Why is meditation becoming so popular these days? What does a person feel while meditating that is so enjoyable? To answer these questions, psychologist Lawrence Le Shan interviewed many meditators. To Le Shan, the comment that best summed up the meditational experience was, "It's like coming home."
"Home," of course, is a secure and happy place where we feel that we belong and are loved for being our real selves. Home is filled with relatives and friends who support us. Home protects us from the world's dangers, while allowing us to learn of that very same world's opportunities for our happiness. But today, unfortunately, the feeling of being "at home" is an increasingly rare one.
Philosophers, psychologists, and politicians describe our times with words like "anxiety," "despair," "conflict," "hot war," "cold war," and "future shock." Social commentators tell us that our society is growing more and more mechanical, impersonal, and unsympathetic to human needs. Even in wealthy and relatively secure countries like the United States, families incessantly move from one neighborhood or apartment to another, and if by chance one has physical security, there still remains a pervasive feeling of psychological homelessness. People don't know where, amid society's constant change and crass commercialism, to put their allegiance, where to rest their hearts. Finally, even the simplest life functions (drinking water, eating, and breathing) can now cause us anxiety because of the threat of pollution.
It's natural for us to want to feel at home. Yet, as we see, our uptight, breakneck-speed civilization fails to give us that homey feeling. In fact, modern civilization often frightens us, sends our blood pressure soaring, makes our adrenalin flow, and forces us to seek strong relief. Some people fight their fear with drink, drugs, and/or television. Still, this type of relief is temporary, superficial, and hardly pleasing. Dulling the awareness of a problem doesn't solve it.
In seeking a more permanent and satisfactory solution to these problems, many people (including doctors and psychologists) have now turned towards meditation and have gotten impressive results. Dr. Daniel Goleman reports that "the ability to handle stress increases with practice in meditation." Scientists are discovering that meditation can significantly improve a person's physical and mental health. Dr. Le Shan notes "a greater efficiency and enthusiasm in the everyday life [of meditators]." And meditation achieves all this without any harmful side effects.
What's more, when we read time-tested manuals of meditation (the Bhagavad-gita As It Is, for instance), we. find that peace of mind and relief from stress are only pleasant by-products associated with the meditator's attainment of an even higher goal.
For one thing, as the Bhagavad-gita explains, meditation clears away a person's ignorance and unhealthy habits naturally, without harmful repressions, by, allowing him to experience a higher pleasure. For example, people smoke cigarettes and indulge in alcohol and drugs because they derive a certain pleasure from them. However, during the practice of meditation, the meditator gradually experiences greater and greater degrees of an internal pleasure that supplants his desire for unhealthy substances. This same principle works to remedy harmful psychological reactions like anxiety, stress, or unwarranted anger. Meditation permits the individual to contact the healthy psychological tendencies already existing within himself. This experience of health is so intrinsically rewarding that the meditator naturally begins to gravitate towards these healthy tendencies in everyday life.
The source of this higher pleasure experienced in meditation is an unfettered and enlightened self. Lord Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita that this enlightened state "is characterized by one's ability to see the self by the pure mind and to relish and rejoice in the self." The Gita also explains that when a meditator links his individual consciousness in a loving, reciprocal relationship with the Supreme Being (God, or Krsna), the experience of enlightenment develops to its highest potential and becomes permanent. "Being situated in such a position,'' says the Gita, "one is never shaken, even in the midst of the greatest difficulty. This indeed is actual freedom from all miseries…"
While moving towards this goal, the meditator literally has the feeling of "going back home," as His Divine Grace A. C, Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada describes it. "Home," in this context, means that the individual realizes his true identity and is able to act on it. Meditation, then, not only relieves distress, but also promotes the fullest possible expression of the human spirit.
Or, as the saying goes, the best defense is a good offense. The best way to defend ourselves from stress, alienation, and the feeling of homelessness, is to adopt a practice that will move us in the positive direction of going "back home," back to our real selves and a loving relationship with Krsna, or God.
The Technique Of Meditation
As Geraldine Coster says in Yoga and Western Psychology, "Modern religion does not stress the search for self-awareness sufficiently to appeal to the scientific or even to the critically intelligent mind." Coster feels that meditation does appeal to this type of person, because meditation is a practical technique whose beneficial results he meditator experiences for himself.
To achieve the beneficial effects of meditation doesn't require any mental or intellectual adjustments, as, for instance, the prior acceptance of a set of beliefs. The very practice of meditation enlightens consciousness to the point where the individual experiences truth, experiences reality, by direct perception. In other words, meditation embodies the scientific and nonsectarian spirit that so attracts modern people.
The question now arises, What meditational technique is best suited for our times? The amazing proliferation of "consciousness-raising" techniques has confused many people; but if we again consult classical authorities on the subject, we find reassuring unanimity: both respected teachers and books strongly recommend oral mantra meditation as the best means of experiencing self-realization and higher pleasure in this day and age. And modern psychologists like Dr. John Heider (in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology) are quick to agree. Meditation and mantras are, in Heider's words, "as necessary to a life of growth as regular brushing is to dental hygiene."
Dr. Abraham Maslow explains that a person can know whether or not a process is working for him if "…it feels better subjectively than any other alternative. The new experience validates' itself… It is self-justifying, self-validating." The practice of mantra meditation quickly proves itself to be the kind of self-justifying, self-validating experience that Maslow is talking about here.
Oral mantra meditation is easy to learn and pleasant to practice. After you read the following instructions, you can immediately start to practice meditation in your own home, without incurring costly initiation fees.
Five hundred years ago, in India, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu ushered in the modern age of mantra meditation by freely initiating everyone regardless of race, religion, or social-status into the chanting of the most effective mantra of all, the once-secret Hare Krsna ["Huh-ray Krish-na"] Mahamantra.
Maha means "great," man means "mind,"' and tra means "release." Mahamantra, then, means "the great sound vibration to release the mind from undesirable conditions." In the Psychology of Consciousness Dr. Robert E. Ornstein says, "Actually, the 'magic' lies in the sound of the words, which are designed to have a certain effect on consciousness." By simply hearing the sound of a mantra, a person clears his mind of unfavorable psychological qualities and simultaneously cultivates favorable qualities.
There is no need for a private mantra. Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu democratized meditation by making the Hare Krsna mantra available on the most liberal terms to everyone. He taught, "There are no hard and fast rules, for chanting… A person can chant the Hare Krsna mantra anywhere, at any time, either to relieve distress or to advance in self-realization. However, the early morning is an especially favorable time for meditating. Also, the practice of Hare Krsna mantra meditation proceeds more smoothly when you set aside a specific amount of time per day for meditating. Set aside a convenient amount of time that fits into your schedule, and, if possible, gradually increase your practice up to an hour or more. You can arrange your practice in two or more sessions during the day or evening.
To chant the Hare Krsna mantra, assume any comfortable position, except a slouching or reclining one (you'll just become drowsy). You can chant while sitting, while standing, or while walking. You can keep your eyes open or closed, or you can alternate between open and closed eyes. Repeat the mantra (Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare) audibly to yourself for as long a time as you intend to meditate. (Make sure that you move your lips and jaw as in pronouncing ordinary words.) You can chant as loudly or as softly as you like. You can vary your pitch and inflection too. Remember, "There are no hard and fast rules." Meditation is a personal science, and people aren't machines. There's no mechanical way to develop your potential. If a meditational technique is to succeed, then it has to be as natural, free, and expressive as you yourself are. Rather, than stifling your personal, self-expressive tendencies, the Hare Krsna technique works with these tendencies to stimulate natural, flowing meditation.
While you're chanting, simply fix your mind on hearing the sound of the mantra. When you talk, it's natural for you to listen to your voice, During meditation, direct this natural attentiveness to hearing the mantra. The quality of your meditation will depend on how well you do this.
It's true that in the course of a meditation your mind may wander or daydream. When this happens, don't fight it, just bring your attention back to hearing the mantra. As Sri Krsna says in the Bhagavad-gita (6.26),"From whatever and wherever the mind wanders due to its flickering and unsteady nature, one must certainly withdraw it and bring it back under the control of the self." Srila Prabhupada explains, "The mind is naturally restless… but it can rest in the sound vibration of Krsna." The mind is seeking knowledge and pleasure, and be cause the mind find' these things in the sound of the Hare Krsna mantra, it becomes peaceful and satisfied.
The words of the Hare Krsna mantra come from the ancient Sanskrit language. Hare means "one who takes away all mental disturbances" and "one who awakens all healthy qualities." Hare also means "the energy or pleasure potency of God." Krsna and Rama are personal names for God. Krsna means "all-attractive." Rama means "reservoir of pleasure." When a meditator repeats these sounds, the mantra gradually unfolds its meaning to him and enhances his personal development.
You now have everything that you need to start practicing meditation in your own home. Simply repeat the Hare Krsna mantra and listen to the sound. Progress will follow automatically. One last hint your rate of progress will also depend on the sincerity of your feeling while you chant. Again, meditation is a personal science.
If you encounter any difficulties or have any questions about Hare Krsna mantra meditation or about meditation in general, get in touch with your nearest Krsna center (listed on page 28) or write me, Daniel Maziarz, care of BACK To GODHEAD magazine. And have a gentle, pleasant journey ''back home."