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Guided Meditation: The Risks and Limitations from a Buddhist Perspective

Guided Meditation: The Risks and Limitations from a Buddhist Perspective

Guided meditation has become increasingly popular in recent years, mainly through meditation apps, YouTube channels and other (impersonal) online content.

The goal of guided meditation is often to promote overall well-being, stress reduction, and relaxation.

Many of these guided meditation techniques have their origins in Buddhism, such as compassion meditation and mindfulness.

While guided meditation can have benefits, especially for the beginner, there are also potential problems.

In this text we explore some risks and limitations of guided medtation, especially for people who are looking to deepen their meditation, from a Buddhist perspective.

Guided Meditation Makes Real Calm and Insight Impossible

One of the most important parts of Buddhist meditation is the development of concentration, of inner calm.

To do this, you must focus your attention on a meditation object such as the breath, a visual object or a mantra.

Mindfulness (known in Buddhism as sati) is needed in this process to see what your mindis doing, whether it is really focused on the meditation object or not.

As soon as you have found, with mindfulness, that your mind has strayed, you bring your attention back to the object.

For example, if you take the mantra buddho as an object, you always try to keep the mind focused on the sound of the word buddho that you repeat over and over again.

Every time you see that a thought or emotion arises (or has arisen), you just go back to buddho. Very simple.

If you practice this day in and day out, your concentration will deepen automatically.

Slowly you will start see the disturbances in your mind faster and faster, until you manage to stay with buddho for a long time without any disturbances.

This provides increasing inner stillness and calmness, an increasingly powerful concentration.

It is with this concentration, from this deep inner silence, that you can start to investigate reality.

If you’re just starting to meditate, the directions given during a guided meditation can help you point out that you’re distracted.

You are brought back to the meditation object by the voice, as it were.

However, if you are looking to deepen your concentration, guided meditation will limit you more and more.

Every time someone starts talking during a guided meditation session to give you another clue, the concentration process is essentially rudely disrupted.

It is therefore simply not possible to concentrate, to develop inner stillness during a guided meditation.

Let alone real insight into how your mind and the world work.

Guided Meditation Makes You Dependent on External Guidance

The next problem with guided meditation is the reliance on external guidance during your meditation.

In Buddhist practice, the purpose of meditation is to see for yourself how things work, to investigate reality yourself.

You can’t do that if you depend on external sources that tell you how to think and what to feel during your meditation.

Of course it is wise to choose one meditation method and to be guided by a teacher with extensive experience in that method, but that mainly means that together you regularly evaluate your personal process.

While guided meditation can be helpful if you’re just starting to meditate, it’s important to eventually move toward a more self-directed practice, learning to trust your own ability.

This shift to a more self-directed practice is crucial for the development of inner wisdom.

Guided Meditation is yet another Consumer Product

With the rise of meditation apps and online courses offering guided meditations, there is a danger that Buddhism will be reduced to a consumer product, rather than a deep spiritual and transformative path.

This can lead to a very superficial approach.

Many guided meditations focus on relaxation and stress reduction, but do not address the deeper problems underlying these problems.

For example, a guided meditation that encourages the meditator to simply “let go” of stress may not address the underlying causes of that stress, such as work or relationship problems.

This can result in a kind of “spiritual bypassing” or escapism, where meditation is used as a way to avoid, bypass, or escape difficult emotions and situations, rather than working through them in a more meaningful way.

Not to mention tackling the deeper roots that, according to Buddhism, underlie our suffering and stress.

While guided meditation can provide a brief introduction to concepts such as mindfulness or compassion, it can be difficult to truly understand and embody these qualities without a deeper understanding of the underlying philosophy and teachings.

There is a risk that meditation will become nothing more than just another product to consume passively or to optimize our productivity.

Guided Meditation is One-Size-Fits-All

Related to the above and a potentially harmful effect of guided meditation is that it promotes a one-size-fits-all approach to meditation.

Guided meditations are usually pre-recorded and may not take into account the meditator’s individual needs and experiences.

Also, the underlying personal guidance on the meditative path is usually missing.

This can be problematic, as meditation is a very personal practice that can vary greatly from person to person.

A guided meditation that works for one person may not work for another person and may even be counterproductive and cause (serious) problems.

Personal guidance that takes into account your personal strengths and pitfalls is really a must on the meditative path, especially if you are looking for deepening.

Guided Meditation vs Buddhist Meditation

Buddhist meditation is a form of meditation rooted in the teachings and practices of Buddhism.

The goal of Buddhist meditation is to cultivate a deeper understanding of the nature of the mind and reality and to develop qualities such as wisdom, compassion, and equanimity.

Buddhist meditation is often practiced in conjunction with other aspects of Buddhist philosophy, such as morality and mindfulness.

At its core, the Buddhist path is focused on spiritual development and self-transformation.

Where the teacher (the voice) in guided meditation gives you directions during the meditation itself, the meditation teacher in Buddhist practice offers guidance throughout the complete process, personally, focused on who you are.

Unsurprisingly, we believe that guided meditation is only for the absolute beginner, or for those who want nothing more than relaxation.

You will never see us give a guided meditation.

When we meditate together, we do so in a group where everyone puts in their own effort.

The core of meditation lies in your own practice, your own personal process.

If you want insight yourself, want to see from your own experience how reality works, then you will have to make an effort yourself.

We are happy to help you in that process.

Do you want to start meditating or deepen your practice?
We offer personal guidance, completely on a donation basis.

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You yourselves must strive, the Buddhas only point the way

Buddha, Dhp 276