, Time magazine featured a cover story on "the mindful revolution," an account of the extent to which mindfulness meditation has diffused into the largest sectors of modern society. Used by "Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, Fortune 500 titans, Pentagon chiefs, and more," mindfulness meditation is promoted as a means to help Americans work mindfully, eat mindfully, parent mindfully, teach mindfully, take standardized tests mindfully, spend money mindfully, and go to war mindfully. What the cover story did not address are what might be called the revolution's "dirty laundry."

"We're not being thorough or honest in our study of contemplative practice," says Britton, a critique she extends to the entire field of researchers studying meditation, including herself.

I'm sitting on a pillow in Britton’s meditation room. She tells me that the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine's website includes an interesting choice of words in its entry on meditation. Under "side effects and risks," it reads:

Meditation is considered to be safe for healthy people. There have been rare reports that meditation could cause or worsen symptoms in people who have certain psychiatric problems, but this question has not been fully researched.

By modern scientific standards, the aforementioned research may not yet be comprehensive—a fact Britton wants to change—but according to Britton and her colleagues, descriptions of meditation's adverse effects have been collecting dust on bookshelves for centuries.

The phrase "dark night of the soul," can be traced back to a 16th-century Spanish poem by the Roman Catholic mystic San Juan de la Cruz, or Saint John of the Cross. It is most commonly used within certain Christian traditions to refer to an individual's spiritual crisis in the course of their union with God.

The divine experiences reported by Saint John describe a method, or protocol, "followed by the soul in its journey upon the spiritual road to the attainment of the perfect union of love with God, to the extent that it is possible in this life." The poem, however, is linked to a much longer text, also written by Saint John, which describes the hardships faced by those who seek to purify the senses—and the spirit—in their quest for mystical love.

According to Britton, the texts of many major contemplative traditions offer similar maps of spiritual development. One of her team's preliminary tasks—a sort of archeological literature review—was to pore through the written canons of Theravadin, Tibetan, and Zen Buddhism, as well as texts within Christianity, Judaism, and Sufism. "Not every text makes clear reference to a period of difficulty on the contemplative path," Britton says, "but many did."

"There is a sutta," a canonical discourse attributed to the Buddha or one of his close disciples, "where monks go crazy and commit suicide after doing contemplation on death," says Chris Kaplan, a visiting scholar at the Mind & Life Institute who also works with Britton on the Dark Night Project.

Nathan Fisher, the study's manager, condenses a famous parable by the founder of the Jewish Hasidic movement. Says Fisher, "[the story] is about how the oscillations of spiritual life parallel the experience of learning to walk, very similar to the metaphor Saint John of the Cross uses in terms of a mother weaning a child … first you are held up by a parent and it is exhilarating and wonderful, and then they take their hands away and it is terrifying and the child feels abandoned."

Kaplan and Fisher dislike the term "dark night" because, in their view, it can imply that difficult contemplative experiences are "one and the same thing" across different religions and contemplative traditions.

Fisher also emphasizes two categories that may cause dark nights to surface. The first results from "incorrect or misguided practice that could be avoided," while the second includes "those [experiences] which were necessary and expected stages of practices." In other words, while meditators can better avoid difficult experiences under the guidance of seasoned teachers, there are cases where such experiences are useful signs of progress in contemplative development. Distinguishing between the two, however, remains a challenge.

Britton shows me a 2010 paper written by University of Colorado-Boulder psychologist Sona Dimidjian that was published in American Psychologist, the official journal of the American Psychological Association. The study examines some dramatic instances where psychotherapy has caused serious harm to a patient. It also highlights the value of creating standards for defining and identifying when and how harm can occur at different points in the psychotherapeutic process.

One of the central questions of Dimidjian's article is this: After 100 years of research into psychotherapy, it's obvious that scientists and clinicians have learned a lot about the benefits of therapy, but what do we know about the harms? According to Britton, a parallel process is happening in the field of meditation research.

"We have a lot of positive data [on meditation]," she says, "but no one has been asking if there are any potential difficulties or adverse effects, and whether there are some practices that may be better or worse-suited [for] some people over others. Ironically," Britton adds, "the main delivery system for Buddhist meditation in America is actually medicine and science, not Buddhism."

As a result, many people think of meditation only from the perspective of reducing stress and enhancing executive skills such as emotion regulation, attention, and so on.

For Britton, this widespread assumption—that meditation exists only for stress reduction and labor productivity, "because that's what Americans value"—narrows the scope of the scientific lens. When the time comes to develop hypotheses around the effects of meditation, the only acceptable—and fundable—research questions are the ones that promise to deliver the answers we want to hear.

"Does it promote good relationships? Does it reduce cortisol? Does it help me work harder?" asks Britton, referencing these more lucrative questions. Because studies have shown that meditation does satisfy such interests, the results, she says, are vigorously reported to the public. "But," she cautions, "what about when meditation plays a role in creating an experience that then leads to a breakup, a psychotic break, or an inability to focus at work?"

Given the juggernaut—economic and otherwise—behind the mindfulness movement, there is a lot at stake in exploring a shadow side of meditation. Upton Sinclair once observed how difficult it is to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it. Britton has experienced that difficulty herself. In part because university administrators and research funders prefer simple and less controversial titles, she has chosen to rename the Dark Night Project the "Varieties of Contemplative Experience."

Britton also questions what might be considered the mindfulness movement's limited scope. She explains that the Theravadin Buddhist tradition influences how a large portion of Americans practice meditation, but in it, mindfulness is "about vipassana, a specific type of insight … into the three characteristics of experience." These are also known as the three marks of existence: anicca, or impermanence; dukkha, or dissatisfaction; and anatta, or no-self.

In this context, mindfulness is not about being able to stare comfortably at your computer for hours on end, or get "in the zone" to climb the corporate ladder. Rather, says Britton, it's about the often painstaking process of "realizing and processing those three specific insights."

Shinzen Young, a Buddhist meditation teacher popular with young scientists, has summarized his familiarity with dark night experiences. In a 2011 email exchange between himself and a student, which he then posted on his blog, Young presents an explanation of what he means by a "dark night" within the context of Buddhist experience:

Almost everyone who gets anywhere with meditation will pass through periods of negative emotion, confusion, [and] disorientation. …The same can happen in psychotherapy and other growth modalities. I would not refer to these types of experiences as 'dark night.' I would reserve the term for a somewhat rarer phenomenon. Within the Buddhist tradition, [this] is sometimes referred to as 'falling into the Pit of the Void.' It entails an authentic and irreversible insight into Emptiness and No Self. Instead of being empowering and fulfilling … it turns into the opposite. In a sense, it's Enlightenment's Evil Twin. This is serious but still manageable through intensive … guidance under a competent teacher. In some cases, it takes months or even years to fully metabolize, but in my experience the results are almost always highly positive.

Britton's findings corroborate many of Young's claims. Among the nearly 40 dark night subjects her team has formally interviewed over the past few years, she says most were "fairly out of commission, fairly impaired for between six months [and] more than 20 years."

The identities of Britton's subjects are kept secret and coded anonymously. To find interviewees, however, her team contacted well-known and highly esteemed teachers, such as Jack Kornfield at California's Spirit Rock and Joseph Goldstein at the Insight Meditation Center in Massachusetts. Like many other experienced teachers they spoke to, Goldstein and Kornfield recalled instances during past meditation retreats where students became psychologically incapacitated. Some were hospitalized. Says Britton, "there was one person Jack told me about [who] never recovered."

The Dark Night Project is young, and still very much in progress. Researchers in the field are just beginning to carefully collect and sort through the narratives of difficult meditation-related experiences. Britton has presented her findings at major Buddhist and scientific conferences, prominent retreat centers, and even to the Dalai Lama at the 24th Mind and Life Dialogue in 2012.

"Many people in our study were lost and confused and could not find help," Britton says. "They had been through so many doctors, therapists, and dharma teachers. Given that we had so much information about these effects, we realized that we were it."

In response, Britton conceived of Cheetah House as a public resource. "We're still in the process of developing our services," she says. "Lots of people just come live here, and work on the study. Because they're part of the research team, they get to stay here and listen to other people's experiences, and that's been incredibly healing."

As a trained clinician, it can be hard for Britton to reconcile the visible benefits of contemplative practices with data unearthed through the Dark Night Project. More than half of her patients reported positive "life-altering experiences" after a recent eight-week meditation program, for example. But, she says, "while I have appreciation and love for the practices, and for my patients … I have all of these other people that have struggled, who are struggling."

"I understand the resistance," says Britton, in response to critics who have attempted to silence or dismiss her work. "There are parts of me that just want meditation to be all good. I find myself in denial sometimes, where I just want to forget all that I've learned and go back to being happy about mindfulness and promoting it, but then I get another phone call and meet someone who's in distress, and I see the devastation in their eyes, and I can't deny that this is happening. As much as I want to investigate and promote contemplative practices and contribute to the well-being of humanity through that, I feel a deeper commitment to what's actually true."
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Re: Mindfulness Meditation Research: Issues of Participant S

Postby admin » Fri Jun 28, 2019 8:57 am

The mindfulness conspiracy: It is sold as a force that can help us cope with the ravages of capitalism, but with its inward focus, mindful meditation may be the enemy of activism
by Ronald Purser
Fri 14 Jun 2019 01.00 EDT Last modified on Tue 18 Jun 2019 06.49 EDT

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Mindfulness has gone mainstream, with celebrity endorsement from Oprah Winfrey and Goldie Hawn. Meditation coaches, monks and neuroscientists went to Davos to impart the finer points to CEOs attending the World Economic Forum. The founders of the mindfulness movement have grown evangelical. Prophesying that its hybrid of science and meditative discipline “has the potential to ignite a universal or global renaissance”, the inventor of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), Jon Kabat-Zinn, has bigger ambitions than conquering stress. Mindfulness, he proclaims, “may actually be the only promise the species and the planet have for making it through the next couple of hundred years”.

The social and political implications of this democratization of the screen are enormous. In the past, friendship and intimate exchange have been limited to local geography or occasional visits. Now you can play electronic tennis with a pro in Tokyo, interact with a classroom in Paris, cyberflirt with cute guys in any four cities of your choice. A global fast-feedback language of icons and memes, facilitated by instant translation devices, will smoothly eliminate the barriers of language that have been responsible for most of the war and conflict of the last centuries.

***

One night in 1983, I was having dinner with a friend who worked at the UCLA Neuropsychiatric Institute. During the evening, he mentioned that a breakthrough in the erection department was at hand. He said that a Stanford University research team was developing a pill that would give immediate control of your erections! The active ingredient was called yohimbe. This was a discovery of historic importance! It could mean the end of male insecurity, cruelty, and war! This could break the wretched addiction to prime-time television!

-- Chaos & Cyberculture, by Timothy Leary, Ph.D.


So, what exactly is this magic panacea? In 2014, Time magazine put a youthful blonde woman on its cover, blissing out above the words: “The Mindful Revolution.” The accompanying feature described a signature scene from the standardised course teaching MBSR: eating a raisin very slowly. “The ability to focus for a few minutes on a single raisin isn’t silly if the skills it requires are the keys to surviving and succeeding in the 21st century,” the author explained.

But anything that offers success in our unjust society without trying to change it is not revolutionary – it just helps people cope. In fact, it could also be making things worse. Instead of encouraging radical action, mindfulness says the causes of suffering are disproportionately inside us, not in the political and economic frameworks that shape how we live. And yet mindfulness zealots believe that paying closer attention to the present moment without passing judgment has the revolutionary power to transform the whole world. It’s magical thinking on steroids.


In 1969 the noted French political writer Jean-Francois Revel predicted that the United States was about to experience "the second great world revolution" — an upheaval that would complete the first revolution, the rise of democracy in the West. In Without Marx or Jesus he predicted the emergence of homo novus, a new human being. Revel believed that the undercurrent of spiritual concern in the United States, evident in the burgeoning interest in Eastern religions, presaged profound change in the only country on the planet free enough for bloodless revolution.

Revel saw the coming second revolution as an emergent pattern amid the chaos of the 1960s; the social movements, the new mores and fashions, protests and violence. Indeed, many of the activists were turning inward, a direction that seemed heretical to their comrades in the conventional Left. They were saying that they could not change society until they changed themselves. Irving Thomas, a social activist of the 1960s, recalled later:

A funny thing happened on the way to Revolution. There we were, beating our breasts for social change, when it slowly began to dawn on us that our big-deal social-political struggle was only one parochial engagement of a revolution in consciousness so large that it has been hard to bring it into focus within our reality.


And Michael Rossmari, one of the leaders of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement, and other leaders of the supposedly alienated campus rebels spoke in low tones of a curious development. In their thrust for change they had begun to experience "the scariness of real choice and possibility. ... There was a sense that the surface of reality had somehow fallen away altogether. Nothing was any longer what it seemed."

Was this what it meant to make the world strange and new again? Creating and naming the movement had "alleviated the responsibility for facing an unsought and terrifyingly wild field of choice in a universe in which somehow anything had become possible." Like the sorcerers in the popular books of Carlos Castaneda, Rossman and his friends had succeeded, however briefly, in "stopping the world." Confrontation was a less and less attractive strategy as it became more and more evident that, as Walt Kelly's cartoon character Pogo once observed, "We have met the enemy and they are us."

When the revolution went inside, television cameras and newspaper reporters could not cover it. It had become, in many ways, invisible.

To many of the activists idealism seemed the only pragmatic alternative. Cynicism had proved a self-fulfilling prophecy.

-- The Aquarian Conspiracy: Personal and Social Transformation in the 1980sby Marilyn Ferguson


There are certainly worthy dimensions to mindfulness practice. Tuning out mental rumination does help reduce stress, as well as chronic anxiety and many other maladies. Becoming more aware of automatic reactions can make people calmer and potentially kinder. Most of the promoters of mindfulness are nice, and having personally met many of them, including the leaders of the movement, I have no doubt that their hearts are in the right place. But that isn’t the issue here. The problem is the product they’re selling, and how it’s been packaged. Mindfulness is nothing more than basic concentration training. Although derived from Buddhism, it’s been stripped of the teachings on ethics that accompanied it, as well as the liberating aim of dissolving attachment to a false sense of self while enacting compassion for all other beings.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu points to the Ananda Sutta, where the Buddha stays silent when asked whether there is a 'self' or not ...

-- Anatta, by Wikipedia


What remains is a tool of self-discipline, disguised as self-help. Instead of setting practitioners free, it helps them adjust to the very conditions that caused their problems. A truly revolutionary movement would seek to overturn this dysfunctional system, but mindfulness only serves to reinforce its destructive logic. The neoliberal order has imposed itself by stealth in the past few decades, widening inequality in pursuit of corporate wealth. People are expected to adapt to what this model demands of them. Stress has been pathologised and privatised, and the burden of managing it outsourced to individuals. Hence the pedlars of mindfulness step in to save the day.

But none of this means that mindfulness ought to be banned, or that anyone who finds it useful is deluded. Reducing suffering is a noble aim and it should be encouraged. But to do this effectively, teachers of mindfulness need to acknowledge that personal stress also has societal causes. By failing to address collective suffering, and systemic change that might remove it, they rob mindfulness of its real revolutionary potential, reducing it to something banal that keeps people focused on themselves.

Image
Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is often called the father of modern mindfulness. Photograph: Sarah Lee

The fundamental message of the mindfulness movement is that the underlying cause of dissatisfaction and distress is in our heads. By failing to pay attention to what actually happens in each moment, we get lost in regrets about the past and fears for the future, which make us unhappy. Kabat-Zinn, who is often labelled the father of modern mindfulness, calls this a “thinking disease”. Learning to focus turns down the volume on circular thought, so Kabat-Zinn’s diagnosis is that our “entire society is suffering from attention deficit disorder – big time”. Other sources of cultural malaise are not discussed. The only mention of the word “capitalist” in Kabat-Zinn’s book Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness occurs in an anecdote about a stressed investor who says: “We all suffer a kind of ADD.”

Mindfulness advocates, perhaps unwittingly, are providing support for the status quo. Rather than discussing how attention is monetised and manipulated by corporations such as Google, Facebook, Twitter and Apple, they locate the crisis in our minds. It is not the nature of the capitalist system that is inherently problematic; rather, it is the failure of individuals to be mindful and resilient in a precarious and uncertain economy. Then they sell us solutions that make us contented, mindful capitalists.

By practising mindfulness, individual freedom is supposedly found within “pure awareness”, undistracted by external corrupting influences. All we need to do is close our eyes and watch our breath. And that’s the crux of the supposed revolution: the world is slowly changed, one mindful individual at a time. This political philosophy is oddly reminiscent of George W Bush’s “compassionate conservatism”. With the retreat to the private sphere, mindfulness becomes a religion of the self. The idea of a public sphere is being eroded, and any trickledown effect of compassion is by chance. As a result, notes the political theorist Wendy Brown, “the body politic ceases to be a body, but is, rather, a group of individual entrepreneurs and consumers”.

Mindfulness, like positive psychology and the broader happiness industry, has depoliticised stress. If we are unhappy about being unemployed, losing our health insurance, and seeing our children incur massive debt through college loans, it is our responsibility to learn to be more mindful. Kabat-Zinn assures us that “happiness is an inside job” that simply requires us to attend to the present moment mindfully and purposely without judgment. Another vocal promoter of meditative practice, the neuroscientist Richard Davidson, contends that “wellbeing is a skill” that can be trained, like working out one’s biceps at the gym. The so-called mindfulness revolution meekly accepts the dictates of the marketplace. Guided by a therapeutic ethos aimed at enhancing the mental and emotional resilience of individuals, it endorses neoliberal assumptions that everyone is free to choose their responses, manage negative emotions, and “flourish” through various modes of self-care. Framing what they offer in this way, most teachers of mindfulness rule out a curriculum that critically engages with causes of suffering in the structures of power and economic systems of capitalist society.

The term “McMindfulness” was coined by Miles Neale, a Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist, who described “a feeding frenzy of spiritual practices that provide immediate nutrition but no long-term sustenance”. The contemporary mindfulness fad is the entrepreneurial equal of McDonald’s. The founder of McDonald’s, Ray Kroc, created the fast food industry. Very early on, when he was selling milkshakes, Kroc spotted the franchising potential of a restaurant chain in San Bernadino, California. He made a deal to serve as the franchising agent for the McDonald brothers. Soon afterwards, he bought them out, and grew the chain into a global empire. Kabat-Zinn, a dedicated meditator, had a vision in the midst of a retreat: he could adapt Buddhist teachings and practices to help hospital patients deal with physical pain, stress and anxiety. His masterstroke was the branding of mindfulness as a secular spirituality.

Kroc saw his chance to provide busy Americans with instant access to food that would be delivered consistently through automation, standardisation and discipline. Kabat-Zinn perceived the opportunity to give stressed-out Americans easy access to MBSR through an eight-week mindfulness course for stress reduction that would be taught consistently using a standardised curriculum. MBSR teachers would gain certification by attending programmes at Kabat-Zinn’s Center for Mindfulness in Worcester, Massachusetts. He continued to expand the reach of MBSR by identifying new markets such as corporations, schools, government and the military, and endorsing other forms of “mindfulness-based interventions” (MBIs).

Both men took measures to ensure that their products would not vary in quality or content across franchises. Burgers and fries at McDonald’s are the same whether one is eating them in Dubai or in Dubuque. Similarly, there is little variation in the content, structuring and curriculum of MBSR courses around the world.

Mindfulness has been oversold and commodified, reduced to a technique for just about any instrumental purpose. It can give inner-city kids a calming time-out, or hedge-fund traders a mental edge, or reduce the stress of military drone pilots. Void of a moral compass or ethical commitments, unmoored from a vision of the social good, the commodification of mindfulness keeps it anchored in the ethos of the market.

This has come about partly because proponents of mindfulness believe that the practice is apolitical, and so the avoidance of moral inquiry and the reluctance to consider a vision of the social good are intertwined. It is simply assumed that ethical behaviour will arise “naturally” from practice and the teacher’s “embodiment” of soft-spoken niceness, or through the happenstance of self-discovery. However, the claim that major ethical changes will follow from “paying attention to the present moment, non-judgmentally” is patently flawed. The emphasis on “non-judgmental awareness” can just as easily disable one’s moral intelligence.

In Selling Spirituality: The Silent Takeover of Religion, Jeremy Carrette and Richard King argue that traditions of Asian wisdom have been subject to colonisation and commodification since the 18th century, producing a highly individualistic spirituality, perfectly accommodated to dominant cultural values and requiring no substantive change in lifestyle. Such an individualistic spirituality is clearly linked with the neoliberal agenda of privatisation, especially when masked by the ambiguous language used in mindfulness. Market forces are already exploiting the momentum of the mindfulness movement, reorienting its goals to a highly circumscribed individual realm.

Mindfulness is easily co-opted and reduced to merely “pacifying feelings of anxiety and disquiet at the individual level, rather than seeking to challenge the social, political and economic inequalities that cause such distress”, write Carrette and King. But a commitment to this kind of privatised and psychologised mindfulness is political – therapeutically optimising individuals to make them “mentally fit”, attentive and resilient, so they may keep functioning within the system. Such capitulation seems like the farthest thing from a revolution – more like a quietist surrender.

Mindfulness is positioned as a force that can help us cope with the noxious influences of capitalism. But because what it offers is so easily assimilated by the market, its potential for social and political transformation is neutered. Leaders in the mindfulness movement believe that capitalism and spirituality can be reconciled; they want to relieve the stress of individuals without having to look deeper and more broadly at its causes.

Mindfulness is being sold to executives as a way to de-stress, focus and bounce back from working 80-hour weeks


A truly revolutionary mindfulness would challenge the western sense of entitlement to happiness irrespective of ethical conduct. However, mindfulness programmes do not ask executives to examine how their managerial decisions and corporate policies have institutionalised greed, ill will and delusion. Instead, the practice is being sold to executives as a way to de-stress, improve productivity and focus, and bounce back from working 80-hour weeks. They may well be “meditating”, but it works like taking an aspirin for a headache. Once the pain goes away, it is business as usual. Even if individuals become nicer people, the corporate agenda of maximising profits does not change.

If mindfulness just helps people cope with the toxic conditions that make them stressed in the first place, then perhaps we could aim a bit higher. Should we celebrate the fact that this perversion is helping people to “auto-exploit” themselves? This is the core of the problem. The internalisation of focus for mindfulness practice also leads to other things being internalised, from corporate requirements to structures of dominance in society. Perhaps worst of all, this submissive position is framed as freedom. Indeed, mindfulness thrives on doublespeak about freedom, celebrating self-centered “freedoms” while paying no attention to civic responsibility, or the cultivation of a collective mindfulness that finds genuine freedom within a co-operative and just society.

Of course, reductions in stress and increases in personal happiness and wellbeing are much easier to sell than serious questions about injustice, inequity and environmental devastation. The latter involve a challenge to the social order, while the former play directly to mindfulness’s priorities – sharpening people’s focus, improving their performance at work and in exams, and even promising better sex lives. Not only has mindfulness been repackaged as a novel technique of psychotherapy, but its utility is commercially marketed as self-help. This branding reinforces the notion that spiritual practices are indeed an individual’s private concern. And once privatised, these practices are easily co-opted for social, economic and political control.

Rather than being used as a means to awaken individuals and organisations to the unwholesome roots of greed, ill will and delusion, mindfulness is more often refashioned into a banal, therapeutic, self-help technique that can actually reinforce those roots.

Mindfulness is said to be a $4bn industry. More than 60,000 books for sale on Amazon have a variant of “mindfulness” in their title, touting the benefits of Mindful Parenting, Mindful Eating, Mindful Teaching, Mindful Therapy, Mindful Leadership, Mindful Finance, a Mindful Nation, and Mindful Dog Owners, to name just a few. There is also The Mindfulness Colouring Book, part of a bestselling subgenre in itself. Besides books, there are workshops, online courses, glossy magazines, documentary films, smartphone apps, bells, cushions, bracelets, beauty products and other paraphernalia, as well as a lucrative and burgeoning conference circuit. Mindfulness programmes have made their way into schools, Wall Street and Silicon Valley corporations, law firms, and government agencies, including the US military.

The presentation of mindfulness as a market-friendly palliative explains its warm reception in popular culture. It slots so neatly into the mindset of the workplace that its only real threat to the status quo is to offer people ways to become more skilful at the rat race. Modern society’s neoliberal consensus argues that those who enjoy power and wealth should be given free rein to accumulate more. It’s perhaps no surprise that those mindfulness merchants who accept market logic are a hit with the CEOs in Davos, where Kabat-Zinn has no qualms about preaching the gospel of competitive advantage from meditative practice.

Over the past few decades, neoliberalism has outgrown its conservative roots. It has hijacked public discourse to the extent that even self-professed progressives, such as Kabat-Zinn, think in neoliberal terms. Market values have invaded every corner of human life, defining how most of us are forced to interpret and live in the world.

Perhaps the most straightforward definition of neoliberalism comes from the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who calls it “a programme for destroying collective structures that may impede the pure market logic”. We are generally conditioned to think that a market-based society provides us with ample (if not equal) opportunities for increasing the value of our “human capital” and self-worth. And in order to fully actualise personal freedom and potential, we need to maximise our own welfare, freedom, and happiness by deftly managing internal resources.

Since competition is so central, neoliberal ideology holds that all decisions about how society is run should be left to the workings of the marketplace, the most efficient mechanism for allowing competitors to maximise their own good. Other social actors – including the state, voluntary associations, and the like – are just obstacles to the smooth operation of market logic.

For an actor in neoliberal society, mindfulness is a skill to be cultivated, or a resource to be put to use. When mastered, it helps you to navigate the capitalist ocean’s tricky currents, keeping your attention “present-centred and non-judgmental” to deal with the inevitable stress and anxiety from competition. Mindfulness helps you to maximise your personal wellbeing.

All of this may help you to sleep better at night. But the consequences for society are potentially dire. The Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek has analysed this trend. As he sees it, mindfulness is “establishing itself as the hegemonic ideology of global capitalism”, by helping people “to fully participate in the capitalist dynamic while retaining the appearance of mental sanity”.

By deflecting attention from the social structures and material conditions in a capitalist culture, mindfulness is easily co-opted. Celebrity role models bless and endorse it, while Californian companies including Google, Facebook, Twitter, Apple and Zynga have embraced it as an adjunct to their brand. Google’s former in-house mindfulness tsar Chade-Meng Tan had the actual job title Jolly Good Fellow. “Search inside yourself,” he counselled colleagues and readers – for there, not in corporate culture – lies the source of your problems.

The rhetoric of “self-mastery”, “resilience” and “happiness” assumes wellbeing is simply a matter of developing a skill. Mindfulness cheerleaders are particularly fond of this trope, saying we can train our brains to be happy, like exercising muscles. Happiness, freedom and wellbeing become the products of individual effort. Such so-called “skills” can be developed without reliance on external factors, relationships or social conditions. Underneath its therapeutic discourse, mindfulness subtly reframes problems as the outcomes of choices. Personal troubles are never attributed to political or socioeconomic conditions, but are always psychological in nature and diagnosed as pathologies. Society therefore needs therapy, not radical change. This is perhaps why mindfulness initiatives have become so attractive to government policymakers. Societal problems rooted in inequality, racism, poverty, addiction and deteriorating mental health can be reframed in terms of individual psychology, requiring therapeutic help. Vulnerable subjects can even be told to provide this themselves.

Neoliberalism divides the world into winners and losers. It accomplishes this task through its ideological linchpin: the individualisation of all social phenomena. Since the autonomous (and free) individual is the primary focal point for society, social change is achieved not through political protest, organising and collective action, but via the free market and atomised actions of individuals. Any effort to change this through collective structures is generally troublesome to the neoliberal order. It is therefore discouraged.

An illustrative example is the practice of recycling. The real problem is the mass production of plastics by corporations, and their overuse in retail. However, consumers are led to believe that being personally wasteful is the underlying issue, which can be fixed if they change their habits. As a recent essay in Scientific American scoffs: “Recycling plastic is to saving the Earth what hammering a nail is to halting a falling skyscraper.” Yet the neoliberal doctrine of individual responsibility has performed its sleight-of-hand, distracting us from the real culprit. This is far from new. In the 1950s, the “Keep America Beautiful” campaign urged individuals to pick up their trash. The project was bankrolled by corporations such as Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch and Phillip Morris, in partnership with the public service announcement Ad Council, which coined the term “litterbug” to shame miscreants. Two decades later, a famous TV ad featured a Native American man weeping at the sight of a motorist dumping garbage. “People Start Pollution. People Can Stop It,” was the slogan. The essay in Scientific American, by Matt Wilkins, sees through such charades.

To change the world, we are told to work on ourselves – to change our minds by being more accepting of circumstances


At face value, these efforts seem benevolent, but they obscure the real problem, which is the role that corporate polluters play in the plastic problem. This clever misdirection has led journalist and author Heather Rogers to describe Keep America Beautiful as the first corporate greenwashing front, as it has helped shift the public focus to consumer recycling behaviour and thwarted legislation that would increase extended producer responsibility for waste management.

We are repeatedly sold the same message: that individual action is the only real way to solve social problems, so we should take responsibility. We are trapped in a neoliberal trance by what the education scholar Henry Giroux calls a “disimagination machine”, because it stifles critical and radical thinking. We are admonished to look inward, and to manage ourselves. Disimagination impels us to abandon creative ideas about new possibilities. Instead of seeking to dismantle capitalism, or rein in its excesses, we should accept its demands and use self-discipline to be more effective in the market. To change the world, we are told to work on ourselves — to change our minds by being more mindful, nonjudgmental, and accepting of circumstances.

It is a fundamental tenet of neoliberal mindfulness, that the source of people’s problems is found in their heads. This has been accentuated by the pathologising and medicalisation of stress, which then requires a remedy and expert treatment – in the form of mindfulness interventions. The ideological message is that if you cannot alter the circumstances causing distress, you can change your reactions to your circumstances. In some ways, this can be helpful, since many things are not in our control. But to abandon all efforts to fix them seems excessive. Mindfulness practices do not permit critique or debate of what might be unjust, culturally toxic or environmentally destructive. Rather, the mindful imperative to “accept things as they are” while practising “nonjudgmental, present moment awareness” acts as a social anesthesia, preserving the status quo.

The mindfulness movement’s promise of “human flourishing” (which is also the rallying cry of positive psychology) is the closest it comes to defining a vision of social change. However, this vision remains individualised and depends on the personal choice to be more mindful. Mindfulness practitioners may of course have a very different political agenda to that of neoliberalism, but the risk is that they start to retreat into their own private worlds and particular identities — which is just where the neoliberal power structures want them.

Mindfulness practice is embedded in what Jennifer Silva calls the “mood economy”. In Coming Up Short: Working-Class Adulthood in an Age of Uncertainty, Silva explains that, like the privatisation of risk, a mood economy makes “individuals solely responsible for their emotional fates”. In such a political economy of affect, emotions are regulated as a means to enhance one’s “emotional capital”. At Google’s Search Inside Yourself mindfulness programme, emotional intelligence (EI) figures prominently in the curriculum. The programme is marketed to Google engineers as instrumental to their career success — by engaging in mindfulness practice, managing emotions generates surplus economic value, equivalent to the acquisition of capital. The mood economy also demands the ability to bounce back from setbacks to stay productive in a precarious economic context. Like positive psychology, the mindfulness movement has merged with the “science of happiness”. Once packaged in this way, it can be sold as a technique for personal life-hacking optimisation, disembedding individuals from social worlds.

All the promises of mindfulness resonate with what the University of Chicago cultural theorist Lauren Berlant calls “cruel optimism”, a defining neoliberal characteristic. It is cruel in that one makes affective investments in what amount to fantasies. We are told that if we practice mindfulness, and get our individual lives in order, we can be happy and secure. It is therefore implied that stable employment, home ownership, social mobility, career success and equality will naturally follow. We are also promised that we can gain self-mastery, controlling our minds and emotions so we can thrive and flourish amid the vagaries of capitalism. As Joshua Eisen, the author of Mindful Calculations, puts it: “Like kale, acai berries, gym memberships, vitamin water, and other new year’s resolutions, mindfulness indexes a profound desire to change, but one premised on a fundamental reassertion of neoliberal fantasies of self-control and unfettered agency.” We just have to sit in silence, watching our breath, and wait. It is doubly cruel because these normative fantasies of the “good life” are already crumbling under neoliberalism, and we make it worse if we focus individually on our feelings. Neglecting shared vulnerabilities and interdependence, we disimagine the collective ways we might protect ourselves. And despite the emptiness of nurturing fantasies, we continue to cling to them.

Mindfulness isn’t cruel in and of itself. It’s only cruel when fetishised and attached to inflated promises. It is then, as Berlant points out, that “the object that draws your attachment actively impedes the aim that brought you to it initially”. The cruelty lies in supporting the status quo while using the language of transformation. This is how neoliberal mindfulness promotes an individualistic vision of human flourishing, enticing us to accept things as they are, mindfully enduring the ravages of capitalism.

Adapted from McMindfulness: How Mindfulness Became the New Capitalist Spirituality by Ronald Purser, published by Repeater Books on 9 July and available at guardianbookshop.com
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Re: Mindfulness Meditation Research: Issues of Participant S

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Part 1 of 4

Silencing and Oblivion of Psychological Trauma, Its Unconscious Aspects, and Their Impact on the Inflation of Vajrayāna. An Analysis of Cross-Group Dynamics and Recent Developments in Buddhist Groups Based on Qualitative Data
by Anne Iris Miriam Anders
Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich, 80939 Munich, Germany
Received: 8 October 2019 / Accepted: 6 November 2019 / Published: 10 November 2019

Abstract: The commercialization of Buddhist philosophy has led to decontextualization and indoctrinating issues across groups, as well as abuse and trauma in that context. Methodologically, from an interdisciplinary approach, based on the current situation in international Buddhist groups and citations of victims from the ongoing research, the psychological mechanisms of rationalizing and silencing trauma were analyzed. The results show how supposedly Buddhist terminology and concepts are used to rationalize and justify economic, psychological and physical abuse. This is discussed against the background of psychological mechanisms of silencing trauma and the impact of ignoring the unconscious in that particular context. Inadequate consideration regarding the teacher–student relationship, combined with an unreflective use of Tibetan honorary titles and distorted conceptualizations of methods, such as the constant merging prescribed in so-called ‘guru yoga’, resulted in giving up self-responsibility and enhanced dependency. These new concepts, commercialized as ‘karma purification’ and ‘pure view’, have served to rationalize and conceal abuse, as well as to isolate the victims. Therefore, we are facing societal challenges, in terms of providing health and economic care to the victims and implementing preventive measures. This use of language also impacts on scientific discourse and Vajrayāna itself, and will affect many future generations.

Keywords: indoctrination and abuse in Buddhist groups; Vajrayāna; decontextualization of concepts; silencing of trauma; guru yoga; pure view; karma purification; crazy wisdom; mindfulness; trauma

1. The Inflation of Vajrayāna

Recently, severe damage to health has been reported in Vajrayāna groups, due to economic, physical and psychological abuse. It is the testimonies of witnesses and the victims themselves that reveal a covert attitude of personal enrichment and self-centeredness on the part of authorities and their entourages in painful detail. While the narrative of Vajrayāna (Patrul 1998, p. 440) as being a quick path to enlightenment, and the expansion of the Dharma with Tibetan Buddhism spreading to the West, has continued, quality of care has vanished at the expense of the quantity of centers considered as status symbols. The pattern of euphemisms for the retrospective glorification of religious authorities has become interrupted by those affected joining to begin to share their own stories of indoctrination, exploitation and abuse. This signifies a turning point in the historiography of Tibetan Buddhism. Unlike the structures and hierarchies defined in Buddhist monasteries, which were copied unreflectively into Buddhist seminar and retreat centers, the strategy behind establishing huge amounts of international centers involved appointing people who quite often were uneducated about their positions. They then established undemocratic group structures along with their masters, served their hidden agendas, and promoted decontextualized concepts. At present, that decontextualization of terms can no longer be separated from the silencing of trauma and a linguistic style rationalizing this. It has been facilitated by replacing the clear definitions of technical terms of Buddhist philosophy with an oversimplification of concepts, together with illogical reasoning, replacing logical conclusions with blind faith. In this way, neologisms, distorted concepts and selective quotations are now promoted as Buddhism. While an introspective, self-reflexive attitude, and the knowledge of Buddhist philosophy being an instruction for the individuals’ path to autonomy were lost, the identification with teachers (Anders 2019a, p. 35) and one’s own group were widely propagated as mainstream instead. The monetary inflow and prevalent tendency towards naively idealizing Buddhist ideals once seemed to prove the established position-holders and their entourages right, despite their ignoring the realities of people in those groups or suppressing their expression. But, over the years, enrichment based on massive processes of exploitation and submission, especially towards the feminine, and the depersonalization of group members, leading to economic, physical and psychological abuse, became evident. Beyond that, however, neologisms such as the concept of ‘karma purification’ were developed, meaning one person purifying another’s so-called ‘bad kama,’ or even part of his group implementing such an idea at his command. This reveals a strategy of masking human exploitation and traumatization by using spiritual guises and every available means to achieve concealment. As “all the perpetrator asks is that the bystander do nothing […and] appeals to the universal desire to see, hear, and speak no evil” (Herman 2015, p. 7), these new rationalizing concepts have been supported by irresponsible authorities, making it even more attractive to “take the side of the perpetrator” (Herman 2015, p. 7) or obey his orders, which, in such contexts, was even referred to with the term ‘devotion’. Now that we are facing its impact on the group dynamics of people played against each other, and on the health of individuals leaving such groups, the question arises of how these mainstream misconceptions designed to silence the unspeakable (Herman 2015, p. 1) could ever be reversed, and their damage minimized inside as well as outside the established structures. Thus, the inflation of knowledge transmission of the Vajrayāna came about due to simplified concepts, suitable for the purpose of commercialization and manipulation, and the associated decontextualization of technical terms (Anders 2019a, p. 35) used in Buddhist philosophy and Tibetan medicine, which were then intermingled, ignoring their unconscious aspects, and used to silence trauma. In addition to significant damage to the health of the long-term practitioners and those students, who abandoned a lot in the process of becoming involved, or were severely exploited and then exchanged for others, this has resulted in severe disappointment, due to misguided spirituality. In such settings, the misinterpretation of devotion (Anders 2019a, p. 37; Kongtrul 2003, pp. 63–64) as blind trust is just one of the manipulative methods applied. Furthermore, the unconscious devaluation of the feminine in this context, which allows one to project one’s own unwanted fantasies onto those who are denied their own voice, leads to the unimaginable social isolation of the affected girls and women, which is supposed to condemn them to speechlessness and being forgotten. These painful ways of silencing were explained for the circumstances of traumatization by Herman, as follows:

In order to escape accountability for his crimes, the perpetrator does everything in his power to promote forgetting. Secrecy and silence are the perpetrator's first line in defense. If secrecy fails, the perpetrator attacks the credibility of his victim. If he cannot silence her absolutely, he tries to make sure that no one listens. To this end, he marshals an impressive array of arguments, from the most blatant denial to the most sophisticated and elegant rationalization. After every atrocity one can expect to hear the same predictable apologies: it never happened; the victim lies; the victim exaggerates; the victim brought it upon herself; and in any case it is time to forget the past and move on. The more powerful the perpetrator, the greater is his prerogative to name and define reality, and the more completely his arguments prevail.

-- (Herman 2015, p. 8)


The following text will address the ways of silencing trauma in Vajrayāna contexts, by describing some crucial aspects of rationalization with seemingly Buddhist terminology and the psychological mechanisms of projection, subtle shifts and double bind. However, these psychological proceedings, manipulations and tricks are not regarded merely an individual issue, as they are commonly devalued into individual perception in such contexts. They have extensive implications for the Buddhist groups themselves, society and knowledge of Vajrayāna. When spiritual authorities dictate terminology to silence their victims and thus manipulate their own followers, their students also learn how to view and rationalize such issues, and how they are expected to deal with victims. In order to comply with the rules of silencing, friendships collapse, and people turn against each other. Fear is methodically introduced through these means, and victims are deprived of the most important and protective measures of social contacts. Therefore, with such methods, even natural compassion towards the affected ones becomes suppressed. This suppression works with confusion at the psychological level and, in such a way, freezes decisions and the natural impulse to protect people. It also works by instilling fear, which is imported with talk about the hells and the unwanted, and often an unconscious avoidance of exclusion from the peer group. Thus, the current situation clearly reveals the extent to which recent developments have already deviated from the traditional purpose of Vajrayāna, its core of bodhicitta (Coleman and Jinpa 2008, pp. 588–89; Dalai 1992, pp. 207–8; Köttl 2009, p. 160; Richard and Kurz 2010, p. 7; Tsepak 2003, p. 183), as well as its practice of taking the goal as the path. Considering the impact of the elevating irresponsible people, without considering the impact of their behavior on group dynamics, society and their victims, one might raise the question of the minimum requirements for education and leadership qualities of such spiritual authorities. It is these developments that make clear how Vajrayāna’s heart of bodhicitta was lost.

2. Implications of Losing the Heart of Vajrayāna

The Vajrayāna, as it is handed down in Tibetan Buddhism, has been considered an individual path of training based on its core of compassion and bodhicitta, which are cultivated throughout several sequential levels from the very beginning of individual training. Based on authentic bodhicitta, Vajrayana’s method ...

Anyone who has practiced Tibetan Buddhism intensively is familiar with the offerings of barley-butter cakes (tormas) simulating heaps of blood and fat that are given to the oath-bound protectors and wrathful deities to satisfy their bloodlust and incite them to protect the lineage from the damage that comes from samaya breakage. These rituals, that originated in the practice of propitiating local deities believed to inhabit mountains and other natural features of the land in Tibet, are practiced by credulous Americans in temples all over the United States, while chanting maledictions like "Kill those who break samaya! Burst their hearts! Spill their blood! Crush their heads!" Thus, practitioners of Tibetan Buddhism who "break samaya" are aware that they have already invited disaster upon themselves through their ritual practices.

-- Against Hell: A Refutation of the Buddhist Hell Realms, Based on Their Historic Origins, Political Purpose, Psychological Destructiveness, Irrationality, and Demonstrable Inconsistency With the Original Buddhist Teachings, Framed as A Searching Review of Sam Bercholz’s After-Death Memoir, "A Guided Tour of Hell", by Charles Carreon


... of using the objective as the path is also known as the rapid path, compared to other Buddhist practice paths. Thus, vital for all its methods is the formation, differentiation and improvement of these very core qualities within the trainee. As indicated by the syllable rgyas of the Tibetan term for Buddha, sangs rgyas (Köttl 2009, p. 14; Tsepak 2003, p. 282), it is said that these very aspects would have consequently fully unfolded (rgyas) at the objective of complete enlightenment. The Tibetan philosophical texts and Oral Instructions accurately describe the preconditions, preliminary activities (Coleman and Jinpa 2008, p. 706), key aspects of training, stages of maturity, as well as any possible dead ends.

The shadow is the “other side” of a person, his “hidden face”, the shadows are his “occult depths”. Psychoanalysis teaches us that there are four ways of dealing with our shadow: we can deny it, suppress it, project it onto other people, or integrate it.

But the topic of the shadow does not just have a psychological dimension; ever since Plato’s famous analogy of the cave it has become one of the favorite motifs of Western philosophy. In his Politeia (The State), Plato tells of an “unenlightened” people who inhabit a cave with their backs to the entrance. Outside shines the light of eternal and true reality, but as the people have turned their backs to it, all they see are the shadows of reality which flit sketchily across the walls of the cave before their eyes. Their human attentiveness is magically captivated by this shadowy world and they thus perceive only dreams and illusions, never higher reality itself. Should a cave dweller one day manage to escape this dusky dwelling, he would recognize that he had been living in a world of illusions.

This parable was adapted by Friedrich Nietzsche in Aphorism 108 of his Fröhliche Wissenschaft [The Gay Science] and — of interest here — linked to the figure of Buddha: “For centuries after Buddha had died,” Nietzsche wrote, “his shadow was still visible in a cave — a dreadful, spine-chilling shadow. God is dead: but man being the way he is, for centuries to come there will be caves in which his shadow is shown — and we — we must also triumph over his shadow”. [5]

This aphorism encourages us to speculate about the Dalai Lama. He is, after all, worshipped as “God” or as a “living Buddha” (Kundun), as a supreme enlightened being. But, we could argue with Nietzsche, the true Buddha (“God”) is dead. Does this make the figure of the Dalai Lama nothing but a shadow? Are pseudo-dogmas, pseudo-rituals, and pseudo-mysteries all that remain of the original Buddhism? Did the historical Buddha Shakyamuni leave us with his “dreadful shadow” (the Dalai Lama) and have we been challenged to liberate ourselves from him? However, we could also speculate as to whether people perceive only the Dalai Lama’s silhouette since they still live in the cave of an unenlightened consciousness....

In our study of the Dalai Lama we offer concrete answers to these and similar metaphysical questions. To do this, however, we must lead our readers into (Nietzsche’s) cave, where the “dreadful shadow” of the Kundun (a “living Buddha”) appears on the wall. Up until now this cave has been closed to the public and could not be entered by the uninitiated.

Incidentally, every Tibetan temple possesses such an eerie room of shadows. Beside the various sacred chambers in which smiling Buddha statues emit peace and composure there are secret rooms known as gokhangs which can only be entered by a chosen few. In the dim light of flickering, half-drowned butter lamps, surrounded by rusty weapons, stuffed animals, and mummified body parts, the Tibetan terror gods reside in the gokhang. Here, the inhabitants of a violent and monstrous realm of darkness are assembled. In a figurative sense the gokhang symbolizes the dark ritualism of Lamaism and Tibet’s hidden history of violence. In order to truly get to know the Dalai Lama (the “living Buddha”) we must first descend into the “cave” (the gokhang) and there conduct a speleology of his religion.

-- The Shadow of the Dalai Lama: Sexuality, Magic and Politics in Tibetan Buddhism, by Victor and Victoria Trimondi


Furthermore, the genuine accessibility of the Vajrayāna training is said to depend on an inner maturation process, which leads to a certain kind of insight. That insight itself is defined as the very first moment of the path of seeing (Attersee 2014, p. 46; Tsepak 2003, p. 129), and is said to initiate the first bhūmi (Attersee 2014, pp. 29, 49; Dudjom 1991, p. 166; Köttl 2009, pp. 32, 210; Tsepak 2003, p. 278). Thus, it is precisely this individual insight constituting the first bhūmi that initiates the path of seeing and, thus, impacts on the main methods of training. Therefore, for Vajrayāna practice, several conditions are required in terms of personal development and maturation, all the way up to a certain type of insight, which is referred to by the term śūnyatā (Attersee 2014, p. 19; Coleman and Jinpa 2008, p. 641; Köttl 2009, p. 211; Tsepak 2003, p. 113). This also means that this insight, referred to as śūnyatā, is an imperative condition for Vajrayāna. Consequently, understanding of that perspective refers to an inner process that is furthered through the process of individually working with the subtle aspects of awareness, referred to as non-meditation (Attersee 2014, p. 19; Köttl 2009, p. 167), because focus can be increasingly diminished by the trainee. In the absence of genuine insight, however, the practice of visualization itself, which is addressed with the practice of a development stage and completion stage (Coleman and Jinpa 2008, pp. 609, 649; Dudjom 1991, p. 108; Köttl 2009, p. 22; Tsepak 2003, p. 261), is merely an artificial construction. This means that the core methods of training for the path of seeing will not make sense for anyone who has not yet arrived there, because the person lacks understanding and, along with that, knowledge of when to apply the respective tools. It is precisely this individual, non-accelerative insight which is linked to the accurate comprehension of certain concepts in that context, such as what is often translated as pure view (Anders 2019a, p. 38; Coleman and Jinpa 2008, p. 662; Kongtrul 2012, pp. 124–73) or authentic view. As the approach thus depends on an internal, subjective level of insight, it is to be interpreted from the perspective of the practitioner. Then, the light of visualization is rather the quality of the experience, as opposed to any construction of figures for identification (Anders 2019a, p. 35). It has been said that, in the absence of that genuine insight, the practice of visualization itself is merely an artificial construction. This means that all teachings on the view are to be interpreted not only before understanding of their background of the lineage, but taking into account the perspective of the listener, who is limited to his or her understanding. Based on this, presenting a new object of focus called ‘pure view’ is misguiding and irresponsible. Prescribing ‘pure view’ as a kind of positive thinking leads to manipulation and distorts the meaning of Vajrayāna. Hence, the currently circulating mainstream meaning of the phrase ‘pure view’ differs to such an extent from its original meaning that it may already be considered a kind of neologism. That is, currently employed decontextualized key phrases, such as ‘pure view’, ‘karma purification’ and ‘crazy wisdom’ (Anders 2019a, p. 37), are used for manipulation and obedience to such ideas has rendered people sick. Therefore, the next chapter is on the role of, and qualifications for, a spiritual teacher.

2.1. The Role of the Spiritual Teacher in Vajrayāna

Generally, a teacher–student relationship (Coleman and Jinpa 2008, p. 678; Patrul 1998, pp. 137–66; Kongtrul 1999, 2003, pp. 39–77) can be built at many levels, depending on the training intended (Kongtrul 1999, pp. 55–62, 139–43) and the qualification of the teacher (Kongtrul 1999, pp. 38–51, 126–36). Traditionally, it is meant to facilitate the transfer of knowledge and blessings. The spiritual relationship is, therefore, in the learners’ best interest and intends to enhance the individuals’ spirituality and autonomy. As this relationship deteriorates easily if other interests, such as financial concerns, positioning or sexuality are involved, it is to be protected. Although the teacher is particularly responsible, due to the unequal balance of power, the protection of this relationship requires consideration on both sides. Impressed by imported foreign-language mystified honorary titles (Berzin 2010, p. 13),...

The error of those who reason by precedents drawn from antiquity, respecting the rights of man, is that they do not go far enough into antiquity. They do not go the whole way. They stop in some of the intermediate stages of an hundred or a thousand years, and produce what was then done, as a rule for the present day. This is no authority at all. If we travel still farther into antiquity, we shall find a direct contrary opinion and practice prevailing; and if antiquity is to be authority, a thousand such authorities may be produced, successively contradicting each other; but if we proceed on, we shall at last come out right; we shall come to the time when man came from the hand of his Maker. What was he then? Man. Man was his high and only title, and a higher cannot be given him....

But to return to the matters of the constitution--

The French Constitution says, There shall be no titles; and, of consequence, all that class of equivocal generation which in some countries is called "aristocracy" and in others "nobility," is done away, and the peer is exalted into the MAN.

Titles are but nicknames, and every nickname is a title. The thing is perfectly harmless in itself, but it marks a sort of foppery in the human character, which degrades it. It reduces man into the diminutive of man in things which are great, and the counterfeit of women in things which are little. It talks about its fine blue ribbon like a girl, and shows its new garter like a child. A certain writer, of some antiquity, says: "When I was a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things."

It is, properly, from the elevated mind of France that the folly of titles has fallen. It has outgrown the baby clothes of Count and Duke, and breeched itself in manhood. France has not levelled, it has exalted. It has put down the dwarf, to set up the man. The punyism of a senseless word like Duke, Count or Earl has ceased to please. Even those who possessed them have disowned the gibberish, and as they outgrew the rickets, have despised the rattle. The genuine mind of man, thirsting for its native home, society, contemns the gewgaws that separate him from it. Titles are like circles drawn by the magician's wand, to contract the sphere of man's felicity. He lives immured within the Bastille of a word, and surveys at a distance the envied life of man.

Is it, then, any wonder that titles should fall in France? Is it not a greater wonder that they should be kept up anywhere? What are they? What is their worth, and "what is their amount?" When we think or speak of a Judge or a General, we associate with it the ideas of office and character; we think of gravity in one and bravery in the other; but when we use the word merely as a title, no ideas associate with it. Through all the vocabulary of Adam there is not such an animal as a Duke or a Count; neither can we connect any certain ideas with the words. Whether they mean strength or weakness, wisdom or folly, a child or a man, or the rider or the horse, is all equivocal. What respect then can be paid to that which describes nothing, and which means nothing? Imagination has given figure and character to centaurs, satyrs, and down to all the fairy tribe; but titles baffle even the powers of fancy, and are a chimerical nondescript.

But this is not all. If a whole country is disposed to hold them in contempt, all their value is gone, and none will own them. It is common opinion only that makes them anything, or nothing, or worse than nothing. There is no occasion to take titles away, for they take themselves away when society concurs to ridicule them. This species of imaginary consequence has visibly declined in every part of Europe, and it hastens to its exit as the world of reason continues to rise. There was a time when the lowest class of what are called nobility was more thought of than the highest is now, and when a man in armour riding throughout Christendom in quest of adventures was more stared at than a modern Duke. The world has seen this folly fall, and it has fallen by being laughed at, and the farce of titles will follow its fate. The patriots of France have discovered in good time that rank and dignity in society must take a new ground. The old one has fallen through. It must now take the substantial ground of character, instead of the chimerical ground of titles; and they have brought their titles to the altar, and made of them a burnt-offering to Reason.


-- Rights of Man, by Thomas Paine


and taking no time to study and reflect on the ways of examining one’s teacher (Kongtrul 1999, pp. 52–54, 137–38; Patrul 1998, pp. 137–66) as transferred through classical Vajrayāna texts and their translations, but longing for what is said to be the quick path to enlightenment,....

In our civilization the chasm that stretches between mind and heart yawns deep and wide and, as the mind flies on from discovery to discovery in the realms of science, the gulf becomes ever deeper and wider and the heart is left further and further behind. The mind loudly demands and will be satisfied with nothing less than a materially demonstrable explanation of man and his fellow-creatures that make up the phenomenal world. The heart feels instinctively that there is something greater, and it yearns for that which it feels is a higher truth than can be grasped by the mind alone. The human soul would fain soar upon ethereal pinions of intuition; would fain lave in the eternal fount of spiritual light and love; but modern scientific views have shorn its wings and it sits fettered and mute, unsatisfied longings gnawing at its tendrils as the vulture of Prometheus' liver.

-- The Rosicrucian Cosmo-Conception, by Max Heindel


... the setting of ethical and legal standards was neglected in many Buddhist groups and societies. This is what we, and many future generations, now pay the price of. Whereas social control was effective in that respect, and the behavior of teachers was observed and judged in ancient Tibet,...

Much of Tibetan history is the story of how the rulers of Central Tibet tried to extend their rule into the border areas of Amdo and Kham, or how the different religious schools of the Tibetan plateau came to rule the central provinces of U and Tsang. After the Bon kings began to convert to Buddhism in the ninth century, each of the four Buddhist schools controlled the government of Central Tibet, one after the other in succession. The sects either ruled directly, with their chief lama sitting on the throne, or indirectly, serving as priests to secular kings. And while some schools proved to be kinder, more tolerant rulers than others, each school used its political influence against its religious rivals from time to time....

Meanwhile, a Gelugpa lama who was an energetic evangelist, Sonam Gyatso, attracted the attention of the Turned Mongol chief Altan Khan. After the fall in 1368 of the Mongol Yuan dynasty, which controlled both China and Tibet, the Mongols split up into numerous warring bands. Their leaders competed with each other to seek influence among the nations of Inner Asia, including Tibet. There, Mongol leaders adopted prominent lamas as their spiritual advisors. In 1578 Altan invited Sonam to his camp to preach. There, he offered the lama the title Dalai, "Ocean" in Mongolian, and gave the patronage of his Mongols to Sonam Gyatso's Gelugpa order. Retroactively, the lama's two previous incarnations were recognized as Sonam's predecessors, making Sonam Gyatso (1543-1588) the third Dalai Lama.

When the grandson of Altan Khan was recognized as the fourth Dalai Lama Yonten Gyatso (1589-1617), the alliance between Altan's band of Mongols and the Gelugpas was complete. Altan's forces pledged to defend the Gelugpas against any enemies that might arise in Tibet.
The first Dalai Lama had established a monastery near the royal capital of Shigatse, but later Dalai Lamas settled in Lhasa and established three monasteries in and around the city that became some of the largest and most powerful in the world: Drepung, Sera, and Ganden. These monasteries came to be known collectively as "The Three Seats." They would exert enormous political power over the government of Central Tibet in the coming centuries.

When the Dalai Lama settled in Lhasa, the Gelugpas became involved in regional politics, which escalated the tension between the Gelugpas and the Kagyus. While the Dalai Lama on the one hand, and the Karmapa and Shamarpa on the other, apparently tried to maintain cordial relations, their supporters -- monks, regional rulers, and dueling bands of Mongols - - found numerous occasions to clash. Under the rule of the three Tsangpa kings (1565-1642) this tension reached a boiling point....

[T[he second Tsangpa king, Karma Phuntsok Namgyal (ruled 1611-21) sought to ... [unite] the petty states of Central Tibet under a strong central government. He developed a plan for "Unification under One White [Benevolent] Law" that in many ways was ahead of its time. [7] The plan called for a federal system where cabinet departments at the national level would implement policy for defense, agriculture, education, and taxation. Numerous small states would be united for mutual defense and free trade.

King Phuntsok Namgyal upgraded his army and began a campaign, through force of arms and diplomacy, to unite the duchies of Central Tibet one by one into a single, larger Tsangpa state. He succeeded brilliantly and by the end of his campaign, only the city of Lhasa, under the rule of Kyichod Depa Apel, the Duke of Lhasa, resisted incorporation into the new unified Tibetan kingdom. The duke wanted to avoid paying taxes to the Tsangpa king and saw no benefit for himself to joining a larger Tibetan state.

To defend his autonomy, in 1616 Duke Kyichod Apel made an alliance with Drepung and Sera monasteries, which by this time had thousands of monks each. These included hundreds of specially trained dopdops or "fighting monks" who were skilled in Tibet's native martial arts and served as private armies for each cloister. By this alliance, the duke particularly hoped to gain the support of Mongol bands that patronized Gelugpa lamas. According to the fifth Dalai Lama, Apel made a gift of a large statue of Avalokiteshvara to the Turned Mongol chief Tai Gi. [8]

The statue was a national treasure of Tibet, brought from India centuries earlier by King Songsten Gampo for his personal devotional practice. Apel's family had acquired it earlier through questionable means from the Potala Palace. The Lhasa Duke presented it to the Mongol chief to forge an alliance with Tai Gi and enlist his band of Mongols for an attack on the Tsangpa king. Perhaps this would have been something like, for example, Confederate President Jefferson Davis capturing the Liberty Bell and giving it to the British to induce them to attack the North during the Civil War.

The treacherous duke was successful, and with his new Mongol allies, he and his successors in the Kyichod family fought the King of Tsang for the next two decades. This war of attrition took a hard toll on the Tsangpa kingdom as it did on the duke's own small realm.

Finally, after years of alternating victories and defeats, Duke Kyichod's successor Sonam Namgyal saw his chance to free himself of the Kyichod family's old foe by invading the heartland of Tsang itself. The duke gained ambitious advisors of the fifth Dalai Lama as his allies. He convinced them that the Tsangpa king was about to send a massive force against the main Gelug monasteries; if the monasteries did not act quickly, the Gelugpas would be wiped out. Tibetan historians say that the duke's claim was false, and that the Tsangpa king was not planning an attack on the Gelugpa monasteries. But the duke's word carried the day with Gelugpa leaders and their Mongol allies, who were eager to fight.

The Dalai Lama's minister Sonam Chopel was particularly eager for war and he invited the Qoshot Mongols under Gushri Khan to attack Tsangpa forces before getting the Dalai Lama's approval, as the Dalai Lama describes in his own Autobiography. Interestingly, the Dalai Lama seemed to take an exceptionally respectful and deferential tone with his minister, who effectively controlled the government of the young lama-king....

[T]he Dalai Lama appeared to have no choice. Since war with Tsang had begun, he had to ask for Gushri Khan's help to win it, or else face retribution from the Tsangpa king that may have threatened the future of the Gelugpa. Thus, reluctantly, the fifth Dalai Lama sent his own plea to Gushri to invade Central Tibet and drive all Tsangpa forces from the area around Lhasa. The Mongol chief answered his lama's call and sent cavalry against Tsangpa forces. In 1638, the Mongols routed the Tsangpa army and secured Lhasa and the surrounding province of U. They placed the Dalai Lama on the throne as Mongol viceroy.

Having gained control of Lhasa, the Dalai Lama was now ready to stop the war. But his Mongol allies were not. So, yet again against the Gelug leader's wishes but at the urging of his zealous prime minister, Sonam Chopel, the Mongol armies escalated the conflict.

In 1642, Mongols overthrew the Tsangpa ruler Karma Tenkyong Wangpo (heir to King Phuntsok Namgyal, who nearly united Tibet into one centralized nation-state, as we have seen) and went on to forcibly convert nearly a thousand Nyingma and Karma Kagyu monasteries throughout Central Tibet to the Gelugpa school. The Mongols killed seven thousand monks and beheaded many of their abbots. [10] Gushri Khan proclaimed himself king of all Central Tibet and, as before, he made the fifth Dalai Lama his viceroy. The new administration became known as the "Ganden Phodrang," -- named after the Dalai lama's residence at Drepung monastery -- thus signifying the identity of the government in Lhasa and the Gelugpa school.

Using the pretext of a revolt in Tsang later in the year, Gushri Khan executed the Tsangpa king, and forced the tenth Karmapa to flee to Yunnan province in China. The Karmapa's monastic seat at Tsurphu was not converted to the Gelugpa order, but the new government decreed that the monastery could ordain no more than three monks per year. As Tibetan historian Dawa Norbu put it, "When the Dalai Lamas came to power in the seventeenth century they began to expand their own sect, Gelugpa, using the state power at their disposal and often converting other sects, especially the Kagyupa monasteries, to their own sect." [11]

The Karmapa had the chance to retaliate, but he apparently decided against violence. The aged fifth Tai Situ Chokyi Gyaltsen Palsang (1586-1657) offered to bring about his own death so that he could be reborn as a prince of the newly installed Chinese Qing dynasty; then, he could grow up to lead a Chinese invasion of Tibet that would restore the power of the Karma Kagyu. The Karmapa rejected Situ's offer, saying that "everyone knows me as the man who won't even hurt a bug."

The king of nearby Li Jiang also offered his forces to aid the Karmapa, but he rejected the king's offer as well. "Now is the time of the Kali Yug, the age of darkness," the tenth Karmapa said. "In Tibet, the only dharma left is superficial teachings, so it is not worth your trouble to save it."

Later, historians, scholars, and even the fifth Dalai Lama himself would criticize Sonam Chopel and the other self-serving officials who stoked this avoidable conflict into flames of war. Yet, once he had ascended the throne in Lhasa, the Dalai Lama had to continue fighting to consolidate his rule.

The current Dalai Lama has made himself an internationally famous spokesman for nonviolence. But the example of the Great Fifth Dalai Lama shows that nonviolence was not always the policy of his predecessors, After a dozen years as ruler of Central Tibet, in 1660 the Dalai Lama was faced with a rebellion in Tsang province, not yet pacified and still the stronghold of the Karma Kagyu. The Gelugpa leader again called on his Mongol patron Gushri Khan, this time to put down the insurgency in Tsang. In a passage that may sound to modern ears more like that other Mongol Khan, Genghis, than an emanation of the Bodhisattva of Compassion, the Dalai Lama called for harsh retribution towards the rebels against his rule:

[Of those in] the band of enemies who have despoiled the duties entrusted to them;
Make the male lines like trees that have had their roots cut;
Make the female lines like brooks that have dried up in winter;
Make the children and grandchildren like eggs smashed against rocks;
Make the servants and followers like heaps of grass consumed by fire;
Make their dominion like a lamp whose oil has been exhausted;
In short, annihilate any traces of them, even their names.
[12]


In a few months, Gushri Khan quelled the unrest in Tsang and helped the Dalai Lama establish the Gelugpa as the undisputed spiritual and temporal rulers of Central Tibet. This marked the beginning of four hundred years of political rule by a religious leader, and the definitive end of the dream of the Tsangpa kings to transform Tibet into a unified secular state.

Until at least the early twentieth century, the Dalai Lama's government would hold an annual commemoration of its defeat of Tsang. In the 1920s Sir Charles Bell, a British diplomat who spent nineteen years in Tibet and became close to the thirteenth Dalai Lama, witnessed this ceremony, where three men from Tsang province were compelled to climb to the roof of one of the buildings at the Dalai Lama's Potala Palace in Lhasa. Then, they slid down a rope two hundred and fifty feet long into a courtyard. "This annual event, provided and paid for the by Lhasan Government, refers to Gushri's defeat of the King of Tsang, and is intended to prevent the Tsang province from ever gaining power again." [13]

-- Buddha's Not Smiling: Uncovering Corruption at the Heart of Tibetan Buddhism Today, by Erik D. Curren


... nowadays mainstream attitudes and behaviors result in super-elevating people who claim spiritual honorary titles, unreflectively allowing them anything ....

King Detsen was a more ardent practitioner than his predecessor, Tsongsten Gampo but, like him, took a practical approach to the Tibetan Lamaist priesthood that was growing inside Tibet, and who saw the uses of these lamas, in unifying the warring Tibetan chieftain tribes. He now declared Tibetan Lamaism the state religion and, following an Indian custom, awarded landed estates and serfs to the Lamaist monasteries that were already starting to proliferate, as its monastic movement spread, King Detsen was such a zealous Lamaist that he protected the lama clergy by creating a barbaric code that facilitated their guru-worship and future religious dictatorship when he declared:

He who shows a finger to a monk shall have his finger cut off; he who speaks ill of the monks and king's Buddhist policy shall have his lips cut off; he who looks askance at them shall have his eyes put out; he who them shall pay according to the rule of the restitution of eighty times (the value of the article stolen). [Grunfeld, Tom A., The Making of Modern Tibet, (New York: M.E. Sharpe, Inc., 1996) 36.]


-- Enthralled, The Guru Cult of Tibetan Buddhism, by Chris Chandler


by labelling their actions as ‘crazy wisdom’. Thus, having built relationships in Buddhist centers based on power imbalances, in the progress of training, dependencies (Anders 2019a, p. 34), rather than individual maturation and developing autonomy, increased. The process of subjugation on the part of the leaders, and submission on the part of the students, has led to traumatization. Due to missing knowledge of the unconscious and its implications, and of psychological trauma treatment in Buddhist philosophy and in Tibetan medical contexts, this traumatization was ignored. Even worse, instead of listening to victims with genuine compassion, the highest authorities regard and proclaim the damaged ones to be aggressive. In this way, they not only ignore the long-lasting effects of psychological trauma on the individual as well as the group, but publicly stoke the aggression that has harmed the victim.

[T]he eight people who put their names on the letter that they issued. But whether they really know it or not, then that was really an attempt to not only disparage the Master, but try to destroy him and everything that he’s done. ....

From a spiritual point of view it goes against every aspect of dharma. ...

In fact, it falls into the category of the five heinous nonvirtues: slandering the sangha.... the worst crimes of all...

It’s nothing but negative. And so it is just the poorest choice that they could have made forever....

Once you rely upon a teacher to the degree that you have all relied, and they did too, you should no matter what happens, you’re supposed to apply the methods of dharma teachings to increase your faith and devotion...

[It] is an obstacle for the entire doctrine. Not only just one person, not only just one sangha, but the entire Buddhist doctrine...

[J]ust because [Matthieu Ricard] may have thought he was physically harmed on one occasion, and was offended by it, is it really worth it to do what he’s done as a retribution? Is it really worth it?...

[I]t’s more like the rising up of the maras, the demonic forces.... And so I think that it’s somehow the magical play of nonhuman entities more than the humans that we’re pinning it on....

I think this is maybe the magical manifestation of non-human entities, trying to destroy the doctrine...

[I]t is your responsibility to let everyone know how they should approach this obstacle and deal with it in their own minds and hearts as a sangha community....

And so we shouldn’t do things that are harmful to others and that are not beneficial, and that we get nothing from doing. And that’s exactly what they have done. There is no positive result any way you look at it. There’s no benefit, and there’s only a disturbance of thousands and thousands of people unnecessarily. It’s so meaningless.


-- Khenchen Namdrol Giving a Master Class in Heartless Victim-Blaming From the Throne at Lerab Ling, Translated by Sangye Khandro


The Learned, Very Venerable Kalu Rinpoche... The Senior Meditation Master of the Kagyu Lineage, One Of The Greatest Yogis and Practitioners, Masters Of The Profound Path Of The Kagyu Lineage That The World Has Ever Known... Renowned For His Retreat Practice And Accomplishment, For His Wisdom, And For His Compassion... It’s Quite Extraordinary That We Have The Auspicious Coincidence of The Embodiment Of Compassion With Us At A Time That It Is Most Appropriate For Us....

At this particular point in time, as all of you already know, the Vajra Regent has contracted AIDS. And people worry very much about the fact that he might have passed this on to many people. As far as I’m concerned, the panic that people are feeling at this particular point is much like these animals running away from the sound “Jow, Jow, Jow.” As far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing to this particular worry....

This sort of activity of putting things into newspapers and making publicity which is harmful to other people in various ways, is something which is against the principles of our religious organization. ...

As little as we can say, as little as we can discuss with others about this subject, the better, simply because this is a tremendous cause of distraction within our meditation practices. This is of very little benefit to the minds of anybody....

[I]f a person has AIDS, this is something between them and government agencies.


-- Kalu Rinpoche’s talk to the LA Dharmadhatu, by Kalu Rinpoche, December 22, 1988


In that context, one particular risk in preventing clarity and accountability lies in the lengthy endurance of the confusing double bind (Anders 2019a, p. 35). In this way, the concept of the teacher–student relationship, as taught in traditional ancient texts, and the practise of guru yoga, has become utterly meaningless.
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Re: Mindfulness Meditation Research: Issues of Participant S

Postby admin » Tue Nov 19, 2019 3:37 am

Part 2 of 4

2.2. The Method of Guru Yoga and Its Current Distortions

What has been translated into the phrase pure view was once a clearly defined philosophical technical term, used for a very specific concept of individual insight.

... subtle aspects of awareness, referred to as non-meditation.

-- Silencing and Oblivion of Psychological Trauma, Its Unconscious Aspects, and Their Impact on the Inflation of Vajrayāna. An Analysis of Cross-Group Dynamics and Recent Developments in Buddhist Groups Based on Qualitative Data, by Anne Iris Miriam Anders


Understanding of its meaning is, therefore, bound to this very insight, in the sense of the individual embodiment of bodhicitta and a very specific training based on that, which is elaborated on by different philosophical schools using their own traditional terms and connotations. Without that insight, the meaning of pure view, and explanations connected to it, cannot be captured, and, thus, there will be a lack of understanding, even when hearing the terms, just as children who are about to learn letters are not yet able to read a book and understand the meaning of its words. Based on an introspective, self-reflexive attitude and on gaining such insight within oneself, the method of guru yoga (Anders 2019a, p. 36; Berzin 2010, pp. 133–45; Patrul 1998, pp. 309–47; Richard and Kurz 2010, pp. 60–68) implies blessing from a qualified master, in the sense of the transmission of blessings from the lineage of those who have implemented the theoretical knowledge, in an individual and lively unfolding of compassion and bodhicitta.

Choosing leading lamas through reincarnation may have taken the politics out of monastic succession when the Karmapas began this practice in the Middle Ages, but some Tibetans and outside observers think that, for the last few centuries, the tulku system has created more problems than it has solved. Rarely has it functioned as in the movie Kundun, where as we saw at the beginning of our investigation, the Dalai Lama's incarnation was found strictly on the basis of whether the child could pass various tests to prove his authenticity as a tulku. Many lamas admit that even in old Tibet, it was the rule rather than the exception that tulkus were chosen for political reasons.

Over the centuries, more and more creative stories arose to justify questionable tulku choices. If there was a dispute, a compromise solution would be to say that there could be more than one reincarnation of a great master -- "body, speech, and mind" emanations -- as in the 1993 film Little Buddha, where two boys and a girl are all recognized as incarnations of the recently deceased Lama Dorje. Or, if a lama did not trust his disciples to choose his successor, he could choose his own reincarnation himself before his death, a so-called ma-dey tulku.

Two parallel lines of tulkus (with two competing incarnations) could even be "absorbed" back into one lama in the following generation. The Tibetan scholar Gene Smith has documented this in the case of the Khyentse incarnations, a line of tulkus that expanded from one original founder in the nineteenth century to several lamas living simultaneously a century later, all claiming to be Khyentse tulkus. [3] These included many respected lamas, including two prominent contemporary tulkus, Dilgo Khyentse Rinpoche and Dzongsar Khyentse Rinpoche, a young lama-filmmaker who directed the highly acclaimed 1996 film The Cup.

Such tulku tall-tales made the whole system of finding reincarnates look spotty to many in Tibet in the old days. Some reincarnates were known to be authentic Buddhist masters; others were simply tulkus of convenience. But after the Chinese invasion of 1950-51, and particularly in the last twenty years, things have gotten much worse, and tulkus have begun to multiply rapidly both inside China and in exile. Now, there are thousands more reincarnates than before, including such questionable cases as Stephen [Steven] Seagal and Catherine Burroughs, the "Buddha from Brooklyn," both recognized as reincarnate lamas by a major Tibetan lama.

Surprisingly, considering that Tibetans believe him to be a high tulku himself, Shamar is one of the loudest critics of filling leadership positions in Tibetan Buddhism with reincarnate lamas. "I have criticized Tibetan monastery administration since I was a boy at Rumtek," Shamar told me. "Choosing tulkus has always been political. Now, this is becoming painfully clear to all."


-- Buddha's Not Smiling: Uncovering Corruption at the Heart of Tibetan Buddhism Today, by Erik D. Curren


The blessing itself is furthered by the aspect of devotion (Tsepak 2003, p. 131) to one’s own path, the meaning of the teaching, and the lineage of those who have embodied the knowledge within themselves, involving an internal introspective and self-reflective attitude that is a vital part of their lives, going far beyond the acquisition of mere words and concepts.

Internal Contradiction:

Saying two contradictory things in the same argument. For example, claiming that Archaeopteryx is a dinosaur with hoaxed feathers, and also saying in the same book that it is a "true bird". Or another author who said on page 59, "Sir Arthur Conan Doyle writes in his autobiography that he never saw a ghost." But on page 200 we find "Sir Arthur's first encounter with a ghost came when he was 25, surgeon of a whaling ship in the Arctic.."

This is much like saying "I never borrowed his car, and it already had that dent when I got it."

This is related to Inconsistency.


-- A List Of Fallacious Arguments, by Don Lindsay


In order to use Vajrayāna techniques, there are conditions for teachers as well as disciples—abiding by unwavering ethics, the unfolding of bodhicitta and the authentic realization of śūnyatā are true for all its visualizations. This may then serve as context for the combining of visualization of a buddha of light with the lineage of blessings, which is referred to as guru yoga, and performed by merging the buddha of light in one’s visualization with the last person in the lineage. These clearly defined concepts largely differ from what is conveyed and understood by the audience when commercializing Vajrayāna.

This means that the core methods of training for the path of seeing will not make sense for anyone who has not yet arrived there, because the person lacks understanding and, along with that, knowledge of when to apply the respective tools. It is precisely this individual, non-accelerative insight which is linked to the accurate comprehension of certain concepts in that context, such as what is often translated as pure view (Anders 2019a, p. 38; Coleman and Jinpa 2008, p. 662; Kongtrul 2012, pp. 124–73) or authentic view. As the approach thus depends on an internal, subjective level of insight, it is to be interpreted from the perspective of the practitioner.

-- Silencing and Oblivion of Psychological Trauma, Its Unconscious Aspects, and Their Impact on the Inflation of Vajrayāna. An Analysis of Cross-Group Dynamics and Recent Developments in Buddhist Groups Based on Qualitative Data, by Anne Iris Miriam Anders


Furthermore, as narcissists have been attracted by the concept of visualizing oneself as a Buddha, omitting the key element of light, it was just a matter of time until the meaning of terms and phrases was conceptually distorted.

The Brights' avatar represents a celestial body viewed from space. As there is no up or down or right or left in outer space, the arrangement of planet and darkness and starlight is changeable.[19] Although the symbol is open to the viewer's interpretation, it is generally meant to invoke transition and a sense of gradual illumination. The intentional ambiguity of the avatar is meant to symbolically reflect an important question: Is the future of humankind becoming luminous or more dim? The Brights aspire "to take the promising route, whereby the imagery brings to mind a gradually increasing illumination for this earth of ours, an escalation of enlightenment".[19] This optimistic interpretation of the Brights' symbol is summarized by the motto "Embrightenment Now!"

-- Brights movement, by Wikipedia


The Illuminati have been in control of nearly all sources of news and information in America for about a century and have fooled Americans and others handily. That's one reason they see themselves as bright elite -- the "light bringers."

-- Final Warning: A History of the New World Order, by David Allen Rivera


In such distorted [commercialized] contexts,....

Because Tibetan Buddhists place primary emphasis on “accumulating merit,” the religion has developed what we might call a “merit economy,” in which merit is gained by giving gifts to the lamas, reciting mantras, prostrating before images, and walking in circles around a sacred building or statue, called “circumambulation.” Like medieval Christians, they also believe that you can pay other people to perform pious acts on your behalf, and get the same benefit! Thus, American students are currently paying Tibetans to perform recitations on their behalf, after hiring a diviner to determine how many recitations of what deity need to be performed to remove obstacles. This procedure would have been familiar to a medieval Catholic, who could reduce their stay in purgatory, or that of their relatives, by donating to the clergy, that imagined “a vast community of mutual help … uniting the living and the dead” in sacred exertions. People with more money than piety could earn indulgences through “commutation, through which any services, obligations, or goods could be converted into a corresponding monetary payment.” In 1343 Pope Clement VI decreed himself the manager of the “Treasury of Merit,” and officially took charge of the business, becoming God’s counting house.[105]

Like medieval Christians, Tibetan Buddhists believe that the fates of their eternal souls, and those of their loved ones, are determined by their “stock of merit,” whether accumulated by their own efforts, or by the efforts of persons employed to accumulate merit on their behalf. Although it seems blatantly venal, the entire religion is based on the belief that the greatest merit is accumulated by making donations to the priests who run the religion.


-- Against Hell: A Refutation of the Buddhist Hell Realms, Based on Their Historic Origins, Political Purpose, Psychological Destructiveness, Irrationality, and Demonstrable Inconsistency With the Original Buddhist Teachings, Framed as A Searching Review of Sam Bercholz’s After-Death Memoir, "A Guided Tour of Hell", by Charles Carreon


.... however, the visualization of the completion stage in particular tends to be misunderstood and used for self-elevation, or even an expectation of constantly merging on the side of a teacher, or anticipatory obedience on the side of a student, in this regard. The latter has been described by Rigpa students as “we failed to ‘tune into your mind’ and predict what you wanted” (Standlee et al. 2017, p. 4), showing the manipulation into constant merging. After many years of such training, this mental pattern hinders self-responsibility and autonomy in students, and challenges the cure of trauma and mental diseases. This makes it especially difficult to differentiate between one’s own self and the introjects, which is essential for the process of recovery. Thus, nowadays, we face the dynamics of manipulation, and putting people on the hook of dependency under the guise of Buddhist spirituality. Furthermore, personality cult (Langel 1995, pp. 131–34) practices have been introduced to students for so-called ‘guru yoga’ (Anders 2019a, p. 36; #OKCinfo 2019b, slide 25). Against the background of cultivating one’s own narcissism, or suppressing and silencing trauma, this loss of meaning is accompanied by several psychological manipulations. The expectation of strict obedience is presented through selectively presented rules of observing vows. Usually, these are about maintaining the authority of the leader, and, for the sake of simplicity, they are again explained using pure view. The selective imparting, and omission, of basic information is also striking. This raises the question of whether inadequate information can be seen as a further tool for increasing uncertainty, dependency and fear. Threats of the ‘vajra hell’ (Baxter 2018, p. 15), referencing samaya, and the corresponding paralyzing and stigmatizing effects on group dynamics are obvious and need to be analyzed against the background of the trauma dynamics and stigmatization of those affected. This discourse, in which basic conditions, such as thorough information prior to contract and lapse of contract if one side does not comply, are ignored, illustrates very well how requirements from above are internalized, without allowing for the ability to dissociate oneself, even after separation from the group, which is further reinforced by the above-mentioned merging practices.

Because Tantric Buddhism is a secret path that can be transmitted only by “initiation and transmission” from a “qualified guru,” who thereafter assumes a position in the disciple’s life that is even more important than the Buddha, every sincere Tibetan Buddhist practitioner seeks a guru, and vows fealty to that guru in a ceremony of “taking samaya.” Since samaya breakage is punished by falling into "vajra hell," it is typically said that students should never take initiations from a lama without “checking his qualities.” However, in the atmosphere of forced veneration and abject servitude that surrounds Tibetan lamas, even a polite inquiry into the guru’s qualifications by a prospective initiate would be met with widespread disapproval from the fawning faithful. Indeed, rather than being told about the obligations that one assumes by “receiving empowerments” from a Tibetan lama, most prospective initiates are told not to worry about samaya, that the important thing is to “receive the blessings,” and that good intentions will see them through the process. Many are thereafter shocked to discover that, while they sat in the lotus posture in the shrine room, feeling good vibes from the benign-looking guru on the throne, among the streams of foreign words they were prompted to recite were phrases in Tibetan like, “If I break these vows, may the protector deities strike me down, devour my heart, and lap up my blood.”

-- Against Hell: A Refutation of the Buddhist Hell Realms, Based on Their Historic Origins, Political Purpose, Psychological Destructiveness, Irrationality, and Demonstrable Inconsistency With the Original Buddhist Teachings, Framed as A Searching Review of Sam Bercholz’s After-Death Memoir, "A Guided Tour of Hell", by Charles Carreon


Particularly, it is these instances of intimidation, and the structural implementation of the manipulation of people, that bring such systems of thought into the proximity of cults (Hassan 2018). But, since these challenges cannot be solved individually, analyses of the underlying structures and of the complex interrelations promoting such incidents are required, without disregarding the need for immediate prevention of such practices, and urgent relief for those already affected. The following passage may clarify how far Vajrayāna has deviated from its core by now:

Please understand the harm that you have inflicted on us has also tainted our appreciation for and practice of the Dharma. In our decades of study and practice of Tibetan Buddhism with you, we trained our minds to view you as the ‘all embodied jewel’ and the ‘source of all the teachings and blessings’ of the Buddha-Dharma. We trusted you completely. Yet, we struggled for years because your actions did not square with the teachings. Today, for many of us who have left you, the Lerab Ling community, and Rigpa the organization, our ground of confidence in the Buddha-Dharma has been compromised. Some of us, who chose to depart abruptly Lerab Ling, left all of our possessions, because we were desperate to break away from your abuse and the community that supported it. […] Whether we departed abruptly or have faded away from you and Rigpa, we struggle to rekindle an appreciation for the transformative teachings and teachers we encountered.

-- (Standlee et al. 2017, p. 7)


In reviewing teachers, ensuring that their actions correspond with what they teach is a core factor, and it is said the actions of sages are refined, or differentiated, like barley flour. Corrupt Dharma, however, presents as cruel behaviour, covert objectives, lack of transparency and a double bind of authorities and their entourages.

This tradition of allowing gurus, i.e., tulkus, to behave in an unorthodox manner, was embedded in tantric Buddhism in India, and Tibetan Buddhists faced with the problem of rogue behavior by lamas often cite the conduct of Tilopa, the Indian guru who led Naropa to enlightenment by putting him through a series of extremely painful ordeals. To speak of only two, once Naropa followed Tilopa’s orders to leap into a blazing fire, and another time, he jumped into a ditch full of ravenous leeches. Both experiences were nearly-fatal, but Naropa did not complain, and after resuscitating him with his magical powers, Tilopa initiated him into ever higher levels of Mahamudra, the path of the Transcendent Gesture. Because Naropa subsequently taught Marpa, a Tibetan, whose disciple Milarepa became the quintessential Tibetan ascetic yogi, the story of Naropa is given special significance, and is often cited by Tibetan Buddhists to prove that true guru devotion knows no rational limits.

-- Against Hell: A Refutation of the Buddhist Hell Realms, Based on Their Historic Origins, Political Purpose, Psychological Destructiveness, Irrationality, and Demonstrable Inconsistency With the Original Buddhist Teachings, Framed as A Searching Review of Sam Bercholz’s After-Death Memoir, "A Guided Tour of Hell", by Charles Carreon


Clinging to self-interest is said to be far from the attitude of a bodhisattva (Gyalchok and Gyaltsen 2006, p. 558) and, in that way, one is even losing the necessary conditions of Vajrayāna attitude and practice, as such behavior is the opposite of the basic practices condensed as “parting from the four clingings” (Gyalchok and Gyaltsen 2006, p. 525). Together with the silencing of trauma and its victims, the commercialization of Vajrayāna has now led to the concealment of personal interests. This shows in its highly confusing structural, terminological and psychological issues.

Idealists are understood to represent the world as it might or should be.... In the arts, similarly, idealism affirms imagination and attempts to realize a mental conception of beauty, a standard of perfection.

-- Idealism, by Wikipedia


2.3. The Narrative of Physical Closeness to One’s Guru Being Interpreted a Sign of Having ‘Good Karma’

The commercialization of any meditation techniques attributed to Buddhism, and attempts to make use of them without ever having studied them in their original language contexts, lead to the development of international substructures. Many of the large numbers of people attracted to these strive towards reaching positions within these organizations, which are often described as a particular physical closeness to the teacher, or towards income—all of which is covered and concealed by a spiritual cloak.

It was well known among Tibetan lamas that the best fund-raising was to be had in the overseas Chinese communities of East and Southeast Asia and North America.

"In 1984, Thrangu Rinpoche came up with an idea to get money in Taiwan," said Jigme Rinpoche, Shamar's brother, a lama in his own right and the director of two large monasteries in France since the mid-seventies. Like Shamar, Jigme lived at Rumtek in the sixties and seventies. Now in his late fifties, the soft-spoken, baby-faced Jigme exudes an air of motherly care that seems ill-suited to controversy; Yet, he has been the most outspoken of Shamar's supporters in criticizing Thrangu's role.

"Thrangu Rinpoche chose a monk, he was called Tendar," Jigme said. "He left Rumtek with Thrangu Rinpoche in 1975 and followed him to his retreat place Namo Buddha in Kathmandu. Thrangu Rinpoche had the idea to present this Tendar as a high lama."

With specific instructions from Thrangu, the new "Tendar Tulku Rinpoche" went to Taipei with the credentials of a spiritual master, in order to teach and raise funds for Thrangu's work in Nepal and elsewhere. Jigme told me that "Thrangu Rinpoche asked his own monks in Taiwan, who knew that Tendar was merely an ordinary monk, to keep his secret and pretend that Tendar was a high lama." The monks in Taiwan went along with Tendar's masquerade until the following year when Tendar himself, apparently fearful of discovery, backed out of the scheme, but not before raising enough money to demonstrate the potential of this approach to his boss Thrangu Rinpoche.

Thrangu later elaborated on this strategy and reportedly went on to promote dozens of undistinguished lamas to rinpoches. "These lamas owed their new status and loyalty to Thrangu Rinpoche personally," Jigme explained. "Later, Situ Rinpoche followed his lead, recognizing more than two hundred tulkus in just four months during 1991, as we learned from our contacts in Tibet."

In 1988, while traveling in Taiwan, Thrangu met with Chen Lu An. "Mr. Chen approached Thrangu Rinpoche with a plan to raise millions of dollars for the Karma Kagyu in Taiwan," explained Jigme Rinpoche. In exchange for a percentage of donations, a kind of sales commission that would go to his own Guomindang party, Chen offered to conduct a large-scale fund-raising campaign. Chen asked Thrangu to convey his proposal to the four high lamas of the Karma Kagyu: Shamar, Situ, Jamgon, and Gyaltsab Rinpoches.

Together, according to Jigme -- who said the Rumtek administration received reports from a dozen loyal monks in Taiwan who heard about this plan from their devotees and other Tibetans on the island -- Thrangu and Chen worked out the details of a plan to raise as much as one hundred million dollars by finding a Karmapa and then touring him around Taiwan.

Beforehand, they would create interest with a publicity campaign announcing the imminent arrival of a "Living Buddha" and promising that whoever had the chance to see the Karmapa and offer him donations would be enlightened in one lifetime. On his arrival, the tulku would perform the Black Crown ceremony at dozens of Tibetan Buddhist centers and other venues on the island.

"With such a plan," Jigme said, "according to our monks on Taiwan, Mr. Chen assured Thrangu Rinpoche that he would be able to get between fifty and a hundred people to donate one million dollars each, along with hundreds of others who would give smaller amounts."

According to Jigme's sources, Thrangu asked Chen to keep the plan to himself. He promised Chen he would personally inform the Karma Kagyu rinpoches of their plan and Chen's offer to carry it out. However, when Thrangu returned to India, he did not share the plan with Shamar, Jamgon, or Gyaltsab, but only with Tai Situ. Situ was reportedly excited by the plan. "Soon after," Jigme explained, "Thrangu Rinpoche took Situ Rinpoche on a secret trip to Taiwan to meet with Mr. Chen."

"Together, the three worked out the details of a fund-raising tour for their future Karmapa. The plan was worked out at least four years before they announced Ogyen Trinley. Situ Rinpoche and Thrangu Rinpoche wanted to bring Gyaltsab Rinpoche into their plans, but they didn't think they could trust Jamgon Kongtrul Rinpoche." In any event, they were apparently certain that Shamar would not agree to participate and would spoil the plan, probably exposing it as he had exposed an earlier idea of Thrangu's, to take over the Karmapa's Kaolung Temple in Bhutan.


-- Buddha's Not Smiling: Uncovering Corruption at the Heart of Tibetan Buddhism Today, by Erik D. Curren


Although the narrative of striving toward positions within spiritual groups is explained as a special closeness with the teacher and his agendas, the intermingling of interests already diverges from traditional texts, where the foundation and necessary condition of Buddhist practise is explained by the basic attitude of going beyond worldly concerns. As this attitude is the benchmark dividing between spiritual and other paths, there is no spiritual path which includes working for one’s own positions and profits, regardless of whether one is in an international Buddhist center, which is described as a good way to identify with the projects and goals of one’s guru, or anywhere else.

Just when [Thubten] Norbu's departure seemed secure, however, complications arose. Neither he nor his accompanying servant had passports, and they had fled Tibet with insufficient funds to pay for extended overseas travel. Thus, both of them needed to quickly secure some form of sponsorship.

At that point, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) stepped forward with a ready solution. By coincidence only weeks earlier the agency had inaugurated the perfect vehicle for discreetly channeling financial support to persons like the Dalai Lama's brother. On 18 May, the San Francisco-based Committee for a Free Asia (CFA) had been formally unveiled to the public as a means to "render effective assistance to Asians in advancing personal and national liberty throughout their homelands." The committee's charter further declared its intention to assist noncommunist travelers, refugees, and exiles in order to "strengthen Asian resistance to communism." Left unsaid was the fact that the committee was made possible by financial assistance from the CIA. [15]

***

Fosmire also received help from yet another of the Dalai Lama's older brothers, Lobsang Samten. A gentle sort, the twenty-five-year-old Lobsang had already suffered one nervous breakdown. Briefly serving as lord chamberlain in Lhasa, he had escorted the Dalai Lama to India during the Buddha Jayanti and decided not to return. Instead, he had made his way to the United States, and the CIA had arranged for him to study English at Washington's Georgetown University. When this did not prove to his liking, the agency periodically drove him down to Peary to help with translations. "He was never really in the resistance mood," said Greaney. "He preferred to come over to my house and play with the kids."

***

For the better part of a week, the location of the Dalai Lama and his escape party was a mystery to the outside world. The first to get a hint of his fate was the CIA; this came after the lord chamberlain's message to Yarlung was forwarded by courier on horseback to Tom and Lou at the NVDA rear base in Lhuntse Dzong. [22] Upon reading this, Tom took his radio set and, together with a small band of guerrillas, sprinted to intercept the Dalai Lama near the Chongye valley, thirty kilometers north of the Drigu Tso. Lou followed in his wake with another group hauling the bulk of the weapons received during the second weapons drop.

On 25 March, eight days after he departed Lhasa, the Dalai Lama and his followers arrived at Chongye and linked up with Tom's advance NVDA party. While there, the Tibetan leader was enlightened about the CIA supply drops and the RS-1 radio, which was kept hidden. Discreetly taking his leave, Tom returned to the radio and keyed a message to Okinawa. Tibet's god-king, he informed the agency, was alive and well....

The Dalai Lama's move was not unexpected, and the agency already had an inkling that India would give its nod. Two days earlier, CIA Director Dulles had informed the rest of the NSC that Prime Minister Nehru had privately hinted his support of asylum for the Dalai Lama, but not for the fleeing armed rebels, for fear of provoking incursions by the PLA. [25]

At the same time, policy makers in Washington had come to the conclusion that the Dalai Lama's exile was in the United States' interest. [26] Given its radio link at the scene, the CIA was the logical intermediary to facilitate Indian approval. No time was wasted; at 1:00 in the morning on Sunday, 29 March, a message was sent from Washington to the CIA's New Delhi station asking that it relay the plea directly to Nehru.

Back in Tibet, the Dalai Lama and his entourage had not waited for an answer. Leaving Lhuntse Dzong and riding for a day, they reached a village just four hours from the Indian frontier. Huddling that night inside their tent during a torrential downpour, the CIA agents turned on their radio and learned of New Delhi's official consent via Washington. [27]

Tom and Lou waited until early the next morning for the rains to lighten and then made a dash to Phala's tent and passed on the news. For the first time, they saw the lord chamberlain break into a wide smile.

The Dalai Lama, though haggard after almost two weeks on the road and weakened by a bout of dysentery, was visibly elated....

By the end of the second week of April, the Dalai Lama had reached Bomdila and made immediate contact with [P. N.] Menon and Dave. Just as quickly, their talks grew heated. Counseling moderation, Menon urged the monarch to refrain from any mention of an independent government in exile during his initial public statement, which he would presumably make upon confronting the mob of newsmen at Tezpur. At this, the Dalai Lama bristled. His press announcement had already been penned, he said, and he was determined to push for independence. The monarch told Menon defiantly that if New Delhi insisted that he accept the limited role of prominent religious leader, perhaps he should not accept Nehru's offer of asylum.

Clearly unsatisfied, the Dalai Lama departed Bomdila by jeep on 18 April and was finally able to meet Gyalo and relay his early frustration with New Delhi. The Dalai Lama also used the opportunity to pass his brother a verbal message to the U.S. government, reaffirming his determination to support the resistance of his people and asking Washington to recognize his exiled government and supply those who were continuing the resistance.

***

Throughout the month of April, the U.S. government took pains to ensure that it did not appear to be instigating or exploiting the revolt for cold war profit. If such a perception arose, there was fear that Nehru might lash out against both the United States and the Tibetans. This even applied to U.S. aid for Tibetan refugees; to avoid the impression that it was being offered for political rather than humanitarian reasons, no supplies were to be sent unless requested by India, and preferably for indirect distribution through the Indians themselves. [7]

***

Howard Bane was senior to Hoskins and in theory would act as the primary point of contact with Gyalo. In addition, the CIA had started contributing a stipend for the Dalai Lama and his entourage -- "providing them with rice and robes," said Hoskins -- and Bane was in charge of the purse.

***

the Dalai Lama and his entourage had taken up residence in the town of Dharamsala. Situated 725 kilometers northwest of New Delhi in the Himalayan foothills, Dharamsala -- literally, "rest house" -- was once a traditional stop for Hindu pilgrims. By 1855, it had become a flourishing hill station for the British, only to see its popularity plummet after a devastating 1905 earthquake. Its last bloc of residents, a handful of Muslims, left for newly created Pakistan in 1947.

For the Indian government, Dharamsala's remote location and lack of population were now its major selling points. Since the Dalai Lama had crossed onto Indian soil, he had made his temporary quarters near another former hill station, Mussoorie. But because Mussoorie was just a short drive from New Delhi, the monarch enjoyed easy access to the media limelight. Influential leaders such as Krishna Menon cringed at the young Tibetan's frequent and sympathetic contact with the press, leading them to propose more permanent -- and distant -- quarters at Dharamsala. With little choice, the Tibetan leader made the move in April 1960.

If the Indians thought that Dharamsala was the answer to stifling the Dalai Lama, they were sadly mistaken. Using its isolation to his advantage, he converted the town into his de facto capital, then made good on his threats over the past year and began creating a government in exile. Part of this involved reforming the cabinet offices that previously existed in Lhasa. It also involved preparation of a draft constitution.

***

Gyalo arrived in the United States during late spring and called on Michael Forrestal, then special assistant to the President. Through Forrestal, the Dalai Lama's brother was told that Kennedy offered his deepest sympathy on behalf of the American people for the plight of the Tibetans. In time-honored doublespeak, Kennedy also said that the U.S. government desired to do what it could within the limits of practical and political circumstances to improve the Tibetans' fortunes.

***

On the afternoon of 16 October 1964, the arid desert soil around Lop Nur in central Xinjiang Province rippled from the effect of a twenty-kiloton blast. "This is a major achievement of the Chinese people," read the immediate press communique out of Beijing, "in their struggle to oppose the U.S. imperialist policy of nuclear blackmail." [1]

The detonation had not been unexpected. For the past few months, the United States had been closely tracking China's nuclear program using everything from satellite photographs to a worldwide analysis of media statements made by Chinese diplomats. India, still smarting from the 1962 war, had supported this collection effort by allowing the CIA to use Charbatia in April to secretly stage U-2 flights over Xinjiang. By late September, there were enough indications for senior officials in Washington to publicly predict the blast three weeks prior to the event. [2]

Such forewarning did nothing to dampen anxiety in New Delhi. This resulted in a windfall of sorts for the Tibet project, with the CIA using the Indians' more permissive attitude to push for a series of covert initiatives aimed at raising Tibet's worldwide profile. The first such scheme was an effort to recruit and train a cadre of Tibetan officers for use as administrators and foreign representatives. An advisory committee of U.S. academics and retired diplomats was established to oversee this project, with Cornell University agreeing to play host and the CIA footing the bill.

In the fall of 1964, an initial group of four Tibetans arrived at the Cornell campus for nine months of course work in linguistics, comparative government, economics, and anthropology. Among the four were former Hale translators Bill and Mark; both had been at Georgetown University over the previous two years honing their English skills. A second group, totaling eight Tibetans, arrived in the fall of the following year. Included was former Hale translator Thinlay "Rocky" Paljor and Lobsang Tsultrim, the nephew of one of the Dalai Lama's bodyguards. As a teenager, Lobsang had joined the entourage that fled Tibet with the monarch in 1959. Midway through the semester, half of the class was quietly taken down to Silver Spring, Maryland, where they were kept in a CIA safe house for a month of spy-craft instruction; all eight later reassembled, completed their studies at Cornell, and went back to India together. [3]

These first dozen Cornell-trained Tibetans were put to immediate use. Three were assigned to the Special Center. Others were posted to one of the CIA-supported Tibet representative offices in New Delhi, Geneva, and New York. The New Delhi mission -- officially known as the Bureau of His Holiness the Dalai Lama -- was headed by a former Tibetan finance minister and charged with maintaining contact with the various embassies in the Indian capital. The Office of Tibet in Geneva, led by the Dalai Lama 's older brother Lobsang Sam ten, focused on staging cultural programs in neutral Switzerland. [4]

The New York Office of Tibet, which included three Cornell graduates, formally opened in April 1964 following a U.S. visit by Gyalo Thondup. This office concentrated on winning support for the Tibetan cause at the United Nations, which was becoming an increasingly difficult prospect. In December 1965, Gyalo was successful in pushing a resolution on Tibet through the General Assembly for the third time, but some twenty-six nations -- including Nepal and Pakistan -- joined the ranks of those supporting China on the issue. [5]

During a break from lobbying at the United Nations, Gyalo had ventured down to Washington for meetings with U.S. officials. Among them was Des FitzGerald; one of the strongest advocates of the Tibet program within the CIA, he had since left his Cuba assignment and in the spring of 1965 was promoted to deputy director of plans, putting him in charge of all agency covert operations. FitzGerald used the opportunity to invite Gyalo to dinner at the elite Federalist Club. Joining them was Frank Holober, who had returned from an unpaid sabbatical in September 1965 to take over the vacant Tibet Task Force desk within the China Branch. Remembers Holober, "Des loved Gyalo, fawned over him. He would say, 'In an independent country, you would be the perfect foreign minister.'"

Gyalo proved his abilities in another CIA-supported venture. Because the Dalai Lama had long desired the creation of a central Tibetan cultural institution, the agency supplied Gyalo with secret funds to assemble a collection of wall hangings -- called thankas -- and other art treasures from all the major Tibetan Buddhist sects. A plot of land was secured in the heart of New Delhi, and the Tibet House -- consisting of a museum, library, and emporium -- was officially opened in October 1965 by the Indian minister of education and the Dalai Lama. It remains a major attraction to this day....

***

Ever since arriving on Indian soil, the CIA had secretly channeled a stipend to the Dalai Lama and his entourage. Totaling $180,000 per fiscal year, the money was appreciated but not critical. Most of it was collected in the Charitable Trust of His Holiness the Dalai Lama, which in turn was used for investments, donations, and relief work.

***

In 1970, Lhamo Tsering returned to New Delhi after his prolonged deployment to Nepal. Waiting for him at the Special Center was John Bellingham, who was anxious to finalize a formal demobilization plan for Mustang. Until that point, the CIA was still funding 2,100 guerrillas at a cost of $500,000 a year. Pressed for time, Lhamo Tsering outlined a schedule whereby the force would be cut by a third over each of the next three calendar years. Without delay, Bellingham approved the scheme. [15]

Part of the demobilization plan involved a rehabilitation program for the guerrillas, to ensure that they would be able to support themselves. Members of the Special Center were immediately deployed to Kathmandu and Pokhara to oversee this program. Their purpose was to ensure that rehabilitation funds would be wisely invested in self-generating enterprises. Although the demobilized guerrillas had few marketable skills, existing Kathmandu-based projects funded by the Dalai Lama and foreign aid groups demonstrated that Tibetan handicraft and carpet factories were profitable ventures.

Drawing on this precedent, the first third of the rehabilitation funds was channeled into two carpet factories in Pokhara. Part of the money was also used to break ground for a thirty-room budget hotel in the same town. With a third of the guerrillas dutifully filing out of the mountains to take up employment at these sites, demobilization appeared to be progressing according to plan.

***

The Dalai Lama has gone from strength to strength, winning the 1989 Nobel Prize for Peace and earning an enormous international audience that includes Hollywood celebrities, rock musicians, New Agers, and scores of other Westerners looking for answers in the East.


-- The CIA's Secret War in Tibet, by Kenneth Conboy and James Morrison


Therefore, this mainstream habit of rationalizing closeness to authorities in the sense of a demonstration of ‘good karma’, often intermingled with one’s own position in any spiritual group, is a trap in the path itself and a dead end—the effects of which have become obvious by now. Furthermore, people being played against each other, in the light of the new narrative about the physical closeness to any master and the frequency of meetings, has paved the path for abuse at all levels. Contrary to that, in the traditional texts, one was taught to rely on the teachings and not an individual (Kongtrul 2012, p. 68). Thus, the spiritual path itself was regarded as a highly individual process towards autonomy.

Lies:

Intentional Errors of Fact. In some contexts this is called bluffing.

If the speaker thinks that lying serves a moral end, this would be a Pious Fraud.


-- A List Of Fallacious Arguments, by Don Lindsay


And, far from the meaning of the term karma (Kongtrul 2012, pp. 184–91), within traditional Tibetan texts of Buddhist philosophy, such ‘good karma’ demonstrations, by means of striving for positions and physical closeness to a supposedly spiritual teacher, have increased the building of hierarchies and covert rivalries among group members. Furthermore, simplistic conceptual implications that others, who are not running after such issues, have any ‘bad karma’ and even ought to be ‘purified’, were employed. As conceptualizing one’s own sublimity goes along with identification and giving up one’s self-responsibility along with that, this not only furthers arrogance and increases narcissism, but serves to cover up dysfunctional group aspects and is critical when it comes to one’s own progress on the path. This issue impacts not only on the individual, but also on the Buddhist group, other groups of (Tibetan) Buddhism and society. Therefore, in addition to relying on traditional procedures to examine the qualifications of a teacher (Kongtrul 2003, p. 42), these need to be updated to meet the current societal challenges, especially regarding attitudes of exploitation towards women.
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Re: Mindfulness Meditation Research: Issues of Participant S

Postby admin » Mon Dec 09, 2019 12:10 am

Part 3 of 4

2.4. Structural and Terminological Issues in Developing Power Imbalances

Downgrading introspection in the value scale of Western cultures (Attersee Anders 2016, p. 11) for long has resulted in an uncritical incorporation of ideas seemingly satisfying this need. Therefore, the longing for introspection (Attersee Anders 2016, p. 11; Attersee Anders 2017, p. 14) has been approached through the uncritical and unreflective adoption of social hierarchies and power imbalances accompanying so-called Buddhist meditation. This has led to the commercialization of any meditation techniques attributed to Buddhism and attempts to make use of these concepts without ever having studied them in original language contexts. The statement of one of the probands, saying “below the surface it looks different than at first glance” (respondent #1), reflects the structural and terminological challenges one faces when looking below the surface.

2.4.1. Structural Challenges

In recent decades, feudal structures (Anders 2019a, p. 35; Finnigan and Hogendoorn 2019, p. 139) and hierarchies of power imbalances have been copied unreflectively from Asia to Europe in the name of Buddhist spirituality, teaching and training. The strict hierarchical organization in international Tibetan Buddhist organizations teaching Vajrayāna supports maintaining the power of a particular lineage, in terms of combining secular with spiritual power, just as in ancient Tibet. The silencing of abuse victims is enforced more swiftly in such structures, thus serving to silence trauma. Besides strictly hierarchical command structures, a covert attitude of exploitation can be observed, especially towards the feminine. And although their financial gains long seemed to justify the strategy to disregard both the traditional and the contextual procedures of teaching certain techniques only to prepared people, the high price we all pay for it now shows. The opinion of some masters and their entourages to be beyond the law of the countries they are in, together with their disregard for the Convention on Human Rights, especially Women’s and Children’s Rights, currently present society with particular challenges. Society must compensate for the costs of those who have become chronically ill as a result of exploitation, stigmatization and trauma, and the respective burden of isolation and silencing that they carry. Particularly, since the feminine was not only devalued, but considered an exploitable mass to be controlled, this type of knowledge transfer and business, in recent decades, was performed at the expense of many women. After the disclosure of the first cases testifying abuse, we reached a point where these once seemingly flourishing centers of international Buddhist organizations in many countries have turned into religious as well as societal challenges, instead of an individual issue. In order to illustrate these circumstances, quotes from testimonials, as well as statements from probands, which are taken from the current research project (Anders 2019b, 2019c), will be presented in the following text. People from different countries, who learned about my research project through word of mouth or social media over time have requested the questionnaires via email. The links to the English or German version of the questionnaires were sent to the participants, together with an individual TAN via email. In this way, they could be pseudonymously filled and submitted in protected places. Thus, even when participating in the study on health in Buddhist groups, there is a distribution that reflects the tabooing in groups on the one hand and tremendous distress of those affected, who have to fear for their safety and sometimes their lives. It is currently evident that filling out the questionnaire in safe places using a pseudonym was used by some people as a medium of, and a cry for, help. At the same time, however, there is also information indicating that severely traumatized people require therapeutic care urgently and, due to triggers when writing, cannot complete the questionnaire at all. The probands wrote from their experiences in international so-called Buddhist organizations—many of which have a huge number of centers in many countries, which increases and complicates the issues addressed, and renders legal procedures and necessary victim compensation almost impossible. The number of centers may indicate a large number of directly and indirectly affected individuals, seminar attendees, workers and their children—not all of whom are members. Someone who stated that he was part of the Zen-Suzuki groups in Germany and different Tibetan Buddhist groups such as the Rangjung Yeshe Gomdes, Drikung and Rigpa Centers described his experiences as follows:

I found this mixture increasingly unacceptable. Glorifying attitudes, struggling for recognition, power over others and striving for top positions, under the carpet of niceties and hugs, denying and suspending unpleasant truths, neurotic devotion to a strictly hierarchical and non-transparent system that confuses spiritual devotion with self-abandonment. It was quite striking how easy it was to manipulate the vast majority of the participants, most of them were actually waiting for what I found to be a consequence of a lack of genuine personal responsibility. Even teachers unwilling to create such manipulations were wrapped up in a web of what I call ‘sangha-show’. Unfortunately, they do not seem to understand this. Often enough with a feeling of being at the pinnacle of evolution to be able to teach others. In the vast majority of groups, I found little room for what I consider to be genuine practice, which I believe to imply an ability of being honest with oneself, but instead any other substitute activities, concealed by incredible effort of pretending to be advanced already.

-- (respondent #1)


The manipulation described above is masked by a conglomerate of seemingly Buddhist terminology and the formation of stereotypes (Anders 2019a, p. 34), within which hidden agendas are communicated. Besides the resulting self-deception rendering one’s own path a dead end, this is the context for double bind, causing severe diseases after years of exposure. In the international Buddhist groups, hierarchies, similar to the ones in Buddhist monasteries where women are ranked below the youngest of monks, as well as the level of physical closeness to the master, are considered important ordering principles. Whereas the former corresponds to the working and command hierarchies, the latter is spiritually connotated, constituting an inherently risky conceptual connection between sexuality and spirituality. These two structures may overlap, and what was called the ‘inner circle’ in the organization Rigpa might well have other names in other organisations, e.g., Kusung in the organization Shambala. Baxter outlined the implications of these structures as follows:

Individual experiences are very different. There are varying degrees of closeness to Sogyal Lakar, with the closest relationships regularly referred to as the ‘inner circle’. The experiences of some of the members of the inner circle are very different from the experiences of many of those who are less close. […] a. some students of Sogyal Lakar (who were part of the ‘inner circle’, as described later in this report) have been subjected to serious physical, sexual and emotional abuse by him; and b. there were senior individuals within Rigpa who were aware of at least some of these issues and failed to address them, leaving others at risk.

-- (Baxter 2018, p. 4)


Thus, at this point, the aspect of silent testimony has been touched upon. In the following subchapter, some core aspects of terminological challenges will be addressed.

2.4.2. Decontextualisation of Terms and Concepts

Whereas the word-by-word commentaries on Buddhist philosophical texts in Tibetan monastic education focus on explaining the meaning of terms and context for the purpose of one’s own autonomy on the path of training, translations disregarded these differentiations, as well as existing semantic connotations in the corresponding languages, whilst commercializing Buddhist spiritualty. Thus, the decontextualization unfolded, ascribing new, simplified meanings to terms. Particularly, beyond clear definitions, differentiated use of language and logical conclusions, the understanding of meaning became more difficult. Thus, an understanding of meaning that goes beyond a mere repetition of terms was lost. In particular, an inability to understand introspective patterns and establish true self-reflection based on them, and the fact that teachers no longer teach from experience, means a loss of conveyed meaning—that is, the prevailing concepts ascribed to Tibetan Buddhist philosophy and Vajrayāna practice have little to do with what was taught in original language contexts. Furthermore, the current wording has been used to disguise the facts of abuse for decades. Therefore, allowing the painful naming of those issues, and listening to those concerned by indoctrination and abuse, will be a step towards urgently needed change. Depending on the victim’s personality and the damage suffered, these expressions may vary. We have seen this naming of facts in the open letter by eight people from the organisation Rigpa, saying “we now see clearly the many ways that you betrayed our trust, manipulated and abused us and our Dharma brothers and sisters” (Standlee et al. 2017, p. 7) and in many other groups, as well. Concurrently, we can observe the stigmatization and silencing accompanying this, not only by the groups themselves but also by Tibetan authorities, particularly the instillation of fear of losing a ‘pure view’. In early stages of counselling and treatment of the people affected, issues of isolation, stigmatization, silencing and fear are crucial. It is due to these issues, that people have committed themselves to secrecy to this day. Furthermore, if this secrecy is violated, some of them are threatened with methods of slander and social isolation. In particular, the perception (Anders 2019a, p. 39) of critically minded individuals and abuse victims has been systematically questioned, while they, at the same time, have been socially isolated (Anders 2019a, p. 39). One person from the organisation Rigpa described this as follows:

With Rigpa: Refusal of any discussion on the part of Rigpa, I felt the situation to be hopelessly stuck. My person as a critic was accordingly ridiculed, portrayed as psychologically ‘strange’. Usually this happened with most ‘dissidents’, that was one reason to go, some form of ethics was completely missing. Right was what was in the mind of the master or what was thought to be so. One could call it a general refusal to engage in dialogue. Other organizations: Even if the lama is okay and doesn’t abuse students, unfortunately there are always various phenomena: worship of the lama in a western, blind and seemingly naive way, completely intransparent structures regarding money, power, ways of decision. Fixation on career in the ranking in the ‘Sangha’. Willing adaptation of authoritarian structures. Those who don’t want to or can’t fit in will fall out sooner or later, the social pressure is often subtle but very high. Mixing of the whole sub-cultural mishmash of hippie, New Age small ideologies, green alternative behaviors with the traditional ballast from Asia: feudalistic structures, special hierarchies, outdated interpretations, etc. [sic.] Efforts to mix psychological methods with Buddhism.

-- (respondent #2 in Anders 2019b)


Due to the use of stigmatisation and slander as a threat (Anders 2019c) against group members, and, in this way, destroying their wider social and professional resources, it is not easy for members to distance themselves from such organizations, as was shown, for example, with the statement “you have encouraged us to defame others, in particular in France, who have spoken out against you in recent years” (Standlee et al. 2017, p. 8). At this point, counselling, particularly concerning legal and social protection and sorting out the double bind members are caught in, can help people to leave cruel groups in a timely manner and, in this way, also prevent the development or chronification of mental diseases. It is the combination of a personality cult (Anders 2019a, p. 34), together with the phrase ‘crazy wisdom’ and the neologism ‘karma purification’, that allows for violence and irresponsible deeds on the part of the leaders and their followers. That is, people are taught to believe they have to suffer abuse to have their so-called ‘bad karma’ purified (Anders 2019a, p. 39). Thus, actual reality widely diverges from the idealized picture or projected ideas of healers (Anders 2019a, p. 37). Whereas the master of the narrative would be allowed arbitrariness without any consequences, due to having been attributed with uninterrupted access to ‘absolute truth’, other people’s perceptions are systematically questioned. They get used to being told that they have the ‘wrong perception and view’, because it is inconsistent with the authority’s. Thus, this narrative traps people by setting ‘purification’ as an impossible standard (Hassan 2013, p. 16), with shame and guilt at its core, while assuming any ‘master’ would be in a position to ‘purify’ their ‘bad karma’ and conceptualize his group as being allowed, or ordered by himself, to do so. This new kind of group manipulation, called ‘karma purification,’ serves to justify violence and abuse against individuals. This is supplemented by a denial of self-responsibility, and the constant merging of one’s mind with so-called spiritual leaders, which is referred to as ‘guru yoga’. Apart from this kind of mind control, group pressure imposes various stereotypes regarding how a good Buddhist is supposed to speak and act. The very compassion that was once defined as a clear sign of the effects of authentic, correct practice, is absent in so-called teachers manipulating and abusing their followers. It is the ambiguous two-faced reality they create, with ideal images to which people are required to adapt to, which in turn binds them into such systems of exploitation and abuse. That is, due to their longing for the quickest path to enlightenment and chasing of promises such as enlightenment in one lifetime, people are made to pay for a growing number of seminars which supposedly lead to this. Instead of gaining access to their own spirituality, however, they are drawn into a net of dependencies and devaluations. Thus, although Vajrayāna has both compassion and bodhicitta as its central premise, it is these very qualities which have increasingly disappeared. Within these new narratives of Vajrayāna Buddhism, the victims themselves are even being blamed for the harm they have suffered, stigmatized and excluded. These actions of wounding and secondary wounding speak for themselves. Now that their reputation and structures are at stake, it has become evident that the secrecy and silencing these organizations have enforced has not done them any good.

2.4.3. Confusing Concepts

The new terms and meanings ascribed to Buddhist practise served to conceptualize risky relational structures and double bind, covering the entire system, which is confusing, because any action one chooses may be interpreted as the wrong choice. Double bind may show in many ways, for example in the discrepancies between the public and private face of leaders or position-holders, which were addressed in the following statement:

This letter is our request to you to stop your unethical and immoral behavior. Your public face is one of wisdom, kindness, humor, warmth and compassion, but your private behavior, the way you conduct yourself behind the scenes, is deeply disturbing and unsettling. A number of us have raised with you privately, our concerns about your behavior in recent years, but you have not changed.

-- (Standlee et al. 2017, p. 2)


Asked why he took the decision to separate from the organization Rigpa after approximately ten years of study and work there, one person shared the following:

I saw directly that while they present a very acceptable public image behind that is a lineage of pure violence. They believe they are accountable to no one and are quite capable of taking someone’s head off believing they are above any law. They also use remote viewing to injure people. One of their major teachers publicly said Tibetan Buddhism was a system that could be used by a good person or a terrorist. I have seen both sides.

-- (respondent #3)


The manipulation, indoctrination and abuse (Anders 2019a, p. 34) that are currently coming to light do not only impact on single individuals, but the on the group structures themselves, their group dynamics and the social and health systems of respective countries. Due to their questionable concepts and double bind, it stands to reason that years spent in such a system are not conducive to one’s health, but are likely to impair it. Apart from the damage to health and the economic conditions of individuals, however, any groups that consider themselves and their masters to be above the law of the country are inflicting further damage. Thus, an overall rationalizing system, based on new meanings ascribed to seemingly Buddhist terminology and concepts, has evolved around these inconsistencies, attributing obvious misconceptions to the participants themselves. Concerning the ethical guidelines which are currently written for groups, one person said: “anyone or any group can make guidelines. It is actually getting them implemented that is the problem. Most large organisations, e.g., [sic e.g.,] company, religious group or government all try to hide wrongdoing as they don’t want to be sued or lose reputation” (respondent #3).

2.5. Economical, Physical and Psychological Abuse

The devaluation of others (An Olive Branch 2019b, p. 6), abuse of power, rumors and slander (An Olive Branch 2019b, p. 6) that were described as taking place in the organization Shambala are common behavior in many groups. When asked about the kinds of abuse experienced or witnessed, the following reply was given:

Abuse of donations, of blind devotion, of the readiness for manipulation; abuse of power or power imbalances; abuse of unknowingness and abuse of the openness to engage in other traditions; abuse of naivety and good faith. Abuse of generosity, abuse of the Dharma to sexually utilise women. Abuse of the Dharma for concealing flaws, lack of education and of realisation. Abuse of the Dharma in order to present oneself as a great teacher. Abuse of Dharma in order to aggressively release one’s own negative emotions on others. Abuse of the Dharma in order to gain a position of elevation. Abuse of the Dharma in order to refuse communication.

-- (respondent #1)


The abuse or violence experienced in person was also described as: “humiliation, exposure, psychological violence, repression, deprivation of healthy self-esteem, intrigues, defamation campaigns, systematic manipulation and lies. Theft: […] misuse of tied donations” (respondent #1). Concerning the organization Rigpa, the primary concerns in the open letter to Sogyal Lakar addressed the following actions of abuse: “1. Your physical, emotional and psychological abuse of students. 2. Your sexual abuse of students. 3. Your lavish, gluttonous, and sybaritic lifestyle. 4. Your actions have tainted our appreciation for the practice of the Dharma” (Standlee et al. 2017, pp. 2–3). The writers of the letter elaborated as follows:

We have received directly from you, and witnessed others receiving, many different forms of physical abuse. You have punched and kicked us, pulled hair, torn ears, as well as hit us and others with various objects such as your back-scratcher, wooden hangers, phones, cups, and any other objects that happened to be close at hand. We trusted for many years that this physical and emotional treatment of students—what you assert to be your ‘skillful means’ of ‘wrathful compassion’ in the tradition of ‘crazy wisdom’—was done with our best interest at heart in order to free us from our ‘habitual patterns’. We no longer believe this to be so. We feel that we and others have been harmed because your actions were not compassionate; rather they demonstrated your lack of discipline and your own frustration. Your physical abuse—which constitutes a crime under the laws of the lands where you have done these acts—have left monks, nuns, and lay students of yours with bloody injuries and permanent scars. This is not second hand information; we have experienced and witnessed your behavior for years.

-- (Standlee et al. 2017, p. 3)


Nowadays, even harmful incidents are reframed as being the ‘perception’ of the individual only. This psychological trick of shifting the fault to the victim builds on simplified and distorted versions of philosophical discourses on the relative and absolute truth. These discourses on a view meant for individual practice are then applied to power imbalances, the manipulation of groups and the denigration of individuals. For this reframing, sometimes the terms ‘illusion’ and even ‘hallucination’ (Zopa 2019) are employed, which devalues the experience of this damage by defining it as an individual problem or even as a mental illness. This demonstrates a way of manipulating huge groups, and patterns of isolating individuals and victims, as well as silencing trauma. That is, instead of dealing with the damage, the groups have to adapt to the prescribed point of view, thought and talk. Thus, unwanted aspects are pressed into the unconscious. That perspective was then spiritually masked and promoted as a so-called ‘pure view,’ which people are manipulated to adopt, especially by inducing the fear of ‘creating bad karma’ through naming the incident or speaking up. In addition to this structural silencing of victims, they are stigmatized as ‘having a bad karma’ and patterns of ignoring or even excluding them from the group lead to secondary wounding. Thus, based on the distorted concepts described above, the ‘reality’ or ‘truth’ is defined by the abuser and his entourage, by prescribing the way of thought for the group. Thus, the damaging incidents remained hidden for decades, by stigmatizing victims and ignoring the harm endured, instead even framing it as beneficial in the sense of the assumed purification of their ‘bad karma’. Furthermore, the exploitation of those working in such a Buddhist organization was described as follows:

I tried to be cheerful and accommodating within reason, but they expect way too much from people. At a certain point after working between 8–10 h or if I got injured, I started telling people I was going to bed. They looked shocked like someone slapped them. Those who worked to exhaustion were seen as the most devoted until they could no longer complete tasks. After I threw my back out building the foundation for the lama’s cabin, I refused to do work that would harm me physically (I already had back problems from excessive manual labor during formative years in foster care).

-- (Anders 2019c, respondent #4)


These statements, made by people from the ‘inner circles’, bear far-reaching implications, as became apparent with the letter of Kusung (Morman et al. 2019), in the organization Shambala, because they show the layers and strategies beyond the public, nice face of the organization. The survey questioned whether one’s own education and training was taken into account when being selected for a job in the Buddhist group. One of the answers was: “they treat everyone as an underclass of servants that exist to serve the lama” (respondent #4) and the person explained further “it was based on what the lama decreed. Almost everyone obeyed like slaves” (respondent #4). Thus, in such structures, the devaluation and exploitation of others, using very well-trained people as slaves for one’s own purposes is regarded as normal. The extent of the damage inflicted on the person concerned, and its impact on his or her life, is only revealed when listening to his or her narrative, which is not taken seriously in current Buddhist discourses. Here is an example:

I separated from my first guru (from the now-defunct Ratna-Shri Drikung Kagyu center in Berkeley, California) because he sexually violated my best friend. The lama chose her because she was mentally ill and had a history of abuse. He told her he could heal her trauma through sexual acts. I separated from another center and lama (Dzogchen/Nyingma) in Oregon because students were being worked to exhaustion, financially exploited, and discarded. They were told if their minds were pure, they would not need much sleep and their bodies would not get injured from backbreaking labor. People were told the world was ending and they should use their credit cards and savings to make donations because the merit they would get would be incalculable. This place was run like a cult. The teacher also was very controlling and made homophobic comments. […] One of the students worked so much, she had a nervous breakdown and ended up in an institution. No one from the sangha visited her and they banned her from the center I practiced on my own for years after this until […] after I discovered that my best friend’s child had been raped by the lama/tulku Shenpen Rinpoche, in addition to other children. I had been struggling with my faith for years prior to this […] I could no longer represent an organization or faith that did this as a monk. I lost my faith in Buddhism completely after seeing that the historical Buddha subjected rape victims to interrogation and expulsion if their mindfullness [sic mindfulness] during an assault was deemed insufficient. That’s not compassion. I also was offended by The Buddha’s misogyny in general. I don’t even know what enlightenment means anymore.

-- (Anders 2019c, respondent #5)


Having once held a special position is by no means consolidating: “I was also declared my first Lama’s regent, which meant I was expected to run his center and find his rebirth when he died. I’m not looking for that pervert’s reincarnation. Some work was voluntary, while a lot of it was expected or coerced” (respondent #4). These were some of the terms and concepts used for rationalizing and silencing trauma. The reframing of the perception of group members (Anders 2019a, p. 40) by the elites, allowing them to behave arbitrarily and explaining it as ‘crazy wisdom’ (Anders 2019a, p. 37; Baxter 2018, p. 12; Standlee et al. 2017, p. 5), and defining harm as no-harm, caused by so-called ‘good motivation’, are some of the main manipulative tricks employed. The analysis of terms and concepts for the rationalization of trauma leads to group dynamics that go well beyond the dichotomy of perpetrator and victims. Some psychological aspects of this will be addressed in the following chapter.

2.6. Psychological Aspects

In the specific situation of indoctrination and manipulation with Buddhist terms and concepts, individuals of the entourages obtained special positions with privileges due to their physical proximity to leaders, and usually consider themselves to be above ordinary folk in a kind of spiritual narcissism. Considering the fact of the trauma dynamic itself makes it impossible to refuse positioning, tacit silence about abuse results in a positioning close to the perpetrator. For these individuals, this constitutes a narrow path dividing privileges and their own subjugation and self-abuse. Simultaneously, they themselves are bystanders and witnesses, whose positioning, which they rarely seek, is challenged, because of their identification with the perpetrator, or because of a more or less conscious fear of being victimized themselves. Some even take on the role of teachers indoctrinating the group by unreflectively adopting the previously described concepts and, thus, stigmatizing victims and isolating them socially. Now that the realities of indoctrination, and the current circumstances of economic, physical and psychological abuse (Anders 2019a, p. 39; An Olive Branch 2019a, p. 7; 2019b, p. 6; Standlee et al. 2017, p. 3; Baxter 2018, pp. 16, 23, 29; Finnigan 2019; Winn 2018, p. 5; Winn et al. 2018a, p. 6; Winn et al. 2018b, p. 6) are emerging, it would be appropriate to use courage and strength to thoroughly restructure organizations, to compensate victims and to prevent further damaging incidents rather than whitewashing them, which only the established elites and entourage, who have already profited at others’ costs, would benefit from. Although such ensuing damages are inconsistent with even the basic Buddhist assumptions of non-damage, they continue to be rationalized by its elites, who try to reframe their subordinates’ perception and, in these ways, put group pressure on them, in favor of their own agendas. When it comes to trauma (Newland 2019, p. 213), the agenda is to silence and isolate the victims, and deprive them of people who simply listen, which deprives them of the urgently needed social networks to prevent the outbreak and chronification of disease. While employing the same, dubious terminology, group members, who have not only witnessed the abuse, but often enriched themselves in the role of teachers, translators and command-takers for very many years, continue to preach their versions of ‘pure view’, the ‘karma purification’ of others and Buddhist meditation on such grounds. This means that the instructions of such teachers cynically preaching a ‘pure view’ that whitewashes abuse and exploitation and regards the victims to be the objects of so-called ‘karma purification’ are not only stigmatizing those affected by abuse, but are also continuing to manipulate their seminar participants. Whoever is chosen as an object of that ‘purification’ is not only covered with projections of the unpleasant elements of the projecting group, they are made into the object of acts of slander, stalking and bodily harm. This frequently results in multiple and complex traumatizations and secondary traumatizations. These are the consequences of ignoring the individual and collective unconscious (Hark 1988, pp. 188–89), the discourse of which has permeated scientific fields and social contexts in Europe and America for more than one hundred years, and promoting identification with the collective psyche (Jung 1990, pp. 53–59), instead of updating knowledge and teaching in a culturally sensitive way. Thus, the prescribed ways of thinking, talking and reframing push people into being objects of the group unconscious (Jung 1990, p. 59). This shows in the fact that, while consciously preaching their understanding of compassion, many of the group members are quite unconcerned by the pain and damage inflicted on the victims. Although, at this point, an urgently needed dialogue could be developed, respected authorities dictate to others how they should feel and think, reframe the trauma as aggression, and, in this way, work towards collective silencing. In such ways, the victims are subjected to the projection of many unwanted aspects of the group. It is the power imbalances (Baker 2019, pp. 85–89) within the structures of established centers that facilitate this. Although it was said in Buddhist teachings that genuine teachers were able to explain and impart knowledge through their own understanding and insight, and that their behavior would grow increasingly refined, it seems that nowadays we instead see the repetition of fancy and nice-sounding words. Both the victims and their society pay a high price for this. Furthermore, some individuals were subjected to pseudotherapies (e.g., ‘Rigpa therapy’) (Anders 2019a, pp. 34, 42; Standlee et al. 2017, pp. 4–5; Baxter 2018, pp. 31–32) in their Buddhist groups, which impacts negatively on their trust. As in many countries psychotherapy or trauma therapy is not available in a timely manner, this, in turn, leads to chronic diseases. Thus, people are psychologically damaged by increasing dependency, insecurity, fear, and the identification processes with the master as well as with his group. Stereotyping and the requirement of beautifying one´s speech, as well as merging in the so-called ‘guru yoga’, serve to reduce access to one´s own feelings and to deepen dependency. The seemingly required disintegration of boundaries, instead of development of self-reliance, endangers mental health. From a psychological perspective, along with the impact of physical and psychological violence and traumatization, the patterns of constant humiliation and the systematic questioning of one’s own perception are detrimental, especially when this is tolerated for decades, believing it will serve the purpose of enlightenment. Some people consider themselves advanced, and assume that they are training in sophisticated meditation techniques, even though they actually just rehearse dissociation.
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