A place for pondering (Newsday)

Pat Burson, Newsday: Mona Bector, a New York City employee who lives in Fresh Meadows, says meditation has given her a deeper peace, even in troubled times.

“You’d be amazed at how many people at work are always asking me how I can be so calm when things are going crazy,” says Bector, 33, a budget officer for the city’s Department of Education. “The more you meditate, the stronger your faith is. It helps me, and it helps other people to appreciate the path that I’m on.”

Bector, raised a Hindu, belongs to the Science of Spirituality, a worldwide nonprofit organization that teaches that meditation is at the core of all religions.

Last week, the first Science of Spirituality center in the Northeast opened in Amityville. The organization’s worldwide headquarters is in Delhi, India; its U.S. headquarters is in Naperville, Ill.

Almost 1,000 people from different backgrounds, cultures and religious traditions from New York City, Long Island and New England, and parts of South America, Europe and Africa, flocked to the weekend- long opening ceremonies at the County Line Road center. Many participants from the area, such as Bector, had been meeting for years in local churches, synagogues and homes….

Wherever they have met, they say the organization’s teachings have put them on the path to peace and tranquillity in their lives and in the world.

The spiritual leader of the Science of Spirituality is Sant Rajinder Singh Ji Maharaj, a Sikh who travels around the world to teach people of all beliefs and walks of life how daily meditation and ethical living can improve their lives, their connection with God and their relationships with others.

Singh, former president of the World Fellowship of Religions, has written more than a dozen books, including “Inner and Outer Peace Through Meditation,” which includes a foreword by the Dalai Lama.

‘All walks of life’

Last month at a tour of the center, Singh said, “In our organization here, we have people from all walks of life and all faiths of life. It is not about propagating any one religion as such…. We focus on the meditative aspects of each one of our teachings.”

The Amityville center, in a renovated synagogue, was purchased in late February. The main sanctuary will be used for weekly meetings, meditation workshops and large interfaith gatherings. A library contains books on mysticism and the world’s leading religions. The building has a high-speed Internet connection to allow participants to watch Singh’s monthly live broadcasts.

For now, members meet at noon on Sundays to meditate and read from religious teachings. Another meeting is offered in Hindi on Wednesdays, and organizers say they want to expand to other languages.

“We celebrate what we have in common through meditation, and appreciate differences in our religious and cultural backgrounds,” says Stephanie Goldreyer of Merrick, who has been a member of Science of Spirituality since 1971 and now works as the communications coordinator at the meditation center.

“That gives us a deeper understanding of our religious traditions.”

The tenets of Science of Spirituality include the belief in one God. “We feel there is one God, whether we call God by the name of the creator or we call God Jehovah or we call God Allah or by any other name,” Singh says. “There is one creator and all creation came into being from that creator. We feel there are many paths to God, and each could be going in whatever way makes sense to them, but the goal is the same. So we consider ourselves to be members of one big family of God, and we try to experience that oneness with God.”

Singh says participants don’t have to give up their religion to become a participant in the Science of Spirituality. The organization is funded with voluntary donations from its members.

The heart of the Science of Spirituality is Sant Mat, a method of meditation that was born centuries ago in India. Goldreyer says, “It becomes a universal appreciation of people and whatever tradition they practice because we realize the universality of humankind through meditation. Meditation is a very tangible way to connect with that.”

The purpose of meditation is to go beyond the physical to a deeper spiritual place, Singh says. “Right now we’re living at the level of our senses. We want to go within because we feel that God is not up in the sky but God is within each and every one of us… and we are able to experience God in our lives and that is what gives us joy and peace and tranquillity.”

Singh’s background Born in 1946 in New Delhi, Singh completed his undergraduate work in engineering at Indian Institute of Technology in Madras, followed by graduate school at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago. He worked 20 years in engineering and communications.

He studied with two of India’s greatest spiritual luminaries, Sant Kirpal Singh Ji Maharaj and his successor, Sant Darshan Singh Ji Maharaj. Sant Kirpal Singh was the first Sant Mat teacher to come to the West.

Singh, who says he receives no money from participants, teaches that meditation helps individuals to know themselves and God. Healthy rewards of an hour or two of meditation each day also include improved concentration, reduced stress and better efficiency, he says.

Science of Spirituality also promotes a vegetarian diet, chastity and sobriety.

Such teachings appeal to Michael Mott, raised Catholic, who says he got involved with Science of Spirituality 16 years ago when he was at a crossroads.

“I went through a change in life, and I was looking for an answer,” says Mott, 54, who holds Science of Spirituality meetings on alternate Wednesdays at his East Hampton home. “It’s you and it’s me, and if I can be a peaceful person, I will affect other people, and I will affect myself. … It’s a beautiful message.” His wife, Tina Saposhnik, 57, who was raised Jewish, says she loves the multicultural atmosphere within the organization and at the new meditation center. “It’s so international that you really start understanding other people,” she says.

“Nobody’s ever excluded.”

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