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Friday, February 5, 2010 -- 9:25 pm

I have recently started looking for a good podcast on Tibetan Buddhist meditation. "Meditation" seems like one of those terms that only the fool tries to explain. If you're not proficient at it, you don't know what you're talking about. And I imagine that if it's a worthwhile endeavor at all, it's a discipline whose rewards and challenges gradually transform over time -- you glimpse new depths to plumb or heights to scale -- and in which you never really attain completion. But it seems safe to define meditation as a form of mental discipline, and that is something I find attractive in times of stress, frustration, or anger. And since the vast majority of podcasts of a religious or spiritual nature appear to be transmitted without charge, podcast shopping seems like a good way to learn more.

It does not appear that all such podcasts are created equal. Does the speaker have an annoying voice or some kind of verbal tic? Is the message (or tone) condescending? Does it presuppose substantial mastery of the discipline on the part of the listener, yet speak in such vague-but-smug terms as to make me suspect that it's all a charade to get people to contribute money to feel included? Is it overwhelmed by gimmicks or sound effects that compound my irritation when repeated from broadcast to broadcast? Is there a lot of pointless chatter that fails to deliver content, including talking about the fact that this is a podcast or making me waste precious seconds (as happens in many language podcasts) listening to socializing banter (in English! for the language courses) between the instructors? Does it deliver a lot of fluff and window dressing (examples: new-age themes, metaphors that go nowhere) without actually conveying in concrete and verifiable terms the information I was looking for in the first place? In a lecture titled "preliminaries to meditation", billed as the equivalent of stretching for an athlete, does it spend the entire time talking about cleaning the meditation room and then conclude by directing me to a website to hear the rest? Does it assume that I will accept its worldview uncritically, rather than attempt to persuade me that what it describes is -- or can be -- consistent with the world as I already see and live in it? Sigh.

So I have not yet given up the search, and a small number of interesting leads still remain, but it does make me wonder: if proselytizers are really so interested in winning converts, or at least an audience, why don't they think more carefully about their message?