Category Archives: Vedic Meditation

Vedic Meditation is a simple, natural, effortless and easily learned practice which can bring about a profound state of deep rest, relaxation and healing

Vedic Meditation

Summary: Vedic Meditation is a simple, natural, effortless and easily learned practice which can bring about a profound state of deep rest, relaxation and healing. This article examines the many benefits of Vedic Meditation, the major differences between it and other forms of meditation and the key features and techniques that make this life-enhancing system truly unique.

Ayurveda views the regular practice of meditation as being of great value in the maintenance of good health. Although there are many different types of meditation practices currently available, only a few specific techniques can be easily used by Westerners to bring about a profound sense of deep calm and inner peace. These stress reducing practices can be described collectively as ‘Vedic Meditation Techniques’ and they all have well proven, health promoting benefits

In the West we often think of meditation as involving some form of mind control, ‘Zen like’ concentration, visualisation, mindfulness or contemplation. Unfortunately none of these practices gives the profound state of deep rest needed for the release of stress and the healing of our physiology. However this state of ‘restful alertness’ can easily be obtained with no effort through Vedic meditation.  Almost unbelievable – but true!

Benefits of Vedic Meditation

People who practice Vedic Meditation on a regular daily basis frequently report the following benefits:

    • Feeling less stressed throughout a busy day
    • Improved sleep patterns
    • A sense of inner calm with less ‘reactions’ and more ‘thoughtful measured responses’ to challenging situations
    • Improved relationships
    • Increased creativity
    • Better health – particularly for stress related problems such as high blood pressure
    • More frequent experiences of happiness and spontaneous joy throughout the day
    • Improved decision making

Whilst it may seem unlikely that such a simple, effortless technique would produce these results there’s considerable research to prove that this is indeed the case.

Vedic Meditation Techniques – an Overview

Before describing what Vedic meditation actually is, it is helpful to describe what it is not!

    • Vedic meditation is most certainly not concentration or mind control
    • Vedic meditation does not involve visualisation or using one’s imagination in any way
    • It  is not a mindfulness technique (where we are encouraged to ‘watch our thoughts’) neither is it ‘positive thinking’
    • Vedic meditation is not a guided mediation technique , neither is it mantra japa
    • Vedic meditation does not involve contemplation either
    • We do not need to sit in any special yoga posture or position in order to practice it
    • Vedic meditation does not require any changes in our religion or beliefs

So, having discussed what Vedic meditation is not, we will now examine some of its unique features.

    • Firstly, Vedic meditation is a totally natural, effortless, simple technique. A great Vedic Saint said of it: ‘anyone who can think can also meditate’
    • The technique can be practised sitting comfortably and easily in a chair with eyes closed – preferably for 20 minutes twice a day
    • Vedic meditation is a mantra based technique. A mantra is a meaningless sound or Sanskrit word that we think effortlessly – just like we think any other thought. In this system personal mantras are given to individual students by fully trained teachers
    • These techniques have withstood the long test of time and come from an ancient tradition and lineage of fully self-realised Masters. This tradition is honoured by the teacher during  the instruction phase by a simple Vedic ceremony or puja
    • Vedic meditation has many scientifically proven, well documented, health promoting, stress busting benefits
    • These simple techniques can be practised anywhere – unlike guided meditations which need a player of some type
    • The techniques are easy to learn –  usually students become competent within a few hours (although some ‘checking’  in the first few months of practice with an experienced teacher is often helpful)
    • Vedic meditation is a universal teaching that can benefit people of all ages (there are special ‘walking techniques’ for children). It works irrespective of their race, culture or religious beliefs

In India the restless mind is often described as the ‘monkey mind’ – always running here and there. How to make a monkey stay still? Just give it a banana. Think of the mantra as a ‘banana for the mind’ – something sweet, nourishing and appealing! In fact, the more you think it on a quiet level the more appealing it becomes. At more subtle levels of thought the mantra has its own unique charm.

Vedic Meditation Techniques – Details

In order to meditate the Vedic way we first need a personal mantra. We can only get that via a trained teacher and one-to-one tuition. Vedic meditation is also a subtle technique where we really need a teacher on hand to remove any obstacles and answer any questions we might have.  However, here is the outline of the process – but it is not a substitute for personal tuition!

Firstly, we sit comfortably and easily and then close our eyes. It is better to not have eaten a big meal just before meditation or be ravenously hungry either. When we close our eyes, we notice some degree of quietness, some silence.

We then think the mantra in the same effortless way we would think any other thought. The mantra is really the vehicle on which the mind rides to those quieter levels of thinking. The mantra has subtle charm, so the mind follows it easily.

After a while we might notice that we are thinking about other things, for example, planning our day, work, family, etc.. This is perfectly natural! So at this point we gently reintroduce the mantra and the cyclical process, which is a natural mechanism for stress release, starts all over again. We do this without making any effort.

Towards the end of a 20 minute session, we might notice that our mind has settled down and our thoughts have become quieter and less intense. We might also feel a bit more relaxed in ourselves. Job done!

During meditation, it is perfectly OK to sometimes be thinking thoughts, sometimes be thinking the mantra, and sometimes be thinking both of them at the same time! Some people also find the mantra becomes louder or softer or morphs in some other way. No problem, we just ‘take it as it comes’. The key principle is that we never make an effort.

The above outlines the general procedure we use in the Vedic Meditation Technique, but we really need a personal teacher to answer our many individual questions – which naturally arise when we begin to meditate for the first time.

How to Learn Vedic Meditation

Although Vedic meditation is simple it is also a subtle technique, so it cannot be learned from books or YouTube videos. The personal mantra given to the student needs to be chosen by a skilled and experienced meditation teacher.

There are currently three key providers of these techniques in the West. All originate from the same Vedic tradition and all are very similar indeed (although costs may differ). Firstly, there is ‘Sahaj Samadhi Meditation’ taught by the Art of Living Organisation (founded by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar). Secondly there is the ‘Transcendental Meditation’ (TM) ™ technique taught by followers of the now deceased Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Thirdly (following the fragmentation of the official Transcendental Meditation Movement) there are now a number of independent teachers of these Vedic Meditation techniques who are not affiliated to any particular organisation or movement – you can find them via the Meditation Trust.

 

Vedic Meditation FAQs

Summary: In depth answers to FAQs on Vedic Meditation, covering techniques such as Transcendental Meditation (TM), Sahaj Samadhi, etc. and comparing it with other, less effective forms of meditation such as concentration, contemplation, and mindfulness.

Q. Does Vedic Meditation involve concentration?

A. Most definitely not. It is completely effortless. Just as thinking a thought requires no effort, so thinking the mantra used in this technique requires no effort.

We may have heard that meditation involves concentration. Some meditation techniques, for example the Buddhist form of Zen, do involve concentration. However, these techniques are only suitable for use in monastic settings where there are experienced Masters to give daily guidance. Their real value lies at the instant when concentration actually breaks down and the meditator then gains a flash of transcendental insight. They are hard work and need years of practice to achieve results. Concentration techniques are definitely not for people in the West.

Q. Surely meditation involves at least some degree of contemplation?

A. Vedic Mediation does not require any degree of contemplation. Contemplation limits the mind to thinking about the ‘surface value’ of concepts, religious teachings, the lives of great saints, etc. rather than diving deeply into a settled, joyous state of restful alertness.  It may give insights for those involved in religious orders such as monks and nuns who already lead a very stress free lifestyle. However, contemplation has very limited value for those of us involved in the day to day world of work, family, etc.

Q. ‘Mindfulness’ has appeared quite frequently in the popular press. Is mindfulness a part of Vedic Meditation?

A. Again, the answer is definitely no. If anything, mindfulness, or rather ‘the witnessing of activity and thoughts’ is actually the result of a very settled state of consciousness or awareness. Being mindful does not in itself give a settled state of profound rest and relaxation.

 It is said that Buddhist meditation techniques, such as Vipassana meditation, involve training in mindfulness. Traditionally, in order to gain familiarity with these techniques it required ten hours of meditation a day over a seven week period – although this has been altered to a ten day course for Westerners.

There is some literature published that suggests being mindful may actually cause some problems – trying to split the mind so that ‘one half’ watches what the ‘other half’ is doing involves concentration and effort. Far better to first reach that settled state with an effortless technique and from that settled, stress-free state begin to witness thoughts and emotions as they rise and fall.

Mindfulness may have some value in enabling practitioners to be aware of emotions arising from certain challenging situations and to respond appropriately – rather than to just react. But it does not give the state of deep rest and relaxation that is obtained through Vedic Meditation.

Q. Why can’t I learn meditation from books?

A. Although Vedic Meditation Techniques involve no effort they are subtle and we need trained teachers for initial guidance and to provide the correct personal mantras. Most importantly we need them for checking our meditation and progress. Books and videos are no substitute. Furthermore, the teaching begins with a Vedic ceremony performed by the teacher and called a ‘puja’ which honours the lineage of Masters which have upheld the teachings for the benefit of mankind over many generations. There is a saying ‘well begun is half done’ and the puja ensures the student gets off to the best possible start.

Q. I’ve heard that ‘Om’ is a mantra. Why can’t I just chant Om?

A. There are two things we need to consider here. Firstly, chanting or ‘mantra japa’ as it is known in India, is different from meditation. It may have considerable value, but it does not take us to that quiet state of restful alertness. Japa done internally is better than chanting out loud. Better still is when the mantra becomes a very quiet thought. Best is when even the mantra itself is finally transcended!

Secondly, ‘Om’ (more correctly pronounced ‘Aum’) belongs to a class of mantras known as ‘reclusive mantras’. Repeating the mantra ‘Aum’ brings detachment – detachment from one’s work, detachment from one’s friends, detachment from one’s family and ultimately detachment from one’s own body. Whilst this might be fine for reclusive monks or nuns on a spiritual path and living in an ashram it is certainly not helpful for those of us engaged in worldly activities! Vedic Mediation uses mantras which belonging to the ‘householder’ mantra category – they bring benefits to people involved in the day-to-day world – without us having to give up anything!

Q. If Vedic Meditation is both natural and effortless why can’t people naturally reach this state?

A. A few people can actually reach this state without learning to meditate! Literature has many examples where this state of heightened awareness or restful alertness is described. A classic example is from an old man sitting on a veranda saying ‘sometimes I sits and I thinks, other times I just sits!’. In addition, a few of us might glimpse the transcendental state very briefly at the junction between the waking and sleeping states – just as we are going to sleep or waking up.

Q. Can we actually prove meditation gets rid of stress?

A. Yes! There has been a lot of research done on the benefits of Transcendental Meditation which showed there were many positive physiological correlates to this mental process. The research was published in prestigious medical and physiological journals. Some of the research was done at Mentmore Towers in Buckinghamshire when the UK Transcendental Meditation movement was based there. Many indicators of stress, such as blood pressure, galvanic skin response, the presence of stress hormones in our bloodstream, etc. all showed positive benefits for a large number of people practising these techniques.

 The person who brought TM to the West, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, really changed our perception of meditation from being something esoteric to something that was scientific, systematic and had many day to day benefits for Westerners.

Q. What’s the difference between TM and Sahaj Samadhi Meditation?

A. Practically there is very little difference. Both techniques come from the same tradition of Vedic Masters.

The TM technique was introduced to the West by the now deceased, self-realized Master, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. His commentaries and talks on the ‘Science of Being’ and ‘The Mechanics of Consciousness’ were enlightening and enjoyed by many scientists.

Sahaj Samadhi Meditation was introduced to the West by the self-realized Master Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. He founded the Art of Living organization, which is a large NGO with headquarters in India and bases throughout the world. Sri Sri has given many talks on the ‘Art of Living’ and he has a unique way of making ancient Vedic wisdom seem relevant and interesting to to-days world. He is also a lot of fun!

Both TM and Sahaj Samadhi Meditation are effortless, easy to learn, natural techniques taught in a very similar format and with an almost identical ceremony (puja) honouring the same tradition from which they both originate.

Q. What exactly is Vedic Meditation?

A. Basically it is an effortless technique using a meaningless sound or ‘mantra’. In it we think the mantra in the same effortless way we think any other thought. It does not involve any intellectual understanding or study. Although no effort is involved the process is quite subtle and needs experienced and well trained teachers to deliver the technique and to subsequently check the progress of our meditation. It is often called ‘Transcendental’ because the mind crosses over from the field of the senses to a quiet, natural and restful state of deep relaxation and tranquillity.

All the disappointments, rejections and doubt we have encountered over our lives gives rise to deep seated stress in our nervous system. By repeatedly meditating for 20 minutes twice a day we start to dissolve those stresses and therefore lead happier, more fulfilled lives. The precise mechanics of stress release are explained with useful analogies in the mediation courses.

Author note: Although it needs no effort I would say that we need a certain degree of initial self-discipline to just sit down for twenty minutes in the morning and evening to meditate. Once we start noticing the benefits then meditation becomes second nature. Being able to contact this state not only brings relaxation, on a good day it can also bring a sense of great joy!

Q. If TM and Sahaj Samadhi Meditation are so beneficial and natural why aren’t they free?

A. We tend to value what we pay for. In ancient India it was possible to learn these techniques without paying any money at all. However, the student was expected to do some voluntary work at the ashram of the Master before being instructed. In this way there was an energy exchange, if not a financial one. In which case the student had worked for, and therefore valued, the techniques.

Authors note: My initial experiences with TM were very good and things then went rather ‘flat’ for a while. Because I’d paid for it I was determined to ‘get my money’s worth’ and kept on doing it! Looking back I must say that it is the best investment I’ve ever made!

Q. What’s the procedure for learning TM and Sahaj Samadhi Meditation?

A. Roughly the same. The steps are as follows – attendance at an introductory talk where the benefits of the practice are explained: a short ceremony or puja to honour the tradition together with personal instruction from a qualified teacher: checking of the meditation process (maybe also with a group of people who have learned on the same day or weekend): some simple explanations of the mechanics of the process and how stress is released.

Q. Do I have to give up anything or change my beliefs to practice Vedic Meditation?

A. Absolutely not. We don’t need to sit in any strange yoga positions, become a vegetarian or give up alcohol in order to reap the benefits. However the techniques do require that we have abstained from non-prescribed drugs for typically a couple of months before learning. Vedic Meditation is a technique not a belief system, so we don’t need to change any religious beliefs or practices.

Q. Why is there a puja during the personal instruction?

A. The puja (a short ceremony) is part of the teaching process, not the technique itself. The ‘student’ is asked to quietly witness the puja while the teacher performs it. The words are said (or ‘chanted’) in Sanskrit – the ancient language of the Vedas (from which the techniques and mantras are derived). Sanskrit is said to be the language of nature itself. The puja simply honours the tradition of masters who have preserved the knowledge of these techniques for millennia. The puja merely helps the teacher get in the ‘right space’ to deliver the teachings.

Authors Note: From my own experience the puja seemed to connect the present with the ancient past. I realised I was receiving something rare and precious, something which had withstood the test of time and was of extreme value. That’s another reason why I’ve kept doing it for over 40 years!

Q. What’s the difference between an ‘official’ TM teacher and an ‘independent’ TM teacher such as found via the Meditation Trust?

A. Even before Maharishi’s death in 2008 the International TM organisation had started to fragment. After his death the organisation was controlled by his family. Around this time many TM teachers who had been loyal to Maharishi started to offer the technique independently of the organisation’s control and often at a substantially lower cost. As far as learning the basic TM Technique or Vedic Meditation is concerned there is no difference between an ‘independent teacher’ and an ‘official TM teacher’ linked to Maharishi’s organization.