meditation

WHAT IS IYENGAR YOGA?

Posted on

banner11-600x278

WHAT IS IYENGAR YOGA?

 

iyengar-asana-bigger11Iyengar Yoga, named after and developed by BKS Iyengar, is a form of Hatha Yoga that has an emphasis on detail, precision and alignment in the performance of posture and breath control. The development of strength, mobility and stability is gained through the asanas.

Iyengar has systematized over 200 classical yoga poses and 14 different types of Pranayama (with variations of many of them) ranging from the basic to advanced. This helps ensure that students progress gradually by moving from simple poses to more complex ones and develop their mind, body and spirit step-by-step.

Iyengar Yoga often makes use of props, such as belts, blocks, and blankets, as aids in performing asanas (postures). The props enable students to perform the asanas correctly, minimizing the risk of injury or strain, and making the postures accessible to both young and old. Iyengar Yoga is firmly based on the traditional eight limbs of yoga.

Iyengar yoga focuses particularly on three aspects. Correct body alignment allows the body to develop harmoniously in an anatomically correct way so that the student suffers no injury or pain when practicing correctly. As all bodies are different and people have different weaknesses and strengths. Props were developed for use in Iyengar yoga; and are objects like wooden blocks, chairs, blankets and belts that help one adjust or support oneself in the different postures so that one can work in a range of motion that is safe and effective.

Pada_slider

An added benefit is that although the therapeutic aspects of asanas and pranayama have been known for centuries, the emphasis on correct anatomical
alignment and methods of working have refined the therapeutic aspects of Yoga. Thus practice of Iyengar yoga will often result in eliminating aches and pains, improve posture etc. but Iyengar Yoga can also be used to treat many ailments, including extremely serious medical conditions, under the supervision of a suitably experienced teacher. The other two key aspects of asana practice in the Iyengar system are correct sequencing in which there is a powerful cumulative effect achieved by practicing asanas in particular sequences. The concept of timings means postures are held for considerable lengths of time to let the effects of the poses penetrate deeper within the individual

Pranayama is started once a firm foundation in asana has been established as physically the student requires the alignment, flexibility, lung capacity and training necessary to sit and breathe correctly while practicing. Pranayama gives numerous physical benefits including toning the circulatory, digestive, nervous and respiratory systems, activating the internal organs and creating a feeling of energy and calmness. Equally importantly it also brings the mind and senses under control and makes the individual fit for the experience of meditation.

iyengar-yoga-centre-singaporeOne may, get the impression that Iyengar yoga is just gymnastics and deep breathing or only Asana and Pranayama. This is incorrect.      Asanas and Pranayama are merely used as the tools with which to master all 8 aspects of Astanga yoga. Mastery of the body is the gateway to mastery of the mind. Consider the following: The whole human being from the outermost skin to the innermost being (or soul) is interconnected. For example, if the body is ill, the mind also becomes depressed, lethargic and bad tempered and if the mind is stressed the body becomes tense. The intensity and depth to which Iyengar yoga is practiced on the physical level does affect and change the mind and spirit.

In doing yoga asanas the whole body and mind must learn to become involved. One has to spread one’s awareness to the smallest parts of the body simultaneously so the mind becomes alert, attentive and sharp. One learns to breathe smoothly deeply and evenly so one’s energy (prana) can flow without obstruction and one learns to make the mind quiet, passive and receptive thus promoting a meditative state of mind. This makes the body fit for Pranayama.

Through asanas one also learns an awareness and application of ethics – Yama and Niyama. For example one of the Niyamas is sauca (Purity). An example: iyengar-yogaBecause yoga builds up a very sharp awareness of the state of the body and mind, one becomes very aware of ones state of health and begins to nurture it. So after too much eating and drinking, the body suffers and the mind becomes dull. As one spends more and more time practicing yoga, the obvious contradiction and self-destructiveness becomes more difficult to reconcile and one begins to moderate ones eating and drinking, leading to a more pure lifestyle. Another example of this is the Yama of non-violence. Although superficially Yamas are social ethics and Niyama personal disciplines, both can be applied equally to any situation such as society or the physical body.  While doing Parsvakonasana one may experience pain in the front knee and assume it is at fault for causing one discomfort. But in reality the knee is causing pain because it is forced into an unnatural position by the thigh and buttock working lazily. So the buttock and thigh do the violence by being lazy but we blame the knee. The remedy is to make the buttock and thigh work correctly then the knee can function properly and the discomfort disappears. As one’s sensitivity in the postures increases one also realizes that not only the buttock and thigh but all parts of the body to a greater or lesser extent have had their role in the violence to the knee. This thinking can be applied to society where it is easy to find the roots of violence in unhappy homes, childhood neglect and poor education.

Pranayama is the essential prerequisite for correct true meditation.  It is theoretically possible to achieve a meditative state of mind by merely sitting and concentrating, in practice it is not possible for 99% of people. In meditation the mind is absolutely silent but razor sharp. Many people go to meditation classes, for many years even. But few achieve this state of consciousness; the mind has too many “portals.” It is like a sieve full of water. Whichever hole you block, water continues to pour out of the rest. The mind is too subtle, cunning and restless to be controlled and made still. Therefore, Pranayama is recommended as the breath is used to still the mind. Smooth subtle and controlled breathing is far easier to master than the mind and when the breath becomes smooth and steady so does the mind. Then one can learn to withdraw the senses from external objects and cultivate the state of mind where the experience of meditation can come.

imagesMeditation is a state of mind that cannot be learnt and thus the practice of sitting and attempting to meditate is not a guarantee of results in itself. Rather the foundations of self-culture have to be built through practicing the first five disciplines of yoga. The experience of meditation comes when the student is ready.

This leads to another keynote of Iyengar yoga: meditation in action. If one can meditate on a flame, grain of rice or other subject, why not meditate on the posture one is performing? So, as a student does yoga postures the mind learns to become aware of the different parts of the body. At first the mind moves from part to part but with training learns to become absorbed in all parts of the body evenly at the same time. One learns to refine one’s awareness and penetrate deeper into the body in order to achieve more accurate and thus effective and comfortable postures. So the mind is trained to achieve a meditative state of being. Although pranayama is the real key to preparation for meditation, the progress made is applicable to asanas which can be practiced to such a degree of refinement that one meditates in the posture.

In sum, the Iyengar method of Yoga may be said to define itself as different from other styles of Yoga by 3 key elements, namely technique, sequence and timing: (1) Technique means that in practice one learns ever finer adjustments in the alignment of how one performs one’s asana and pranayama; (2) Sequence refers to the sequences in which asana and pranayama are practiced. For example, by varying which postures are practiced after which, the mental and emotional effects of the practice can be intensified in a manner not otherwise possible in order to bring about changes to the whole being including ones spiritual evolution; and (3) Timing refers to the length of time spent in postures or pranayama.  Postures cannot be done swiftly or without awareness. It takes time to move into a posture and become stable. When this has been achieved then one remains stably for some time to intensify the depth of the posture and so extract its benefit. Otherwise the potential effects and benefits remain small compared to what is possible.

Kathy Kiefer

Advertisements

REIKI AND MASSAGE THERAPY

Posted on

medical-qigong-treatments

REIKI AND MASSAGE THERAPY

What is a Reiki massage? Reiki is not really a massage, but can be combined with massage for reiki healing.   Reiki healing is the usage of spiritual energy to heal a person’s aura or situation.

Reiki is a Japanese technique for stress reduction and relaxation that also promotes healing. It is administered by “laying on hands” and is based on the idea that an unseen “life force energy” flows through us and is what causes us to be alive. If one’s “life force energy” is low, then we are more likely to get sick or feel stress, and it is high, we are more capable of being happy and healthy.

Reiki healing is the usage of spiritual energy to heal a person’s aura or situation.   The word “Reiki” actually translates to “Universal Life Force Energy.”   Massage is the process or rubbing or kneading different parts of the body for therapeutic reasons or purposes.

The word Reiki comes from two Japanese words –Rei which means “Gods Wisdom or the Higher Power” and KI which is “life force energy.” So Reiki is actually “spiritually guided force energy.”

A treatment feels like a wonderful glowing radiance that flows though and around you.   Reiki treats the whole person including body, emotions, mind and spirit creating many beneficial effects that include relaxation and feelings of peace, security and well-being. Many have reported miraculous results.

Reiki is a simple, natural and safe method of spiritual healing an self-improvement that everyone can use.

It has been effective in helping virtually every known illness and malady and always creates a beneficial effect. It also works in conjunction with all other medical or therapeutic techniques to relieve side effects and promote recovery.

An ancient Japanese massage technique, reiki is a formula to help stress reduction and promote healing. This is a hands-on healing technique through massage that generates life force energy flowing through the body. If the energy levels are low individuals can feel fatigue, experience negative emotions, and have physical complications with organs and glands. Various healing techniques that enable the qi and meridians to connect with the chakras in the body exist. These are all energy fields that, when depleted, result in emotional and physical ill health. Here you will learn what a reiki massage is and what it can do for you.

The patient is fully clothed and lays face up on a massage table. The practitioner places their hands in specific positions on the body, starting from the head and ending at the feet. These positions used depend on the energy levels of the patient, as there may be blockages in some organs more than others. The patient then lays face down so the practitioner can perform treatment on the back. The practitioner stores energy in their own body so the heat and flow can translate to energize the meridians, qi, and chakras in the body.

The main benefits are that the patient feels less stress and relaxed. Depending on the depletion of energy in the body, the patient may feel heat radiating from the practitioner. They also may feel a tingling sensation that is the energy coming to life and connecting within the body. As a relaxation technique, some patients fall asleep during the session. After treatment, the patient may feel sleepy yet as they move around, they will be energized more than before.

Reiki and massage are two separate things.   The usual treatment of Reiki massage begins at the head and works its way through the seven different chakras.   The hand placements coincide with these chakras or energy centers of the physical body.

Reiki massage has been used to help patients manage pain and to increase their quality of living. Reiki massage is different from normal massage because the practitioner does not knead or manipulate the tissues or muscles of the patient.   Instead the hands of the practitioner remain still, and the energy of healing is sent through the channels of the practitioner into the patient.

If you are nervous about your first massage treatment combining Reiki and traditional massage, there is no need.   The practitioner will not do anything that makes you feel uncomfortable.   You remain completely clothed, as it is not necessary for there to be skin-to-skin contact.   Reiki massage can even be used to send energy to broken bones or injuries that are covered by casts and bandages.

Reiki is also used to treat conditions such as TMJ (also known as lock-jaw), muscle pain, tension, stress, injury healing, pain management and over 60 other medical ailments.   IN the Western world, there are four different areas of chakras of the body used for treatment.   They are the head, body, legs/fee and back, respectively.

Reiki treatments are said to be one hundred percent safe; they don’t incur any side effects or injuries.  There are sensations that are felt, but are different for different people. Some people experience a sensation of warmth or tingling.   Others experience a spirit of relaxation and balance.

Reiki is a form of faith healing developed by a Japanese Buddhist in the early part of the 20th century. Pronounced “ray-key,” this complementary therapy is known as a road to healing, and a system of   divine enlightenment.

The word “reiki” in Japanese roughly translates as “universal life form energy.” It would explain why reiki can only be   passed from master to apprentice, and why the theory behind this spiritual practice upholds that only a skilled reiki practitioner can absorb energy from the universe and then channel it into a patient in order to improve their health and well-being.   In this way it is much like touch therapy, with the reiki master acting as the conduit – removing bad energy and replacing it with good energy.   This channeling of good energy will then encourage the patient to heal.

The actual channeling  procedure involved in reiki works something like this: the reiki master holds their hands over the recipient’s body – sometimes actually making contact with the         body – and uses their spiritual expertise to administer the healing treatment.   Some schools of reiki prescribe specific spots on the bod y for hand placement; while others believe that the hands of the reiki master should be used to detect the right place to administer treatment.   This second school believes the practitioner should intuitively recognize places of imbalance in our bodies.

Reiki can be administered in one of two ways – either in person or via distance healing.

In-person – During an in-person reiki treatment, the client will be asked to lie down on a massage table or mat.   They remain fully clothed throughout the treatment and the practitioner never makes contact the patient’s skin.   The environment is totally relaxed, with candle light, soothing music and aroma-therapy are used to put the client in a totally relaxed state.   The reiki practitioner will transfer energy from their own hands to the client, by gently touching different areas on the client’s body.

Distance healing – the client is asked to set up a relaxing environment in their home or place of their choice.   The reiki practitioner will then transfer the energy from themselves to their patient from a distance.

While Reiki is spiritual in nature, it is not a religion. It has no dogma, and there is nothing you must believe in order to learn and use Reiki. In fact, Reiki is not dependent on belief at all and will work whether you believe in it or not. Because Reiki comes from God, many people find that using Reiki puts them more in touch with the experience of their religion rather than having only an intellectual concept of it.

While Reiki is not a religion, it is still important to live and act in a way that promotes harmony with others.

Kathy Kiefer

ZEN

Posted on Updated on

hakuin-tasters

 

ZEN

 

Is Zen religion?

Or is a belief in something spiritual?

Or even ancient teachings on how to live life?

Zen is a school of Mahayana Buddhism that developed in China during the 6th century as Chan. From China, Zen spread south to Vietnam, northeast to Korea and east to Japan. The word Zen is derived from the Japanese pronunciation of the Middle Chinese word dzjen, which in turn is derived from the Sanskrit word dhyana, which can be approximately translated as “absorption” or “meditative state.”

Zen emphasizes insight in Buddha-nature and the personal expression of this insight in daily life, especially for the benefits of others. As such, it de-emphasizes mere knowledge of sutras and doctrine and favors direct understanding through zazen and interaction with an accomplished teacher. The teachings of Zen include various sources of Mahayana thought, especially Yogacara, the Tathagatagarbha Sutras and Huan, with their emphasis on Buddha-nature, totality, and the Bodhisattva-ideal. The Prajnaparamita literature and, to a lesser extent, Madhyamaka have also been influential.

The history of Chan in China can be divided in several periods. Zen as we know it today is the result of a long history, with many changes and contingent factors. Each period had different types of Zen, some of which remained influential while others vanished.  (a) The Legendary period, from Bodhidharma in the late 5th century to the An Lushan Rebellion around 765 CE, in the middle of the Tang Dynasty. Little written information is left from this period. It is the time of the Six Patriarchs, including Bodhidharma and Huiheng, and the legendary “split” between the Northern and the Southern School of Chán; (b)   The Classical period, around 950 CE. This is the time of the great masters of Chan, and the creation of the yu-lu genre, the recordings of the sayings and teachings of these great masters; and (c) The Literary period, from around 950 to 1250, which spans the era of the Song Dynasty (960-1279). In this time the gongan-collections were compiled, collections of sayings and deeds by the famous masters, appended with poetry and commentary. This genre reflects the influence of literati on the development of Chan. This period idealized the previous period as the “golden age” of Chan, producing the literature in which the spontaneity of the celebrated masters was portrayed.

Four phases in the history of Chan: (1) Proto-Chan (c. 500-600) In this phase, Chan developed in multiple locations in northern China. It was based on the practice of dhyana, and is connected to the figures of Bodhidharma and Huike. Its principal text is the Two Entrances and Four Practices; attributed to Bodhidharma; (2) Early Chan (c. 600-900)  In this phase Chan took its first clear contours. Prime factions are the Northern, Southern and Oxhead Schools; (3) Middle Chan (c. 750-1000) In this phase developed the well-known Chan of the iconoclastic Zen-masters. Prime factions are the Hongzhou school and the Hubei faction; and (4) Song Dynasty Chan (c. 950-1300). In this phase Chan took its definitive shape, including the picture of the “golden age” of the Chan of the Tang-Dynasty, and the use of koans for individual study and meditation.

When Buddhism came to China from India, it was initially adapted to the Chinese culture and understanding. Buddhism was exposed to Confucianist and Taoist influences. Chan has been referred to as a “natural evolution of Buddhism under Taoist conditions.” Buddhism was first identified to be “a barbarian variant of Taoism”.

Judging from the reception by the Han of the Hinayana works and from the early commentaries, it appears that Buddhism was being perceived and digested through the medium of religious Daoism (Taoism). Buddha was seen as a foreign immortal who had achieved some form of Daoist non-death. The Buddhists’ mindfulness of the breath was regarded as an extension of Daoist breathing exercises. Taoist Te a practice termed ko-i, matching the concepts, while the emerging Chinese Buddhism had to compete with Taoism and Confucianism.  The first Buddhist recruits in China were Taoists. They developed high esteem for the newly introduced Buddhist meditational techniques, and blended them with Taoist meditation. Representatives of early Chinese Buddhism like Sengzhao and Tao Sheng were deeply influenced by the Taoist keystone works of Laozi and Zhuangzi. Against this background, especially the Taoist concept of naturalness was inherited by the early Chan disciples: they equated – to some extent – the ineffable Tao and Buddha-nature, and rather than feeling bound to the abstract “wisdom of the sutras”, emphasized Buddha-nature to be found in “everyday” human life, just as the Tao.

The actual origins of Chan may lie in ascetic practitioners of Buddhism, who found refuge in forests and mountains. Chan was repressed in China during the 1960s in the Cultural Revolution, but subsequently had been re-asserting itself on the mainland, and has a significant following in Taiwan and Hong Kong as well as among Overseas Chinese.   Although it is difficult to trace when the West first became aware of Zen as a distinct form of Buddhism, the visit of a Japanese Zen monk to Chicago during the World Parliament of Religions in 1893 is often pointed to as an event that enhanced its profile in the Western world. It was during the late 1950s and the early 1960s that the number of Westerners, other than the descendants of Asian immigrants, pursuing a serious interest in Zen began to reach a significant level.

Zen teachings can be likened to “the finger pointing at the moon”. Zen teachings point to the moon, awakening “a realization of the un-impended interpenetration of the dharmahatu”. But the Zen-tradition also warns against taking its teachings, the pointing finger, to be this insight itself.  There are two different ways of understanding and actually practicing Zen. These two different ways are termed in Chinese pen chueh and shih-chueh respectively. The term pen chueh refers to the belief that one’s mind is from the beginning of time fully enlightened, while shih-chueh refers to the belief that at some point in time we pass from imprisonment in ignorance and delusion to a true vision of Zen realization: “Our enlightenment is timeless, yet our realization of it occurs in time.” According to this belief experiencing a moment of awakening in this life is of central importance.

Dogen, the founder of Soto in Japan, emphasized that practice and awakening cannot be separated. By practicing shikantaza, attainment and Buddhahood are already being expressed. For Dogen, zazen, or shikantaza, is the essence of Buddhist practice. Five forms of zen have been discerned: (1) Bompu Zen, aimed bodily and mental health; (2) Gedo Zen, practices like dhyana, Yoga and Christian contemplation which are akin to Zen, but not Buddhist; (3) Shojo Zen, the Hinayana, aimed at one’s own liberation; (4) Daijo Zen, the Mahayana, aimed at attaining kensho and the realization of Zen in daily life; and (5) Saijojo Zen, in which practice is enlightenment.

Central to Zen-practice is dhyana or meditation. The Zen tradition holds that in meditation practice, notions of doctrine and teachings necessitate the creation of various notions and appearances that obscure the transcendent wisdom of each being’s Buddha-nature. This process of rediscovery goes under various terms such as “introspection”, “a backward step”, “turning-about” or “turning the eye inward”.

During sitting meditation, practitioners usually assume a position such as the lotus position, half-lotus, Burmese, or seiza postures, using the dhyana mudra. To regulate the mind, awareness is directed towards counting or watching the breath or put in the energy center below the navel. Often, a square or round cushion placed on a padded mat is used to sit on; in some other cases, a chair may be used. This practice may simply be called sitting dhyana, which is zuochan in Chinese, and zazan in Japanese.

In the Soto school of Zen, meditation with no objects, anchors, or content, is the primary form of practice. The meditator strives to be aware of the stream of thoughts, allowing them to arise and pass away without interference.  Considerable textual, philosophical, and phenomenological justification of this practice can be found throughout the “Principles of Zazen” and the “Universally Recommended Instructions for Zazen”. In the Japanese language, this practice is called Shikantaza.

Intensive group meditation may be practiced occasionally in some temples. While the daily routine may require monks to meditate for several hours each day, during the intensive period they devote themselves almost exclusively to the practice of sitting meditation. The numerous 30–50 minute long meditation periods are interleaved with short rest breaks, meals, and sometimes, short periods of work should be performed with the same mindfulness; nightly sleep is kept to seven hours or less. One distinctive aspect of Zen meditation in groups is the use of a flat wooden slat used to keep meditators focused and awake. In the Japanese language, this practice is called Sesshin.

Koan-inquiry may be practiced during sitting meditation, walking meditation, and throughout all the activities of daily life. Koan practice is particularly emphasized by the Japanese Rinzai School, but it also occurs in other schools or branches of Zen depending on the teaching line.

A practice in many Zen monasteries and centers is a daily liturgy service. Practitioners chant major sutras such as the Heart Sutra, the Lotus Sutra (often called the “Avalokiteshvara Sutra”), the Song of the Jewel Mirror Awareness, the Great Compassionate Heart Dharani and other minor mantras.

The Butsudan is the altar in a monastery where offerings are made to the images of the Buddha or Bodhisattvas. The same term is also used in Japanese homes for the altar where one prays to and communicates with deceased family members. As such, reciting liturgy in Zen can be seen as a means to connect with the Bodhisattvas of the past. Liturgy is often used during funerals, memorials, and other special events as means to invoke the aid of supernatural powers.

Chanting usually centers on major Bodhisattvas like Avalokiteshvara and Manjusri.  According to Mahayana Buddhism, Bodhisattvas are beings who have taken vows to remain in Samsara to help all beings achieve liberation from the cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Since the Zen practitioner’s aim is to walk the Bodhisattva path, chanting can be used as a means to connect with these beings and realize this ideal within oneself.

Though in western Zen the emphasis is on Zen-meditation, and the application of Zen-teachings in daily life, Japanese Zen also serves a function in public religion. Funerals play an important role as a point of contact between the monks and the laity. Statistics published by the Soto school state that 80 percent of Soto laymen visit their temple only for reasons having to do with funerals and death, while only 17 percent visit for spiritual reasons and a mere 3 percent visit a Zen priest at a time of personal trouble or crisis.

Contrary to popular image, literature does play a role in the Zen-training. Zen is deeply rooted in the teachings and doctrines of Mahayana Buddhism. Unsui, Zen-monks, “are expected to become familiar with the classics of the Zen canon”. What the Zen tradition emphasizes is that enlightenment of the Buddha came not through conceptualization, but rather through direct insight. But direct insight has to be supported by study and understanding of the Buddhist teachings and texts. Intellectual understanding without practice is called yako-zen, wild fox Zen, but “one who has only experience without intellectual understanding is a zen temma, “Zen devil””.

The Zen-tradition developed a rich textual tradition, based on the interpretation of the Buddhist teachings and the recorded sayings of Zen-masters. Religion is not only an individual matter, but “also a collective endeavor”. Though individual experience and the iconoclastic picture of Zen are emphasized in the western world, the Zen-tradition is maintained and transferred by a high degree of institutionalization and hierarchy. In Japan, modernity has led to criticism of the formal system and the commencement of lay-oriented Zen-schools. How to organize the continuity of the Zen-tradition in the west, constraining charismatic authority and the derailment it may bring on the one hand, and maintaining the legitimacy and authority by limiting the number of authorized teachers on the other hand, is a challenge for the developing Zen-communities in the west.

Modern scientific research on the history of Zen discerns three main narratives concerning Zen, its history and its teachings: Traditional Zen Narrative, Buddhist Modernism, Historical and Cultural Criticism. An external narrative is Nondualism, which claims Zen to be a token of a universal nondualist essence of religions.

 Kathy Kiefer

GASSHO MEDITATION

Posted on

3788228_orig

 

GASSHO MEDITATION

 

What is Gassho Meditation and why have I not heard of it before?

Gassho meditation is a simple meditation technique for balancing the third eye and increasing calmness in the body.

The Gassho position is like a prayer position mainly in Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist & Jain religions.

urlGassho Meditation is a simple and profound technique for bringing your life into balance and for opening up to guidance. Gassho means “two hands coming together.”  Do this meditation every day in the morning and/or evening, alone or with others for 20-30 minutes. You may sit on the floor or in a chair. Close your eyes and allow yourself to relax. Place your hands in the Gassho (prayer) position, holding them in front of your heart center, in a way that is comfortable. Focus your attention on the point where the middle fingers meet and let go of all thoughts. Breathe in gently through the nose with the tongue connected at the forward top of the mouth. Let the tongue drop as you breathe out through the mouth. If your arms or shoulders should become uncomfortable, allow your hands to come down gradually to rest in your lap. Still keep them folded together and focus on the contact point of the middle finger tips.

Each culture has its own ritual display of greeting that carries certain meaning.  Some are more complex than others.  In the West we shake hands, wave, or hug each other depending on the degree of how formal the relationship is between those we greet.  We learn these social rituals early, and they become automatic over time.  If you notice in the examples I give above, two of them require touching.  So greetings in the West are often personal, intimate even.   Greetings in Asian cultures may seem to the Western eye to be more formal, bowing for example, even between close friends and family.  One such greeting incorporates a bow with bringing the hands together in what is known as “Gassho”.   This form of greeting is used especially in Indo-China.  It has been adopted by Western Buddhists across the various traditions as a form of respect given to our teachers and Sangha members.  In most Ch’an and Zen ritual practices it is used at the altar as a form of respect.

There is a deeper meaning to the act of Gassho that teaches lessons on inter-consecutiveness and outward display of selflessness.  Gassho is really a mudra that means “identity.”  It is an act of communication that indicates that we are aware of how we – and other – are connected.  In other words, we identify with the meaning of our relationship with the person or thing we are bowing to.  It is a deep identity that takes in all the characteristics, forms, and meaning of one person to another.  It goes beyond just a greeting.  The Japanese associate bowing with palms together as a display of recognition that there is no dualism between what is before us and ourselves, everything comes together and is taken in as we bow.  As our hands fit together almost perfectly, we are reminded how the Universe demonstrates the normal pattern of life, when we take the time to become awakened to this reality.

This is an intimate and independent practice, this is how life is.  Being recognized by someone, and recognizing someone without distinction, is a very important practice of selfless action.  A Gassho is like this.  When we do Gassho we instinctively feel the bond of human connection, and we are left with feelings of happiness and a sense of harmony.  When a Buddhist performs Gassho, in the very act can be found all the principles upon which our practice is based, when we look deeply.

It is widely recognized though, that this meditation should be practiced on a regular basis. While you are meditating in this way, be aware that you have a body, from the tip of your toes to the top of your head and every part there-in. You could begin from the ground up, which is a good place to start as we walk with our feet every day and this is the area of our body that does the most work.   After a few weeks of continuing this meditation practice, you have managed to find your head and know how it feels, and then you will be ready to practice on the spot healing with little or no preparation necessary.

Being focused does not necessitate you being out of control of your mind, body or soul at any time of the night or day, nor does it mean that you may be side tracked into another way of thinking at a moment’s glance. On the contrary, it means that you don’t need to be concerned with where you are or what you are doing, that you may indeed switch off in order to do the task at hand.

Things to include while doing Gassho meditation include:  (a)  sit in a half lotus position, and keep your spine erect; (b)  Try to keep your eyes closed; (c)  Practice it for 10-15 minutes daily, preferably after  reiki healing – self healing;  (d)  If your shoulders hurt or your back becomes stiff – you can keep  your hands towards your lap or chakra; (e) You can combine this meditation with Gyan Mudra too; (f)  Every time you inhale imagine that every pore takes in positivity, with every exhale imagine or give the intention that reiki takes the negativity and turns it into positivity; and (g)  Initially the breath might not be regulated there is no need to worry – it will become better with time.

Quieting the mind happens for the practitioner when he/ she sits in Gassho meditation and uses the breath as a tool to focus his/her awareness on. Often when we sit in Gassho meditation our minds are busy with I like to call our “to do list” or it rambles on with our fears that keep us attached to the mind. By using the breath as a tool we can shift our awareness from our thoughts/ emotions/ fears and bring it to our breath. It may seem difficult at first but with a few minutes of practice you’ll find that it is very simple and effective. It’s as simple as this example: when say, your emotions are controlling your thoughts and all you can do is focus on the thoughts that carry the sadness that is keeping your awareness, simply ask yourself where is my breath at this moment; then bring your awareness to your breath and follow it with your mind’s eye for several minutes of breathing with full awareness. Whatever was pressing on your mind it will fade (maybe only slightly but faded). Continue following your breath until the mind becomes bored with trying to regain your awareness and is quiet. The mind will of course try many different avenues to regain your awareness but simply take a second to sit back and look at what it presents, recognize the attachment and then just breathe it away.

Becoming present in the “now moment”. This to me happens as a side benefit from sitting in Gassho and using the breath to quiet the mind.   It is called the “now moment” because most of us are too busy living in our past experiences or are worrying about our future and are never really truly present in this very moment. (As you read this you’re also thinking of the 20 other things you need to do).   By sitting in Gassho and following your breath with your awareness you’re allowing your mind to become quiet which then allows you to become present in your own presence noticing the functioning of the universe in you and around you as a great master once said,  ”not only feeling the wind, but seeing, smelling and tasting the wind; not separate from but one with.”

Bringing your awareness to your energy flow.    By sitting in Gassho meditation allows the practitioners to begin to feel the energy of the universe flowing through them and out through their hands. At first it may be only slightly noticeable but with time and practice the energy flow in you will strengthen as well as your perception to the energy will grow. During the time it has taken you to do both (a) and (b) with your hands in Gassho you will have done mini healing session because the Reiki will have been flowing the entire time. In TCM and reflexology the hands and feet are maps to the entire body so as you’re sitting in Gassho you’re also doing self-healing.

The beginning of your self-healing.  Flowing energy to your entire body, mind, spirit just by sitting and being present with the loving energy.

Reiki is calming, spiritually and physically.   When we practice Reiki, we are asking for the Universal Spirit to enter into our energy fields and empower us. Reiki can be empowerment from the healer, as well as to the one being healed.

When we meditate in Reiki, we are signifying to The Universe that we wish to open up the Healing Portal and thus begin to practice our Reiki. It is through meditation, channeling, visualizing and sending the Reiki energy from our soul to the body, soul and spirit of the one being healed. The energy is invisible, yet very powerful.   It is strong without being harm to anyone. It is subtle and gentle. It is relaxing and healing.

 Kathy Kiefer

VIPASSANA MEDITATION

Posted on

vipassana

VIPASSANA MEDITATION

Vipassana in the Buddhist tradition means insight into the true nature of reality

 

In the Theravadin context, this entails insight into the three marks of existence:   (1) the impermanence of and (2) the satisfactoriness; a very conditioned thing that exists, and (3) non-self.    In Mahayana contexts, it entails insight into what is variously described as sunyata, dharmata, the inseparability of appearance and emptiness, clarity and emptiness, or bliss and emptiness.

Vipassana is commonly used as a synonym for vipassanā-meditation, in which satipatthana, four foundations of mindfulness or anapanasati, “mindfulness of breathing,” is used to become aware of the impermanence of everything that exists. Vipassana is commonly used as one of two poles for the categorization of types of Buddhist practice, the other being samatha. Though both terms appear in the Sutta Pitaka, but there are so me that argue that the distinction as two separate paths originates in the earliest interpretations of the Sutta Pitaka, not in the suttas themselves.   Various traditions disagree which techniques belong to which pole.

Samatha is a focusing, pacifying, and calming meditation common to many traditions in the world, notably yoga. According to the contemporary Theravada orthodoxy, samatha is used as a preparation for vipassana, pacifying the mind and strengthening the concentration in order to allow the work of insight, which leads to liberation.

Vipassana-meditation has gained popularity in the west through the modern Buddhist vipassana movement, modeled after Theravada Buddhism meditation practices, which employs vipassana and anapana meditation as its primary techniques and places emphasis on the teachings of the Satipatthana Sutta.   A synonym for “Vipassana” is paccakkha, “before the eyes,” which refers to direct experiential perception. Thus, the type of seeing denoted by “vipassana” is that of direct perception, as opposed to knowledge derived from reasoning or argument.  In Tibetan, vipashyana is lhagthong. The term “lhag” means “higher”, “superior”, “greater”; the term “thong” is “view” or “to see”. So together, lhagthong may be rendered into English as “superior seeing”, “great vision” or “supreme wisdom.” This may be interpreted as a “superior manner of seeing”, and also as “seeing that which is the essential nature.” Its nature is a lucidity—a clarity of mind.

The suttas contain traces of ancient debates about the interpretation of the teachings, and early classifications and hierarchies. Out of these debates developed the idea that bare insight suffices to reach liberation, by bare insight alone in the three marks of existence are dukkha, anatta and anicca.  This is in contradiction with the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path, in which the Buddhist path starts with insight, to be followed by practices to cultivate the mind and reach Nirvana.

In the Sthaviravada progress in understanding comes all at once, ‘insight’ does not come ‘gradually’.  The Mahasanghika had the doctrine of ekaksana-citt, “according to which a Buddha knows everything in a single thought-instant”.  The emphasis on insight is also discernible in the Mahayana-tradition, which emphasizes prajana:  The very title of a large corpus of early Mahayana literature, the Prajnaparamita, shows that to some extent the historian may extrapolate the trend to extol insight, prajna, at the expense of dispassion, viraga, and the control of the emotions.

Although Theravada and Mahayana are commonly understood as different streams of Buddhism, their practice too may reflect emphasis on insight as a common denominator:  In practice and understanding Zen is actually very close to the Theravada Forest Tradition even though its language and teachings are heavily influenced by Taoism and Confucianism.    Vipassana meditation differs in the modern Buddhist traditions and in some nonsectarian forms.  It includes any meditation technique that cultivates insight including contemplation, introspection, and observation of bodily sensations, analytic meditation, and observations about lived experience.  Vipassana as practiced in the Theravada centers on mindfulness, including mindfulness of breathing, combined with the contemplation of impermanence.

Mindfulness of breathing is described throughout the Sutta Pitaka. The Satipatthana Sutta describes it as going into the forest and sitting beneath a tree and then to simply watch the breath. If the breath is long, to notice that the breath is long, if the breath is short, to notice that the breath is short.    By observing the breath one becomes aware of the perpetual changes involved in breathing, and the arising and passing away of mindfulness.

One can also be aware of and gain insight into impermanence through the observation of bodily sensations and their nature of arising and passing away. Contemplating on these perpetual changes one becomes aware of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and lack of an inherent, independent essence or self.

The Vipassana  practitioner develops various level of insight and reaches the step where gross bodily sensations/feeling tone dissolve and there is a subtle flow of sensations throughout the body, which is called bhaṅganupassa naṇa, knowledge of dissolution. This is an ongoing process that continues to reveal layer upon layer of mental purification.   The Vipassana yogi experiences increasing cessation of cravings and aversions (fears) strongly founded knowledge of equanimity of all formations.

Similar to the Theravadan approaches Mahayana includes contemplation on Buddhist teachings as well as experiential awareness. The latter is particularly prevalent in East Asian traditions such as Zen.  But in addition and in particular the Mahayana practitioner contemplates the two truths doctrine:  the nature of conventional truth and absolute truth. Through the cultivation of this awareness, one realizes that both self and external phenomena lack an inherent existence and have the nature of emptiness. This is determined by the inferential path of reasoning and direct observation through meditation.The Mahayana also introduced meditation upon visualizations, such as an image of Prajnparamita in female, deity form, as a way to contemplate Buddhist teachings. Each component of the visualization evokes a particular teaching and the practitioner then contemplates using a visual symbolic representation.

The polarity of samatha and vipassana is discernible in the Chinese and Tibetan debates over gradualism or subitism.   Nevertheless, Huineng, sixth patriarch of the Zen, considered the practice cannot be described as gradualistic nor subitist, but implies people with more or less clear minds.

It appears that Indian Mahayana Buddhism employed both deductive investigation and induction investigation in the practice of vipasyana at the level of sutrayana, corresponding respectively to the “contemplative forms” and “experiential forms” in the Theravada school.

The practice tradition suggested by the Treasury is one in which mindfulness of breathing becomes a basis for inductive reasoning on such topics as the five aggregates; as a result of such inductive reasoning, the meditator progresses through the Hearer paths of preparation, seeing, and meditation. It seems at least possible that both Vasubandhu and Asaṅga presented their respective versions of such a method, analogous to but different from modern Theravada insight meditation.  Because the great difference between this type of inductive meditative reasoning based on observations.   It appears that only the tradition of deductive analysis in vipasyana was transmitted to Tibet in thesutrayana context. This tradition is outlined in the Bhavanakrama texts, following in turn an approach described in the Lankavatara Sutra.   One scholar describes his approach thus: “the overall picture painted is that kind of serial alternation between observation and analysis that takes place entirely within the sphere of meditative concentration” in which the analysis portion consists of Madhyamama reasoning’s.

The approach in the sutras is to develop a conceptual understanding of emptiness and gradually refine that understanding through meditation, which eventually produces a direct experience of emptiness we are proceeding from a conceptual understanding produced by analysis and logical inference into a direct experience this takes a great deal of time we are essentially taking inferential reasoning as our method or as the path. There is an alternative  which the Buddha taught in the tantras  the primary difference between the sutra approach and the approach of Vajrayana is that in the sutra approach, we take inferential reasoning as our path and in the Vajrayana approach, we take direct experience as our path.

In general there are two kinds of meditation: the meditation of the paṇḍita who is a scholar and the nonanalytical meditation or direct meditation of the kusulu, or simple yogi. . . the analytical meditation of the paṇḍita occurs when somebody examines and analyzes something thoroughly until a very clear understanding of it is developed. . . The direct, nonanalytical meditation is called kusulu meditation in Sanskrit. This was translated as tromeh in Tibetan, which means “without complication” or being very simple without the analysis and learning of a great scholar. Instead, the mind is relaxed and without applying analysis so it just rests in its nature. In the sūtra tradition, there are some nonanalytic meditations, but mostly this tradition uses analytic meditation.

Mahamudra and Dzogchen use vipasyana extensively. This includes using some methods of the others traditions but also incorporates different approaches. Like the Mahayana they include meditating on symbolic images as contemplations but place a greater emphasis on this form of meditation. Additionally in the Vajrayana path, the true nature of mind is pointed out by the guru and the practitioner practices with that direct experience as a form of vipasyana. Many Kagyupas, consider Mahamudra not-specifically-Tantric a path of direct perception from a general Mahayana path of inferences and a Vajrayana path of blessing.

In the Sūtra path one proceeds by examining and analyzing phenomena, using reasoning. One recognizes that all phenomena lack any true existence and that all appearances are merely interdependently related and are without any inherent nature. They are empty yet apparent, apparent yet empty. The path of Mahāmudrā is different in that one proceeds using the instructions concerning the nature of mind that are given by one’s guru. This is called taking direct perception or direct experiences as the path. The fruition of śamatha is purity of mind, a mind undisturbed by false conception or emotional afflictions. The fruition of vipaayana is knowledge and pure wisdom. Jnana is called the wisdom of nature of phenomena and it comes about through the realization of the true nature of phenomena.

The ways these two aspects of meditation are practiced is that one begins with the practice of shamatha; on the basis of that, it becomes possible to practice vipashyana or lhagthong. Through one’s practice of vipashyana being based on and carried on in the midst of shamatha, one eventually ends up practicing a unification of shamatha and vipashyana. The unification leads to a very clear and direct experience of the nature of all things. This brings one very close to what is called the absolute truth.

Insight, or vipashyana, is extremely important because it can eradicate the mental afflications, whereas tranquility alone cannot. That is why we want to be able to practice tranquility and insight in a unified manner. This unified practice has three steps; first, we practice tranquility; then we practice insight; and then we bring the two together. Doing this will eradicate the cause of samsara (which is mental afflictions), thereby eradicating the result of samsara (which is suffering). For this reason, it is improper to become too attached to the delight or pleasure of tranquility, because tranquility alone is not enough.

KATHY KIEFER

MEDITATION AND RELIGION

Posted on

Schermata 2014-03-23 alle 23.58.31

 

MEDITATION AND RELIGION

Are meditation and religion intertwined?  Do they both impact our lives?  IF sohow?

 

Meditation is a practice in which an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness, either to realize some benefit or as an end in itself.

 The term meditation refers to a broad variety of practices (much like the term sports) that includes techniques designed to promote relaxation, build internal energy or life force and develop compassion, love, patience, generosity and forgiveness. A particularly ambitious form of meditation aims at effortlessly sustained single-pointed concentration single-pointed analysis, meant to enable its practitioner to enjoy an independent indestructible sense of well-being while engaging in any life activity.   The word meditation carries different meanings in different contexts. Meditation has been practiced since antiquity as a component of numerous religious traditions and beliefs.  Meditation often involves an internal effort to self-regulate the mind in some way. Meditation is often used to clear the mind and ease many health issues, such as high blood pressure, depression and anxiety.   It may be done sitting, or in an active way—for instance, Buddhist monks involve awareness in their day-to-day activities as a form of mind-training.  Prayer beads or other ritual objects are commonly used during meditation in order to keep track of or remind the practitioner about some aspect of the training.

Meditation may involve generating an emotional state, such as bliss, or cultivating a particular mental response to various phenomena, such as compassion or non-attachment. The term “meditation” can refer to the state itself, as well as to practices or techniques employed to cultivate the state. Meditation may also involve repeating a mantra and closing the eyes. The mantra is chosen based on its suitability to the individual meditator. Meditation has a calming effect and directs awareness inward until pure awareness is achieved, described as “being awake inside without being aware of anything except awareness itself.” In brief, there are dozens of specific styles of meditation practice, and many different types of activity commonly referred to as meditative practices.    The English meditation is derived from the Latin meditatio, from a verb meditari, meaning “to think, contemplate, devise, and ponder”.

In the Old Testament, hāgâ means to sigh or murmur, and also, to meditate. When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek, hāgâ became the Greek melete. The Latin Bible then translated hāgâ/melete into meditatio. The use of the term meditatio as part of a formal, stepwise process of meditation goes back to the 12th-century monk Guigo II.

The Tibetan word for meditation “Gom” means “to become familiar with one’s Self” and has the strong implication of training the mind to be familiar with states that are beneficial: concentration, compassion, correct understanding, patience, humility, perseverance, etc.

Apart from its historical usage, the term meditation was introduced as a translation for Eastern spiritual practices, referred to as dhyāna in both Buddhism and Hinduism which comes from the Sanskrit root dhyai, meaning to contemplate or meditate.  The term “meditation” in English may also refer to practices from Islamic Sufism, or other traditions such as Jewish Kabbalah and Christian Hesychasm.  An edited book about “meditation” published in 2003, for example, included chapter contributions by authors describing Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions. Scholars have noted that “the term ‘meditation’ as it has entered contemporary usage” is parallel to the term “contemplation” in Christianity, but in many cases, practices similar to modern forms of meditation were simply called ‘prayer’. Christian, Judaic and Islamic forms of meditation are typically devotional, scriptural or thematic, while Asian forms of meditation are often more purely technical.

The history of meditation is intimately bound up with the religious context within which it was practiced. Even in prehistoric times civilizations used repetitive, rhythmic chants and offerings to appease the gods.  Some authors have even suggested the hypothesis that the emergence of the capacity for focused attention, an element of many methods of meditation, may have contributed to the final phases of human biological evolution.  Some of the earliest references to meditation are found in the Hindu Vedas.   Wilson translates the most famous Vedic mantra ‘Gayatri’ thus: “We meditate on that desirable light of the divine Savitri, who influences our pious rites”.  Around the 6th to 5th centuries BCE, other forms of meditation developed in Taoist China and Buddhist Nepal.

 The Islamic practice of Dhikr had involved the repetition of the 99 Names of God since the 8th or 9th century.   By the 12th century, the practice of Sufism included specific meditative techniques, and its followers practiced breathing controls and the repetition of holy words. Interactions with Indians or the Sufis may have influenced the Eastern Christian meditation approach to hesychasm, but this cannot be proved.   Between the 10th and 14th centuries, hesychasm was developed, particularly on Mount Athos in Greece, and involves the repetition of the Jesus prayer.

Western Christian meditation contrasts with most other approaches in that it does not involve the repetition of any phrase or action and requires no specific posture. Western Christian meditation progressed from the 6th century practice of Bible reading among Benedictine monks called Lecto Divina, i.e. divine reading. Its four formal steps as a “ladder” were defined by the monk Guigo II in the 12th century with the Latin terms lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio (i.e. read, ponder, pray, contemplate). Western Christian meditation was further developed by saints such as Ignatius of Loyola and Teresa of Avila in the 16th century.

Secular forms of meditation were introduced in India in the 1950s as a Westernized form of Hindu meditative techniques and arrived in the United States and Europe in the 1960s. Rather than focusing on spiritual growth, secular meditation emphasizes stress reduction, relaxation and self-improvement.   Both spiritual and secular forms of meditation have been subjects of scientific analyses.

As early as 1971, it was noted that “The word ‘meditation’ has been used to designate a variety of practices that differ enough from one another so that we may find trouble in defining what meditation is.” There remains no definition of necessary and sufficient criteria for meditation that has achieved universal or widespread acceptance within the modern scientific community, as one study recently noted a “persistent lack of consensus in the literature” and a “seeming intractability of defining meditation“.

In popular usage, the word “meditation” and the phrase “meditative practice” are often used imprecisely to designate broadly similar practices, or sets of practices, that are found across many cultures and traditions.

Some of the difficulty in precisely defining meditation has been the need to recognize the particularities of the many various traditions.  There may be differences between the theories of one tradition of meditation as to what it means to practice meditation. The differences between the various traditions themselves, which have grown up a great distance apart from each other, may be even starker. The defining of what ‘meditation’ is has caused difficulties for modern scientists. Scientific reviews have proposed that researchers attempt to more clearly define the type of meditation being practiced in order that the results of their studies be made clearer.

It is not enough, since the cultural traditions from which a particular kind of meditation comes are quite different and even within a single tradition differ in complex ways. The specific name of a school of thought or a teacher or the title of a specific text is often quite important for identifying a particular type of meditation.   Meditation may refer to a mental or spiritual state that may be attained by such practices, and may also refer to the practice of that state.

This article mainly focuses on meditation in the broad sense of a type of discipline, found in various forms in many cultures, by which the practitioner attempts to get beyond the reflexive, “thinking” mind into a deeper, more devout, or more relaxed state. The terms “meditative practice” and “meditation” are mostly used here in this broad sense.

Progress on the “intractable” problem of defining meditation was attempted by a recent study of views common to seven experts trained in diverse but empirically highly studied (clinical or Eastern-derived) forms of meditation.  The study identified “three main criteria… as essential to any meditation practice: the use of a defined technique, logic relaxation, and a self-induced state/mode. Other criteria deemed important [but not essential] involve a state of psychophysical relaxation, the use of a self-focus skill or anchor, the presence of a state of suspension of logical thought processes, a religious/spiritual/philosophical context, or a state of mental silence”.   However, the study cautioned that “It is plausible that meditation is best thought of as a natural category of techniques best captured by  ‘family resemblances’  or by the related prototype model of concepts. “

In the West, meditation is sometimes thought of in two broad categories: concentrative meditation and mindfulness meditation. These two categories are discussed in the following two paragraphs, with concentrative meditation being used interchangeably with focused attention and mindfulness meditation being used interchangeably with open monitoring,

“One style, Focused Attention (FA) meditation, entails the voluntary focusing of attention on a chosen object. The other style, Open Monitoring (OM) meditation, involves non-reactive monitoring of the content of experience from moment to moment.”

Meditation techniques have also been used by Western theories of counseling and psychotherapy. Relaxation training works toward achieving mental and muscle relaxation to reduce daily stresses.   Techniques are used in conjunction with other behavioral techniques. Originally used with systematic desensitization, relaxation techniques are now used with other clinical problems. Meditation, hypnosis and biofeedback-induced relaxation are a few of the techniques used with relaxation training.  Multimodal therapy, a technically eclectic approach to behavioral therapy, also employs the use of meditation as a technique used in individual therapy.

Today, there are many different types of meditation practiced in western culture. Mindful breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and loving kindness meditations for instance have been found to provide cognitive benefits such as relaxation and decentering. With training in meditation, depressive rumination can be decreased and overall peace of mind can flourish. Different techniques have shown to work better for different people.

Kathy Kiefer

MEDITATION AND SPIRITUALITY

Posted on

meditazione3

MEDITATION AND SPIRITUALITY

in this picture there are all answers
in this picture there are all answers

In researching, reading and learning more about meditation and spirituality in our daily lives and how it impacts every facet  therein, it has been interesting to note that while  looking at all of world’s major religions and their teaching on this topic, that   meditation, along with prayer, is one of the primary tools for spiritual development.  They are all intertwined and related on various levels; no matter what the religion and our own beliefs.

This is only a small look into such a large and fascinating subject to which I have recently taken another in-depth look at, and that I have such a plethora of information on.  I find meditation very helpful, and an important part of daily life.   I anticipate expanding on this topic for a chapter in a book.     Through the meditative development of serenity, one is able to release obscuring hindrances; and it is, with the release of the hindrances, through the meditative development of insight that one gains liberating wisdom.

Meditation is a practice in which an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness, either to realize some benefit or as an end in itself. The term meditation refers to a broad variety of practices that includes techniques designed to promote relaxation, build internal energy or life force and develop compassion, love, patience, generosity and forgiveness. A particularly ambitious form of meditation aims at effortlessly sustained single-pointed concentration single-pointed analysis, meant to enable its practitioner to enjoy an indestructible sense of well-being while engaging in any life activity.  The word meditation carries different meanings in different contexts. Meditation has been practiced since antiquity as a component of numerous religious traditions and beliefs. Meditation often involves an internal effort to self-regulate the mind in some way. Meditation is often used to clear the mind and ease many health issues, such as high blood pressure, depression and anxiety.   It may be done sitting, or in an active way – i.e., Buddhist monks involve awareness in their day-to-day activities as a form of mind-training. Prayer beads or other ritual objects are commonly used during meditation in order to keep track of or remind the practitioner about some aspect of the training.  Meditation may involve generating an emotional state for the purpose of analyzing that state – such as anger, hatred, etc. – or cultivating particular mental response to various phenomena, such as compassion.  The term “meditation” can refer to the state itself, as well as to practices or techniques employed to cultivate the state.  Meditation may also involve repeating a mantra and closing the eyes.  The mantra is chosen based on its suitability to the individual meditator. Meditation has a calming effect and directs awareness inward until pure awareness is achieved, described as “being awake inside without being aware of anything except awareness itself.”  In brief, there are dozens of specific styles of meditation practice, and many different types of activity commonly referred to as meditative practices.

The English meditation is derived from the Latin meditatio, from a verb meditari, meaning “to think, contemplate, devise, and ponder”.  The Tibetan word for meditation “Gom” means “to become familiar with one’s Self” and has the strong implication of training the mind to be familiar with states that are beneficial: concentration, compassion, correct understanding, patience, humility, perseverance, etc.      Apart from its historical usage, the term meditation was introduced as a translation for Eastern spiritual practices, referred to as dhyāna   in Buddhism and Hinduism, which comes from the Sanskrit root dhyai, meaning to contemplate or meditate.  The term “meditation” in English may also refer to practices from Islamic Sufism, or other traditions such as Jewish Kabbalah.  An edited book about “meditation” included chapter contributions by authors describing Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Jewish, Christian and Islamic traditions. Scholars have noted that “the term ‘meditation’ as it has entered contemporary usage” is parallel to the term “contemplation” in Christianity, but in many cases, practices similar to modern forms of meditation were simply called ‘prayer’. Christian, Judaic and Islamic forms of meditation are typically devotional, scriptural or thematic, while Asian forms of meditation are often more purely technical.

The history of meditation is intimately bound up with the religious context within which it was practiced. Even in prehistoric times civilizations used repetitive, rhythmic chants and offerings to appease the gods.   Some authors have even suggested the hypothesis that the emergence of the capacity for focused attention, an element of many methods of meditation, may have contributed to the final phases of human biological evolution. Some of the earliest references to meditation are found in the Hindu Vedas.   Around the 6th to 5th centuries BCE, other forms of meditation developed in Taoist China and Buddhist Nepal.   .

Western Christian meditation contrasts with most other approaches in that it does not involve the repetition of any phrase or action and requires no specific posture. Western Christian meditation progressed from the 6th century practice of Bible reading among Benedictine monks called Lectio Divina, i.e. divine reading. Its four formal steps as a “ladder” were defined in the 12th century with the Latin terms lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio (i.e. read, ponder, pray, contemplate).   Secular forms of meditation were introduced in India in the 1950s as a Westernized form of Hindu meditative techniques and arrived in the United States and Europe in the 1960s. Rather than focusing on spiritual growth, secular meditation emphasizes stress reduction, relaxation and self-improvement.  Both spiritual and secular forms of meditation have been subjects of scientific analyses.  Research on meditation began in 1931, with scientific research increasing dramatically during the 1970s and 1980s.  However, after 60 years of scientific study, the exact mechanism at work in meditation remains unclear.    As early as 1971, it was noted that “The word ‘meditation’ has been used to designate a variety of practices that differ enough from one another so that we may find trouble in defining what meditation is.”  There remains no definition of necessary and sufficient criteria for meditation that has achieved universal or widespread acceptance within the modern scientific community, as one study recently noted a “persistent lack of consensus in the literature” and a “seeming intractability of defining meditation“.   In popular usage, the word “meditation” and the phrase “meditative practice” are often used imprecisely to designate broadly similar practices, or sets of practices, that are found across many cultures and traditions.    Some of the difficulty in precisely defining meditation has been the need to recognize the particularities of the many various traditions. There may be differences between the theories of one tradition of meditation as to what it means to practice meditation. The differences between the various traditions themselves, which have grown up a great distance apart from each other, may be even starker. The defining of what ‘meditation’ is has caused difficulties for modern scientists. Scientific reviews have proposed that researchers attempt to more clearly define the type of meditation being practiced in order that the results of their studies are made clearer. Is not enough, since the cultural traditions from which a particular kind of meditation comes are quite different and even within a single tradition differ in complex ways. The specific name of a school of thought or a teacher or the title of a specific text is often quite important for identifying a particular type of meditation.    It has been noted that “most techniques of meditation do not exist as solitary practices but are only artificially separable from an entire system of practice and belief”. This means that while monks engage in meditation as a part of their everyday lives, they also engage the codified rules and live together in monasteries in specific cultural settings that go along with their meditative practices.

In the teachings of the Bahai Faith meditation, along with prayer, is one of the primary tools for spiritual development, and it mainly refers to one’s reflection on the words of God.  While prayer and meditation are linked where meditation happens generally in a prayerful attitude, prayer is seen specifically as turning toward God, and meditation is seen as a communion with one’s self where one focuses on the divine.  Their teachings also note  that the purpose of meditation is to strengthen one’s understanding of the words of God, and to make one’s soul more susceptible to their potentially transformative power, and that both prayer and meditation are needed to bring about and to maintain a spiritual communion with God.

Buddhist meditation refers to the meditative practices associated with the religion and philosophy of Buddhism. Core meditation techniques have been preserved in ancient Buddhist texts and have proliferated and diversified through teacher-student transmissions. Buddhists pursue meditation as part of the path toward Enlightenment and Nirvana.  Buddhist meditation techniques have become increasingly popular in the wider world, with many non-Buddhists taking them up for a variety of reasons. In the Theravada tradition alone, there are over fifty methods for developing mindfulness and forty for developing concentration, while in the Tibetan tradition there are thousands of visualization meditations.   The Buddha is said to have identified two paramount mental qualities that arise from wholesome meditative practices:   serenity or tranquility which steadies, composes, unifies and concentrates the mind;   insight which enables one to see explore and discern formations.

Taoist or Daoist meditation has a long history, and has developed various techniques including concentration, visualization, cultivation, contemplation, and mindfulness meditations. Traditional Daoist meditative practices were influenced by Chinese Buddhism beginning around the 5th century, and later had influence upon Traditional Chinese medicine and the Chinese Martial arts.

New Age meditations are often influenced by Eastern philosophy, mysticism, Yoga, Hinduism and Buddhism yet may contain some degree of Western influence. In the West, meditation found its mainstream roots through the social revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, when many of the youth of the day rebelled against traditional belief systems as a reaction against what some perceived as the failure of Christianity to provide spiritual and ethical guidance. New Age meditation as practiced by the early hippies is regarded for its techniques of blanking out the mind and releasing oneself from conscious thinking. This is often aided by repetitive chanting of a mantra, or focusing on an object. New Age meditation evolved into a range of purposes and practices, from serenity and balance to access to other realms of consciousness to the concentration of energy in group meditation to the supreme goal of Samadhi, as in the ancient yogic practice of meditation.

“Meditation may be practiced for many reasons, such as to increase calmness and physical relaxation, to improve psychological balance, to cope with illness, or to enhance overall health and well-being.”   Meditation may be for a religious purpose, but even before being brought to the West it was used in secular contexts.   Beginning with the Theosophists meditation has been employed in the West by a number of religious and spiritual movements, such as Yoga, New Age and New Thought movement.

Today, there are many different types of meditation practiced in western culture. Mindful breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and loving kindness meditations for instance have been found to provide cognitive benefits such as relaxation and decentering. With training in meditation, depressive rumination can be decreased and overall peace of mind can flourish. Different techniques have shown to work better for different people.

Meditation has been linked to a variety of health benefits. The practice of meditation has also been linked with various favorable outcomes that include: “effective functioning, including academic performance, concentration, perceptual sensitivity, reaction time, memory, self-control, empathy, and self-esteem.   In their evaluation of the effects of two meditation-based programs they were able to conclude that meditating had stress reducing effects and cogitation, and also increased forgiveness.

Meditation enhances overall psychological health and preserves a positive attitude towards stress. Mindfulness Meditation has now entered the health care domain because of evidence suggesting a positive correlation between the practice and emotional and physical health. Examples of such benefits include: reduction in stress, anxiety, depression, headaches, pain, elevated blood pressure, etc. Researchers at the University of Massachusetts found that those who meditated approximately half an hour per day during an eight-week period reported that at the end of the period, they were better able to act in a state of awareness and observation.

Mindfulness meditation may help treat chronic inflammation and associated disorders, such as asthma and arthritis.    A review of scientific studies identified relaxation, concentration, an altered state of awareness, a suspension of logical thought and the maintenance of a self-observing attitude as the behavioral components of meditation;  it is accompanied by a host of biochemical and physical changes in the body that alter metabolism, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and brain activation.  Meditation has been used in clinical settings as a method of stress and pain reduction. Meditation has also been studied specifically for its effects on stress.   Despite the large number of scientific publications on meditation, its measurable effect on brain activity is still not well understood.   In over 1,000 published research studies, various methods of meditation have been linked to changes in metabolism, blood pressure, brain activation, and other bodily processes.

Kathy Kiefer