Alan Perry, Dhyana Centre director, writes:
“I have been teaching Joy of Meditation courses since 1991 and although both the format and the content have evolved over the years, the original focus and ethos have remained the same, along with the essential techniques. The course is currently taught as two 5 hour intensive workshops on Sundays a month apart, but I also conduct it occasionally as 2-hour evening classes.
The course has always emphasised practical spirituality over religion and philosophy and it presents meditation in terms of a ‘mental technology’, expressed in a multi-faith/non-sectarian manner palatable to the kaleidoscope of cultures that one finds in an international city like London. Meditation techniques are dependent on what you wish to gain from your practice: it is counter-productive to teach deep, transformative yogic methods to someone who simply wants basic mindfulness or relaxation; these are the opposite ends of a broad spectrum and although they may both be called ‘meditation’ in common parlance, there is an enormous gulf between the secular and spiritual elements.
Perhaps the aim of the Joy of Meditation course can best be expressed by quoting from the Bhagavad Gita: “Wherever the mind wanders, restless and diffuse in its search for satisfaction without, lead it within. Train it to rest in the Self” (Chapter 6, Verse 26: trans. Easwaran) which clearly identifies both the spiritual objective and the practical method of achieving it. Put simply, this course is very much about meditation as a yogic, spiritual discipline and would not be suitable for someone seeking only stress-management or therapy who would probably be better off studying Vipassana or simple mindfulness.
The course is firmly sourced in the Yoga-Vedanta tradition of India and offers a synthesis of Raja, Bhakti and Jnana Yogas. These are simply differing aspects of one whole which is Yoga in the highest sense of the word. Although they do it in different ways, the ultimate purpose of each ‘yoga’ is to still and in-turn the mind and this is the central theme underpinning the whole course, coupled with progressive exercises to develop the necessary mental control.
Aimed initially at beginners or those not familiar with Raja Yoga, the teaching presented in Part 1 of the course is very much that of Patanjali and his famous Yoga Sutras. This ‘eightfold system’ provides an excellent foundation on which to build one’s yogic practice, with special emphasis on breathing and chakral techniques to develop concentration and mental purity. There is also a strong devotional element in the techniques taught at this stage, including mantra and visualisation, to emphasise the necessity of “Head & Heart” working together and to encourage inner devotion. As one-pointedness develops, for those so inclined the course morphs towards Jnana Yoga and Self-enquiry, the emphasis now being on in-turning the mind towards the purely subjective. The core practice becomes Self-attention (Atma Dhyana leading to Atmanishta) rather than chakral concentration. To this are also added peripheral enhancements such as pranayama, mudras and an introduction to the kundalini.
This course owes its principal inspiration to two giants of 20th century Indian spirituality: Sri Ramana Maharshi and Sri Shivabalayogi. The former’s teaching of Self-enquiry/Atma Vichara forms the backbone of the higher levels of this course but Maharshi himself regularly warned that Self-enquiry was not for “immature minds”: he recommended meditation and devotional techniques as effective means to develop the necessary “inner strength of one-pointedness” before Self-enquiry can successfully be practised. The earlier stages of this course provide the necessary mental strengthening through Raja and Bhakti Yogas.
But it is Shivabalayogi (by whom I was initiated in the 1980’s) who provides the master key to the whole system through his wonderful ‘Jangama Dhyana’ technique taught in Part 2 of the course, which enables the meditator to withdraw his/her mind from its objective chakral focus to a purely subjective in-turned state. The mind becomes quiescent and recedes into Self-abidance. Jangama is the link between Raja and Jnana Yogas and in effect provides a yogic approach to Self-enquiry.
Although the fundamental purpose of stilling and in-turning the mind remains the same whatever the techniques practised, the course is taught in a flexible way in order to help participants find what works best for them. Some prefer the Bhakti approach and follow the path of Self-surrender, some are more inclined to Raja Yoga and stick with the chakras and kundalini; but it is fair to say that the majority of the more advanced practitioners opt for Atma Dhyana/Self-enquiry and use the Jangama technique as the best means to develop that.
This course has never been written down, despite regular requests for me to do so. It cannot be experienced from a book or a YouTube video. The techniques are passed from teacher to pupil verbally and need to be practised and experienced at the time. As Swami Vivekananda pointed out, spirituality is transmitted not taught and the class interaction is a crucial part of that process. Students cannot be expected to grasp it all in one sitting, nor do they need to; they can attend as often as they wish but once they have found what works for them, it is simply a matter of practising that and everything else then slots into place in the right way and at the right time.”