If meditation is reduced to purely cogitation on some predetermined scripture using ideas and words to fill our minds to the brim, in the hope of transforming us radically from corruption into saintliness, then I submit to you that this is a lost cause, a pipe dream, and a delusion of indoctrination.
Reprogramming our minds with more mental stuff in the hope of freeing that mind is counter-logical. At best, there is therapeutic soothing or reshuffling of deck chairs on the mental titanic. But the ship will still sink in the end. It takes much more than a thought to heal a thought.
Indoctrinated imagination by scriptural texts is merely another example of brain-mind conditioning. It is sociocultural internalization, mired in samsara: the repetitive cycle of deluded thinking and feeling rooted in false identity that brings about anguish and suffering. Fancy advertising will not make it less so.
Assumptions about a particular text being the full disclosure of divine truth may lend seeming credence or whip up confidence amongst the converted, but in themselves do not necessarily establish truth. Without direct illumination and revelation beyond words, we can only wallow in the shallow waters of verbosity and mental wrangling. This is thought-form indulgence sucking us deeper into delusion. Dogmatic entanglement, argument, conflict, accusations of satanism, heresy pronouncement, apostate declaration, people burning, religious wars and more expressions of human cruelty are the next steps. Conflict of discordant dogmas can result in actual conflict and violence between competing tribes and clans of scriptural orthodoxy. This is the human condition: identified with thought, lost in thought.
In fact, scripture can be so easily co-opted by political interests and mingled with political tribalism in polarized and belligerent ways. This is evident in the political upheavals of America in the past four years. Fundamentalism can exist on both ends of the political and religious spectrum: left-wing "wokeness" versus right-wing "bigotry"; "progressive" orthodoxy versus "conservative" traditionalism. Without reflexive inquiry and honest self-examen, it is easy to fall into these traps of the dualistic mind. Biblical wisdom and transformation in Christ entail questioning both dogmatic polarities. Mindless indoctrinated imagination thus is not good news.
Indoctrinated imagination can have another harmful effect: obsession with theological minutiae and differences, producing real-life consequences of inclusion and exclusion, salvation and damnation, adherent and apostate, orthodoxy and heresy. Often, theological clinging and wrangling result in relational fissures, conflicts, even violence.
This is not a blanket critique of intellectual or symbolic thought. Nor is it a blunt rejection of using imagination in prayer or meditation. In spiritual traditions across cultures, reflective and sustained thought is integral to meditative praxis, as is mytho-poetic and symbolic or iconographic thought. These modes of praxis can be transformative and beneficial. What is problematic is the exclusive and puritanical use of thought and verbosity as the sole correct method of prayer or meditation, with corollary absence of reflexivity and insight into the real limitations of thought.
When reflexive insight is lacking, lostness in and identification with thought ensues. Delusive grasping and clinging to views, however sublime, result. Before long, discrimination, conflict, exclusion and violence come about. Having a mind that vigorously inquires into its own process of thinking reveals the intertwined formation of identity and dogma that props it up. In this might lie a way out.
What is the alternative? How can we not be lost in thoughts? Can we meditate without words? Without thought construct and entanglement? Can we use thoughts skilfully instead of being used by thoughts? Using language insightfully without being used by language? This is perhaps the key: being awake and alert to the pervasive obscuring effect of thought and language, and unlearning our addiction to them both. This is my challenge to word-obsessed dogmatic religiosity, common in some religious strands. And it would be nice if there is less pronouncement of satanism or heresy or apostasy the moment words like “emptying” or “emptiness” are used. Ignorance is not bliss.