Meditation and Moral Development
Practicing meditation can help us become good.
Posted Dec 14, 2018
We often think of meditation as something that can help us feel better. But did you know it can also help us to be better?
While there are many forms of meditation, and not all of them may help us develop good character, there are at least two types that can.
Concentration meditation is reflection upon oneself. In this form of meditation, we are trying to figure out what is going on inside of us. We are seeking self-knowledge, an awareness of our feelings, impulses, thoughts, and beliefs. For example, we might think of a time when we were impatient and consider what inside of us led to that behavior. Or we might think of a time when we were patient, perhaps even surprising ourselves, and focus on what inside of us might have led to that virtuous response.
Insight meditation is different. It has an outward, rather than an inward, focus. Simply put, insight meditation is meditation upon the truth. In this type of meditation, we might focus on some truth about society, the natural world, human nature, a moral truth, or perhaps a spiritual truth of some sort. This can change us, as we allow our hearts and minds to be saturated with significant truths.
These forms of meditation can make us better people for many reasons. They help create new beliefs and desires within us. They can also reinforce our current beliefs. Meditation on the virtue of compassion, for instance, can, over time, lead us to become more compassionate people. Our reflections on the virtue make us more attentive to circumstances in which it is needed, and more likely to show it to those in need.
Meditation, in this and many other ways, can counteract our dysfunctional desires. It can cultivate positive mental states and virtuous character traits, while counteracting negative thoughts and vices.
James Gould, "Becoming good: The role of spiritual practice," Philosophical Practice 1 (2005): 135-147.