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Although, any form of prayer is helpful, a prayer which evokes meditation and relaxation response is probably the most effective. Meditation requires:
There are four basic elements underlying the elicitation of the Relaxation Response, regardless of the cultural source. (See a more detailed treatment in our section on Meditation).
The first element is a quiet environment. One must turn off not only internal stimuli but also external distractions. A quiet room or a place of worship may be suitable. The nature mystics meditated outdoors. Most of the monasteries are located in far away desolate places. Many Hindu saints live in Himalayas and so does Buddhist monks.
The second element is an object to dwell upon. This object may be a word or sound repetition; gazing at a symbol; concentrating on a particular feeling. For example, directing one's attention to the repetition of a syllable will help clear the mind. When distracting thoughts do occur, one can return to this repetition of the syllable to help eliminate other thoughts.
The third element is a passive attitude. It is an emptying of all thoughts and distractions from one's mind. Dr. Benson, who pioneered the work on Relaxation Response suggests that a passive attitude is the most essential factor in eliciting the Relaxation Response. Thoughts, imagery, and feelings may drift into one's awareness. One should not concentrate on these perceptions but allow them to pass on. A person should not be concerned with how well he or she is doing.
The fourth element is a comfortable position. One should be in a comfortable posture that will allow an individual to remain in the same position for at least twenty minutes. Usually a sitting position is recommended. It is probable that the sitting, kneeling, squatting, swaying postures assumed in various forms of prayer have evolved to keep the practitioner from falling asleep. The desired altered state of consciousness is not sleep, but the same four elements will lead to sleep if the practitioner is lying down.
If we look at historical facts, we will see that all these elements were incorporated into the devotion practices of religious monks.
Differences in the approaches in East and the West:
In the East, meditative practices have had a more pervasive role not only in its religions but also in its cultural traditions. Carolyn Spurgeon, a professor of English literature, points out an interesting difference between Eastern and Western mysticism. "Western mysticism," she writes, "stemmed from the Greek delight in natural beauty and reached its fullest development with the teachings of Christian faith.. Enlightenment in Christianity centered upon the doctrine of Incarnation, in which the mystery of God would reveal itself in human form." Hence, Spurgeon concludes, Western mystical thought has embodied all that is human and natural, of human love and intellect and of the natural world. To Eastern thinking, however, this "humanness" obstructs spiritual ascent. The emphasis of eastern mysticism has been on pure soul-consciousness, to annihilate the flesh and deny its reality in order to reach absolute freedom.
Yoga has been a tradition in India throughout its history. Not merely a philosophy, Yoga has influenced many different practices and beliefs throughout the Indian culture. The doctrines and methods of Yoga have permeated into numerous Eastern religions and philosophies-Brahmanism, the Upanishads of Vedic literature, Hinduism, Buddhism, Tantrism, to name a few.
Shamanism is a form of mysticism practiced in North and South America, Indonesia, Africa, Siberia and Japan. Here, a chant or song intoned by a Shaman or a holy man brings on trances.
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