Shambhala Meditation, Nihilism. Two apples on the same tree

In searching to find meaning, purpose and the answer to the question why I have quested all over the place, nihilism to transcendentalism to bible studies to meditation. The goal was to find out an explanation for the world, this led me to the answer of nihilism and later a realization of this being the wrong question. Now I’m in between nihilism and meditation. It’s a nice place for me right now, one that acknowledges most of my understanding and lets me let go.

At first Shamabhala meditation felt like it was not compatible with nihilism, which led me to not truly embrace it, still holding onto my nihilism at a distance. Shambhala meditation is about being present in the moment and obviously meditating by focusing on your breathe and with your eyes open. I go to a center every Monday and have started reading Shambhala books, including a Start Where You Are, by Pema Chodron (started before I knew what Shambhala was) and Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism by Chogyam Trungpa (one of the founders of Shambhala). I more or less embraced it while holding my disbelief at a distance, neither choosing to believe it or disbelieve in what I was doing.

After participating in the Monday meditations for a a couple months there was the most engaging discussion post-meditation ever. The director of the center was there and one of the participants asked him about feelings of darkness, emptiness and fear when he was meditating, he decided to let it overcome him and envelop him. The director started talking about emptiness, how the only moment that exists is now and nothingness in my head I laughed and thought to myself jokingly, “he’s talking about nihilism!” Then suddenly the director clarified, “This emptiness and nothingness we are talking about isn’t the western philosophy of nihilism.”

“Woah!” was all I could think. The similarity was so great that he clarified the difference. I mentioned this to my therapist and she reiterated the similarity by saying, “They aren’t apples and oranges, they are apples and apples, like Granny Smith and Pink Lady.” Suddenly I began realizing the similarities and how they seem to be tackling the same problem in similar ways.

To me nihilism is a way of stripping yourself clean, you destroy everything you believed by not believing it anymore and often defying it. It’s an aggressive destruction of what you believed to get to you.

Shambhala’s understanding of enlightenment is to remove all of the junk you have put on top of yourself, because you are an enlightened being.

The similarities of how to reach “enlightenment” are so close. They both focus on freeing oneself, living in the moment and embrace a belief that nothing is sacred. But the big difference is what and how you get there. Nihilism in my experiences is a bomb that destroys all of the conditioning that is forced upon us. Once it explodes there is nothing but a crater, and more bombing runs. It destroys to no end, and leave you empty of anything, not giving you an understanding to stand upon once the towers are gone. Meanwhile Shambhala has practices that you practice over and over again that slowly bring you into a practice that is a lifestyle.

I want to break for a second to emphasize that this is only my experience with nihilism, I had no teachers of nihilism and read sparingly nihilist literature. But my experience with it was amazing, devastating and unforgettable.

After thinking over nihilism again and again I realized the core problem, ego. My experience of nihilism never addressed ego. Instead it was reinforced by believing that nothing can be known or communicated which simply reinforces the idea of the ego. Meanwhile Shambhala’s goal is to loose the ego, it is a frequent subject of books and conversations and one of the main goals. While nihilist seem to be cast onto a unreachable island, people who follow Shambhala are questing to be truly present.

The other scary thing to me about nihilism is that it creates an extremely powerful and dangerous thought pattern that reinforces itself. Once nihilism is in someone no other religious or spiritual thought can be held and not much else that is found outside of the individual. Instead nihilism unleashes a destructive force on the individual where they attempt to destroy ever piece of knowledge and belief they hold.

This experience is quite cathartic. It dispels many harmful beliefs and many limiting beliefs. This is very helpful but in it’s place it puts nothing but a void and doesn’t suggest anything fill this void. This leaves ego to fill the void. While I wouldn’t say nihilism is inherently bad (ha ha inherently) it creates voids that is filled with ego and only leaves the person more detached from their surroundings.

In writing this and in my current experience I am stuck, I love nihilism and I hate it. I cannot leave it and I cannot stay there. I still identify with it and think it has helped me, I also know that it has hurt me. I’m not sure to tell people to stay away or embrace nihilism. I think I’m going to leave you with the feeling I have about nihilism instead of the thoughts. I feel bound to nihilism and a great appreciation for it. I know my experience with it but it is tied up with so many other things going on that it is hard to pin it all on nihilism. Instead nihilism still inspires and moves me forward today, and I am truly glad to have embraced nihilism, and to still hold onto it today.


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