[Buddha-l] guided meditation

Richard Hayes rhayes at unm.edu
Mon Apr 28 11:45:00 MDT 2008

On Monday 28 April 2008 09:41, Curt Steinmetz wrote:

> Does anyone have any ideas about the history of the concept and practice
> of "guided meditation"? 

That depends to some extent on what counts as guided meditation. The Pali 
canon, and the tradition based on it, has many formulaic meditations. 
Instructions are given to think this, then think that, and then imagine this. 
Typically a person was instructed in how to do the meditation by a teacher. 
After the person learned the routine, then the meditation was guided not by 
the teacher by the meditator. If you count that sort of thing as guided 
meditation, then it has been around for a very long time. But if you want to 
define guided meditation in a much more narrow way so that it includes only, 
say, someone speaking softly in a dreamy voice while a Navajo flute is 
playing variations on a them from Vaughan Williams in the background, it 
probably has a shorter history.

> (1) Any precedent for this kind of practice in "traditional" Asian
> Buddhism.

Metta-bhavana and cemetery meditations and analysis of the body into 
thirty-two parts are described in Buddhaghosa in ways that sound a lot to me 
like the sorts of things now done by modern Theravadin and insight meditation 
teachers. I'd bet that people who know something about the history of tantric 
meditative exercises would have something to say about their relation to 
guided meditation as done by Buddhists in today's world. 

> (2) The development of this practice as it is used in the West by
> Buddhists (like Tara Brach) today.

Can't comment. Have never heard Tara Brach. I could comment on what some 
teachers do, which is to take meditation instructions completely out of the 
framework of Buddhist dogma, such as the four noble truths. That, I think, 
would qualify as a development of some kind. But I don't think it is 
restricted to the West. The "secularization" of meditation techniques has a 
very long history in Asia, and has been discussed by Asian Buddhist 
meditation teachers.

> (3) The specific role, if any, of psychotherapeutic ideas and practices
> in the use of guided meditation by Westerners. Especially I am
> interested in to what extent Jung's concept of "active imagination" may
> have played an important role.

I would say none at all. Active imagination is nothing at all like guided 
meditation. Rather, it is a technique of doing dream analysis wherein the 
dreamer, while awake, recalls a dream, enters into the same "psychological 
space" as the dream itself and asks questions of the characters in the dream. 
The answers that emerge from the unconscious presumably shed light on the 
dream, which also came from the unconscious. Active imagination is a very 
powerful analytic tool, and Buddhist meditation is a very effective 
indoctrination tool. But aside from the fact that both are effective at some 
task (not even the same task), I see no connection at all. 

Richard Hayes

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