In 1974 Hans Burgschmidt was sixteen years old, living in the Canadian Prairies, working in a photography studio darkroom, elbow-deep in chemicals all day long. “Is this what life is about?” he asked a high school friend. “You need to meditate,” was the reply. Not long after, Hans attended a lecture at the local library, where a man in a suit spoke about the scientific benefits of relaxation. He pressed Play on the industrial-sized U-Matic video player and there was Maharishi Mahesh, the Indian yogi who initiated the Beatles into the mysteries of Transcendental Meditation (TM) and launched the meditation careers of thousands of Western devotees.
“An infinite ocean of peace and love and happiness awaits you,” said the radiant Maharishi, with his flowing hair and his garland of flowers. “What’s not to like?” Hans thought, and got in touch with a local TM chapter.
Soon after he began his meditation practice, exactly as advertised, he found himself transported from his parent’s basement into a shimmering inner space of light and colour and bliss. “Eventually you get so expanded and the mantra becomes so refined that you are taken to the silent source of thought – it was wonderful.”
Hans was hooked. Next, he enrolled himself in advanced courses and in the late 70s he left for Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa, hoping to become a teacher.
But somewhere along the line Hans became disenchanted. Maybe it was the dubious “levitation” training, or the dogmatism of his fellow teachers, or the “almost abusive” way the school administrator overworked their staff. “The discrepancies between what was promised and what was really happening kept growing,” Hans told me. “Eventually I had to move on.”
Thus began Hans’ long career as an itinerant spiritual seeker. He hit all the New Age mainstays: Osho and then Da Free John in the 80′s, trance channeling and primal scream therapy and past life regression in the 90′s. But the same pattern of finding the limits of the guru or the practices kept repeating itself. Finally in 2006 he met a teacher he could trust – one of my own teachers, in fact – the Buddhist scholar and future neuroscience-consultant Shinzen Young. “No BS, real down to earth, just an ordinary guy teaching a well-crafted version of techniques that have been tested by Buddhists for thousands of years.” The technique was vipassana, one important – and increasingly popular – aspect of which is known as “mindfulness.”
“I found it invigorating,” says Hans. “It was much more active than other techniques I had learned, I could feel the power of it.” Continue reading >>