Do You Need To Be A Buddhist To Practice Meditation?

Meditation is, for many people, synonymous with spirituality. It is inextricably connected with mysticism, often connected to Buddhism and supernatural beliefs about perception, energy and knowledge.

But why is this? Is there anything about meditation that requires a belief in any of the tenets of Buddhism or Hinduism or any other spiritual ideology? Sam Harris doesn’t think so:

One problem is that most of the people who teach mindfulness…are still in the religion business. They’re still propagating western Buddhism or American Buddhism, the connection to the tradition of Buddhism in particular is explicit. And I think there are problems wait that.

Because if you are declaring yourself a Buddhist, you are part of the problem of religion sectarianism that has needlessly shattered our world. And I think we have to get out of the religion business. That whatever is true about mindfulness and meditation and any introspective methodology that will deliver truths about the nature of consciousness, is non-sectarian. It’s no more Buddhist than physics is Christian.

I think that last analogy really nails it. Attaching a religious ideology to a practice like meditation is exactly as harmful as it would be to attach one to physics. Many people who could benefit from the advances that physics makes possible would be put off for fear of offending their God (as happens amongst Christians who fear that meditation is somehow heretical), and many others who are non-believers would be put of by the prospect of having to adopt a belief system in order to reap the benefits (as is the case with many atheists who worry that meditation is some kind of gateway drug to religion).

I think Dan Harris put it best when he said:

Despite what you may have heard, meditation does not involve joining a group, paying any fees, wearing any special outfits, sitting in a funny position, or believing in anything in particular. 

It is simple, secular, scientifically validated exercise for your brain.