Zen and Meditation Highlights From Around the World
Bill Porter is an American author who translates and interprets Chinese texts, including poetry and sutras, of mainly Buddhist and Taoist persuasion under the pen name Red Pine (赤松). Zen centers and universities all over the United States include his book Road to Heaven: Encounters with Hermits in their recommended readings. Edward A. Burger was inspired by Porter’s book to seek out and study with Buddhist hermits in the Zhongnan mountains of China, going on to direct a documentary film about their lives entitled Amongst White Clouds. In the spring of 2006, Bill Porter journeyed through the heart of China, from Beijing to Hong Kong, on a pilgrimage to sites connected with the first six patriarchs of Zen. In his subsequent book, Zen Baggage: A Pilgrimage to China, he takes readers to places largely unknown to Westerners using an intriguing mixture of historical background, interviews and translations of the earliest known records of Zen, together with personal anecdotes.
Tourists come to Zanzibar for its breathtaking white beaches and historic buildings in Stone Town. But something else also makes a trip to the Tanzanian island: heroin trafficked across the Indian Ocean from Asia. Scant treatment options are available, but some recovering addicts are making inroads. “Sober House” is an innovative program that views addiction as a disease, not a crime. Sober House residents determined to overcome major addiction, often to heroin, can partake in classes on anger management, self-esteem and signs of relapse.
The program is based on the 12 Steps, but it also integrates art therapy, yoga and acupuncture. According to founder Suleiman Mauly, meditation is a cornerstone. “This helps recovering addicts to get rid of resentment. They identify situations which can cause them to relapse,” said Mauly.
Indian-born American physician Deepak Chopra is a holistic health/New Age guru, arguably the most famous of America’s alternative medicine practitioners. Formerly the Chief of Staff at New England Memorial Hospital, Chopra has taught at the medical school of Harvard University. A 1985 meeting with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi initiated Chopra’s study of Ayurveda. In 1996, Chopra and neurologist David Simon founded the Chopra Center for Wellbeing, which counts Ayurveda among its wellness disciplines. In 2009 he created the Chopra Foundation to further mind-body spiritual healing, education and research. Dr. Chopra is a prolific author of over 55 books on mind-body health, quantum healing, spirituality and peace, 14 of which have become bestsellers. Known the world over, he is a global powerhouse in the field of empowered living, his books reaching people in more than 35 languages.
In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dr. Judson Brewer, medical director of the Yale Therapeutic Neuroscience Clinic, reported diminished activity in an area of the brain called the default mode network, a region that is usually ticking when the mind wanders, in experienced meditators. Even when they weren’t meditating, this region of their brain was much quieter than that of people not well-versed in meditative practice.
Brewer, who has been a meditator for 15 years, said regular meditation also seems to augment the way the brain communicates with itself. When the default mode networks of the experienced meditators were in play, so were brain regions responsible for self-monitoring and cognitive control. The implications of this are vast. A fixation on one’s own, particularly negative, thoughts is a psychological commonality among many forms of mental illness – anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and schizophrenia. “One of the things that meditation and basic mindfulness seem to be doing is quieting down this region of the brain,” Brewer said. He went on to suggest that there may be a neurological basis for the perks that many meditators report, which include heightened awareness, sharper concentration and an improved ability to cope with the cognitive and emotional stresses of a hectic world.
On April 4, 2009, Sir Paul McCartney headlined “Change Begins Within,” a historic, one-night-only benefit concert promoting Transcendental Meditation on behalf of the David Lynch Foundation. Held at Radio City Music Hall in New York, McCartney was joined on stage by his former band-mate Ringo Starr and several other talented musicians, including Donovan, Sheryl Crow and Moby. Called “the musical event of a lifetime” by multiple press reports, the concert was taken in by 6,000 music and meditation fans. Prior to the show, David Lynch sat down, individually, with Paul and with Ringo for an introspective on-camera chat. Both former Beatles openly discussed, for the first time in decades, their 40-plus-year Transcendental Meditation practice, their meetings with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, and how Maharishi and meditation have impacted their lives.
Ven. Seelawimala Nayaka Thera made spiritual guidance available to 500 athletes in Olympic Village at Olympic Park, having undergone an intensive screening process before being appointed the Buddhist chaplain for the Games. Not everyone who visited the shrine is Buddhist, though many athletes hailed from traditionally Buddhist countries across Asia and were thus happy to find familiar sanctuary. Ven. Seelawimala Nayaka Thera welcomed all, discussing problems and suggesting meditation as a means of achieving relaxation and balance. In conversation with the BBC during the Games, he said, “As they are under immense pressure, sometimes they are stressed due to their competitions, so following meditation technique, I do a chanting to confer blessings to them. My aim is to give them strength in their search of Olympic medals.” Ven. Seelawimala Nayaka Thera is the incumbent Head Priest of the London Buddhist Vihara and the current Chief Sangha Nayaka of Great Britain.
On August 24, 1967, The Beatles met the founder of Transcendental Meditation, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, at a lecture in London. The next day, they traveled by train to North Wales for a 10-day conference on Transcendental Meditation. The Beatles stayed in simple dormitories at Bangor University that were a dramatic departure from the luxurious accommodations they were accustomed to. An introductory seminar was given by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi on the first full day, attended by about 300 people. During a press conference held afterward, The Beatles renounced drug use. Their experience in Bangor, though abbreviated by the death of their manager, Brian Epstein, was deeply treasured by them. George Harrison’s interest in the Transcendental Meditation program continued throughout his life, and in 1992 he performed at a benefit concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall in support of Maharishi’s efforts to elevate the consciousness of society.