Meditation And Capitalism – OpEd


The working masses have been practicing meditation for centuries to survive the ever-alienating ordeals of various forms of patriarchy, feudalism, and capitalism. Meditation has become a coping mechanism to confront the challenges of capitalism, which breeds various forms of alienation, inequalities, and exploitation on a daily basis. However, meditation has been co-opted by the consumeristic and therapeutic cultures of capitalism, where the disciplining of body and mind is central to domesticating and controlling the working masses.

The meditation centers, which have been commercialised and medicalised, serve as instruments of a social system where individuals self-discipline in the name of self-help under the guidance of experts (gurus) to ensure a social, spiritual, and cultural order that aligns with the requirements of capitalism. Such monetised processes of homogeneous institutionalisation, standardisation of practice and marketisation have destroyed the collective foundations of meditation as a social and spiritual practice. Despite this, many European scholars still promote meditation as unabashedly anti-capitalist. Such an uncritical justification promotes neo-traditionalist values in the name of meditation.

Meditation serves capitalism in different ways. Firstly, the atomization of the individual self and consciousness is crucial for capitalism to expand by dismantling the shared foundations of individual lives and collective consciousness, promoting a profit-seeking commodity market. Meditation, as a tool of atomisation of the ‘individual self,’ aids in the processes of deconditioning individual experiences and consciousness from their social and shared experiences of collective consciousness. It helps in the normalisation of capitalist alienation. Meditation supports the conditions that reconcile people with the unnatural, abnormal, and exploitative capitalist system. The meditation training for mindfulness is a tool of governance in the name of self-optimisation in the service of capitalism.

Meditation, in the name of building resilience, individualises sufferings and silences the conditions of collective and radical consciousness by domesticating individuals to face their challenges alone. Meditation under capitalism functions as a mode of self-governance, empowering individuals to attribute their own miseries to themselves and to independently overcome them with their meditative power alone. This conditioning grants carte blanche to capitalist institutions, structures, and processes, allowing them to persist in their unchecked exploitation of both human beings and nature. Capitalism produces loneliness, mental health issues, and various other forms of vulnerabilities. In response, it promotes meditation as a means for individuals to address and reconcile these issues on a personal level. 

Global, regional, national, and local celebrities promote meditation as a mindful revolution, suggesting as if it can spark a universal renaissance and serve as a panacea for all contemporary societal ailments. However, this culture of naive ethos merely promotes capitalism by individualising alternatives and eroding the radical consciousness people derive from their own labour and working conditions. Individual alienation is not solely a result of individual actions; rather, it is an inherent outcome and integral aspect of capitalism as a system. No amount of meditation can resolve the issues of alienation within capitalism. Therefore, promoting meditation as an alternative is merely a naive diversionary strategy.

The commodification and standardisation of meditation practices have led to the exponential growth of the mindfulness market. This industry is rapidly expanding as a low-investment, high-return service sector where profit is based on individual alienation. In this way, capitalism and the meditation industry complement each other: one produces alienation, and the other offers temporary relief from it. Meditation has become a lucrative and burgeoning business.  In this cycle of profit driven therapeutic religiosity between capitalism and meditation, alienated individuals endure false hopes in life. Neither capitalism nor meditation provides any permanent solutions to the issues of alienation and other forms of vulnerabilities within capitalist societies.

The missionaries of meditation and the messiahs of capitalism work together to normalise and naturalise the ravages of capitalism, while working people search for elusive happiness within. It is like seeking salvation only after death. Therefore, it is time for working people to reclaim their collective practice of meditation beyond the market-driven logic of therapeutic culture within capitalism.

Bhabani Shankar Nayak

Bhabani Shankar Nayak works as Professor of Business Management, Guildhall School of Business and Law, London Metropolitan University, UK.

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