Too many self-help authors treat the sacred teachings of the East—including the meditation traditions of Buddhism and Hinduism—as a vast smorgasbord from which they can pluck ideas at random. This leads to fundamental problems with their writing.
Case in point: I remember being so excited to read The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra. Now I see it and squirm.
The problem is that he glosses over some huge cultural tensions. On the one hand is the Western gospel of success. One the other is the teaching of the meditation masters. These are two different landscapes of discourse. And the tensions between them are tough to resolve:
- The popular self-help literature is largely about becoming happy, which is usually defined as setting and achieving goals.
- Meditation is about being content—a serenity that is already present and does not depend on achieving any goal.
- Self-help writers often equate happiness with pleasure, which is impermanent and conditional.
- Meditation teachers talk about serenity, which is stable and unconditional.
- Self-help writers load us up with concepts, formulas, and strategies.
- Meditation teachers talk about nirvana, which transcends all concepts, formulas, and strategies.
- Self-help writers pose a question: What do you want?
- Meditation teachers ask: Who does the wanting? Who are you?
- Self-help tells us to imagine what could be and then take planned action to produce it.
- Meditation teachers ask us to notice what is and then act spontaneously.
- Self-help creates activity.
- Meditation creates stillness.
- Self-help creates goals.
- Meditation creates goalessness.
- Self-help tells us that paradise is planned and created.
- Meditation tells us that paradise is here, now, and simply recognized.
Both perspectives are useful. And, they contradict at key points. When we forget this, we walk blissfully unaware, straight into land mines of paradox and potential confusion.