Q: What does meditation mean? And how does this work with the view of the self?
A: The Buddhist worldview sees attachment as the source of suffering and the real issue to resolve. Part of this attachment is the very idea of the self as being real. “Selfish” to the Buddhist is to believe the self is real. The problem comes that as they extend this belief to its logical extension, it is nearly impossible to live life. To even express the idea that “The self is not real,” implies that there is a something like a self that is expressing this idea, thinking and considering it. Herein lies the main issue with the Buddhist ideas of the self. The Hindu teaching on the self is that there is some degree of illusion (samsara), yet the self does have an existence. Hence the famous four Upanishadic statements where the first three clearly say there is a self:
1. TAT TVAM ASI (THAT THOU ART).
2. AHAM BRAHMASMI (I AM BRAHMAN).
3. AYAM ATMA BRAHMAN (THIS SELF IS BRAHMAN).
In contrast, the Buddhist worldview denies even the existence of the self (anatman). They would say that not only is there illusion-so that we need to actually understand the self rightly, but that the illusion is that there is even a self that exists. This leads them to nearly impossible issues to deal with. If there is no self at all, then reality and perception of it is a very difficult thing to discuss. They still have their theories about how this can happen, but they are clearly in a tight corner.
The Christian idea of the self is that it is real. However, are numerous illusions about the self and wrong ideas about the self. The classic teaching of the Bible is that each person has a displaced idea of the self and operates within these wrong ideas: the desire to own things, the desire to have pleasure, the pride of life. At the center of the issue is that man has attempted to displace God from His rightly honor and place, and is vaunting himself either secretly or openly in an attempt to displace God. Hence the Christian idea of “selfish” is not a denial of the self’s reality, but a bending of what the self is and should be.
The practical consequences of how we view the self are really quite in contrast.
1) The Buddhist idea of the self is to work to eliminate the mindfulness and even reality/illusion of the self.
2) The Hindu idea of the self says to modify your ideas of the individual self with the monistic idea of being one with all other ‘selfs’.
3) The Christian idea of the self is that it is real, but bent.
1) Meditation for the Buddhist is to get beyond self and the illusion of its reality
Goal: remove all idea of self as unreal; to empty the mind of even thinking
2) Meditation for the Hindu is to realize that the atman self is the Brahman Self
Goal: realize that the individual self is really the monistic Self
3) Meditation for the Christian is to produce helpful and redeeming thought leading to helpful and redeeming actions
Goal: to think and use the mind to keep the self from sin and pride, and to contemplate the greatness and goodness of God.