Howdy, Stranger!

It looks like you're new here. If you want to get involved, click one of these buttons!

Examples: Monday, today, last week, Mar 26, 3/26/04
Welcome home! Please contact if you have any difficulty logging in or using the site. New registrations must be manually approved which may take up to 48 hours. Can't log in? Try clearing your browser's cookies.

The Buddha Pill

JeroenJeroen Do it with a smileNetherlands Veteran
edited December 2019 in Meditation

Dear friends,

This from another thread...

@Kerome said:
My stepfather knew I was into Buddhism so he thought to buy me a Buddhist book. He got ‘The Buddha Pill’, a scientific debunking of meditation and mindfulness, about the closest you will find to an anti-Buddhist book! Thanks step-dad, looking forward to reading all the scientific arguments about why not to meditate.

So I have just finished reading it, and thought I would give you a bit of a write-up, for the sake of completeness. It was written by Dr Miguel Farias and Dr Catherine Wikholm, both UK-based psychologists, and bills itself as “putting meditation and mindfulness under the microscope.” It also describes their latest study, about the effects of yoga on prisoners.

A lot of the writing in the book is a series of anecdotes, talking about the history of yoga and meditation amongst the UK prison service and worldwide. There is also a chapter on whether meditation is for everyone, talking about some negative cases such as the American Buddhist mass shooter Aaron Alexis, various people who have been negatively affected by intensive meditation retreats and ended up having psychosis.

There are also various sections where it talks about the two main waves of scientific research into meditation, first with Transcendental Meditation in the 1970’s through 1990’s, and then later mindfulness. They are generally critical of the design of the studies, talking about how very few of them developed a placebo, an activity for the control group in the experiments to do to mimic all the stuff around meditation, so that scientists can be sure the effect is caused by meditation itself.

In the end they talk about a take-away message, of a number of myths around meditation... these...

  1. Meditation produces a unique state of consciousness that we can measure.
  2. If everyone meditated the world would be a much better place.
  3. If you’re seeking personal change or growth, meditating is as or more effective than therapy.
  4. Meditation can benefit everyone.
  5. Meditation has no adverse or negative effects. It will change you for the better (and only for the better).
  6. Science has unequivocally shown how meditation can change us and why.
  7. We can practise meditation purely as a scientific technique with no religious or spiritual leanings.

For each point they provide a page of ‘factual corrections’ which tell you why it’s not the case.

I thought in the end it was a useful addition to the debate around the scientific backing for meditation. There’s nothing wrong with taking a critical look at things, and it’s true that expectations of meditation’s effects are sometimes unrealistic.

Wishing you all the best,



  • personperson Don't believe everything you think the liminal space Veteran

    Dan Harris often mentions in passing or in questions about how the science still has several holes in it and isn't at a level of being definitive, certainly not in the way that it can be presented as at times.

  • BunksBunks Australia Veteran

    Meditation is such a broad term that I always feel a definition is required before I can draw any conclusion on what someone is talking about.

    What type(s) of meditation are they talking about?

  • JeroenJeroen Do it with a smile Netherlands Veteran
    edited December 2019

    They don’t really specify, they just did a review of all the scientific literature, which seems to fall into two broad categories, that on Transcendental Meditation (TM) which is a Hindu discipline originating from Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and the later material on mindfulness meditation. Their own study was concerning the effects of yoga.

    It has to be said, the anecdotal evidence they cite is a lot more positive than the conclusions they draw from the critical examination of the science. But then, a lot of people have very extreme expectations of meditation.

  • Here they are talking about their research

  • JeroenJeroen Do it with a smile Netherlands Veteran

    The thing is also, their conclusions are rather carefully worded... meditation may still have a measurable and beneficial effect for the vast majority of people who try it.

  • context of a spiritual or psychological path

    An important point @person
    Maybe we might add 'life path' to spiritual and psychological.
    What is our life path? Most people don't have one. It just sort of unravels in a random and often difficult manner.

    Buddhism is concerned with easing and improving the situation.

  • JeroenJeroen Do it with a smile Netherlands Veteran

    @person said:
    Having partially listened to the video it sounds like much of their personal conclusions are more about the way popularized meditation may not hold as much promise as meditation within the context of a spiritual or psychological path. And that this is what many of the traditional spiritual paths have been saying all along.

    Judging from the book, they were particularly interested in whether meditation as supported by moral teachings such as the precepts and the noble eightfold path might be more effective in creating personal change in a measurable way, than just meditation on its own.

    But I think on the whole neither author was that connected with Buddhism, the only time they spoke to a Buddhist about their research was at the end, when they went to visit a temple in Oxford. And judging from the transcript of that meeting, they went just to ask some pointed questions.

Sign In or Register to comment.