Video Interview: YA Thoughts on the Book Passage Meditation

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You may have noticed from our interview with the BMCM Editorial Team and our recent excerpt of the new Q&A material that we are quite excited about the upcoming release of the new edition of the book Passage Meditation on September 6th. This week is no exception, and we're pleased to share with you a video interview with some young adults about their experience with the book.

Passage Meditation contains the core of Easwaran's teachings, and for many passage meditators around the world this is the book that launched their spiritual journey. To get at why this book is special and to explore what this book has to offer, we asked for some help from our young adult community. We interviewed five young adults and asked them to share their experience of reading the book for the first time, and how it has influenced their life since.

We'd also love to hear from you! In the comments below, please share what you remember from your first read of Passage Meditation, and any advice you'd want to give someone reading the book for the first time.

Eknath Easwaran: Forgiving Others, Forgiving Ourselves

This article on forgiveness is based on our Summer 2016 Blue Mountain Journal.

The marvel of forgiveness

BMBlog-Easwaran

The marvel of forgiveness is this: when we can completely forgive someone the tantrum they threw this afternoon, we are at the same time beginning to forgive ourselves for every tantrum we have ever thrown at others.

You can see how practical a step it is to take. All those other people may long since have forgotten what we did and said — maybe some of them didn’t really care much in the first place. But deep in our own minds, every single storm has left its mark. Every storm has burst a little hole in consciousness through which angry thoughts, angry words, and angry acts gradually seep into our daily life.

In this sacred act of forgiveness we are mending thousands of these little holes. It relieves us of part of the tremendous burden that all of us carry within, healing our consciousness and taking the pressure of anxiety off our mind and our nervous system. And it makes us much less likely to get provoked the next time someone rubs us the wrong way. This is the miracle forgiveness works.

Life’s fundamental law

Only those who forgive others will enjoy the healing power of forgiveness in themselves, because in showing mercy to others we are being merciful with ourselves as well. The reason is simple: only then are we abiding by life’s most fundamental law, that all of us are one. If I give love to others, it means I stand to benefit from that love as much as they. Not necessarily immediately, not necessarily directly, but that love has to come back to me; for I have added to the measure of love in the world, the mystics say, and I am part of that whole. Similarly, if I add meanness, stinginess, resentment, hostility, then sooner or later that sort of treatment will be shown to me.

This is not so occult as it may sound. After all, when someone treats us unkindly, isn’t it natural that we begin to avoid that person, speak curtly, even be unkind ourselves? When a person is regularly unkind, it conditions our expectations; then, when that person surprises us with something thoughtful — it does happen! — we may shun him anyway, simply out of habit. It is the same with kindness: when we can count on a person to be loving, we give our love freely in return, and allow a wide margin for those rare times when he or she might act otherwise. That is how our responses to life come back to us.

In Hindu and Buddhist mysticism, this commonsense principle is called the law of karma. The word karma has been much misunderstood, but its literal meaning is simply action, something done. So instead of using exotic language, we might as well refer to the “law of action,” which states that everything we do — even everything we think, since our thoughts condition our behavior — has consequences. It is a law of life, which no one has stated more clearly than Jesus: “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be meted unto you.” Paul puts it more tersely: “As we sow, so shall we reap.” If we sow mercy, we shall receive it in ample harvest.

Never in the history of human relations has any problem ever been solved except through greater love, endurance, and forgiveness on the part of some person.

Some practical advice

I’ll tell you what methods I use. First, I often get letters from people who have been hurt by a parent, partner, child, or friend ten or twenty years ago. Those little memories have become obsessions, inflated far out of proportion, like a huge balloon. The episode plays itself over and over in the mind: what he did to me, and what I am going to do to him when he gets in my way again.

We are all subject to this stimulus and response reaction; to change it, we have to break the nexus between the two. Unfortunately, that connection can never be broken intellectually. Although the intellect is a most valuable instrument, it is not well connected with the will. That explains why even brilliant scholars and great artists can behave just like ordinary people when they have emotional problems. The stimulus response nexus lies much deeper in consciousness than the intellect can reach.

Often these resentments are buried so deep in consciousness that we are not aware of the extent to which they undermine our security, drain our vitality, and interfere with our personal relationships.

Here it is not very effective to analyze the wrongs we have suffered and then forgive them one by one. If I may say so, often the wrongs are not wrongs at all; it is only that our self-will has been violated, not infrequently because we failed to understand what the other person did or said. Instead, it is much more effective not to dwell on the past at all.

Second, whenever painful thoughts arise about injustices done to you in the past — and all of us have suffered injustices, just as all of us have inflicted them — my suggestion is, don’t speak about it, don’t write about it; as soon as possible, go for a mantram walk. Start repeating “Rama, Rama” or “Jesus, Jesus” or “Om mani padme hum” or “Allahu akbar.” It will be a real wrestling match between your painful memory and the mantram, but I am prepared to bet my shirt on the mantram. The memory will fight back, but in the long run it hasn’t a chance.

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Most of us perhaps are not even dimly aware of how, under the surface level of consciousness, old resentments keep burning, old hostilities keep flaming up. A sudden agitation, or a sudden depression, is often caused by old resentments which we still harbor in the depths of our consciousness.

I once saw a big book entitled The Dynamics of Forgiveness, and I could not help wondering what the author would have done to me if I had written a strong review against it. He probably would have come to the Center and given me a piece of his mind. Writing books about forgiveness, reading about forgiveness, and talking about forgiveness do not enable us to forgive. When we rely upon our own capacities, I do not think it is easy for us to forgive, but when we repeat the mantram, we are calling upon the Lord to help us transform all our resentments into love.

Meditate regularly

Finally, meditate regularly, morning and evening, using the great inspirational passages from the mystics. These passages have filled every nook and cranny of my consciousness with noble ideals so that there is no possibility of any harmful thought or any injurious image getting in.

I have very little doubt that unless you go deep in meditation to forgive, even for people who say they have forgiven, the embers of resentment still cause a lot of trouble inside.

So if you feel angry with somebody, sit down and go through an appropriate passage. Select passages from my anthology God Makes the Rivers to Flow, particularly the Buddha’s “Cross the River Bravely,” the “Invocations” of Ansari of Herat, “The Wonderful Effect of Divine Love” from Thomas à Kempis, and, of course, “The Way of Love” from Chapter 12 of the Bhagavad Gita. When you meditate on a passage that is very healing in its effect, the passage sinks below the injurious thought, which means that it is only a matter of time before you can say no to it.

The ability to forgive is the hallmark of the highly evolved human being. There is no more exacting skill. And yet it is nothing more, essentially, than the seemingly prosaic capacity of withdrawing attention at will and placing it where you choose. Whatever distressing words have been spoken, whatever unkind acts have been performed, the mind that has been trained in deep meditation can turn quietly away and focus instead on the loving words, the thoughtful acts, of a happier hour.

Like any skill, this one develops with practice. Suppose you are meditating on the words of Thomas à Kempis: “Love bears evenly all that is uneven.” Suddenly a much louder passage is ringing in your ears. It is as if a car with huge speakers had pulled up next to yours at a stoplight, playing a tape of something someone has said to you that day: “Charles, I think it’s time both of us started seeing other people!” or “Marilou, you’re just not working out as an administrator. I’ve decided you’d be more effective back in your old post.”

The more attention you give to these dissonant voices, the louder they’ll get. The only way to turn them down is to give your attention more and more to the words of the passage: “Love bears evenly all that is uneven.” It is a simple skill, but it has wide applications. When you have a severe personal problem, you are naturally inclined to dwell on it, and when you do, it looms all the larger. Solutions seem more and more distant. Most problems are rather unassuming when you see them in their native costume. They only become unmanageable when you can’t stop brooding on them, dressing them up as Count Dracula or Lady Macbeth.

The mystics are unanimous: love of God makes itself seen and felt as love of our fellow creatures. Only when you have lowered all the barriers between yourself and others will there be no barrier between you and the Lord within. Deliberately, then, from the very first, you begin to chip away at those walls in consciousness. You do it in little ways, throughout the day, by trying to see the needs of others as clearly as your own and to act in harmony with them.

 

New Edition of "Passage Meditation": Excerpts From the Q&A Section with Easwaran

Last month we shared an interview with the BMCM Press and Editorial Team about the new edition of Passage Meditation that will be released on September 13th. The team shared that the new edition will have over 30% new material including questions and answers from retreats and talks. The questions range from short and practical to searching. This week we are sharing excerpts from the Q&A section of the new edition of Passage Meditation which is currently available for pre-order.

Excerpt from the Q&A section on Meditation:

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Could you say more about signs of progress?
First and foremost, you will begin to consider the joy of others a little more important than your own. That will probably begin with your family and friends and then extend to your co-workers, but generally your sense of separateness from those around you will be less and less, so you identify with each of them more easily. And that will rub off on them too.

Secondly, your senses will gradually come more and more under your control. As you begin to look upon your body as a vehicle of loving service, for example, your motivation for eating will become very different.

What about during meditation itself?
I can give you a few little hints as to the signs of absorption. One of the earliest is that your senses slowly close down. You become so completely absorbed in the inspirational passage that there are no sounds, no distractions. As Teresa of Avila says, all the bees of the senses have come back to their hive and are sitting there quietly making honey. Sounds, though there may be a dim awareness of them, will seem at first as if they are coming from far, far away. Eventually you will not be aware of them at all.

Other physical sensations, too, will cease to impinge on your consciousness. All this will be like writing on water; these distractions will not have any effect at all. You enter a stage of what I can only call quiet intoxication, in which the body feels almost as if it were not there. This is the beginning of the loss of body-consciousness: the burden of the body seems to have been lifted; the weight of the ego has been laid down.

Second, as you get absorbed, you are no longer dealing with distractions or with the problem of sleep in meditation. Where you used to fall asleep, now you’ve learned that the very wave of sleep that used to overcome you can be ridden down into deeper consciousness just as a surfer does. When you see a wave of sleep coming from the depths of your consciousness, instead of lowering your head and succumbing, you can jump on the wave of sleep and keep awake, concentrated on the inspirational passage. Then you find that you’re not on the same old level of awareness; you have changed to a deeper level.

Incidentally, this conquest of sleep doesn’t come suddenly or by magic. There is a very difficult phase where at times, in spite of your best intentions, you fall asleep in meditation and are not even aware that you have fallen asleep. The way to break out of that stage is not during meditation only, but during the rest of the day. You go about being alert about your senses, not yielding to their tantalizing call. You look for opportunities to turn your back on self-will and repeat the mantram more; you become more particular about what you do before you fall asleep at night. This kind of vigilance will enable you to break through not only the last stages of the sleeping problem, but many of the other problematic stages as meditation deepens.

Third, the inspirational passage slows down greatly, but the theme is still clear and the connection is still intact. Please make sure, when the inspirational passage slows down like this, that you’re able to keep the connection intact! Otherwise, meditation has not slowed down; it has stopped, leaving you in Alice’s Wonderland.

This is a very poor attempt at explaining what cannot really be explained, but these are some of the signs that absorption is slowly beginning. But make sure that you don’t let go of the inspirational passage, and that during the day you follow all these disciplines with sustained enthusiasm: repetition of the mantram, training the senses, and particularly, opening your awareness to the people around and not letting self-will or selfishness come in the way.

Excerpt from the Q&A on the Mantram:

Is there a difference between mantram and mantra, as it is usually spelled?
They are the same word. Mantram is the neuter form, and that is the traditional way that kind of noun has been taught in India for thousands of years. In modern linguistics, the form used is masculine, mantra. There is no difference at all, but since mantra has become so common in phrases like the “Wall Street mantra,” I prefer to keep to the form I learned as a child.

You say that we should choose our own mantram, but that it should be one from your recommended list. Could you explain why that is?
Usually we receive the mantram from our teacher. In many of the Indian traditions, this is a secret between the teacher and the student. You are not supposed to tell anyone what your mantram is. Some people respond to that, and I have no quarrel with it whatever. But I belong to another tradition, which I call the tradition of the open hand: I say, “These are the great mantrams; you choose.” I like the intelligent cooperation of the student, and I try to help those who come to me to make a wise choice. The mantram still comes from me, but you can make your own choice.

In choosing, however, please don’t go by whether it sounds nice or it “feels right.” That is not the issue. Has it been honored by time, practiced by millions? Does your teacher give it? There are certain requirements for a mantram of which most people are not aware. That is why I limit the mantrams in my books to a very few chosen ones that can always be trusted because they are universal, applicable to all countries and to all people. They come to us already surcharged with energy.

Excerpts from the Q&A sections on Slowing Down and One-Pointed Attention:

I worry that if I slow down, I won’t get as much done.
Slowing down and one-pointed attention work together. Going slow doesn’t mean achieving little. If your concentration is one-pointed, going slow means achieving much. It is essential in this connection not to confuse slowness with sloth, which breeds procrastination and general inefficiency. In slowing down, attend meticulously to details, giving the very best you are capable of even to the smallest undertaking.

Somehow, in our modern civilization, we have acquired the idea that the mind is working best when it runs at top speed. Yet a racing mind lacks time even to finish a thought, let alone to check on its quality. When we slow down the mind, we work better at everything we do. Not only is the quality of our work better, we are actually able to get more done.

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I’m still not sure I see the point of this. Why do you attach so much importance to slowing down?
Even to see life, we need to go slow. To enjoy life, we need to go slow. To understand people, to understand situations, to arrive at considered conclusions and to make wise decisions — for all of these, we need time. And this is just what is impossible in a speeded-up civilization; there is no time for anything.

***

 Could you explain how one-pointedness can help in conflicts?
The person who can give undivided attention when others are being unpleasant is a real peacemaker. Slowly he or she can disarm the hostile person simply by listening without hostility, with complete and loving attention.

When you see opposition, do not get afraid. Look upon tough opposition as a challenge to test your inner growth—to see if your capacities have grown so that through patience, courtesy, and the depth of your conviction, you can win over your opponent into a fast friend.

But all this takes time, and it takes the capacity to concentrate. You have to be willing to develop these skills, which is the purpose of slowing down and one-pointed attention.

How does a one-pointed mind help with our interpersonal problems in general?
Many problems that we take for granted are not really necessary; they arise from attention getting distracted and caught without our consent.

For example, all of us are familiar with the toll negative memories can take. When they come up, they simply won’t let us alone. They claim our attention, and dwelling on them only makes them stronger. The mind gets upset until finally the body begins to suffer. But if you can turn attention away, just as you do in meditation, the memory will gradually lose its emotional charge. The memory itself is not lost; it simply loses its compulsive hold on you.

Again, when a friend has offended you, it is not your friend that causes the agitation; it is dwelling on what happened. Attention is caught, and the mind cannot stop thinking about it. When you go to the theater, you can’t pay attention to the film. When you go to bed, you can’t stop thinking about what happened, so you toss and turn all night. Dwelling on resentment or hostility or any other negative emotion magnifies it; the answer is to turn attention away.

Happiness comes when we forget ourselves, and misery when we can’t think about anybody else. This is essentially a problem of attention getting trapped. One of the greatest benefits of meditation is that it releases the precious faculty of redirecting our love and attention from our little selves so it can flow towards other people. It’s an exhilarating experience, because most of us have no idea of the capacity for love we have imprisoned.