(This is the first article in a series of writings on the 50-Year History of The Meditation Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota USA.)


THE 50-YEAR HISTORY of THE MEDITATION CENTER
in Minneapolis, Minnesota USA

#1 The Meditation Center as a Sacred Site

The Meditation Center (TMC) was founded by Swami Rama and Swami Veda (then Dr. Usharbudh Arya) in 1972. TMC is located at 631 University Avenue, Minneapolis Minnesota 55070, and it was the first center of the Himalayan Yoga Tradition in the Western Hemisphere. There is a rich history of TMC going back over half a century which will take several articles to summarize. This is first article, describing TMC as a Sacred Site.

What is a sacred site? Briefly, it is a place where one can go to experience sacred space. It is a place where time stops, and you can connect to the totality of your being and know that it is the same as the fullness (purna) of the Whole.

“Sacred space is ‘the time of Eternity —the doorway through which the ‘other world’ of gods can contact us and we can contact them. Sacred space is associated with the center of the entire universe, where power and holiness are strongest and where we can go to renew our own strength.”1

“In truth…the great siddhas on this very planet have charged certain areas. You can go there (such as with the Kumbha Melas at the confluence of the rivers), and you can feel the charge.”2

It is interesting to contemplate what factors are involved for a particular site to be considered sacred. It is said that there are certain natural geographical features that can give a location a certain energy. It could be a well, a spring, a fountain or a waterfall, a cave, a rock formation, or a mountain. It could be a great tree or grove of trees. Some people believe that there are energy channels, called ley lines, flowing like nadis from one geographic area to another.3 And there are the ancient sciences Vastu and Feng Sui, whose goal is to find the best placement of buildings relating to the earth, water and sunlight as well as most propitious architectural configurations.

“To meditate by a river,” Swami Veda said, “is especially beneficial,” but even more beneficial are places where there is a confluence (prayag) of rivers, such as at Allahabad, where the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers join; or at the five (panch) pragags (Devprayag, Karnapayag, Nandprayag, Rudraprayag and Vishnuprayag) in the Garhwal Himalayas in Uttarakhand, India. Both Swami Rama and Swami Veda did special practices in Swami Rama’s cave at Gangotri, which is situated at the confluence of the Ganges and Bhagirathi rivers.

When Dr. Arya came to the Twin Cities (Minneapolis & St. Paul) in 1967 he probably did not know that the area was sacred to the Native Americans for centuries. Minnesota means “Land of Sky-tinted Waters” and Minneapolis means “City of Waters,” because of the many lakes in the area and the fact that the Mississippi River (the largest river in North American) flows through the city. Many areas around the Mississippi were (and are still) sacred to the Dakotas. Very close to TMC is Nicollet Island. The first inhabitants of Nicollet Island were Ojibwe and Dakota, who considered it a sacred nexus to the spiritual world. It was known as a birthing place for the Dakota and a site for their vision quest ceremonies. Also, close to TMC was Owamniyomni (St. Anthony Falls)4 and Spirit Island5, and a little southeast are sacred burial mounds in St. Paul. At the confluence of the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers is Bdote6 (near where Fort Snelling was built), which is, one of most sacred places for Native Americans in Minnesota.

Swami Veda, however, emphasized that a site is made sacred through the concentrated efforts of human beings:

“For uncountable millennia certain places have been dedicated only to prayer, to worship, to meditation. More such places also come into being with each new divine incarnation, each sage, each person who becomes a Master. These are places where there is a particular concentration, a vortex, of an unnamed spiritual energy, a special force that is still palpable, and one sitting there in worship or in silent meditation may even be granted a dream, a vision, a promise, or even a higher initiatory experience. I have felt this touch of a vortex of an actual electric current when taking a dip with my Gurudeva in the Ganga at the Kumbha Mela in Haridwar; while circumambulating the Rameshwaram Temple in South India; at the samadhi (holy mausoleum) of St. Francis of Assisi; in the chapel in Avila, Spain, where St. Teresa was born; while doing special practices in a meditation cave in Gangotri; at Borobudur in Java; in the sage Agastya’s cave in Bali; at a very little known cave in Delhi where, in the 13th century, a Sufi saint performed his chilla, the forty days of intensive prayer while hanging upside down in a water well.”7

When some people enter The Meditation Center, they notice “a certain presence.” In 1979, when Doug Boyd8 set foot in the main hall, he paused at the doorway, took a deep breath, showed a big smile, and said, “Wow!” Then he closed his eyes and went into silence. When Shree Ma and Swami Satyananda Saraswati came to The Meditation Center, she said that she would like to remain there for the night rather than stay at a hotel.

The Meditation Center was a charged site at that time, and it is a charged site now. It was also a charged site over 60 years before the building was purchased in 1972 because it was a convent for the nuns of St. Boniface Church, and they used to pray continually at the altar in the Chapel Area. Behind the altar area were two beautiful stained-glass windows that can still be seen today because they were restored during the Center renovations which began in 2015.

TMC Chapel
TMC Jesus
TMC - Mother Mary
Virgin Mary at TMC

In the dining room the nuns had a picture of the Virgin Mary, and Under Mary’s picture were the words “Tota Pulchra es Maria, et macula originales non est in te!” The Latin translates as “Totally Beautiful is Mary and Original Sin is not in Her.”

Originally, the Meditation Center legal name was Dhyana Mandiram, and a triangular altar with a statue of Vishnu was installed in the chapel area. That was the focal point for the general meditations, and also for the pujas and special practices done by Swami Rama, Swami Veda, Swami Ritavan, Pandit Dabral, Pandit Rajmani, Swami Jnaneswara, Mary Gail & Rolf Sovik (Pandit Upadesh) and many others. The ceiling in the chapel area turned black from a perpetual altar flame and the burning of incense.

About 1980, the leaky roof needed to be replaced. All the original slate tiles were scraped off. There were heaps of broken tiles on the ground, and it took a crew of students to clean them up. All the tiles smelled strongly of incense from decades of worship at the altar. Several students took some slate tiles home and put them near their meditation seats.

The last time that Swami Veda was in the United States was on Guru Purnima, 2012. Because of the need for a large space, the Center community gathered across the street at St. Maron’s Church. Swami Veda gave a talk about the relationship between Gāyatrī and Mahā-mṛtyuñjaya mantras, and afterwards, as everyone was preparing to sit for the Full Moon Meditation, he said:

“People ask why we don’t meditate here in this building [St. Maron’s]. The reason is ‘because the space at The Meditation Center is sacred. ‘Sacred’ means that there is a Guru presence. And our Gurudeva, Swami Rama of the Himalayas, consecrated that place. I am hoping that in eight years’ time, when you celebrate 50 years of The Meditation Center – I will be 88 – that maybe I will come and join you. And you will decide for that space to remain sacred and devoted to the teaching and practicing of meditation for another 50 years after that. And that is for you to decide, to determine, to make possible.”

It is not just TMC, however, which is a sacred site. All of the centers in the Himalayan Yoga Tradition around the world are sacred sites. They have been made sacred by the students who have maintained those centers and the meditations they have done there on the Full Moon Days and throughout the year.9

And for students who are not close to any these centers, Swami Rama’s words were “Remember that you are a walking shrine.”

“There is a space within and space without. At this time, listen to the silence in the space that surrounds you. Listen to the silence in the space that is within you. Let the space within and space without be one and the same space. Let the silence within and silence without be the same one silence. Let your mind be a space of silence with no sentiments arising. No extraneous thoughts only a presence, an awareness of being without qualifications, an awareness of consciousness without conditions and conditioning processes. Be conscious only of the principle of consciousness. Be aware only of the principle of awareness without any special objects to be aware of.”10


Footnotes:

1 Experiencing the World’s Religions by Michael Molloy, p. 36.

2 Kundalini Stilled or Stirred? by Swami Veda, p. 114

3 Ley Lines — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ley_line There is a line of Tibetan Stupas going from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Crestone, Denver and Fort Collins, Colorado. See Twelve Tribe Nations And the Science of Enchanting the Landscape by John Mitchell & Christine Rhone.

4 St. Anthony Falls — https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint_Anthony_Falls

5 Spirit Island — https://editions.lib.umn.edu/openrivers/article/on-the-uncompromising-hand-remembering-spirit-island/

6 Bdote means “where two waters come together” and according to the stories of Bdewakantunwan Dakota, the point where two waters come together is the center of the earth. —  https://www.mnhs.org/fortsnelling/learn/bdote    https://www.tpt.org/sacred-minnesota/video/bdote-is-dakota-sacred-landscape-38456/

7 “What is a Pilgrim?” by Swami Veda Bharati.

8 Doug Boyd was the son of Dr. Elmer & Alyce Green of the Voluntary Controls Program at the Menninger Institute in Topeka, Kansas. All three were with Swami Rama in 1970 when did his extraordinary experiments of psychokinesis, clairvoyance and control of the autonomic nervous system. See Beyond Biofeedback (1977) by the Greens, and Swami (1976) by Doug Boyd.

9 “When two or three are gathered in my name, I am in the midst of them (Matthew 18:12) “When you pray, enter into your closet, and when you shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father will reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:6).

10 From a Meditation at the Rishikesh Silence Retreat (2003) by Swami Veda Bharati.