Aren’t all forms of meditation 'transcendental?'

If by transcendental one means a practice that systematically takes attention beyond the surface, active levels of the mind to finer, deeper levels until the faintest impulse of thought is left behind and what remains is pure awareness—the state of restful alertnessthen no, all forms of meditation are not designed or intended for this specific process.
The variety of meditation practices available engage the mind in different
ways and often have diverse goals. For example, concentration or controlled focus practices are a form of mental activity quite distinct from open monitoring (mindfulness). Concentration has its own brain wave or EEG pattern, distinct from the EEG of mindfulness practices. (For more on this, please see "The Three Categories of Meditation Techniques.")

Some methods urge you to control the mind, others to let it go. Some techniques aim to help you focus, others aim toward “unfocusing.” There are practices that involve continually repeating a mantra, watching your breath, or sitting without judgment and observing your experiences—just being aware of "what is." All of these various practices have their benefits. They are forms of sustained mental activity that keep the mind engaged and usually localized—which means they tend to keep one's attention within the realm of thinking, ideas, concepts, language, sensations, and emotions.

Such practices may come from venerable traditions, but they are not necessarily designed for automatic, effortless transcending—for going beyond all mental activity and transcending even the process of meditation itself. 

Even to “sit without purpose,” as some forms of meditation urge, is a purpose in itself and can give the mind a generally active orientation intended to be sustained during meditation.

The Transcendental Meditation technique is a unique approach: the TM technique enables the mind to experience increasingly subtler, quieter states of thought—earlier, more refined stages of the thinking process—until even the faintest impulse of mental activity is transcended and the meditator experiences the silent, peaceful state of pure consciousness. This experience is described as unboundedness or the source of thought: a silent reservoir of creativity, happiness and intelligence that resides deep within everyone.

In the scientific literature, the TM technique is called "automatic self-transcending" because it effortlessly (automatically) allows the mind to settle inward and go beyond even the activity of meditation itself, in contrast to practices such as open monitoring (mindfulness) or controlled focus (concentration) designed to sustain their specific type of cognitive or meditative process.

Practices not designed for transcending have their range of positive effects. Yet none have been shown through scientific research to provide the same levels of deep relaxation, orderly brain function, or holistic benefits for mind and body found to consistently result from transcending through TM practice (please see "12 Research Findings on the TM technique").

Of course, transcending is natural and universal. We’re all hardwired for it. It’s certainly
possible for someone to transcend—to a degree or even completely—during practices other than the TM technique. However, when transcending happens it’s always due to the natural tendency of the mind and our innate ability to experience this least excited state of awareness. There’s nothing we can actively do to make ourselves transcend or get to the transcendental state, which is a state of pure Being or non-doing. This is why complete transcendence is not as readily achieved during meditation practices that involve effort or keep the mind active on the gross, surface levels.

The Transcendental Meditation technique
harnesses the mind's natural, innate tendency to transcend, allowing the process to happen automatically. It is not a practice that takes a long time to master, because it’s based on a natural ability of the nervous system that everyone already possesses. Just as we all experience waking, dreaming and sleep, our nervous systems are also designed to experience this fourth state of consciousness.

During TM practice, one experiences that it is the mind's 'nature' to settle inward and experience the state of pure awareness. Because transcending is a natural process, it's possible to transcend during any form of meditation if the right conditions are present. However, practices such as mindfulness, guided meditation, "Christian centering prayer" or common "mantra" meditation — which have their own valuable benefits — typically engage the mind within the realm of thought, sensation or emotion and are not designed for automatic self-transcending. Such practices tend to keep the mind active and do not spontaneously induce the deep, inward settling associated with transcendental consciousness.

If you'd like to learn more about the process of transcending and how TM practice is different from other forms of meditation, you're welcome to attend a free Introductory Talk, where all of these principles are explained in more depth and detail.

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