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Meditation and the senses [13 Jun 2005|09:15pm]

BBC News has an interesting story about the superpowers that Buddhist monks get from years of meditation.

Ok, so the particular example they talk about is kind of a lame superpower, though not quite as lame as the power that Mr. Furious had in Mystery Men.

It's the ability to focus on only one image when each of your eyes is shown a different image.

I actually experienced this about two years ago as part of an exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art museum in Boston. Visitors were invited to look into a pair of goggles, each lens of which was showing a different film. Your eyes would naturally merge the two different films into one scene. If I remember right, in this case, one of the eyes was showing a film of a landscape, and the other was showing some trees, so the end result was trees imposed on the landscape.

Apparently these monks are able to focus on just one of those images at a time, which is astounding. Can you imagine being able to use your eyes independently of each other, or being able to focus on what just one of them is seeing, without closing one eye?

It's another case of being able to overcome what was previously thought to be instinctual behavior, by putting a lot of effort into refining the skills of concentration and attention. Another example is being able to suppress the startle reflex.

Of course, we should not forget the tenth of the Ten Errors:

(10) By boasting of one's occult learning and powers, one is liable to fall into the error of proudly exhibiting proficiency in worldly rites.

or the thirteenth of the Thirteen Grievous Failures:

(13) To hold the experiences resulting from the first stage of meditation to be those of the final stage is to be like a man who mistaketh brass for gold; and this is a grievous failure.

(The above two quotes are taken from A Buddhist Bible, edited by Dwight Goddard.)

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