I often see promotion of the positive benefits of meditation in the media and even in school and government settings. However, there is evidence meditation is not always beneficial.


Is there much discussion of the possible negative aspects of meditation in Buddism?

For instance, could it leave one susceptible to malicious spirits?

  • Point is to try leave negative thoughts behind. – Oni Apr 11 '19 at 4:01
  • Hi, John Burdett wrote in one of his thrillers about an buddhist inspired sleuth "Meditation is for those who prefer reality over fantasy" -> as an answer to the point in your linked article concerning discarding of positive thoughts. I think, buddhist meditators are aware of "dullness" which can accompany meditation. Mainly if you practice only "concentrative" meditation without combination with insight meditation. "The mind illuminated" covers this topic. – S.H Apr 11 '19 at 10:38
  • If you have any psychological disorders, then don't. Same as physical activities. Any underlined weaknesses can get worst. Or else its like exercises which improve your mental capabilities. – Oshan Wisumperuma Apr 18 '19 at 10:07

What Buddha recommended was the right concentration (Samma Samadhi) a part of Noble Eightfold Path. Wrong concentration (Mitya Samadhi) may be harmful.

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Each person is born with a survival instinct, which manifests as "ego". For many or most people, this ego instinct cannot be abandoned. Luckily, nature protects most people but not allowing their mind to end the ego. This is why Buddhist internet forums, for example, have many egotists that claim or imagine meditative attainments, such as "jhana". These minds or people simply cannot get rid of ego. But for some people, meditation can cause the ego to become fragile, causing psychosis. Its only a select few that can peacefully abandon ego. These are the Noble Ones.

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  • Is there any possibility of evil spirits gaining control of a person if they abandon their survival instinct? I have often times felt like what seemed to be an alien influence trying to control my mind, especially at night, and it is only by exerting the strength of my mind that I resist the attempt. It seems that if I instead relaxed my mind and allowed whatever it is to influence me then that may do something harmful to my mind. I am wondering if this same sort of thing could happen with the sort of ego abandoning meditation you describe. – yters May 8 '19 at 23:32
  • Basically, it is only ego that can be affected by external things. The state of non-ego cannot be affected by external things. Regards – Dhammadhatu May 9 '19 at 0:13

Coming from a clinical perspective, i would advice against meditation in cases of moderate to severe illness like depression for instance. I am aware that a practicing buddhist may have a different perspective.

I also find the false memory argument hard to understand, as a mindful look on memories would be a very healthy way of looking at any form of recollection. If i understand correctly the mindfulness study cited only examined meditation experiences during one fifteen minutes session, and it seems like a very superficial base to draw these conclusion from.

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    Can you explain why you advise against it? Is that based on a reference to literature, on personal experience, or on some reasoning? – ChrisW Apr 14 '19 at 9:47
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    All three of them. Regarding references it depends on what form of illness we're talking about. In the case of depression there is ample clinical evidence for behavioral activation as a mean to counter a clinical depressions cognitions, emotions and behavior. Meditation would be contrarindicative to behavioral activation. There is however good evidence for meditation as depression relapse prevention (such as MBCT for instance), and the evidence also suggest that such treatment should take place after a depressive period for best results. There is a lot more to say than what fits here. – Erik Apr 14 '19 at 10:06
  • I seem to find that behavioural activation with mindfulness is beneficial for depression. Example: medicalnewstoday.com/articles/321215.php – Eggman Apr 17 '19 at 18:26
  • That study was done with subclinical depression patients, apparently. I also couldn't find any clarification whether the effects could be attributed to BA or the mindfulness practice, so making the case for mindfulness alone seems like a bit of a stretch as they used both interventions. I may very well have missed studies on the topic, but i have yet to see research proving that the effect of mindfulness alone being superior to the alternatives in treating clinical depression. It would be cool though, wouldn't it? – Erik Apr 17 '19 at 18:45

Buddhist meditation is about contemplating on Dhamma which in short can be put into the Four Noble Truths.

When you are learning and practicing the noble dhamma, you are cultivating qualities such as mettā (kindness), karuṇā (compassion), muditā (sympathetic-joy) and upekkhā (equanimity). Just think practically if these are the qualities you cultivate, can they bring anything negative?

Furthermore, when one learns that this nature of Suffering (birth, aging, sickness, death, etc.) and learns that the origin of this suffering is because of the three-fold craving, and also by destroying that very same craving the mass of suffering can be removed; he or she develops this Noble Eight Fold Path which is the path leading to the cessation of that suffering.

With the development of the Noble Eight Fold Path, having removed unskilled bodily, verbal and mental actions, and contemplating on the origin and cessation phenomena, one starts to understand the dependent origination. With that you start to understand the root cause of what is arising now, and what happens if we act with lack of wise attention and lack of mindfulness. Simultaneously an unshakable Faith arises in you about the Buddha, Dhamma and the Noble Sangha (as a result of seeing the true dhamma within you). Now with that Faith and the mind fixed on Nibbana, that will become your most important protection.

When you practice dhamma this way, you don't get carried away even with highest levels of concentration or the results of such concentrations. You understand if you seek delight in them you are seeking delight in suffering.

So if you are meditating in accordance with the Noble Dhamma, only positive things can come out of that, with most positive and incomparable result being Nibbana.

With Metta

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