Preface

NOTE: This was written in 2000, at the first publication of "A Course in Meditation."
See also the Personal Note to the book version, 2007

Meditation of the kind presented in this course is easy to learn and refreshing to practice, yet it bears fruits of great variety and value. It is simple input with magnificent output.

The pairing of simple input with magnificent output belongs to two kinds of human activities. Those given by nature...and hoaxes. Although my own experience has taken me past enough points to assure me that meditation is given by nature, I do not want anyone to join me uncritically in that conclusion. If this course is your first exposure to the concept of meditationís naturalness, then I encourage you to remain skeptically open-minded as you make your first tests of that hypothesis. More than my wish for you to know your meditative nature, I wish to encourage and support your autonomous self as it searches and sifts information. The Internet age brings humans so much data and information, yet none of it bears fruit until the autonomous, sovereign mind of the individual gets directly into the act.

As a technologist, promoting and building networked information technology in public education since 1982, I feel authorized and obliged to stand among those who say, "Don’t be too enthralled with what you see and read, especially on computer networks." As a skeptic of four decades and a teacher of meditation for three, I gladly support your attempts to bring your full sovereign self to important concept formation. That sovereignty gives you rights over what you believe and the experiences you choose. Your selfhood includes an art of inner working that gives you answers to impossibly complex life questions. This might be called your intuition or common sense. As you study the material contained in this course, stay close to the ground like a good farmer. High flying ideas only have value if they make a difference in your life. Plants grow in the earth, not the sky.

The purpose of this course is to plant a plant. It is not a survey or taxonomy, nor is it much of an argument for planting the plant. I will, however, present basic facts about the long and short-term effects of meditation since it is part of the foundation of understanding needed to plant and then care for the seedling meditation. My teaching motivation aligns with that of Krishnamurti in that I would rather empower learners than teachers. If you follow the trail of this course, you will not enter a mysterious forest of shifted allegiances and mindsets. You will simply learn more about the human family, including that central character in the family, yourself.

Your aspiration to learn the art of meditation is precious and it deserves the care you would give a delicate new acquisition. Without care, the aspiration will fade away or die during an overly ambitious or reckless adventure. Learning any art from a static source, such as the printed word, requires a delicate balance of whole-hearted involvement and self-criticism. Doing this course with a partner, in a group or with a tutor/teacher will help. Having a living tutor at your side—at least for a few hours early on—can make the difference between success and failure. That is how it was for me. But a tutor cannot provide the essential ingredient in all learning: the active, animated learner. This course will require that the learner, or student, take full responsibility for learning how to meditate. Meditation, more than many subjects, requires the learner's full involvement. Learner-centered education invites individuals to wake up, grapple, question and research in order that they may more fully own what they study. Wherever that invitation is accepted, the learner enjoys a much deeper and more enduring experience.

Learning is 95% the work of the learner, or student, but the "5%" work of the teacher is critical and worth significant effort. That is why I have written such a lengthy, careful guide. You can miss the target quite easily if you do not pay attention.

Since the world of spiritual and self-development tools has grown to jungle proportions in recent years, you would not be out of line to wonder where this course comes from, who I am, what motivates me to do this work, and so forth. I am Euro-American, born in 1948 in New York State, where I have lived most of my life. My original purpose in writing this course was to assist those I tutor in the art of meditation. I have been a teacher of meditation since 1972 and have tutored about 450 people. Most of these individuals learned in standard courses in Transcendental Meditation (TM), but since 1994 I have taught a similar style I call Natural Meditation which I designed strictly around natural, rather than cultural, dictates. I studied meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of TM, and was certified by him to teach in 1972. Before that, I meditated in the Japanese tradition with a small gathering of fellow Yale students connected with Philip Kapleau’s Zen Center in Rochester, NY. I did a common Zen practice called shikan taza. In the early 1990s I studied and practiced the Christian meditation Centering Prayer, formulated by Father Thomas Keating (and others). In 1995 I joined a newly formed Japanese Tendai Buddhist community near the Berkshires in New York founded by Tendai Priest, Paul Monshin Naamon. There I practice shikan taza and various mindfulness practices including Thich Nhat Hanh’s Order of Interbeing and received my formal Dharma name, Koushun (pron. KOH-shun).

Through all of these experiences in varieties of forms, I have seen that the mechanics of meditation have a subtle sameness beneath their surface differences. They aim in different directions when their proponents preach about purposes of life and reasons for practice, but they produce a few fundamental effects that represent the inner treasure of meditation. I think of that inner effect as being like pure H2O, or spring water. This water nourishes the tissues of those that drink it. The beautiful varieties of meditation and prayer are like the varieties of beverages humanity has cultivated. Each has its place, purpose and pleasure distinct to itself.

I appreciate the influence on my thinking of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and of Zen's fierce dedication to direct knowing, which it places above all forms of culture. I also appreciate the influence on my own dedication to meditation’s humanness of the writings and work of J. Krishnamurti, Chögyam Trungpa, Dr. Herbert Benson and Father Thomas Keating. Seeing meditation as natural allows teachers and practitioners to bring it into any habitat, removing elements of culture, ritual, authority and philosophy wherever these represent obstacles.

I welcome you to this course. Plan on taking about five days to complete it. Just because it is "free" does not mean it is "easy." You will not be able to get its value by browsing it or breezing through it. If you study it and dedicate yourself to your goal, you will lead yourself directly to ownership of a priceless skill and if you adopt meditation into your daily routine you will lead yourself to a healthier, happier life.

Theodore K. Phelps
June 1, 2000
Valatie, New York