If you search the Internet, you’ll find many types of meditation being offered or promoted by many different types of teachers, centres, apps, or online programs. The meditation techniques vary and so too their costs – from free to expensive. How do you know what’s authentic? If you are going to invest months or years of your life doing a meditation practice, then you’ll most likely want to ensure it is authentic.
Meditation is an ancient practice
The ancient practice of meditation began in the East thousands of years ago. It was known as ‘yoga’, or constant union with the divine Self in every breath. Swami Vivekananda travelled from India to Chicago, USA, to deliver a speech to the Parliament of World Religions in 1893. In doing so, he provided a spiritual bridge between the East and the West, and introduced us to the teachings and wisdom of his teacher, Shri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa.
Then, in 1920, Paramahamsa Yogananda came from India to Boston to spread the message of Kriya Yoga (meditation), helping people to understand the ultimate goal of life – to achieve Self-realization.
In the past one hundred years in the West, however, meditation and yoga has quickly become a business, with many people creating and even branding their own types of meditation and yogic practices. While some of these branded practices are variations from traditional ancient meditation practices, many forms of meditation are made up based on the creators’ personal likes and dislikes or experiences.
Four ancient meditation techniques
Yet, all is not lost. Despite yoga and meditation becoming a profitable business, there are a four ancient meditation practices that have maintained their tradition and authenticity.
1. Kriya Yoga (Meditation)
Kriya Yoga is a relatively quick and easy non-sectarian path to reach higher states of consciousness and change your life by developing mind, body, intellect, and awareness of the soul. Based on the science of breath, it provides a very powerful technique of meditation that greatly enhances all spiritual practice.
Kriya Yoga was practised in Vedic times in ancient India but was lost after many centuries. In 1861, the great Himalayan yogi Mahavatar Babaji reintroduced the ancient practice of Kriya Yoga to modern times through his disciple Lahiri Mahasaya. Kriya teachings have been handed down from teacher to student, year after year, century after century, through a lineage of teachers from Lahiri Mahasaya and his direct disciples.
Kriya Yoga can only be successfully practised after being initiated by a Kriya Master or one of their authorised teachers. It cannot be learned from a book or any instructions on the Internet. The initiation course is provided by donation.
There are three well-known Kriya Yoga lineages in the West:
Kriya Yoga International – the lineage is Mahavatar Babaji Maharaj, Shri Lahiri Mahasaya, Swami Shriyukteshwar Giri, Shrimat Bhupendranath Sanyal Mahasaya, Paramahamsa Yogananda, Swami Satyananda Giri, Paramahamsa Hariharananda, and Paramahamsa Prajnanananda (current spiritual leader).
Worldwide website: www.kriya.org (check for your nearest Kriya Yoga centre)
Self-Realization Fellowship – the lineage is Mahavatar Babaji Maharaj, Shri Lahiri Mahasaya, Swami Shriyukteshwar Giri, Paramahamsa Yogananda. You will need to apply for and undertake the SRF lessons before you are eligible for initiation.
Worldwide website: www.yogananda-srf.org (check for your nearest SRF Meditation location)
Ananda Sangha Worldwide – the lineage is Mahavatar Babaji Maharaj, Shri Lahiri Mahasaya, Swami Shriyukteshwar Giri, Paramahamsa Yogananda, Swami Kriyananda.
Worldwide website: www.ananda.org (check for your nearest location)
You may find other lineages of Kriya Yoga on the Internet. Read the information and assess which Kriya Master and teaching suits you. The different lineages are like branches on the same tree – they are all part of the same tree but vary to some extent.
2. Vipassana Meditation
Vipassana meditation, as taught by S.N. Goenka, was taught in India more than 2,500 years ago. Students can only learn Vipassana by attending a 10-day silent residential retreat. Participants practice the basics of the method, following a set daily schedule from early morning until evening. There are no charges for the courses – not even to cover the cost of food and accommodation. All expenses are met by donations. Vipassana meditation courses are delivered at Vipassana centres around the world. The technique is also taught in prisons in India.
Worldwide website: www.dhamma.org (check for your nearest location)
3. Insight Meditation
Insight Meditation (also known as Vipassana) refers to both Buddhist meditation practices and a largely Western form of Buddhism. It engages in the practice of ethics, mindfulness, depths of meditation, opening of the heart and wisdom teachings. A feature of Insight Meditation as a form of Buddhism is that it is either free of ritual or has minimal ritual. It draws on the practices (dharma practices) and wisdom of Theravada Buddhism, which has been practised for centuries in Thailand, Burma and Sri Lanka. Many Insight Meditation teachers have also been influenced by Zen and Tibetan Buddhism.
There are different styles of Insight Meditation. Some common threads are that they all place importance on acting in an ethical way, and they all have a focus on settling the mind, developing a level of clarity, and looking carefully at one’s experience. Aims of Insight Meditation include coming to a deep understanding of ourselves and the nature of the world, as well as developing compassion for all living beings.
Worldwide – www.insightmeditation.org (check for your nearest location)
4. Mindfulness Meditation
Buddhist teacher and meditation master Thich Nhat Hahn popularised the practice of mindfulness in the West since the early 1970s. If you search the Internet, you will find many guided meditations and mindfulness exercises by Thich Nhat Hahn. His most effective and popular meditation is mindful breathing.
Thich Nhat Hahn’s website – plumvillage.org
Choosing the right type of meditation for you
If you search the Internet, you may find other types of meditation. Read, explore, and assess the information to work out what meditation technique appeals to you.
Practice the meditation technique for a few months. You may not feel the benefits of your practice immediately. It is similar to learning any new skill, such as playing the piano or learning to sing. Be patient and persevere. With regular, daily practice, over time meditation will enhance your concentration, reduce your stress and anxiety, and help you to feel more loving and at peace.
Copyright © James Golding and Leisa Golding 2020