[Meditation] is a faith, with the sufficiency of faith, intended by necessity to remain empty but which necessarily evades this void by its repopulation with objects and foreign goals provided by experience, culture, history, language, etc. Through its style of communication and “knowing” it is a rumor—the [Asian] rumor—which is transmitted by hearsay, imitation, specularity and repetition.1
That passage came to mind while reading texts and watching video on the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society website.2 Laruelle is talking about philosophy, but the statement works equally well for meditation (and its varieties: contemplation, mindfulness, centering prayer, even yoga, tai chi, and so on). Much of what I read and heard about contemplation on the Center’s website struck me as reasonable enough. A typical example:
Contemplative Practices cultivate a critical, first-person focus, sometimes with direct experience as the object, while at other times concentrating on complex ideas or situations. Incorporated into daily life, they act as a reminder to connect to what we find most meaningful.
That’s reasonable—as an opening. An awful lot of questions would have to be asked about the statement, though. What, for instance, is this “first-person focus” of direct experience? What, for that matter, is “direct experience”? Anyone who has been reading this blog knows how attuned some of us are to the machinations of unacknowledged ideology. For instance, concerning this overlap between first-person accounts and experience, a reader recently wrote to me:
[T]here is a built in petitio principii that makes the viewpoint unfalsifiable. The ideology includes a meta-message regarding the autonomy of (meditative) experience as a veridical source of knowledge. This seems to be what [B. Alan] Wallace is up to with his emphasis on “first-person” experience, arguing from an assumption that such experience is autonomous and not already formed by ideology.
I agree with that assessment. It succinctly identifies the big question for meditation: is it a vessel for ideology or a science of ideology?3 Does the practice, in fact, produce new knowledge, about, say, subjective experience or the intransitive world, or does it merely reinforce the views provided by doctrine? I’m still holding out for the former (barely). So, I’d want to ask the people at the Center why, if they believe that meditation-contemplation holds such natural human promise (as the director says, in effect, on a video), do they incessantly populate it “with objects and foreign goals provided by experience, culture, history, language, etc.”? Why not let the practice do its work, unencumbered by over-determining doctrine? I am not going to offer a critique of the Center’s site here. I am more interested in the wide-spread x-buddhist phenomenon of what Laruelle calls here “re-population.” Read the rest of this entry »