“Meditation Sickness” in Medieval Chinese Buddhism and the Contemporary West

ISSN 1076-9005
Volume 30, 2023

“Meditation Sickness” in Medieval Chinese Buddhism and the Contemporary West

C. Pierce Salguero
The Abington College of Penn State University

A certain percentage of people report experiencing adverse mental and physical side effects from practicing meditation. Contemporary scientific literature and personal reports from meditators are beginning to document the phenomenon, but centuries-old Buddhist texts also warned about the dangers of “meditation sickness.” Writings from medieval China not only identify the adverse mental and physical symptoms that can arise in the course of meditation practice, but also explain why these occur and how they can be effectively treated. Might these materials contain important therapeutic in-formation that is relevant for meditators today? What would be required to make this historical knowledge accessible for contemporary practitioners and clinicians? And do our disciplinary norms as religious studies scholars even allow us to ask such questions?

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One thought on ““Meditation Sickness” in Medieval Chinese Buddhism and the Contemporary West”

  1. Interesting piece. Certainly much more attention should be given to the topic and teachers, facilators and meditators should be more aware and trained in this–along with research such as yours bringing out valuable historical knowledge.

    Part of that would be the rather well known vipassananupakkilesa, the “defilements of insight” which recounts the ways that meditation progress can be thrown off course and how to avoid such “distractions.”

    Thanks for putting this together.

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