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Barclay PowersBarclay Powers is an author and futurist filmmaker. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in East Asian Studies from Columbia University and has an extensive background as an independent scholar. He has studied Chinese, Tibetan and Indian meditation, yoga and martial arts traditions for more than 30 years. Powers is currently releasing multiple media projects worldwide in film and print, related to the evolution of consciousness based on his studies with numerous masters of ancient wisdom traditions. His most recent film, The Lost Secret of Immortality, based on his book, won best spiritual/religious/Christian film at the Great Lakes International Film Festival, 2012, the Silver Palm Award at the Mexico International Film Festival, 2012 and best spiritual documentary at the New York International Film Festival, 2011. See his website at for information on the book, graphic novel and film.


Does the Buddha Pill
Really Work?

Seven Myths About Meditation

Barclay Powers

The Buddha Pill,

The scientifically objective book, The Buddha Pill, by Miguel Farias and Catherine Wikholm does a great job of evaluating meditation, and the distinctly romantic and unscientific approach that many Western researchers, scholars and practitioners have blindly accepted. The secularized mind is desperate for any form of alleged authentic spirituality, and the authors of this important book are rightly astounded by the many well-known psychological blind spots and religious bias issues that dominate much meditation research and instruction.

What becomes obvious after reading The Buddha Pill is that in many cases Western Buddhists, scholars, practitioners and scientists suffer from well-known severe psychological blind spots and religious romanticism. Because Buddhism claims to be nontheistic it has become the spiritual lifestyle of choice for a secular 21st century Western audience.

As the authors point out,

“For the secularized mind meditation fills a spiritual vacuum; it brings the hope of a better, happier individual and the ideal of a peaceful world. That meditation was primarily designed not to make us happier but to destroy our sense of individual self who we feel and think we are most of the time is often overlooked in the science and media stories.”

Let us take a look at the seven meditation myths that the authors have brilliantly identified and then juxtaposed with the scientific evidence. The observations are not to be confused with the myths and facts that the authors have recognized and are not endorsed by them in any way.

Meditation produces a unique state of consciousness that we can measure scientifically.

The overall evidence is that these states are not physiologically unique and there is as yet no scientific consensus about what these effects are.

What is obvious is that meditation in its currently studied version (Westernized Southern Buddhism) is virtually indistinguishable from hypnosis and self-hypnosis. Any form of guided meditation is actually hypnosis, which is not usually mentioned in mindfulness training. Also complete meditation systems in China and India have never been separate from yoga and chi kung. Sitting with your eyes closed focusing on loving-kindness may generate gamma waves but it is still self-hypnosis. The monks with the most meditation hours may have hyper gamma wave levels that are off the charts, but they have often also practiced heat/tummo/kundalini yoga while maintaining celibacy for years. Any brain states that they generate are based on these aspects of their training as much as meditation. It is simply bad science to say that focusing on loving-kindness is the primary reason for the neurological changes in their brain function. Tibetan monks have generally all practiced the Six Yogas of Naropa, which have a totally different theory and methodology than Southern Buddhism. Western meditation research is usually from the neck up and generally excludes the influence of the kundalini at the base of the spine on the brains of advanced meditators. Northern Buddhism from a Mahamudra or Shaolin perspective considers the Southern Buddhist meditation that has been studied as inherently energetically incomplete. Samadhi without kundalini is merely delta trance for periods of time just like sleep, but it definitely calms the mind and regulates the vagus nerve and breathing process. The white light of total ego dissolution that many meditators have experienced is often just sleep paralysis during meditation. Tibetans call the true clear light the Dharmakaya, Christians call it God; they are both describing a neurological change that is experienced during deep meditation.

If everyone meditated the world would be a much better place.

So far, there is no clear scientific evidence that meditation is more effective in making us more compassionate or less aggressive than other spiritual or psychological practices.

Meditation has never been taught correctly in the West as a complete system for the most part. A Shaolin Buddhist, or Wudang Taoist moving, standing, sitting and dream practice works much better than just sitting alone. Vipassana cannot be fairly compared with the Six Yogas of Naropa and the actual Mahamudra system of Milarepa. If you practice a system of meditation that only results in deep trance you may never see your Original Face, but after years of practice you will generally tell yourself that you comprehend realization even if it is not true. This is the central psychological blind spot of the majority of Western meditation teachers and researchers. The double bind of Western Buddhism is that you shouldn't be teaching unless you're enlightened but if you think you're enlightened you may have a narcissistic personality disorder. The Western definition of the goal of meditation appears to be substantially different than East Asian medical explanations of meditation and chi kung. Additionally, any form of self or ego dissolution induced by neurological changes can have negative and unforeseen side effects. Many Buddhist teachers do not understand that “the dark night of the soul” is a brain malfunction not a spiritual experience to be endured/overcome.

If you are seeking personal change and growth meditating is as or more efficient than having therapy.

There is very little evidence that this is true.

All methods of personal growth need to be tailored to the individual. Meditation is too boring for most people and uncomfortable. From a Chinese medical chi kung perspective, the meditation practices that are taught in the West are basically at 20% of efficacy when compared to an actual complete meditation based chi kung system. Jainism uses three basic meditation postures, standing, sitting and lying on your back. This is a much more complete model of meditation than Southern Buddhism. Many Vipassana practitioners are told that their methodology is the actual practice taught by the Buddha in its purest form.

Meditation can benefit everyone.

It has to be individually applied and everyone is different.

Some methods are more effective than others like the Six Yogas of Naropa. A flotation tank is superior to just sitting in terms of immediate positive cognitive effects on the brain. For maximum benefits you might combine, standing, sitting, moving, dreaming practices and a flotation tank. If aerobic exercise is added before doing these exercises even greater beneficial effects will be experienced in most people. A medical chi kung model of meditation is useful for actualizing the complete potential of the practices.

Meditation has no adverse or negative effects. It will change you for the better (and only the better).

There are many cases of negative side effects.

Marathon meditation retreats don't work for everyone. Many individuals that practice reiki or chi kung have had psychotic breaks during meditation retreats and they are now sometimes evaluated and discouraged from participating in group meditation practices that have been encouraged by Western teachers, corporations and neurocontemplative researchers. From a classical Chinese medical chi kung perspective over-meditation, without opening the acupuncture meridians can result in blockages in the circulatory system which are mentally and physically unhealthy and dangerous. Chi kung psychosis is also common, as is the well-known kundalini syndrome. Any significant neurological changes caused by meditation may have completely unpredictable, unpleasant, or dangerous results. It is much easier to disassemble the personality, than to put it back together and sometimes the new version is not better than before. The Chinese description of this is that the meditator went through the fire but became a demonic being instead of a Buddha. Additionally, the brain is actually wired for archetypal beings. The medieval religious mind is in the ever-present unconscious even in the 21st century.

Science has unequivocally shown how meditation can change us and why.

No clear Western maps have been established.

One of the most well known ancient sayings of Zen/Chan is, “See the Original Face and become a living Buddha.” The Original Face/Buddha nature or Embryo of Buddhahood has not been studied by contemplative neuroscience. This structure of early embryonic development is in all living beings that are past a certain stage of cellular evolution. The kundalini has been described as a dormant structure at the base of the spine. This was also the Prima Materia of Hermetic alchemy that was the underground secret of premodern science for hundreds of years. The Gnostics called this enlightened structure within all human beings the Anthropos. It is the reason for the concept of the divine spark within the individual, which is the basis of Judeo-Christian Islamic traditions. Current contemplative neuroscientific models of meditation have not been able to explain the Golden Flower/Original Face. The Taoists call it the Sheng Tai or Golden Embryo/Elixir. The Vedas call it Hiranyagarbha, the Golden Embryo, and describe it as the origin of yoga.

We can practice meditation as a purely scientific technique with no religious or spiritual leanings.

Meditation has a spiritual goal. It has never been designed to be a secular practice. Personality dissolution has nothing to do with normal secular life or happiness as understood in the West.

Unfortunately, conventional Western meditation has omitted the most important idea in Buddhist meditation, “See your Original Face and become a living Buddha”. The most important idea in Buddhist meditation is that the Original Face is the Buddha nature, an enlightened structure of consciousness, which meditation describes as the Original Mind, the true illuminated inner identity of the individual. The classical Chinese sage, Mencius, described the essence of the search for true knowledge as, “seeking the lost Mind”.

The Secret of the Golden Flower

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