While some would argue that meditation is somewhat religious by nature, the truth is that the majority of people who practice meditation do so because of the lack of religiosity attributed to any one practice.
That said, it’s understandable, especially when it comes to Buddhism, a philosophy or religion (depending upon which perspective you take) with millions of followers, why a person could have this stance.
Michelle Boorstein, reporting for the Washington Post, pens this recent article on the Dalai Lama’s latest U.S. visit (to Washington D.C.). Somewhat focusing on the week long trip, Boorstein introduces us to Hugh Byrne, a senior teacher at the D.C. Insight Meditation Community, who offers a unique perspective on meditation and why it’s not a religion.
Hugh Byrne, a senior teacher at the D.C. Insight Meditation Community, said many people come to classes “from challenging or difficult experiences with their own dogmatic background and aren’t looking for another bunch of rituals and doctrines.” He says he also comes to meditation from a more secular perspective. This week he told me about how some meditators in town for the Kalachakra were put off by the Buddhist practice of bowing or prostrating, because they saw it as “superstitious,” or bowing towards something specific, perhaps an idol or a deity. His defense of the practices was to consider that the purpose of such practices was down-to-earth –about letting go of your pride, being humble.
But Byrne’s description of how meditation works sounds like a creed, and a stirring one. He teaches that a lot of what people take for absolute truth are just thoughts based on physical stimuli, or patterns set in place long ago.
“A lot of what we take for reality is our thoughts. One thought can lead to another. What meditation can do and the practice of mindfulness is to say: A thought is a thought. An uncomfortable bodily sensation is an uncomfortable bodily sensation,” he said. Meditating helps people experience uncomfortable things as impermanent. The end game? “For me it’s a complete path to freedom from suffering,” he said. “I believe in the possibility of a complete relief from suffering and not in the supernatural, but in this lifetime.”
Read more from Boorstein on meditation and religion here.