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Living by Meditation Alone | Tricycle

One of the most insistent trends on offer in the spiritual marketplace has been the cult of meditation, which has had important implications for Buddhism. Secular mindfulness has found a place in society, but occupying a somewhat different cultural and spiritual space, a new Buddhism has emerged alongside it. Its adherents claim that the fruits of the Buddhist tradition can be acquired though sitting meditation alone. Contemporary practitioners, in other words, need not bother with study, ethical precepts, ritual practice (other than meditation), or merit making. The proponents of the “just sitting” trend often claim the mantle of traditional systems, whether Theravada Vipassana, Japanese Zen, or Tibetan Dzogchen. All share the assumption that meditation must be as non-conceptual in content as possible, and that all other forms of activity can be largely, if not entirely, ignored.

While these new meditation programs are called Buddhist, their presentations of meditation run counter to those of the dharma from all periods of Buddhist history. Indeed, the most clearly defined and often cited status of meditation within Buddhist doctrine and practice positions it as one of the three trainings, the other two being ethics and wisdom. As the great ancient Indian Buddhist thinker Nagarjuna declared in his Letter to a Friend,

In superior moral discipline, superior wisdom
And superior contemplation, one must constantly train.
More than one hundred and fifty trainings
Are truly included in these three.

Without the ethical development brought about by training in ethics—“the foundation of all qualities,” according to Nagarjuna—meditation is a spiritual dead end...

Living by Meditation Alone | Tricycle

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