Genni Lee Hester

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morality of meditation, an ontological review

Hello Everyone,

Welcome to Wellness Wednesday (it just feels better to say than hump day, eh??;)).

Earlier this month The New York Times had a thoughtful (pun intended) article titled the morality of meditation, by David DeSteno. Much of my undergraduate research focused on comparative religious ethics, and I – along with others – often posed a very similar question as DeSteno. Most directly put: Does my personal practice (e.g., prayer, meditation, yoga, etc…) affect others?

Through my own lived experience I can confidently say yes; however, the empirical research of the mentioned article provides further support for this conclusion. Ontologically in the West we often identify as individuals, autonomous from others. This ontological framework leaves Westerns to believe that their mindfulness practices are private endeavors with no external corollaries, yet the research this article reveals shows us that even practices done alone or for the ‘self’ do have a direct impact on others.

Since the article references Buddhism, let’s use a specific Buddhist practice and theory in order to dissect the idea even more. Mahayana Buddhism’s vow of the bodhisattva is an ideal example because the vow to complete enlightenment is not made for the ‘self’, but for the sake of all sentient beings. Understanding the self from this lineage allows our ontological investigation to get more specific. The Emptiness Doctrine provides grounding to these abstract thoughts.  Arguing that the self is empty or non-existent is conceptualizing what it is; therefore, the emptiness doctrine is not about the denial of the self but the expansion of it. In her commentary on Shantideva’s The Way of the Bodhisattva Pema Chodron untangles this complex issue: “If we were to say “all is emptiness,” Shantideva would refute that too. His intention is to pull the rug out from under any fixed view or solidified way of thinking. Instead, he points us toward the indescribable openness of mind: a mind free from any conceptualization whatsoever” (Chodron, 177). The awareness that I am a teacher, a friend, a writer is positive. However, if I limit myself to these labels when one is gone pain ensues. It is better to consider the emptiness doctrine the no-ego doctrine instead of the no-self doctrine.

Most practically meditation is a tool to break the barriers of the ego which separate us from each other. It is a tool to break our fixed way of thinking, which Shantideva and Pema Chodron teach. As the experiment in the Times’ article reveals, those who participated in the meditation class were more than 3 times more likely to give their chair to someone in need. Use this as a little dose of motivation the next time you sit on your meditation cushion; you are not only helping yourself but others as well.

Have a wonderful week!



photo courtesy of The New York Times

photo courtesy of The New York Times


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authzenticity: positing the noumenon within zazen

I caught myself! I caught myself mindlessly reading a book, a book on Zen none-the-less. The word, which woke my wandering mind, was italicized, yet I doubt I would have missed it either way. Noumenon. No, no, no I am reading about the practices of Zen, not in a philosophy course geared toward Immanuel Kant’s epistemology (not that I did not enjoy that class, but this is leisure reading). Noumenon, there it is again, ‘the thing in itself.’ I once considered this inaccessible reality to be a transcendental state of being – one void of phenomenon. I am sure I uttered something to the effect: “So, like, the Noumenon is pretty much Nirvana.” Oy.

Merriam-Webster defines Noumenon as: a posited object or event as it appears in itself independent of perception by the senses. Trouble begins at the very first step in trying to understand Noumenon, attempting to conceptualize it leads to the destruction of it. The mind destroys it. Coincidently Noumenon’s etymology points to the mind. NOU coming from the Greek word for mind, nous [νοῦς].

Although careful measures are taken to prep the body for zazen, seated meditation, the true essence of the practice is about the nous or the mind. The meditation cushion is a meeting place between the inner and outer worlds we inhabit. Perhaps the Noumenon resides in this space as well. Just like the word Noumenon jumped out at me while reading, the ‘real’ Noumenon (when one least expects it) might just jump out of the zazen practice.



“Through practice, when the deluded mind dissolves into darkness, another presence emerges that I have referred to as returning to calm and quiet, like an Icelandic landscape of infinite beauty, spaciousness, and peace. That’s where zazen mind, or the universal mind that we all intimately share, is so great and vast, without beginning or end” Jakusho Kwong.

In Eastern Philosophy the mind is often seen as a sixth sense, which mangles the above proposition that the Noumenon is intimate with the mind. The possibility that it goes beyond the limited mind to Samadhi or Nirvana is still a possibility. Maybe it is not the mind that destroys the Noumenon, yet the Noumenon that destroys the limited mind. Ultimately, there is no answer, there is no right or wrong, there is no there is.