MEDITATION FOR EVERYONE
Published in the Winnipeg Free Press, October 24, 2006
thirty-five years ago I took up Hatha Yoga. After a few years I
became an adept and began to teach. Back then, Yoga was not well
known, and I remember that my mother thought the whole exercise
was rather weird. But this has changed: I recently saw a sign on
a wooden stick planted in suburban Winnipeg boulevard: YOGA, it
said, and below that, a phone number. So now, thirty years on, Yoga
is well known pretty much everywhere.
days a similar transformation is happening to meditation. What was
once a secret religious practice among Asian mystics is moving into
the consciousness of 21st Century North Americans. Popular magazines
and television are focusing on the topic and therapists, counselors,
and life-coaches are recommending meditation to their clients and
patients. There is even an upsurge in interest in the ancient, spiritually
oriented traditions from India and Asia, particularly Buddhism.
We all know who the Dalai Lama is, for example.
culture is beset by various ailments and complaints, and we are
on the lookout for remedies. Meditation is offered as a way to mitigate
stress, anxiety, and various addictions, and as a remedial response
to a host of physical ailments, including chronic pain, cancer and
heart disease. The intention of this teaching is to help us feel
better and live better. But how do we know which sources of instruction
are reliable? How do we know which meditational practices are authentic
which evolved through transmission from teacher to student over
three millennia, has some sensible things to say about these questions.
The elders of a town near to where he was teaching once asked the
Buddha: "Many teachers come by here, and offer many different
teachings. How can we know which one to follow?" His advice:
"Take up the teachings that seem useful, practise them ardently,
and evaluate the results. If the fruits are not positive, try something
else." This applies to evaluating teachers as well. In this
case, the recommendation is to look to the students, the fruits
of the teacher's work, so to speak. Are they wholesome, friendly,
helpful people, or are they at least aspiring to be so?
these simple tests are hard to apply, an ironic consequence of the
speed and convenience of modern information delivery systems. If
the teaching is coming through impersonal, non-interactive channels
like books, magazines, television, or the World Wide Web, no realistic
evaluation of the teachers is possible. Similarly, if the teaching
is coming from experts traveling through town on a whirlwind tour,
there is simply not enough time to get a clear understanding of
their agenda either.
and religious professionals have begun to offer meditation instruction.
If they are local, there is more of an opportunity to get to know
these teachers, and perhaps even some of the folks who may have
benefited from their efforts, as well. But it is important to find
out if such teachers are long-time practitioners of the meditational
methods they recommend. If they are not practitioners, how can they
know exactly what the practices might lead to?
what is the ardent seeker to do? First, look to your own motives.
Are you seeking a quick antidote for the unpleasant consequences
of an unsupportable lifestyle or are you looking for insight into
the workings of your own mind? In the first case, the benefits of
meditation will be short-lived, however skilled the teacher. In
the second case, the work may take some time, but the benefits will
be more durable.
make a study of potential teachers. What is their agenda? Is power,
money, fame, or absolute control part of the formula, or is the
teaching available over the long run, at modest cost, without surrender
of one's will or judgment? Is the teacher kind? Does the teacher
make sense? Trust your own instincts.
there is the test drive. Attend public events, talk to fellow attendees,
reflect on the ideas on offer, and try the practises. Those who
are curious and persistent will eventually find something that works