Modern meditation bypasses Buddha's instructions?

Hello everyone,

I, like many other people, was acquainted with Buddhism after learning how to meditate. I was mainly practicing Theravada teachers’ instructions like Ven. Gunaratana, Aj. Brahm, etc. and also a bit of dzogchen. I had quite a success with these instructions ( I hope I’m not crossing the line about attainments here). After that I decided to bury deep into Buddhism - give it a try, so to speak, - and started reading the suttas.

I’ve read quite a plentiful of them and what caught my eye was that many suttas talk about meditation being preceded by a lot of preliminary steps like celibacy, guarding sense doors, moderate eating, contentment etc. etc. That fact highly confused me since it is obvious that many modern practitioners have success in meditation without 1)being celibate 2)guarding sense doors 3)moderate eating 4)contentment 5)even simple physical seclusion (many retreats are the group ones) etc.

So, I want to ask: are these preliminary steps just cultural things that can be, basically, discarded? But in this case, why did Buddha give them? How all this can be reconciled?

Thank you


I’m not sure this is the case. Sometimes people think they are enlightened when they are just experiencing a little bit of joy!

The Buddha’s path is not just about meditation but about purifying the mind.


The Buddha discovered and taught the Dhamma — it’s the Dhamma that uniquely set him apart from all other spiritual guides. Otherwise, he would have just been a meditation teacher. If he were a meditation teacher, there would be more than just the vague and cursory instructions found in the suttas. Upon even a cursory examination of the early Buddhist texts, anyone can see that while there is very little in the way of meditation instruction in the Dhamma, there is much on the ideas of the development of virtue, the practice of wise contemplation, and the benefits of skilful seclusion from the unwholesome (be it in the form of mental sense restraint or physical separation).

Sure, meditation is a part of the Path. However, practising meditation alone does not equate to practising the fullness of the Buddha’s teachings. Buddhism is a comprehensive and multifaceted practice that encompasses a range of views, techniques, and teachings that go far beyond just meditating. Meditation was a given; meditation preceded the Buddha and existed in many traditions both before and during his ministry, and it was very far from the core of what made Buddhist understandings and practice the Path that he taught.

Meditation alone is just meditation. To learn, understand, contemplate, and practice the Dhamma is to practice Buddhism. The paths, journeys, and results/destinations are not the same.


Yes, but afaik samadhi (meditation) is the final stage of the 8-fold Noble Path. Why would you follow the preliminary steps I’ve mentioned, if they are superfluous?
And another thing to consider: I tried being celibate and it was quite painful. Why would you tortue yourself with celibacy if you can have success in meditation without being celibate? It seems unnecessary.

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That’s a very good point, I’ve also got an impression that there is way much less emphasis on meditation in the suttas than you would expect after reading numerous Buddhist meditation instructions.

Sure, meditation is a part of the Path. However, practising meditation alone does not equate to practising the fullness of the Buddha’s teachings.

Well, if I’m understanding correctly, meditation is a pinnacle of the 8 fold Path. So the point of all preceding stages is to achieve samadhi (meditation). But if you can skip them, why would you practice them? Out fof duty? This I can’t understand.

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My understanding is the Sangha at the time had certain conditions in the Vinaya, such as celibacy, to both help them attain arahatship sooner and keep the reputation of the order of bhikkhus. There were established orders of monks in other traditions that maintained i.e. cleanliness, celibacy, dress code. The Buddhist institutions in India fell when monks began taking wives and enjoying drink, and the respect of the laymen was lost in favour of other belief systems. So there is a pragmatic reason for the celibacy, alongside the spiritual reason.

There are two 8-fold paths: one has micchā samadhi and other sammā samadhi.
Also, isn’t the point of the practice to become dispassionate, disillusioned so to overcome desire (icchā) (such as texts state: once desire fades they are freed) and other blameworthy qualities and develop what is skillful such as abiding in love (sammā effort)?

I also had some good meditation when I started out ~10 years ago meditating with Ajahn Brahm’s instructions. I was in the early years of college, was going out several nights a week, taking lots of alcohol, trying to be as uncelibate as possible honestly.

But then meditation leads to increased sensitivity. Over time I started noticing much more how my actions affected myself and those around me. Like, you just feel better treating others well, and you treat yourself better as a consequence, it’s neat!

My point here is just that the causality goes both ways. If you have a clear mind from meditation, it’s very hard to ignore that being virtuous is like free happiness there for the taking, and that bad behavior depletes your mental energy and feels gross.

If someone really has good meditation, it’s hard for me to understand why they wouldn’t take up virtue with gusto. Not saying it’s not possible though, who knows, the meditation could be a result of past life practice perhaps.


I can understand how e.g. taking life can be a very bad action, but how is this true about non being celibate? If you are in a healthy relationship, how this can be wrong?

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I agree.
However, my point was more about the fact, that suttas constantly talk about those preliminary stages, whereas if you practice modern meditation instructions these stages seem to be redundant basically.

I agree too.
I too think that modern instructions do not talk enough about these preliminary stages. Why is that? I think because they do not understand the benefit of these things.
What do you think, if one were to skip those stages of virtue, ethical conduct, contentment and were to meditate with sensual desire, discontent, greedy intention for form or feeling: would they not be practicing micchā samadhi?
If this would be the case, would it answer your question as to the benefit of these stages so to guide the person to practice sammā instead of micchā?

Yes, that’s been my experience too, virtue being a natural consequence of greater awareness and clarity.


It’s not wrong to be in a relationship, there can be a lot of kindness and love in it, of course :slight_smile: but unless your partner is also a practitioner, it becomes hard to maintain an interest in worldly things if you’re accessing the unworldly experiences of samadhi. And your partner will probably have some sense that you are “drifting away” if they are not there drifting with you.

It could also start to feel wrong to be in a relationship with someone who has expectations of a “normal” partner in terms of like, wanting to go to dinner parties, discussing the TV shows, sports, or politics, having opinions about kitchen appliances, etc.

Like, at one point I remember going to movie night out of just duty for years, because I felt my close friends would feel rejected if I didn’t show up. It’s not that I hated watching movies or felt negative about it, it’s just that type of socialization doesn’t feel as nourishing or important anymore.

But those friends who are interested in spirituality I am able to keep in contact with. And I really treasure the (platonic) relationships I now have with fellow practitioners :nerd_face:


Its not about right and wrong: rather it is about living with desire or without desire: In other words how can one give up or practice to give up all desire and not be celibate?
If one is not interested in overcoming desire, there are teachings, whether in suttas or in Bible, for lay disciples regarding ethical conduct, abiding in love, good deeds.

It may seem that being celibate is painful, however, isn’t what is actually painful is unmet desire or craving? And this is what the teaching is for - to get free from this desire/craving that creates such pain. It definitely is not easy, and that is why the suttas encourage guarding sense doors, secluding oneself from sights,sounds,etc that induce desire, passion, infatuation. Without such restraint, the desire would grow unbearable. I believe if one tried being celibate with such restraint or without, one would quickly see the difference and point of those teachings.


I think this makes sense. Also, in wordly terms, it seems that restraint frees a lot of your time for other more meaningful activities.
Can you advise any reading or YT video on celibacy and restraint in general?

Hi there,
you are absolutely right and some of the answers were also on point. In fact, the preliminary to jhana is virtue and self restraint then you enter into jhana naturally. If you read all the sutta one thing you would not remember is that the Buddha instruct people to watch their nostrils up to a point where they should enter a light nimitta and abide in some hypnotic state where you can’t think, because he didn’t ! I very strongly suggest you to head to Hillside Hermitage reddit or youtube channel. You can start reading this gem of an essay which should help a lot in clearing any misunderstanding :

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For celibacy I find AN7.51 useful, the lesson I’ve got from it is that we do not have to view other attractive females/males automatically as mates or potential mates, rather we have choice to view them as sister/brother or simply as a human.

AN6.50 talks about importance of sense restraint, however does not describe it in detail.
AN10.99 mentions sense restraint.


Can you advise any reading or YT video on celibacy and restraint in general?

This one is good too :


Wow, this is a very strong video, especially in the end, thanks.


My teacher always emphasizes that we shouldn’t try to reduce the teachings to conform to our worldview or context. The Buddha set a very high bar for us to aspire to, not for us to lower. My teacher also emphasizes that we should read the texts with humility and empathy to understand what they have to tell us, not to have them tell us what we want to hear. It can be tough but worth grappling with! Best of luck.