Meditation is the complement to prayer. While prayer directs the
heart to Ultimate Reality as a transcendent object, meditation cleanses
the heart of all finite objects which obscure Reality so that its ultimate
point may be found within. Meditation takes several forms, and the scrip-
tures teach several meditative techniques.
Hindu, Jain, Taoist, and Buddhist scriptures describe meditation as
sitting in a quiet spot, restricting all sense stimuli, controlling the
mind's wandering thoughts and feelings, and finally attaining a stillness
that reveals the true self-nature within. This self-nature may be the
original Nothingness, or a union with the creative Spirit that flows
through all things. In Confucian meditation this tranquillity is to make
the mind clear and receptive to the impartial evaluation of knowledge.
Meditative spiritual practices are also widespread in Christianity,
Judaism, and Islam. Most of these practices were developed by mystics and
monastics long after the scriptures had been compiled, and regrettably
they are under represented in an anthology which is limited to scripture.
Some are meditations on scripture: For example in Roman Catholicism the
Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola and The Dark Night of the Soul
by St. John of the Cross instruct one to meditate on events in Jesus'
life and passion and identify one's own spiritual journey with them.
Muslim Sufis often base their meditation on one or several of the Qur'an's
Ninety-nine Most Beautiful Names of God.1 Jewish mystics may meditate on
a verse of Torah to uncover its hidden meaning. Many Jews and Christians
employ silent meditation as a valuable preparation for prayer; it is a
time of quiet when the mind is calmed and clarified before communing with
The distinctive Theravada Buddhist discipline of the Four Arousings of
Mindfulness aims at achieving awareness of all movements, sensations,
feelings, thoughts, and ideas as they come and go in the body and mind.
The Buddha taught in the Satipatthana Sutta that one should become mindful
at every moment on the ever-changing phenomena of body, senses, and
thought. Through this meditation, a person realizes that everything in
his body and all the phenomena of his mind are transitory and unreal, and
he thus realizes the truth of Dependent Origination. A Mahayana Buddhist
meditation is to construct a mental image: for example an image of Buddha,
a bodhisattva, or the Pure Land.
Finally, there is shamanistic meditation, where the goal is to receive
a vision from the spiritual plane. After a communal initiation, assisted
by songs, fasting, and invoking the spirits, the person on a vision quest
goes to a lonely spot free of distraction. There he remains, meditating,
until the moment when he breaks through beyond ordinary consciousness to
receive a supernatural vision that gives purpose to his life and endows
him with spiritual powers.
1See Qur'an 59.22-24, p. 836.
Verily, from meditation arises wisdom. Without meditation wisdom wanes.
Buddhism. Dhammapada 282
Concentration is unafflicted one-pointedness.
Buddhism. Nagarjuna, Precious Garland 437
Precious Garland 437: The same definition is given in Bhagavad Gita 6.12,
The Master said, "Hui is capable of occupying his whole mind for three
months on end with no thought but that of Goodness. The others can do so,
some for a day, some even for a month, but that is all."
Confucianism. Analects 6.5
Within the lotus of the heart he dwells, where the nerves meet like the
spokes of a wheel at its hub. Meditate on him as OM. Easily may you
cross the sea of darkness.
Hinduism. Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.6
In the cool, dew-drenched night are shining the stars:
At this hour are awake the devotees, lovers of God,
meditating each day on the Name--
Their hearts meditating on the lotus feet of God,
whom they forsake not for an instant.
Sikhism. Adi Granth, Asa Chhant, M.5, p. 459
Let the words of my mouth
and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord,
my rock and my redeemer.
Judaism and Christianity. Bible, Psalm 19.14
One must not stand up and say the Tefillah except in a serious frame of
mind. The pious men of old used to wait an hour, and then say the prayer,
in order to direct their hearts to their Father in heaven.
Judaism. Mishnah, Berakot 5.1
Commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be silent.
Judaism and Christianity. Psalm 4.4
Calm is his mind, calm is his speech, calm is his action, who, rightly
knowing, is wholly freed, perfectly peaceful and equipoised.
Buddhism. Dhammapada 96
Analects 6.5: Cf. Mencius II.A.2, p. 740. Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.6: Cf.
Mandukya Upanishad, p. 834; Bhagavad Gita 8.12-13, p. 344. Berakot 5.1:
The 'Tefillah' refers to the Amidah, the Eighteen Benedictions, one of the
chief Jewish prayers. Cf. Berakot 30b, p. 829; Chuang Tzu 23, p. 735.
When all the senses are stilled, when the mind is at rest, when the intel-
lect wavers not--then, say the wise, is reached the highest state.
This calm of the senses and the mind has been defined as yoga. He who
attains it is freed from delusion.
Hinduism. Katha Upanishad 2.6.10-11
Block the passages,
Shut the doors,
Let all sharpness be blunted,
All tangles untied,
All glare tempered,
All dust smoothed.
This is called mysterious levelling.
Taoism. Tao Te Ching 56
Attain utmost vacuity;
Hold fast to quietude.
While the myriad things are stirring together,
I see only their return.
For luxuriantly as they grow,
Each of them will return to its root.
To return to the root is called quietude,
Which is also said to be reversion to one's destiny.
This reversion belongs with the eternal:
To know the eternal is enlightenment.
Taoism. Tao Te Ching 16
Can you keep the unquiet physical soul from straying, hold fast to the
Unity, and never quit it?
Can you, when concentrating your breath, make it soft like that of a
Can you wipe and cleanse your vision of the Mystery till all is without
Taoism. Tao Te Ching 10
The wise man should surrender his words to his mind;
and this he should surrender to the Knowing Self;
and the Knowing Self he should surrender to the Great Self;
and that he should surrender to the Peaceful Self.
Hinduism. Katha Upanishad 3.13
Yoga is a process of absorption into Brahman. Sense activities and out-
ward expression (words) should be stopped and attention drawn into the
mind. Then the mind should be Bodhisattvas should leave behind all pheno-
menal distinctions and awaken the thought of the Consummation of Incompar-
able Enlightenment by not allowing the mind to depend upon notions evoked
by the sensible world--by not allowing the mind to depend upon notions
evoked by sounds, odors, flavors, touch-contacts, or any qualities. The
mind should be kept independent of any thoughts which arise within it. If
the mind depends upon anything it has no sure haven.
Buddhism. Diamond Sutra 14
Arouse your entire body with its three hundred and sixty bones and joints
and its eighty-four thousand pores of skin; summon up a spirit of great
doubt and concentrate on the word "mu" (nothingness). Carry it continual-
ly day and night. Do not form a nihilistic conception of vacancy, or a
relative conception of "has" or "has not." It will be just as if you
swallowed a red-hot iron ball, which you cannot spit out even if you try.
All the illusory ideas and delusive thoughts accumulated up to the present
will be exterminated, and when the time comes, internal and external will
be spontaneously united. You will know this, but for yourself only, like
a dumb man who has had a dream. Then all of a sudden an explosive conver-
sion will occur, and you will astonish the heavens and shake the earth.
Buddhism. Mumonkan 1
Pure spirit reaches in the four directions, flows now this way, now that--
there is no place it does not extend to. Above, it brushes heaven; below,
it coils on the earth. It transforms and nurses the ten thousand things,
but no one can make out its form. Its name is called One-with-Heaven.
The way to purity and whiteness is to guard the spirit, this alone; guard
it and never lose it, and you will become one with spirit, one with its
pure essence, which communicates and mingles with the Heavenly Order.
Taoism. Chuang Tzu 15
Katha Upanishad 2.6.10-11: Cf. Bhagavad Gita 5.24, p. 533; Katha Upanishad
4.1-2, p. 675. Tao Te Ching 56: Cf. Chuang Tzu 5, p. 553; 23, p. 928.
Tao Te Ching 16: Cf. Chuang Tzu 12, p. 589. Tao Te Ching 10: Cf. Chuang
Tzu 6, p. 584; on the figure of the little child, see Tao Te Ching 55,
p. 231; 20, p. 608; Atharva Veda 6.121.4, p. 531. Katha Upanishad 3.13:
concentrated on the buddhi, or the highest spiritual faculty of the soul,
the individualized Atman. This too should be submerged into the Great
Self or Cosmic Mind, thereby losing all notions of separate individuality.
Finally, this Great Self, which still knows itself, is to dissolve into
the Absolute, the Peaceful Self which is devoid of any distinction or dif-
ference whatsoever. Compare the four states of the soul in Mandukya
Upanishad, p. 834, the four or five levels of being in Katha Upanishad
2.3.7-8, p. 93, the four nets in Maitri Upanishad 6.28, p. 1054, and the
four meditations in the Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path, p. 170. Diamond
Sutra 14: Cf. Sutta Nipata 1072-76, p. 532; Sutra of Hui Neng 6, p. 399;
Perfection of Wisdom in Eight Thousand Lines 12.3, p. 402; Seng Ts'an, pp.
221f. Mumonkan 1: Zen (Ch'an) stresses the immediacy of the experience of
enlightenment, which is not dependent upon logical progression or reflec-
tion. It can only be realized through intense meditation. This passage
describes what must be done to understand the koan, "Has a dog the Buddha
Nature?" see p. 800. Chuang Tzu 15: Ch'i (Qi) is the spiritual energy
pervading all things. Taoist meditation called Chi Gong and martial arts
such as T'ai-chi, employ physical exercises in order to cultivate the ch'i,
unite with its flow, and harness its power, resulting in inner tranquil-
lity and spiritual vigor. Cf. Mencius II.A.2, p. 740; also Chuang Tzu 6,
p. 584; 12, p. 589.
The Way of learning to be great consists in manifesting the clear charac-
ter, loving the people, and abiding in the highest good.
Only after knowing what to abide in can one be calm. Only after having
been calm can one be tranquil. Only after having achieved tranquillity
can one have peaceful repose. Only after having peaceful repose can one
begin to deliberate. Only after deliberation can the end be attained.
Things have their roots and their branches. Affairs have their beginnings
and their ends. To know what is first and what is last will lead one near
Confucianism. Great Learning
On one occasion a certain monk was seated not far from the Buddha in
cross-legged posture, holding his body upright, enduring pain that was the
fruit born of former action, pain racking, sharp, and bitter; but he was
mindful, composed, and uncomplaining. Seeing the monk so seated and so
employed, the Buddha gave this utterance:
For the monk who has left behind all karma,
And shaken off the dust aforetime gathered,
Who stands fast without thought of "I" or "mine"--
For such there is no need to talk to people.
Buddhism. Udana 20, Nandasutta
Holding the body steady, with the three upper parts erect,
And causing the senses with the mind to enter into the heart,
A wise man with the Brahma-boat should cross over
All the fear-bringing streams.
Having repressed his breathings here in the body, and having his movements
One should breathe through his nostrils with diminished breath.
Like that chariot yoked with vicious horses,
His mind the wise man should restrain undistractedly.
In a clean, level spot, free from pebbles, fire, and gravel,
By the sound of water and other propinquities
Favorable to thought, not offensive to the eye,
In a hidden retreat protected from the wind, one should practice yoga.
Fog, smoke, sun, fire, wind,
Fireflies, lightning, a crystal, a moon--
These are the preliminary appearances,
Which produce the manifestation of Brahman in yoga.
When the fivefold quality of yoga has been produced,
Arising from earth, water, fire, air, and space,
No sickness, old age, no death has he
Who has obtained a body made out of the fire of yoga.
Lightness, healthiness, steadiness,
Clearness of countenance and pleasantness of voice,
Sweetness of odor, and scanty excretions--
These, they say, are the first stage in the progress of yoga.
Even as a mirror stained by dust
Shines brilliantly when it has been cleansed,
So the embodied one, on seeing the nature of the Soul,
Becomes unitary, his end attained, from sorrow freed.
When with the nature of the self, as with a lamp,
A practicer of yoga beholds here the nature of Brahman,
Unborn, steadfast, from every nature free--
By knowing God, one is released from all fetters!
Hinduism. Svetasvatara Upanishad 2.8-15
Great Learning: Confucian meditation, called Quiet Sitting, has as its
aim neither to find the Self nor to empty the mind, but rather to make the
mind level and receptive to knowledge. According to the school of Wang-
yang Ming, investigation of outward reality should begin with the investi-
gation of one's own mind. Cf. Doctrine of the Mean 1.4-5, pp. 228f.;
Great Learning 7, p. 928; Chuang Tzu 5, p. 553; 23, p. 928.
Those who aspire to the state of self-discipline should seek the Self in
inner solitude through meditation, controlling body and mind, free from
expectations and attachment to material possessions.
Select a clean spot, neither too high nor too low, and seat yourself firm-
ly on a cloth, a deerskin, and kusha grass. Then, once seated, strive to
still your thoughts. Make your mind one-pointed in meditation, and your
heart will be purified. Hold your body, head, and neck firmly in a
straight line, and keep your eyes from wandering. With all fears dissolv-
ed in the peace of the Self and all desires dedicated to God, controlling
the mind and fixing it on Me, sit in meditation with Me as your only goal.
With senses and mind constantly controlled through meditation, united with
the Self within, an aspirant attains Nirvana, the state of abiding joy and
peace in Me.
Arjuna, those who eat too much or eat too little, who sleep too much or
sleep too little, will not succeed in meditation. But those who are temp-
erate in eating and sleeping, work and recreation, will come to the end of
sorrow through meditation. Through constant effort they learn to withdraw
the mind from selfish cravings and absorb it in the Self. Thus they at-
tain the state of union.
When meditation is mastered, the mind is unwavering like the flame of a
lamp in a windless place. In the still mind, in the depths of meditation,
the eternal Self reveals itself. Beholding the Self by means of the Self,
an aspirant knows the joy and peace of complete fulfilment. Having at-
tained that abiding joy beyond the senses, revealed in the stilled mind,
he never swerves from the central truth. He desires nothing else, and
cannot be shaken by the heaviest burden of sorrow.
The practice of meditation frees one from all affliction. This is the
path of yoga. Follow it with determination and sustained enthusiasm. Re-
nouncing wholeheartedly all selfish desires and expectations, use your
will to control the senses. Little by little, through patience and
repeated effort, the mind will become stilled in the Self.
Wherever the mind wanders, restless and diffuse in its search for satis-
faction without, lead it within; train it to rest in the Self. Abiding
joy comes to those who still the mind. Freeing themselves from the taint
of self-will, with their consciousness unified, they become one with God.
Hinduism. Bhagavad Gita 6.10-27
As long as I am seated in this meditation, I shall patiently suffer all
calamities that might befall me, be they caused by an animal, a human
being or a god.
I renounce, for the duration [of this meditation], my body, all food, and
all passions. Attachment, aversion, fear, sorrow, joy, anxiety, self-
pity... all these I abandon with body, mind, and speech. I further re-
nounce all delight and all repulsion of a sexual nature.
Whether it is life or death, whether gain or loss, whether defeat or vic-
tory, whether meeting or separation, whether friend or enemy, whether
pleasure or pain, I have equanimity towards all.
In [attaining] knowledge, insight, and proper conduct, [the cause] is
invariably nothing but my own soul. Similarly, my soul [is cause] for
both the influx of karmas and the stopping of that influx.
One and eternal is my soul, characterized by intuition and knowledge; all
other states that I undergo are external to me, for they are formed by
associations. Because of these associations my soul has suffered the
chains of misery; therefore I renounce with body, mind, and speech, all
relationships based on such associations.
Thus have I attained to equanimity and to my own self-nature.
May this state of equanimity be with me until I attain salvation.
Jainism. Samayika Patha
Svetasvatara Upanishad 2.8-15: The unity realized by the adept in medita-
tion is described in Atharva Veda 19.51.1, p. 228. On the self-control
required in meditation, see Bhagavad Gita 5.21-23, p. 199; 6.35-36, p.
733; Dhammapada 33-37, p. 733. Bhagavad Gita 6.10-27: See the previous
note. Samayika Patha: This is one of many recitations, samayika patha,
inwardly repeated during the layperson's meditation, the samayika. Usual-
ly performed at dusk, when the day's activities have come to an end, the
layperson sits in a yoga posture, asks forgiveness of all beings, puts his
mind in a state of calm, and begins his meditation. This Jain practice
allows laypeople a taste of the ascetic life.
There is this one way, monks, for the purification of beings, for the
overcoming of sorrow and misery, for the destruction of pain and grief,
for winning the right path, for the attainment of Nibb-ana, namely the
Four Arousings of Mindfulness. What are these four?
Here a monk lives contemplating the body in the body, ardent, clearly
conscious and mindful, having overcome, in this world, covetousness and
dejection; he lives contemplating feelings in feelings, ardent, clearly
conscious and mindful, having overcome, in this world, covetousness and
dejection; he lives contemplating consciousness in consciousness, ardent,
clearly conscious and mindful, having overcome, in this world, covetous-
ness and dejection; he lives contemplating mental objects in mental ob-
jects, ardent, clearly conscious and mindful, having overcome in this
world, covetousness and dejection.
And how, monks, does a monk live contemplating body in the body? Here
a monk, having gone to the forest, sits down cross-legged keeping his body
erect and setting up mindfulness in front of him. Mindful he breathes in,
mindful he breathes out. Breathing in long, he knows, "I breathe in long."
Breathing out long, he knows, "I breathe out long." Breathing in short,
he knows, "I breathe in short." Breathing out short, he knows, "I breathe
out short." "Experiencing the whole body I shall breathe out," thus he
And further, a monk knows when he is going, "I am going"; he knows
when he is standing, "I am standing"; he knows when he is sitting, "I am
sitting"; he knows when he is lying down, "I am lying down"; or just as
the body is disposed so he knows it....
And further, a monk reflects on this very body enveloped by the skin
and full of manifold impurity from the soles up and from the crown of the
head down, thinking, "There are in this body: hair of the head, hair of
the body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, marrow, kidney, heart,
liver, membranes, spleen, lungs, bowels, intestines, mesentery, feces,
bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, saliva, mucus, synovic fluid,
And further, if a monk sees a body dead for one day, or two or three,
swollen, discolored, decomposing, thrown aside in the cemetery, he app-
lies this perception to his own body, "Truly, this body of mine, too, is
of the same nature, it will become like that and will not escape it."...
And how, monks, does a monk live contemplating feelings in feelings?
Here a monk when experiencing a pleasant feeling knows, "I experience
a pleasant feeling"; when experiencing a painful feeling knows, "I exper-
ience a painful feeling"; when experiencing a feeling that is neither
pleasant nor painful knows, "I experience a neither pleasant nor painful
And how does a monk live contemplating consciousness in consciousness?
Here, monks, a monk knows the consciousness with craving as with crav-
ing; the consciousness without craving as without craving; the conscious-
ness with anger as with anger; the consciousness without anger as without
anger; the consciousness with ignorance as with ignorance; the conscious-
ness without ignorance as without ignorance... the freed state of con-
sciousness as the freed state; the unfreed state of consciousness as the
And how does a monk live contemplating mental objects in mental ob-
Here, monks, a monk lives contemplating mental objects in the mental
objects of the five hindrances. When sense desire is present, a monk
knows, "There is sense desire in me", or when sense desire is not present
he knows, "There is no sense desire in me." He knows how the arising of
the non-arisen sense desire comes to be; he knows how the abandoning of
the arisen sense-desire comes to be; he knows how the non-arising in the
future of the abandoned sense desire comes to be. When anger is present,
he knows... when sloth and torpor is present, he knows... when restless-
ness and worry are present, he knows... when doubt is present, he knows...
Truly, monks, whoever practices these Four Settings up of Mindfulness
for seven years, then one of two results may be expected by him: highest
knowledge here and now or, if some remainder of clinging is yet present,
the state of non-returning.
Buddhism. Majjhima Nikaya i.55-63, Satipatthana Sutta
Buddha then replied to Vaidehi, "You and all other beings besides
ought to make it their only aim, with concentrated thought, to get a
perception of the Western Quarter. You will ask how that perception is to
be formed. I will explain it now. All beings, if not blind from birth,
are uniformly possessed of sight, and they all see the setting sun. You
should sit down properly, looking in the western direction, and prepare
your thought for a close meditation on the sun; cause your mind to be
firmly fixed on it so as to have an unwavering perception by the exclusive
application of your thought, and gaze upon it when it is about to set and
looks like a suspended drum.
"After you have thus seen the sun, let that image remain clear and
fixed, whether your eyes be shut or open--such is the perception of the
sun, which is the First Meditation.
"Next you should form the perception of water; gaze on the water clear
and pure, and let [this image] also remain clear and fixed; never allow
your thought to be scattered or lost.
"When you have thus seen the water you should form the perception of
ice. As you see the ice shining and transparent, you should imagine the
appearance of lapis lazuli.
"After that has been done, you will see the ground consisting of lapis
lazuli, transparent and shining both within and without. Beneath this
ground of lapis lazuli there will be seen a golden banner with the seven
jewels, diamonds and the rest, supporting the ground. It extends to the
eight points of the compass, and thus the eight corners [of the ground]
are perfectly filled up. Every side of the eight quarters consists of a
hundred jewels, every jewel has a thousand rays, and every ray has eighty-
four thousand colors which, when reflected in the ground of lapis lazuli,
look like one hundred thousand million suns, and it is difficult to see
them all one by one. Over the surface of that ground of lapis lazuli
there are stretched golden ropes intertwined crosswise; divisions are made
by means of [strings of] seven jewels with every part clear and distinct.
"Each jewel has rays of five hundred colors which look like flowers or
like the moon and stars. Lodged high up in the open sky these rays form a
tower of rays, whose stories and galleries are ten millions in number and
built of a hundred jewels. Both sides of the tower have each ten thousand
million flowery banners furnished and decked with innumerable musical
instruments. Eight kinds of cool breezes proceed from the brilliant rays.
When those musical instruments are played, they emit the sounds 'suffer-
ing,' 'non-existence,' 'impermenance,' and 'non-self'--such is the percep-
tion of the water, which is the Second Meditation.
"When this perception has been formed, you should meditate on its
constituents one by one and make the images as clear as possible, so that
they may never be scattered or lost, whether your eyes be shut or open.
Except only during the time of your sleep, you should always keep this in
your mind. One who has reached this stage of perception is said to have
dimly seen the Land of Highest Happiness (Sukhavati).
"One who has obtained samadhi is able to see the Land clearly and
distinctly: this state is too much to be explained fully--such is the
perception of the Land, and it is the Third Meditation."
Buddhism. Meditation on Buddha Amitayus 9-11
Majjhima Nikaya i.55-63: This sutta teaches the distinctively Buddhist
technique of meditation called the Four Arousings of Mindfulness. Cf.
Digha Nikaya ii.99-100, p. 679, Anguttara Nikaya v.66, pp. 724f. Medita-
tion on Buddha Amitayus 9-11: Meditating upon the Pure Land of Amitabha in
the Western direction through contemplating the setting sun was a popular
practice in ancient Japan. The Western gate of Shi-tenno-ji in Osaka was
believed to be the gate to the Pure Land, and it is said that many fol-
lowers gathered there at the spring and autumn equinoxes when the sun set
directly through the gate. The meditation itself continues through six-
teen stages, dwelling in turn upon the exquisite beauty of the Pure Land,
the glory of the Buddha and the great Bodhisattvas, and the destinies of
beings of various grades of character. In this passage we have mention of
the Four Noble Truths. Meditation on Buddha Amitayus 17, p. 646, is a
meditation on the Tathagata himself. Cf. the description of the Pure Land
in Larger Sukhavativyuha Sutra 15-18, pp. 358f.
Before I could go on my vision quest, I had to purify myself in the
oinikaga tipi, the inipi, the sweat lodge.... With the buffalo-horn
ladle, Good Lance poured ice-cold water over the red-glowing stones.
There was a tremendous hiss as we were instantly enveloped in a cloud of
searing white steam. It was so hot, it came like a shock wave upon me...
I dared not breathe; I thought that if I did I would burn my lungs into
charcoal. But I did not cry out. I just stuck my head between my knees.
Good Lance prayed. He used ancient words, "This steam is the holy breath
of the universe. Hokshila, boy, you are in your mother's womb again. You
are going to be reborn." They all sang two songs, very ancient songs,
going way back to the days when we Sioux roamed the prairie. Suddenly I
felt wise with the wisdom of generations. These men, my relatives, sang
loud and vigorously.... The little hut was shaken as if in the grip of a
giant hand. It was trembling as a leaf trembles in the wind. Beneath us
the earth seemed to move. "Grandfather is here," said Good Lance. "The
spirits are here; the Eagle's wisdom is here." We believed it; we knew
it. The pipe was passed.... Four times we smoked. After the last time,
Good Lance told me, "Hokshila, you have been purified; you are no longer a
child; you are ready now and made strong to go up there and cry for a
Our vision pit was an L-shaped hole dug into the ground, first
straight down and then a short horizontal passage deep under the roots of
the trees. You sit at the end of that passage and do your fasting. A
grown-up man fasts anywhere from one to four days... in my case, it was
decided that I should stay up there alone without food or water for two
days and two nights.
[After some preparations] it was time for me to strip and go down into
the hole. My father and uncle wrapped me in a star quilt and tied me up
in it with a deer hide thong.... They patted me on the back, mumbled some
encouragements, and left me there.
The first hours were the hardest. It was pitch dark and deathly
still. I sat there without moving. My arms and legs went asleep. I
could neither hear nor see nor feel. I became almost disembodied, a thing
with a heart and wild thoughts but no flesh or bones. Would I ever be
able to see and hear again?... I don't know how long I sat there. All
sense of time had left me long ago. I didn't know whether it was day or
night, had not even a way to find out. I prayed and prayed, tears stream-
ing down my cheeks. I wanted water but kept praying. Toward evening of
the second day--and this time is only a wild guess--I saw wheels before my
eyes forming up into one fiery hoop and then separating again into bright,
many-colored circles, dancing before my eyes and again contracting into
one big circle, a circle with a mouth and two eyes.
Suddenly, I heard a voice. It seemed to come from within the bundle
that was me, a voice from the dark. It was hard to tell exactly where it
came from. It was not a human voice; it sounded like a bird speaking like
a man. My hackles rose... "Remember the hoop" said the voice, "this night
we will teach you." And I heard many feet walking around in my small
vision pit. Suddenly I was out of my hole, in another world, standing in
front of a sweat bath on a prairie covered with wildflowers, covered with
herds of elk and buffalo.
I saw a man coming toward me; he seemed to have no feet; he just
floated toward me out of a mist, holding two rattles in his hand. He
said, "Boy, whatever you tell your people, do not exaggerate; always do
what your vision tells you. Never pretend." The man was wearing an old-
fashioned buckskin outfit decorated with quillwork. I stretched out my
hands to touch him, when suddenly I was back inside my star quilt, clutch-
ing my medicine bundle of stones and tobacco ties. I still heard the
voice, "Remember the hoop; remember the pipe; be its spokesman." I was no
longer afraid; whoever was talking to me meant no harm.
Suddenly before me stretched a coal-black cloud with lightning coming
out of it. The cloud spread and spread; it grew wings; it became an
eagle. The eagle talked to me: "I give you a power, not to use for your-
self, but for your people. It does not belong to you; it belongs to the
common folks." I saw a rider on a gray horse coming toward me, he held in
his one hand a hoop made of sage. He held it high... and again everything
dissolved into blackness. Again out of the mist came a strange creature
floating up, covered with hair, pale, formless. He wanted to take my med-
icine away from me, but I wrestled with him, defended it. He did not get
my medicine. He, too, disappeared.
Suddenly somebody shook me by the shoulder. "Wake up, boy." My father
and my uncle had come for me. The two days and two nights were over.
Native American Religions. Leonard Crow Dog, Sioux
Sioux Vision Quest: The vision quest began with an invocation to the
spirits in the sweat lodge; cf. the Winnebago Invocation at the Sweat
Lodge, p. 373.