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Copyright 2001 Realization.org.



Meditation: Classic and Contemporary Perspectives

Edited by Deane H. Shapiro, Jr., and Roger N. Walsh




Hardcover, 722 pages
Aldine Publishing Co.
1984 (out of print)
ISBN 0-202-25136-5



FOR THE FIRST TWO-THIRDS of the twentieth century, yoga and meditation were almost completely ignored by university researchers, despite the fact that these activities pose questions of obvious interest for numerous academic disciplines including psychology, psychiatry, physiology, religion, and anthropology.

This changed very suddenly in the late sixties. Almost overnight, a torrent of research papers began to appear on these topics in respected peer-reviewed journals. By the end of the 1970s, more than one thousand had been published.1

    1. Based on a count of entries in the bibliography of the volume under review.

The main cause of this dramatic change was, of course, the sixties counterculture. This was the decade when psychedelic drugs including LSD and mescaline became a fad, provoking widespread interest in altered states of consciousness,2 which in turn stimulated experimentation with yoga and meditation. The whole dynamic was neatly embodied in the spiritual odyssey of the Beatles, the most popular rock stars of the day, who, after using LSD for several years, went to India as disciples of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, the founder of Transcendental Meditation.

  2. The phrase "altered state of consciousness" was apparently invented during this period. See Arnold M. Ludwig, "Altered States of Consciousness," reprinted in the anthology of the same name edited by Charles T. Tart.

The surging interest in meditation extended beyond the popular culture into classrooms and laboratories. As researchers published papers about meditation, universities offered courses about it and students signed up for them. By 1984 this virtuous cycle was sufficiently mature to lure Aldine, a publisher of textbooks, into releasing a fat anthology of the best papers published on the subject so far.

The editors were Deane H. Shapiro, Jr., a clinical psychologist, and Roger N. Walsh, a psychiatrist. Both were (and are) faculty members at the University of California.

The book contains sixty papers, most of them reprinted but some published there for the first time, plus an epilogue by the editors and a bibliography with over a thousand citations.

The papers represent a very broad range of methodologies. Some of them are pure hard science; others are discussions of ancient texts. Some are theoretical; others empirical. Some invent new conceptual frameworks; others elucidate ancient ones.

Approximately two-thirds of the papers fall into the categories of psychology or physiology. Some representative titles:

"Meditation in the Treatment of Psychiatric Illness."

"A Rorschach Study of the Stages of Mindfulness Meditation."

"Autonomic Stability and Transcendental Meditation."

"Spectral Analysis of the EEG in Meditation."

The rest of the volume covers a variety of topics whose diversity defies summarization. I'll mention a couple of papers that were particularly interesting to me.

One of the papers contains the clearest description and analysis I have ever seen of Mahamudra, an important form of Tibetan yoga. The paper, "Tibetan Yoga: A Model for the Levels of Concentrative Meditation," by Daniel P. Brown, attempts to construct a "cartography" or map for the stages through which a student moves.

An equally ambitious attempt to construct a cartography of meditative states is contained in "The Buddha on Meditation and State of Consciousness" by Daniel J. Goleman. (This paper was later incorporated in Goleman's well-known book The Varieties of Meditative Experience, also published as The Meditative Mind.) Goleman bases his map coordinates on a careful reading of the Vissudhimagga, a classical Theravada text.

Some of the book's most interesting papers are contained in a section on electroencephalography (EEG), the measurement of electrical signals from the head. Several classic papers on the alpha-blocking question are included, which present evidence that yogic (concentrative) meditation has different effects than Zen (insight) meditation.

I recommend this volume very highly for readers with an academic or intellectual interest in meditation. In fact, for such readers, I think the book is indispensable. Unfortunately, it's out of print, but you can probably find a copy on the Advanced Book Exchange. I bought a pristine copy there for $50.

Copyright 2000 Elena Gutierrez

Elena Gutierrez writes frequently for this website.



Advanced Book Exchange
The largest network of used-book dealers on the Internet.


By Charles T. Tart

This is the book that popularized the phrase "altered states of consciousness." This classic anthology of research papers, first published in 1969 and now in its third edition (1990), was instrumental in making the study of altered states like hypnosis, dreaming, meditation, and drug-induced states respectable. It brings together many ground-breaking papers on biofeedback and meditation, including articles about EEG analysis of experienced meditators while they are meditating. ORDER IT


The Varieties of Meditative Experience
By Daniel Goleman

If you're looking for an overview of the main meditation systems, something that will help you navigate the bewildering thicket of competing traditions and religions, this is probably the best book in English. Goleman first explains the classical Theravada system, then contrasts and compares it to others, and finally attempts to show what they all have in common by means of the useful categories of concentration and mindfulness. The book also contains a long section on Buddhist psychology and a few other odds and ends. Goleman has considerable personal experience with meditation and it shows. Read more about it here on Amazon.com.. ORDER IT


This page was published on November 27, 2000 and last revised on November 28, 2000.

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