Meditation: The Science and Art of Stillness
by Nayaswami Vijay (Lawrence Vijay Girard)
It was early in 1964 that Beatlemania swept across America. Like every other American I had no idea of the part that the Beatles would play in shepherding in a new era of music. Who would have guessed that their unique music and hair style would coincide with the modern widespread introduction of meditation to the western world? I certainly couldn’t have anticipated that my own life would be touched by that turn of events.
When the world heard that the Beatles were practicing Transcendental Meditation it caused an international stir. The news swept across America with the same faddish power as lava lamps, the peace sign and fallout shelters.
Suddenly, along with the changing of consciousness through the use of recreational drugs and the sexual revolution, there was an unexpected connection to the ancient tradition of meditation that had been handed down, generation after generation, for thousands of years by yogis in India. One evening I found myself at a lecture promoting the value of meditation and the next thing I knew our whole family was being initiated into Transcendental Meditation. It was 1967 and I was 15 years old.
Attending a short private ceremony that took place in the bedroom of a home in Hollywood, California, I sat on the floor with an orange robed man in front of a small table which made due as an altar. The man giving me initiation chanted some words in Sanskrit and waved a stick of incense. Then he turned to me and pronounced some strange syllables that were to become my mantra. It seemed a little odd to me at the time that I felt no connection to this person or had little understanding of what was taking place; yet I felt calm and open.
After the ceremony I was sent into another room to sit alone and repeat the mantra mentally while sitting cross-legged on the floor. I sat in meditation not really knowing what I was supposed to do besides repeating the mantra mentally. Would anything happen? After a while it didn’t seem so. I got up to rejoin my family.
On my way to the living room where the others were waiting the woman who was hosting the initiations in her home asked me how it went. I didn’t immediately respond, I just stared at her, feeling like she was speaking to me from a great distance. After looking into my eyes and pausing for a moment she then said, “I see that you went deep. That’s good.”
At the time I had no idea what she was talking about. Only years later did I realize that I had experienced some of the deep calmness that comes from meditation. And that it can take the mind some time after experiencing inner peace to come back out for daily interactions. Even more importantly, I later learned that the way to evaluate the effectiveness of meditation isn’t only during its practice, but by watching the affect it has on our lives when we are not meditating.
I practiced the TM meditation technique on and off for a few months. I felt calmer when I practiced but at that time of my life…excitement was more to my liking! It was only at the grand old age of 17 that I began to realize that inner stillness was to be valued more highly than outward stimulation. This understanding was made clear to me when I read a life changing book.
When I first saw the cover of the Beatles album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, I looked without recognition at the pictures of Mahavatar Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, Swami Sri Yukteswar and Paramhansa Yogananda, who are the Self-Realization line of Gurus that I was to discover when I read Yogananda’s book, Autobiography of a Yogi, in the summer of 1969. After reading Autobiography of a Yogi suddenly life in general and meditation in particular made sense. I discovered that yoga meditation techniques are a science and not a set of hocus pocus beliefs. Through the science of yoga meditation we can access our inner potential of peace, joy, calmness, creativity and love.
Like many others, I was surprised to find out that you don’t need to believe in God or even associate meditation with spirituality. As a purely mental and physiological process meditation reduces stress, which leads to improved mental and physical well-being. This has been studied extensively by qualified scientists. Still, there will always be a few grumblers in the back row who disagree. Most people in medicine and the general public accept that meditation is beneficial. While one might also consider the idea that it is unlikely something would be handed down generation after generation for over 5,000 years if it didn’t work, one of the most basic tenants of yoga is: Don’t take anyone’s word for it! Experiment in the laboratory of your own life and experience truth directly.
The practical truth is that a person of any background or set of beliefs – as long as those beliefs don’t keep a person from actually trying meditation – can improve the quality of their life if they just add the practice of meditation to their daily routine. Because meditation is based on science and not belief every practitioner will attain some benefit. At the same time, as with all things in life, some people will find meditation easier than others. There are a variety of factors that will affect each person’s practice. Dedicated application of the techniques is essential. You can’t say it doesn’t work if you don’t actually practice the techniques!
There is also the issue of support while you get started. Like my early efforts with TM, if I had support during that time I might have stayed with it, but I was on my own and none of my friends were even remotely interested in meditation. If there is one thing that I would say to most people in order to increase their chances of success with meditation, it would be to find a place for regular group practice. It was only after I found an environment that supported meditation that my own practice dramatically improved. If we think about it, this is true with most endeavors in life. The group energy of others, going in the same direction we want to go, is almost always beneficial. For many people, it is essential.
The techniques that I will be sharing in this book have been taught to me by Nayaswami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda. I myself became a disciple of Paramhansa Yogananda in 1969 and have been associated with Nayaswami Kriyananda since 1972. I mention this tradition because the fact is that the word meditation means different things to different people. While there are many good sources for basic meditation techniques it is important to understand that all teachers don’t teach the same thing.
I should mention here that it is a mistake to try and learn advanced meditation techniques only from a book. Advanced meditation techniques should be learned directly from an experienced practitioner who will also provide pre and post ongoing support. If you have a choice I recommend learning a beginning meditation technique in person as well, but in the case of a beginner, a book or video is better than nothing!
Many meditation teachers today mix and match ideas and techniques that they have read all under the heading of meditation. While I would say that it is all generally beneficial, that doesn’t mean that it is all equally beneficial. A charismatic teacher alone doesn’t guarantee the quality of a technique. And not all techniques are equally effective. One of the best ways to gauge the quality of a teaching is to meet people who have practiced it for an extended period of time. When meeting such a person ask yourself: How does this person feel? Are they calm? Peaceful? Joyful? Do they represent the kind of person I want to become?
If you find a group of people who are practicing the same technique and they feel like “your kind of people” then that is a positive sign that the technique they practice will be good for you.
While it is true that yoga meditation is a science, it is also an art. Each yogi (yoga practitioner) will find their own unique way to blend and live the many facets of yoga practice. This is what keeps the science alive and fresh. Each of us can take this ancient practice and experience its central truths in our own unique way.
The goal of Yoga Practice is the state of Satchidananda – ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever-new joy. Each of us has the potential to achieve this state if we apply ourselves with sufficient diligence. If your goal is more modest, like reducing stress and maybe experiencing a little peace, you can certainly do this. Don’t be intimidated by ultimate goals. You don’t have to scale Mount Everest to gain the benefits of hiking. At the same time, if you do aspire to the top of any field in life, meditation can help you get there. If you also want to experience life’s central truth of universal love and joy, meditation is a must.
It is my great joy to pass on to you these techniques that have been of such great benefit in my own life. They have proven through the millennium to work. It is my hope that you also will join with others in the sacred practice of meditation. It is science, it is art, it is the path to life’s central truth of oneness.
Namaste – Spirit in me bows to Spirit in you.