My Medium post, “What is the Point of Meditation and Why You Should Not Do A Vipassana Retreat” is gaining quite a bit of attention, especially on twitter, with hundreds of comments due some retweets by influential folks.
And I have to say I’m pretty happy with the effect of the post given the response I’m receiving.
It looks to me like perfect Psycho-Cultural Electrolysis.
I put Direct Current into the system with a strong opinion and people separate into component parts like an induced chemical reaction.
Three primary clear groups coalesced:
1) Advanced meditators who understand the arguments and perspectives.
2) Beginning meditators who’ve had their eyes opened to the wider perspective of the meditation landscape and see the limitations of Vipassana instruction.
3) Triggered, defensive and reactive Vipassana attendees who feel the need to justify their choice to attend.
What I find ironically amusing is how numerous people in group 3 validate the thesis of the post, that:
Vipassana is an ineffective methodology compared to alternative meditation paths.
See, if Vipassana were effective you wouldn’t see so many defensive, reactive, triggered posts from people studying in its lineage.
Being triggered and reactive defensiveness cannot arise in a state of Insight/Emptiness.
So by definition, if you are triggered or reactively defensive, in that moment, and for all moments in which that behavior persists, you are failing your meditation practice.
Relatedly, this is why I’ve written many posts about triggers pointing the way to your Awakening.
The people who read my whole post — which makes a lot of nuanced points, on a range of subjects, who then comment with just one or two lines about how I’m misunderstanding or mischaracterizing Vipassana are very likely in the Triggered/Reactive/Ineffective Meditator category.
Let’s take a brief sidebar to address some of the criticism of my first post.
1) “But I had a very beautiful and insightful experience at my Vipassana Retreat!”
Sure. I didn’t say good experiences weren’t possible. I said Vipassana is ineffective for many people and for those who it is effective, it is still a slower path down the path of Awakening compared to alternative meditative paths.
I said people were likely to get discouraged by the way it teaches meditation and develop bad meditation habits.
In many ways the Vipassana tradition is much better suited for the culture in the East than the culture in the West. The reason for this is the emphasis in Western culture on Rationality and Individualism.
A friend of mine who is a Buddhist scholar told me about a study she read that was done on Vipassana meditators in the West vs in Burma. In Burma, they stay focused on meditating and finish the 1st major path of Theravada within 3 months. In the West, they found almost no one completed the path and instead spent the majority of the time psychoanalyzing themselves.”
From an Integral perspective the reason for this differential performance is rather obvious if you understand the Wilber Combs Lattice which maps Stages of Psychological Development by States of Development.
Those in Burma are primarily at the Mythic/Subtle stage. Those in the west are primarily at the Rational/Subtle and Pluralistic/Subtle stages.
Different practices are needed in different spaces within the Field of Consciousness.
Lastly, many people’s ‘good experiences’ have nothing to do with making progress towards Awakening. They are silent insights and self-reflections at the ordinary level of self, rather than transcendent experiences beyond the ordinary conception of self and self-identity.
2) “Have you even taken a Vipassana retreat? You can’t comment on Vipassana if you haven’t taken it.”
Buddhism has gone through three major evolutions:
Theravada -> Mahayana -> Vajrayana.
These are called the Three Turnings of the Wheel of the Dharma. Each Turning, transcended and included, or improved upon the previous stages, through major philosophical re-conceptualizations and the introduction of new meditative practices and principles.
Theravada represents the original teachings of the Buddha. Mahayana, primarily introduced the central notion of the Boddhisattva —a person who is able to reach nirvana but delays doing so out of compassion in order to save suffering beings— and improved the articulation of Emptiness. Vajrayana, the Tibetan version of Buddhism, accelerates the path towards Awakening and Enlightenment, through greater precision in its teachings and the use of Tantric Energy practices.
So you see I don’t need to take a Vipassana retreat to comment on it. I know it deals with the Concentration and Insight/Emptiness stages of the Invariant Path, and does it poorly relative to Vajrayana.
Each of these schools of Buddhism are like operating systems.
Theravada is like Windows MS-DOS.
Mahayana is like classic Mac OS.
Vajrayana is like Mac OS X.
In 2018, why would you want to run Windows MS-DOS?
RESULTS SPEAK FOR THEMSELVES
The results of different lineages speak for themselves.
I know hundreds if not thousands of people who meditate, and the people who are attracted to study in accelerated non-dual lineages like Tibetan Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta are unequivocally superior meditators to the people who study Vipassana and mindfulness based meditation.
I can’t tell you the number of people who I’ve conversed with who have been to multiple Vipassana retreats who do not have a solid grasp of Insight/Emptiness, much less Awakened Awareness.
One of the tech influencers who retweeted me, said along with the retweet that, “Of course, given the way identity and confirmation bias work, everyone who has done vipassana will feel compelled to fire back.”
To which I replied,
“Yes, very few people will admit they have wasted their time with anything they’ve engaged in. Of course, the type of people who can be both brutally & lovingly self-critical are the type of people who become the successful entrepreneurs & the awakened meditators.”
A DEEPER EXPLANATORY PATTERN AT PLAY
This all said, there is a deeper pattern at play here that must be discussed to explain the differential skills between meditators studying Vipassana & Mindfulness vs. meditators studying Vajrayana/Advaita Vedanta — as it is not only the inferior instruction that creates the performance differential.
In many Post-Modern and New Age communities there’s a concept of an Old Soul.
But what’s not talked about enough is its relative: the Young Soul.
And Soul Age is one of the main factors that determines what lineage one is attracted to and how natural meditation comes to a person.
Old Souls are attracted to the superior non-dual lineages like Vajrayana and Advaita Vedanta.
When they hear wisdom from these lineages, a feeling of Inner Knowing is triggered and they say, “That’s what’s up! I’m going to go deeper with that.”
The feeling of Inner Knowing does not come from the evaluating information in the mind or from the desires or aversions of the ego and spiritual materialsm.
Inner Knowing comes primarily from a mix of past life experience and Soul Guidance.
Old Souls have tried out many different spiritual lineages and have a felt sense of what works best.
Young Souls for the most part don’t have experience of different spiritual lineages and thus cannot discriminate amongst them.
The problem today is you’ve got all these Young Souls running around the Bay Area and other cultural hotbeds, discovering the existence and depth of the inner world, for the one of their first lifetimes, acting like they know something.
I’m not trying to reverse this trend, but I am sauntering into the conversation like Morpheus saying, which pill do you want to take?
“The Matrix is everywhere. It is all around us. Even now, in this very room. You can see it when you look out your window or when you turn on your television. You can feel it when you go to work… when you go to church… when you pay your taxes. It is the world that has been pulled over your eyes to blind you from the truth.
Neo: What truth?
Morpheus: That you are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else you were born into bondage. Into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch. A prison for your mind.”
Unfortunately, no one can be…told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself. This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill, the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill [opens his left hand revealing red pill], you stay in Wonderland, and I show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. Remember: all I’m offering is the truth. Nothing more.”
The Matrix is more apt an analogy than you may even realize.
1) The Matrix is the Prison of Samsara Buddha spoke about. Stabilizing Awakened Awareness midway down the Invariant Meditative Path is almost literally what ‘Escaping the Matrix’ is metaphorically pointing to.
2) The creators of the Matrix, Lana & Larry Wachowski are good friends with Ken Wilber and he influenced the writing of the script. Ken Wilber and Cornell West have 15 hours of dialogue on the director’s cut of the Ultimate Matrix Collection.
I’d like to at least give Young Souls and Asleep Old Souls the opportunity to take the Red Pill.
“The key advantage Vajrayana Buddhism claims to provide is an accelerated path to enlightenment. This is achieved through use of tantra techniques, which are practical aids to spiritual development, and esoteric transmission (explained below). Whereas earlier schools might provide ways to achieve nirvana over the course of many lifetimes, Vajrayana techniques make full enlightenment or Buddhahood possible in a much shorter timeframe, perhaps in a single lifetime. Vajrayana Buddhists do not claim that Theravada or Mahayana practices are in any way invalid, only that they represent slower paths. It should also be noted that the goal of the Mahayana and Vajrayana is the attainment of Buddhahood, whereas the goal for Theravada practice is liberation from the cycle of rebirth in Nirvana.”
So Vipassana isn’t quite the Blue pill. It’s more like the mix of the two: the Purple Pill.
But why do you want to take the Purple Pill if you can take the Red Pill?