Is it selfish to meditate?

Sulky pug dog

If it’s selfish to take time each day to meditate, then doing a retreat must be truly self-indulgent! If you’ve heard someone imply this, or even thought it yourself because of multiple demands on your time, we hope it didn’t take hold. In fact, when you give energy, resources, and time to spiritual work, it benefits everyone around you. That’s why we’d argue that it’s generous, not selfish, to prioritize spiritual practice.

Of course, as a meditation center that offers meditation retreats, we’d say that it’s highly generous to prioritize your meditation and retreat work!

Yet what is generous, or compassionate, to yourself and others may not always be easy to see, especially when your loved ones or colleagues throw conflicting priorities into the mix.

So let’s take a little look at what it means to be generous, or compassionate, and how we can become clearer.

How do we best make generous or compassionate decisions?

In the Buddhist tradition, Dana, or generosity, is the first of the Paramis. What are the Paramis? The six Paramis or perfections (ten Paramis in some traditions), are virtues to perfect if we want to attain enlightenment. These are the virtues of generosity, morality, patience, energy, concentration (meditation), and wisdom.

These virtues build on each other when we practice them (although they are perfected in order). For example, we need the wisdom of discrimination when determining what it means to be generous in any situation. To inform our wisdom we need an understanding of morality, and we need to learn when to be patient and when to give energy. And meditative concentration supports all of this. With strong Paramis, then, we make decisions that are more compassionate because they are not based on momentary feelings or outside pressure.

How do we build the Paramis?

We work on our Paramis by studying them, by spending time with teachers who understand them and with other awakening beings who are working on them, too. If we do this then we will, deliberately or not, be strengthening our Paramis.

Of course, meditation and retreat time build concentration and create space for true integration of the Paramis and other insights and teachings.

Along the way, we will find ourselves questioning our sense of what it is to be compassionate or generous:

  • Is it generous not to take the last slice of cake, every time?
  • Is it generous to be accommodating to a needy friend? Or is it more compassionate for everyone to set some boundaries and tell them what isn’t working for you?
  • Is it ungenerous to ask for time away from your loved ones, or your job, to do spiritual work? Or are you being compassionate to everyone when you give yourself retreat time?

We would argue that it’s generous to do meditation and retreat work because this work will return to your loved ones. They will consciously or unconsciously experience you:

  • having the space to step back from a heated exchange
  • recovering quickly when things don’t go your way
  • seeing what’s really needed in the moment
  • adjusting to sudden change with ease
  • being less reactive or irritable
  • having more energy
  • being more joyful

Do you agree? We’d love to hear your thoughts on how your spiritual practice has helped others.