Meditation offers a variety of benefits. For example, it cultivates greater concentration and calm. But perhaps if too much attention is brought to studying the mental and physical benefits, the profound significance of meditation and practices may not be realized. How do we take the next step to the true wakening of spiritual consciousness?
Before answering the question, it would be fruitful to have a clearer understanding of the term “meditation”. It is derived from the verb “to meditate”, which implies thinking and intellectualizing.
Thinking and intellectualizing are in fact the very factors many schools of meditation, including the one I am most familiar with, advice their practitioners not to be involved in. In other words, if you wish to be successful, during your meditation you should not think and intellectualize!
Then, why is the practice called “meditation”? It is because of over-generalization as a result of mistaken translation due to insufficient understanding.
As “meditation” is a Western term, logically it originated from Western culture, referring to a practice employed by early Christian monks in their spiritual cultivation. It involved four processes, namely reading scriptures, praying to God, pondering over God’s words in the scriptures, and reflecting the Truth.
This morphological background is of much significance. It gives assurance to those persons who mistakenly believe that practicing meditation is against Christian culture, that early Christian monks practiced meditation to reflect on God.
Later, various other practices to reflect on God or on Cosmic Reality spread from the East to the West. Although internally they were different, externally they looked similar. Hence, the term “meditation” was used for all these practices.
It was also discovered that those who practiced meditation regularly had many mundane benefits, like reducing anxiety and improving metabolic processes. Soon scientific research proved that meditation enhanced physiological and psychological functions.
This background information enables us to look at both the question and answer with better insight.
We can better understand that if too much attention is brought to studying the mental and physical benefits, like greater concentration and calm, not only we may miss the profound significance of meditation, but also we may deviate from its original aim.
Indeed, this deviation or degradation has begun and has resulted in adverse effects on many practitioners often without their own knowing. Meditation is a training of mind or spirit, and thus mental and physical benefits like improved psychological and physiological functioning, are its bonus, not its goal.
However, not only many practitioners have neither obtained its goal or bonus despite practicing for many years, but instead they have obtained adverse effects! The first requirement as well as the first benefit of meditation is to be relaxed, yet many meditation practitioners have become more stressful the more they practice! Another tell-tale benefit of successful meditation is to be happy and free, yet many practitioners have become more gloomy and depressed!
Meditation, being a training of mind or spirit, is by itself non-religious. In other words, the same meditation exercise can be beneficially practiced by persons of different religions or of no official religion. Its successful practice will make its practitioners more devoted to their own religion, regardless of what religion it is, or more spiritually uplifted if they do not profess a religion.
Why is this so? Why is it that the religious will become more devoted to their religion, and the non-religious will be more spiritually-uplifted? It is because meditation enhances practitioners’ spirit. As all religions deal directly with the spiritual, the religious practitioners will find the teachings in their own religions come alive, whereas those who do not profess a formal religion will have their spirit enhanced. Hence, they become more caring, more compassionate besides becoming happier and more free.
Notwithstanding this, while we become more aware of the goal of meditation, which is the training of the spirit, it does not mean that we will neglect its more mundane benefits, like great concentration and calm, and better physiological and psychological functioning. These are desirable bonuses.
Why do so many practitioners become stressful and depressed when meditation is meant to make them relaxed and happy as bonuses? It is because they fail to realize that meditation is a cultivation of the spirit. Too much focus on studying the mental and physical benefits, ironically aggravates the problem because it further alienates practitioners from cultivating the spirit.
How does meditation, being a training of the spirit, bring physical, emotional and mental benefits? In other words, how does a meditation practitioner, for example, normalize his high blood pressure, overcome his aggressiveness or reduce his mental confusion by cultivating his spirit?
The real person is his spirit, not his body. It is his spirit that has a body, not his body that has a spirit. His spirit is the same throughout. His body, with its physical, emotional and mental manifestations, is changing all the time. Literally millions of his physical cells are disposed off from his body when he breathes out, and millions of new physical cells are born when he breathes in. He may be calm now, and agitated the next moment. Countless thoughts are going through his mind all the time.
When his spirit is well, it is manifested in a healthy body. If his spirit is sick or weak, it is manifested in his body too – physically, emotionally or mentally. To be well is the norm. It is natural to be healthy. To be sick is not. Hence, there is actually nothing fantastic in overcoming high blood pressure, aggressiveness and mental confusion. It is just restoring normalcy, returning to the natural state.
An important principle in traditional Chinese medicine is that all healing starts from the heart. In Chinese the “heart” includes the emotional, mental and spiritual dimensions. The physical dimension is the body.
I have applied this principle in helping thousands of people overcome so-called incurable diseases like high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, cancer, depression, phobia and serious viral infection. I do not have to use formal meditation. I use qigong practice and qigong healing, both of which include meditation.
In the same way, when a person is sick, he does not have to do formal meditation which will take a longer time for him to recover. He should see a doctor. By rectifying the bodily disorder, he can restore his spiritual health.
When a person is healthy – physically, emotionally and mentally – he is in a better position to aim for true awakening of spiritual consciousness.
This was in fact what Bodhidharma, the First Patriarch of the Shaolin arts, did at the Shaolin Monastery in the 6th century. He found the Shaolin monks sick and weak, so he taught them the Eighteen Lohan Hands and Sinew Metamorphosis to make them healthy and strengthen them so that they could better practice meditation to attain Enlightenment.
This is also what we do in our school, Shaolin Wahnam. We practice Shaolin Kungfu, Taijiquan or qigong to be healthy and strong so as to enhance our daily work and play as well as for true awakening of spiritual consciousness.
Awakening of spiritual consciousness has a very extensive range, but may be classified into three broad levels as follows.
At the lowest level, it is nurturing the spirit so as to be healthy in all the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual dimensions.
At the middle level, it is to strengthen the spirit to have mental clarity and internal force to attain peak performance in our work and play.
At the highest level, it is to expand the spirit into the Cosmos so as to attain spiritual joys and freedom, and eventually when we are ready to return to our Original State, called variously as Enlightenment, Returning to God’s Kingdom, Attaining the Tao or Union with the Supreme Reality.
But what should you do to take the first step to the true awakening of spiritual consciousness if you were not with Bodhidharma at the Shaolin Monastery or not learning from us in Shaolin Wahnam?
The first step is right understanding. You should understand what awakening of spiritual consciousness is and how to go about it. The second step is to set your aims and objectives. Then you should spend some time and effort to search for the best available teacher within your resources who can help you attain your aims and objectives. The fourth step, which usually takes the most time, is to respectfully practice according to what you teacher teaches. You should also periodically access your progress with reference to your aims and objectives. If you follow these five steps, you will be able to attain the best benefits in a relatively short time.
As mentioned above, awakening of spiritual consciousness has an extensive range. You should set your aims and objectives according to the level you are currently at, and progress accordingly.
If you, like many people today, are stressful, you should first nurture you spirit so that you can be physically and mentally relaxed. If, for example, you are still not satisfied with your work or family life, you should first develop mental clarity and internal force to improve your work and family life.
If you plunge straight to the most advanced level and hope to be enlightened over a summer vacation in an exotic land, not only this is unreasonable and unrealistic, but also you may aggravate your personal, work or family problems instead of enriching your life and the life of other people as spiritual cultivation is meant to be.
The above extract is reproduced from “Your True Nature: Wisdom of Living Masters” by Natalie Deane and Damian Lafont.