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I recently had the pleasure of interviewing the well-loved and highly respected meditation teacher, Paramananda, about his latest book, The Myth of Meditation. Here’s a transcript of excerpts from the interview.
In the title of the book, why do you describe meditation as a myth?
Paramananda: I can’t really give you a better answer to that than the subtitle [restoring imaginal ground through embodied Buddhist practice]. It was an attempt to relocate meditation in what I understood its original setting to be, which is a whole way of being in the world rather than just an adaptive technique. ‘Myth’ in this sense is not at all derogatory, because I think we live by myths; basic archetypal stories that I would go so far as to say are more or less poetic structures in the mind and are the way we understand and make life meaningful. So ‘The Myth of Meditation’ is implying that meditation has something to do with these very basic ways we see and be in the world.
What’s the significance of the cover image that shows three blackbirds in a tree?
Paramananda: When Dhammarati, who’s the designer of the book [cover], phoned me up and we had a chat about the cover, he just happened to have a postcard of that painting [by Vidyadipa] on his desk. When he told me what it depicted, I was absolutely delighted because for me it references Wallace Stevens’ poem Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird, which is in the book, and is probably one of my favourite poems. The second verse of the poem is I was of three minds, | Like a tree | In which there are three blackbirds. For me that’s an extremely Buddhist image. The image it’s trying to convey is the Middle Way in a sense – this idea that there’s something between what we call in the Western tradition the excluded middle, A not B, but Buddhism is concerned with this middle way; concerned with something that isn’t black and white or right or wrong; concerned with the area between the extremes if you like. For me that image has been very significant in what I understand we’re trying to do as meditators. We’re trying to loosen our self-view, and in order to do that we have to take a position that’s not so black and white; not so certain. We have to enter into a kind of positive unknowing.
What do you hope readers will gain from reading The Myth of Meditation?
Paramananda: I think the most important thing for me is to try to encourage people. I love that word ‘encourage’. To give people courage, courage to be themselves, and to be more intimate with themselves and trust their own experience as meditators; that just seems so essential to me. So, in a sense, what I’m trying to do is give people confidence to really enquire into their own nature, to really come into themselves. Another thing that’s important to me is that people understand that meditation is something we do with the whole of our being. It’s just as much a physical activity as a mental activity and of course that dualism between the mental and the physical as far as I’m concerned is completely erroneous. I’m interested in people meditating from the heart, if you like, by which I mean the core of them. I want people to be more themselves and sometimes I worry that Buddhism can encourage people to want to be something they’re not. When meditation becomes too idealistic it becomes this sort of striving. Meditation is a place where you can drop that. It’s a place where we don’t have to put on some sort of face for the world. We can just relax.
Buy The Myth of Meditation here.
Listen to the full-length audio interview here (34 minutes).
Paramananda was born John Wilson in North London in 1955. From an early age he was curious about Eastern ideas, but it was not until the age of 23, after the death of his father, that his interest in Buddhism was aroused.
Since being ordained into the Triratna Buddhist Order in 1985, he has been teaching meditation and Buddhism full time. He sees them as powerful tools for individual and social change and believes that service to the community is a vital aspect of spiritual practice.
Paramananda’s previous books are A Deeper Beauty, Change Your Mind: A Practical Guide to Buddhist Meditation and The Body, all published by Windhorse Publications.
About The Myth of Meditation
In The Myth of Meditation Paramananda offers a challenge to the way we experience ourselves and the way we interact with the world. He contends that the Buddha offered not a panacea for the ills of his time but a radical, alternative way of living in the world, still as valid today as it was two and a half thousand years ago. At the heart of this radical vision is the art of meditation.
Engaging in this art is what Paramananda outlines in the book. Enlivened by his love of the natural world and poetry, he guides the reader in a threefold process: grounding meditative experience in the body, turning towards experience in a kindly and intelligent way, and seeing through to another way of understanding and being in the world.
Praise for The Myth of Meditation
Brilliant in its depth and simplicity.
– Michael Shea, PhD, meditation teacher and founder of sheaheart.com
Brings far-reaching Buddhist teachings down to earth.
– Vajradevi, meditation teacher and author of uncontrivedmindfulness.net
This book will help you find your way back to your own vulnerable heart.
– Jayaraja, Chair of Buddhafield, author of The Yellow Book of Games and Energizers