A Definition of Meditation


Ken Wilber

From the book Grace and Grit by Ken Wilber and Treya Killam Wilber, page 76. © 1991.

Reprinted by arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc., Boston, www.shambhala.com.


There are many ways to explain meditation, what it is, what it does, how it works. Meditation, it is said, is a way to evoke the relaxation response. Meditation, others say, is a way to train and strengthen awareness; a method for centering and focusing the self; a way to halt constant verbal thinking and relax the bodymind; a technique for calming the central nervous system; a way to relieve stress, bolster self-esteem, reduce anxiety, and alleviate depression.

All of those are true enough; meditation has been clinically demonstrated to do all of those things. But I would like to emphasize that meditation itself is, and always has been, a spiritual practice. Meditation, whether Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, Taoist, or Muslim, was invented as a way for the soul to venture inward, there ultimately to find a supreme identity with Godhead. "The Kingdom of Heaven is within"--and meditation, from the very beginning, has been the royal road to that Kingdom. Whatever else it does, and it does many beneficial things, meditation is first and foremost a search for the God within.

I would say meditation is spiritual, but not religious. Spiritual has to do with actual experience, not mere beliefs; with God as the Ground of Being, not a cosmic Daddy figure; with awakening to one's true Self, not praying for one's little self; with the disciplining of awareness, not preachy and churchy moralisms about drinking and smoking and sexing; with Spirit found in everyone's Heart, not anything done in this or that church. Mahatma Gandhi is spiritual; Oral Roberts is religious. Albert Einstein, Martin Luther King, Albert Schweitzer, Emerson and Thoreau, Saint Teresa of Avila, Dame Julian of Norwich, William James--spiritual. Billy Graham, Archbishop Sheen, Robert Schuller, Pat Robertson, Cardinal O'Connor--religious.

Meditation is spiritual; prayer is religious. That is, petitionary prayer, in which I ask God to give me a new car, help with my promotion, etc., is religious; it simply wishes to bolster the little ego in its wants and desires. Meditation, on the other hand, seeks to go beyond the ego altogether; it asks nothing from God, real or imagined, but rather offers itself up as a sacrifice toward a greater awareness.

Meditation, then, is not so much a part of this or that particular religion, but rather part of the universal spiritual culture of all human-kind--an effort to bring awareness to bear on all aspects of life. It is, in other words, part of what has been called the perennial philosophy.


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