Few people, and particularly teachers, have had the opportunity to be exposed to diverse types of meditation, so that many do not know that there are different forms. Far fewer have had the opportunity to experience – and train in – more than one type, so that whatever they know has been necessarily biased in favor of the one activity they have experienced. The Indian sadhaka (aspirant) believed all Dhyana (meditation) is intense concentration on an aspect of God, though that does not at all enter most Chinese varieties of meditation. The Chinese are greatly concerned with circulation and control of the Chi, while Japanese Zen, though derived from the Chinese Chan seems to have lost sight of this particular aspect of practice. There is one type of meditation practiced by Tibetan monks that has as its sole aim the ability to consciously leave the body through an opening at the top of the head (sometimes know as the aperture of Brahma) at the time of death.
Needless to say, we are not concerned with such esoteric practice in this book. Our purpose is to instruct the reader in techniques of meditation that are comparatively simple to practice, and that will most probably result in better health, physically and psychically.
Suffice to say, there are innumerable types of meditation, including some that might better be called concentration or silent chanting. For the purposes of this book we have divided the meditations we are to consider into nine types, as follows:
CIRCULATING THE CHI FOR HEALING
The Nei Kung usually is practiced while lying flat on the back with eyes closed and legs pressed together. It can be done in cross-legged meditative pose, but the best time to practice the Nei Kung is in bed at night before going to sleep. The name literally means inner efficiency, and the reason for this title will be easily discerned when one has practiced it a few times. Generally, the practitioner will fall asleep while repeating the mental affirmations. He may awaken during the night with a strong heat flowing through him, and that heat has great healing qualities. Wherever the heat is felt, there is said to be blockage. As the Chi energy flows through the body from just below the waist down to the soles of the feet (the so-called bubbling spring), it passes through the meridian channels that are the basis of Chinese acupuncture. Effects are strong and surprising to the beginner.
WORKING WITH THE BREATH
The Great Circle Meditation, along with another form of meditative breathing, together make up what we call Reverse Meditative Breathing. We recommend that this type of breathing be practiced as a preliminary to all other meditations, for it stills the mind and makes it easily pliable. There is also a form in the moving meditation, T’ai Chi Chih, known as The Joyous Breath, and this can be practiced while standing, as a preliminary to other forms. The Reverse Meditative Breathing, while an excellent preliminary, is itself a meditation of the highest efficacy and can lead to a state of deep immersion. It is energizing and generally should not be done just before bedtime, as it may prevent restful sleep. The healing effects will be obvious to the one practicing it regularly.
There are deep spiritual effects, too, as the first part of the Reverse Meditative Breathing is almost synonymous with the developing of the Golden Flower, the immortal spirit body spoken of in such esoteric works as The Secret of the Golden Flower – only the movement of the eyes is different. In particular, these meditative breathing practices make an excellent preliminary to Mantra meditation (japa). Those who do not now obtain good results regularly with Mantra repetition should find that these breathings greatly increase the efficiency of their own form of meditation.
MANTRA AND BREATH COUNTING
The many types of Mantra repetition have, as their highest practice, the mental repetition of the divine name. Practiced regularly, this will take one into a state of thoughtless pure consciousness, a latent awareness with no subject-object relationship at work. Strangely enough, the Breath-Dhyana (a technique of counting either in-breaths or out-breaths) will achieve the same result. For those who shy away from such things as the divine name, this is a way of achieving pure consciousness (the so-called fourth state of consciousness) without resorting to any holy or theistically inclined practice.
Such practices as the Nembutsu of Japanese Shin Buddhism, and the repetition of a phrase from the Lotus Sutra (scripture) in Nichiren Buddhism of Japan (now spreading through the Western world), can be said to be Mantra meditations, as well. In Christianity, the Hail Mary can have the same effect. In all cultures we find practices based on repetition of holy names.
This principally has to do with the Buddha’s great meditation, the Satipatthana, and derivatives of it, such as the short Vipassana practice and the so-called Burmese Method. Here we enter the deepest realms of psychology. The Satipatthana, in effect, is practiced in every waking moment, and it increases the awareness of one’s body and responses to a tremendous degree, with the natural concomitant of improved health and state of mind.
To know what is actually happening, rather than unconsciously floating through daily activities, bears out the saying “The Truth shall set you free.” Zen (Chan in Chinese) is probably an outgrowth of the Way of Mindfulness, but it developed its own characteristics in China in the Tang Dynasty (roughly 600-900 A.D.).
Intense Concentration and forming of a view take place in the Chih-Kuan meditation of Chinese Tiantai Buddhism. This seemingly simple concentrative practice is much more profound than is apparent. It greatly increases our awareness and, regularly practiced, often results in flashes of insight into the nature of reality. Very healing in a bodily (and psychological) sense, it is the outcome of a complicated healing system developed by Tiantai Buddhists.
There is a meditation that the author has developed that utilizes the yin (negative force) of the earth and the yang (positive force) of the sun and sky. It utilizes intense concentration on the third eye spot and visualization of the two forces entering through top of the head and soles of the feet. It is called the Earth-Sky meditation.
The author elaborates on the mental visualization he used to develop the Dumo heat of Tibetan Tantric Buddhism, a practice that lasted a year and one-half. This inner heat – which is developed in somewhat less concentrated manner in moving meditations such as T’ai Chi Chih – is tremendously healing. While the author does not suggest that the beginner practice the whole discipline, there may be suggestions which will prove useful in his healing practice.
Single-minded oral repetition of such phrases as the Gayatri, the Japanese Nembutsu, the passage from the Lotus Sutra, the Heart Sutra of Buddhism, and other well-known works, can be strongly effective in relieving tensions and bringing the mind to a one-pointed state. Moreover, various affirmations are effective when repeated mentally on a regular basis; they strongly affect the subconscious mind. One Indian sage has said that such repetitions while the breath is held have the greatest strength and are very efficacious, particularly where a name of God is concerned.
Zen is the meditation sect of Buddhism, and all Zen practice has to do with mind control. We will speak briefly of the effects of the puzzling koan practice, but we will not suggest that a Zen aspirant practice it without the guidance of a Zen master. However, the four-part meditation of Zen master Rinzai (his Chinese name was Linji) is subtle and can be very helpful in stabilizing the state of mind. It also tends to lead to insights of considerable value, and it well illustrates the neither-nor attitude of Buddhist meditative practice.
T’ai Chi Chih and T’ai Chi Ch’uan are moving meditations of great beauty and have profound effects upon the physical organism. There seems to be no better way to nullify the effects of aging, to stay healthy and to have a joyous frame of mind at most times. It is easy for the practitioner to realize the numerous physical benefits of these forms – in weight control, cultivation of energy, development of serenity – but he is usually not aware of the great psychological and spiritual effects that effortlessly take place. Probably there are no more beneficial and practical meditative practices for modern people, as these do not demand silence or enforced inaction of the practitioner. Moving easily and joyously, he derives all the effects of meditation, and the forms can be done anywhere at any time. T’ai Chi Chih, particularly, needs no special conditions; all one has to do is stand up and move while remaining in one place. There are many of the benefits of Hatha Yoga and Kundalini Yoga in these practices, without any of the difficulties and drawbacks. No special mental preparation or frame of mind is required. The concentration of mind, while moving, on the tan t’ien (just below the navel), or in the soles of the feet, brings strong physical effects.
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
These are nine somewhat arbitrary classifications, but they should be effective to help the reader know about different types of meditation and then choose the one most compatible with his goals. It should be helpful to doctors, psychologists, educators and spiritual leaders who are engaged in holistic activities leading to better health of the mind and psyche. It is to be hoped that it leads to the understanding that there is not one but rather many modes of meditation, and other practices that develop into meditation. It is felt the different classifications will help the reader, and the prospective meditator, to establish priorities and spend his time on those types of meditation which promise the rewards he wishes. It must be remembered that all are valid and viable, and all meditation has some healing qualities.
The question now arises, “Why are there so many different types of meditation?”
The answer is twofold. First, there are different objectives in meditating; hence the need for different forms of meditation. The greater reason, however, has to do with the vast difference in the traditions, temperaments, climates and general environment of those who originated these meditations.
The temperament of most of the people of India lends itself to devotional practices. The very nature of life in India leads in this direction. From the strict caste system to the many forms of religion practiced under the generic name Hindu (which includes Sikhs, Tantriks, Jains, worshipers of god Shiva and of god Vishnu, and more), everything in India clothes the everyday way of life with awe and propitiation of deities. Even the Vedanta, which in the beginning was extremely intellectual in espousing only the non-duality known as Advaita (a formless way that is far beyond the average man’s comprehension), gradually widened to include such deviations as the worship of Divine Mother practiced by Ramakrishna followers. The Indian wants something concrete in his spiritual practices, and so he has a multitude of gods, all representing aspects of the One Reality, from which he can choose and to which he can sublimate himself.
The great world religion, Buddhism, is an atheistic religion – although in time, after the death of Gautama the Buddha, devotion to Buddha and to the Buddha of Infinite Light and Life (non-historic) did develop. Essentially, Buddhism is non-dualistic and non-devotional, however, and primarily for this reason, it has all but disappeared from the subcontinent of India. It has found good homes in other parts of the world where the abstract is more understood and where personal devotion does not mean as much, but the character of the Indian does not accord with the way of the Buddha. It is dry and without emotion to him, whereas the way of devotion (bhakti) stirs the heart and kindles the emotion (and many delusions with it). It is natural that most meditations developed by Indians rely either on remembrance of a name of God (Mantra) or concentration on the supposed aspects of the various deities. Both of these paths fit into traditional Dhyana (meditation) and are ultimately based on devotion.
Not all modern people wish to develop such devotion, however, particularly to foreign-sounding deities. For them, Mantra meditation is not the best way, though some of those who are selling such meditative japa mistakenly insist it has nothing to do with religion and has no connection with Yoga. Actually, meditation with a Mantra is the height of Yoga (Yoga Shastra) and repetition of the name of God can hardly be said to have no religious implications.
The Chinese people are very practical in nature. In the beginning of spiritual contacts with India, they were amazed by the high-flying imagery and great metaphysical imagination of the Indian people. The concept of an overall God who was the manifested aspect of the formless Brahman (reality) was not possible for the Chinese. He was sensitive to nature and the natural world, and he did not share the renunciate tendencies of his western neighbor. Cultured equally by the pragmatic social teachings of Confucius and the mysticism of Taoism, the Chinese could picture a Way, but it was not the Way of a personal God. The meditations that grew from Taoism and Buddhism – such as the zazen of the Chan (Zen) school, the one-pointed fixation of Tiantai, and the circulation and mixing of the Vital Force (Chi) in the Taoist form of Alchemy – were far different from those practiced by the Indians. Many Chinese, and later Japanese, sat long periods of meditation simply for the physical effects involved. Those who had been sick found they tended to recover from their illnesses when meditating regularly, and artisans and craftsmen found that simple meditative sitting, without any overtones of spirituality, tended to sharpen the intuition and creativity. The Samurai swordsman and the ritual sword maker of Japan wanted something that would provide inspiration and take away the fear of death. They found these in plain sitting, and also in Zen meditation, which brought fearlessness to those who might die at any time.
The Tibetan character has always been greatly influenced by magic, and many remnants of the old practices have remained in the cold country. So Tibetan meditation – using much imagination, visualization and imagery – is far different from the Buddhist meditations of the warmer climes. It is interesting that the Tibetan practices eventually descended all the way to Japan, where the abstract Shingon Buddhist form of meditating on a circle with a written character growing out of a lotus, along with elaborate ritual and formalism, captivated royalty and the nobles. However, the plainer people did not respond to such high-flown procedures (and probably never had the chance).
For centuries, and still today, the plainer people tend to follow a Way of Devotion, the remembrance of the name of Amida (the Buddha of Infinite Light) in the hope that his vow to save all beings will take them to the Pure Land, the Western Paradise when they die. The Nembutsu, constant repetition of the phrase Namu Amida Butsu, is a tremendously effective meditation, starting as a Mantra repetition and eventually culturing the heart to where the phrase goes on day and night inside the real devotee.
So it may be said that many temperaments in South and Southeast Asia have contributed to the techniques of meditation. No two peoples could be farther apart culturally than the Indians and the Japanese; yet the Buddhism of India, which died in its native land, later found a home in the Japanese Islands, where it has been the single greatest force in creating Japanese culture.
The religious examples above are not important to the reader who wishes to use the techniques for his own benefit without participating in any of the beliefs which led to their development. Nevertheless, most meditation has been derived from spiritual activities; it is hard to separate them. The modern meditator will usually be more interested in the practical doing than in acquiring knowledge of the origin and real meanings of the practices, but such knowledge can be helpful, and in many cases will motivate the meditator. Usually, he should derive great physical benefits from meditation; he may also gain other rewards that he had not counted on, and the effects of these may be stronger than he imagines. Together they can help to make him whole and change him from a suffering being to a joyful one.
This article is published in Meditation for Healing.