This interview was first published in The Crazy Wisdom Calendar, a publication emanating from Crazy Wisdom Bookstore and Tea Room, in downtown Ann Arbor. Copyright © 2001 by Crazy Wisdom, Inc. Crazy Wisdom is a bookstore specializing in psychology, spirituality and holistic health. Crazy Wisdom is located at 114 South Main Street, Ann Arbor, Michigan 48104. Its phone number is 734-665-2757, and it can be found on the web at crazywisdom.net.
Dr. Dennis Chernin has a well-established reputation in the region as one of our leading holistic physicians. He practices family medicine at, and is the co-owner of, The Parkway Center, which is a center of holistically oriented, independent health care practitioners. He received both his MD and his Masters in Public Health from the University of Michigan. He did residencies in Psychiatry and Preventive Medicine, and he is Board Certified in Preventive Medicine. He is the Medical Director of two county health departments, and a lecturer at the U-M Medical School in the Complementary and Alternative Medicine Program.
Dr. Chernin is the author of two previously published books, one on holistic health, and one on homeopathy. His new book, How to Meditate Using Chakras, Mantras and Breath, has just been published. Dr. Chernin lives in the Ives Woods/Burns Park section of Ann Arbor with his wife of 26 years, Jan Toth-Chernin. She is the Director of Technology and Information, and the Librarian, at Greenhills School. They have three children: Abe is 23, Ethan is 19, and Ariana is 17.
Bill Zirinsky: Thank you for being willing to let me interview you, Dennis, about your new book.
Dennis Chernin: You're welcome.
Bill Zirinsky: You've written two other books? What were those about?
Dennis Chernin: Yes, this is the third book. The first book I wrote was Homeopathic Remedies for Physicians and Laypeople. I wrote that in 1977. Then the second book was a book called Health: A Holistic Approach. I wrote that in 1984. The first book, actually, is still on the market. It's still being produced by the Himalayan Institute. It was one of the first books written in the modern era of homeopathy, and has sold over 30,000 copies. The second book was on the market until about three years ago, when the Theosophical Publishing House through Quest Books sold their publishing company to somebody else and they decided not to continue to publish our book. In fact, my first book is in your bookstore. So this is my third book and then I've also created and wrote a CD ROM.
BZ: What is that called?
DC: That's called Homeopathy Resource. It's a compendium of 105 different remedies and 180 different illnesses that the remedies are used for. The computer program has four modules including a description of the system of homeopathy.
BZ: This new book is called How to Meditate Using Chakras, Mantras and Breath. What caused you to want to write this book?
DC: I actually started writing this book as an afterthought. I was preparing for a talk at Greenhills School because parents, teachers and students wanted to learn about meditation. When I was preparing for the class, I realized that there was a lot of the information out there that was not put together really well. I thought there were a lot of meditation practices described that weren't clear and precise. I didn't think that the philosophy went well with the actual meditation practices. I began to think about how I could orient the mindset for meditation a little more clearly. It just sort of happened. I wrote a couple of pages and from there I wrote a little bit more. After about two weeks of preparing, I had about 25 pages and I said, "That's interesting. I'm writing more than I originally intended; I'm going to see if I can take this further." And so that's how it happened. I didn't start writing with the thought of writing a book. I started preparing for a talk.
BZ: And who is this book for? Is this book for a beginning meditator or an advanced meditator?
DC: I started writing for beginners when I first started because that's who my clientele were at this particular talk. And as I went along, I realized that both beginners and intermediate and advanced students could also learn a lot because of the way the book was organized. The book evolved to the point where it has become a book for both beginners and more advanced students. People may have learned meditation 10 or 20 years ago from somebody but they don't really know exactly what they're doing. This book can help them organize their thinking and give them some practical meditation tools. It is also helpful for beginners who know nothing about meditation. It starts from A and goes all the way to Z with respect to the kind of practice that I do. It's actually a very specific and intricate kind of practice.
BZ: Does the book include a step-by-step walk-through for that beginning meditator, on how to meditate?
DC: Yes. I start the book with why we meditate, and what is meditation. Basically I define meditation, and describe the objects upon which we meditate. You just can't meditate on air, you have to meditate on an object. I talk about the philosophy of meditation, and the benefits of meditation from a physical, psychological, and spiritual perspective. I talk about some of the research that's been done on meditation. And then we move into more of the theoretical underpinnings of it: what is consciousness, what is the mind, what is the breath, what is the difference between meditation and concentration and what is kundalini, which is the energy that's latent within us when we meditate.
From there, I go into the specific practices. I start with hatha yoga exercises, and then breathing exercises, and then I go into some of the concentration techniques. And at the very end of the book, called How to Meditate, I actually present the meditation practice in full. By the time you actually learn the meditation in full, you have the background in terms of the philosophy and psychology. The actual meditation uses the theory that has been developed in the book. The ideas of the chakras, mantras, and yantras are all developed, and then the meditation uses these ideas in a very concise and systematic way.
BZ: I noticed in the book the section on hatha yoga coming before the section on practicing meditation. Could the beginning meditator follow the instructions to learn how to meditate without having to also begin a yoga practice?
DC: Absolutely. You can practice meditation without any yoga. The particular path that I practice is called raja yoga, which means kingly yoga, the royal path. It involves eight steps, eight limbs, all of which are important. The first path is called Yamas. The next path is called Niyama. These are observances and restraints, like don't steal, don't lie, don't cheat on your wife, don't eat things that make you feel sick. It talks about things like the importance of restraint and the idea of reading spiritual books; restraint on behavior, to eat well, to sleep well, and do the right things. They're kind of like the ten commandments of yoga.
The third limb is called hatha yoga, which are the actual physical postures. These postures are basically postures to help make the body more limber and help the body become strong, and help the body become supple. They basically are a preparation for meditation. Also involved with hatha yoga are the sitting postures: where to place the feet and how do you sit straight. In fact, hatha yoga postures if looked at from this perspective are really designed to help the individual learn to meditate. From this perspective, the real reason we do yoga exercises is to create a strong, healthy back and strong, healthy limbs, to help us sit well for meditation. The sitting postures of meditation are actually hatha yoga postures. You can sit on the floor or sit in a chair with your back straight. Your posture needs to be straight so that you can concentrate and move the energy upwards through the chakras.
The fourth step in raja yoga is the practice of breathing exercises called pranayama. These help to strengthen the breathing processes so that you can sit for longer periods of meditation, so that breathing doesn't get in the way of the meditation but actually enhances the meditation. There are some more advanced breathing exercises that help to generate more energy to move upwards in the chakras, the energy centers of the body.
The fifth limb is called pratyahara, which is sense withdrawal, withdrawing the senses from the outside world. The sixth limb of raja yoga is the concentration technique, learning to concentrate the mind. The seventh one is meditation. The eighth is what is called Samadhi, or absorption. The sixth, seventh and eighth limbs of Raja yoga are …a continuum of mental focus.
BZ: The sixth being…
BZ: The seventh being…
BZ: And the eighth being…
DC: Absorption, Samadhi. Concentration means focusing the mind on one object, on one point. Meditation means sustained focusing of the mind on one point. Samadhi, or absorption, means absorption in the object of concentration, so there is the continuum. In the meditative process we learn to concentrate our mind, then we learn to sustain the concentration of the mind, then we learn to become absorbed in the object of concentration of the mind. I go over this in the book. I talk about how important this continuum is.
BZ: I was struck by the depth and the succinct and careful explanations of each of the elements that you were just referring to. I was also struck by how you had taken a lot of information about consciousness and synthesized it into something that was 150 pages of very precise explanation of meditation terms, meditation vocabulary, terms that are used a great deal but without people precisely understanding them, and with many people not knowing the relationship between them. Did the book represent a distillation for you of already acquired knowledge, acquired over the last 25-30 years, or was it something where you were doing research as part of writing the book?
DC: I'm really glad you've seen this because that's exactly what I was trying to do. I was trying to take 25-30 years of practice and distill it for people to help them understand what meditation is about. You can find these terms in a lot of books and some of them are really technical Sanskrit terms that no one understands. Sometimes people use them and they don't know what their meanings are. What I can do well is integrate. I can bring things together and make it understandable for people. I felt that one of my goals of this book was to help people understand the meditative process and to help them understand the terms and the philosophy of meditation in a concise way. I'm glad you picked up on that because that's what I was hoping would happen, to make something that is sort of incomprehensible to lots of people and help people understand it. It's a very dense book. There's no question about it.
BZ: I think that's right. Maybe dense isn't the right word. It's a very concentrated book. Dense might imply that it's hard to get through and I don't think it is. I actually think it's very concise and very concentrated. There's a lot of information and a lot of consciousness pulled together into this book.
DC: I've especially worked really hard on the idea of consciousness, probably weeks and weeks, to try to distill the whole idea of consciousness and the idea of what consciousness is and how does it form and how does it relate to meditation. I try to make it concise so there is a lot of information in this section. Each sentence, I think, is full of meaning. There is not a lot of extraneous wording in this book at all. I try to get to the heart of the matter.
BZ: You write about koshas…the five levels of consciousness. You write about it in a very precise way. Can you talk about the five levels of consciousness?
DC: The five levels of consciousness refer to the fact that human beings exist on more than one or two levels. We all know in the western world that we live on a physical level and we also live on a mental level, and we can talk about our minds and our bodies. Some people understand that they are more connected than others. In the philosophy of yoga, Samkhya, Vedanta, and Tantra, they talk about levels of consciousness where we exist on more than just two levels.
We actually exist on five levels: one is the physical body, the dense part of us that we identify and see the most. The second is called the energy body, also called the body of the breath. The third is the conscious mind. The fourth is the unconscious mind. The fifth is considered to be the superconscious mind and there are terms in Sanskrit that relate to this. And within that is called the center of consciousness. In this particular analogy, each of the sheaths of consciousness obscure the more fine consciousness that lay within. You kind of look at it like concentric circles. As we exist on these five levels of consciousness it follows that we also have problems that are associated with those five levels. This is a very useful tool to understand medicine and health problems. And because we exist on specific levels and also have health problems associated with them, we can have modalities of treatments on these levels.
Let's take the energy body, for instance. We don't think about this in the western world very much. The energy body, also called the breathing body, connects the physical and the mental levels. All our energies, our consciousness, our activities and our abilities funnel through the energy body to get from the physical to the mental or from the mental to the physical. There can also be illnesses associated with the energy level and therapeutic modalities that can be used to treat them. The modalities that we use to treat the energy body are things like breathing exercises, homeopathy and acupuncture works on an energy level. Biofeedback works on the energy level. It's a level that we don't think about in the western world very much, but it's looked at a lot in the eastern world. For treatment of the physical body, we have all sorts of modalities: we have herbs, drugs, physical therapies, movement therapies, yoga and martial arts, and, of course, surgery. And on the mental level, we have treatments like psychotherapy and meditation.
BZ: You pointed out in the book that behavioral therapy was associated with the mental level more than the intuitive level.
DC: Right. Behavioral therapies are probably more associated here because we're consciously wanting to change certain habits or traits. When we get to the fourth level, that of the unconscious mind, we really are dealing with therapies that are more Freudian or Jungian. This involves analyzing the unconscious through dreams and different techniques that can draw out the more subtle parts of our consciousness. Meditation also can be helpful for this. When you get to the superconscious mind, which is also called the intuitive or blissful sheath, meditation really is the only kind of approach that can affect this level of awareness.
BZ: Have you continued the regular practice of meditation over most of these years?
DC: I have. I've practiced for 30 years. As I said in the preface, there are times when my meditation practice is really strong. I do it every day and often practice when I have a break between patients and whenever I can. And there are times in my life when I've gotten more distracted and have been less than consistent. I have gone a couple days without meditation. But through it all, I've always gone back to it. It's always been a mainstay in my life. Even when I'm not meditating as regularly as I'd like, I feel like I have a meditative perspective in my life, what I call meditation in action. When I look at the world, I try to focus my concentration. The more you practice, like anything you do, whether you're an artist or a musician or a book store owner, the more you practice, the more focused you become, the better you get at your work and the more you understand it. Meditation is an art like that. The more you practice, the more you understand what the benefits are. You learn how to focus your mind very, very quickly. I teach my students to do this also. Because you sometimes get distracted and get very busy and don't have the kind of luxury to spend as much time as you'd like on meditation, it is important to take the perspective of a focused mind and apply it to your everyday living. You sort of see things more clearly. This is also called karma yoga or the meditative path of action. Anyone who is good at what they do practices a form of meditation in action because they're focusing their mind on what they're doing. The sitting meditation goes even further than that because you actually try to get beyond thinking. You actually try to get to the point of just pure awareness. What that does is help you in your everyday living.
BZ: You really would want to have a teacher instruct you on how to do certain of the breathing techniques that you write about in the book. Is there anyone teaching raja yoga practices in the Ann Arbor area?
DC: There are a few people who I've talked to who I have I felt understand the depth and the importance of breathing properly. I do a lot of teaching of breathing myself. I have been teaching more intensively the last 2 years, and have taught breathing techniques along with meditation to dozens of students.
BZ: So you have meditation students in addition to having a medical practice?
DC: Yes, I have private students. I do two things. I teach classes like the one I taught last year at Crazy Wisdom. I also have private students. In the private sessions we spend 45 minutes together. I usually recommend at least four sessions. Some people have been doing this once a week for 2 years. We do different practices together and I show them different things. We discuss the obstacles and what particular practices would be good for them. So, that's what I do with my students. It's really fun. I really enjoy it a lot. When you
This is especially true with more advanced practices, particularly breath retention. Many people have worked over the years with breath retention, which means doing the breathing exercises and holding your breath. It's a very advanced technique. My teachers were very careful before they encouraged me to start practicing breath retention. When the time was right, they felt I could start. And I'm very careful with my students before I suggest they practice breath retention. It amplifies anything you're experiencing at that moment. It intensifies whatever you're experiencing.
If you're the kind of person who is undergoing a lot of stress or you're an anxious person, you have to be careful about breath retention because that will amplify those emotions and feelings. This also applies to depression. This doesn't mean everybody must be perfectly healthy all the time because no one would ever be able to practice meditation, because no one is that way. But there has to be a certain degree of evolution of awareness and a certain attitude about how to deal with the stresses. The meditative process represents a gradual unfolding, where they're able to experience sadness or anxiety and then be able to let those feeling go. Learning to let it go is a meditative art - experiencing fully, but also not being trapped or enslaved by feelings or thoughts and moving beyond it. Once I see that happens in a student, I then begin to teach some of the amplification techniques, breath retention, and some of the more advanced breathing exercises.
BZ: This is very interesting. It goes to what your background is, your background is in psychiatry?
BZ: But you have a general medical practice and you're also teaching people how to meditate, so that's an interesting combination of background and skill.
DC: Originally when I was a medical student, I was interested in a lot of the spiritual arts, nutrition and things like that. And when I did my psychiatry residency, I was studying with a teacher in Wisconsin. Actually, he was an American-born swami. He's a psychologist and wrote some really interesting books. He was a very smart guy and I learned a lot.
BZ: Is that Swami Rama or was he a student of Swami Rama?
DC: It was Swami Ajia, who was a student of Swami Rama. In my psychiatry residency, I began to explore different approaches to meditation in psychotherapy. Then when I met Swami Rama, he asked my wife, Jan, and I to come stay in Chicago and study with him. He was also a homeopath, so I studied homeopathy as well as meditation. He is the person that taught me how to meditate. I had learned to meditate before, Zen meditation and some Jewish meditation. He showed me some very specific techniques that he thought would be good for me. After I graduated medical school and finished my residency, I was ready to integrate the meditation and yoga and breathing into my practice. We actually had a clinic that was in the Chicago area.. We had an inpatient program where people would come for two weeks and we'd teach them all these different techniques for health care - people with MS or heart disease or anxiety disorders, whatever the problem was. We would have them come in and we would work with them intensively.
BZ: That goes to the heart of where I was going with that question. I would imagine that people get stuck in their own meditation practices, sometimes for reasons that need to be drawn out by somebody with psychological skills. It's interesting that you work as a meditation teacher and work with people on their breathing techniques, but you are also coming in with a psychological background, helping people to look at where they get stuck and why they are not moving forward. That's interesting.
DC: Yeah, thanks. I appreciate that. That's what I like to do. I could see eventually in my life moving to a point where I was doing less physical medicine, taking care of sore throats and ear infections, and doing more of psychotherapy and meditation in my practice. Perhaps I'll have fewer patients and with the patients I do have I would work more intensively and do more specific work. I do that now, but sometimes I get very busy with doing what normal GPs do. I enjoy that too, but I also could see this evolve into something different too.
BZ: Would you talk about the chakras? I know that's a general question.
DC: Yeah (laughs). Chakras are a fascinating subject. I've been interested in the chakras for forever. Basically, from a metaphoric perspective it offers a great paradigm for understanding the physical, psychological and spiritual aspects of an individual. Every chakra is associated with a physical gland or a plexus of nerves. It's associated with certain psychologic characteristics and a spiritual quality. By focusing, for instance, on the third chakra, around the navel, we realize it is associated with digestion, assimilation and metabolism on a physical level. Problems associated with the third chakra would be things like stomach problems, gastrointestinal problems, problems with the pancreas, adrenal glands, spleen and liver. On a psychological level, it's associated with issues of power and submissiveness and dominance, with respect to relationships and who has power. It's associated with building a sense of ego, who we are as a person. We're a part of the greater cosmos, but we're also an individual within the cosmos like a wave in the water - an individual wave, but also part of the larger ocean. So it's a sense of our self. On a psychological level, the third chakra is associated with people who are having trouble with identifying who they are, self-identity problems, people who are having trouble with relationships and power relationships, husbands and wives and who are determining how the relationship goes and how they feel about themselves and their relationship. Then on a spiritual level, it's associated with the sense of ego development. Again, how does one stay an individual, yet allow oneself to be more a part of the larger whole.
BZ: The book goes into each of the seven major chakras as well as three of the important but minor chakras?
DC: Exactly. Also, on a very practical level, I also present meditations based upon the chakras, which you've probably read about at the end of the book. It's a step-by-step development: first you work with the body, then comes breathing, then comes sense withdrawal and then comes working with concentration techniques. You go up the chakras using the sound vibration of a mantra, which is sound, and take energy from the lower chakras to the higher chakras. We visualize each chakra, developing a more complete picture as we go deeper into the meditation. I introduce the colors and the shapes of the chakras as we go further along. The meditation actually represents a sort of paradigm for understanding human consciousness, and it's also a way to concentrate and focus the mind.
BZ: You also talk about different mantras. Can one pick one's own mantra or do you have to have a teacher pick the mantra for you?
DC: That's a really good question. I think it's possible to pick your own mantra. I recommend, though, a teacher whom you trust and who gets to know you gives you a mantra. A lot of times we don't see ourselves clearly. It's sometimes difficult to see yourself clearly enough to know exactly what you need to evolve. Some people go see psychotherapists. Sometimes it's very helpful to have a person stand outside of you, look at you, understand you, and have a perspective to be able to give you suggestions and help bring clarity to you. I think the same thing applies to mantras. Mantras are very powerful. They are seeds. They engender a lot of energy when you use them. So you want to make sure that the mantra you use is one that works well for you, commensurate with whom you are physically, psychologically and spiritually.
BZ: I noticed that the mantras, and I may be getting this wrong…basically they rhymed with one another. They were all rhymed with the word "numb", such as ram, vam, lam, (with more of an "a" sound than a "u" sound) and they corresponded with the chakras. So does one's teacher pick one's mantra based on what chakra they want that student to be working with at a given time? And then do they change one's mantra after a while or just keep it?
DC: That's another really good question. There are different forms of mantras. And those mantras that are associated with chakras generally aren't used as a primary mantra except for the sound OM, which is the universal mother of all mantras, associated with the sixth chakra. There are mantras associated with the chakras purely used for specific purposes. Some of the other mantras like HREEM, KLEEM and STREEM are more often used for personal mantras. Another powerful mantra is the mantra SO HUM, the universal breath mantra. These mantras have a certain vibration and affect the mind and body in subtle ways.
For instance, if people are having trouble with a certain quality, such as having many desires and wanting too many things and it really traps them and they can't get beyond that, then a specific mantra may be prescribed. When they meditate, their mind keeps going to what the next acquisition is that they can have. There are certain mantras that you can use to help that type of person focus their concentration better and to help free them from that trap. So there are specific mantras for such purposes. You can never go wrong with using the OM sound. It's universal. It's always around with us. We can hear it if we listen quietly, reverberating through us. The SO HUM mantra is a wonderful mantra too. I think I talk about this in the book, about amen is a mantra. Jewish people often use shalom as a mantra. It also has the OM sound at the end.
BZ: You talked about the universality of that core OM mantra.
DC: It's a beautiful sound. Probably at Crazy Wisdom you sell some tapes on the OM sound and people do a lot of work with the OM sound. It's very, very primitive, and very raw. If you really listen quietly and you really quiet your mind, you can hear or experience the vibration OM. One of the first experiences of OM I ever had was very interesting. I had a personal mantra and then I was meditating with my teacher in a pretty large lecture hall. He was using the sound of OM. This was back in the '70s. I was sitting there and after he got done meditating, I continued to hear the sound. He produced the sound and I continued it to hear it reverberate inside of me. I went, "Whoa." It was very peaceful. I don't think I had ever been as peaceful and had that kind of feeling of bliss as I felt at that particular moment. I looked to Jan and I said, "This is really weird." And she said, "Yeah, this is pretty weird." She was hearing the same sound too.
We walked around and were holding hands and feeling this vibration. I didn't notice anyone else as we were concentrating on the sound and then another fellow student of ours walked by us and smiled and said, "So you're hearing it too" (both laugh). That was the first time I had ever really heard the sound of OM inside. It was just a powerful, wonderful feeling. Somehow he was able to spiritualize or energize that sound so that we could hear it, and I suspect other people were hearing it too. He was a very powerful guy.
That's the other part of the idea of mantra that we talked about before, why it's nice to have another knowledgeable person suggest a mantra for you. Through the process of meditation you learn to concentrate energy. You can also transmit that energy to other people. As long as you do it in a way that's mutually agreeable, teacher to student, and there's trust, and no abuse of power, no power issues, no expectations, no ego, then the mantra can be spiritualized. It's called shaktipad. You supply energy to the mantra through your own energy, channeling the energy through you, giving the mantra potency.
BZ: You also wrote that it has to be done carefully by someone who is experienced.
DC: Very carefully. Unfortunately over the years some of the teachers have abused power. It's no different than the stuff you see on TV with the TV evangelists. They are powerful people who misuse power. Charisma is different and there are a lot of charismatic people who can energize, but do it with ego. You have to be careful and be thoughtful and watchful. This is just like anything in life, you have to know that your heart is pure and that your boundaries are clear. So that's the challenge, I think, in any of these disciplines. You've probably heard that some teachers have sexually abused or mentally abused their students, and I think that's a relationship that has to be always watched for. You have to be cautious and careful, and I'm very, very careful with what I'm doing. I try never to over step the teacher-student relationship. It's very clear what the expectations are when I teach meditation.
BZ: How are you going to go about reaching people with this book beyond this interview?
DC: That's the challenge. You were kind enough to help me the other day and take me through some of the places where I can market the book. As I said, this book just fell in to my lap. I started writing and creating it. I didn't think much about the marketing side and then finally when I was getting close to the end, I realized that I put a lot of time and energy into this thing. There's something inside of me that says, "Just go ahead and do it yourself." I probably could've found several different publishers that would be glad to publish the book, but I decided to do it on my own. I started a small publishing company to help me with the CD-ROM that I created a few years ago.
BZ: So there's a CD-ROM that goes with this.
DC: Well, the CD-ROM that I was talking about was the one on homeopathy. There is also a CD that goes with this book, too. I started my own publishing company and I think the hard part starts now in terms of how to market something like this? I feel like I have something to contribute. I feel the book is a good, concise but thorough analysis of meditation, and I think the meditation that's in the book is very clear and very helpful to people. The question is how do I get it into people's hands. Right now I'm in the process of gathering information about marketing, distribution and publicity.
The book will be published in mid-December. It's at the printer right now. I'm looking for distributors, I'm looking forward to this interview coming out, I'm going to try to get into some of the local newspapers, use book talks and lectures - hopefully at Crazy Wisdom. I'll do the local thing, going through the Detroit News, the Ann Arbor News. Hopefully someone will want to come talk to me.
BZ: As I understand it, there are two CDs that you can purchase along with the book. You can purchase the book alone or you can purchase it with these two CDs, which are instructional CDs.
DC: Exactly. It was interesting to do the CDs, because it took many hours. It's hard to create an environment where you sit and meditate and read the meditation and yet not have any um's or oh's or stutters. When you're sitting with a student, it doesn't matter. They're listening and sort of generally following. But when you have a CD, everything you say is amplified. So I was really surprised when I did the first take and heard myself make many mistakes. It took me lots of takes. Then you have to sort of sit and very carefully articulate what you want to say…
BZ: …at the right pace...
DC: …at the right pace…
BZ: …with the right pauses…
DC: …with the right pauses, with the right kind of energy transmission.
BZ: With the right energy transmission, which is probably the hardest part of it because at the same time you're busying your mind thinking about pace, pauses and articulation, you're also trying to put forth your consciousness on the CD.
DC: Exactly. Luckily the guy that was working with me was a guy named Doug Cameron. He works right around the block from you, on Liberty near Main Street. He was very patient. We did a lot of takes together. He is interested in meditation himself. He's a professional guy when it comes to this. So we worked it out. It worked out well. So I have two CDs, four meditations - first, second, third and fourth - that build on each other. The fourth is actually a compilation of the first three taken further. You can start any place you want, but you generally start at the first and then it builds on itself. I haven't decided whether to put one or both CDs in the back of the book yet. I'm for sure going to sell them independently and I'm sure I'll have at least one of the CDs in the book. The other thing that happened was one of my friends asked to help me. He is a famous drummer named Muruga Booker. Have you ever seen him?
BZ: I haven't, but that doesn't mean much.
DC: He's an interesting guy. He's played at Woodstock and he's played with Jimi Hendrix and played with Jerry Garcia and the Weather Report, as well as many others. He's sold hundreds of thousands of CDs with various drumming things that he's done. Brilliant guy. He was listening to the CDs and he said, "You need something here." I had an introduction and then I did the meditation. It said, "Hi, this is Dennis Chernin. Welcome to this meditation. I'm glad you came. Here is what the meditation is going to be like." And then the meditations start. Then I stopped and the second track was the meditation. He said, "You need some transition." So we had some ideas and sort of brainstormed around.
What we came up with was sort of taking the OM sound and looping it, the O and the M sound, and then he was in the background doing some drums and some cymbals. It almost sounded like a heartbeat. So we have this OM sound with a sort of underlying heartbeat, and it came out really nicely. It's a great transition between the introduction and the actual meditation. This OM sound that we created comes before each of the next meditations - the first, second, third and fourth. It also has led to our working on another CD together on mantras, too. It's kind of exciting. It's a whole other level. I play a little piano and harmonica, but I haven't done a whole lot of musical stuff in my life. He's a very spiritual guy too.
BZ: I wish you good luck with the book. It's really exceptional. It's clearly taken a lot of information and a lot of depth of understanding and you've put it into a very readable, concise format. I wish you good luck not only getting Ann Arbor people to read it…you could single-handedly shift the consciousness of Ann Arbor if enough people read it and use it…
DC: Thanks (laughs).
BZ: …but I also hope you can get some coverage for it in the national market, because there is not something quite like it out there.
DC: Thanks, I appreciate it.
BZ: Well, I see a very steady and continuing interest on the part of our regional customer base in beginning-stage meditation books. But I also see more advanced meditators seeking to develop and deepen their practices. Your book is suitable for meditators at each step in their process. You can come at the book from a number of different places…
DC: Well thanks. I appreciate that…You've probably noticed the Sri Yantra, in fact that's all over the book.
DC: It's a phenomenally interesting design. It's considered the highest evolved yantra because it's a blueprint of consciousness.
BZ: I found that part of your book fascinating. You wrote that only someone who's been meditating a long time is given the task of meditating on that yantra…
DC: You have to be pretty serious about it. It takes time. To actually learn how to use the yantra with different sounds and visualize it, it takes a lot of concentration to do that. It has to be someone who is very, very serious about it and very interested in it. Supposedly, I can't verify this, but supposedly there are only a few people on the planet that have found a complete understanding of that particular yantra and use that. The point is to start at the outside of the yantra, then move inwards through the triangles into the inner circle, to the point in the center of the geometric pattern, which is the equivalent to your own center of consciousness.
BZ: Are you still part of any kind of community? You're a teacher obviously here in town, but are you a part of a community where you are still being brought along by a teacher?
DC: I've learned that the true teaching is within myself. I have other brother disciples, which I think is the best way to describe others on my path. I have a close relationship with an old Jesuit monk. He was at the Himalayan Institute when I was there and so he has been a kind of guide for me. When Swami Rama died and even before then, I sort of moved a little bit away from the organization. I tend to be less of an organizational kind of guy. Some of the politics of organizations really bug me, and I'm a bit of a lone wolf. That's why I practice medicine by myself.
I like to have community and relationships with people and that's important to me, but I sort of shy away from groups that get involved with power and struggling. In any group you get involved with you're going to see that happen. So I have loose associations and good relationships with a lot of people who were at the Himalayan Institute, who have their own little systems. That organization has branched out and formed smaller organizations. I have good relationships with pretty much all the people that are still doing this type of meditation. But I don't really have a living guru. When Swami Rama was working with me intensively, I learned to trust my own guru inside. And that's ultimately what you want. External people are always flawed, we all are. Every one of us is flawed. We all try; we all fail. But we need to learn to trust our higher source of power within ourselves. So we use other people to help guide us and then with the guidance it always comes back to ourselves.
Copyright © 2001 by Crazy Wisdom, Inc.