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Passage Meditation

Passage Meditation is a book by Eknath Easwaran, originally published in 1978 with the title Meditation. The book describes a meditation program, also now commonly referred to as Passage Meditation. Easwaran developed this method of meditation in the 1960s, and first taught it systematically at the University of California, Berkeley.

The program is an eight-point program intended for the “spiritual growth” of the practitioner. The first step in the program involves meditating on a text passage, and since the 1990s the method as a whole has come to be known as “Passage Meditation” (not Easwaran’s term). The book has been frequently reprinted and translated into 14 languages. It is reported that more than 200,000 copies were sold in the period of 1978 to 2001.

The first edition of the book had the full title Meditation; commonsense directions for an uncommon life (1978). A second edition in 1991 was subtitled a simple eight-point program for translating spiritual ideals into daily life, and a third, revised edition of the book was published posthumously as Passage Meditation; Bringing the Deep Wisdom of the Heart Into Daily Life (2008).

A fourth, revised edition was published as Passage Meditation – A Complete Spiritual Practice: Train Your Mind and Find a Life that Fulfills (2016). The fourth edition included a new part, not contained in earlier editions, with approximately 80 pages of “Questions and Answers” to numerous questions about meditation (pp. 182–264).

Why Meditate on a Passage?

It takes some effort to choose and memorize a passage – so what are the benefits?

1. It’s a very effective way to improve your concentration

Going through the words of the passage silently in your mind makes you very aware of when you’re concentrating, and when you’re distracted. And when you’re distracted (as is normal for all of us!) you know what to do – you gently bring your attention back to the words of the passage.

By bringing your mind back like this, over and over, you’re training your attention to go where you choose. Over time, as concentration improves, you’ll have fewer distractions. Your mind is coming under your control.

This improved concentration will help you not only during meditation but also throughout the day – when you’re studying, working, or with friends or family. 

2. You Become What You Meditate On

We’re influenced by whatever we focus on. If you meditate on passages that are full of positive, uplifting words and high ideals, they’ll influence your thoughts and actions during the day. And since you choose the passages that convey the qualities that you’re seeking, over time those passages will help you to become the kind of person that you want to be. In short, life gets better – for you and those around you.

How to Meditate

In this form of meditation, you concentrate on the words of an inspirational text or passage from one of the great wisdom traditions. Eknath Easwaran developed this method, and the instructions are straightforward.

You start by choosing an inspirational passage and memorizing it. The passage for meditation should be positive, practical and uplifting, and there are lots of passages you can choose from. Some are short, others longer, and they’re from all different traditions. 

  • Sit in a chair, or on a cushion on the floor.
  • Sit upright and close your eyes.
  • Go through the words of your memorized passage slowly and silently in the mind.
  • Do your best to concentrate on the passage – when distractions come, just bring your mind back to the words.
  • At the end of the passage, go back to the beginning, or start a new one.
  • Do this for 30 minutes every morning.

In our 10-minute online workshop, you can try passage meditation for five minutes without memorizing a passage first, so you can get a taste of the benefits. If you’re new to meditation, we invite you to try this workshop!

Where Does Passage Meditation Come From?

There’s a deep and unbroken tradition of memorization, recitation, and focus on spiritual passages in all the great world religions. 

Eknath Easwaran adapted and systematized this practice for people living in our modern age. He developed an effective, interior practice that anyone can learn and apply, simply by memorizing and silently repeating the words of a passage. It’s a universal practice, drawing on texts from many great wisdom traditions, from different centuries, and from different parts of the world – yet with common themes and timeless truths.

Make the Most of Your Meditation 

Meditation is the first point and the foundation of the eight-point program. The eight points together form a complete spiritual practice for daily living, so you can benefit from your practice wherever you are, at any time. 

Easwaran’s eight-point program includes seven other practices for training your mind and living at your best:

  1. Meditation on a passage
  2. Repetition of the man tram
  3. Slowing down
  4. One-pointed attention
  5. Training the senses
  6. Putting others first
  7. Spiritual fellowship
  8. Spiritual reading

Make the Practice Your Own 

There are many ways you can shape the practice to fit your own life and path. You can choose your goal and progress at your own pace. Here are some suggested resources and ideas.

  • Explore passages for meditation – there are over 150 for you to choose from.
  • Take part in online programs and in-person retreats. Our introductory online webinars are free, and our in-person retreats have a sliding scale and scholarships.
  • Read more from Easwaran on passage meditation and practical spiritual living.
  • Join our community of passage mediators. Find a group near you, and/or an online community.

4 reasons why Passage Meditation is good for the soul

First, you start by choosing a piece of inspirational or spiritual text that you connect with. This should be something positive and uplifting. It can be long or short, but you’ll need to be able to memorize it so choose wisely. Then find a comfortable and quiet place to sit. Close your eyes and start to slowly recite the passage in your head. Focus on every word that you say to yourself and if you find yourself getting distracted, catch yourself and immerse yourself in the words once again. Repeat the passage as many times as you like and really absorb it’s meaning into your mind and body. If you haven’t tried it before you should! And here are four reasons why.

Whether it’s 5 minutes or an hour, taking some time out is great for self-care. Put down your phone, put away your laptop and just spend a few minutes, or a little bit longer, focusing on a passage that inspires and resonates with you. Switch off from the busy world and focus on you, your breathing and slowing your mind.

2. It lowers stress

A 2006 Harvard study actually found that Passage Meditation reduced stress and improved the mental health of health professionals including doctors and nurses. It also found that it enhanced their ability to deal with difficult situations and their ability to control upsetting emotions. This came from the test participants doing just 2 hours of Passage Meditation each week. All of this from just repeating a passage in your head? Sounds good to me!

3. We become what we meditate on

Since we choose the passage that we’re meditating on, we already have a connection with the words and ideas they express. As Easwaran said himself, “slow, sustained concentration on these passages drives them deep into our minds. And whatever we drive deep into consciousness, that we become.” It’s similar to what Buddha says as well, “all that we are is the result of what we have thought”. So pick a passage that relates to what you want to achieve. It could be related to breaking a bad habit, inviting new relationships, succeeding at a task or just being more positive.

4. It can improve memory and concentration

Another study found that while Passage Meditation is great for your mental well-being, it could also boost your memory and concentration skills. Spending time just focusing on the single task of repeating a passage and every word it contains improves your concentration. After a little bit of practice you’ll find it easier to focus on every day tasks without getting distracted. Your memory will also benefit as remembering and reciting a new passage causes your short-term memory to be put to work.

So if you’ve tried meditation before but couldn’t switch off and let your mind be silent then maybe Passage Meditation is more your style. Start off with just a few minutes a day and a short passage and then gradually build into longer sessions with more complex passages. See how it goes! You’ll be feeling relaxed and rejuvenated in no time.

Try Passage Meditation with Spiritual Texts

As taught by the late Eknath Easwaran, passage meditation offers us the chance to let spiritual texts deeply penetrate our being.

Mystics often compare the mind to a lake. In most of us, the surface of this lake is so agitated that we can’t see the beauty and resources that lie below, waiting to be tapped. Yoga, as Patanjali defines it, is nothing more or less than stilling the mind, so we can see that longed-for beauty and let our life be flooded with those largely unsuspected resources.

Most of the time-honored methods that sages have devised to achieve this tremendous state seem to fall into two categories: those that allow the mind to quiet down by not giving it attention and those that aim to channel the mind’s attention into a single focus. This focus helps us withdraw our attention from, and finally subdue, the endless stream of mostly random thought-making that is the mind. Some methods advocate using an external object, like a candle, or using the breath, or using something more internal. The most common internal device has always been a mantra—a charged word or short formula that you silently repeat, concentrating on it more and more deeply at the expense of those pesky thought waves.ADVERTISEMENT

There is, however, an alternative method. It’s called passage meditation, and it was introduced in this country in 1959 by Eknath Easwaran. (For more on Easwaran, see Luminaries) In passage meditation, the object of attention is not an image or an external object but an inspirational passage chosen from any of the world’s great spiritual traditions and memorized ahead of time. One great passage to start off with is the Prayer of St. Francis.

To use this method, try to establish your practice in the morning, before fascinating activities like breakfast or reading e-mail have taken over. Sit in a comfortable position, with your back, neck, and head gently erect in an anatomically straight line. Then close your eyes, breathe deeply and softly, and begin silently reciting the words of the passage in your mind, as slowly as you can without losing their meaning.

You want to let each inspiring word “drop like a jewel into the depths of your consciousness,” as Easwaran’s oft-repeated phrase instructs. There is no need to think about the meaning of the words. When you’re giving them your full attention, their meaning can’t help but sink in, leading to all kinds of positive developments. As we assimilate the inspired words, we find ourselves being spontaneously kind, for example; we find that addictions and unwanted behaviors of all kinds drop away as we come to resemble more and more the ideals that the passage we’ve chosen holds out to us.

For this to happen—and this is really the core of the technique—do not follow any associations that may come up, even apparently “pious” ones. When any such distraction arises, you can do one of two things about it, depending on how long it has taken you to realize you’re not on the passage. In the case of the odd distraction, the stray thought, simply bring your attention back to the words of the passage. Don’t get annoyed with your mind or take note of the distraction in any way; rather, refocus your attention on the passage. But the mind is tricky, and sometimes a distraction will take over and go on its merry way for minutes on end before we realize what’s up. At this point, we should “pick up the mind gently,” as Easwaran often said (getting angry at it will only be a second distraction), and bring it right back to the beginning of the passage. Boring? Exactly, but that’s partly the point. You are serving notice to the mind that you are in charge—that for a half hour, at least, it is going to learn to obey you for a change or risk what it hates most: being bored.

We Become What We Meditate On

The appeal of this technique is the absorption in beautiful, inspiring words that express the highest ideals of the world’s great spiritual figures. Since we choose the passages ourselves, the ideals they express are ones that appeal to us. Some people relate better to the unadorned truths of Buddhism, others to the rich rhetoric of love in the writings of, say, Rumi or Teresa of Ávila. Choose whatever is most meaningful to you; your tastes will probably broaden anyway as your practice continues. (In fact, if you stick with the same passage too long, you’ll find that it becomes stale and that its words lose their evocative power. It’s a good idea to be on the lookout for new passages to add to your practice before that happens.)

Along with immersing ourselves in positive content, we are slowing down the mind as much as possible without losing our focus; as many ancient texts say, this can have infinite results. As Easwaran put it in his collection of inspirational passages, titled God Makes the Rivers to Flow (Nilgiri, 2003), “Slow, sustained concentration on these passages drives them deep into our minds. And whatever we drive deep into consciousness, that we become.” Or as the Buddha says, “All that we are is the result of what we have thought.”

Practiced regularly, passage meditation can gradually bring us complete mastery of our thought processes—which, as the Buddha reminds us, means mastery of our lives. It is a powerful, welcome tool for breaking unwanted habits, resolving tangled relationships and entering wonderful new ones, realizing our maximum effectiveness at whatever we do, and sensing a deep purpose in our lives.

Of course, no form of meditation works very well all by itself. If we jump up from our cushion and run out into the same-old same-old, not only will we erase the effects of meditation, but we could end up throwing our lives out of balance. For this reason, passage meditation is combined with seven other practices in Easwaran’s Eight Point Program. These practices are: using a mantra of our choice as often as possible during the rest of the day; slowing down (avoiding hurrying, allowing enough time for meals, and generally simplifying life); training our attention (refraining from “multitasking,” giving our full attention to whatever we’re doing); training the senses (choosing carefully what we eat, read, watch, and listen to); developing an innate concern for other people’s welfare; cultivating spiritual companionship (spending time with those whose company promotes our growth); and reading spiritual (sacred and inspirational) literature every day. Practicing these do’s and don’ts reinforces our progress in passage meditation throughout the day.

Passage meditation is a classic technique with similarities to the Christian lectio divina (sacred reading) and many other spiritual traditions. Mystics from Isaac of Syria to Simone Weil have described their struggle not merely to inwardly recite a scriptural passage but to do so with unbroken concentration; Isaac even relates going back to the beginning when he’s drifted too far off. Patanjali admonishes us to still the mind; the Bhagavad Gita goes further by telling us, through Arjuna, to “bring your mind back every time it wanders away.” Easwaran simply adds a practical definition of back (namely, to the passage) and away, meaning to anything else. (In our secular age, the psychologist, philosopher, and author William James said this faculty of voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention over and over again is “the very root of judgment, character, and will.”)

Interestingly, passage meditation seems to be stumbled upon less often in the East than in the West, where it often appears as a special type or goal of prayer. The reason may be that we in the West are so intellectually oriented (as Easwaran once said, “You people are very word-conscious”) and not very devotional—at least before we’ve made some progress in meditation.

On the other hand, Easwaran also said that we Westerners have a determination that even the most devotional Indian might envy. In any case, the combination of devotion and determination—which is what passage meditation aims to eventually produce—is powerfully healing. And the world has never needed it more.

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