Book & CD Review – In The Light of Meditation by Mike George
In Short: Helpful meditation primer – yes; authentic vedantic teaching – no.
Meditation was first introduced to the West from the yogic traditions of India. Even before The Beatles courted the teachings of Indian gurus, vedic philosophy had been brought to the Europe and America by Theosophists in the mid-19th century and yogis such as Paramahamsa Yogananda promoted vedic meditational practices (in the form of Kriya yoga) to westerners in the 1920s. However, a look at most literature on meditation today will reveal a strong dominance of a Buddhist or indeed a secular approach. Especially Eastern Buddhist traditions, with their focus on mindfulness meditation, are appropriately secular minded for the western audience. The de-emphasis on metaphysical doctrines such as reincarnation and karma allowed chan / zen traditions especially to be readily digestible in the West, so when scientific data started coming in on the benefits of meditation, the appetite for self-improvement boosted mindfulness meditation in particular to the status of a “mental workout”. As more scientific data has accumulated, over the last thirty years it has become the physical, emotional, and psychological benefits of meditation practice that have become the reason to meditate. Even Buddhist journals such as Tricycle wax heavily on the neurological benefits of meditation and on secular Buddhism.
None of this is a bad thing, but it is what makes In The Light of Meditation stand out of the landscape. It teaches meditative practice from the yogic tradition of India. The secular is absent, spiritual development is central to the agenda and explicit in the teaching. The meditation taught by the book is from the Raja yoga tradition. The purpose of Raja yoga is to become aware of one’s spiritual nature and one’s connection with the divine (however one understands that for themselves), learning to recognize the divine flame within us.
So be warned – if you feel slightly allergic to chapters titled “Knowing and Understanding God”, “The Soul World”, and “Where do we go after death”, then this book will not be for you. While the book explains metaphysical concepts such as reincarnation and the workings of karma, it tries not to be necessarily religiously aligned and I don’t believe the exercises contained will necessarily contradict any other religious observances you might have. Rather than advocating offerings to any specific deity, the author has made an effort to couch the lessons with the Westerner in mind and direct the reader’s attention to the Divine, the language used sometimes even comes off as Christian.
In the Light of Meditation is designed to be a full 10-week meditation course in a book. I think this is well thought-out, since it is an appropriate amount of time to start noticing the benefits of a mind-body practice (it takes at least a month to make the relevant synaptic connections). Each chapter is an individual lesson designed to be read (and re-read) and digested over the course of the week. The meditation sessions start off gently at 10 minutes long, which is about the length that I started my meditation with, with instructional guides for you to read over before and while following them or preferably following on the supplied CD. Similar to many workbooks, additionally each chapter also has an FAQ, an encouraging personal experience testimonial, and various exercises such as visualization, ritual, or journaling prompts to help you integrate and reflect on your learning and to ground the meditating work in you life and psyche.
Something I found unique in the book was an email address provided for assistance for the beginner meditator. This address is staffed not by the author only, but by a number of experienced meditators at the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University, with which the author Mike George is associated with. While I did not “test” the email contact myself, this seems like it could be an invaluable asset for the beginner who cannot get meditation teaching in person.
Overall the production value of the book is high. It is beautifully designed, every page has the detail and charm of small illustrations or patterns, while the layout is kept streamlined and readable, not too broken up like many educational or coffee table books. Some books lend themselves well for summarizing with bullet points and notes in the margins. I am a big fan of the free public library for this reason – browsing through books, writing notes down to reflect upon later. This book is not so amenable to this approach though. The narrative nature of the writing and instructions don’t lend themselves well for quick notes to be practiced later; the design of a self-study course requires you to follow along over time. That said, for a workbook – and it is assuredly a workbook – it has an eminently readable flow and even comes with a CD with 15 tracks of commentary and guided meditation.
The book is not without its problems, however. As I mentioned above, the author is affiliated with the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University. This is not Raja yoga from a traditional lineage. The yoga practices taught are based on the teachings of Dada Lekhraj Kripalani (1876-1969), a diamond merchant turned guru who founded the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University in the 1930s. Some of the teachings of the organization definitely contradict standard vedantic teachings. Their profound misunderstanding of the yugas (vedic ‘ages’) as only 5,000 years long and each cycle repeating the last exactly, seems to be at the root of such mistakes as making specific predictions of apocalypse, predicting that Sri Krishna will incarnate onto Earth around the year 2036, or a vague skepticism of dinosaurs. After all, if history does not just repeat itself, but repeats exactly, and it is comprised of four ages 5,000 years long, how on earth does a Jurassic Period make sense? These claims are not made in the book, but they are why the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual University is on CenSAMM’s (Centre for the Critical Study of Apocalyptic and Millenarian Movements) list of Millenarian and Apocalyptic Movements. The Brahma Kumaris also have a troubling belief in revealed truth, wherein the teachings of the founder Dada Lekhraj Kripalani were the direct words of the Divine. All of these are red flags to me. On the other hand, the organization has been a very positive influence on the position of women in India, with many women in top leadership roles. And the meditation instructions in the book seem worthwhile to me.
Nonetheless, I think the book is designed well. I think ten weeks spent on this book will generally be a good way to find a spiritual focus in life and in your meditation practice as well. However, just follow it with common sense and know that not all the teachings are traditional Raja yoga. Don’t stop questioning; find that is worthwhile and discard the rest.