Meditation began to change into actually mainstream across the flip of the millennium—however few individuals are conscious of how outdated and broad this artwork actually is, and the way it obtained developed in numerous elements of the world. On this brief essay, I’ll try to offer a normal map of the historical past of meditation, and its many contemplative traditions.
The info on this article was collected from my years of research in numerous traditions. Aside from that, it’s not simple to search out this info laid out like this, as every custom tends to focus solely by itself historical past, and gives only one piece of the puzzle.
This essay presents an outline of the historical past of meditation in Buddhism, yoga, Christianity, and different traditions. Towards the top, additionally, you will discover info on the historical past of meditation within the West.
Understanding the larger image and origins of meditation will help you uncover which custom or which type of meditation you wish to discover.
On the finish of this web page you possibly can obtain a free PDF of this text.
Lastly, half of the fabric right here was additionally revealed in my new guide Practical Meditation, and is reproduced right here with the permission of Dorling Kindersley Restricted (DK).
If you’re not accustomed to the definition of meditation, please first learn this text on what is meditation.
1. Cave Yogis and Vedic Sages
The place did meditation come from?
Meditation originated in India, a really very long time in the past. The oldest documented proof of the apply of meditation are wall arts within the Indian subcontinent from roughly 5,000 to three,500 BCE, exhibiting individuals seated in meditative postures with half-closed eyes.
The oldest written point out of meditation is from 1,500 BCE within the Vedas. That’s the time when the Vedas made it to paper, however it have to be understood that the Vedas had been memorized and handed down as an oral custom for hundreds of years, lengthy earlier than they have been lastly written down. In truth, the Brihad Aranyaka Upanishad (f14th century BCE) lists almost 70 generations of meditation gurus and college students that had existed as much as that time.
Throughout this historic time, meditation was a apply for spiritual individuals and wandering ascetics, who by means of it sought to transcend the restrictions of human life, join with common forces (personified as deities), and union with the transcendental actuality (known as Brahman within the Vedas).
The Hindu custom of meditation contains each the Yogis meditating in caves, in addition to the Sages (rishis) of the Vedic tradition. It’s the oldest meditation custom on Earth—nonetheless alive and thriving. It has a whole lot of lineages and techniques.
The fashionable Yoga motion, which emphasizes postures and respiratory workouts, is an adaptation of only one of these a whole lot of Yogic colleges (the Hatha Yoga college). Typically, Yoga is a knowledge custom whose core is meditation and non secular growth—not a system of stretches and respiratory practices.
2. The Buddha
Within the sixth century BCE, Siddhartha Gautama deserted his royal life as a prince and got down to attain Enlightenment. On this course of, he discovered meditation and philosophy from the most effective Yogis he might discover in his area.
After some time, nonetheless dissatisfied with what he discovered, he diverged from that custom and created his personal methodology. He achieved the Enlightenment he sought and have become the Buddha. He then spent the following a long time of his life instructing meditation and non secular awakening to 1000’s of individuals.
Over the following a number of centuries, Buddhism unfold throughout Asia, and many various lineages have been fashioned. These days, the Buddhist types of meditation (Vipassana, Samatha, Loving-Kindness and Walking Meditation) are maybe essentially the most broadly practiced kinds of meditation within the West.
3. Jainism, Taoism, Confucianism
In the identical “golden century” because the Buddha, three different religions have been born, all with their very own approaches to meditation. They’re:
- Jainism in India (based by Mahavira)
- Taoism in China (based by Lao Tze)
- Confucianism in China (based by Confucius).
Jainism is a really ascetic custom that locations nice emphasis on self-purification, self-discipline, contemplation, and non-violence. The Jain meditation methods contain mantra repetition, gazing, breath consciousness, visualizations, and self-inquiry.
Taoism emphasizes union with Tao, or cosmic life/nature. You may be taught extra about Taoistic meditation here, and examine the chapters on Zuowang and Neiguan in my book for step-by-step practices from this custom.
Confucianism focuses extra on morality and neighborhood life. Meditation was developed on this custom centuries later, with a concentrate on self-contemplation and self-improvement. It’s known as Jing Zuo.
These traditions are nonetheless alive as we speak, though not as widespread outdoors their house international locations as Buddhism and Yoga are.
4. Greek Philosophers
The Greek philosophers, partially below the full of life affect of sages and yogis of India, developed their very own model of meditation. Such cultural affect was enhanced by Alexander the Nice’s army exploits of India (327–325 BCE), which introduced each cultures in contact.
Within the phrases of the scholar George Feuerstein, in his wonderful guide The Psychology of Yoga:
“Plato and Aristotle, in addition to the historian Herodotus, freely admitted the affect of the Orient upon Greek thought. (…) For the Greeks, the Indian sages exemplified the best virtues of the philosophical life that they themselves sought. The Greeks admired the sages’ obvious immunity to ache and discomfort, in addition to their disinterest in pleasure and what the Greeks noticed as their contempt of loss of life.”
Greek philosophers practiced navel-gazing (omphaloskepsis), as an assist to philosophical contemplation. Afterward, philosophers Philo of Alexandria and Plotinus additionally developed meditation methods, particularly involving focus.
The affect of Jap thought and contemplative traditions on the West was minimize as soon as Christianity started to dominate Europe—and for a lot of centuries. It was solely within the 20th century that the dialogue East-West started to flourish once more.
5. Christian Mysticism
Christian mystics developed their very own type of meditation, principally primarily based on the repetition of a non secular phrase or phrase, and the silent contemplation of God.
One type of Christian meditation is named Jesus Prayer, which was developed between the 10th and 14th centuries in Greece, within the Hesychasm Christian custom. Historians speculate that this group of Christians may need had contact with the Sufis and the Indians, which is the place the affect of meditation may need come from.
One other type is discovered within the Jap Christian sect, additionally includes repetition of a phrase, and is way older than Hesychasm.
Additional developments of Christian meditation occurred by the work of Benedictine monks, Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila (16th century), and the Trappist monks.
To be taught extra, try my article on Christian Meditation.
6. Zen Buddhism
Zen is a well-liked college of Buddhism based by the Indian/Persian monk Bodhidharma, who within the eighth century traveled to China to show meditation. From that time, his teachings developed into the lineage of Chan in China, being later exported into Korean (Seon), Japan (Zen), and Vietnam (Thien). All of these are identified collectively as “Zen”. In all of these lineages, there’s a robust affect of Taoism and Chinese language tradition, which partially explains the distinctiveness of Zen in relation to different Buddhist traditions.
These days the many types of Zazen—which is the meditation approach of Japanese Zen—are nonetheless widespread kinds of meditation within the West. Some lineages of Zen additionally emphasize the apply of Koans as a type of meditation.
The custom of the Sufis (the mystics of Islam) goes so far as 1,400 years again. Sufism, below some affect of Indian contemplative traditions, developed meditation practices primarily based on respiratory, mantra, and gazing.
The core of their practices is connecting with God (Allah). Additionally they developed their iconic Sufi whirling, which could be seen in Turkey even as we speak.
8. Jewish Meditation
The Jewish esoteric custom of Kabbalah, particularly below the affect of Abraham Abulafia (1240–1291) and a few later contemplatives, additionally developed its own forms of meditation. These are principally primarily based on the deep contemplation of philosophical rules, names of God, symbols, prayers, and the Tree of Life.
9. Fashionable Western World
Within the 1700s, a number of texts of Jap philosophy started to be translated into European languages—particularly the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and Buddhist Sutras. By the 18th century, the research of Buddhism within the West was a subject for intellectuals, with the thinker Schopenhauer being maybe one of its most well-known admirers.
Within the US, main figures of the Transcendentalist motion—akin to Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau—have been additionally admirers of the beliefs of Jap philosophy and spirituality.
Yoga and meditation have been launched to the US early within the 20th century by a yogi known as Swami Vivekananda. His charismatic and rationalist presentation on the Parliament of Religions in Chicago (1893) triggered an enormous curiosity in Individuals in Jap philosophy and spirituality. It was additionally nicely acquired by the Transcendentalist motion in the US, particularly by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau,
In consequence of his affect, within the 20th Century a number of well-known Indian non secular academics migrated to the USA, together with: Paramahansa Yogananda (Self-Realization Fellowship), Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (instructing Transcendental Meditation) and Swami Rama (Himalayan Institute). Likewise, representatives of a number of colleges of Buddhism made their technique to educate within the West—the primary ones being Zen, Theravada, and Tibetan Buddhism.
Most of these jap masters had western disciples because the torch-bearer of their teachings. With this, the apply of meditation started to be taught in a extra westernized manner, usually simplified and decoupled from its non secular context. Scientific research started to emerge, and other people realized that meditation will not be solely for many who are looking for non secular enlightenment.
10. The Period of Meditation and Science
In response to the scholar George Feuerstein, the primary piece of scientific analysis on meditation occurred in 1936, and the primary one utilizing the EEG was in 1955. The first assortment of scientific research on meditation was made in 1977 by James Funderburk, a scholar of Swami Rama of the Himalayan Worldwide Institute of Yoga Science.
In truth, Swami Rama was one of the primary yogis to be studied by Western scientists. Within the 1960s he was examined by scientists on the Menninger Clinic, the place he demonstrated his capacity to voluntarily management his bodily processes (akin to heartbeat, blood strain, and physique temperature) which science had up till then thought of being involuntary.
Amongst different issues, he demonstrated:
- Altering his heartbeat whereas sitting immobile, to 300 beats per minute for 16 seconds, after which inside a couple of minutes utterly stopping his coronary heart from pumping blood for some seconds.
- Producing totally different pores and skin temperatures on adjoining sides of his hand by consciously dilating and contracting his blood vessels along with his thoughts.
- Producing alpha, delta, theta and gamma mind waves on demand.
- Remaining absolutely acutely aware of his surroundings whereas his mind was in deep sleep.
[See the guide Yogi in the Lab for extra particulars.]
These and different demonstrations triggered curiosity within the scientific neighborhood to additional research the results of meditation within the physique.
In consequence, over the following 5 a long time, the quantity of scientific research on meditation elevated significantly, and so did their high quality. Superior practitioners of different traditions, significantly Zen monks and Tibetan lamas, have been additionally studied and gave mind-over-body demonstrations.
One other pioneer on this course of was Dr. Herbert Benson, who probed the effectiveness of meditation by means of his analysis at Harvard College within the early 1970s. Earlier than that point, meditation was nonetheless thought of a non secular apply, and thus not acceptable for healthcare functions. Along with his contribution this started to vary.
Meditation At this time
Now, within the early 21st century, meditation has change into mainstream and vastly secularized. Although non secular meditation continues to exist, it’s the secular strategy to the apply—for its advantages to the physique, thoughts, and wellness—which is the explanation for its ever-increasing recognition.
The place to go from right here?
- Would you like step-by-step guides to check out the methods of any of these traditions? Try my guide, Practical Meditation.
- Do you wish to be taught extra concerning the philosophy of these traditions? Try my book recommendations.
- Would you like guided meditations to comply with alongside any of these methods? Try my Meditation Library membership.
History of Meditation PDF
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[Photos attribution: Cowl (wikimedia.org); Vedic rishis (baps.org); Buddha (buddhist-art.internet); Sufi (javanemrooz.com); Thoreau quote (azquotes.com); Swami Rama on the lab (kansasmemory.org/); Lama on the lab (buddhistdoor.internet); Meditation as we speak (massagetherapyoga.com)]