History of Meditation

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History of Meditation

Meditation has been used for thousands of years primarily as:

  • a spiritual practice of quieting the mind and turning one’s focus inward
  • shutting out the worries of the world, and
  • entering a profoundly relaxing, trance-like state of unity with God and/or all that is.

It is highly regarded as a discipline of self-mastery on all levels: mental, emotional, physical and spiritual.

Meditation develops self-mastery by focusing the mind on:

  • a mantra or prayer,
  • object,
  • sound, or
  • word, and
  • consistently coaxing the mind back to its focus whenever it wanders or returns to its habitual chatter.

Eventually, the mind becomes quiet, with peace, happiness and clarity replacing mind chatter and negativity.

Where did meditation originate?

Meditation originated long before mankind ever became “civilized” – if you’ve ever stared into a campfire and experienced the altered state brought about by the hypnotic dance of the flames, you can understand how early man came to use these altered states as religious practices developed.

Even today, many meditators still chant rhythmic, repetitive mantras in order to enter the slower brain activity states of meditation or alterred states of consciousness – a practice that also originated in prehistoric times.

Archaeological evidence points to yogic practices within the Indus Valley in India dating back 5,000 years.

Written evidence that meditation was firmly established as a spiritual practice dates back to the Indian “Vedas.”By 500 years BC, meditative traditions had taken hold in China and the Zen tradition develped. Both Hindu and Buddhist meditative traditions have since spread to all parts of the world.

Meditation and religion

Meditation is central to all major religions (Islam, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism and Christianity). But as a religious practice, it was called by a different name – prayer. Many of these traditions involve breathing techniques – much like the Indian yogic traditions – as well as chants, specific postures, and scriptures.

Western Christian traditions differ from the rest in that they do not require audible repetition of a phrase.

In the 12th century, Benedictine monks developed formal steps to meditation – “read, ponder, pray and contemplate” which, if you look across the boundaries at all meditative traditions, is the same everywhere. One learns, thinks about, asks for guidance, and listens to intuitive guidance by going within. At the same time in Japan, Zazen, or sitting meditation, was becoming the norm among Japanese Buddhist monks.

Meditation and the West

Yoga and meditation hit the big time in the West in the 1960s. Some secularized versions of the ancient traditions appealed to those looking outside of formal religions. Today, both yoga and meditation are used for stress reduction, as a personal growth tool, and for relaxation.

Perhaps the best known meditation icon is the Buddha, whose statues adorn homes and temples throughout the world – almost always seated in his customary lotus position, eyes closed, the picture of tranquility and enlightenment.

Meditation is becoming increasingly popular as more and more people are reaching for something to take away the stress and negativity so prevalent in modern life – so it seems very right and natural to return to a practice rooted in mankind’s earliest beginnings.

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