The only tyrant I accept in this world is the still voice within.

--Mahatma Gandhi
1. What is Meditation?

The first thing any meditation novice wants to know is simply, “what is meditation?” Various religions have described it in different ways.

To the Christian, meditation is prayer, and so a supplication to God or the Holy Ghost. To the Muslim it is also a form of prayer – a “submission” to the will of God. In both cases, meditation is primarily a means to curry favor with God and receive some boon. A secondary effect, not necessarily intended, is that in this supplication and surrender to a parental God-figure, the mind calms itself, the emotions become still, and a clarifying humility is achieved. Similarly, Orthodox Jews chant variations on the name of God in an attempt to understand and please him. This technique is similar to the mantra-chanting found in Eastern religions where a phrase or syllable is uttered over and over again. In this as well, the mind calms, inner peace is often obtained. Other Eastern meditators, notably Tibetan Buddhists, gaze upon complex symbols (mandalas) in order to confuse, inspire, and pacify the mind. Finally, the most austere forms of meditation endeavor only to watch the mind itself as it dances about and tries to dominate our perceptions. Zen Buddhists have perfected this form of meditation.

The principle in all these forms of meditation is that the mind must be calmed so that inner truth can shine through. And yet what is inner truth and where does it come from? Religions will have you believe that inner truth and outer truth are the same thing (Atman and Brahman in Hinduism) and that one must only look inside to find it. To that end, the rational mind must be switched off, as it is seen merely as a hindrance. The Buddhists call it “monkey mind” -- though few would claim monkeys actually possess the faculty of reason. And yet, this misnomer hints at something far more plausible.

Monkeys, while famous for their intelligence when compared with other animals, are just as distinctive for their impulsive, childish behavior – greed, rage, selfishness, arrogance. Many of our worst human qualities are evident in the average monkey’s daily behavior. It is likely that if not for the power of reason and the mind, we’d all act the same as they do. Thus, it is not the rational mind that is “monkey-like,” it is our childish, malformed emotions – our desires and egotisms. Our inability to think long-term. Our need to see ourselves always in the center. And our need to always have all the answers and be right about it. To be “Passionate. And right. And passionate about being right,” as fictional TV psychiatrist Frasier Crane puts it.

Exaltation of these egotisms is a distinctly American phenomenon, though humans everywhere suffer from their surrender to emotion, buffeted about as if on the surface of the sea. Yet popular culture informs us that emotions must be let out: If you push down here, it will explode eventually somewhere over there. Surely, the repression of emotions can lead to severe complexes, as Freud discovered. But meditation doesn’t aim to repress emotions, only to understand them and to help them to mature, the way a child is nurtured and educated and led to comprehend the benefit of transcending the ego’s immediate wants. And in doing so, the rational mind is allowed to move unhindered through the brush and see more clearly the path beneath its feet.

Consequently, the Temple of Earth definition of meditation is somewhat different from that found in most other schools of thought, and it is simply this: Meditation is the technique of cleansing the rational mind from irrational influences. Some of these influences are: emotional, social, historical (both cultural and personal histories), interpersonal, egotistical, or simply fear of the unknown (existential). There may be many more. Everyone has their own “demons” and must take steps to exorcise them. Luckily, meditation has proved a very effective all-purpose cleanser!

Next: How do we meditate?

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