During the period of Lent, Christians from many difDferent denominations focus intensely on their spiritual selves through a variety of devotions and disciplines.
From fasting to good works to prayer, Lent is a period for people to step back from the busyness of life and reflect on the religious or spiritual paths they are called on to undertake.
Knox United Church in downtown Calgary on Sunday is hosting a Tibetan Singing Bowls event which, through sound and light, helps people adopt a more meditative experience throughout this Lenten period.
This is the second time Knox has hosted John Akim Gosaw, says Rev. Drew Strickland.
“It was an overwhelming response last year,” he says.
Many people resonated with the meditative sound and light experience.
“We’re heading into the spring. Lent in the Christian traditions is about the lengthening of days,” adds Strickland. “There’s a lot of people who are moving in the meditative direction either doing meditation, mindful meditation or yoga of various types. John is someone who came to my attention, probably about five years ago, because . . . he has sound sessions for therapy.
“The sound of the Tibetan bowls historically and today touches people and touches deep areas of their unconsciousness and it tends to bring people into the state of real peace where they are decluttered. And their inner interior decluttering opens them for healing to take place in their lives.”
The Tibetan Singing Bowls with John Akim Gosaw takes place Sunday at 7: 30 p.m. at Knox United Church, 506 4th St. S.W. For more information and tickets contact www.knoxcentre.ca or 403-266-6450.
Strickland says the evening will move people into a reflective state of awareness. It’s an opportunity to go deeper in the understanding and practice of meditation and prayer.
According to the website promoting this event, Gosaw, at age 15, was initiated into the nada or sound. He discovered the Tibetan Singing Bowls after a near-death experience at age 25. “True healing and insight touched him from the sounds and vibration from these ancient instruments.”
Strickland says the Lenten time of the year is a time of preparation for the great celebration of Easter and traditionally that has included the spiritual practice of fasting.
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By Michael J. Altman
A Methodist church near my house advertises for “Gentle Yoga Classes” on one of those church signs usually reserved for witty and redemptive one-liners like “Jesus: Your Get Out of Hell Free Card.” Meanwhile, a local pizza place lists a “Kosmic Karma” pie on its menu. Indian spiritual language has crept into American vernacular culture. But where did it come from? Is there some connection between karmic pizza and yoga in church?
In American Veda, Philip Goldberg tells the story of a new American tradition, derived from both the practices of yoga, and the philosophy of Vedanta. He names this “Vedanta-yoga,” as distinguished from other aspects of Hindu religious culture (such as the worship of multi-limbed deities) that might be less meaningful for Americans.
For Goldberg, it all adds up to the slow “Vedicization” of American spirituality. By this he means that Americans have become more comfortable with a view of the world ultimately found in the ancient literature of India—the Vedas, the Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita. First, there is the idea that the self and the ground of Being (or the Divine, God, Brahman, Consciousness, etc.) are one. The full realization of this truth leads to liberation and the cessation of suffering. Second, there are a number of paths toward this realization and no single path works for everyone. Third, it follows then that, at bottom, all religious and spiritual traditions, while looking different, share the same goal of divine realization. Vedanta-Yoga is thus a monist, pluralist, and perennialist tradition of American spirituality built from Indian religious sources.
Two Hundred Years of American Vedanta
In the nineteenth century the first wave of Vedic thought broke on American shores. Transcendentalists, including Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson, read the Bhagavad Gita and found in it a spiritual solution to the materialism of early American industrialism. Helena Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott turned to Vedic sources and combined them with Western esoteric and occult traditions to produce Theosophy. Goldberg also finds Vedic influences in the 19th-century births of Christian Science and New Thought movements.
The nineteenth century was capped off with the 1893 arrival of Swami Vivekananda, a Hindu monk and disciple of the Bengali guru Ramakrishna, to the World’s Parliament of Religions in Chicago where he spoke to a crowd of liberal Protestants about the basics of Vedanta philosophy. Vivekananda stuck around and established the Vedanta Societies that are still with us today. Vivekananda offered a flesh and blood example of the Vedic philosophy Americans had found in ancient Indian texts throughout the century.
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Christians stand on mats at a church hall, stretching their arms to the heavens and bending to their toes. They lay their palms on the floor, the soles of their feet perfectly flat. Chants spill from a stereo.
It looks as though the group is doing a yoga pose called Downward Dog – but it isn’t. Group members, who meet weekly in Roanoke, bend into postures they call the Tallit, not the Big Toe, and the Dove, not the Pigeon.
They are participating in a program called PraiseMoves, not yoga.
The name changes are a subtle indicator of the sometimes tenuous relationship between the Eastern discipline of yoga and Western religions. While many Christians have practiced yoga for years, some Christian leaders have denounced it as pagan and demonic.
“Everybody has their own path that they have in terms of their spiritual journey, and my point of view is that I would want everybody’s path to eventually merge into the Christian path,” said Nancy Harvey, who leads the PraiseMoves group at Huntington Court United Methodist Church in Roanoke. “But it’s not my judgment to make one way or the other.”
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Kundalini Yoga is a very misunderstood phenomenon especially among Christians. However, one of the best websites for learning about Kundalini, InnerExplorations.com, is run by a Catholic couple and features articles on the Kundalini “process” by Christians who have experienced it first-hand.
Here is a taste…
Should a person desire the activation of kundalini energy? It would be a mistake to read the following account of kundalini experience and the philosophical reflections about it, and imagine that this question must be answered in the affirmative.
The story of a man who underwent a full-scale kundalini awakening illustrates this. He grew up as a Catholic, went to Catholic schools for his higher education, thought about becoming a priest, and eventually became a lawyer. He lost touch with his Catholic faith and experimented with various spiritual traditions, the last of which had some teachings about chakras. Rather quickly he began to experience various phenomena associated with the activation of kundalini energy: movements of energy around the body, tingling and pressure in the head, the opening of the “third eye,” etc., all phenomena that could be documented in one fashion or another in the kundalini literature either ancient or modern.
But these kundalini phenomena began to act strangely. The energies took the form of invisible hands that touched him, and amorphous animals that would attach themselves to him and bite him or lick his face. At first he accepted these things as part of some sort of spiritual journey, but he eventually became concerned about them and sought psychiatric help. But this was no psychosis in the ordinary sense of the term. Rather, what appears to have happened is that this powerful kundalini awakening activated the psychological unconscious, which produced a whole halo of images and experiences. It clothed itself in the contents of the unconscious, and so created a highly visible and tangible kundalini drama. But the activation of the unconscious was so strong that it began to flood the ego in a manner akin, but not the same, to what happens in psychosis.
Finally, rather battered, he began to emerge from these experiences, regain his ordinary life, and reconnect with his spiritual roots, and tried to live a life in relationship to Mystery. He writes: “I mostly just want to live a natural, engaged, moderate life and to relate to Him. I am a human being. That’s all.” In this regard he composed the following haiku:
“My heart beats, not I,
and as new centers throb, why
grasp or meddle now?”
And he comments: “If there is one thing I’ve learned, it is that “experiences” only serve to show that reductionistic scientism is incorrect. If they have any other purpose (and they well may), I don’t know what that is, and I don’t care to speculate. My profound intuition is that life itself – all the events of our lives, especially the small and ordinary – is ultimately the best, most growth-enhancing “experience”.”
Kundalini may well, indeed, be an inner movement towards enlightenment, but this does not mean we should seek it in a highly visible and dramatic form. This kind of search for “experiences” can be dangerous to both our psychological and spiritual health.
InnerExplorations.com has a number of articles on the Kundalini experience — some positive, some more cautious. None has the “it’s all devil worship” tone typical of evangelical and fundamentalist sites. Here are a few articles:
I’ve been meditating since I was 17 years old. That’s when I was initiated into, or simply taught, the Transcendental Meditation technique popularized by the Maharishi Mehesh Yogi. I am now 50 and have been meditating more than 30 years — although you would never know it from my excitable Irish personality.
It was the early 1970s and TM was everywhere. I was then and remain to this day fascinated by Eastern religion and mysticism although I was then and remain now a devout Catholic. Then, as now, I thought the churches were doing a poor job communicating their own mystical heritage and was impressed by the systematic, step-by-step character of eastern meditation in general and TM in particular.
I went to the introductory meeting and was “sold.” I drove out to a modest house in a suburb and went through the whole initiation ceremony with the bestowal of my secret “mantra.” I must admit, the smell of flowery incense and the chanting (in Sanscrit) to images of the Maharishi’s own teachers made me uneasy… but the teacher, like all TM teachers, was dressed like an accountant and went out of his way to stress that TM was a mental and physical technique that has nothing to do, in essence, with Hinduism.
I’ve always remained grateful to TM for getting me started as a meditator… and was sad when the Maharishi finally died recently. I would still say that the TM technique is as good as any other for a beginning meditator.
For one thing, I like the stress they put on REGULAR daily meditation — twice a day, in the morning and afternoon, for 20 minutes.
The second thing I like, and this is due to TM’s yogic roots, is the stress that TM people put on the physiological nature of meditation — how it is fundamentally “deep rest,” deeper than sleep, that allows your body to release accumulated stress and your mind to literally expand as a result. Perhaps it grew out of the Maharishi’s background in science… but that is an emphasis I’ve never really encountered in my instruction by more esoteric Buddhist meditation teachers, such as the Tibetans.
In many ways, TM is very simple and to the point. The Maharishi deserves a lot of credit for demystifying meditation and making it something very accessible. Sit for 20 minutes. Repeat your mantra. When thoughts intrude, notice then and return to your mantra. If you fall asleep, that’s great. It means you needed a nap!
I was a bit disappointed to find out, years later, that my super-secret mantra — allegedly chosen just for me according to rigorous criteria that made the use of just “any” mantra something horrible — was mechanistically assigned to me according to my age. You can look up lists of TM mantras on the Internet these days and, yes, there was my mantra according to what my age was then.
I still meditate twice a day. More often that not, I still use a mantra — although these days I am just as likely to pray the Jesus Prayer or Maran (Lord) atha (come!) as I am a Sanscrit syllable. And when I fall asleep when meditating, as I sometimes do, I’m delighted. I guess it meant I needed a nap!