Many people in the West are drawn to meditation for its therapeutic benefits in stress reduction and for increasing happiness. For example, the famous book The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubormisrki (384 pages, 2007) lists various activities for increasing happiness: Activity No 12 on pages 240--243 is meditation. In Eastern traditions, meditation is a milestone in one's spiritual journey, a much larger goal than stress reduction.
The Buddhist system for attaining 'nibbana' is in 3 steps: sila (moral behaviour characterized by no-killing, no-stealing, continence, no-lying, no-intoxication), samadhi (tranquility meditation) and vipassana (insight meditation). There are multiple techniques for tranquility meditation itself. Insight meditation can begin only after a practitioner has sufficient practice of tranquility meditation. The Visuddhimagga (a challenging book to read) is a core Buddhist text that outlines various meditation techniques and the descriptions of various landmarks (states of mind) encountered along the way. The entire spiritual journey is structured and "algorithmic". The techniques are best learnt from qualified teachers. Bay area residents have a few choices:
10-day Vipassana Meditation camp are organized by Shri S N Goenka at many centers worldwide. Bay area residents may attend the course at North Fork, CA, which is roughly 40 miles south of Yosemite National Park. After learning the meditation technique at the 10-day course, daily practice at home is critical. Volunteers in the bay area have rented the South Bay Vipassana Hall in San Jose for weekly group sittings. There are no talks or seminars held here.
Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City was started in 1986 as an informal group of people interested in learning, supporting and deepening their meditation practice. The center now offers weekly meditation sessions, talks on Buddhist teaching and practice, classes, group discussions, yoga practice and meditation retreats. List of teachers. One of the teachers is Terry Lesser who conducts Yoga classes. She is an Iyengar Yoga teacher who also practices Vipassana meditation.
Patanjali's 8-Step Path to salvation forms the basis of many Hindu traditions. Three of these 8 steps are Yoga, Pranayama and Dhyana, with Yoga (postures) facilitating Pranayama (breathing exercises), which in turns facilitates Dhyana (meditation). Thus, unlike Buddhist systems, meditation is taught in conjunction with (or subsequent to) yoga and pranayama. How Yoga Works by Michael Roach and Christie McNally (406 pages, 2005) explains the Yoga Sutras in the form of a story. A vast collection of commentaries on the Sutras has also been compiled.
The Vedanta Society of Northern California has a temple in San Francisco. The society was founded by Swami Vivekananda in 1900. The Vedanta Olema Retreat is in a town called Olema, 37 miles north of San Francisco. It hosts a library of books and provides free residence to anybody who wishes to pursue meditation for extended periods of time.The Vedanta Society of Southern California maintains monthly archives of articles: the articles on meditation are very good.