mantras

Tiger Woods finds his mantra again: Meditate (and be nice to fans)

Evidently, we’re more like Tiger Woods than we realized. No, not profligate sexual tom cats or historically accomplished athletes or control freaks micromanaging our lives (well, maybe the latter…)

But lots of people, just like Woods, have drifted from the faith of their childhood. In his case, it’s Buddhist meditation. The Ommmm apparently lost its ooomph.

In his pre-Masters tourney press conference today, he reiterated that recent therapy has forced him to see “how far astray from the core morals my mom and dad taught me” he had traveled. Now he has resumed daily meditation, “the roots of Buddhism” as him mom taught him.

But how different is that, really, from what other 34-year-olds might say: They drifted away from their Catholic or Baptist or Methodist or whatever upbringing and now, gee, maybe they’re missing something.

A 2008 study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that among 16% of U.S. adults who now say they have no religious affiliation, most didn’t leave in a huff. Instead, about 70% say they “just gradually drifted away.”

I haven’t found (yet) statistics on people who quit meditation. But from perusing a few sites, it appears fairly common for people to drift in — and out — of spiritual practices.

A site for Tai Chi, a martial art that “encourages a calm mind and composed emotions” and nurtures “tranquility, harmony and balance,” points out that “many people quit. In fact most people quit.” It’s hard. It’s about losing control. And, of course, “A lot of people are just downright lazy…”

Meditation teacher Brenda Stephenson on her web site, acknowledges that a survey of past students found most quitters “simply lost their interest in meditating.”

And commentator John Pappas observed after the last time Woods said the same back-to-meditation line last month that it’s not magic.

It isn’t something that is outside of you that causes your actions and arbitrarily donning a magic bracelet or bemoaning that you didn’t sit facing a wall more will not help you look inward and is not going to solve your problem. It takes striving, faith and doubt. The realization is dawning on Tiger and I hope that he keeps working at it but approaching your practice (or any religion for that matter) as a crutch will never solve the problem.

It isn’t a magic elixir to be swallowed or special words to be chanted or super-mega prayers to be sent to big globular masses in the sky. It is work and it is humility. An extra hour of meditation a day is like a band-aid for a split jugular.

[via USA Today]
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Meditation grows in popularity for both health and spiritual reasons

AnnArbor.com: Quakers, Buddhists, agnostics, Hindus – they’re all doing it. Over the last few decades, meditation has evolved from a fringe practice to a mainstream stress-reduction technique that might be recommended by your family doctor.

In Washtenaw County, you have your choice of a wide variety of meditation classes and settings, ranging from the Zen Buddhist Temple in Ann Arbor, to a Quaker center in Chelsea to the Washtenaw Community College Health and Fitness Center.

Nationally, meditation is among top three alternative health methods used by Americans. According to a 2007 survey sponsored by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (a division of the National Institutes of Health), more than 9 percent of Americans say they meditate. Only herbal supplements and deep-breathing exercises are more popular.

Meditation and health benefits

Carol Blotter, a meditation teacher based in Chelsea, brings to the practice both a Quaker perspective and training in techniques based in Eastern spirituality. She has led meditation workshops and retreats at the Michigan Friends Center in Chelsea and at Deep Spring Center in Ann Arbor.

Blotter pointed to author and researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn as a pivotal figure in the mainstreaming of meditation. Kabat-Zinn is the founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

Read the rest of this article…

Blotter noted that other scientists had studied meditation, but added, “Zinn really packaged it up… Americans like something with scientific approval.”

“He created a program called mindfulness-based stress reduction,” she said. “And you’ll find it in an awful lot of hospitals these days. Statistically, it’s phenomenal the impact meditation and mindfulness have on an individual’s health.”

Kimberly Michelle Johnson has been teaching meditation at the Washtenaw Community College Health and Fitness center for about a year. Johnson also mentioned improvements in health as a major benefit of meditation.

“Stress reduction has such a big impact on overall health,” she said. “It can aid in lowering blood pressure, assist in chronic pain reduction and help to relieve insomnia.”

The Ann Arbor Zen Buddhist Temple typically attracts up to 50 area residents for meditation meetings on Sunday mornings and as many as 30 on Sunday afternoons, according to the Rev. Haju Sunim (Linda Murray), resident priest.

Haju Sunim, who helped found the local Buddhist temple in 1982, said she sees modern students use meditation as a way to survive the stresses of everyday life rather than as a route to enlightenment. She said that even with that more secular aim, meditation has benefits.

“It can be very helpful as people learn to pay attention to the myriad of things that arise in their body and mind,” she said. “People often judge themselves and say they’re no good at meditation because so many thoughts are coming up, and they can’t calm their minds. My response is that it’s part of the process. Meditation is something that allows us to see and then to work with what comes up.”

Meditation as spiritual practice

Johnson’s Thursday night classes are designed to be accessible to students from a variety of backgrounds. Participants scan the body for areas of discomfort and pay careful attention to deep breathing.

“The meditation and relaxation techniques can be helpful no matter what your religious or spiritual tradition,” Johnson said. “Students are welcome to tailor the practice to incorporate their personal spiritual beliefs.”

For example, she said, the students can express their spirituality through their choice of mantra. The mantra could be an Eastern-style “Ohm,” a Christian phrase like “God is love” or simply “Let go.”

Blotter said that what people get out of meditation depends on their motivations.

“The wording, the practices that are used and the intention are all different because there are so many different kind of people in this world,” she said.

For many who are just discovering meditation, Blotter said, the emphasis is on feeling better immediately. However, for some, meditation might morph into a more spiritual practice over time.

“The modalities of meditation really expand along that whole continuum from ‘just give me something to do to make me feel better in this moment’ to ‘help me live my life with more honesty, clarity and openness from the heart.’ Many people start with the motivation to ‘just fix this one thing right now,’ and, over time, it changes into an awareness of a spiritual nature.”

In September, Blotter helped run a fall weekend meditation retreat at the Michigan Friends Center. Blotter compared the fall retreat to polishing silver and taking away all the tarnish that can build up after time.

“They can relax into nature, relax into spirit, have time to take a breath.”

Haju Sunim said that, in a Buddhist context, meditation is much more than a coping strategy.

“We’re not meditating for the sake of meditating; we’re meditating to have some deep understanding of life and death,” she said.

She said that meditating in the Zen Buddhist Temple is qualitatively different than taking a college course or a meditation class at a recreation center.

“Something very precious about our particular place is that it is a residential temple,” she said. “Residents… keep a schedule in the mornings and evenings so members can come in and practice if they want to.”

She said that in Asia, village life is affected by proximity to Buddhist temples, where morning prayers and bells rung for evening services set the rhythm of life. She said she hopes that the Ann Arbor Temple has a similar influence on its neighbors.

“We try to set up a rhythm of morning and evening practice. I hope that just by virtue of osmosis… our presence here will be a little more helpful day by day.”

Sarah Rigg is a freelance journalist who writes regularly for AnnArbor.com.

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White magic

In his devotion to White Tara, Jnanagarbha yearns to be filled with her beauty so that he can make the world a better place.

It is a summer evening in the mountains of southern Spain. Above the occasional whir of an insect’s wings, voices drift on the warm breeze from a shrine room 100 meters away. They are raised in unison, chanting a puja: a ritual of Buddhist worship. As I sit quietly on a sun-chair in the dark I conduct a solitary, silent puja. My eyes rest on the point where the steely rocks marking the southern side of the valley meet the deep, deep blue of the Mediterranean night sky. Little by little, the sky begins to lighten above the cliff wall. Patiently, but with a gentle thrill of excitement, I await the appearance of the Buddha with whom I have made a connection. For tonight is the night of the full moon, and I am conducting a puja to White Tara.

Before my ordination retreat I do not recall ever experiencing a moonrise. The moon is just one of many lights in the urban night. Living for four months in the rustic simplicity of Guhyaloka retreat center in Spain brought me closer to nature and its cycles than I had been before, even though I used to work as a conservationist. As I contemplated the junction between earth and sky on those two full moon nights following my ordination, I was filled with a simple delight when the first gleaming sliver of moon broke the horizon, followed by the rest of her silver orb. Near the horizon the moon appears at its largest, and her progress through the night sky seems at once serene and purposeful. Once she is overhead, far from other points of reference, she seems to rest in perpetual equipoise.

During the Buddha’s lifetime the year was measured by the phases of the moon. Key events of the Buddha’s life — his birth, his attainment of Enlightenment, his first communication of the Dharma and his death — are said to have occurred on the full moon. Today many Buddhist traditions continue to use a lunar calendar to mark the liturgical year, and most Buddhist festivals are held on full moon days. Through these associations the full moon has come to symbolize perfect Enlightenment, so that in their peaceful aspects most Buddha and Bodhisattva figures are depicted sitting on a moon-mat. In parts of the tantric tradition the full moon symbolizes the wisdom aspect of Enlightenment.

It is no surprise, therefore, that White Tara is associated with the moon; her wisdom complementing the compassion of her more famous ‘sister’, Green Tara. In Buddhist symbolism, however, whiteness symbolizes the full spectrum of Enlightened consciousness.

Like Green Tara, White Tara is a beautiful young woman. Her skin is the purest white, and is often compared to the radiance of 100 autumn moons. She wears the Bodhisattva’s adornments — beautiful silks and jeweled ornaments — and she is sometimes said to wear a garland of pure white pearls. Her right hand rests on her right knee, open towards us in the mudra (gesture) of generosity. Her left hand faces us at her heart where it holds the stems of three lotuses — sometimes white but often the blue utpala lotus that opens at night. One is a bud, one is partly opened and the third is in full bloom. This hand is in the mudra of bestowing refuge or protection, although it is sometimes described as the gesture of blessing.

In contrast to her sister, whose right leg is stepping down into the world, White Tara is seated in vajrasana, the full-lotus position. Her most mysterious and unusual aspect, however, is her eyes. They are a beautiful blue and are usually described as dark and long; she also has seven of them. In addition to the usual pair, she has an eye in the sole of each of her upturned feet, one in the palm of each hand, while the seventh and most striking is placed vertically in the center of her forehead. Much of her rich, black hair falls around her shoulders, and above her crescent-moon tiara the remainder is piled into a topknot. The tiara contains the jewels of the five Wisdoms, and enthroned in the topknot sits Amitabha, the deep red Buddha of meditation and love, who is the head of the Lotus family with which White Tara is associated.

Tara sits on a brilliant moon-mat, which rests on a pure white eight-petalled lotus. Behind her is the orb of the full moon, and around her radiate moonbeams and rainbows. The moon is also a universal symbol of the feminine, and White Tara expresses femininity in several aspects of her form. She is sometimes described as ‘the mother of the Buddhas’, and her gesture of generosity can be seen as a maternal, compassionate response to beings. Like a princess she wears a crown and is regally adorned, suggesting nobility, dignity and even mindfulness. Her youth suggests energy and joyful spontaneity.

White Tara reflects a paradox in the spiritual path. The Bodhisattva is committed to supporting all beings in their progress towards Enlightenment, so her hands are held in the gestures of generosity and bestowing. But her legs remain folded in the full-lotus position. She does not step down into the world to help all beings as does Green Tara.

White Tara

This paradox reminds me of an important teaching. I used to live in a retreat center in southern England. Sometimes people had a romantic view of retreat center life. It was easy for them to imagine that I spent my time either on retreat or, when no retreat was happening, that I had nothing to do but meditate and reflect. My life wasn’t quite like that. Once a colleague and I were at the local supermarket buying groceries for a retreat. Seeing the large quantities of bread and milk the lady on the checkout asked us what we did. When we told her we ran a Buddhist retreat center she looked wistful and sighed, ‘That must be such a serene life’. This became a catch phrase in the community. When I was struggling with e-mails and phone messages, trying to co-ordinate a year’s program of retreats, hurrying to finish some redecoration before 25 retreatants arrived, or was driving around looking for a replacement for a retreatant’s punctured motorcycle tire, I often found myself ironically muttering, ‘Such a serene life …’

With the practical demands of running a retreat center (or bringing up a family, or even of simply trying to fit meditation, Dharma study, retreats, friendship and so on into one’s life) it is easy to lose sight of the ultimate objective: attaining Insight. With her still and centered posture, and her seven wide-open wise eyes, White Tara brings me back to this fact. Unless I constantly strive to take my Dharma practice deeper, I have nothing substantial to give other people. Without awareness, our attempts at kindness are well-intentioned blunderings. There is no true kindness without awareness, and I am gradually coming to see that there is no true awareness without kindness.

So what does White Tara offer us from the depths of her wisdom? There are clues in her mantra: om tare tuttare ture mama ayur punya jnana pushtim kuru svaha. There are many Tara mantras, and most of them follow the form of the general mantra om tare tuttare ture svaha with various insertions. In White Tara’s case the insertions form a request to increase our life, merit and wisdom. White Tara’s response is to suffuse her devotees (indeed all beings) in a succession of beautiful colored lights imbued with magical qualities. These surround us in concentric spheres of white, yellow, red, blue, green and violet, to form a Mandala of Protection.

The heart of this Mandala (or magic circle) is a sphere of white, the color of Tara herself, of purity and the tantric rite of pacification. The white light purifies us of diseases and unethical actions. In Tibetan culture White Tara is best known for her capacity to bestow long life. There are two sides to prolonging life: avoiding disease and promoting well-being. The next ring of the Mandala is thus a rich yellow color, which extends our life and enriches our wisdom. In the tantra, yellow is associated with the rite of prospering, and it is the color of Ratnasambhava, the jewel-bearing Buddha of abundance and beauty.

Although Tibetan tradition emphasizes White Tara’s capacity to increase life, few of the western devotees of White Tara that I know pay much attention to this. Perhaps this is because we tend to take our human existence for granted. With all the developments in public health, our relative affluence and the extraordinary efficacy of medical science, it seems that we expect to live comfortably to a ripe old age. But Buddhist traditions, particularly in Tibet, have emphasized that we are fortunate to be alive, and particularly lucky to have the liberty and opportunity to develop ourselves through practicing the Dharma.

White Tara’s association with longevity encourages me to reflect on how precarious life is. Tibetan tradition exhorts us to make the most of the precious opportunity of a human birth through wholehearted spiritual practice, working to become more kind, generous and honest while we can. Through developing these qualities, and not getting caught up in the many distractions of 21st-century life, we can allow our minds to settle into the meditative calm that springs from a clear conscience, and find release from the tyrannies of stress.

The Buddha’s earliest recorded teachings offer another perspective on longevity. In the Pali canon a word meaning ‘undying’ or ‘immortal’ was one of the original terms for Enlightenment. In the Dhammapada the Buddha explains that: ‘Awareness is the path to the deathless. Those who are fully aware do not die, those who are not aware are as if already dead’. When I am aware, my life seems rich, vibrant and fulfilling. However, as soon as I lose awareness life appears dull and uninteresting, and I find myself looking for distractions. White Tara’s seven eyes remind me to ‘keep my eyes open’ in all areas of life. They suggest that her awareness has risen to a point where it has become Transcendental Wisdom, and I sometimes think of the seven eyes as including the usual two of the human form, while the remaining five represent the Wisdoms of the five Buddhas.

Returning to the Mandala of Protection we enter the red sphere, the color of the rite of fascination, or love, and of Buddha Amitabha. The red light increases our capacity to communicate with others, especially fellow Dharma practitioners. The spiritual community is represented by a red jewel, and the Buddha famously said that the practice of spiritual friendship (kalyana mitrata) is the whole of the spiritual life. Spending time with others who practice the spiritual life (especially those who are doing so more effectively than we are) can have a dramatically beneficial effect, especially if we are able to connect deeply with them.

We then come to the blue and green spheres. The blue light subdues obstacles, while the green light helps one to achieve one’s aims in the face of such difficulties. The blue light is related to the tantric black rite of destruction, and to the imperturbability of the Buddha Akshobhya. The green light evokes the fearlessness that Green Tara represents in her aspect as consort to the Buddha Amoghasiddhi.

White Tara

Practicing the Dharma will inevitably be difficult at times. Some difficulties are of our own making, some the result of the conditions in which we find ourselves. It is easy to become frustrated with oneself, or with others whom we see as ‘blocking’ us. We can think, ‘I’d be able to feel loving kindness all the time if so-and-so wasn’t so irritating’. We need to address life’s difficulties — whether subjective or objective with determination and initiative, and these must be imbued with awareness and kindness.

The outer ring of the Mandala of Protection is violet, and this is said to make our spiritual achievements firm and unshakable. It suggests to me the need to consolidate the changes. We purify ourselves by replacing unhelpful habits, but new habits of ethical speech, meditation and generosity can be fragile. just one late night can leave me irritable or undermine my morning meditation practice. Like the tender shoots of a seedling we need to protect new habits of skillful activity until our resourcefulness and creativity become unshakable.

In this way Tara’s Mandala of Protection surrounds us with a beautiful sphere of skillful activity. These concentric layers of clarity, generosity, friendliness, determination, resourcefulness and consistency protect us from the buffetings of the world.

At dinner on a recent retreat, somebody asked what purity meant to me. It was one of those occasions when an answer seemed to come to my lips almost magically. ‘Purity is Beauty in action’, I replied. When I sit in meditative contemplation of White Tara it is to her beauty and purity that my heart responds. Meditating on her can be an experience of such incredible beauty that it leaves me in a state of wordless bliss. Such experiences fill me with a yearning to make the world a more beautiful place. They inspire me to purify myself of petty self-interest and free me to act in a way that will illuminate the world with the silvery light of 100 autumn moons.

Suddenly, appearing from emptiness
A snow white. eight-petaled, white lotus
A moon disc clear and shining
And TAM, vividly defined.
Essence of Tara’s wisdom-compassion
Dazzling white and radiating moonbeams
From the midst of which appears Tara.

White as a hundred full autumn moons
Clear and translucent as a crystal gem.
Eyes long and dark, with fine long eyelashes
Seven beautiful smiling eyes of wisdom.

Hair black as onyx, partly bound up,
The rest falling over the shoulders and breasts.
Her neck is round and delicate,
Her earlobes long.

The line of her lips is pure and red.
Her teeth a fine-textured garland.
Tongue fine and soft.
Her breath the sweet scent of lotuses

The right hand stretching out in kindness
Fingers soft like lotus petals
Left hand holding by her heart
The stem of a blue utpala blossom.

A smiling and passionate youthful manner
With her round breasts
And the slimness of her waist
She gives inexhaustible bliss.

On her head, Wisdom’s five jewels
In a garland of golden lotuses.
She is adorned with finest silks
Precious jewels and celestial blossoms
And surrounded by rainbows and moonbeams.

From a White Tara puja by Pabongka Rinpoche

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New article on Vajrasattva mantra

VajrasattvaDid you know that the most popular section of our site is the Mantra Meditations? In fact, four out of the ten most-visited pages on Wildmind are on mantras!

Just a few months ago we added an extensive article on the Medicine Buddha, and today we added an article on the Bodhisattva of purification, Vajrasattva, and his 100-syllable mantra.

Vajrasattva’s name means “diamond being” and he represents the innate purity of the mind. As the article says,

You can imagine your mind as being like a sky through which clouds pass. The clouds come and they go, but the sky remains untouched. The sky is inherently blue and clear, and although its blueness and clarity can be obscured it can never be destroyed. The clouds are like the greed, hatred, and delusion that pollute the mind. Because of the transient nature of these mental states, they cannot be said to be an inherent part of the mind. They may obscure the mind’s inherent awareness and compassion, but those qualities are never absent.

The 100-syllable mantra is an evocation of the path to full awakening, from the first invocation of Vajrasattva as a protector, to the wish to save all sentient beings.

The article is accompanied by an MP3 recording of the mantra.

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New article on The Medicine Buddha, Bhaisajyaguru

Medicine Buddha, BhaisajyaguruBodhipaksa and Srivandana have posted a new article in our mantra section on the Medicine Buddha, Bhaisajyaguru. The article includes an introduction to the Buddha as well as a recording of his mantra.

The Medicine Buddha, or Bhaiśajyaguru, is as his name suggests connected with healing. His mantra exists in both long and short forms. In its long form it is:

namo bhagavate bhaiśajyaguru vaid?ryaprabharājāya tathāgatāya arhate samyaksambuddhāya tadyathā: oṃ bhaiśajye bhaiśajye bhaiśajya-samudgate svāhā.

The short form is:

(tadyathā:) oṃ bhaiśajye bhaiśajye mahābhaiśajye bhaiśajyarāje samudgate svāhā.

“Bhaisajya” means “curativeness” or “healing efficacy,” while “guru” means “teacher” or “master.” Thus he’s the “master of healing.” He’s also known as Bhaisajyaraja, “raja” meaning “king.”

The short form of the mantra could roughly be translated as “Hail! Appear, O Healer, O Healer, O Great Healer, O King of Healing!” The optional “tadyathā” at the beginning means “thus,” and it’s not really part of the mantra, but more of an introduction.

The long version could be rendered as, “Homage to the Blessed One, The Master of Healing, The King of Lapis Lazuli Radiance, The One Thus-Come, The Worthy One, The Fully and Perfectly Awakened One, thus: ‘Hail! Appear, O Healer, O Healer, O Great Healer, O King of Healing!’ ”

You can read the rest of the article and hear the mantra here.

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Wildmind videos come to YouTube

Wildmind has begun creating YouTube versions of our mantras and of selected guided meditations. There’s a 10 minute limit on YouTube videos and most of our meditations are 20 minutes or longer, so we’re going to have to record some short tracks specially.

We started with a YouTube video of the Om Shanti mantra. If you like the mantra, please give the video a rating after listening.

You can view all of Bodhipaksa’s YouTube videos here.

We hope that these videos will help the benefits of meditation to reach a wider audience.

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The top ten myths about meditation

meditation incense

Buddhist meditation teacher Bodhipaksa debunks the ten most common meditation myths.

Even though meditation is now widely used in sports, medicine, psychiatry, and of course as part of the spiritual practice of millions of people around the world, there are still many misconceptions in circulation about what meditation actually is.

Myth #10. Meditation is relaxation

To say that some people’s conception of meditation is “Think of warm puppies, and let your mind go limp” is an exaggeration, but not much of one. Perhaps because meditation has found a home in stress management classes around the world, many people think that “letting your tensions dissolve away” is the be-all and end-all of a meditation practice. But while it’s important to let go of unnecessary effort while meditating, meditation is still a practice — that is, it involves effort. Sure, we start by letting go of tensions in the body, but that’s only the start.

Myth #9. Meditation is just self-hypnosis

Hypnosis, when used in therapy, involves a patient being guided into having experiences that he or she would have difficulty in attaining unaided — experiences as varied as being content without a cigarette in hand and remembering forgotten events from childhood. Self-hypnosis does the same thing, but the practitioner uses a remembered script or visualization to, say, increase relaxation or to experience greater confidence. There’s actually some overlap between hypnosis and meditation (although some meditation teachers, being suspicious of hypnosis, would deny this). In both disciplines we start with inducing a state of relaxation and then proceed to doing some kind of inner work. In hypnosis and in some forms of meditation that inner work involves visualization or the use of repeated phrases. But many forms of meditation (for example, Zen “just sitting” or Theravadin mindfulness meditation) make no use of such tools. The overlap between hypnosis and meditation is only partial.

Myth #8. There are technological shortcuts

“I want to relax, and I want to do it now!” is the approach taken by many goal-oriented Westerners. And that makes them suckers for promises of quick-fix technological approaches to meditating. The web is full of products that promise you that you’ll meditate like a Zen monk at the touch of a button. Just stick your headphones on and hit play, and let the magical audio technology do the rest! But like myth #10, this overlooks the fact that meditation involves effort. Sure, if you stop running around being stressed for half an hour and listen to some blandly pleasant music you’ll find you’re more relaxed. Why wouldn’t you be? But it’s a mistake to confuse this with real meditation. The “Zen monk” in these ads would surely be puzzled to think that someone listening to a CD for a few minutes had attained the depths of mindfulness and compassion that come from thousands of hours of sitting on a cushion watching your breath.

Myth #7. Transcendental Meditation is the most common kind of meditation

“Oh, so is it Transcendental meditation you do?” I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked that question when people have found out I’m a meditation teacher. Just about everyone has heard of Transcendental Meditation because of famous practitioners like the Beatles and because of controversies about TM being taught in U.S. schools, but TM is very much a minority pursuit — probably because it’s so darned expensive to learn (and the question of where those millions of dollars go is still open). The most common form of meditation in the West is Mindfulness or Insight meditation, which comes from Theradavin Buddhism of South and Southeast Asia. Zen meditation and Tibetan meditation (which often involves visualization) isn’t far behind.

Myth #6. You have to sit in lotus position

In the Asian countries where Buddhist meditation developed people generally sit on the floor and have flexible hips. It’s natural for them to sit cross-legged, and so they sit in a variety of cross-legged postures in order to meditate, the lotus position being one of the most common and stable postures. In the West we sit in chairs from an early age and have stiffer hips. It’s therefore a rare Westerner who can sit in the lotus position to meditate — at least with any degree of comfort. In actual fact it’s possible to sit comfortably to meditate on a chair, a meditation stool, kneeling, or even lying down (although you’ll have trouble staying awake). The most important thing is that you find a posture that’s comfortable for you — and that you don’t beat yourself up about not being able to twist your legs like a pretzel.

Myth #5. In meditation you sit there saying “OM”

Mantra meditation is only one kind of meditation, and “OM” is only one mantra (or part of a mantra). ‘Nuff said.

Myth #4. Meditation is a religious activity

Although meditation comes from various spiritual or religious traditions, it’s not in itself necessarily a religious practice. The most common forms of meditation practice, for example, involve observing the sensations of the breath. What’s religious about that? Sure, there are some forms of meditation that involve using religious words of phrases as objects of concentration (e.g. Transcendental Meditation, Buddhist Mantra meditation, etc.) but many of the most common meditation practices have no religious overtones — which is probably one of the reasons they’re so common.

Myth #3. Meditation is somehow “Eastern”

A lot of people (usually Christians) have told me that they think Buddhist practice is “foreign” because it comes from an Eastern context. Hmm, where does Christianity come from again? Oh yes, the Middle East. But as with Myth #4 (“Meditation is a religious activity”) there’s nothing inherently Eastern, Southern, or Northern about counting your breath or wishing people well. Some Tibetan practices do involve visualizing rather bizarre (to Western eyes) figures, and mantra meditation usually involves repeating Sanskrit words or phrases — but those constitute a minority of meditation practices. Oh, all right, it’s a large minority — but what’s wrong with a little exoticism?

Myth #2. Meditation is escapist

To some people, meditation is “running away from problems,” “navel gazing,” “lotus eating,” or “disregarding the world.” Actually, running around being busy and never having time to experience yourself deeply is escapism. When you meditate you’re brought face-to-face in a very direct way with your own anger, delusion, craving, pain, and selfishness. There’s nothing to do in meditation but to experience and work with these things. Also, some forms of meditation — such as lovingkindness and compassion meditation — involve us working at transforming our relationship with the world by cultivating love and empathy for others. Perhaps that’s why so many meditators are involved in social work, psychotherapy, nursing, bereavement counseling, prison work, etc.

Myth #1 Meditation is about letting your mind go blank

Here it is, the all-time number one meditation myth — that meditation is about “making your mind go blank.” Sure, in meditation we aim to reduce the amount of thinking that goes on. Sure, just sit there for a few minutes watching all those pointless and even downright unhelpful thoughts bubbling up nonstop in the mind and you’d start to think that a blank mind would be preferable! But what would it be like to have a blank mind? Would you even be awake? Would you have any consciousness at all? Would you be able to know that your mind was blank? The confusion arises because we identify so much with our verbal thoughts (our inner self-talk) that we think that that’s all our experience is. And if we reduce or even stop our thinking (and that can happen) we assume that the mind must be blank. But a blank mind simply isn’t possible.

No, in meditation we aim to develop mindfulness — that’s mind-full-ness. When we’re mindful the mind is very much not blank. Rather, we’re aware of physical sensations, emotions, thoughts — and of how all those things interact with each other. The mind is so full of our present-moment experience that there’s less room for it to be full of useless thoughts, and instead we’re aware of the incredible richness of our experience — a richness that we overlook entirely when we spend our whole lives lost in thinking.

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Ok, kids, chill out (Montreal Gazette)

Children as young as 10 are picking up Transcendental Meditation, and they’re not the only ones feeling good about it

Stephanie Whittaker: Every morning, as soon as she awakens, 13-year-old Joelle Cazeault sits up in her bed, closes her eyes and performs a ritual unknown to most children. She spends 10 minutes doing Transcendental Meditation.

“I repeat my mantra and it slows my breathing,” says the student at College St. Maurice in Ste. Hyacinthe.

Ditto for the afternoon. Joelle meditates when she gets home from school and, she says, it gives her the alertness and focus she needs to do her homework.

Meditation is a ritual she began three years ago when her parents, who have meditated since the 1970s, enrolled her in a Transcendental Meditation course: “They think it’s important for my life and that it can help me become enlightened.”

Perhaps it is inevitable that baby boomers, the generation that learned to chill out in heightened states of consciousness, want their offspring to experience the same.

Children as young as 10 are learning Transcendental Meditation and are reaping the rewards at school. “I always had good marks but they got even better after I learned to meditate,” says Joelle.

She’s at the forefront of a coming trend. There is a growing push in the U.S. to put “ohm” in schools by making Transcendental Meditation part of the curriculum. The movement is poised to take Canada with it.

A U.S.-based group called Stress-Free Schools has helped set up T.M. programs in 50 schools south of the border and has piqued the interest of educators in Canada.

Six Montreal-area schools want the program.

“My students deserve to have this, and it will transform the whole school,” says Marielle Mayers, an elementary school principal in Ville d’Anjou.

Michele Beausoleil, a Montreal teacher of T.M., is keen to get started: “We’re ready to teach the children, teachers and principals and I’ll work to help the schools find funding from foundations.”

Stress-Free Schools was founded in 2004 by a group of meditating parents in New York City, who were concerned about social problems in their schools.

Two months ago, the organization held a conference at Montreal’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel to explain to educators how teaching T.M. to children as young as 10 can benefit their schools.

Original article no longer available.

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Christian Meditation: Death of the Self (The Times of India)

Christopher Mendonca, The Times of India: Christians the world over celebrate the Sacred Triduum, the three holy days that form the core of their spiritual calendar. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter mark the commemoration of events that literally changed the course of history. The word ”memorial” in Hebrew means to relive the event; so the celebration of the Eucharist is much more than a mere commemorative event. The practice of Christian meditation dates back to the beginning of Christianity; its objective is to daily ”empty the self” to experience the fullness of God. It is consonant with Jesus”s invitation to his disciples to take up their cross daily and follow him. It is central to Easter celebrations, ”dying” to rise to a New Life.

The way of meditation is the way of silence. Silencing the ceaseless chatter of a mind buzzing with thoughts is not easy. The way to silence is the way of the mantra. Choosing a sac-red word and repeating it from the beginning to the end of the period of meditation forms part of the essential teaching of Christian meditation. It is advisable to choose a word of four syllables and pronounce them with equal length. The recommended word in the Christian Tradition is Ma-ra-na-tha. In Aramaic, the language of Jesus’s time, it means ”The Lord comes”.

Once we commence this daily practice, a few guidelines can enable us to go deeper. Firstly, we are not to assess our progress. The feeling of success or failure may be the biggest distraction of all. We are not to look for ”experiences” in our meditation. We come to meditation in poverty of spirit. So be faithful to the recitation of the word/mantra during the period of meditation, and to the daily practice, twice a day, morning and evening. The minimum time prescribed is 20 minutes, the optimum 30 minutes…

The way of saying your word, your mantra, is the way to stillness. Eastern Christians call it hesychia. It is pure prayer, worship in spirit and truth. It purifies the heart of contradictory desires and unifies us. The place of unity is the heart where we find our deepest and most natural orientation towards God as our personal source and goal.

A still mind creates conditions for receptivity. We open ourselves to God”s presence, so that his life can pour into us, making us channels of his grace. There is a Zen story about receptivity. A Japanese professor went to a Zen master. They talked and had tea together. The teacher took a cup and handed it to the visitor. He poured in the tea until the cup was full. He went on pouring and the tea spilled everywhere. It is overflowing, cried the professor. The master replied, “Yes, when something is full you can”t put anything else in. So I can give you nothing because you are already filled with yourself and your own ideas. We cannot receive God”s love and it cannot grow in us unless there is some space. When we meditate we are creating space within us, space that God can fill.

Jesus is the personification of this “emptying of self” who, though God, did not think equality with God as something to be grasped, but emptied himself (Phil. 2:6). When you have nothing more to live for; when your own righteousness ceases to count for anything; when you are knocked down, battered and bruised; when rituals cease to work their magic for you and observances fail to appease; when words become meaningless and the logic of your syllogism proves nothing; when the silence of the empty tomb beckons you, only then can you be filled with the fullness of God.

(www.wccm.org)

(Today is Maundy Thursday.)

Read the rest of the article…

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Time to reflect called religion (Charlotte Observer, North Carolina)

Cristina Breen Bolling and Gail Smith-Arrants, Charlotte Observer, North Carolina: What started as an unheralded effort to open Cabarrus County’s first charter school became a battle this month after local residents raised questions about the school’s plans to teach Transcendental Meditation.

Directors of the planned Carolina International School say they want to offer 10 minutes of Transcendental Meditation — commonly called TM — to fifth- through 12th-graders each day, to help them center themselves and learn better.

But about a half-dozen local residents and Cabarrus County commissioner Bob Carruth contend that TM is rooted in Hinduism, and as a religious practice, shouldn’t be taught in a school that receives public money.

The meditation, developed from an ancient Indian practice, was introduced in the United States around 1960 by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, known to many for his friendship with the Beatles.

Psychology researchers most often study the physical and psychological aspects of the meditation rather than a religious component. TM is practiced by people of many faiths.

School director Richard Beall, who practices TM, defends the meditation, which he says is just one feature of a school that touts individual learning plans, small class sizes and the International Baccalaureate program.

“I’m standing here telling people that this has nothing to do with religion. It’s a mechanical technique,” Beall said during a meeting Thursday night for parents interested in enrolling their children in the school.

“It requires no religious or philosophical belief. … Our contract with the state is our charter, and we’re going to obey that.”

State officials are talking to experts about TM in response to the parents’ complaints.

Like other schools that receive public money, Carolina International School isn’t allowed to include religion as part of its curriculum and must give its students the same End of Grade tests that public school students take.

N.C. law allows up to 100 charter schools, which are privately run and publicly funded. A Charter School Advisory Committee recommends schools to the N.C. State Board of Education, which authorizes the schools with a charter. Carolina International received its charter in January.

It would be the first charter school in Cabarrus County and the county’s first school to offer the International Baccalaureate program geared toward students who can do accelerated work. The school has already enrolled more than 300 students, and more than 200 others are on a waiting list, Beall said. About 60 percent are from Mecklenburg County, 40 percent are from Cabarrus County and a few are from Stanly County, he said.

Beall received several graduate degrees related to education from the Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa, which was founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. In 1981 he helped established Maharishi Middle and Upper Schools in Iowa, where he served for 10 years as middle and high school principal, social studies teacher and coach.

People who use Transcendental Meditation learn to focus on a mantra to let stress and other distractions slip away.

Critics, however, say the trademarked practice can cause depression, anxiety and other side effects, and say they worry the practice will involve more than 10 minutes of relaxation.

TM is rare in schools, but not unheard of. Students at one Detroit charter school practice TM daily. High school students in a Georgia public school district took part in a study into whether TM could affect their blood pressure and response to stress.
What qualifies as religion?

N.C. charter school officials say they’ve heard about a half-dozen complaints about the Cabarrus County school and are researching whether the meditation technique has ties to religion.”If that has been determined to be religion, then that can’t be part of the school. It’s really that simple,” said Michael Fedewa, chairman of the state charter school advisory committee.

Workers at the state office of charter schools are trying to sort out whether TM has religious links and will report back, possibly as early as April 8.

State charter school leaders have questioned the school’s plans to offer TM in the past, but never did outside research on the topic, Fedewa said. The charter school advisory board asked Beall and other Carolina International School leaders to come in a few months ago for a meeting to talk about TM.

“In all cases, they looked us dead in the eye and said `This is not religion. There is no religion being taught,’ ” Fedewa said. “They appear to have answered our questions forthrightly and to our satisfaction.”

That’s not enough for Beverly Henley, a Harrisburg parent who said she doesn’t think state charter school officials took the time to investigate TM fully. Henley said she started looking into the school for her own children, but now opposes taxpayer funding for it because she says the religious tie is clear.

“It sounds like the (charter school advisory board) asked him, `Is this TM a religion?’ and he said, `No.’ So they said, `It needs to stay that way.’ ”

Carruth, the county commissioner, said if Carolina International School is allowed to open using TM, then he’d encourage Christian schools to apply for charter school status so they, too, could receive public funding.

“Why not? To me, that shows that’s how they interpret the law,” he said.
Court ruling

Thursday’s meeting heated up when critics challenged Beall’s explanation that TM is simply a peaceful moment of reflection and has nothing to do with religion.

Some questioned whether students would be forced to go further than meditation, perhaps having to watch teachers undergo a ceremony that allows them to teach TM.

They also cited a 1977 federal court ruling in which a judge in New Jersey ruled that Transcendental Meditation was a religious practice and cannot be funded in public schools.

“It’s a restated form of Hinduism. I believe that’s the real question here,” said Cindy Picarella, a Cabarrus County resident. “I would like to put my child here, but I cannot put my child in this school because I believe it is a religion. … And I still have to pay for it, but I don’t want to pay for it.”

Beall responded: “TM isn’t a religious experience for me, and it shouldn’t be for a student….

“We’re going to make sure everybody involved in this understands what it’s about.”

[Original article no longer available]
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