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.