I've always had an uneasy relationship with commerce and spirituality. (I even feel weird putting ads on this website, even though it's really just to try and pay for the costs of hosting this website). But I do think there is much value in mindfulness meditation and the spread of meditation centers and apps; these things probably help many in our age of anxiety and late capitalism.
But when I see an article about "Luxury Meditation Class" in the Flatiron District, or how everyone in Google meditates to essentially be more productive, my first reaction is to throw up a little in my mouth and then get angry. (From that article, "Johanna Sistek, a trademark lawyer, says the emotional skills she refined in the class help her focus on her many tasks, despite a fire hose of professional demands. Like most of her colleagues, she still faces “instant deadlines” but says they no longer freak her out." This might be the worst thing I've ever read).
Why does this upset me so? Well, Buddhism is first and foremost about ending suffering. Not just your own suffering but the suffering of all sentient beings. And a Buddhist accomplishes this by following the Eightfold Path. Meditation is a part of the Eightfold Path, but it is only a small part of it. So much of the Eightfold Path is about morality, including Right Livelihood, which tells us that we cannot choose careers that exploit, and Right Action, which tells we must abstain from killing, sexual misconduct and creating suffering in other people directly.
And meditating to become productive or lessen your anxiety has so little to do with any morality or ending suffering. It's about lessening your anxiety so you can continue to be productive and a good consumer. An $18 dollar meditation class or Google's meditation centers does little to address any real change in the world. In fact, it's just the opposite: It just reinforces a capitalist, profit-driven worldview through and through.
Deepak Chopra Is A Fraud
The grossest example of this comes from our old friend, Deepak Chopra. Despite Oprah's endorsement, I've found him to be nothing but a huckster. Others I respect seem to have come to the same conclusion. The man might have some insights but is really just a snake-oil salesman, to get rich. He's proud of a rich American tradition to sell your fake insights or narratives.
But I didn't realize how far he had fallen until I read this story about his attempts to sell $350 meditation glasses, This kind of commerce is capitalism at it's worst. It's so nakedly cynical in its attempts to get your money. It tells you can find inner peace just like Deepak if you just put on expensive glasses.
Except that it's a false narrative. Even the Buddha suffered. So did Jesus. So Mohammed. Suffering is inevitable. Wearing expensive glasses will do nothing to prevent. You will still die just as everyone human before you.
Here is the truth: if you want to find real spirituality, go to a real meditation center, not one asking $18 dollars but one with practitioners who have suffered and lived and searched for answers. (If there isn't one around you, there are many online communities everywhere). They're almost always suggested-donation just to keep the places running. Listen to what they say. Learn to meditate from them if you'd like, but a warning, inner peace is often a false flag.
But continue to find your own answers. ("If you see the Buddha, kill the Buddha.") Question your own place in the world. And maybe think about how you can end suffering in others. None of this easy. But real spiritual growth is hard and has nothing to do with putting on a pair of $350 glasses.