Meditation is a healing force. It enables the meditator to harmonize his outer life with the deepest levels of consciousness, to probe the unknown levels of the subconscious and to express, or manifest, the joy and Vital Force that are inseparable from his being.

There are numerous forms of meditation, and there are related practices – such as japa (repetition of a name of God) or remembrance of the Buddha – that start as concentration and, at deeper levels, become true meditation. When the roving, fragmented mind is silenced and becomes one-pointed in concentration, we go far beyond disturbing thoughts and, leaving the little ego-identity behind, we reach the source of our being, whatever we may choose to call it. We then understand the meaning of the phrase “the kingdom of heaven is within,” and we find it is no idle statement.

There are moving meditations and there is chanting in which the practitioner can lose himself. All these aim at bringing the mind to a point. The scattered mind is weak; the integrated mind is strong in the same sense that the sun’s rays, magnified, burn up almost anything. The fully concentrated mind that has reached absolute steadiness in the state of Samadhi (the highest level of meditation, the end result known as the super conscious state) can burn away all afflictions and habit tendencies. The powers of one who lives continually with concentrated mind are enormous. They are sometimes thought of as miraculous, but things are only supernatural when we do not understand the causes. To a native in a jungle, the sound of a loudspeaker blaring out words in his own tongue from a plane overhead could only be interpreted as a miraculous voice from the sky.

Those who are familiar with airplanes and electronic equipment know otherwise.

All effects proceed from causes. When we plant the proper seeds, and nurture them faithfully, we can harvest the desired fruit. It is as simple as that. Repetition of constructive patterns brings about beneficial habit energies (known as vasanas) in the mind – in the same way that continued practice does for the hands of the skilled pianist. These habit energies become part of our nature; indeed, they form our nature. We are the product of the seeds we have planted in the past, and our future will be the result of the seeds we are planting now. We can do nothing to undo the past, but we can determine the present and thus shape the future. Nothing happens by accident. When we understand this, and take the responsibility for our own lives, we begin to realize we can plant any seeds we desire and get any desired effect if we are willing to pay the price, such as continued practice of meditation.

In India it is believed that intense meditation burns the seeds of karma, that is, erases the “sins” we have committed and nullifies the effects by doing away with the habit energies and tendencies they have created. Take the match away from the arsonist and he cannot set a fire. Purify the mind of the negative traits that have developed, through meditative practice leading to pure consciousness, and there will be no results from these negative characteristics. The unsullied mind is the Pure Land spoken of in the cult of Amitabha, the Buddha of Infinite Light.

The sacred Gayatri Mantra is said to absolve all sins. Whether this is true or not, one who meditates regularly with this popular formula will find the fears of retribution disappearing, thus certainly contributing to better health and lessening of tensions on a subconscious level. There is no doubt we can remake ourselves by regular intensive concentration and meditation.

Different forms of meditation cause different effects – physically, mentally, and psychically. Chinese meditation tends to be physically healing and energizing. Most Indian meditation is otherworldly and leads to euphoric trance. Zen meditation brings greater awareness. And Tibetan types, which are far too complex for the busy person have, as the first goal, the production of the inner heat, known as the Dumo heat, that is said to be the basis of all Tibetan magic play. Comparatively simple forms of meditation, easy to learn and easy to practice, will bring results in terms of better health and great spiritual benefits. The non-believer will derive these benefits as well as the believer, and the religious person will find his faith in his own religion deepened and strengthened.

Today we hear of holistic institutes using many means of self-culture, with meditation as one of the pillars of practice. Many medical doctors are recommending meditation to their patients, believing that the cessation of tension brought about by regular meditation can very definitely relieve or cure illness. Such efforts are to be applauded, but the problem is that most doctors have had little experience with meditation. Perhaps they mistakenly feel there is only “meditation” and do not know there are many varied types, each causing different effects. It is one of the aims of this book to acquaint them – and others – with the techniques of many types of meditation, with explanation of the background of each and the possible benefits to be expected.

When we enter an ice cream parlor, we may find 31 flavors to choose from, and we pick the one that is most appealing to our palate. A woman does not just buy a dress – she chooses a particular size, color and style. By being exposed to a wide range of possible meditative techniques, the aspirant will be offered the opportunity to choose what is best for him, individually – not what his friends do, or what is most publicized. This may ultimately save time, spare disillusionment and even save money.

The importance of choosing the appropriate meditation (and, indeed, the fitting spiritual practice, if such is desired) cannot be over emphasized. There was the case of a great professional football player, a quarterback, who had been publicized as doing Mantra meditation in the locker room just before the start of his Sunday afternoon games. One comes out of such deep immersion with a floating, euphoric feeling, and all great teachers have cautioned that the meditator should rest and remain inactive for a period after meditation. The mind, having become one-pointed and blissful, does not want to become outgoing and fragmented again. It is usually in an otherworldly state hardly compatible with going into violent action against ferocious charging 260 pound linemen on the opposing team. It is hardly surprising that this great player, admittedly on a weak team, was having bad seasons.

To further illustrate: At one time in Kyoto, Japan, the author was teaching a class at a nearby language school early in the morning, and then after an hour’s interval, instructing a class of ministers at the Tenrikyo Kotoku Church community where he was living. During that one-hour interval, the author was doing deep Mantra meditation in his room right up to the time of the next class. Much to his own amazement, he found himself cranky and disagreeable in the class, biting the heads off people he liked very much. This seemed so strange to him that he gave it considerable thought, decided to curtail his deep meditation period to a half hour, and then quietly sit drinking tea while the deep meditative immersion gradually faded. The result was as expected; he regained his amiability and no longer made class hellish for his patient minister pupils.

At the end of one Comparative Meditation course which the author was giving in New Mexico, during which seven or eight meditative techniques had been taught and practiced, one student, a tall young man of about thirty, stood up and said: “I like quite a few of the techniques, especially the Mantra and Tiantai ones. Which do you advise me to concentrate on?”

“What kind of work do you do?” he was asked, in reply. “I’m a race car driver!” was the surprising answer.

“In that case, if you’re going to do Mantra meditation before races, you’ll probably crack up in the first thousand yards. There is great spiritual benefit in all kinds of japa (repetition of Mantras), but what you want is something that will place you squarely in the present and increase your awareness. The Tiantai will do that, Zen meditation will do that, and the Buddha’s Satipatthana certainly will do it. If you want to add to one of these the Nei Kung technique before going to sleep, you will probably develop great energy and alertness, which should stand you in good stead.”

There are two basic reasons why people come to meditation, and sometimes they overlap.

First, there are those who take up meditation to gain physical benefits, relief from chronic illness or cessation from the pressures of our society. In China, over the years, many books have been written describing the recovery some very sick person had made due to Taoist, Tibetan, Zen or Tiantai meditation. These generally had few, if any, references to spiritual benefits and were mostly instruction for physical culture through meditation. Those who take up meditation for their health may also expect some increase in their mental capacity, such as in memory. They may also unexpectedly obtain an intimation of deeper spiritual levels of which they had not been aware. Regular meditation is an excellent way to improve health, gain energy and raise an individual’s performance potential. It is best, however, that those who meditate for long periods of time offset the quiet inactivity with something that will again cause the Vital Force (Prana, Chi) to flow; otherwise there may be illness. T’ai Chi Chih practice (a moving meditation) and T’ai Chi Ch’uan, as well as true Hatha Yoga, are effective in renewing this flow of the intrinsic energy. This secret seems to have been nearly forgotten in Japan. The author has never met a Japanese monk who did not suffer stomach trouble, probably due to the long hours of unrelieved quiet sitting (sometimes directly after meals) and the poor food, usually without roughage, that is the standard fare at Zen temples.

The second type of person who comes to meditation is one who is seeking ultimate answers. Whether we call this a religious quest or not, he or she is usually driven by the necessity of probing deeper and deeper into the meaning of life and, particularly, death. Some Zen temples have a plaque in front that reads: “Only those vitally concerned with the problem of life and death have any business here.”

Some would say these seekers are continuing on a path they had begun to follow in other lives. When such a search becomes all-consuming, one leaves the world and becomes a sannyasin (renunciate) in India or a monk in Japan, China, Korea or Tibet. Meditation – and accompanying studies and practices – becomes a way of life. Meditation is not just another activity to such seekers; it is the ridgepole center of living. In classic Raja Yoga, the Yogi goes through five outer disciplines (conduct and attitude, plus postures, breathing practices, and withdrawal of the senses from their fields of activity) in order to arrive at the triple discipline of concentration, meditation and the super-conscious state resulting from deepest meditation.

The word Zen literally means meditation, and the Zen sect is known as the Meditation Sect of Buddhism. Sufi aspirants and adepts, Taoist practitioners and Tantrics also make various forms of meditation the keystone of their varied ways. Classic Yoga includes meditation. Indeed, the definition of Yoga – Inhibition or Cessation of Mental Modifications – by the Father of Yoga, the Indian Patanjali, is also a perfect definition of deep meditation.

These mental modifications of everyday life are what make us what we are. Not only do they form the seeds of karma from which we gain the fruits – pleasing or unpleasing, in what we mistakenly think of as fate – but any change in our way of thinking and the habit tendencies thereof will greatly affect our health, change our personality and color our attitude toward life. It would really not be too much to say that our mental habit energies are responsible for making this world a paradise or its opposite for us.

“If you don’t like the world, change yourself,” advised the Buddha 2500 years ago, thus dooming to disappointment the do-gooders who want to bring peace and serenity to the world without experiencing it themselves. This is a message of great hope. It means your future will coincide exactly with the seeds you plant now. There is nothing to do about the past; it is dead and gone, though its effects are felt in the present. If you want an apple tree in the future, all you have to do is plant some apple seeds – you certainly won’t get lemons.

Meditation is the surest way to change the focus of the mind and to build the new habit energies that will bring the fruit we wish to pick. It is deepest meditation that undoes the damage that has been done, both in the body and the mind – which are not separate but a continuum in which each is conditioned by the other.

If you wish healing through meditation, all you have to do is to learn the appropriate meditative technique and practice it regularly. Until now it has been the custom to follow one teacher and do the form of meditation he teaches, without becoming familiar with other types. This is a hit-or-miss method that depends largely on coincidence; you take up one form or another because a friend does it or because you hear a lecture extolling its merits. Perhaps someone sells you a bill of goods with great promises of what his guru’s meditation will do for you. You may even pay a large sum of money to be initiated with a Mantra, not by the master himself, but by an ordinary human who has been delegated to perform such a ceremony. This is somewhat dubious in nature, and there is the chance that you will wind up practicing devotion to Japanese Shinto gods or to Hindu deities with Sanskrit names without knowing that you are doing so.

In the 1970s, in answer to this problem, the author began teaching Comparative Meditation at the University of New Mexico and elsewhere. The results were gratifying. Students would faithfully practice the different forms of meditation, one by one. In the end, each made his choice according to his individual propensities. Those willing to sit for long periods of time in uncomfortable cross-legged pose, to undergo strict discipline, and to perhaps grapple with a mind-breaking koan (an insoluble problem), would often choose Zen meditation, known as zazen. Not too many are equipped for this difficult training involving mind and body control, however.

Mantra meditation, where the special phrase takes over and leads the meditator down an effortless path, is more apt to appeal to most. It must be noted, however, that there are many techniques of Mantra meditation, as will been seen later in this book. And there are unsuspected dangers involved in this form of meditation when it becomes too passive. Astral traveling, and even obsession from without, is possible if one practices incorrectly.

For those who do not wish to use names of divinity, the Breath-Dhyana will obtain exactly the same result, namely the erasure of thoughts and a period of rest in a state of pure unmodified consciousness. Sometimes the choices students make are surprising. Unexpected traits are uncovered when students meditate, and often they discover depths and tendencies they had not previously expected. As one lawyer put it, “Suddenly I discover I’m a religious person.”

There is a division of opinion as to whether the practitioner has to know something about the discipline he practices. For instance, Japanese Zen monks chant in a transliteration of the Sanskrit that comes out as a mixture of Chinese and Japanese. After a while the words just become meaningless sounds. When an American Zen teacher changed things so Americans were chanting in English, his master is said to have broken relations with him. Admittedly, the Chinese/Japanese was not the original language and there is nothing “holy” about it. Here tradition plays a great role, and questioning is not encouraged. However, the author believes that for the Western mind, it is imperative to explain and to teach some of the background of the meditative discipline the student is to do so that he will not be working with something basically repelling to him. This is the reason for the explanations throughout this book. It is hoped that such explanations will be helpful to the reader in determining what discipline he wishes to follow. Certainly it should make it easier for the doctor, psychologist and educator to determine what types of meditation he will recommend.

Meditation is healing and spiritually edifying. The more that is known about it, the more motivated one will be to try it. The purpose of this book is to make known more about meditation, stressing the healing benefits that can be achieved. It is hoped that great benefits result from the practices taught in its pages. Meditation for healing is certainly a reality.

This article is published in Meditation for Healing.