A Critical Glimpse at the American Appropriation of Asian Meditative Traditions: Confessions of an Unsuccessful Meditator

By Jeffrey B. Gold.

Published by The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society

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This paper will focus on the American appropriation of Asian meditative traditions. I will concentrate my attention on the accounts of meditation from two groups of teachers: 1) contemporary American teachers of Yoga and Buddhism (e.g., Cheri Huber, Pema Chodron, and Goswami Kriyananda); 2) Asian teachers who settled and taught in America (e.g., Eknath Easwaran, Parmahansa Yogananda and Suzuki Roshi). My spotlight will be on certain, specific contemporary American expressions of Yogic or Buddhist meditation, i.e., styles which emphasize that meditation is to be conceived of as either taming the mind or watching the mind.
The first part of the paper attempts to motivate the popularity and success of meditation in America today. The second part of the paper explains some of the central features of meditation, specifically the concepts of taming and watching the mind. The third part of the paper raises two critical questions with respect to those features of meditation. The first concern focuses on meditating as taming the mind. I will utilize feminist critiques of taming as expressed by Susan Griffin in Woman and Nature. Although she was not concerned with meditative traditions but patriarchy, I use her insights as a tool to examine meditation. The second question focuses on the meditative technique of just watching or just observing the contents of the mind. In this section, I will utilize the insights of Foucault in Discipline and Punish to raise issues about this technique. Once again, Foucault is not interested in meditation but in penal institutions. However, I find his theory relevant and applicable to the meditative technique of “just watching.” In the end, I will suggest that there is a more ominous side to contemporary meditation practices in America than is usually recognized.

Keywords: Meditation, Yoga, Buddhism

The International Journal of Religion and Spirituality in Society, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp.139-148. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 721.766KB).

Dr. Jeffrey B. Gold

Professor, Department of Philosophy and Religion, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, TN, USA

Dr. Gold received his PhD in Philosophy from Ohio State University in 1978 and currently serves as Professor of Philosophy at East Tennessee State University. He served as Chair of the Department of Philosophy and Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at ETSU. His interests include Philosophy of Religion, New Movements in American Religion, and Ancient Philosophy. His publications include articles in Philosophical Studies, Metaphilosophy, Teaching Philosophy, Dialogue and Alliance (the journal of the Inter-Religious Federation for World Peace where he published an article on Spiritual Zionism), Esoteric Quarterly, and Philosophy East and West (where he published an article on Plato and Yoga).