One of the criticisms I hear people make about meditation is that it is a very selfish activity. I never know quite what they mean by this – selfish compared to what? Are they trying to imply that sitting around watching soaps on TV or listening to music is somehow less selfish? I would imagine that most of the things that people do could be considered selfish, so why single out meditation? It could even be argued that those individuals who do a lot of charitable work are motivated by selfish urges – even if this is only because helping others makes them feel good.
I suppose what people really mean is that it meditation encourages self-absorption. This naval gazing probably does look that way to outsiders, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. The whole point of most forms of meditation is to escape the tyranny of the self. I practice Vipassana meditation and the ultimate goal is to develop insight into how illusionary this sense of self actually is. It therefore seems illogical to call such a practice selfish.
When I point out these truths to people their argument usually goes in a slightly different direction. They then say that meditators should get up off their backsides and do something constructive with their time. It is just too self-indulgent to be sitting there doing nothing for an hour or two a day. Of course for people like me meditation is about doing something constructive – what could be more useful than taming the mind? It is certainly going to be a lot better for me than spending that time watching TV – isn’t it?