Is Meditation Selfish?
What is the role of willpower in meditation? When I began to meditate myself, I was firmly convinced that I must not want to achieve anything by it. Because I thought wanting something from it would jeopardize the success of the whole thing. Wanting nothing and thinking about success at the same time — that is, of course, a contradiction in itself, but I was only partially aware of that at the time, and it also seemed completely unimportant. Meditation had to be practiced unintentionally in order to really be meditation. Period.
Today I choose to put this in a little more differentiated way: truly unintentional action is not possible as long as we still strongly identify with our little “I”. This makes it all the more important that we develop a certain awareness of our own intentions and motivations. It is not a bad thing to pursue very superficial or apparently selfish goals through the practice of meditation at the beginning. If by the practice, you manage to only make yourself a little happier and a little freer, your whole world will benefit from it. However, after you’ve spent some time meditating, you will most likely find that your focus will automatically open further.
This is the difference between the inner and outer path. In most societies, as small children already we are often told that we have to behave in a certain way to be a good person. And our teachers, parents, trainers etc. all — consciously or unconsciously — have a very clear idea of how this should be.
The Christian tradition in particular has traditionally worked a lot with the concepts of guilt, atonement and fear. The damage caused by this action in our collective relationship to one another, to ourselves and to the “Divine” is enormous and can still be felt in our society today, centuries after the Enlightenment period. This — allowing ourselves to function in order to “perform” our lives in a socially acceptable way — is the outer way. About doing something in order to be something. Do “good things” (and of course the definition of “good” varies according to time, place and social conventions), and you are “good”.
The Indian Jesuit and spiritual teacher Anthony de Mello offered us a wonderful opinion on this. He said we should not try to act like Jesus. We must try to be Jesus, he said. Only then will we know what to do in a given situation. Not before. So, first being, then doing. Admitting the possibility that we — all of us — are good and even perfect in the first place. And everything suddenly becomes very easy. Because everything you do out of a state of beingis authentic and honest.
This is the inner path. First of all, sweep in front of your own door, so to speak. If we can really live in an attentive and present way, and step by step remove our sorrowful beliefs and inner obstacles from our way, we can’t help but meet ourselves and the whole world with love. And when you meet the world with eyes of love, you don’t need a moralist to tell you what to do. That is my conviction and experience. And that’s why I teach meditation.
One last thought: Please do not think that you need to meditate to become a better person. You are now and here a completely perfect being, loved by the universe and exactly where you should be in order to experience what you need to experience. But maybe you’re this post for a reason. And there is nothing wrong with being perfect with an even better quality of life.
Adapted from the author’s book “On How to Become Your Own Guru”.