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A Critical Review of Dan Goleman's Book
"The meditative mind: The varieties of meditative experience"

Originally published in 1977, then republished in 1988. Forward by Ram Dass (Richard Alpert)


This is a book that Dan Goleman wrote many years before he was famous. I was able to find the book in the library of Indiana University one day while visiting the Bloomingtong campus. The back cover tells us that Goleman "spent two years in the Far East with the meditation masters." The dedication page says: To Neem Karoli Baba and Sayadaw U Pandita for Tara, Govinddas, and Hanuman.

In the forward "Ram Dass"/Richard Alpert talks about how he met Dan Goleman. First, though, he talks about his own use of psychedelic mushrooms to help him reach "mystical realms" and "altered states of consciousness." (p xi) One can suspect that Goleman used such drugs as well.

Alpert also tells us a little about their experiences in India with Neemkaroli Baba. Baba is Alpert's "guru" and "Mahariji." He boasts how his guru was able to take "a huge dose of psychedelics." He also says things like this about his guru: "...if his awareness was not limited to anyplace, then there was nowhere to go, for he was already here..."

These are the kinds of things I don't find too helpful and the reasons I feel offended by people who talk and write that way. To me it is an insult to my intelligence and to my needs for knowledge and understanding. I don't need riddles, mystery and "mantras." One thing I do need to know is what causes children to start out happy, trusting and confident and then to become afraid, defensive and insecure. And what causes children to become cult members and "devotees," and to "surrender" their intelligence and independence by turning over their lives and "souls" to gurus and gods.

In any event, Alpert later Alpert talks about the monkey god that they all worshipped:

"I sat before an eight foot statue of a monkey painted red, and I sang to him and meditated upon him." (p. xiv)

His "guru" convinced him that if he meditated enough he would "know God." He later tells us that he and Goleman had the same "guru." (p. xv)

As I comment on elsewhere, one must wonder what happened in Goleman's childhood to lead him to such extremes. And I, for one at least, wonder how his emotional background, two years studying meditation, and his likely use of psychedelic drugs have affected him in terms of his brain chemistry, his values, his beliefs and his needs.

At the beginning of Goleman's own writing in the book he talks about the all the rules for monks and people who are trying to learn meditation. He says for example that there are "227 prohibitions and observances regulating every detail of" the monk's life

Goleman seems to admire this, or at least he certainly doesn't question it. Later Goleman talks about how many bowls and razors a monk is allowed to have. Again, Goleman never questions this. From his statement that he travelled to Asia as a "predoctoral fellow" it seems that he had already been accepted to Harvard's Ph.D program, yet he evidently was not even able to manage his own life. Instead, he "surrendered" it to his guru.

At any rate, in hapters one and two Goleman tells us about the many kinds of mediation techniques he learned. For example he tells us about something called the "visuddhimagga." He also tells us a little about sila, samadhi, sati, vipassana, sanghas, the eight levels of jhana, etc.

In chapter three, he tells us, among other things, that the "great danger for the meditator is mistaking what is not the Path for the Path." (p 27)

I have to laugh at this when I think that "the great danger for the student of emotional intelligence is mistaking what is not Emotional Intelligence for Emotional Intelligence"!

He also tells us the meditator's mind has "abandoned both dread and delight." (p 29) Then he talks about "nirvana" and tells us that it is "describable only in terms of what it is not," saying it has "no experiential characteristics." He also says that in nirvana "all desires originating from self-interest cease to control" the meditator's behavior. I have to ask, does his use of the term "self-interest" include basic survival needs, such as eating?

Next he tells us about the "stream enterer" and how he can't do anything wrong once he has entered the stream, such as lying, stealing or earning his living at the expense of others.

The book continues in this way. Here are just a few more samples:

p. 44-45 "The enraptured devotee is on the threshold of samadhi, or jhana. His ecstasy indicates the access level; he verges on the first jhana. Should he concentrate with enough intensity on his ishta, he can enter samadhi. Once samadhi is reached, according to Swamin Muktananda (1971), there is no further need for chanting or japa...."

By the way, we also learn from this book that Goleman was already interested in Csikzentmihalyi's concept of "flow" (see p. 181) as well as in the writing of Jon Kabat Zinn (see p. xix and 193), who wrote an endorsement for the back cover of Goleman's 1995 best selling book on what Goleman called emotional intelligence.

Towards the end of the book, Goleman goes into considerable detail in his description of "mindfully eating" an almond. This description takes up all of page 188, in fact.

Strangely, the book ends on the next page with these last few lines regarding mindful walking: "Finally, you can develop a direct perception of the entire routine -- intent, movement, sensations -- without labeling any of it."


Review by s. Hein

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