Meditation and Modernity
The meaning, purpose, and social significance of Buddhist meditation has changed in important ways due to its encounter with modernity. While often seen as the central practice of Buddhism, it has in some contexts also become detraditionalized, privatized, and unmoored from institutional authority and tradition. In places like psychologists’ offices and health clubs it has taken on a life independent of Buddhism altogether. This transformation is largely due to its encounter with the discourses and practices of western modernity, especially scientific rationalism, Romanticism, and psychology. Through them, meditation has been drawn into the orbit of the “subjective turn” in Europe and North America. Meditation has claimed a place within this turn by being construed as a spiritual technique aspiring to universal truth, as an empirical “inner science,” as a method for the enhancement of the individual’s freedom from social influence, and as a method for excavating the unconscious.
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