How meditation makes us much nicer people

Ecologist: New research proves that a spiritual practice, such as meditation, leads to a kinder world. Hazel Sillver explores a number of different types of meditation.

Mindfulness increases creativity and reduces stress, depression and loneliness

It is well established that meditation reduces stress and improves concentration, but now researchers have found it affects the way we vote. Last month (February 2013) scientists at the University of Toronto published the results of studies that compared the political views of ‘religious’ and ‘spiritual’ Americans.

Religiousness was defined as ‘devotion to a set of principles or code of conduct’, while the spirituality was termed as ‘a direct…

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Temples prepare to see in 2013 with chanting, meditation

The Nation, Thailand: Rather than just having fantastic fun at a party somewhere, beginning the New Year with a serene mind has become a trend. Some 30,000 temples are preparing chanting and meditating activities for tens of millions of people to celebrate 2014 in “Buddhist style”.

The chanting and meditation starts on New Year’s Eve and runs until New Year’s Day. Such a calm celebration has been conducted for many years, especially in Bangkok, where the first official chanting ceremony to welcome the new year took place about six years ago at Saket Temple with assistance from the Pom Prap Sattru Phai District Office, according to the National Buddhism Office.

The popularity of chanting and meditation to mark the start of a new year has spread widely in the past few years.

“My first time was four or five years ago at Suthat Thepwararam Temple in Bangkok. Since then, I’ve practised that every new year. This year I’m thinking of a temple in Bangkok or Chiang Mai. I haven’t chosen one yet,” said Ging, 44, an office lady.

“Sitting inside a temple, chanting and meditating, I feel tranquil,” she said. “Doing this has become a campaign so lots of people have celebrated New Year’s this way. Anyhow, it’s a good thing to do.”

Adjima Neenungnok, 33, a medical technologist in Nakhon Pathom, said she would ask her parents and sisters to chant at a nearby temple, as they believe that it would help bring good luck to the family. She plans to do this after holding a party with her family at home on the last day of this year.

Also, Adjima treated herself by visiting Chiang Khan, a timeless, charming community in the northeastern province of Loei, to chill out in the cool breezes with her friends during the weekend before having a good time and praying for the New Year with her family.

Considering the new custom to be a good value that was worth promoting, the Sangha Supreme Council in 2010 resolved that every temple host the activity across the country, the National Buddhism Office said.

This year, the government expects 30 million people to chant together countrywide. Each region will have a main temple providing the ceremony. Of course, Saket Temple and Buddhamonthon will be the main venues in the Central region. Saket can accommodate up to 60,000 participants.

Sanam Luang will be another major venue with not only chanting but also Dhamma talks and a musical featuring the life of the Lord Buddha. Up to 200,000 Buddhists were estimated to pack the park. Phra That Doi Suthep Temple is set as the major chanting area in the North, Phra That Phanom Temple in the Northeast and Phra Borommathat Chaiya Temple in the South.

After the chanting ceremony, Buddhists can make merit on the first dawn of the year by offering alms to monks at all temples across the country as well as at Sanam Luang.

The rites will be aired live by National Broadcasting Services of Thailand and Thai TV Global Network.

Thai temples in other countries will also celebrate the New Year with chanting and meditating, so those abroad can also join the Buddhist style countdown.

Until tomorrow, Phra Dhammakaya Temple in Pathum Thani is organising a thudong pilgrimage along with chanting.

The spiritual festivities are not limited to temples. More than 2,400 inmates at a prison in the northeastern province of Khon Kaen will also chant and meditate. It will be the launch of Dhamma practice at the prison, as a series of activities will be provided for them throughout the year to inculcate Dhamma in their minds and improve their conduct.

While it is easy to go to a nearby temple to try out the Buddhist style of counting down to the New Year, if it is not convenient to go out, people can still be part of the auspicious celebrations by sitting in front of a Buddha statue at home and chanting and meditating.

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Buddhist monks promote inner peace

Lachlan Thompson, Daily Examiner: It was a weekend to reflect and seek inner peace for the parents and children involved in a two-day workshop with the Gyuto Tibetan Buddhist monks in Yamba at the weekend.

“It was fabulous, especially the final evening where the monks performed their famous chanting,” said event organiser Amanda Brightwell.

The monks closed the two-day workshop with their famous Mantra Magic Chant where they use ancient Tibetan mantras to harmonise and create a soothing, meditation tone.

Other events at the workshop included classes on meditation and dealing with depression as well as symbolic craft activities for children. The monks …

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Yoga reduces inflammation response

UCLA study helps caregivers of people with dementia

Six months ago, researchers at UCLA published a study that showed using a specific type of yoga to engage in a brief, simple daily meditation reduced the stress levels of people who care for those stricken by Alzheimer’s and dementia. Now they know why.

As previously reported, practicing a certain form of chanting yogic meditation for just 12 minutes daily for eight weeks led to a reduction in the biological mechanisms responsible for an increase in the immune system’s inflammation response. Inflammation, if constantly activated, can contribute to a multitude of chronic health problems.

Reporting in the current online edition of the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology, Dr. Helen Lavretsky, senior author and a professor of psychiatry at the UCLA Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior, and colleagues found in their work with 45 family dementia caregivers that 68 of their genes responded differently after Kirtan Kriya Meditation (KKM), resulting in reduced inflammation.

Caregivers are the unsung heroes for their yeoman’s work in taking care of loved ones that have been stricken with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, said Lavretsky, who also directs UCLA’s Late-Life Depression, Stress and Wellness Research Program. But caring for a frail or demented family member can be a significant life stressor. Older adult caregivers report higher levels of stress and depression and lower levels of satisfaction, vigor and life in general. Moreover, caregivers show higher levels of the biological markers of inflammation. Family members in particular are often considered to be at risk of stress-related disease and general health decline.

As the U.S. population continues to age over the next two decades, Lavretsky noted, the prevalence of dementia and the number of family caregivers who provide support to these loved ones will increase dramatically. Currently, at least five million Americans provide care for someone with dementia.

“We know that chronic stress places caregivers at a higher risk for developing depression,” she said “On average, the incidence and prevalence of clinical depression in family dementia caregivers approaches 50 percent. Caregivers are also twice as likely to report high levels of emotional distress.” What’s more, many caregivers tend to be older themselves, leading to what Lavretsky calls an “impaired resilience” to stress and an increased rate of cardiovascular disease and mortality.

Research has suggested for some time that psychosocial interventions like meditation reduce the adverse effects of caregiver stress on physical and mental health. However, the pathways by which such psychosocial interventions impact biological processes are poorly understood.

In the study, the participants were randomized into two groups. The meditation group was taught the 12-minute yogic practice that included Kirtan Kriya, which was performed every day at the same time for eight weeks. The other group was asked to relax in a quiet place with their eyes closed while listening to instrumental music on a relaxation CD, also for 12 minutes daily for eight weeks. Blood samples were taken at the beginning of the study and again at the end of the eight weeks.

“The goal of the study was to determine if meditation might alter the activity of inflammatory and antiviral proteins that shape immune cell gene expression,” said Lavretsky. “Our analysis showed a reduced activity of those proteins linked directly to increased inflammation.

“This is encouraging news. Caregivers often don’t have the time, energy, or contacts that could bring them a little relief from the stress of taking care of a loved one with dementia, so practicing a brief form of yogic meditation, which is easy to learn, is a useful too.”

Lavretsky is a member of UCLA’s recently launched Alzheimer’s and Dementia Care Program, which provides comprehensive, coordinated care as well as resources and support to patients and their caregivers. Lavretsky has incorporated yoga practice into the caregiver program.

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Woman brings meditation movement into south Chicago suburbs

wildmind meditation news

 Denise Baran-Unland, Herald-News, Chicago: A small, quiet flash mob assembled Dec. 22 at the New Lenox Public Library and, instead of singing, they mediated, leaving behind a spirit of calm, serenity and stillness.

The event was soothing and educational for participants and those spectators unaccustomed to the mechanics and benefits of meditation. More than 20 cities worldwide participated in meditation on the same night, said Michelle Ann Frank, founder of MedMob South Suburban Chicago.

“Some people think meditation is religious, that’s it’s about worshipping false gods or that it’s for pot-smoking hippies, but science has shown we’re wired for this,” Frank said. “I just want people to know all the good it can do. We’ve have the Occupy movement, but this is a way to change things without saying one word.”

Worldwide movement

The New Lenox Library will host a second MedMob on Saturday. Frank’s chapter is part of a worldwide movement to send positive energy into the world through meditation. Frank will offer meditation instruction prior to the event so even the uninitiated may participate if they wish.

The basic method Frank will demonstrate is a simple process of mentally tracking one’s breathing. Sitting cross-legged on the floor is not mandatory. One may successfully meditate from a chair.

“We want you to be comfortable, enjoy the experience and not have any goals in mind,” Frank said. “If you find yourself planning your grocery list, just come back to concentrating on your breathing.”

Frank understands the misconceptions surrounding meditation. She herself experienced them 10 years ago when she first began meditating. Then, Frank thought proper meditation meant ceasing to think. When that did not happen, Frank became frustrated until a teacher simplified the process for her.

“He explained how the act of the mind is thought, so meditation is not about shutting off all thought, because you are going to think,” Frank said. “You just don’t want to get wrapped up in your thoughts while you are meditation. From that point on, I meditated every day.”

Library welcomes group

Kate Hall, director of the library, said inviting MedMob South Suburban Chicago is part of the library’s overall mission: to provide a variety of educational resources to its patrons. Hall had even created a display of supplementary meditation materials for the December event, which she will repeat Saturday.

“So many people today are looking for ways to relieve stress and become healthier, more balanced and centered,” Hall said. “This fit in well with it.”

Dulcinea Hawksworth of Joliet, who attended the December event and plans to participate in the next one, feels the overall environment of the library prepares one to meditate.

“The coffee shop has cinnamon rolls and a lot of wonderful windows close to the landscaping,” Hawksworth said, “so you can sit down, enjoy your coffee and a good book while looking out a window at the beautiful scenery.”

Some people believe prayer and meditation are identical — because they both stress focus — but Hawksworth sees one distinct difference.

“When you pray, you are asking the universe for what you need,” Hawksworth said, “but when you meditate, you get the answer. If you are not meditating, you are not listening.”

The one-hour event concluded with an 11-minute sound bath, where those meditating chanted a single syllable — such as Om — or created certain tones with a singing bowl. At the sound bath’s conclusion, the mob was done.

“People chant at their own pace and men have different voices than women,” Hawksworth said, “but it all came together because it’s the same two or three sounds repeated.”

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MedMob occupies peace at Seattle ferry terminal

wildmind meditation news

Connie Mears, Bainbridge Island Review: If you were searching for peace, rush hour at the Bainbridge Island ferry terminal might not be the first place you’d look, but commuters spilling off the 6:20 p.m. ferry Dec. 22 were met with the soothing sound of – well, breathing.

A group of residents gathered in the terminal as part of a “MedMob,” a takeoff on the popular flash mob movement. Instead of thrashing to “Thriller,” MedMobsters meditate in a public place for one hour, then offer an 11-minute “sound bath,” in this case chanting “Om Shanti Om.”

“We might have gone a little longer than 11 minutes,” said Helen Burke who organized the event based on The online effort coordinates MedMobs now in more than 250 cities worldwide.

The seed of the idea was planted in July when an ad-hoc group met at Jen Breen’s Karma Yoga House to explore ways to offer “selfless service” to the community. The service can take many forms, such as creating beauty, sharing kindness or helping someone in need. The group has done all that and more, so when Burke suggested they take part in a MedMob event on the solstice, about 40 people responded.

Burke found an image online that summed up the sentiment: Occupy Your Heart.

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Flash mob meditates for brighter future

wildmind meditation news

Shreya Banerjee, The Daily Texan: Although many mobs are affiliated with loud noise and violence, a different kind of mob took over the north side of the Long Center for Performing Arts on Wednesday night.

Approximately 150 people gathered to participate in a meditation event held by the group MedMob in conjunction with International Day of Peace.

The participants silently meditated for one hour and then did a sound bath afterwards. The sound bath is an 11-minute interval in which the members chant one word together — with “om” being the most common — as a way to supplement their meditation.

“We spend most of our time hearing bad stories, and it’s nice to spend time with people who haven’t lost hope on a brighter future [and are willing] to stand up peacefully and make a difference in the local and global community,” said Austin resident and participant Elspeth Allcott. “It’s a living affirmation of hope.”

The roots of MedMob began Jan. 28, when 10 members of the yoga community in Austin decided to utilize the sound resonation at the state capitol in order to create a powerful meditation experience. As word spread, the event grew, and 250 Austinites as well as people from seven other cities chose to participate in the February meditation mob events. Over time, approximately 150 cities around the world joined the movement, and group organizers said the number is increasing every month.

“MedMob is an invitation to people of all backgrounds to collectively meditate and pray,” said MedMob co-founder Joshua Adair. “I believe that meditation is natural for humans, and it has been lost to suburbanization.”

MedMob’s current goal is to spread to other countries and host meditation mobs in other languages. MedMob’s Italian operations went from 10 cities to 48 in two weeks, and coordinators are making contacts for meditation mob events in South America and Russia.

“I’m so humbled by how far this has gone,” said UT alumnus Joshua Whisenhunt, MedMob core member.

MedMob aims to have meditation mobs in conspicuous places in order to get people accustomed to the idea of meditation.

“MedMob won’t need to exist in four or five years because through MedMob now, we will already have a world where it is natural for people on streets, parks, grocery stores, et cetera, to sit down and meditate,” said Patrick Kromsli, MedMob co-creator.

MedMob has already begun to have effects on its participants.

“It’s brought me out of myself,” participant Cara Hopkins said. “Even if you don’t talk to anyone here, it’s nice to just to come and sit and know that everyone is meditating.”

Though there is not an official MedMob student organization through the University, MedMob has held meditation mobs on campus. The previous one occurred on the first day of school and included approximately 70 people.

“Students on campus are often disconnected,” said MedMob organizer Jessi Swann, a human development senior. “Medmob has three goals on campus– instill campus unity, inspire future leaders and uplift students. We want to be the model for college campuses around the world.”

The next MedMob event at UT is scheduled from 1 to 2 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 28 on the East Mall.

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Tibetan Sound Healing, by Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche

I was attracted to this book principally because of the title. I like chanting and have a daily liturgy practice, and my sympathy with this kind of approach comes from my devotion to the Medicine Buddha and the many years during which I worked as a spiritual healer. So I began this review in a state of optimism which was rapidly followed by finding myself confronted with the demon of deep cynicism.

Tenzin Wangyal who is based in the US, is a well-respected Rinpoche in the Tibetan Bön tradition and he is probably best known for his volume on dream yoga. The central teaching in the Bön religion is that of dzogchen and this informs the approach that Tenzin takes in this work.

Title: Tibetan Sound Healing
Author: Tenzin Wangyal Rinpoche
Publisher: Sounds True
ISBN: 978-159-17942-7-1
Available from: Sounds True,, and

This is a slim and simply set-out volume with an accompanying CD and it focuses on the meditative chanting of the ‘Five Warrior Syllables’.

Tenzin writes a lucid introduction in which he outlines the principal aim of the practice, which is to spontaneously awaken positive emotion through the chanting of the Warrior Seed Syllables (take note Buddhists, you will find the Om and Ah inverted in the Bön tradition). By positive emotion is meant the Four Immeasurables, or Brahma Viharas, common to both the Bön as well as all Buddhist traditions.

Each Warrior Syllable has a corresponding colour, light, and chakra or energy centre, which is usually visualised as a ‘wheel’. This is the five chakra system of Crown/Forehead, Throat, Heart, Navel and Secret (genitals).

Tenzin advises us to support the chanting practice by engaging with what he calls ‘The Three Excellences,’ which are having a clear personal intention to gain Enlightenment for the sake of all beings; connecting with openness as your ‘natural state’; and transferring any merits accrued for the sake of all beings.

Tenzin recommends particular postures and various breathing exercises known as the Five Tsa Lung Exercises, which are outlined at the end of the book, and although the information is clear, this section would have benefited from illustrations.

Tenzin regards the chanting practice of the Warrior Syllables as a meditation in its own right. Tenzin states that the chanting of the Warrior Syllables should be a daily practice much as any form of meditation which is to prove effective.

Tenzin’s view is that when chanting mantras or seed syllables the sound is not so important as what he calls the ‘essence’ of that sound which remains with us. He then loses me as a reader by stating that when making the sound ‘…we are relating to the breath and vibration of the sound itself.’ The term ‘vibration’ reminds me of my days spent in the Healing Development Group where we used a similar but Hindu version of the chakras and seed syllables and where ‘vibration’ of the sound was all important. I personally found it enjoyable but rather vague and ‘woolly’.

The practice itself begins with the syllable ‘A’. Tenzin addresses the realm of ‘space’ from that which surrounds us to that which ‘is’ us and as the

… ground within which all the other elements play…it is changeless….primordially pure…the wisdom body of all the Buddhas, the dimension of truth, or dharmakaya.

And it is from this base — that is ‘A’ — that the other seed syllables of Om, Hung, Ram and Dza emerge.

Tenzin tells us that one outcome of chanting the seed syllable ‘A’ will be that deep inside we will experience an openness. At the same time he asks us to visualize white light emanating from the chakras at the crown and forehead. As we open to this experience Tenzin suggests that our mental obscurations will be released and so we will continue to open and experience ‘space’.

This all sounds apparently very simple and very appealing.

Tenzin’s approach is very rooted in the tradition of dzogchen which is found in both the Bön religion and the Nyingma school of Tibetan Buddhism. In terms of meditation this involves an opening to experience and a transformation of the ’self’ to the point where one is no longer attached to the ‘self‘. This will be for some readers quite different from the perhaps more familiar way of making effort and of working in meditation.

I may sound cynical here but while there is a part of me that enjoys chanting and enjoys visualizing light pouring from my chakras I do not expect this to lead to an experience of ‘awakening’ just yet. I think that you would have to be pretty far along the spiritual path for any ‘whizz-bang’ experience to take place.

However, through engaging with the Five Warrior Seed Syllables over a ten-day period my lung capacity increased, which as an asthmatic was a real joy. I was able to engage the sound with the appropriate chakra, and had a strong sense of energy and light moving in the chakras.

I would provisionally recommend this book. Enjoy it for the chanting, breath and visualization of the chakras and light, enjoy listening to Tenzin (who has a nice voice) and you may well feel very moved by the concluding verses on the CD which are dedicated to his teacher.

If you are able to cultivate the four immeasurables (brahma viharas) through a regular practice of the Five Warrior Syllables well you are indeed fortunate. For most of us that is a slow process, of gradual change leading to the transformation of our negative mental states into ones that are positive. Then we can begin to experience the beauty that is the vastness and wonder of ‘space’.

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Why I call myself a Buddhist

Figure with weird bulging eyes, from a Tibetan thangka painting.

When I became a Mitra (friend) of the Triratna Buddhist Community earlier this year, I was surprised by the surprise of my non-Buddhist friends. They seemed aggrieved.

This was the general message:

‘We know you’ve benefited from meditation, and going on silent retreats. Although that’s not our idea of a holiday, we’re pleased for you. But why spoil everything by espousing a weird Eastern religion? Can’t you keep it secular? And if you have to be religious (though God knows why) can’t you stick to your own? OK, maybe not the Church. But what’s wrong with the Quakers? They sit in silence and meditate, don’t they?’

Fair enough questions. And I tried to answer them. I talked about the value of meditation, the common sense of the precepts. I talked about enjoying chanting, and finding ritual moving.

This was all true. But my explanation, even as I gave it, struck me as just so much hot air. After a lot of apologetic shrugs at dinner tables and in cafes, I realised that my decision to become a Mitra hadn’t been ‘thought through’ at all.

The commitments involved in becoming a Mitra – coming out as a Buddhist, promising to live by the precepts and choosing the Triratna Buddhist community as my spiritual home – didn’t feel like things I had ‘decided’ on.

Rather, all my experiences within the Triratna Buddhist Community had added up and reached a tipping point. I suddenly felt ‘at home’ with it all.

By experiences, I mean acts of kindness I’ve felt and witnessed. I mean the teachings of Order Members and the warmth or sometimes lacerating sharpness with which those teachings are delivered. I mean stuff I read in Buddhist books that speaks directly to personal problems I didn’t realise anyone else had. I mean the intimacy of joined voices reciting the seven-fold puja (one of the core rituals in the Triratna Buddhist Community) and the hypnotic beauty of the Heart Sutra, the poem at its core. I mean the pregnant sense of strangeness and mystery that often suffuses me when I sit in silence with myself or with others, at home, at Leeds Buddhist Centre, or on early morning meditations on retreat where you enter the shrine room in the dark, meditate while dawn gathers, and step out utterly and completely in the day.

I can no more justify or quantify this than I can tell you why somebody falls in love with one person – perhaps a person from a different background – and not another. My Mitra ceremony felt like a kind of marriage. Most marriages go through rocky patches, I know. I’m going through one even as I write this, not having meditated for a fortnight. But Buddhist practice gives me a home to come back to, a structure to see my struggles in the context of. That’s why I was happy to say ‘I do.’

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Coming soon: Sacred Sound – an audio course on mantra meditation

Sacred Sound: Mantra Meditations for Centeredness and InspirationBodhipaksa and Sunada combine forces to bring you Wildmind’s first audiobook — a complete guide to mantra meditation. In it you’ll find everything you need to get started with a mantra chanting practice, including:

  • The “magical” background and history of mantras
  • How mantras can help us develop centeredness and inspiration
  • Preparatory exercises to open the body and free the breath
  • Seven mantras chanted for listening and learning
  • The meaning and symbolism of each of the seven mantras
  • A print-friendly companion guide with images, pronunciation key, and musical notations

Sacred Sound is led by Bodhipaksa, who has been practicing mantra meditation since 1982, and who is the author of Wildmind: A Step-by-Step Guide to Meditation, and the forthcoming Living as a River: Finding Fearlessness in the Face of Change, and by Sunada, who is a life-long musician, workshop leader, and founder of Mindful Purpose Life Coaching.

The running time of the audio program is over two hours. The audiobook costs $19.95, but is free to all life members. The Companion Guide to Sacred Sound is available as a free PDF download (2.3Mb).

The official publication date is June 7.

For the moment Sacred Sound is only available as a high quality (320kb/s) MP3 download, although a CD version is planned.

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