Sunday, April 27, 2008

Meditation Techniques To Conserve Energy

What is vipassana sadhana?

Vipassana is a meditation practice propagated by the Buddha. It is useful for calming the mind and nerves and removing stress. In this era, most people are not interested in dharma and moksha. Of the four purusharthas, now only two are being fulfilled: artha and kama. When you go into artha and kama without the balancing effect of dharma and moksha, you will have mental tensions, worries, feelings of insecurity and fear. The mind will be troubled, full of passion, anger, remorse and regret. Practices like vipassana can be used to keep the mind calm and balanced.

Can meditation techniques help stabilise marital relationships?

In all relationships there are feelings of insecurity and fear. The mind becomes dissipated, filled with anger, passion and guilt. One moment you are fighting and the next you are friendly again. In the evening you quarrel, and by morning you are friends. You say, "Sorry", and it is over, but all this creates tension. When you come to a really hot point, you have a shower, then you feel better. Similarly, at times of tension, you can do vipassana.

Yoga means to calm the restless mind, and yoga also means the techniques which calm the mind. When the restless mind is quietened, then it is said that yoga has been achieved. So, yoga is a practice and an attainment too. It is very difficult to talk about it.

I tell everyone that first it is necessary to sort out artha and kama. King Janaka was liberated though he lived amongst passions. He had immense properties and wealth, position and power. He had everything, but he was calm.

There have been many such people who have lived a disciplined life and still followed the path of purushartha, self-effort, while living in the world. They have done their duties, worked hard, but, in the midst of all, they were able to remain calm.

I saw Gandhiji during my youth. Even in old age, he had surprising purushartha. He was always calm and quiet despite political upheavals, clashes and killings. So, a person who can keep himself calm in the midst of money and passion, is worthy of praise. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says: "That man who renounces all desires, gives up all ties, and becomes egoless and detached, achieves tranquillity of mind, even while performing action".

Just as all rivers flow into the sea and lose their individual existence at that point, in the same way, let all of your desires and fantasies flow, then anchor them at the point where they cease flowing. That central point has to be located, then you move beyond vipassana or you will remain stuck there.

How can mauna or observing silence succeed in the grihastha environment?

When you play a transistor for 24 hours will the battery go flat, or not? If you switch it off, the battery will last longer. That is the importance of mauna. In speaking, listening, thinking, walking, i am using up the battery's energy.

Our battery is pranic energy. That pranic energy is used up quickly in talking, in worrying, in passions. This pranic energy that is spent on all of our activities should be conserved. Conservation of prana is the solution to our energy crisis.

If you can stay silent for some time, then the mental energy is conserved.

Meditation for reprogramming your mind

As an effective practice for reprogramming your mind and opening your heart, meditation has no parallel. But traditionally, meditation never stands alone — it’s always accompanied by an emphasis on motivation and attitude (that is, on the qualities of mind that fuel the fires of meditation and keep you going when the going gets tough).
Some meditation teachers may urge you to take a vow to dedicate your meditation to the well-being of others, rather than hoarding all the goodies for yourself. Others may ask you to consider your deepest aspirations or intentions or attitudes — what one Zen master calls your “inmost request.” Whatever the term used to describe it, you need to look deeply into your own mind and heart to clarify the reasons that motivate you to meditate. Then you can consult this motivation when the practice becomes boring and uneventful — which it inevitably does.
You may be driven to meditate by pain or suffering or desperation of some kind, or you may simply be dissatisfied with the quality of your life — the level of stress, the lack of enjoyment, the speed and intensity. Whatever your story, you need to be sufficiently motivated if you’re ever going to take the trouble to change your routine, slow down, and turn your attention inward for 15 or 20 minutes each day. In this chapter, you have an opportunity to face your unique brand of dissatisfaction — and cultivate the motivation that keeps you meditating, week after week.

Spinning, stretching, and sitting

As the health benefits of meditation are more widely accepted and acknowledged, health clubs, spas, and resorts may increasingly include meditation classes and workshops alongside aerobics, spinning, weight-training, and hatha yoga. After all, meditation enhances your enjoyment of life at every level — and what better time to enjoy life than on a vacation!

Beyond these more obvious applications for meditation, I anticipate that meditation will become a more pervasive presence on the cultural landscape. Perhaps you’ll be able to access meditation courses on TV, hear celebrity meditators eager to talk about their practice, and find regular references to meditation on sitcoms and talk shows, in newspapers and magazines. Some other, more visionary possibilities: meditation booths in public places, meditation classes in public schools, regular meditation breaks instead of coffee breaks in the workplace, meditation rooms next to board rooms in corporations — even meditation meetings beside prayer meetings in the halls of Congress! And why not? Because meditation reduces stress and improves health without ideological baggage, it’s primed to infiltrate our lives in unprecedented — and unpredictable — new ways.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

What is meditation? Why should we meditate..?

By *Meher Baba -
Meditation may be described as the path which the individual cuts for himself while trying to get beyond the limitations of the mind. Meditation has often been misunderstood as a mechanical process of forcing the mind upon some idea or object. Meher Baba : "Meditation is essentially an individual matter in the sense that it is not for self-display in society but for one’s own spiritual advancement." Meher Baba : "Meditation is essentially an individual matter in the sense that it is not for self-display in society but for one’s own spiritual advancement."

Most people naturally have an aversion to meditation because they experience great difficulty in attempting to coerce the mind in a particular direction, or to pin it down to one particular thing. Any purely mechanical handling of the mind is not only irksome but is bound ultimately to be unsuccessful.

The first principle which aspirants have to remember is that the mind can be controlled only according to laws inherent in the make-up of the mind itself, and not by means of the application of any mechanical or semi-mechanical force.

Many persons who don’t technically ‘meditate’ are oftentimes found to be deeply and intensely engrossed in systematic and clear thinking about some practical problem or theoretical subject. Their mental process is, in a sense, very much like meditation, in as much as the mind is engrossed in intense thinking about a particular subject- matter to the exclusion of all other irrelevant things.

The spiritual tragedy about ordinary trains of thoughts is that they are not directed towards things that really matter. On the other hand, the object of meditation has always to be carefully selected and must be spiritually important; it has to be some divine person or object, or some spiritually significant theme or truth.

In order to attain success in meditation the mind must not only get interested in the divine subjects or truths, but must also begin by trying to understand and appreciate them. Such intelligent meditation is a natural process of the mind; and since it avoids the monotonous rigidity and regularity of mechanical meditation, it becomes not only spontaneous and inspiring, but easy and successful.

Meditation is the first stage of a process which gradually develops into concentration. In concentration the mind seeks to unite with its object by the process of fixing itself upon that object, whereas meditation consists in thorough thinking about a particular object to the exclusion of every other thing.

In concentration, there is practically no movement of the mind but in meditation, the mind moves from one relevant idea to another. In concentration the mind merely dwells upon some form or a pithy and terse formula, without amplifying it through a success of ideas. In meditation, the mind tries to understand and assimilate the object of dwelling upon diverse attributes of the form or various implications of the formula.

In concentration as well as in meditation, there is a peaceful intermingling of love and longing for the divine object or principle on which the mind dwells, and both these psychic activities are very different from the merely mechanical processes which have rigid regularity and unrelieved monotony.

Persons with the capacity for concentration, meditation is unnecessary. It is sufficient if they concentrate on the mere form of a God-man or Man-God.

Meditation is essentially an individual matter in the sense that it is not for self-display in society but for one’s own spiritual advancement.

It is not necessary for persons to go to mountains and caves. Even in towns, a little care and trouble can secure the aspirant the quiet, silence and seclusion necessary to facilitate and promote progress in the different forms of meditation.

Any posture which is comfortable may be adopted so long as it contributes to the alertness of the mind and doesn’t induce sleep. The posture should not involve any physical tension or pain. It is desirable that the aspirant should maintain the same posture for each meditation. Choosing the same spot and a fixed hour also has a salutary effect. Hence the aspirant must be serious about resorting to an identical place, posture and hour.

Meditation should not be resorted to with a heavy heart, as if one were taking castor oil. One has to be serious about meditation but not grave or melancholy. Humour and cheerfulness not only don’t interfere with the progress of a meditation but actually contribute to it. Meditation should not be turned in to a distasteful and tiresome thing. Meditation should be something like a picnic on the higher planes. Like excursions into new and beautiful natural surroundings meditation brings with it a sense of enthusiasm adventure, peace and exhilaration.

In ordinary thinking the uninterrupted flow of relevant trains of ideas is common, but when the mind sets itself to systematic meditation, there is inevitably a reactionary tendency for irrelevant and contrary thoughts to emerge and create disturbances.

This is the law of the mind and the aspirant should not be upset by the appearance in consciousness of many contrary and unwholesome thoughts which had hitherto never made their appearance.

The process of meditation invites many absurd and unwanted thoughts. The aspirant must expect and be prepared for all these disturbing thoughts and should exercise inexhaustible patience with unshakable confidence that ultimately all these disturbances will be overcome.

*Excerpts from the discourses of Meher Baba, the silent Master

Playing with gravity

  1. Sit in a chair and take a few moments to become aware of how gravity acts on your body.
  2. Notice the weight of your legs and hips against the chair.
  3. Stand up and notice how gravity pulls you toward the Earth.
  4. Begin walking and, with each step, pay attention to the tug of gravity against your feet.
  5. Look around and consider how all these objects are held in place by gravity — and how you move through a field of gravity like a fish swimming through water. This mysterious force is everywhere, even though you may not see or comprehend it.
  6. Continue to be aware of this invisible but powerful field as you go about your day.

The more you sit, the less you pay

The work of Dean Ornish and other researchers has prompted some insurance companies to reimburse for stress-management programs and some hospitals to create their own. In the same way, the growing evidence for the health benefits of meditation may lead to a reduction in insurance premiums for those who meditate regularly — and to the offering of meditation classes in every hospital and clinic. Maybe you’ll even get reimbursed for the occasional meditation retreat — after your co-pay, of course!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Taking Zen meditation 'off the cushion'

By Brittany Benjamin
For many students, it may be difficult to envision meditation as anything but the ancient image of a round-stomached Buddha sitting cross-legged, surrounded by a fog of incense, with hands in the air with meeting thumbs and forefingers, and repeatedly chanting "ooommm."

But what students may not know is that meditation can be a great means to find clarity within on a daily basis.

In a frantic, schedule-based society, it's often difficult to slow down and pay attention to the world around us, while also focusing and understanding our own thoughts.

Meditation allows for an escape within ourselves to find peace and authenticity.

Among the practices of meditation, there are many that can allow students to focus on mind, body and soul while escaping the pressures and deadlines of school and activities.

Sarita Tamayo-Moraga, professor of religious studies and a Dharma teacher in training in the Suzuki Roshi School of Zen, introduced the practices of Zen to students, faculty and the community with Juan Velasco, Spanish professor and a senior Dharma teacher in the Kwan Um School of Zen.

Here are some methods from the Zen Meditation Retreat -- A Day of Mindfulness-- that you can try yourself.

Sitting Zen meditation

Zen meditation stems from the Buddhist tradition. It emphasizes awareness of the present moment and an acceptance of non-judgmental thinking.

Sitters rest comfortably in a chair with their feet placed firmly on the ground and a straight back. They then place their hands gently on each thigh.

Sitting with eyes open, they allow their mind to wander to any thoughts they may be having at that moment for about 15-30 minutes. Instead of getting wrapped up in each thought, they simply acknowledge that it exists and allow it to trail away as another one surfaces.

As it's common to let ourselves run away with thoughts, the practice of Zen emphasizes the breath as an escape from overwhelming thoughts.

In other words, if the mind gets too caught up on one particular branch of thinking, they are to return to their breath in order to let the thought pass.

"It's not about stopping or changing your thoughts. It's about learning compassion for your thoughts. Everything is information in Zen," said Tamayo-Moraga.

Walking Zen meditation

The walking Zen meditation allows for a sitter to focus on his or her body, as well as understand its movement and use.

In this practice, participants form a standing circle. Turning clockwise, they begin to walk in a circle at an extremely slow pace. This slow pace allows for sitters to focus on the movement of every aspect of the body as weight shifts from one foot to the other.

This allows sitters to recognize the feelings, pains or tensions within the body. Recognizing feelings, a sitter may note that the ground feels hard on his feet, soreness in his legs or that he is experiencing feelings of boredom or stress within his body.

The exercise encourages sitters to release tension and focus only on the movement of his or her body as they walk. Zen meditation can be a temporary outlet to deal with emotions before acting on them.

In a situation where a person is antagonized, it helps to momentarily get out of the emotional experience and return to the stability felt while standing. The stability provided by the feet is a good place to center the self before acting.

"Get out of the intellect," Tamayo-Moraga said. "It's dangerous to be in the intellect when your body is triggered -- go to your feet."

Mantra meditation

The primary purpose of mantra meditation is to release pain and tension from the body.

In the same position as a Zen sitting meditation, sitters focus on breathing, while silently repeating words as they inhale and exhale.

Inhaling, sitters think the words, "Breathing in, I recognize the soreness of my (insert various body parts)." Exhaling, sitters think the words, "Breathing out, I release the tension in my (insert same body part)."

As a result, sitters are supposed to ideally release tension and pain in the areas of the body they focus on. Being aware of the pain and accepting it allows them to take action in releasing pain.

Metta meditation

Metta meditations focus on centering emotions and sending and receiving energy. In particular, it creates the sending and receiving of love to yourself and others.

As Velasco said, the two largest emotions felt by humans are anger and fear. Both of these emotions stem from one source -- aversion to a person or idea.

"It's just raw energy that you're creating right now," Velasco said. "You don't really believe that this anger is me. It's just energy going through the body."

While Velasco said metta meditation must first be started with sending energy of love to the self, he also believes that metta meditation must take place in groups. He said that sitters should grow from participating in a metta meditation with their most intimate friends, to people whom they are neutral toward, to people they find the most difficult to interact with.

All of these practices can be taken out into the world on a daily basis. To do so, we must take Zen "off the cushion." By following the guidelines that Tamayo-Moraga calls "living from the perspective of the breath," anybody can use Zen to access the body. It only requires one to become attuned to the present moment and present thoughts.

Contact Brittany Benjamin at (408) 551-1918 or

Meditation creates compassion, study finds

Positive emotions such as compassion and loving-kindness can be trained with special meditation techniques, a study of 16 Tibetan monks by researchers at the University of Wisconsin in Madison has found.

Published recently in the journal PLoS One, brain imaging using functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI, was used to scan the brains of the monks who all had at least 10,000 hours of meditation practise.

The scans revealed that the limbic system of the brain responsible for emotions such as compassion showed significantly more activity among the Buddhist monks with many years of meditation practise. The monks were compared with a second group of 32 people, who two weeks earlier had been instructed for the first time in meditation techniques.

In the instruction session, the novices were asked to think about someone they cared for such as their parents, siblings or a beloved person and to let the “mind be invaded by a feeling of altruistic love.”

In the resting or non-meditative state, the subjects were asked to remain relaxed with neither pleasant nor unpleasant feelings. The scans revealed significant activity in the brain’s limbic system that supports functions such as emotions and behaviour. The brain activity was, however, stronger among the meditating monks than in the control group, the researchers revealed.

“Loving kindness and compassion are central to the philosophy of the Dalai Lama,” study leader Richard Davidson, professor of psychology and psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health said, in elaborating the findings.

Talking back to Prozac

Mindfulness meditation has no harmful side effects and permanently lifts the mood of those who practice it for just three months. Then why don’t psychiatrists dispense it first to their depressed or anxious patients, before potentially dangerous mind-altering drugs? Beats me! In a few years, though, more and more shrinks may be counseling their patients to follow their breathing as well as take their medication — and the book you hold in your hands may find its rightful place on psychiatrists’ shelves, alongside the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders!

Take two meditations and call me in the morning

More and more doctors may prescribe regular sitting practice along with insulin, beta blockers, and blood-pressure medication for patients with serious illnesses like diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension. Indeed, many healthcare practitioners already do! If the research into meditation’s benefits continues to yield such convincing results, HMOs and other medical organizations may ultimately require physicians to include it as standard practice for certain ailments.

Native American meditation

When I describe the “Americanization” of meditation, I’m revealing my cultural bias. Clearly, Native Americans have been meditating here for tens of thousands of years. In addition to shamans, who play a special role in the life of the tribe (see the sidebar “Shamans: The first great meditators”), Native American boys and girls often mark the transition from childhood to adulthood by spending three or four days meditating alone in a sacred spot. By fasting, praying, focusing their minds, and opening their senses, they solicit dreams or visions that bring them special wisdom or power and help them contact their guardian spirits. As adults, Native Americans may also meditate alone in nature when they need spiritual sustenance or answers to important life questions. In addition, the practice of moment-to-moment mindfulness has always been an essential ingredient of traditional Native American life.

Meditation reaches Main Street (1960 to the present)

In the 1960s, a unique cluster of events set the stage for the mainstreaming of meditation. Many Baby Boomers, who were now reaching young adulthood, began experimenting with altered states of consciousness by using so-called mind-expanding drugs like marijuana and LSD. At the same time, the war in Vietnam prompted a national backlash among a sizable segment of the population and helped forge a counterculture opposed in many ways to the status quo. Popular music fueled the fires of discontent and touted the benefits of “tuning in, turning on, and dropping out” — words that in another time, place, and context might have referred to renouncing the world in favor of the monastic life. And political unrest in Asia (including shock waves from Vietnam and the Chinese takeover of Tibet) combined with the spirit of the times to bring a new wave of spiritual teachers to the New World. From the standpoint of meditation, perhaps the landmark event of this era was the conversion of the Beatles to the practice of Transcendental Meditation ™, which prompted thousands of their young fans to begin meditating, too. (Over the years, the TM movement has taught millions of Westerners how to meditate and has pioneered research revealing the mind-body benefits of meditation.) As psychedelics lost their luster, more and more people who had looked to drugs to provide meditative experiences like peace and insight turned to the real thing — and some even took refuge in the yoga communities and Zen centers constructed by their newfound teachers. Since the 1970s, a new generation, with the savvy to translate the teachings for their brothers and sisters, has emerged in the West as sanctioned teachers of Eastern spiritual disciplines. As Alan Watts anticipated (in his book Psychotherapy East and West), the field of psychotherapy has been particularly open to Eastern influences — perhaps because psychotherapy, like meditation, purports to offer a solution for suffering. As a result, American spiritual teachers often couch their messages in language that appeals to proponents of “personal growth.”

At the same time, scientific researchers like Herbert Benson, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and Dean Ornish have pioneered the mainstreaming of meditation and books on meditation and related topics regularly appear on the New York Times bestseller list. In one six-month period recently, Time magazine ran a cover story on the growing popularity of Buddhism, and Newsweek ran covers featuring the faces of Ornish and best-selling author and meditation expert Deepak Chopra. Without doubt, meditation has emerged as a mainstream American practice!

Spirituality or religion?

Polls cited in Newsweek indicate that more and more Americans consider themselves spiritual but not necessarily religious. You may be one of many who have given up their childhood creed, but feel drawn, nevertheless, to spiritual questions and practices. You may find organized religion too limited by its rituals and belief systems, too focused on archaic symbols and stories, and not sufficiently concerned with supporting you in your search for direct spiritual experience.

Religions generally begin with a vital spiritual impulse — look at the lives of Jesus, Mohammed, or Buddha — but often grow rigid over the centuries like an old tree and lose touch with their living spiritual essence. Genuine spirituality keeps resurfacing within religions, however, as an esoteric undercurrent. The establishment may view it with skepticism or even scorn but allow it to flourish as long as it doesn’t threaten the status quo. Judaism has its kabbalists and Hasids, Islam its Sufis, Buddhism its Zen masters and forest monks, Christianity its Franciscans and Carmelites. If you want a sense of meaning and belonging that comes from viewing your life in a broader metaphysical and historical context, conventional, name-brand religion may be your cup of tea. But if you want to awaken to the meaning of life and seek the inner transformation afforded by the practice of meditation or some other spiritual discipline, you’re better off ferreting out one of the esoteric undercurrents within the religious mainstream — or simply following a meditative practice that offers the possibility of direct spiritual experience but has no affiliation with traditional religion.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Yoga and Zen prepare the soil (1900–1960)

In the decades following the World Parliament, the Zen monk Nyogen Senzaki continued Soyen Shaku’s work of sowing the seeds of meditation in the New World, and Swami Paramananda, a disciple of Swami Vivekananda, established centers where curious Americans could practice meditation and hear sophisticated Indian spiritual teachings. (The Vedanta Society, which grew up around the work of swamis Vivekananda and Paramananda and their disciples, continues to flourish in the United States and Europe.) In the 1920s, the Indian yogi Paramahansa Yogananda settled in the United States, and his work gradually blossomed into the Self-Realization Fellowship, which today boasts followers throughout the Western world.

Perhaps the best-known spiritual teacher to arrive during this period was J. Krishnamurti, who settled in Southern California in the 1940s and attracted the English writers Aldous Huxley and Christopher Isherwood. Although Krishnamurti (who was groomed from childhood to be a world teacher by the Theosophists) shunned formal meditation and religious dogma in favor of dialogue and self-inquiry, Huxley and Isherwood helped to popularize the great Hindu scriptures.

By the 1950s, Zen began to significantly influence the American counterculture. While the poet Gary Snyder (who later won the Pulitzer Prize for his book Turtle Island) was off studying Zen in Japan, his friend and Beat colleague Jack Kerouac wrote novels that popularized Buddhist concepts such as dharma, karma, and satori. Also in the ’50s, the great Japanese scholar D. T. Suzuki began teaching Zen at Columbia University in New York City, where his audiences included the young Thomas Merton, novelist J. D. Salinger, composer John Cage, and psychoanalysts Erich Fromm and Karen Horney. About the same time, the books of former Episcopalian priest and Zen aficionado Alan Watts — including The Way of Zen and Psychotherapy East and West — became popular sellers.

Transcendentalism and Theosophy (1840–1900)

The first major influx of Eastern teachings began in the 1840s and 1850s, when Transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau read Hindu scriptures in English translations of German adaptations from the Sanskrit! While Thoreau, whose ideas on civil disobedience were influenced by Eastern philosophy, withdrew to Walden Pond to meditate in nature, his good friend Emerson was blending German idealism, Yankee optimism, and Indian spirituality to formulate his version of the Transcendentalist credo. In the process, he transformed the Hindu Brahman (the divine ground of being) into a more universal concept that he called the Oversoul.

Later in the century, the Theosophists — members of a largely Western movement, led by the Russian-born Madame Blavatsky, who adapted and popularized Indian spiritual thought — made Hindu meditation texts available to the ordinary reader, and followers of the New Thought movement practiced guided visualizations and mantra meditations adapted from Eastern sources. But the landmark meditation event of the 19th century turned out to be the World Parliament of Religions, an international gathering of religious leaders and teachers held in Chicago in 1893. For the first time, Asian masters presented their teachings directly to Westerners on American soil. Following the conference, several of the masters (including the Indian sage Swami Vivekananda and the Japanese Zen teacher Soyen Shaku) toured the United States lecturing to interested audiences.

Toward the one

To prepare for more-advanced meditative practices, Sufis often begin with a darood — the recitation of a sacred phrase coordinated with the breath. The American-born Sufi master Samuel Lewis, who died in 1971, taught the following exercise:
  1. Start to walk in a rhythmic fashion and synchronize your breathing with your pace —four steps for each inhalation and four steps for each exhalation.
  2. As you walk, repeat the phrase “toward the one” — one syllable per step with a silent space on the fourth step. Walking develops and strengthens the rhythm of the breath.
  3. Continue for as long as you like, with wholehearted attention.
“The Sufi practices living in the breath 24 hours a day,” says Shabda Kahn, a Sufi teacher who studied with Lewis.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Contemplating the stars

In his book Jewish Meditation, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan describes a traditional technique based on the biblical verse “Lift your eyes on high and see who created these [stars], the One who brings out their host by number, He calls them all by name . . .” (Isaiah 40:26):
  1. On a clear night, lie or sit comfortably out of doors, gazing up at the stars.
  2. While repeating a mantra, focus your attention on the stars as though you are probing them to reveal the mystery behind them. You can use the traditional Jewish mantra r’bono shel olam to help you deepen your concentration and your sense of the sacred. Or feel free to use a mantra of your own choosing. As Rabbi Kaplan puts it, you are “calling to God in the depths of the heavens, seeking to find Him beyond the stars, beyond the very limits of time and space.”
  3. Remain absorbed in your contemplation for as long as you want. According to Rabbi Kaplan, this meditation “can bring a person to an overwhelmingly deep spiritual experience.”

Meditation among the Sufis

Since the time of the prophet Mohammed in the seventh century A.D., Sufis have worn the garments of Islam. But, according to the American-born Sufi teacher Shabda Kahn, their roots go back much farther, beyond Mohammed or Buddha or other famous teachers, to the first awakened person. Sufis claim to be a fellowship of mystical seekers whose sole purpose is to realize the Divine in their own hearts. The forms of Sufism have varied from century to century and teacher to teacher and from one geographical location to another, but the basic teaching is the same: There is nothing but God. Meditation in Sufism generally takes the form of chanting a sacred phrase, either silently or out loud, while breathing deeply and rhythmically — a practice known as zikr, “remembrance of the Divine.” Kahn explains that Sufis retranslate the biblical beatitude “Blessed are the poor in spirit” to “Blessed are those who have a refined breath.” When the Sufi has cultivated and refined the breath, he or she can use it as a method for surrendering to the divine presence in each moment — with every breath.

Judaism Meditation: Drawing closer to God

According to Rami Shapiro, rabbi of Temple Beth Or in Miami, Florida, and author of Wisdom of the Jewish Sages, mystical interpreters of the Bible have found evidence of meditation dating back to Abraham, the founder of Judaism. The Old Testament prophets apparently entered into altered states of consciousness through fasting and ascetic practices, and mystics in the first few centuries A.D. meditated on a vision of the prophet Ezekiel. But the first formal Jewish meditation, says Shapiro, centered on the Hebrew alphabet, which was considered the divine language through which God created the world. “If you could see into the alphabet,” explains Shapiro, “you could see into the source of creation and thereby become one with the creator Himself.” Like practitioners in all the God-centered religions, Jewish meditators have traditionally used sacred phrases or verses from scripture as mantras to bring them closer to God.

As one great Hasidic master used to say of the phrase r’bono shel olam (“master of the universe”), if you just repeat it continuously, you will achieve union with God. And it is precisely this union that Jewish meditation intends to induce.
Like Christianity, Judaism has been inspired by Eastern influences in recent years to revive its own meditative traditions. Rabbis like Shapiro (who practices Zen meditation) and David Cooper (who trained in Buddhist mindfulness meditation) are creating a Jewish meditative renaissance by forging a new synthesis of ancient techniques from East and West.