12 Hours of Meditation Per Day is Not Enough

The meditation app, Headspace, has 20 million total downloads and 500,000 paying subscribers at their most recent count. It’s doing incredibly well, and has helped bring mindfulness to the masses. I really rejoice in this and I hope the app continues to grow and more people are able to learn mindfulness in a simple and accessible way. [Andy Puddicombe, founder of Headspace and former monk, did a podcast with Russell Brand recently that I particularly enjoyed].

Unlike Headspace however, my blog is probably going to forever remain super niche. Perhaps only of interest to close friends and a handful of others who share similar aspirations, especially with blog titles like this.

Often you hear mindfulness teachers share, “10 minutes of meditation per day is enough.” And they are right. But it depends on what the motivation and aims of their practice are. 10 minutes a day is enough for a break in a busy, modern life – to help reduce stress and simply pause. It’s great for that. Especially when the person practicing has never done it before.

But when it comes to making reliable and accurate observations about the nature of mind and of consciousness, the instrument of observation needs to be honed and refined to a much higher degree.

As the Dharma comes to the modern world, it will be a bumpy ride before a fully integrated modern Dharma will emerge that is suitable for people in our modern world that leads to the full achievement of Buddhahood. Already we are seeing glimpses of what this could look like but we are still amidst this evolving process.

Every time Buddhism moves to a new culture, whether it was Tibet, Japan, Thailand – it found the essence of that particular culture and merged with it. That same process seems to be happening with the culture of our modern world and Buddhism.

Now as someone who practices Dharma and has received enormous benefit from it, I look at the ‘lay of the land’, so to speak, and I feel the Innermost circle for Buddhadharma is lacking in our modern world.

We have lots and lots of people wanting to become mindfulness teachers. They are training in Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction, Cultivating Emotional Balance, Breathworks, dot b, Mind with Heart and many others. That is easily fulfilling the Outer ring. There is a Locate a Teacher section on the dot b website and there are hundreds of trained dot b teachers in the UK now.

There are edges to this – like whether we risk diluting the practices if we roll it out en mass because mindfulness is now ‘evidence-based’? That’s a question that will remain for a while, but on the whole I feel mindfulness going mainstream is a cause for celebration. It is serving a need, it is relieving suffering in the world. I suspect we will see even more mindfulness as the UK government brings in teaching standards and even more studies on mindfulness are published. All this will further embed it into the mainstream and secure the Outer ring.

Then there is the Inner level. Mindfulness teachers might start asking questions about the roots of these teachings and become interested in diving deeper. So they attend more retreats, specifically Buddhist ones to learn about the roots of the practices. They receive teachings, spend more time dredging the depths of their psyche and maybe get glimpses of deeper truths. There is a greater commitment to practice and a commitment to yearly retreats or living with a community of practitioners. This Inner aspect gets explored further as the Outer reaches more and more people.

The Innermost level is where I want to focus most on. Towards a ‘PhD level contemplative training’. And so it is with that aspiration in mind that I say 12 hours of meditation per day for two months is not enough. How many hours of practice and study does it take to become a fully qualified doctor? If someone called themselves a doctor but only studied for 12 hours every day for two months, would you trust them to diagnose and treat you? Our doctors have to go through 5 or 6 years of medical school. Then another 2 years of foundation training as a Junior doctor before they become a fully qualified doctor. Even at that point there are further specialisations and that can take several more years. Doctors also don’t just stop learning once they become qualified. They continue their development every year for the rest of their careers.

These series of posts on Discovering Shamatha is about the start of my own journey to train as a contemplative scientist – a ‘professional meditator’ so to speak. We could try and supplant the monastic model from Asia into the West, but that would involve a big culture clash. We have monastics already here in the UK for example, but it’s still quite a rarity. It seems more fitting, and perhaps more skillful, for the Buddhadharma to do what it’s been doing for centuries – finding the essence of a culture and then growing from that centre. This is the world of universities, academia, professional training and science.

Buddhism and science have a complementary aspect. Buddhism knows nothing for example about neuroscience. It knows pretty much nothing about external technologies that have been created by science.

On the other side, science has no consensus about the nature of consciousness. Science have found no instrument with which to observe the mind directly. The only measurements that have been done are through observing behaviour or through observing neural correlates – not the mind itself. There is no scientific instrument that can observe thoughts or memories or emotions directly.

This is where Buddhism — and really all the world’s contemplative traditions can complement science. Through the inner technologies of samadhi discovered in India many millennia ago – or in the context of Buddhism, the achievement of shamatha. we have an opportunity for these two seemingly opposite cultures to learn from each other and synergise. These inner, or contemplative, technologies allow the refinement of attention to such a high degree that reliable and consistent observations about the nature of thoughts, memories, dreams, emotions and consciousness itself can be made and reported back on.

Where previously the use of introspection in psychology during the days of William James was thrown out due to the lack of reliability of the observations, with the deep training of attention and achievement of shamatha, first-person observations could be done to investigate the nature of mind. Alongside the third-person observations of neuroscience via fMRI scanners and even observing behaviour.

This is Not Even Considering Buddhahood Yet

A revolution in the mind sciences would be incredible. And I would love to play whatever small role I can in that.

But really the blog title still holds within the context of Buddhadharma. If Buddhahood really is my aspiration, 12 hours of meditation per day for two months is no where near enough. It merely scratches the surface. And so with the opportunity I have now in this human life, where I have encountered Dharma teachings and have begun practicing. Where I have spiritual teachers and friends around me. Where I have a life of leisure that allows me the time to study and practice Dharma earnestly. I feel incredibly grateful and I would feel incredibly foolish if I were to waste this precious gift.

There is so much more to learn, unlearn, practice, untangle and dredge up. So many assumptions that need to be shattered and seen through. So much conditioning and habitual ways of being that need to be exhausted and released.

I don’t know how to end this piece, and I think I’m repeating myself here with things I’ve already written about in other posts, so I’ll just end it here. With time my writing will improve. May you dear reader find your heart’s desire in this lifetime.

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