Guided Meditation

Sometimes I feel like guided meditation is sweeping over the Buddhist scene like a plague. I have experienced way more poorly-done guided meditations than good ones, and I’ve had some really bad (dangerous) reactions to some. When I have tried to talk to people who do these guided meditations, they often express surprise that there could possibly be a harmful effect from it.

At present, I try to find out if someone is planning a guided meditation, and if so I will avoid the presentation. If someone springs a guided meditation on me, I will generally bolt out of the meditation hall (which is uncomfortable to everyone).

I have tried doing “hearing, hearing, …” during the guidance, but it doesn’t always work. Recently, I even tried using earbuds with a recorded chant (I asked permssion to do this), but trigger words were coming through the quiet pauses in the audio.

I don’t have a problem with meditation instructions, but then I would take these instructions and follow them at my own pace - or not, if I felt uncomfortable with some part of it.

I really don’t understand the attraction to guided meditation. Can someone explain this to me?


I also find guided meditation odd at best, and disturbing at worst. I don’t understand how one can combine meditation, which is supposed to involve the stilling of thought and inner verbalization, with listening to the verbalizations of other people.

It seems to me that what is really going on with guided meditation is more analogous to western “hypnosis” than meditation proper. It is a way of inducing relaxation by suggesting it, and works to that limited extent for people who are highly suggestible and inclined toward attaching to authority figures.

At worst, guided meditation can become a technique for substituting some kind of “guru addiction” for a vulnerable person’s other addictions: a way of getting them dependent on a familiar purring, reassuring voice repeating spiritual nostrums, that the practitioner can’t then live without. I suppose there are worse things in the world, but still something to be wary of - especially if the attachment to the guiding voice is connected with separating people from their money.


My local Vipassana group does that, and so does Refuge Recovery. Makes it pretty hard to get a good sit going. Might as well turn on a television. :grin:

In listening to talks from the Insight Meditation Society, I’ve noticed they do that quite a bit. I wonder if that’s where it started, or if Goldstein et al. picked it up somewhere and thought it seemed like a good idea.


I dislike them too, but I think many at IMS are really just slow meditation instructions. Annoying for someone who knows what they want to do with their meditation but often very supportive for beginners. The perils of group meditation! I consider it a test. Irritation? Nope, not enlightened yet!


Yes, I agree it’s probably helpful for beginners.

I’m not convinced that it is helpful for beginners. Maybe entertaining to them for a half hour or so, but does it really give beginners what they need?

I might be convinced if there were sufficient testimony of beginning meditators who were able to overcome a significant obstacle through guided meditation that they weren’t able to handle otherwise, and then were able to advanced independently thereafter.

I would be surprised if such success could happen en masse. The traditional procedure - individual interviews - provides the opportunity for the teacher to address the needs of that meditator at that time - a canned guided meditation is a poor substitute.

My introduction to guided meditation came in psychotherapy many years ago, one-on-one, to deal with some serious shit. The therapist was paying attention to me as in individual, to adapt or to stop if needed. A recent experience with interactive guided imagery was even more powerful - no need to hand over control to an authority figure (when done properly).

Moreover, any success stories out of guided meditation need to be also balanced by some measure of the negative effects. I’m not talking about the irritation of having one’s meditation interrupted by a guide who just won’t shut up - I’m referring to significant psychological or emotional turmoil triggered by poorly-designed guided meditations.

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Perhaps not a million miles away from your concern with respect to guided meditations, I’m not 100% sure that an online forum is the most appropriate place for inviting reports of experiences like this. Real care needs to be taken to see that such profoundly challenging experiences are absolutely handled with due sensitivity and, where necessary, suitable support.


You are completely right. I didn’t mean to suggest that anyone should relate such experiences in this online forum (in the same way that I have no intention of giving details about my own experiences here.)

What I meant to say is that a few reports of positive experiences would not be enough on its own to justify guided meditation - that the negative experiences may outweigh them. At minimum, those who lead guided meditations should consider such possible negative effects.


I think there are a number of different types and aims for guided meditations.

As has already been noted, they can be useful instructions for newcomers (to meditation, or to the particular teacher), and it can be more helpful to have the instructions bit-by-bit during the meditation, rather than a long lecture beforehand.

In other cases they are exercises, such as those in Patrick Kearney’s retreat morning instructions Audio | Dharma Salon where participants are asked to observe certain things, then there is a discussion afterwards about how it went, and how the approach might be tuned.

Somewhat related to the last type, there is the approach of trying certain things might be useful for exploring a particular topic: “Bring such-and-such to mind and observe what feeling arise”. Again the intent is to explore and discuss.

Personally, I’d rather sit in silence, unless there is something specific that is being instructed or explored. And if there is to be such exploration, I prefer it be clearly delineated. What I find frustrating is when the leader gives a bunch of generic instructions, which I simply ignore, but puts in some particular idea that they want to discuss towards the end (which I have also ignored), and then wants us to explain our reaction to the instruction (what instruction?!..). I much prefer a period of silent meditation, then a pause, then a transition into the exercise.

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Perhaps any situation, any stimuli, can be used with good effect, observing what arises, letting go of what arises. Observing conditioning, letting go of conditioning. Observing intervals, letting go of intervals. …

Perhaps many teachers and students and meditators and non meditators can benefit from reading this thread.

Perhaps this thread, or any thread, has some similarities and differences from “guided meditation”.

I enjoy seeing time lapse photography of flowers growing opening and even decaying. This video includes such a nice one Introducing SuttaCentral

Every living being is going to die; that is happening right now, whether one notices, or not.


Many key suttas like those about Anapanasati (mindfulness with breathing) could be understood as guided meditation instructions given by the Buddha himself.

The issue is that one must take ownership and initiative to go beyond hearing instructions from someone else to firstly being able to reflect and self inspire the practical steps those point to.

Eventually it should become part of the behaviour and flow of contemplation and cultivation of stillness. Fake until you make it is a valuable strategy!

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I think they can be useful for beginners, with guidance used sparingly, but generally I think they are counterproductive and rather irritating. Bah humbug to guided meditations! :yum:

I’d be interested to hear from the scholars on this. My own reading of the suttas is that hearing the Dhamma is described quite separately from meditation practice, which was typically done in isolation, not in a group. Is there any indication of group meditation of any form being done in the Buddha’s time?

Yes there’s. Check Ud3.3:


Thanks for this discussion about which I have much curiosity. First let me confess that as a musician I have loved sound for much of my life. I believe that at it most fundamental perception that all sound should hold the same value as they are all vibratory emanations. But I can’t say that I love the sound of a jack hammer over that of a violin.

But as I ponder this I wonder…if guided meditation is outside the boundaries of formal meditation, and stillness the preferred method, what other prohibitions regarding sound do I need to know. Is the sound of the ocean…or the chanting of monks considered impure meditation?

I found a Youtube of Ajahn Brahm doing a guided meditation at a retreat in Sri Lanka, and thus I interpreted his instruction as validation.

Sorry I did some straying off topic but I need to know if meditating to the sound of monks chanting is guided or discouraged.


I prefer to meditate in silence. But I think that guided meditations do help some people, such as those who are beginning to meditate or experience difficulties settling or keeping going. I’ve never experienced one that triggered anything beyond irritation, something which I try not to get lost in and to accept as a (passing) object of meditation. I guess I just regard it as ‘each to their own’ or ‘horses for courses’.


Can’t recall where it is now. But isn’t there at least one sutta where a king or minister visits the sangha and finds hundreds of bhikkhus sitting in silence?

I think we have to distinguish group meditation from assisted meditation.

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Thank for this reference - I was not familiar with the Sutta, and I really like it.

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Wouldn’t individuals in the time of the Buddha have meditated outside hearing the sounds of nature? When people talk about meditating in “silence,” surely they don’t mean in a modern isolation booth of the sort used in auditory exam facilities. By “silence” I would assume this means the absence of human-produced sounds, whether they be voices, machines, or music, and not the utter lack of sound. I can’t imagine that the sounds of nature, the very sounds the Buddha heard while meditating, would be considered an intrusion on silence.

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I love chanting, and a considerable amount of my practice is chanting along to a recording, or chanting solo, or chanting silently. However, I find this quite different from “silent meditation”, and I try to strike a balance between the two. As to “silence”, I agree with @Metaphor - peaceful natural sounds are ideal, but whatever sounds that arise are an opportunity for observation. I have done retreats near a military base, where the sounds of helicopters and explosions frequently arose : grist for the mill.