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The Current Trend for Meditation

A few years ago, an American medical doctor Dr. Jon Kabat Zinn introduced Mindfulness meditation as an integrative medicinal form packaged into an eight-week course. Until then, meditation was hiding behind the skirts of Yoga. This 8-week course, known as MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), guarantees efficient results. Stress being the modern world’s biggest anathema, MBSR hit the right spot.

What or how has Dr Zinn presented this ancient traditional spiritual practice to relate to the world at large? How did meditation go from a spiritual traditional in ashrams to a stress-reduction module in corporates? How come India is talking of Mindfulness and not Trataka, Ajapa Japa or Antar Mauna?

Mindfulness, as a Buddhist practice, comes from the Eightfold path recommended by the enlightened Buddha. The greatest living teacher of Mindfulness is the exiled Vietnamese Monk Thich Nhat Hanh who lives in France. Streams of Mindfulness overlap with S.N. Goenka’s Vipassana Meditation also known as Insightful meditation in the West.

In India, meditation has long been part of its intangible spiritual heritage. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras describes Dhyan or Meditation as the 7th step in the individual’s eight-step journey to enlightenment. In India meditation has always been seen as a spiritual practice (sadhana). The objective of meditation is to tame and train the mind and eventually sublimate the thoughts. Meditation promises us that when we are able to do that, we reach the “realm of bliss”. It is said that our minds are our greatest enemy and deterrent. Along the way, if the practice gives us tools for relaxation, de-stressing, reducing anxiety and dissolving anger, then these are secondary benefits. 

With the commercialisation of Mindfulness in the west, it is seen from a diametrically opposite point of view. The objective of meditation has become to reduce stress, anger and anxiety and along the way, if you reach a thoughtless state of mind, then it’s a bonus.

Knowing this, His Holiness the Dalai Lama started the Mind Life Society, comprising of neurologists, professors, meditators and doctors, to study the effect of meditation on the brain. One year, he invited research scholars and neuroscientists from Europe to exchange views with Indian researchers on how the practice of mindfulness impacts the brain and personality of the practitioner. He also wanted them to study the impact of other Indian meditation techniques on the brain. Research findings revealed that a practitioner doing Metta (a meditation on Loving Kindness) could be impacted in positive personality change in a very different way to a practitioner doing Antar Mauna (Inner Silence).

Shining the light of scientific study on how meditation impacts our personalities, gives us an evidence-based perspective. This will allow the mainstream to accept meditation as a tool to improve our lifestyles thus taking us closer to kindness and compassion.

But let us not stop at that. Let us aim to allow our practice of meditation to take us to greater heights- to Anandamaya Kosha- the Realm of Bliss.


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