Thursday, March 12, 2015

Meditation: A Revolution Rising

If you use your Internet browser to search on "benefits of meditation" or just "meditation," I think you'll be very surprised. Between the non-stop publication of scientific studies on meditation's health benefits to the growing use of meditation in business, sports and in the lives of leaders and celebrities, there is only one conclusion you can reach: meditation is hot!

David Gelles, author of "Mindful Work," spoke at the World Post Future of Work Conference in Britain claiming "There's nothing religious about meditation!" (
So, there you have it: see?

The Transcendental Meditation people have conducted numerous tests to demonstrate that a small percentage of meditators can even reduce the local crime rate. A test case led by quantum physicist John Hagelin in Washington D.C. using 173 meditators (minimum is the square root of 1% of the local population) claimed a 23.3% reduction in violent crime during the test period.

I have frequently compared the spread of "yoga" to the growth of the Internet. (footnote: by "yoga" I mean "meditation." The physical postures of hatha yoga were originally part and parcel of that holistic discipline from ancient times that prepared a student for long periods in meditation.)

What's the connection between the Internet and yoga? Simple: both represent the rapidly spreading consciousness of "I want to know how to do things for myself." Social media, too, represents the power to make changes at the broadest, most inclusive level, devoid of hierarchy. This new self-identity of "I" and the "I can do it, too" transcends cultural, religious, or national boundaries. While not all of it is positive, the power of it remains, whether for good or ill. Both yoga and the internet, then, and not exclusively, but by analogy, represent a worldwide cultural revolution that is taking place before our eyes. Just as a powerful tsunami may travel hundreds of miles before it appears as if suddenly offshore, or, just as the 100th monkey creates a tipping point, so too does yoga represent a powerful force which is inexorably rising steadily into view and effect.

Let me digress for a paragraph: During the life of Paramhansa Yogananda (1893-1952: one of the first Indian teachers to take up residence in U.S.A.), he noted the obstinacy of the Los Angeles city building department. In a casual conversation with friends, he remarked, in frustration with the bureaucracy, "There ought to be a revolution." He paused, then added: "There will be a revolution." There are many revolutions ahead of us in the next decades and, likely, at least the next century.

Yes, a revolution is underway. America was the first nation to give practical birth, expression and scope to what is now and clearly the Age of Individuality! The American revolution was the first but by no means the last for what has been and continues to be a non-stop series of worldwide revolutions: some successful and inspired, others merely destructive and angry. Like a ring of fire of volcanoes erupting around the world, cultural revolutions seeking freedom from oppression of all kinds haven't stopped since 1776.

And yes: I do think a revolution will come to America, though it will necessarily take its own shape and form. I think the pendulum of power and "I can do it" is shifting from the federal level downward to states, counties, and cities. The formation of intentional communities, Paramhansa Yogananda predicted, would "spread like wildfire." (Whether because of widespread cataclysm or by more natural and organic means, or perhaps both, he didn't specify.)

But, having digressed, let us return to meditation! Paramhansa Yogananda predicted that in the future, faith traditions and those self-described "spiritual but not religious" individuals would use meditation as their primary form of personal spirituality. Dogma, ritual and charitable activities will no doubt play their roles but for those whose spiritual seeking go deeper than cultural observances, and there will be many for whom meditation will become their primary spiritual activity.

How can we not change in our views about spirituality? Right next door to you and me live people of different faiths. We work together; go to school together; intermarry; assume roles of leadership in every arena of human activity. The end result is guaranteed: we will learn to live together and in the process we will influence each other to think more broadly and also more deeply about what is truth, what is meaningful in life, and what does it mean to be spiritual.

Meditation is the active and natural expression of that common ground. I say active because distinct from intellectual recognition. For some the first step is, in fact, an intellectual perception that we are not really so different, one from another. But as we step away from the traditional forms of religion, we also lose something. That something was the vessel that bore the deeper truths and experience of spirituality: sacredness and upliftment of consciousness toward God, or Oneness. Meditation is one of, if not THE one most effective and consistent means to achieve such states of consciousness (no matter how they are described). Nonetheless, as humans speak, paint, dance and sculpt, we have an innate need and tendency to communicate by symbols our most deeply cherished feelings. Sacredness will no doubt evolve new symbols or bring new meaning and depth to traditional ones.

Once we "know" that being spiritual is a state of consciousness the next step is meditation and it is right in front of us. And, it is growing in recognition and usage everyday: meditation! Yes, an explosion and a revolution.

This is plenty but there's more. The great cultural god SCIENCE has declared it to be "good!: meditation is for everyone! What greater endorsement could there possibly be for a society that bows and scrapes before the cathedrals and high priests of science, medicine, and the sacred idol of double-blind evidence?

Scientific studies continue non-stop to pour forth the praises and the practical, secular benefits of meditation. They may scoff at the intervention of a nameless and invisible deity, but guess who'll get the last laugh! Paramhansa Yogananda was no fool, indeed one of the greatest spiritual teachers of our age, when he named his first book and the theme for his life's work: the Science of Religion.

The practice of yoga postures achieved an initial stage of popularity in the coming-of-age of my own generation in the Sixties and Seventies. What we observed, then, we see continuing and growing now: every week we hear someone declare, "Gee, there's more to this yoga-stuff than just exercise!"

We in the yoga field simply have to accept the downside of popularity: the celebrity-status of hip yoga teachers; the fashion trade that panders to students; and use of sexy women in yoga poses to sell not just yoga but just about anything. We accept this because we know yoga "works." Yoga is for real. Yoga can transform not just your health but your life. One out of every X number of dedicated students discovers "there's more to this yoga than just exercise." Students become calmer; more self-aware; more self-honest; happier, kinder, healthier, and on and on and on. What would the world be like if even the square root of 1% of the world's population practiced yoga? No religious affiliation or terminology is needed, even if, owing to our own human proclivities to communicate and express enthusiasm, some such terms are bound to emerge.

Physical yoga, then, can lead easily and naturally to meditation. So, too, then, with meditation itself. One may begin the practice of meditation with a secular, personal growth, health and stress-reduction motivation. But, by degrees, in becoming calmer and more centered, one finds that awareness and sympathy and insights grow daily until, looking back one day, one is a changed person.

Every day people can be heard saying that "If everyone in the world meditated daily, we would solve all of our problems!" If that's not a revolution, I don't know what is. That's my point: it IS a revolution and it IS happening before our eyes.

I am therefore hopeful for the survival of humanity. And, not just "mere survival" but growth in consciousness, happiness and relative prosperity. But, if my eyes are still wide open, I must also admit that plenty of prejudice, ignorance, violence, poverty, exploitation and hatred remains in the consciousness of humans on this planet.

Meditation, then, is like an invisible tsunami of hope rising silently (naturally!), like the sea level of expanding awareness and hope, around the world. In the meantime, however, many lessons, tragedies, wars, and suffering remain to be experienced. And, yet, given the inevitability of suffering from change, I believe that such misfortunes will only serve further incite people to seek peaceful alternatives and a higher consciousness. The best you and I can do, then, is to meditate daily. We can help ourselves in our commitment to meditation and help others, too, if we can find others to meditate with. Going further, we can each find appropriate ways to spread and support the spread of meditation.

Maybe it's at the office water cooler; in casual conversations; or, for some, learning to teach meditation to others. Assuming you do meditate already, begin visioning yourself and identifying yourself AS a meditator. While true that in the highest states of meditation, there's no meditator, no meditating, and no object of meditation left, it is also true that a more expansive self-identity can replace a narrower one (the usual self-identities, being a cause for conflict, being based on age, gender, nationality, skills and interests, etc.).

It is helpful to learn that meditation is not only an act you engage in each day by "sitting." Meditation is a way of life: a kind of "political party of consciousness" if you don't mind my using the "p" word. At a stoplight, between conversations, or between tasks, become aware of your breath. Instantly and silently enter, however briefly, the meditative state at will. For some this is prayerful and devotional; for others, more psychological; and yet others, it is simply physiological. That doesn't matter. Be true to your own meditation practice and intention.

A scientist knows that beneath the infinite variety of forms of matter lies the universal substrata of energy (in all its variety of manifestations from gravity and electromagnetism and light, to atoms, molecules and quantum particles and waves). So, the yogi (meditator) can discover and be reminded throughout the day that underlying the differences of individuals is a substrata of universal consciousness. As Paramhansa Yogananda expressed his essential message over a century ago: we are ALL seeking happiness and seeking to avoid suffering. Some more wisely than others but universally we seek the golden ring of happiness. View, therefore, all life as seeking fulfillment. Most are of course unaware that the fragrance of our goal, like the pouch of musk in the belly of the musk deer, lies within ourselves.

Meditation is a lifestyle and a philosophy that sees unity in diversity; connection in separateness. It is the inner journey to the heart of the golden rule: "Do unto others as you would have done to you."

Anyone who can more or less function in this crazy world, can (and, heck, "should") meditate. We can and will change the world.

I am a member of the Ananda communities movement (9 communities around the world), I see that what we are doing (by combining meditation with cooperative communities of like-minded souls) is to help give birth to the future: here and now. "We ARE the future!" is how I like to say. (By this I don't mean "Ananda" as an organization. I mean Ananda as reflective of the principles of meditation, sustainable living and high ideals which has inspired the work of Ananda.)

This is true even if we are, for the time being, all but invisible to the public eye. We, who have committed our lives to the lifestyle of meditation, are blessed to live, more or less, in a golden age and bubble of consciousness. We don't exclude others or the world by way of rejection or condemnation. Indeed, we openly share and invite anyone sincerely interested to enter this golden age with us or or to do so in their own way.

But, alas, and for now, "Many are called, but few 'have ears to hear.'" I do not mean to imply that this choice requires residency in an intentional community. Anyone can live in an intentional community by virtue of intention and connection with others of like mind whether that community is virtual, energetic, or residential.

Ours is the future, and the future is NOW! In this age of individuality, it's your choice!

Blessings to all,

Swami Hrimananda