Meditation: Millions in U.S. in Pursuit of Inner Peace
Los Angeles Times (1886-Current File); Feb 13, 1977; ProQuest Historical Newspapers Los Angeles Times (1881 - 1986) pg. C1
Meditation: Millions in U.S. in Pursuit of Inner Peace
Disciplines of East, West Converging
BY RUSSELL CHANDLER
Times Religion Writer
Mery Griffin does it. Joe Namath does it. Gov. Brown does it. So do senators, priests and housewives.
In fact, more than 6 million Americans have taken up some form of meditation, apparently seeking refuge from everyday problems and pressures. Another 3 million, according to the latest poll, practice Yoga.
Theologians have called the quest "the search for interiority." Psychologists have referred to it as "the consciousness revolution,"
A diffuse but culturally pervasive movement, in general terms tt represents a convergence of modern Western psychotherapy with the disciplines of ancient Eastern religions.
Meditation and meditative techniques are classified under a variety of names and headings. Some of the most popular mass-marketed ones promise inner peace in short syllables: TM, Yoga, Zen, est.
In an attempt to give a simple definition, the late Alan W. Watts, who modestly called himself America's greatest spiritual teacher, said "The art of meditation is a way of getting into touch with reality."
Some meditation practices are avowedly religious and are integral to the beliefs of the group itself. Examples include Hinduism, Buddhism, the Vedanta Society, Sivananda Yoga, Krishna Consciousness and the Self-Realization Fellowship.
Prayer, a form of meditation, is, of course, basic to many world religions, especially Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
But some religions are only marginally involved with meditation. And some psychologically oriented forms of meditation have no clear connection with religion: Arica, est, Silva Mind Control, psychosynthesis self-hypnosis and biofeedback, for instance.
With the meditation melange has come a plethora of practitioners: experimental psychologists, mind researchers, masters, swamis, priestesses, gurus, babas and lamas.
And charges of exploitation, charlatanry, high living and misrepresentation have swirled about the meditation movement and its leaders.
Yet, not a few scientists and behaviorists welcome the exploration of consciousness and cite statistics seeming to verify claims that simple mental techniques not only relieve the symptoms of stress but also enrich interpersonal relationships, increase happiness and improve academic, sports and job performance.
One thing is certain: More and more people are getting their heads together through meditation.
There is even a three-week meditation study tour this March to Nepal, planned by an enterprising university extension professor and psychotherapist.
For $1,020, tour takers can relate Eastern to Western psychology, explore the role of stress and discuss the importance of meditation in healing, all the while "immersed in the culture of the Himalayan kingdom" (university extension credit in psychology is optional).
Why the surprising interest in the intersection where East meets West? Perhaps a clue can be found in the meaning of the Latin roots of the work "meditate": "medi" ( middle or center) and "tare" ( to be in ).
The common goal in the search for interiority in today's marketplace is to put seekers progressively in touch with themselves and others, and often with nature. At its most highly refined state, meditation is held out to be the pathway to union with the fundamental forces of the cosmos - even with God Himself.
Self-transcendence seems to be the key ingredient.
"To go out of your mind at least once a day is tremendously important," explained Watts, a onetime Episcopal priest who became a leading exponent of Zen Buddhism. "By going out of your mind you come to your senses, And if you stay in your mind all the time, you are overrational."
Pollster George Gallup suggests that exterior causes have helped create the meditation boom, especially among young people: the war in Vietnam, the Watergate affair, the dissolution of values and the increase in crime and lawlessness.
Meditation, he believes, offers relief from the struggles and stresses of contemporary society.
In an August poll Gallup discoverer that those who practice Transcendental Meditation - 4% of Americans are involved in it, the survey showed - nd Yoga - 3% involved - tend to be young adults between the ages 18 and 24, those in college or who have a college background, live in the Western states, and people who are generally nonreligious in the traditional sense.
Harvard theologian Harvey Cox observes that the mystics and contemplatives have served in the past as guardians and explorers of "interiority," and that we especially need them today because authentic personal life is "so fatally threatened by an intrusive technical world."
And to Jean Houston, the behavioral scientist who heads the Foundation for Mind Research in Upstate New York, the exploration of consciousness represents the latest new frontier in American cultural history. Other observers of the meditation scene point to the movement's mystical elements as providing that sense of the sacred that has largely disappeared from many of the American churches that no longer stress intimate spiritual experience and devotional discipline.
Whatever the explanation for the phenomenal increase in meditation - and the reasons doubtless are as varied as the techniques themselves - there are some common denominators.
Chanting and special words or mantras that are repeated incessantly are essential in some forms of meditation. Incense and visual images or yantras are commonly used in others. Most groups draw a distinction between active, chanting meditation and quiet contemplation observed in silence.
Daniel Goleman, an associate editor of Psychology Today who holds a Ph.D. in psychology from Harvard, gives a simple recipe for learning how to meditate:
"Find a quiet place with a straight- back chair … Close your eyes. Bring your full attention to the movement of your breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils. Don't follow the breath into your lungs or out into the air. Keep your focus at the nostrils, noting the full passage of each in- and out-breath, from its beginnings to its end.
"Each time your mind wanders to other thoughts, or is caught by background noises, bring your attention back to the easy, natural rhythm of your breathing …
"Meditate for 20 minutes: set a timer, or peek at your watch occasionally. Doing so won't break your concentration. For the best results, meditate regularly, twice a day, at the same time and place."
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Twice a day, 20 minutes each time, Is also the prescription offered by the largest and best known meditation group, TM. Its technique is similar to Goleman's simple instructions:
The meditator sits upright in a comfortable position, closes his eyes, and silently repeats his mantra, a word drawn from the Hindu holy books or Vedas, and chosen specifically for him by his instructors for the special effect of the sound. (Each Initiate is warned never to divulge his mantra.)
If the meditator progresses satisfactorily, his mantra will eventually become such a natural part of his meditation that the sound and his thoughts will cease.
Finally, the mind will transcend everyday awareness,
TM is promoted as a science "… which allows the individual systematically to enjoy increasingly refined states of awareness until its pure state, the field of pure intelligence, is reached."
But an engaging swami with a self -deprecating giggle who leads another meditation group has taken out full-page ads in major magazines and newspapers to blast what he calls the inflated claims of TM ("an insult to the whole of Eastern mysticism").
Swami Vishnu Devananda, head of the 100,000-member International Sivananda Yoga Community, teaches Raja Yoga meditation, a discipline based on five principles: proper exercise, breathing, relaxation, diet, positive thinking and meditation.
"To get the benefits stressed by TM you don't need initiation or a mantra, and you don't need to pay a fee," snorted Devananda during an interview.
"Scientific tests have shown that repetition of any word or meaningless phrase (zum … zum .. zum) is as useful as a concocted mantra. You can even slow your pulse and breathing and lower your blood pressure by sitting still and concentrating on a ticking clock or a dripping tap."
Like many Hindu gurus, Devananda teaches that meditation alone is not enough; Yoga, which combines practical exercises, must be included. His classic handbook, "The Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga," describes the six Yogic kriyas, or methods, for cleansing the physical body internally as well as externally.
Some techniques, such as "cloth purification," which involves swallowing and withdrawing a 15-foot muslin cloth, are reserved for advanced practitioners. More simple kriyas, such as cleaning the nasal passages with a douche of salt water (repeated three times in each nostril), may be practiced by novices as well.
Yoga is a Sanskrit word meaning a yoking, or union, with Brahma, the "Absolute Reality." Buddhist meditation, for example, also focuses on discipline and concentration to reach a similar state - nirvana or satori.
Ananda Marga, founded in 1955 in India, also practices ancient Indian meditation and Yoga postures. Its goal is to achieve nirguna Brahma - merger into "the formless, shapeless state of self-realization or cosmic consciousness."
Mantras and a vegetarian diet seem to go well together for devotees of Ananda Marga and other Eastern-related groups. The sound - or vibration - of the Ananda Marga mantras (such as Baba Nam Kevalam, a Sanskrit phrase for "Beloved Father Only All") is believed to have an elevating power.
The concept of the energy or power of the spoken word through mantras or "affirmations of God" is integral to the beliefs of the Church Triumphant and Universal, whose headquarters is in Pasadena. Followers are also taught silent meditation.
"The scientific use of energy of the spoken word changes the consciousness and eventually the physical environment," teaches Elizabeth Clare Prophet, founder-priestess of the sect.
"It happens because God is energy that flows from the spiritual to the material universe," she says. "Therefore, a command that is spoken will affect every part of life."
Imparting of "the knowledge" through a combination of several ancient Yoga meditation
Chanting is a key element in the doctrines of the Society of Krishna Consciousness.
techniques forms the basis of the Divine Light Mission, an organization with Hindu roots. According to a devotee of its teen-age guru, Maharaj Ji, the knowledge consists of learning how to press against the side of the eyes (to see divine light), placing fingers in the ears (to hear divine harmonies), a breathing exercise, and curling the tongue back against the roof of the mouth (to taste divine nectar).
Yoga meditation techniques are also basic to such groups as the Self-Realization Fellowship, which holds Hindu and Christian Scriptures in reverent regard; the Integral Yoga Institute, under the leadership of roving Swami Satchidananda, and the worldwide Sikh religion, something of a mixture of Hinduism and Islam. Chanting is practiced by followers of Integral Yoga, Ananda Marga, and Nichiren Shoshu, an American outpost of the parent Japanese movement, Soka Gakkai.
Probably one of the most visible Eastern religions that emphasizes chanting is the International Society of Krishna Consciousness. Most people have seen Hare Krishna devotees chanting to the beat of drums and cymbals - often on street corners - in saffron-colored robes.
The chanting (a minimum of two hours a day), using a string of 108 beads, is intended to enable the devotee to free himself from a cycle of successive reincarnations and achieve unity with the Absolute.
Buddhist monks typically meditate up to 14 hours a day. In his religious quest for enlightenment, Buddhism's founder, Siddhartha Gautama, 2,500 years ago taught that a person could attain truth by ridding himself of earthly cravings; failure to do so would result in a continuous round of deaths and rebirths.
Though Buddhism professes no dogmas or gods, it urges its students to reach the state of illumination through holding a specific mental set, or object of awareness, while excluding intruding thoughts.
To the religiously oriented person, this getting in touch with the whole self - the intellect, body, emotions, imagination - is reaching the Godhead.
That's why a growing number of American Christians and Jews see no apparent contradiction between meditative practices of the East and the disciplines of their biblical faith, (Others, however, oppose meditation techniques borrowed from other religions on grounds that they tend to deify human leaders.)
The Rev. Tennant C. Wright, a Jesuit priest who also teaches Zen meditation, began meditating as a lay Catholic when he was a student in the 1940s at Loyola University in Los Angeles.
He used the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola, the 16th-century Spanish soldier and monk who founded the Jesuit order.
That form of meditation, Wright said, is "a process by which we become quiet and aware. And I find Zen sitting very much the same … Meditation is simply a 'waiting' for God to lead us, whether you call Him God, Holy Spirit, Jesus, Yahweh, Tao (the Way) or Dharma."
Among meditation groups that combine chanting, often of mantras, with visual symbols or yantras are Arica, a nationwide spiritual organization, and Nichiren Shoshu.
One skeptic-turned-believer in Nichiren Shoshu described his first meeting in Los Angeles:
"I found a houseful of people kneeling before an altar on which sat a grapefruit, mumbling at top speed in a singsong gibberish.
"The first thing I learned was that they didn't chant to the grapefruit, but to a Chinese laundry ticket on the wall …" (actually a replica of a scroll inscribed by the 13th-century founder, Nichiren Diashonin).
After half an hour of chanting, members stood up and testified about recent benefits they had received through chanting to the yantra.
"The benefits ran largely to getting hold of boyfriends and girlfriends, and getting rid of zits," the visitor said later with a smile,
Though he had reservations, he agreed to try chanting daily for 100 days.
Now he says: "I have a lovely and loving lady, our business is prospering, and my ex-wife is one of my dearest friends. I feel that the philosophy is solid, even from a cynic's point of view. It basically says you are responsible for your own life and for your environment."
For those who want to get out of this world and escape for a while, Eckankar, called "the ancient science of soul travel," may be just the thing. Like several other mystical organizations, it teaches that devotees can experience out-of-body states.
As expounded by Paul Twitchell, the late founder, here's how:
"Keep the body straight and concentrate the attention on the spiritual eye, the place between the eyebrows, while chanting a sacred word like AUM, GOD, SUGMAD or any other one that you might know, inwardly and silently, or by chanting softly to yourself,
"Hold the attention against a black screen in the inner vision, and keep it blank … If you need a substitute for any mental pictures that might flash into the mind compulsively, place there the image of a saint, a holy man that you know, or your spiritual teacher,
"After a few minutes … there should
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Millions Search for Peace in Meditation
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suddenly come a faint clicking sound in one ear, or the sound of popping like a cork pulled from a bottle. One finds himself standing outside the physical consciousness looking back at the human body in the room. Instead of being in another body like the astral body he is like a pair of eyes. He is now ready for a short journey into the invisible worlds."
In recent years, the so-called consciousness movement has expanded, with encounter groups and other psychologically oriented programs probing inner experience apart front religious and quasireligious frameworks,
Some approaches appear spiritual in nature; others major in cultic self-transcendence independently of anything mystical or "ultimate."
Irrespective of metaphysical suppositions, however, there is little doubt that meditation does help break the stress spiral, A wealth of scientific data backs up claims of physical, psychological and physiological benefits of medi• Won.
But some doubters who question the reliability and supposedly unbiased nature of some of the specific tests made on meditators and nonmeditators.
And little of the research, so far, sheds much light on the differences in effects induced by TM, about which the most material has been assembled, and other Eastern-based and more orthodox systems of meditation.
"There are still a good many mysteries about meditation," says Cary E. Schwartz of Yale University, a meditation researcher, "and there are several versions of how it works. For this reason I think we should remain wary of the claims and selective use of scientific data by well-meaning but scientifically unsophisticated practitioners." Schwartz and Daniel J. Coleman, an editor of Psychology Today whose forthcoming book "Varieties of the Meditative Experience" makes a comparison of a dozen meditation techniques, did reach some general conclusions about meditation and stress, however.
They compared the effectiveness of meditation versus relaxation in reducing stress reactions in a laboratory "threat situation." Thirty expreienced meditators and 30 nonmeditators either meditated or relaxed and then watched "stressor" film showing a series of bloody accidents,
Meditators were less anxious after the film and recovered more qucikly than the nonmeditators, Coleman, himself a meditator, concluded front the lab tests,
Coleman and Schwartz, who published their findings In the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology last year, also found these "major dependable trends ' from meditation practices:
Slowing of breath and heart rate, decrease in oxygen consumption, lowering or stabilization of blood pressure, and a state of calm and alert wakefulness as evidenced by tracing of brain waves and increased skin resistance to an electric current,
"Meditation may have clinical applications in stress-related disorders or it may alleviate the adverse effects of normal daily stress," they concluded.
Meditation as a means of stress intervention "might prove major," they added, if these effects could be sustained more permanently after the meditator completes his daily period of meditation.
Other studies have also shown that meditators as a group appear less anxious and more self-actualizing.
A spate of books on TM almost ununanimously hails the benefits of meditation - but only the TM brand.
Bob Oates Jr., for three years a full-time TM teacher with an impressive academic background from USC and UCLA, has summarized the physical and psychological benefits of TM, based on published research, in his unabashedly pro-TM book, "Celebrating the Dawn."
The physical: deeper rest and relaxation than at even the deepest point in sleep; reduced blood pressure and Improved balance of blood chemistry (reduction in lactate); increased stability and improved adaptability of the nervous system tinder stress; reduction of asthma, drug abuse and the use of alcohol.
The psychological: increased orderly functioning of the brain; improved ability to focus attention while maintaining broad awareness; decreased anxiety, depression and neuroticism; therapeutic aid for psychiatric patients; improved self-regard, self-acceptance, inner-directedness, spontaneity and flexibility; increased inner control and self-actualization, and improved job performance.
Though the findings may be true, Goleman said in an interview, there is no adequate way to compare them with what other meditation techniques do because equivalent tests simply have not been made.
"All research studies so far show that one meditation technique is about as good as another for improving the way we handle stress," he added. "Meditators become more relaxed the longer they have been at it. At the same time, they become more alert, something other ways to relax fail to bring about because they do not train the ability to pay attention."
But to Oates and other TM devotees, the biggest TM plus is what they call "discovering the Fourth State of Consciousness," or gaining enlightenment.
Dr. Harold H. Bloomfield, director of psychiatry at the Institute of Psychophysiological Medicine in San Diego, in an article, "Applications of the Transcendental Meditation Program to Psychiatry," sums up apparent scholarly findings with this glowing testimonial:
The TM program has been passed down through the ages and has been revived in its purity by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi as much more than just a means of relieving insomnia, hypertension, worries and anxieties. it Is the high technology of gaining enlightenment, the ultimate state of fulfillment in life."
But John White, a popularizer of meditation, sounded a warning in the New Age Journal about the inability thus far to test empirical effects of "higher consciousness."
"The scientific community needs to be given guidelines so that subjects who are clearly in cosmic consciousness, God-consciousness or unity consciousness can be selected without having test results diluted by meditators who aren't in that state of consciousness," he said.
"Until this is done, all the claims about TM and higher consciousness cannot be said to have support from science."