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Place your hands in the position of meditative equipoise, four finger widths below the navel, with the left hand on the bottom, right hand on top, and your thumbs touching to form a triangle. Most likely you have a sense that it is associated with the eyes since we derive most of our awareness of the world through vision....This placement of the hands has connection with the place inside the body where inner heat is generated." This is already an unpromising start – if you aren't even allowed variation in the number of sub-navel finger widths for hand placement, how can we hope to be allowed to even slightly differ on the supposed object of inner contemplation? When speaking of meditating on the mind, the Dalai Lama manoeuvres his audience into a position where his conclusion seems inevitable: "Try to leave your mind vividly in a natural state... However, the existence of a separate mental consciousness can be ascertained; for example, when attention is diverted by sound, that which appears to the eye consciousness is not noticed...It is in our biology, in the fabric of us, to connect to other human beings, and anything which tries to insert shame and doubt into that instinct is bound to always twist us every so slightly.
But if we start looking a bit closer, at the ramifications of Buddhist belief in practice, there is a lurking darkness there, quietly stated and eloquently crafted, but every bit as profound as the Hellfires of Christianity or the rhetoric of jihad.
For nine years, I worked as a science and maths teacher at a small private Buddhist school in the United States.
That's enough to give us pause right there – it's not really a process of self-discovery if you're told the method, the steps, and the only acceptable conclusion before you've even begun.
Here's the fourteenth (and current) Dalai Lama on how to start a meditation: "First, look to your posture: arrange the legs in the most comfortable position; set the backbone as straight as an arrow.
Distraught, she went to the monks who explained to her that she was having such trouble now because, in a past life, she was a murderous dictator who burned books, and so now, in this life, she is doomed to forever be learning challenged.
Not, "Oh, let's look at changing your study habits", but rather, "Oh, well, that's because you have the soul of a book-burning murderer." To our ears, this sounds so over the top that it is almost amusing, but to a kid who earnestly believes that these monks have hidden knowledge of the karmic cycle, it is devastating.
She was convinced that her soul was polluted and irretrievably flawed, and that nothing she could do would allow her to ever learn like the people around her.
And this is the dark side of karma – instead of misfortunes in life being bad things that happen you.
Where it gets insidious is in the pall that it casts over our failures in this life.
I remember one student who was having problems memorising material for tests.