Transcendental Methods for Controlling Stress
from Back To Godhead Magazine #19-06, 1984
by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
Learning how to cope with stress in daily life is not a newly discovered gift from modern psychologists. Mental illnesses from anxiety, as well as expert cures for stress, are as old as humanity itself. The Vedic knowledge of ancient India, as taught today in the form of Krishna consciousness, goes to the very source of the problem and gives solutions not only for how to cope effectively with stress but how to remove permanently the very causes of anxiety, which prevent us from realizing our full potential of happiness and productivity.
Modern psychology’s approach is often based on the concept of a human as a biological and mental being, and doesn’t take into account the spiritual dimensions of life. The psychologists’ research and advice is, therefore, helpful only up to a certain limit. Thus they have prescribed certain favorable mental attitudes and drugs to combat anxieties that arise from inevitable human crises. But despite the successes of their techniques, psychologists know little of how to remove the root cause of stress.
Researchers at Beth Israel Hospital in Boston have even introduced meditation techniques for helping people adjust to stressful events. Apparently, a time of relaxed meditation blocks the effect of norepinephrine, an “emergency” hormone that raises the blood pressure and increases the heart rate. Health magazine (“Meditation: Medicine?” July 1982) reports:
To meditate, a person sits comfortably in a quiet environment, repeats a word, prayer, sound, or phrase, and maintains a passive attitude toward intervening thoughts. The aura of calm that meditation evokes is known as the relaxation response—characterized by a drop of blood pressure, heart rate …
As Krishna conscious devotees we are pleased to see this mention of meditation on a sound or prayer—known in Vedic language as “mantra meditation”—advised as a psychiatric healing method. (This is hardly the “brainwashing” or hypnotism as charged by the anticultists.) But we cannot make a complete endorsement of this use of mantra meditation. Certainly the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra has beneficial mental and bodily effects, as indicated by the Beth Israel research team, but if we are to get the full benefit, we should understand and practice mantra meditation with knowledge of its spiritual nature.
The original purpose of every genuine form of meditation is to tap the existential, spiritual reality, which is at the heart of human consciousness. Real relief from life’s miseries as well as relief from undue anxiety over those miseries can come only when we understand our constitutional position as eternal spirit souls. This ultimate well-being should be sought and discovered, and we should not be satisfied merely with a cover-over “medicinal” approach that does not remove the cause of anxieties.
In the transcendental epic Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna gives directions to His friend Arjuna, a warrior who is suffering in a situation of extreme stress on a battlefield. Krishna observes that Arjuna has become overwhelmed by fear and ignorance and has failed to see beyond the fear of death. Krishna therefore begins His instructions by informing Arjuna of a higher knowledge.
While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor the dead. (Bg. 2.11)
Lord Krishna then proceeds to teach Arjuna the nature of the real self, beyond the body and mind. The spirit soul, which is our real identity, is not subject to any kind of destruction that might befall the body. It is also by nature full of bliss and knowledge, and it can be realized by direct perception. Bhagavad-gita teaches the techniques of yoga and meditation for awakening us to an enlightened state in which we can remain strong even in adverse conditions.
In that joyous state, one is situated in boundless transcendental happiness, realized through transcendental senses. Established thus, one never departs from the truth, and upon gaining this, he thinks there is no greater gain. Being situated in such a position, one is never shaken, even in the midst of greatest difficulty. This indeed is actual freedom from all miseries arising from material contact. (Bg. 6.21-23)
The comprehensive transcendental science of the Bhagavad-gita—including knowledge of karma and reincarnation, techniques for doing devotional service to God even while in normal occupational situations, and directions for following the path leading to the highest liberation of love of God—are all completely relevant to life in the twentieth century. These teachings are not sentimental or imaginary, nor do they promise instant salvation without inner purification. Since the Bhagavad- gita goes so much to the depth of the human condition, we recommend it for study, not as a matter of religious faith, but for anyone interested in transcending the anxieties of daily life.
Each of us faces a battlefield encounter every day, as we are threatened by inevitable attacks from disease, old age, and ultimately death. If we have no more to rely on or depend on than the resources of our body and mind, then we are sure to suffer anxiety, since our support system is fallible and, in fact, sure to fail us. Attempts to buttress our ego or well- being by such psychological techniques as positive thinking or by the impersonal approach to meditation will also fall short. Only when we understand the strength of our position as eternal spirit souls, in relation to the Supreme Personality of Godhead and under His protection, will we be assured and confident, even as we move through the battlefields of life.
Mantra meditation, under the guidance of a spiritual master who knows its purpose, will be especially effective in this age. Former techniques of meditation are practically impossible today, because they require extreme austerities and conditions of seclusion that are neither advisable nor possible nowadays. Chanting the Hare Krishna mantra—Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare—is easy and can be done in any situation. Not only will it adjust the flow of adrenalin, regulate heart rate and the bodily metabolism, increase the alpha brain waves, and lower the blood pressure, but far more importantly, it will allow us always to see beyond the anxieties of the temporary body and mind and thus enable us to work within this world for the ultimate benefit of ourselves and others.