Faces of meditation

Have you ever tried doing a Google image search for “meditation”? It’s a somewhat depressing experience. Apparently meditators are young, slim, pretty, white, and only meditate on mountaintops and beaches. And what’s with all the silhouettes?

Wouldn’t it be nice if images of meditators looked like actual meditators? And so, announcing my latest grand venture: #facesofmeditation!

We took some photos at a recent meditation group—with permission of course—and I’ve uploaded them to twitter. If you’ve got any #facesofmeditation to share, let’s see them.


20 thoughts on “Faces of meditation

    • Hi Alexander, if I may give my opinion, in my understanding the main point of meditation is to eventually shut down awarenes of the five senses, till you have only mind awareness. So it would seem that closing one’s eyes is preferable, in the same way that it’s better to be in a quiet place with little noise. At least that’s my understanding from Ajahn Brahm’s books.

    • You’re right, I think it is not mentioned. Whatever works, i guess. personally I close my eyes, but they open by themselves later on, without me noticing.

    • Dear Ven Upatissa,

      That’s interesting, for my perception was the opposite. I found myself finding the peace and the small signs of external smiles, pointing of course, to the larger internal smiles. 🙂 I guess, when meditating, we forget how we look on the outside.

      I remember once being on a silent retreat and someone put a comment into the Q & A box about how people looked depressed. I remember being very surprised that anyone would be looking at anyone else!! Lol…also…I felt I didn’t care whether I looked depressed….because I was too busy being happy about the freedom to not care how I looked at all!! 🙂 I was happy on the inside, silent and (seemingly) somber on the outside…best of times. Now, if I do look at others, I may sometimes give a quiet smile, if it happens naturally, but mostly, if I do look at others on retreat, it’s to feel happy for them, that they have the freedom to just be, without all the usual social pressures to think about how others view their appearances or their words and actions. Also, sometimes, when one’s kilesas come out to play, one really does feel somber and it’s tough at times; but then, there’s such freedom to just be that way and to just accept oneself, knowing that nobody’s going to interfere with you or try and make you happy so that they feel happy! It’s nice to have the supportive space to deal with such times too.

      There’s so much Sila in using kind speech and happy smiles with others. But then I think that gets refined to a much higher, subtler level if all participants on a retreat respect the peace and silence equally…for then I find we support each other, silently…we support each other to develop our inner kind speech and inner kind smiles, towards ourselves. So that when the retreat is over, we continue being this way towards ourselves, but also our ability to interact with others, receives a lovely, powerful boost. 🙂 Much metta 🙂

  1. That is exactly the situation with yoga in the United States too. In regards to meditation the “pretty meditators” don’t bother me as much as I am so steeped in Buddhism that the idea it is about looks isn’t even on the map. Yoga in the U.S. ( except for an excellent minority ) is all about looks, fashion, being trendy with a pretense of being spiritual

  2. oh rats…that didn’t work…well it’s worth hunting down. If you google JP Sears and “being spiritual is for losers. Being ultra spiritual is for winners”…you should find it. It’s hilarious.

  3. Hello Bhante Sujato,

    Sorry to hijack this comment box for an unrelated question, but I would really like to hear your thoughts on the monastic legality of ordaining LGBT’s. I have heard that in Burmese Theravada, a person must be “pure male” to ordain and in Thailand apparently “pandakas” are deviants who cannot be ordained.

    Would you mind elaborating on this?


    • Deserves a full post, but briefly, there is no question that ordaining people of diverse sexualities is fine under the Vinaya. It is also fine to ordain trans people. Monks who say otherwise are basing themselves on traditional prejudice, not on the Vinaya.

      Incidentally, a brief discussion on this topic at Sakyadhita lead to the suggestion that the homophobia that appeared in Buddhism around the 4th century may be a result of Kushan, i.e. Iranian influence. Certainly modern homophobia in Indian and Buddhist circles is amplified by contact with the Abrahamic religions, and the western influence may have been a factor in the past too.

      As far as Vinaya is concerned, the only legal issue is with people who do not have physically clear sexual identity, i.e. intersex people. There are, unfortunately, Vinaya rules that are an obstruction to such people ordaining. How definitive that obstruction is remains to be seen. I had a brief discussion about this at Sakyadhita. But so far, to my knowledge, no such cases have come to light, so it is unclear how the Sangha will handle it.

      If I was to speculate on the text-critical situation, I would theorize like this. The original Vinaya prohibition dealt with a diverse class of sexual behaviors known by the obscure term “pandaka”, which is primarily defined not by orientation or physical marks, but by unbridled and toxic sex addiction. This is fundamental to the Vinayas. Gradually this became extended to wider classes of people who were perceived as being sexually abnormal on a physical level. My suspicion—and it is only that—is that we will find that the various Vinayas all mention the pandaka, but treat the various other persons (ubhatovyanjana, animitta, etc.) much less consistently. If this is the case, this could suggest that these person were added to the Vinaya at a later date. Thus the original prohibition was based on behavior, not orientation or physical characteristics.

      Once again, this is merely a hypothesis. I am not aware of any detailed study that might clear this up, and at the moment I don’t have time to do it myself. But surely it should be done!

    • Thanks Bhante. And like you said, this matter deserves a full post. I hope you will explore this issue in further detail in a separate post.

      It is not comfortable to be a Buddhist who is questioned on such issues and be unable to provide a concrete answer.

  4. Seriously? No one noticed that almost all the images, apart from being young women, were also white?

    • If you’re referring to the Twitter feed, for some reason a bunch that I uploaded are not showing any more at #facesofmeditation. I don’t use Twitter very much so I don’t know what is going on. Perhaps Twitter has a secret all-white meditator policy?

      You can see all the images here: https://twitter.com/sujato/media

      If anyone has any tips as to why they don’t all show up on the hashtag, please let me know.

      Mind you, this was just a few snaps at one session, so more are needed!

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