Much like the subjects of diet and health there is a plethora of information available on the subject of meditation. Unfortunately the majority of the information available is written from the narrow point of view of just one particular religion or philosophy. To make matters worse this fact is not clearly pointed out by those who present the information.

To the beginner much of the statements made sound like overarching laws of meditation when in fact they are highly specific and often exclusive to one particular tradition of meditation. Confusion soon arises when information is uncovered that is in contradiction to what was previously thought to be a universal law of meditation.

In this article I am going to be specific. The common misconceptions of meditation I propose to clear up are in regards to Buddhist Insight Meditation. It is important to deal with any misconceptions you might have of meditation early on in your meditative practice. Otherwise your progress may become blocked by those misconceptions.

People Should Avoid Meditation Because it is Dangerous
It is true that if you pursue a meditation practice for long enough you are likely to stumble across things that were previously suppressed within yourself. However there is little in this life that does not pose a potential risk. You don’t refuse to go to work because you might die during the commute. There is a risk but you choose to take it because there are also rewards.

Developing your awareness through Buddhist meditation is not dangerous in and of itself. For most people meditation is a very gradual process. Trying to force progress is rather contrary to the whole idea. So take it slow. Have patience and by the time you discover what may be disturbing insights you will be ready. Periods of intense meditation such as at a meditative retreat should be carried out under the guidance of a competent teacher. While working alone be gentle with yourself.

Meditation is Self-Centered
This misperception is a common one. Someone who meditates does in fact spend a great deal of time focused on his or her self. However it is erroneous to consider meditation self-centered. The purpose of Buddhist meditation is to free those who meditate from the grip of anger, prejudice, and ill will. To meditate is to be motivated to get rid of greed and tension.

As meditation gradually pulls out these “mind weeds” those who meditate become unobstructed from having great compassion for others. If anyone was to examine the private lives of longtime meditators they would likely find a person who is giving, a lack of conditions placed on love and friendship and a sense of selflessness.

It is through meditation that a person is able to become aware of exactly how selfish they really are. The ways in which we are selfish are beyond counting and range from overtly obvious to extremely subtle. It is in no way selfish to practice meditation so as to cleanse oneself of selfishness.

Meditation is Mysterious and Beyond Understanding
There is subtlety to this misperception of meditation. Much of the meditation experience occurs in a realm beyond words and conceptual thought. So while meditation quite simply can be understood the manner of understanding will be different to ordinary conceptual understanding.

Much of experience and being is far beyond words. Words are simply symbolic. Words represent things. Words are not things themselves beyond being symbols for other things. Thus we should resist the urge to talk overly much about meditation. Meditation is not an abstract topic for debate and discussion. Meditation is an experience. Its value comes from doing it. Out of experience comes understanding.

Over the next week or so I will cover some more misperceptions of Buddhist meditation. Then we’ll take a look at what Buddhist meditation is as opposed to what it is not.

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