As I observe and understand meditation in the great Buddhist traditions of Asia, I think it is for the most part admirable and beneficial. In societies where formal education was rare, meditation could take its place in developing capacities such as concentration and awareness of others and oneself….But I have misgivings about the modern cult of meditation in the West, which is also spreading to Asia. I agree with the Buddha’s teaching that sound ethics are a prerequisite for success in meditation; and sound ethics are based on unselfishness.
Meditation in the West today, as I see it, is usually part of an essentially solitary pursuit of happiness. Learning to meditate on an (often misconceived) idea that one has no self is a self-centered activity that I think is likely to be self-defeating. Why not use the time to go and be kind and helpful to someone? I think it is relevant that traditionally meditation was always taught in a monastic setting, mostly to monastics; it was not an interlude in a daily life in the world.
In taking this critical view of meditation, I believe I am merely reformulating the Buddha’s Second Noble Truth, that the origin of suffering is craving or desire, which can also be expressed as self-centeredness.
Richard Gombrich, historian of early Buddhism
In his interview with Tricycle, Gombrich challenges misconceptions about the Buddha, describes the influence of the philosophy of Karl Popper on his methodology, and expresses his critical view of meditation as practiced in the West. Read the interview in its entirety here.