Thread: Existential Dread and meditation

  1. #1
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    Existential Dread and meditation

    Hi all. I continue to read widely now that I have retired, exploring stuff I missed out on earlier, such as philosophy. I was reading about the kind of existential dread, one definition of which is, "the importance of personal experience and responsibility and the demands that they make on the individual, who is seen as a free agent in a deterministic and seemingly meaningless universe."

    In simpler terms this means that the more freedom we have away from the conditioning that we get from society, the more we ruminate on what this freedom means for any decisions we make. Other religions fill this with their own hard and fast rules and regulations, which often mirror our childhood conditioning anyway. Buddhism for me has been a liberation, but with it comes the problem of how to be mindful in a society which is anything but.

    An additional concern is when I read of taking things like meditation and mindfulness away from the Buddhist context to make it more acceptable to those not wanting to commit to another religion, or those who consider that these things can stand alone as something to bring about changes to themselves. Changes do happen when we meditate and we can release ourselves from the conditioning we have undergone, but what do we need to do to avoid the feeling that sometimes arises, "to not succumb to nihilism or despair: to not give up or avoid responsibility."?

    Hopefully nobody reading this is in such a mindset, but it may be worth thinking about in case such a thing arises in the future.

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    My take on all of this is that at some point in our Buddhist path we may come up against these demands made of us by being more mindful and by reducing the certainties of our social conditioning. To those outside Buddhism there appears to be a strong nihilistic element which can lead to 'dread', but I think that ebedded in the Dharma is the means to protect yourself. There is, "Paritta (Pali), generally translated as "protection" or "safeguard,"[1] refers to the Buddhist practice of reciting certain verses and scriptures in order to ward off misfortune or danger, as well as to the specific verses and discourses recited as paritta texts. The practice of reciting or listening to the paritta suttas began very early in the history of Buddhism."

    For me we can tease out the more useful elements (unless you are into chanting to ward off misfortune) which are there as 'protection'. We don't have to replace one set of rules with another, but we can be aware of what will help us when we get to sticky parts of our journey as well as keeping us on the path. Which may be a better translation of chants designed to protect against misfortune and danger.

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