I recently read Sam Harris’s Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion.
I found the book fascinating, both in terms of getting insight into the author’s journey, as well as its coverage of meditation.
At various points in my life, I’ve been drawn to Buddhism generally and meditation specifically.
After reading the book, I was left wondering about an issue that I continue to struggle with.
The question is this: should one approach meditation as a way to increase well being or as a way to internalize existential truths.
Research demonstrates (and my personal experience affirms) that meditation can increase mental wellbeing.
This in and of itself is a reason to meditate.
Another reason is this: meditation can be a way of coming to a realization that the self is an illusion, and that most suffering arises from mistaking this illusion to be real.
This, from what I understand, is a core tenet of Buddhism.
It is also aligns with my belief that most strong version of free will are incorrect.
Of course, these two reasons to meditate need not be mutually exclusive.
But, personally, I am unsure that the second reason to meditate is tied to an attainable goal.
I believe that we can increase our mental wellbeing.
But I’m unsure if we can ever consistently internalize the illusion of the self.
At moments, we may be able to perceive this truth, but it is hard to function in daily life with this truth at the forefront.
Legend has it that the Buddha (and others) have achieved this state.
But unlike other foundational religious beliefs (such as Jesus rising from the dead), there is no physical way to prove the state of someone’s internal mental existence.
With our current knowledge base, we may never know if it’s truly possible to extinguish the sense of self for a continuous period of time.
Personally, I’m skeptical that it is possible. I think that evolution either directly (the sense of self provides survival advantages) or indirectly (intelligence needed for survival produces sense of self as a side effect) forces us to maintain a sense of self.
Of course, I may be wrong about any of this: about meditation, about free will, about what’s mentally attainable.
I don’t know the answer.
But when I think about mediation, this is what I think about.