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As far as I understand, one of the main purposes of the eight factor of the Path (samma samadhi) is to clean the mind from impurities.

I've read a lot of discussions where one meditator states that only his/her method is the true method, while all the other methods are worthless and wrong. There are multiple arguments for such beliefs, and one might agree with them in some degree.

There are a lot of criteria that can be used to know whether one method is right or not; for instance:

Does it follow the instructions found in the suttas? Does it interpret correctly those instructions? Does it lead to a temporary peace of mind? Does it stops during the extention of the sitting the arising of the hindrances? Can the steps followed be replicated with consistency? Can those steps be followed by everyone else? Does it lead to the arising of the factors of jhana? And so on...

But, how important and relevant is the behavior of the meditator (towards others and in general) as a factor to check whether his/her meditation style is right or wrong?

If a reknown meditator (even openly self acknowledge) shows little to no empathy, prudence or wisdom, should I suspect that his/her meditation method is wrong?

Or to maybe put it other words: is an ad-hominem argument valid in these scenario?

Thanks in advance for your time and patience!

Kind regards!

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – ChrisW Aug 30 at 4:19
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But, how important and relevant is the behavior of the meditator (towards others and in general) as a factor to check whether his/her meditation style is right or wrong?

It probably says more about their sila habits. This is of course related to other practices (like panna or samadhi) as well.

Regarding your question, we ultimately need to be "a light unto ourselves" regardless of what other says.

https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn22/sn22.043.wlsh.html

Also, as an ideal maintaining equanimity towards others is possibly more beneficial as an alternative to figuring out ways to evaluate them. Even though it may seem odd or even wrong from an observers perspective, we are all trying our best to get by in life.

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Right immersion (sammāsamādhi) requires right view. Without that right view, we step off the Noble Eightfold Path very early on (AN4.208):

And who’s bad? It’s someone who has wrong view, wrong thought, wrong speech, wrong action, wrong livelihood, wrong effort, wrong mindfulness, wrong immersion, wrong knowledge, and wrong freedom. This is called bad.

But there are also many right ways to practice the Noble Eightfold Path, and one may find many teachers for each of those ways. Indeed, there are many suttas that discuss different approaches:

“Reverend Moggallāna, there are four ways of practice. What four? Painful practice with slow insight, painful practice with swift insight, pleasant practice with slow insight, and pleasant practice with swift insight. These are the four ways of practice.

In sutta AN4.167, Moggallāna tells Sariputta that:

I relied on the painful practice with swift insight to free my mind from defilements by not grasping.

Yet in that very diversity of teaching, there is always a shared right view. No killing, no lying, no stealing, etc.

Choose a teacher with care. I would not learn honesty from a thief, nor would I follow any famous teacher who punches students. Ethics (sīla) is quite important.

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As far as I understand, one of the main purposes of the eight factor of the Path (samma samadhi) is to clean the mind from impurities.

All factors of the N8P have the same purpose, they just operate on the different levels of coarseness. Their purpose is to first reduce and then completely eliminate creation of causes for the arising of dukkha. Generally speaking, some factors operate at the level of external circumstances, they are about not creating causes of dukkha in regular life. Other factors operate at the level of inner circumstances, they are about not creating causes of dukkha in your mind. The boundary between the two is not entirely black and white, and some factors are kinda both external and internal, but you get the idea. It is the same principle of "discord is dukkha, concord is sukha" applied at all levels. Samma samadhi is the most refined level of this progression from coarse to subtle. What we do on this level is shepherd our own mind to see where we habitually create/maintain discord, and try to stop that and create/maintain concord instead.

There are a lot of criteria that can be used to know whether one method is right or not;

The chief criterion, I think, is whether it's going in the right direction. And the right direction is less discord. It's very simple, really.

how important and relevant is the behavior of the meditator (towards others and in general) as a factor to check whether his/her meditation style is right or wrong?

Since we are saying, it is the same principle applied to everything from coarse to subtle, it becomes super obvious, that if the meditator keeps creating discord at the coarser levels, let alone in their external life, it probably means they do not understand the key principle behind the Four Noble Truths. If they do not understand the principle, how can their meditation be right?

ethical qualities of the meditator ... little to no empathy, prudence or wisdom

It is important to understand that our "worldly" ethical qualities are not 100% identical with Buddhist skillful qualities. They match 95% of the way, but not 100%. The Buddhist skillful qualities serve single purpose, progressive reducing of discord until complete and perfect "Nirvana". The worldly ethical qualities serve the purpose of reducing the discord between the members of society pursuing their individual worldly objectives. The principle is the same but the end goals are slightly different. This is why you can't simply assume that if someone is not perfectly ethical by the worldly standards, they are a bad Buddhist. They maybe optimizing their behavior for the pursuit of Enlightenment and Nirvana vs. being a good citizen. That said, because both objectives involve management of causes of discord, you can't really pursue one without taking care of the other, at least 95% of the way.

So, regarding empathy, someone may show little empathy to a Wall Street banker crying over his lost fortune, or a lady crying over the wrinkles around her eyes, because these are not the objectives leading to Nirvana.

As for prudence and wisdom, in Mahayana it is assumed that the practice of creating no discord at some point necessarily leads to an understanding that all conceptual constructs are simplifications. When someone understands this point (called "Emptiness") very deeply, it very certainly manifests in their worldly behavior, making them less prone to taking one-sided positions, and more inclined to be prudent, nuanced, multifaceted, and analytical, which are the characteristics of wisdom. So in this sense, it is absolutely expected that someone with a decent level of Buddhist realization should show some amount of worldly wisdom as well. Mahayana even has an official term for this. It's called "coemergent wisdom" (sahaja-jnana).

The two takeaways from all this are: 1) not creating causes of discord, and 2) seeing through conceptual simplifications -- are the two qualities that operate along the entire N8P from ethics to meditation.

In summary, you are right to assume correlation between one's meditation and ethics, and as long as you understand the principle underlying both, and all the caveats I described above, you can use someone's skill in one to infer their skill in the other, which is a good rule of thumb for evaluating potential teachers and spiritual friends.

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You can judge the efficacy of the samadhi (and the rest of his practice, including ethics/ virtues/ sila) based on how the meditator reacts to things that he does, and to things that happen to him.

If someone scolds him and this makes him wallow in depression, then he has not progressed on the noble path compared to one who gets over it quickly.

If he does something wrong and this makes him wallow in remorse and depression, then he has not progressed on the noble path compared to one who gets over it quickly.

Also, one who is progressed on the noble path would have better control over the three poisons. This should indirectly result in better ethical conduct. So, yes, ethical conduct may indirectly provide information on the efficacy of samadhi.

Additionally, anyone who intends to progress on the noble path is expected to stick to the five precepts as closely as possible. Perfection in the practice of the five precepts is only expected of Arahants. For unenlightened persons, persistent attempt at heedfulness (appamada) in the practice of the five precepts is sufficient.

From AN 3.100:

Take the case of a person who does a trivial bad deed, but it lands them in hell. Meanwhile, another person does the same trivial bad deed, but experiences it in the present life, without even a bit left over, not to speak of a lot.

What kind of person does a trivial bad deed, but it lands them in hell? A person who hasn’t developed their physical endurance, ethics, mind, or wisdom. They’re small-minded and mean-spirited, living in suffering. That kind of person does a trivial bad deed, but it lands them in hell.

What kind of person does the same trivial bad deed, but experiences it in the present life, without even a bit left over, not to speak of a lot? A person who has developed their physical endurance, ethics, mind, and wisdom. They’re not small-minded, but are big-hearted, living without limits. That kind of person does the same trivial bad deed, but experiences it in the present life, without even a bit left over, not to speak of a lot.

Suppose a person was to drop a lump of salt into a small bowl of water. What do you think, mendicants? Would that small bowl of water become salty and undrinkable?”

“Yes, sir. Why is that? Because there is only a little water in the bowl.”

“Suppose a person was to drop a lump of salt into the Ganges river. What do you think, mendicants? Would the Ganges river become salty and undrinkable?”

“No, sir. Why is that? Because the Ganges river is a vast mass of water.”

“This is how it is in the case of a person who does a trivial bad deed, but it lands them in hell. Meanwhile, another person does the same trivial bad deed, but experiences it in the present life, without even a bit left over, not to speak of a lot. …

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Should I judge the efficacy of Samadhi based on the ethical qualities of the meditator?

No, you cannot do this. Jhana only temporarily suspends the 5 Hindrances / defilments. So when it is suspended the meditator may act more ethically than otherwise. Also, when not in Jhana sometimes hindrances may arise them he might be less ethical than when the Hindrances are suspended.

As far as I understand, one of the main purposes of the eight factor of the Path (samma samadhi) is to clean the mind from impurities.

Samadhi temporarily suspends the defilements so you can develop wisdom which suspends it completely.

I've read a lot of discussions where one meditator states that only his/her method is the true method, while all the other methods are worthless and wrong. There are multiple arguments for such beliefs, and one might agree with them in some degree.

If a certain technique works for a person he might believe this is the only method that works through there might be other valid techniques.

Does it follow the instructions found in the suttas? Does it interpret correctly those instructions? Does it lead to a temporary peace of mind? Does it stops during the extention of the sitting the arising of the hindrances? Can the steps followed be replicated with consistency? Can those steps be followed by everyone else? Does it lead to the arising of the factors of jhana?

All these are valid ways to validate the technique.

But, how important and relevant is the behavior of the meditator (towards others and in general) as a factor to check whether his/her meditation style is right or wrong?

When meditating a person may relatively become a better person. But one has to become enlightened to become a perfect person. Just observing another you cannot easily judge if the technique is right or wrong.

Also, you do not know if the meditator is practising the technique right in the first place.

Best is one does the practice and if it works for oneself one know this works. If not then this does not mean it is invalid but it could be it does not work for oneself.

If a reknown meditator (even openly self acknowledge) shows little to no empathy, prudence or wisdom, should I suspect that his/her meditation method is wrong?

Some meditators may show quick results while others may get slow results. So it is difficult to judge the technique by looking at one individual and a few individuals. If you have a reasonably large sample of meditators then you might be able to make this inference.

Or to maybe put it other words: is an ad-hominem argument valid in these scenario?

The appeal of a single or few people cannot bee representative of the validity of any technique. You need to look if a reasonably large sample of people practices technique X vs Y what actually give more significant results.

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The Buddha told Ananda to not judge others, because Ananda did not have the spiritual development to be able to judge others. Instead, you should judge your own moral & spiritual development. Are you still a puthujjana? Are you still obsessed with sex or immorally view women as sex objects? Are you ungrateful towards those who teach you Dhamma? Some suttas:

  1. Let none find fault with others; let none see the omissions and commissions of others. But let one see one's own acts, done and undone. Dhammapada


Don’t Judge Others!

Therefore, Ānanda, you should not be a hasty critic of people, should not lightly pass judgement on people. One who passes judgement on people harms himself. I alone, Ānanda, or one like me, can judge people.

AN 6.44



68. How to Judge a Person’s Character

Four facts about a person, O monks, can be known from four circumstances. What are these four?

By living together with a person his virtue can be known, and this too only after a long time, not casually; by close attention, not without attention; by one who is wise, not by one who is stupid.

By having dealings with a person his integrity can be known, and this too only after a long time, not casually; by close attention, not without attention; by one who is wise, not by one who is stupid.

In misfortune a person’s fortitude can be known, and this too only after a long time, not casually; by close attention, not without attention; by one who is wise, not by one who is stupid.

By conversation a person’s wisdom can be known, and this too only after a long time, not casually; by close attention, not without attention; by one who is wise, not by one who is stupid.

AN 4.192

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