Meditation – Why Ken’s Wrong

Meditation is one of Ken Wheeler’s biggest pet peeves. Find out how the Angry Photographer uses mistranslation to rationalize his personal distaste for mindfulness and the relaxation response.

The practice of meditation seems to be as old as humanity itself. There’s even some evidence that Neanderthals engaged in some form of mindfulness exercise. Humans have viewed meditation as a path to spiritual enlightenment for at least 5,000 years.

Ancient Jewish practitioners of the Kabbalah used meditation techniques as did Christian mystics all the way back to the time of Christ, including the Desert Fathers and Mothers, Francis of Assisi, Ignatius Loyola, Teresa of Avila, and John of the Cross, among many others.

The Sufi sect of Islam also engaged in meditative practices, as described by the mystical poet known as Rumi. Ancient Greek philosophers including Plato and Plotinus also practiced various forms of meditation exercises.

Very Odd Aversion to the Practice of Meditation

For someone who purports to be a world-class expert on metaphysics and spirituality, Ken Wheeler has a very odd aversion to the practice of meditation. He claims to have nothing against it in terms of its health benefits, but he denies that meditation plays any role in original Greek, Hindu or Buddhist metaphysical teachings.

Although he pays lip service to meditation’s benefits for stress relief, the Angry Photographer spends a great deal of time and energy ridiculing the practice. He compares it to the use of sedatives, for example.

He even goes so far as to make an analogy between meditation and having a lobotomy. He depicts the meditator as akin to a lobotomized patient in an adult diaper living in an institution and spending their days watching the Cartoon Channel.

Benefits of Meditation are Well-Established

Of course, the physical and mental health benefits of meditation are well-established. Medical practitioners use the terms “mindfulness” and “relaxation response” when they prescribe secular forms of meditation for patients dealing with anxiety, hypertension and similar conditions.

Despite childishly ridiculing them, Ken Wheeler claims not to take issue with doctors prescribing mindfulness techniques to relieve stress. Instead, he condemns the use of meditation as a spiritual practice.

According to the Angry Photographer, wisdom seekers should be following a forgotten ancient practice called theurgy instead of conventional meditation. Theurgists used spells, incantations, charms and idols to magically bring themselves closer to the gods or ultimately to the “One” from which they thought the universe emanates.

Claims Seekers Should Use Theurgy Not Meditation

As we explain in more detail under Retroduction – Why Ken’s Wrong, neoplatonists dismissed theurgy centuries ago because it was based on magical thinking. Classical scholar E.R. Dodds explained this rejection, writing, “So far as we can judge, the procedures of theurgy were broadly similar to vulgar magic.” 

The Angry Photographer demands impossible standards of proof for the benefits of meditation. Yet, offering no evidence at all, he implies to his viewers that they should replace it with the long-discredited medieval superstition called theurgy.

The Theoria Apophasis creator insists that meditation as we know it today played no role in the metaphysical disciplines of the ancient world. As usual, he offers no specific evidence to support this extraordinary claim.

His Favourite Sources Disprove His Own Meditation Claims

We can trace Ken Wheeler’s favourite classical sources to debunk his suppositions. Since he tends to relate most to the neoplatonists, let’s start with their founder, Plotinus.

“It was a going forth from the self, a simplifying, a renunciation, a reach towards contact and at the same time a repose, a meditation towards adjustment. This is the only seeing of what lies within the holies: to look otherwise is to fail.” (Plotinus, Sixth Ennead, Ninth Tractate)

Someone sure seems to be using meditation as a spiritual practice there! Plotinus also shares his vision of how the gods occupy themselves.

“Those Dwelling in the Heavens are Ever in this Meditation”

He depicts them tranquilly reflecting on “their own being and of all that lies within the contemplation of Intellect. Those of them whose dwelling is in the heavens, are ever in this meditation.” (Plotinus, Fifth Ennead, Eighth Tractate)

We can also turn to Plotinus’ biographer, Porphyry. He describes Plotinus like this. “God-like  and lifting himself often, by the ways of meditation and by the methods Plato teaches in the Banquet, to the first and all-transcendent God ” (On the Life of Plotinus)

Since we’re addressing the neoplatonists, we may as well consider the source. Plato himself encouraged meditation, writing:

“Meditation in a Plenteous Crop of Philosophy”

“Turning rather towards the main ocean of the beautiful, one may by contemplation on this bring forth in all their splendour many fair fruits of discourse and meditation in a plenteous crop of philosophy.” (The Symposium)

The Angry Photographer maintains that the word “meditation” comes from “Melete,” the name of the Greek Muse of study. It doesn’t.

“Meditate” is Latin, not Greek. It comes from “mederi,” meaning “to remedy,” just like our word “medical.”

“Meditate” is Latin, Not Greek as Ken Claims

Mederi morphed into “meditari,” and then into “meditatio.” It has nothing to do with Greek, or muses, or spells, or rites, or rituals, or anything else along those lines.

Although the practice of meditation is more of an eastern discipline, there’s no question that spiritual seekers also used comparable techniques in Ancient Greece and Medieval Europe.

We can move on to Ken Wheeler’s other two favourite sources, Ancient India’s Upanishads and Buddhism’s Nikayas. The Angry Photographer stubbornly contends that neither the Hindu nor the Buddhist tradition entails any form of meditation.

No Expert Supports His Hypothesis on Meditation

If that claim seems contrary to your understanding, you’re not alone. No qualified expert on eastern cultures supports this idiosyncratic hypothesis.

Ken Wheeler claims to be a master translator of the ancient Indian language, Pali. As such, he claims that the Pali word conventionally translated as “meditation” (jhana) actually means “to burn.”

The Angry Photographer goes on to insist that when the Eastern scriptures refer to jhana, they mean a “burning away” of false ideas and impressions. Here again, he’s trying to shoehorn his idiosyncratic notion of negation, or the process of elimination, into Hindu and Buddhist thought.

Returns to His Flawed “Needle in a Haystock” Analogy

The Theoria Apophasis creator again resorts to his “needle in a haystack” analogy. In his view, the way to find the truth is to burn away all the falsehoods. The easy way to find the needle would be to set fire to the haystack

As we note in Retroduction – Why Ken’s Wrong, it seems awfully wasteful to destroy $100 worth of hay to find a ten cent needle. Ken Wheeler seems to be unaware of the Latin proverb “negatio probat nihil” – “negation proves nothing.”

Debunking these claims about meditation in eastern metaphysics is even easier than refuting Ken Wheeler’s assertions about Plotinus. For example, here’s a 4,000 year-old seal from the Indus River Valley Civilization that predates even Hinduism. It clearly depicts a person meditating.

“Through the Power of Meditation, Brahman Swells”

Here’s a passage from the Upanishads, the oldest known religious scriptures on Earth. “Through the power of meditation, Brahman swells. From that, food is born. From food arises life (prāna), then mind, the elements, the worlds and, through action, immortality.” Mundaka Upanishad 1:8

It’s hard to see how Ken Wheeler maintains that original Hinduism didn’t believe in the power of meditation in the face of that verse. As you can see, substituting the word “fire” in that context makes the text meaningless.

The same goes for Buddhism. The Angry Photographer insists that Buddha introduced no significant changes to the Vedic religions practiced in Ancient India in his day, which for him means no meditation.

Buddha – “I Entered and Dwelled in the Fourth Meditation”

This is even easier to disprove than the other examples. The Mahasaccaka Sutta is one of those early Pali scriptures on which the Theoria Apophasis host claims to be such an expert.

In it, the Buddha describes the moment of his enlightenment like this, “I entered and dwelled in the fourth meditation, which is neither painful nor pleasant and includes the purification of mindfulness by eqanimity.” (MN 36 I 240-49)

Here’s another verse from the most ancient Buddhist scriptures, the Nikayas. “Meditate, monks, do not be negligent, or else you will regret it later. This is our instruction to you.” (AN 7:70; IV 136-39)

“Meditate Monks, Do Not Be Negligent”

Changing “meditate” to “burn” in either passage would make no sense whatsoever. Ken Wheeler uses his minimal, self-taught knowledge of Pali to subvert the intended meaning of ancient texts and support his various, peculiar metaphysical speculations.

The Angry Photographer also insists that Buddha didn’t encourage any form of breath-based meditation. He claims that references to breath in Buddhist scriptures are metaphorical references to the spirit.

Yet, here’s how Buddha taught his followers to meditate. “A monk sits down; having folded his legs crosswise, straightened his body, and established mindfulness in front of him, just mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out.” (MN 10 I 55-63)

“Just Mindful He Breathes In, Mindful He Breathes Out”

That doesn’t seem like metaphorical language, and it definitely has nothing to do with burning anything. It sounds a lot more like the practical instructions that anyone who’s tried mindfulness to trigger the relaxation response will instantly recognize.

Tolstoy cites a Buddhist proverb that applies perfectly to Ken Wheeler. It goes like this.

“Meditation and thought is the path to eternity; talking too much is one path to death. Those who meditate and spend much time thinking never die; those who do not have faith and speak many empty words – they look dead.”

“Meditation and Thought is the Path to Eternity”

As we can see throughout this site, the Angry Photographer uses far too many words. Since most of them are either made-up jargon or used incorrectly, he definitely speaks “many empty words.”

Speaking of empty words, it’s a bit unfair to the producer of Theoria Apophasis to utterly deny any connection between the Pali word jhana and the English word “fire.” Where he goes off the rails on this point is that he fails to grasp the difference between formal and informal word definitions. He seems to be unfamiliar with the concept of nirutti, or Buddhist etymology.

The Angry Photographer doesn’t cite a source for his “to burn” claim. He may have misunderstood Buddhist scholar Buddhaghosa, who explained that the formal root word for jhana is jhayati – thought, contemplation, or mindfulness. He went on to point out that jhana resembles jhapeti – which does mean fire.

Jhana’s Genuine Root Word Is Thought, Not Fire

Buddhaghosa makes it clear that jhana’s genuine root word is “thought.” “Fire” is more of a teaching tool to encourage Buddhists to eliminate the distractions the Buddha called the “five hindrances.” It’s an analogy; Buddhaghosa doesn’t mean it as formal etymology and he definitely isn’t saying that jhana means fire as opposed to meditation.

Ken Wheeler is entitled to hold any opinion he likes on meditation. He’s fond of saying, “People are entitled to their opinions but people are never entitled to have their own truth.” As with other topics, condemned by his own words, he’s not entitled to change historical facts.

Aldous Huxley was a leading voice of the philosophy the Angry Photographer claims to endorse. In his book The Perennial Philosophy, he wrote about Buddhism, “To give a plausible answer to these questions in terms of anatta is so difficult that we are forced to abandon the doctrine.”

Meditation Has Always Played Central Role in Metaphysics

Rather than simply accept that his views conflict with what the Buddha taught, as Huxley did, the Theoria Apophasis creator feels the need to twist the Buddha’s beliefs to conform with his own.

As we all know, meditation has played a central role in mysticism, metaphysics and spirituality in all faith traditions from time immemorial. The Angry Photographer’s statements to the contrary are demonstrably false.

It’s a pity that Ken Wheeler doesn’t support meditation. It seems that taking up mindfulness to induce the relaxation response would do him a world of good in terms of anger management.

Ken’s Evidence

Meditation Is? Seriously
Complete Works of Plotinus
The Principal Upanishads
In the Buddha’s Words
Etymology of Jhana
Retroduction – Why Ken’s Wrong
Metaphysics – Why Ken’s Wrong

Published by David Morton Rintoul

I'm a freelance writer and commercial blogger delivering content services to selective business to business marketing clients. I have extensive experience in content creation, technical writing and training, working as a consultant and later in management roles with many of Canada's most successful organizations. Specialties: Content Marketing, Social Media, Technical Writing, Training and Development

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