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Most religious or spiritual healers practice a specific ritual as a treatment method for different physical or mental illnesses. A few examples of spiritual or religious rituals that are frequently used are prayer, yoga, and meditation. However, this study directly examines how effective mediation is as a remedy for physical or mental impairments among Buddhist believers. The crux, of this study is that religious and spiritual healers cannot cure physical diseases; however, they can reduce cognitive vulnerability to stress and emotional distress by recommending meditation as a remedy to physical or mental diseases. The purpose of this study is to inform readers about the positive and negative effects of mediation in Buddhism. This topic is important because it gives individuals an idea of how mediation is practice and how it is used as a cure or coping method. This study is related to Psychology of Religion because meditation is a type of technique in psychology that helps people relaxed or eases their cognizance.
Mediation is a mental exercise that is a common practice of many religions, but plays a more important role in the Buddhist path. According to Chen, Buddhist meditation is used to defuse the source of all the trouble-illusion of self and others (Chen, 1999). Meditation is a technique of mental concentration that eventually leads into enlightenment and spiritual freedom. This technique is essential for one to understand how the mind functions. These teachings of mediation are found in the book Lamp for the Path to Enlightenment. The article outlines two main types of Buddhist meditation, which is tranquility meditation and insight meditation. The two types of mediation are often combined or used one after the other (Pa-Auk Sayadaw, 2000).
Tranquility Mediation (Samantha)
Tranquility mediation, or also referred as Samantha, basic purpose is to gain stability of the mind and train it to concentrate. According to the text, to perform samatha meditation, one needs to have favorable conditions. If these favorable conditions are lacking, one will fail to develop real samatha meditation. However, the text also states that if all the favorable conditions are present and one concentrates the mind on something good and positive, then one will be able to accomplish samatha meditation and be able to develop psychic powers. These favorable conditions have the following elements: detachment from the external world and a consciousness of joy and tranquility; concentration, with suppression of reasoning and investigation; the passing away of joy, but with the sense of tranquility remaining; and the passing away of tranquility also, bringing about a state of pure self-possession and equanimity (Thrangu, 1993).
Insight Meditation (Vipassana)
Insight meditation, or also referred as vipassana, is similar to the skills learnt in tranquility meditation; however, the end goal is not the same. The purpose of insight meditation is for one to come to the realization of important truths. In particular, one who practices insight meditation aim to realize the truths of suffering, and the undeniable and unavoidable fact of human existence, which is nothing that belongs to this earth is ever free (Pa-Auk Sayadaw, 2000). The practice of insight meditation derived from the concept of mindfulness. Mindfulness and concentration are related; however has a different meaning then concentration. The text suggests that when one is concentrating, one’s entire focus is on the object of concentration in an almost trancelike manner. On the other hand, to be mindful of something is to observe and think about it carefully while comprehending its content (Thrangu, 1993).
How to Develop Mindfulness
According to Bishop, self-regulation of attention and the adoption of a particular orientation toward one’s experiences in the present moment, characterized by curiosity, openness, and acceptance are the two components to develop mindfulness. Self-regulation of attention is the process that brings awareness to current experience and attending to the changing field of thoughts, feelings, and sensations from moment to moment by regulating the focus of attention. However, the orientation to experience is the commitment to maintain an attitude of curiosity about where the mind wanders whenever it inevitably drifts away from the breath, as well as curiosity about the different objects within one’s experience at any moment (Bishop, 2004).
Pa-Auk Sayadaw supports the notion that the most common methods to develop mindfulness are walking mindfulness, sitting meditation, and mindfulness of daily activities. Walking mindfulness develops balance and accuracy of awareness as well as durability of concentration, which involves paying attention to the walking process. Similar to walking mindfulness, sitting mediation focuses on concentration; however, more attention is directed towards one breath instead of walking. The sitting mediator focuses on how he or she breath moves in and out of the lungs while the abdomen moves up and down. With the application of the skills learnt in walking and sitting mediation, mindfulness in everyday activities focus on everything one does on a daily bases; such as eating and washing dishes. As this skill progresses, one lives increasingly in the present moment and participates in everything he or she does (Pa-Auk Sayadaw, 2000).
As mention earlier, the focus of this study is to analyze the effectiveness of mediation as a cure for physical or mental illness among Buddhist believers. I believe that mediation does not cure physical or mental illness; however, reduces the cognitive vulnerability to stress and emotional distress. In this section of the paper, I will present and discuss the findings that support or oppose my assumptions.
Positive Effects of Mediation
According to Mukherjee, mediation is a technique to manage stress by learning to relax and enjoy a sense of well-being. When one reaches a higher level of self-awareness, concentration and confidence improve. Mediation helps to balance both the emotional process and the intellectual parts in the brain, leading to a balance personality. Meditation offers many physical benefits to improve and maintain good health (Mukherjee, 2010).
Research supports the notion that the practice of mediation my correct many conditions like skin problems, asthma, headaches and pains. Clinical studies have shown that the breathing exercises learn from mediation can relieve stress induced conditions like asthma, panic attacks, phobias and irrational fears (Bercovitch & Kadayifci-Orellana, 2009). Additionally, meditation may help to control more severe conditions like high blood pressure, circulatory problems, and muscular tension. Buddhists tend to believe that meditation inspires a peaceful and happy mind. Meditation is also believed to have a greater physiological impact than other forms of relaxation or exercise (Zabel, 2004).
Recent studies suggest meditation can produce improvement in the following areas: self-actualization, sense of coherence and stress-hardiness, happiness, increased autonomy and independence; a positive sense of control; increased moral maturity; and spirituality. In regards to positive behavioral effects, meditation can heightened perception; improvements in reaction time and responsive motor skill; and increased field independence. In addition, meditation appears to result in improvements in aspects of intelligence, school grades, learning ability, and short-and long-term memory (Shapiro, 2003).
Negative Effects of Mediation
Garden (2003) raises the questions; can meditation be bad for you? She tends to believe that meditation is a secular technique that can be detrimental to individuals. The most common types of meditation taught include sitting still and concentrating on the breath, or visualizing an image. What is rarely mention, is that these meditation techniques were never meant to be methods to reduce stress and about relaxation. They are essentially spiritual tools, designed to “cleanse” the mind of impurities and disturbance so that one can attain enlightenment.
Buddhist teachers have indicated that the practice of meditation have potential hazards. If one uses meditation for the wrong reasons and is not properly trained, can cause one to go insane because they lack the ability to control their mind at a slow degree. These mediators are in a state of mental and physical disorder because their minds are overcome by strong spiritual energies that are far too much for them, forcing them to renounce the world, normal human habits and customs, and civilized society, and to live in a condition of chaos (Ankerberg & Weldon, 1993). The study also shows that people who mediate regularly were more likely to experience depression. Mediators that experience depression detach themselves from their desires, their loves, and their passions. Meditators also described many other similar dangerous experiences, such as loss of body awareness, the body disappearing, leaving the body, the head detaching itself, the body growing huge, LSD-like visions, hallucinations, and visions of Buddha (Garden, 2003).
Garden (2003) reports that Buddhist Vipassana retreats requires mediators to sit for up to fourteen hours a day watching the breath and sensation in the body and trying to become detached. Feelings of physical discomfort may arise from prolonged sitting. Occasionally, people go through very traumatic experiences and require round the clock support, the use of strong drugs, or even hospitalization. Others may experience a short-lived terror of the mind completely out of control, a temporary fear of going insane. This is maybe an indication of alienation from conventional reality that makes it difficult for consciousness to recover without active intervention.
Discussion & Conclusion
Mediation is a technique that is often used in Buddhism religion to assist with one’s mental and physical illness. The findings from this study suggests that there is a positive correlation between the use of meditation and the improvement of mental and physical impairments like skin problems, headaches and pain. However, a negative correlation is the result of one whom is not properly trained or uses mediation for the wrong purposes that may lead to dangerous outcomes like insanity. A limitation that is found in this is study is that little statistical information was found on how often one is diagnose with a mental or physical illness due to the practice of meditation. This study is beneficial because there were no ethical violations and no subjects were needed. Further research will examine how meditation is used in other religions like Hinduism and Taoism. In addition, an interview is propose to learn more about individuals experience of finding enlightenment by practicing mediation.
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