George Box: “All models are wrong. Some are useful.”
Culturally, I have the impression we’re leaving post-modernism behind and that it hasn’t worked. Anecdotally I hear expressions of confusion and lostness. It’s like we’ve come adrift from the past; we’re floating around in a sea of debris trying to make sense of it all. We’re confronted with multiple mashups without reliable tools for discerning which to engage with and which to discard. Approaching Buddhism, mindfulness and meditation can be like this. How do we know what will work and what won’t?
Here I take a critical look at the language used to describe meditation, particularly Buddhist meditation.
We’re stuck in a limited pattern of meditation-speak, one that centers around ideas of the self. Much meditation and the discourse surrounding it is tied up in the revelatory discovery that we don’t have a self. There’s such a strong emphasis on this that it risks occluding other purposes; it narrows the results of meditation practice to a restricted, prescribed understanding: that of ‘no-self’.
Some Western Vajrayana practitioners have told me they think Vajrayana is too difficult for Westerners. Is this a Buddhist Paradox?
The idea that Westerners can’t hack Vajrayana is common in Tibetan Buddhist circles. Some previous commenters expressed this view eloquently and made good points. This post is partly in response to them.
Related questions are:
Is Vajrayana necessarily harder than other Buddhisms?
Is Vajrayana a worse fit than other Buddhisms for people living in contemporary Westernized cultures?
I won’t address those questions in this post. Here, I categorize the reasons I’ve heard justifying the view that Westerners can’t hack Vajrayana. In later posts, I’ll explain why I think they are only partially true, or mistaken.
This page has been revised to include a better and broader set of categories since I first published it.