Sergie, I wrote this to Sam but then it got to long and I thought I would just post it here, it may begin to address your approach to what we are reffering to as meditation. I would suggest two things, establishing yourself in the body of ideas that form Buddhadharma, particularly in philosophy and ethics, and then reading texts about the various modes and methods of inquiry through meditation. There are many but they should not necessarily be referred to as meditation but as what they are, whether shamatha, vipassana, and so on. Inquiry has to be based in an understanding of what one is inquiring, it seems, and why. I have found personally that the yogic mode of being (sustained first person experimentation with consciousness) is one that is quite difficult and really only takes root in those already well established in the reasons for its uptaking. My second suggestion is to have caution with this ‘essence’ approach to Buddhadharma, there is an ongoing project of western approaches to meditation of finding ways without beliefs, but what ends up happening is that new modes or cults of Buddhadharma form that are based in our own religious baggage. If your are truly interested in the wisdom of these traditions, steep yourself in their ideas, evaluate them, test them, study under actual Asian thinkers and maintain your skepticism about what is beyond your experience. Otherwise, there is a problem of throwing the baby out with the bath water by searching the ‘watered down’ American examples of this tradition of thinking. I really think this is a lifelong project. What we call meditation or contemplation will come naturally when it is imperative. It will only become imperative if it is founded in reason, where the basis of its undertaking is understood.
There is another approach, that of sitting first, meditating first, and then studying but that is difficult because the groups and types are so discursive in America. But perhaps Insight Meditation Society is the best for that and the most grounded rationally:
Still, it always helps to understand why you might be seeking, what you might be seeking, and who is seeking.
On terminology and accuracy in eastern concepts:
One question was asked of Sam Harris’s support of eastern mysticism as a ‘Religion’. I think the answer that not all religions are the same is an important part of the response, however part of the response is also that the term ‘Religion’ has only recently applied to what we call Buddhism or Buddhadharma. That is what is so tricky, ‘Religion’ is a western concept and term that originally would only be used to referred to Christianity, then the whole Western triad, then its application became more inclusive much, much later. Word meanings of course change over time but this word ‘Religion’ is particularly difficult when applying it to other systems of thought and experience. Of course, a Tibetan Buddhist will usually insist that his path is a religious one, because they wish to be afforded the respect of the religious and want to be seen as equal in that way. That may be more of a minority response to a dominant paradigm, that it is beneficial to gain an equal status to facilitate dialogue and inclusiveness (to gain access to resources), rather than be left to ‘cult’ status. Still though we should be intellecutally honest that when lumping everything under the heading ‘Religion’ it becomes ever more inclusive and confusing, things that may simply not be religion start becoming religion through an analysis of seeking out religious aspects of human behavior (ritual, worship, etc.) and then when we find them labeling those system of behaviors ‘Religion’. Maybe in academic religious studies this should be looked at and challenged intellectually, it may be a reflection of this moderation you speak of that is based in political correctness but isn’t necessarily grounded in sound reason. Not all things are ‘Religion.’
In particular, Buddhadharma has its own terminology for referring to itself and its practices, modes of inquiry, texts and so forth. For instance, an audience member asked you if there is a danger in meditation making one spaced-out or disassociated. As, you know meditation again is a Western word, so already we have gotten ourselves into trouble referring to a widely divergent group of modes of inquiry and techniques of working with the mind as ‘Meditation’. Again, there are more precise ways of talking about this, using original Sanskrit, Pali, or Tibetan for the specific practices we are talking about. There must be more precision in discourse. There is something going on in translation here that we have to be careful of. Of course we are trying to increase the audience to these ideas so it is necessary to translate, to use western ideas and words to explain eastern ones. Included in this discussion then should be a frank admission that intellectual honesty disinegrates in this process. If things are different, if sitting in one place and experiementing with consciousness itself is a different mode than surrender to a belief system that is unsound then we have to really find a way to to help people understand that by any strecth of the imagination these are not the same things.
Is there belief in Buddhadharma? Yes, in praxis, however, it is grouned textually that it is ultimitely seen as a hindrance to understanding the nature of reality as belief itself is ultimately encountered as lacking inherent existence (in particular in Madyamika). Faith in Buddhadharma that doesn’t come from experience is considered a lower form of experience that is an expression of intent for a state of mind wished to be gained through the practices in the future. It is true that there are fundamentalist Buddhists and that many, many Buddists do not have access to their most well explained topics or training in critical reflection. It is also true that westerners are bringing their western baggage into this tradition we call Buddhadharma and turning it into a different belief system. Maybe that seems easier to people than the difficulties of actually looking into your own experience and integrating positive states of mind into your mental continuum and ultimately relizing the futility of self construcition and maintenence of false beliefs, particulary belief in the inherently existent self.