New Edition of Passage Meditation: Q&A with Press and Editorial

This week we’re excited to share some big news here on the blog. The BMCM will be releasing a new edition of the book Passage Meditation on September 13th. This new edition offers new material and a chance to help share this book with a broad audience. This post features an interview with our colleagues from the BMCM editorial and press departments, in which they answer questions about this latest edition and the new content.

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Why is there a new edition?
Passage Meditation is Easwaran’s most important instructional book, and it’s also the way in which many people first find out about passage meditation. But the book originally came out in 1978, and in the decades that followed Easwaran spoke a lot more about meditation and spiritual living, answering questions from close students and from retreatants.

We felt that everyone would benefit from reading Easwaran’s answers to some of those questions, and that now would be a good time to share this material in a new edition.

What is different about this edition?
The biggest change internally is that the book has been extended by over thirty percent with material from question and answer sessions at retreats and talks. Some of the questions are short, practical requests for clarification. Others are more searching, with longer answers from Easwaran.

If you’ve been reading all the Q&A sections of the Blue Mountain Journal over the last four years then you will have seen some of this material.  But we felt it would help Easwaran’s readers to have the most important questions and answers collected together in one book, arranged logically by point for easy reference.

Are there other changes internally?
The first six chapters of the book have remained largely unchanged. Chapters seven and eight, “Spiritual Fellowship” and “Spiritual Reading” have been updated to include some of Easwaran’s teachings from after 1978.

We’ve also slightly rearranged the material at the start of the book, so that readers on a Kindle, for instance, would get to the instructions in meditation more quickly.  

And what about the cover?
We wanted a cover that would appeal to younger as well as older readers, to all genders, and to people from any spiritual tradition or none. We also wanted to express the seriousness and the calmness of our practice. So we asked a group of our Young Adults to join in a consultation exercise in which we showed them all kinds of different cover designs, before settling on one which we refined several times in response to feedback.

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The design we agreed on is rather different from our other books: it is based on typography, with text rather than images, and the color is a calm blue-green. The cover has an unusual velvety finish that we hope will make people want to keep hold of the book once they have picked it up.

Will there be a new ebook too?
Yes, and not only that: there will also be an audiobook released on audible.com at the same time as the print and ebooks. The audiobook will be complete and unabridged, read by Paul Bazely. Paul is a student of Easwaran’s and a professional actor who has narrated our other audiobooks.

How will you be promoting the book?
We've sent out promotional material and review copies, and forty independent bookstores have already placed pre-orders for the book.

However, the majority of copies will be sold by Amazon, so the more we can do on Amazon around the time of the book’s release, the more Amazon will then promote the book on its store. That is why we are releasing an audiobook on audible.com (an Amazon company) at the same time as the print and ebooks. We have also asked Amazon to offer the ebook as a Kindle “daily deal” in September, and we have sent pre-publication copies to Amazon’s reviewers.

How I can I help with promotion?
Sharing the book with friends, family, colleagues, sharing quotes and excerpts via social media – all these seemingly small acts can really make a difference. Anything you do at any time to share Easwaran’s wisdom in the world today can help in ways we can’t even predict. We’ve all experienced this, over and over.

But there’s one other thing this time that we’re asking of our BMCM friends. Pre-orders of the book encourage Amazon to promote it, so if you would like an early copy, please pre-order it from Amazon rather than from the BMCM.

Thank you in advance for helping.

Our press and editorial team

Our press and editorial team

As long-time meditators, which chapter of Passage Meditation do you find yourself returning to over time?
Chapter 1: The instructions in meditation! They become more and more important the longer you meditate. They also make more and more sense – you appreciate the immense depth and practicality of Easwaran’s teachings. And we’ll now also be regularly re-reading the accompanying section on meditation in the questions and answers. There’s some amazing material there on how to deepen your practice.

And a favorite Q&A quote?
If we have to select one for right now, given the current situation in the world, it’s this from the new Q&A on meditation. The question is “Can my practice really help other people and not just myself?” Here’s an excerpt from Easwaran’s answer:

I have good reason to believe that even one person who meditates can influence everyone around. Even though we may not see it, the ripples of selfless work do spread. I feel I have concrete evidence now that even a few good, energetic, loving people practicing meditation will be able to bring about salutary changes in our country and our society very quietly, without claiming any credit at all.

Any last messages you’d like to share with the Blue Mountain Blog community?
We’re so excited to share this keystone book with a new and growing international audience. It’s been a fantastic privilege to work on it. The Q&As will be a great resource for new and experienced meditators alike, and we hope the new cover will draw people to pick it up in a bookstore. Let us know in the comments below (or by writing bmblog@easwaran.org) what you think of the new edition – and do buy a few copies and share with friends!

 

Eknath Easwaran: Choose Kindness

This week’s excerpt is from Eknath Easwaran’s book Strength in the Storm.

As a boy, growing up in a South Indian village, I learned to ride an elephant the way teenagers today learn to drive a car. In our part of India, elephants are loved and deeply respected. They work in our fields and forests much like draft horses in the West, and have for thousands of years. They are highly intelligent, sensitive, loyal creatures, and the bond between an elephant and its trainer, or mahout, goes as deep as any family tie.

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Elephants are very gentle. If you offer one a peanut on the palm of your hand, it won’t grab; it will take the nut delicately with the tip of its trunk without even touching your skin. But its physical prowess is legendary. It can pull up a tree by the root and swing it around with its trunk as if it were a toy. Every creature gives way to the elephant; it has no natural enemies.

All ancient armies had infantry and cavalry. But Indian armies had elephantry too, and they were mightiest of all. A trained elephant will not turn back from battle. It would rather die than run away. And when an elephant goes into battle, its strength and endurance are so tremendous that no matter how many arrows find their mark on its body, it ignores them and presses forward gallantly into the thick of the fight.

Why am I telling you about elephants? Because this is how we should go through life, the Buddha says. It’s one of my favorite verses: “Suffer harsh words as an elephant suffers arrows on the battlefield. People are people, often ill-natured.”

This is the authentic keynote of the Buddha. He doesn’t pretend that everyone is divine, everyone an angel. He says, “Frankly speaking, most people lack courtesy. You can expect to be hurt. But you have a say in how much you are hurt – and how you are going to respond. Be like an elephant, the mightiest of creatures. Shrug off harsh words and move on.”

In other words, the Buddha is saying, we should be prepared for a certain amount of impoliteness and discourtesy in personal relationships, not because people are bad but because they can't control their minds – just like us.

This is a remarkable point. Just think: you don’t have to be upset in an upsetting situation! All of us have times when life doesn’t bother us and other times when one wrong word sets us off like a volcano. What makes the difference? Only our state of mind – which we are learning to control.

This is the benefit of practicing kindness, and the implication is revolutionary. If we want not to be upset by rude words and unkind behavior, the answer is for us to be courteous and kind. It may not have an immediate effect on those around us, but with practice it becomes a shield so strong that other people’s behavior will not bother us at all.

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Believe me, for those of us who have had our intellects honed to be sarcastic, it’s very difficult to keep from using sharp words. When you’re being criticized or attacked, it’s almost considered an intellectual responsibility to answer back with compound interest. And that’s just what I used to do in faculty meetings, along with everyone else – until I began to understand that if somebody attacked me, there was no need to get angry. It didn't improve the situation on any level – and besides, something within me rebelled against being bounced around like a rubber ball. So I started repeating my mantram silently and keeping quiet.

It was not at all easy. Worse, it was misinterpreted. Somebody who used to keep quiet would think I was at a loss for an answer and join the others in jumping on me. It was difficult training, but very soon I began to see that I was getting detached – not from my colleagues, but from my own opinions. When they were criticizing my ideas, they weren't criticizing me. They were criticizing a statue they had sculpted and set up in the corner. Why should I be bothered if they threw darts at a statue they themselves had made?

This doesn't mean making a doormat of yourself. Just the opposite. It is training – learning to get your mind under control. The first goal is to break the connection between stimulus and response. Later, once you have a measure of detachment, you can reply to criticism without identifying yourself with your opinions or the other person with hers, choosing words that are kind, respectful, and to the point. The key is to have a choice.

The more insensitive the other person is, the more reason for you to alert your mind to be calm and compassionate – and, if necessary, to face opposition firmly but tenderly. We aren't helping inconsiderate people when we give in to their demands or let them walk all over us. It only feeds the habit of rudeness to let them have their way. We have to learn to show respect by opposing them – tenderly, nonviolently, but firmly.

Creating a Personal Retreat

This post is by Paige, a passage meditator living in Davis, California. Paige shares how she creates a "personal retreat" to help her focus and strengthen her practice of the eight points from her own home.

I am very fortunate to live only a couple of hours from the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation (BMCM) and have been able to attend three retreats in Tomales since beginning my practice in earnest in early 2014. It’s such a gift to be able to take a break from my busy life, really focus on Easwaran’s teachings with no distractions, learn from people more experienced than I am—especially those who learned from Easwaran himself, and have a good solid dose of spiritual companionship in a beautiful setting!

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Alas, it’s not practical to go to Tomales every week—my goal is to get there twice a year! But what I can do is have my own “personal retreat”—a day where I choose to put the chaos of everyday life aside and refocus my attention on the eight-point program.

Even though I live alone, my weeks are busy with work, household chores, and other activities, and though I do get my daily mediation in, I often struggle to weave the other seven points consistently into my life. I come back from a BMCM retreat energized and with lots of ideas for improvement, but daily life takes over again and I find myself needing a spiritual break!

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(Left) Taking a mantram walk with my dog, Smitti! (Right) My meditation corner.

This month, I did a one-day personal retreat, and I thought I would share how I planned it and how it went.

My first step was to set an intention for the day, and to create a schedule from there to support it. It can be tempting for me to try and fit too much in, so I was careful to keep a narrow focus. This time, I chose one-pointed attention as my theme—an area that I continue to struggle with at home and at work. I looked over my one-pointed attention worksheet and goals from my weeklong retreat last fall, and made up a schedule that would allow me to put one-pointed attention on one-pointed attention! Of course most of the other points were included as well—meditation, mantram, slowing down, and training the senses.

“If we are to free ourselves from this tyrannical, many-pointed mind, we must develop some voluntary control over our attention. We must know how to put it where we want.” 
(Eknath Easwaran, Passage Meditation, p. 123)

I included many activities familiar from BMCM retreats—two meditation sessions (morning and evening), spiritual reading, and a mantram walk. But although this was a “retreat,” I wanted to practice one-pointed attention with the things I want or need to get done on a normal weekend. I also chose a small (but important) project that I have been putting off—making a bracelet for my sister.

This was my schedule for the day:

  • 5:00   Coffee and reading--Chapter 4 from Passage Meditation
  • 6:00   Meditation
  • 7:15   Mantram walk with my dog
  • 8:00   Breakfast and cleanup
  • 9:00   Household chores—start laundry
  • 9:30   Yoga and back strengthening exercises
  • 10:00   Work on bracelet (after putting laundry in the dryer)
  • 11:30   Fold laundry
  • 12:00   Lunch and cleanup
  • 1:00   Passage memorization work
  • 1:30   Yard work (with mantram) and throw ball for the dog
  • 3:00   Banjo practice
  • 3:30   Prepare dinner and extra food for the work week
  • 5:00   Dinner and cleanup
  • 6:00   Meditation
  • 6:30   Play with dog, shower
  • 7:00   Reading from The Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living
  • 8:00   Lights out

Throughout the day I focused on doing everything one-pointedly—preparing food, doing laundry, playing with my dog, doing dishes, etc. At the same time I could not help but slow down, which helped me with the training the senses. And my meditation was deeper as well!

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(Left) Making some potato salad as part of my weekly meal prep. (Right) Mantram art.

As Easwaran says…

“Developing a one-pointed mind as suggested here will enrich your life moment by moment. You will find that your senses are keener, your emotions more stable, your intellect more lucid, your sensitivity to the needs of others heightened. Whatever you do, you will be there more fully.” (Passage Meditation, p. 138)

My retreat day really helped me to get the feel of putting my full attention on everything I do. It didn’t magically make me perfect, but I think working these mini-retreats in periodically will be beneficial to my spiritual practice. Next time I think it would be nice to get away, slow down, and have a camping retreat!

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