Meditation, an Art That Transcends Religions
Meditation might be more popular and in practice today but it has existed for thousands of years. Meditation is nothing but a practice of turning one’s mind away from unwanted thoughts to attain peace and balance. It is not about becoming a better or a different person, it is all about acceptance and awareness of the inner self and the surroundings. One of the most common misnomers for beginners in practicing meditation will lead to some magical peace. Meditation, however, is more of a journey than a destiny. Meditation is a skill that requires commitment, perseverance, and belief. In this blog, we will explore about the origin and evolution of meditation with respect to religions.
Origin of Meditation
The origin and history of meditation are complex especially how and when it started. Some school of thoughts believed them to be as old as humanity. According to many researchers and historians, Meditation is believed to be originated from ancient Vedic times in Hinduism several thousand years back. Practicing Dhyāna, which means training one’s mind was widely mentioned in the Vedic texts and is considered as a practice similar to meditation. The oldest documentation of meditation dates back to 5000 BCE in the form of images like wall art paintings showing people sitting in meditative postures with their eyes half closed, from India. The first recorded texts of meditation go back to 1500 BCE in Hinduism, later picked up in Taoism in China and Buddhism in India around 600-500 BCE. An ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu mentions various techniques in his writings which were later linked to meditation practices. The word “meditate” was introduced in 12th century AD, and comes from the Latin word meditatum which means ‘to ponder’. The practice later was quickly adopted in other faiths and religions across the world. In West, interest around meditation started building up in the 1700s when eastern spirituality and philosophy including meditation techniques and practices became available in other languages.
Meditation & Religion
Religion can be defined as human beings’ relation to the holy, sacred, spiritual or divine, worthy of especial reverence. Religion is a belief system, a path that people take to travel through their life, a code of conduct guiding their moral, ethical and social behaviour. Since ancient times, religion has witnessed evolution and transformation. Zoroastrianism, a religion that originated some 3500 years ago, much before Christianity, Islam and Judaism is now on the verge of disappearance. This only further confirms that religions will continue to evolve. Yet religions play a huge role in keeping an extraordinarily complicated world together cohesively. Meditation has been practiced in different forms and techniques in almost all religions but yet transcends over them. The five major religions in today’s world Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all practice meditation in some form.
Hinduism, promotes an array of techniques to achieve Moksha, the enlightened state similar to Nirvana in Buddhism. The ancient texts encourage the practice of Yoga for meditation and self-realization. One of the principles of yoga states the eight limbs in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: discipline, rules, postures, breath control, senses withdrawal, one-pointedness of mind, meditation and realization of self (Samadhi).
Buddhism promotes meditation as a tool to attain nirvana, a state of serenity with techniques like concentration, breadth meditation. Taoism, an ancient chinses philosophy, promotes techniques like concentration, and visualization. Islam too promotes meditation through focusing inward, using breathing techniques and concentration with help of holy words. Judaism, in their ancient religious texts, the Tanach, states the practice of hisbonenus, mental visualization to obtain a deeper understanding of oneself in order to connect with the divine power. Christianity encourages meditation in the form of prayer as a tool to reflect upon God and focus. Throughout the history in the middle age, the practice of meditation spread into many other religious practices. Meditation, however is not a religion, it is a practice. More importantly, meditation is a technique.
Meditation in Modern Age
Meditation was perceived to be a topic for interest for philosophers and intellectuals till the 18th century. By early 20th century, meditation started gaining more prominence through translation of many religious readings in English language and migration of some prominent spiritual teachers in the West, especially in the United States. A book titled “Tibetan Book of the Dead”, published in 1927, rose wide interest in meditation followed by the Vipassana movement gained momentum in the 1950s and Transcendental Meditation in the 1960s. By 1970s, meditation was researched for its scientific benefits on well-being expanding its connection merely to spirituality and religion. This further encouraged common people to take up the practice beyond just the spiritual fulfillment.
This movement led to origin of mindfulness s one of the mediative techniques and the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program was founded in the United States in 1979. Over the last couple of years its effects have been well established and meditation has become increasingly popular. Meditation is being practiced all over the world in different forms like breathing exercises, Tai Chi, and Yoga, guided meditation, movements, contemplation, concentration etc.
Irrespective of the form in which mediation is practiced, the benefits of meditation are irrefutable and universal. Similar to techniques for physical fitness, meditation is a technique for mental well-being leading to our holistic wellness. Meditation can ultimately help us in self-reflection and in the process becoming better humans. “The greatest thing in the world is to know how to belong to oneself., said the French Philosopher Michel de Montaigne and it does seem relevant to all generations and perhaps more in the modern world.
May peace be with you!