Can meditation bring about wisdom?
This is a difficult question to tackle. Those who are onto philosophy will search for an answer among ancient Eastern texts, and their contemporary commentaries. Most ended up with a more confused mind than that in the beginning. Most of the time a commentator, oftentimes translator of the ancient texts, explained a text cross-referencing more ancient texts. Making his readers, if not himself, more confused. These people oftentimes are University professors or scholars whom we ordinary folks awe at their in-depth knowledge of their respective specialty. Yet most of us remain to be confused and unconvinced (with some pretending to be not confused and convinced!)
Teachers of meditation and chi-related disciplines usually treat their subject matter as mind-body exercise (religious gurus treat theirs as religious practice, however the argument remains the same). In our modern society, these teachers are professional service providers like piano teacher, swimming coach or dojo sansei who sell their particular knowledge and skills to any eager student. They are knowledgeable at their particular field, but generally not considered wiser than the rest of us.
For the scientifically minded people, or wisdom seekers, both approaches failed their honest, and earnest, expectation.
If reading mind-boggling translated Eastern philosophical texts can give us wisdom, our wisest mind will be in our Universities’ Eastern philosophy departments.
If fold our legs and close our eyes can give us wisdom, we don’t need to send our young people to institutions of higher education.
What is wisdom? As a virtue, it is a habit or disposition to perform the right action under given circumstances. Why do we seek wisdom? Because we believe we have not been doing the right things under our current circumstances. In search of wisdom, we are in fact in search for a new, or more creative, way of perceiving and understanding things. And this new way is going to lead us to a better course of action.
I will leave my comments to the philosophical approach for another post. Here I shall only tackle the practice aspect of meditation.
The difficulty in comprehending meditation is that when a practitioner talked about his practice, he would use his own personal experience and which experience was narrated within the theoretical or metaphysical constructs of his school of teaching, with metaphors and theories. And the bewildering variety of meditative methods boggle the mind of anyone interested in the subject.
When we are not satisfied with our current action, based on our analysis of the current circumstances, we say our mind is stuck. And we need to think outside the box. It is easier said than done! We can check up loads of books in management and psychology proclaiming the virtue of thinking outside the box. With tricks and methods which were said to work or have proven to work as claimed by the author.
It is inconceivable that we can think outside our brain. Isn’t it that with all our training and learning, our brain have already programed us towards the choosing of the best possible alternative constrained by our own intellectual limitations? Aren’t we asking the impossible? Or aren’t we simple asking our brain to work harder, or we take action to learn more, to take one more University degree? In a nutshell, all suggestions boiled down to: Use your brain better.
As a seasoned meditator and chi-kung practitioner, I’m as puzzled as anyone else.
In trying to solve the puzzle, I have avoided the theoretical route and seek for the anecdotal or detail analysis of individual cases. In particular, over the past decade or so, I have carefully noted the change in my own mind as well as the mental state of some of my students through my personal interactions with them. There are two conditions that I concluded can result from a sound practice of meditation (the first person singular is used for exposition purpose):
does not increase my knowledge (which I have to learn from someone with
that particular knowledge) but it increases my practical problem solving
ability which organize my knowledge in a novel way in novel situations.
- I can appreciate myself not as an unchanging self, but a self that develops and changes over time - not a theoretical postulation but an empirical (psychological) perception. The perception of a changed/new self can be felt most significantly over a period years, and less significantly over a period of months.
My postulation: wisdom (or the increase of wisdom) is only achievable with this necessary condition: one can free from the mind-body constraints on the self.
This is how meditation works its magic:
During meditation a practitioner’s mind focuses on the singular task of keeping our mind in a state of Void, Emptiness or Nothingness. Different schools use different methods and different metaphors. The gist of the matter is the human mind must engage in something (total lack of stimulation will create hallucination, a key reason behind chi-kung or kundalini syndromes). During meditation, a practitioner strives to put all his psychic energy in keeping his mind in a state of Nothingness (and maintaining the integrity of his self at the same time, the failure of which will be insanity). If he is successful, his mind will be totally focused on the subject matter (of keeping his mind in such a state). And he loses consciousness of the his empirical or usual self (his self as he perceives it in his everyday waking moments). The consciousness of such a state of being out-of-consciousness is the physical requirement of enlightenment (needless to say enlightenment is more than its physical requirement).
Now without going into a philosophical discussion of enlightenment, let's look at the physical act of letting go of our focus in Nothingness when we end our meditation. For those who are not familiar with meditation, a mental focus on chi-balancing and chi-management on the total body (usually via managing the chakras) can consume all our psychic energy, making the condition of achieving Nothingness possible.
For those historical account of sudden enlightenment (for example into Sainthood in various religions), my postulation is that the mind goes back to a totally new site in the brain (neurologists tell us that we only use a small portion of our brain). In the lingo of psychology, it is called total personality change. Which of course is very rare. For those who seek the more modest task of wisdom, only a slight shift of the site will be needed. I believe it is achievable by most of us.
The difficulty for such successful shift, both in religion and in the pursue of wisdom, is that first you have to believe it can happen, second, you have to learn a good practice of meditation, third, you have to ask for it to happen, four, there is the unyielding factor of chance happening.
Good luck with your practice.