Regular readers know I frequently mention effortless meditation. This is because of the key role it plays in culturing the ground for enlightenment. Over time, I’ve come to see its value more and more deeply.
Yet there’s a key point about practices to make. Enlightenment isn’t caused by anything we do. It arises from the grace of the Divine. The purpose of spiritual practices is not to get enlightened but to prepare the ground. Then when grace arises, the shift is more likely to be smooth and supported. If the ground is not ready, grace will come as a profound but passing experience. Practices will also improve our quality of life and cleanse our old karma through purification.
Devotional recitation, contemplation, body awareness, and other techniques are each distinct with different benefits. But is there transcendence? This is the key for awakening.
Transcendence is going beyond the mind and into our source, our nature under all the noise of the mind and emotions. This is the Samadhi of Yoga and the Turiya of the Upanishad.
Why do we want transcendence? It does several things:
– the experience of source, our true nature
– culturing letting go for healing and awakening
– the settling of the mind settles the body leading to deep rest and healing
– the experience of going within makes the layers between the surface and pure consciousness gradually more conscious, refining perception, and culturing sattva
– transcendence triggers soma, a fine substance that increases refinement, purification, and the support of nature
An ideal practice for transcendence has 3 aspects:
1: a suitable vehicle for transcending into samadhi
2: the correct technique to create the conditions for transcending
3: the correct experience of correct technique
1: a suitable vehicle for transcending into samadhi. Samadhi brings us to source and the experience of Yoga or union plus soma for refinement.
There are many ways of transcending. But the most common vehicle for going within is a mantra or sound. Sound is the most subtle sense and can bring us closest to source. Then we let go of the vehicle and transcend the practice into samadhi.
Such a mantra should be of known good effect and suitable for the lifestyle of the student. The classic Om, for example, is a renunciate mantra. This is unsuitable for most people and tends to cause relationships and possessions to fall away. Picking a random or generic mantra may not be beneficial for you. Don’t underestimate how potent mantras become at a deep level.
Mantras usually come from Sanskrit and an ancient science of mantra. For effortless transcending, we practice the mantra without meaning. Otherwise meaning engages the mind and we don’t go beyond it.
Some suggest using an Eastern mantra is praying to Hindu gods. Everything in Sanskrit is associated with a god, including your house, chair, and food. But in a simple, effortless meditation, the meaning or associations are not contemplated. That’s a different practice. (Devotional practices may diverge from this, but again that’s a different approach.)
2: the correct technique. As noted I recommend an effortless practice that leads to regular samadhi. Innocent attention on the mantra and allowing the mind to go where it goes. When it’s not preoccupied by its daily concerns, the mind naturally settles deep within as it is drawn by the greater power and happiness present on subtler levels.
That deep settling brings the body deep rest, allowing it to heal. This was well-established in the 1970s by scientific research.
3: the correct experience of correct technique. Because this is experiential, it is best taught by personal instruction with a trained, certified teacher. They guide you through the process to give you the direct experience of effortlessness. Then they verify that experience multiple times. This is partly why such practices are taught over several days. More experience allows more understanding and grounds it.
There are books and web sites that offer basic instruction. But the people I’ve seen try this route rarely gained an effortless experience. Western minds are so used to effort that we habitually fall back to trying and control. With a teacher, we get a guided experience of effortlessness. Refreshing that experience as required leads to an established practice and results. A teacher also brings other benefits I mention below.
One of the curious gotchas of such a practice is its ease. It’s so easy, the mind can mistake simplicity with insufficient. It’s the same with waking up. We’re looking for something we can do when the secret is non-doing. Effortlessness leads to non-doing as samadhi.
Effort drifting into the practice leads to a loss of transcending and benefits. That is the #1 reason people stop an effortless practice. The mind gets bored and looks for excuses to stop. Or the quiet strain gives us a headache. A simple experience of effortless is all it takes to get back on track.
This simplicity is also why the correct understanding of transcending gets lost over and over through the ages. Something is added, the benefits falter, and we lose the teaching.
It may seem on the surface that all meditations are equivalent but small differences practiced regularly at deep levels can have very different results. Just a subtle difference in how the mantra is used changes the outcome. This has also been shown with scientific research.
For example, a guided meditation, even with a suitable mantra, leads to a hypnotic trance rather than transcending. Focusing on a candle leads to increased concentration but not usually transcending. Watching the content of the mind can bring us insights but this is mind, not transcending. Body awareness can lead to relaxation and release but not transcending. And so on. Each of them has benefits but without transcending, how are we connecting to source? How are we gaining deep purification and soma?
Best of all are instructors that use something like a guru puja. While it may seem quaint or strange to a Westerner, the puja raises the consciousness of the teacher as high as possible and allows “planting the seed” most deeply. This better establishes the practice and gets it reverberating at a deep level making for faster progress.
The puja also offers the student an optional connection to the Vedic tradition of Masters. Even if these are unknown, they can be of great benefit later in our practice. For example, they drew me back to the path and have been supporting the unfolding. That was not clear until further along.
Regular readers know I practice Transcendental Meditation (TM) and have been for some 45 years. It’s the most widely available and well-researched effortless meditation. It meets all of these points. And it continues to bring benefits. Again, don’t underestimate its simplicity.
I have been low key about it as the fixed course fee was steep for many people and I don’t want to steer anyone away from their path. Yet in time I’ve seen the difference it makes for awakening in so many lives. Lorn Hoff has had a similar experience and now requires it for his advanced programs. If refinement isn’t being cultured, the programs have little value.
Recently, the US has reduced its course fee. Both it and the UK have also introduced an income-based rate. If you click “one-time payment” under the income table on this page, you’ll see the rates for the income categories in the US. This is similar, adjusted for inflation, to the fees and structure back in the 1970s when I learned. If you live in another country, you can choose your country here (fees are typically found in the ‘how to learn’ section).
And yes, like any world-wide organization, there are things to grouse about. But what I’m recommending is the practice itself, taught in a standard way everywhere. The rest is optional.
Some feel that they should teach meditation for free as in the East. This is an ideal. Yet in those cultures, the community supports their teachers and practitioners. Plus, donations based on means are typical. In the West, we pay for trained practitioners. Donations tend to much more moderate so living on them is often not possible unless you have other income sources or support.
I learned to teach TM and taught it briefly back in the ’70’s and I can assure you that few make a living teaching it. Mostly the fees cover the expenses of teaching and the local center.
I would add from experience that Westerners rarely value something they get for free.
Note that I’m not suggesting you become a Hindu. The Vedic tradition is a science of spiritual development that long predates Hinduism. The religious aspects were added later. Those enlightened Masters remain available to us.
Someone on almost any path can adopt the TM practice. There are Roman Catholic priests who practice. One has arranged for thousands of street kids to learn as part of a program to help them into a better life. Thousands of Buddhist monks have learned in SE Asia. And so on. Over 10 million have learned TM worldwide.
Over the years, I’ve seen the value of TM in establishing presence, clearing stress and karma, refining perception, developing soma, learning to let go, and improving quality of life. Science has demonstrated that it’s very effective for treating anything stress-related like insomnia, depression, heart health, ADHD and PTSD. And I’ve seen the benefits for those moving into higher stages. The value runs deep. It’s one of the few things still in my life after all these years. This is why I recommend it.
The millions of people who have learned have also contributed to the present rising consciousness.
TM instruction also includes an understanding of purification and the release of stress so we support the healing benefits of samadhi. This is profound and rare among spiritual techniques, but needed because it’s so effective.
I am aware of others who teach effortless meditation but they’re usually only available in a limited area. And I can’t speak to the quality of instruction.
If you’re getting results like I describe from your practice, excellent. But if you’re not, you may want to consider this. The introduction is free.
For followers of Yoga, TM is half of the 8 limbs (ashtanga) of Yoga (Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi). This can be supported by 2 other limbs as well:
Yoga Asana – Correct asana (posture) is effortless. Many yoga studios teach a form of exercise, not asana. You’re taught to push into a stretch and go farther. That has nothing to do with actual yoga. To quote Yoga Sutra 2:46: “Asana is steady pleasantness.” Done right, it can be bliss-producing.
Sukh Pranayama – effortless alternate-nostril breathing. This balances the left and right sides, the masculine and feminine, as a preparation for meditation. Again, no force, holding, or effort.
You can also learn the above through a TM teacher.
The other two limbs are the Yama and the Niyama I’ve explored in various articles. We can also see both as results from the other limbs.
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