Eknath Easwaran * Nilgiri Press * September 13, 2016 * 296 Pages
Advanced Reader Copy provided through Amazon Vine.
Author Eknath Easwaran has written several books on meditation. He has also translated and written guides for many Indian spiritual texts, like The Bhagavad Gita and The Upanishads. Passage Meditation is a combination of both areas of study: it’s the process of meditating on “the words of inspired passages chosen from the wisdom literature of the world.” These “inspired passages” can be from any time, culture, or religion, and Easwaran is very emphatic that the person studying them doesn’t have to be of a particular religion–or even particularly religious at all–to meditate on them.
At first, I thought this book was going to be a list or explanation of Easwaran’s favorite spiritual passages, but he actually focuses more on how to meditate than what to meditate. He offers eight points for establishing a successful meditation practice:
- Meditate on a passage. He encourages his readers to begin with the Prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, but he gives other options as well. For best results, he says, meditate in the morning and in the same place every day, make sure your posture is right, don’t fall asleep, and make sure you are physically taking care of your body so that you are able to meditate comfortably.
- Repeat a mantram. The mind needs something to hold on to so it doesn’t wander. It also needs something to help calm it down. He says people sometimes make the mistake of thinking if they are just “happy” enough then they won’t get sad as much. But the mind is like a seesaw; what goes up, must come down. “If you let your mind be ruffled by what is pleasant, it is bound to be ruffled by what is unpleasant.” Saying a mantram helps keep the mind stable, so he recommends saying it when you feel upset and when you feel excited.
- Slow down. If you want to find joy in your work, in your interaction with others, in life, you have to go slowly and pay attention to what is happening around you. Easwaran’s advice is to rise early, eat slowly, arrive before you need to, work at a steady pace, build friendly and loving relations with others by practicing patience at every opportunity, learn to actually detach yourself from your work once you’ve stopped working, and choose recreational activities that actually revitalize you.
- Focus your mind. He says the mind is like horses pulling a chariot–either you are in charge of the horses or the horses are in charge of you (and will go running every which way). This is why he suggests meditating on a spiritual passage, since it gives the mind something singular and positive to latch on to.
- Train your senses. And by this Easwaran mostly means “don’t eat too much.” Much of this chapter is weirdly fixated on food, honestly, but he does finally make some good points about not being a slave to physical indulgence and stimulation. “But when we train the senses we conserve our vital energy, the very stuff of life. Patient and secure within, we do not have to look to externals for satisfaction. No matter what happens outside–whether events are for or against us, however people behave towards us, whether we get what pleases us or do not–we are in no way dependent. Then it is that we can give freely to others; then it is that we can love.”
- Put others first. Don’t be a doormat, but do whatever you can to be there for other people.
- Associate with like-minded people. You become like the people you hang out with, so make sure you spend time with those who are on a similarly healthy path.
- Read spiritual books. He recommends reading every day (even just 30 minutes) from texts of all religions.
I really enjoyed this book. It took me a while to read it, since there is so much information to process. But I definitely learned a lot. To be completely honest, I don’t think I will do much passage meditation, specifically, but I am trying to meditate more often and more regularly using a mantram. I’ve found that when I actually remember to use it, it does help calm and stabilize my (somewhat erratic…) mind.