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I've always been told that there is no such thing as a bad meditation. No matter what happens it is OK. In fact the meditator is a bad judge of the effectiveness and efficacy of any sit even if those concepts did have meaning. However I was reading Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck and she said that she encounters people who have been meditating who are frankly wasting their time. She says they may as well have been practicing their golf swing for 20 years. Ooohhhh harsh.

So what's going on here? Is there really no such thing as a bad meditation and every sit is just grist for the mill. Or is it possible to waste your time and potentially waste years. Is 'there is no such thing as a bad meditation' just something you tell beginners to motivate them - a kind of expedient means?

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In going to get right in here and defend of this question if I may. I'm aware that this question does seem opinion based and may lead to opinion based answers. However I do think that meditation, while it is an art, is also a very systematic process. If I'm right in that then i think it should be possible to give good, precise and even referenced answers to this. Let's see how it goes –  Crab Bucket Jul 6 at 12:07
    
The secular mindfulness crowd are using the same techniques that, say pharmacy companies use, to demonstrate efficacy. I suppose if we assume there something about the results of meditation are measurable, that there might be forms of meditation with no effect. So it might be answerable –  MatthewMartin Jul 6 at 13:36

4 Answers 4

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In the Gopaka-Moggallana Sutta (MN 108), Ananda points out that the Buddha didn't speak in praise of all types of meditation:

“The Blessed One, brahmin, did not praise every type of meditation, nor did he condemn every type of meditation. What kind [14] of meditation did the Blessed One not praise? Here, brahmin, someone abides with his mind obsessed by sensual lust, a prey to sensual lust, and he does not understand as it actually is the escape from arisen sensual lust. While he harbours sensual lust within, he meditates, premeditates, out-meditates, and mismeditates. He abides with his mind obsessed by ill will, a prey to ill will … with his mind obsessed by sloth and torpor, a prey to sloth and torpor … with his mind obsessed by restlessness and remorse, a prey to restlessness and remorse … with his mind obsessed by doubt, a prey to doubt, and he does not understand as it actually is the escape from arisen doubt. While he harbours doubt within, he meditates, premeditates, out-meditates, and mismeditates. The Blessed One did not praise that kind of meditation."

(Bodhi, Trans.)

This seems like an obvious answer; just because something is called meditation doesn't make it wholesome. A hunter may spend his time meditating on how to catch a deer (pre-meditated murder), or one may spend an entire sitting meditation fantasizing about sensual pleasure.

A common example of this is the case where a meditator gets stuck on the ten vipassanupakilesa (imperfections of insight), like visions, rapture, quietude, etc., and mistakes them for the path. As a result, as you have read, a meditator can spend years basically going nowhere, just using meditation as an escape into these pleasant but meaningless experiences.

What isn't so clear cut, perhaps what you are really asking, is whether there is any condition that arises in meditation that one should avoid when cultivating wholesome meditation (proper samatha or vipassana). In this case, the answer is generally "yes" for samatha and generally "no" for vipassana.

In samatha meditation, where the object is absorption, one should avoid a great number of things; anything that is an obstruction to calm. Noises, pain, sickness, even indigestion, can all get in the way of your attainment of calm. Sitting in the wrong position can be an impediment, so the Buddha recommended the full-lotus with one's back perfectly straight. When one's mind enters into unwholesome thoughts or emotions, one should avoid such mental activity, replacing it with its opposite or coaxing the mind back towards wholesomeness.

As catpnosis points out, one should also not practice samatha against one's character type; a person of angry character should avoid asubha (loathsomeness) meditation, for example.

In vipassana, where the object is insight into reality, almost every experience is a valid meditation object; almost, because there may be cases where an experience may be physically harmful to the meditator (e.g. dangerous situations or physical injury) or a cause for cultivating unwholesomeness (e.g. getting caught up in obsessive thoughts or emotions). In some cases it is necessary to change one's posture from sitting to walking or vice versa to deal with these situations.

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In my experience, yes, there is such thing as wrong/harmful meditation.

Specifically, meditation performed with objective of stopping one's thoughts, is wrong and harmful, in my opinion. It is wrong because it does not lead to jhanas and liberation, and it is harmful because it generates frustration that gets one even deeper into samsara. I have heard of (OCD-type?) people wasting years in this kind of meditation, until finally breaking through, out of sheer desperation.

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In the context of Buddhist teaching answer is no, but in general answer is yes.

Usually, only good thing is called 'meditation'. But if we look at concepts of 'concentration' or 'development' there is posible to have 'wrong concentration' (miccha-samadhi) and to develop wrong qualities.

Wrong concentration could be any concentration which is not in the context of Noble Path. For example, as I see it, concentration on wrong object, based on wrong attention (ayoniso-manasikara), or on something that contradicts Noble Truths, Right View. Wrong development (as in bhavana) seems possible too; isn't it's possible to send hate to all beings instead of love as in a Metta? If meditation increases unwholesome qualities (defilements) it's probably done wrong. Even reflection on impermanence is possible to be done in a wrong way. Also it's possible that you meditate on an authentic subject but one which is not suitable for your personality (carita).

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Technically, the answer is No, all practice is positive. Even if you experience disturbing images or strong emotions. Just pay attention to whatever happens. Also pay attention to the flat periods where boredom seems to take hold. Just note the characteristics of whatever happens. This is what boredom feels like. This is what a strong emotion feels like. This is what fear feels like. And so on.

In other words, Mindfulness practice, which is basic to Buddhist practice. Can't get enough of it. The more one practises the deeper and more steady in the practice one becomes. The potential negatives the question implies are both remote and rare. The negatives I've encountered have all arisen from panic, taking the emptiness of phenomena as substantial and thus falling into delusional thinking.

If you don't have an experienced meditator to act as a mentor, someone to talk to about what happens in your meditation sessions, finding one would be a good idea, for orientation and reassurance if nothing else.

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what about wrong concentration (miccha samadhi)? –  yuttadhammo Jul 6 at 13:24
    
I look on the "miccha samadhi" as a red herring. All of meditation is about awareness, mindfulness practice, in its many forms. All of the negatives, including miccha samadhi, arise out of misidentifying phenomena as having substance, thus triggering wrong view. Protecting against negative experiences, unfortunately, is a fool's errand. There is only one reality and that definitely includes anicca, impermanence. –  user77681 Jul 7 at 0:12

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