Many people believe that meditation is a fairly “new thing”, whereas in fact its history has been around for about 5000 years !!
The ancient Hindu holy books – which it is believed, were written about 4000 years ago – go into extensive details about meditation, especially a set of books called the Vedas.
Meditation always has been a very essential and important part of the history of Hindu religious tradition, and in fact it was probably the first religion to use meditation in a big way.
Later, other religions adopted meditation into their own history.
For example, according to Buddhist history, Buddha reached ‘enlightenment’ whilst meditating under a Bodhi tree….in a small town called Boddh Gaya near Varanasi ( previously called Benares) in India.
Because of this Boddh Gaya is now considered to be the historical spiritual ‘home’ for all of the different offshoots of the original Buddhism – such as Tibetan, Zen,Therevada, Mahayana and Chan Buddhism. (We will be looking at all these in greater detail in the section of the website that covers the different types of meditation)
It is a very special place to visit, with an intense feeling of calm spirituality and long history.
All around a huge green grassed area in the centre of Boddh Gaya there are monasteries and nunneries for all the different Buddhist branches from all over the world – each with its monks and nuns in robes of different colours and styles. All mingling and discussing fine points of Buddhism in a peaceful, non-argumentative way. (Well worth a visit if you are ever in India !)
As you can see in the photo above, they have built a huge interesting ‘Stupa’ since I was there many years ago – it is supposedly on the exact site where Buddha reached enlightenment.
Incidentally, this year, 2007, is the year 2500 in the Buddhist counting – which is taken from the year of the birth of Buddha, instead of the birth of Jesus as in our Western calendar. In many countries even now, for example Thailand, Laos and Myanmar – if you buy a calendar it will have the year 2500 instead of 2007 !
More recent History
Later still, meditation was incorporated into many of the Martial Art systems, as a way of increasing the concentration and effectiveness and power of each martial art.
At the present time, by far the majority of the Martial Arts use some form of meditation as being an important central part of their system, as we will see when we look in greater detail at the different types of meditation.
As regards Christianity – history, in the form of the Bible, tells us to meditate (Joshua 1:8), and another reference from the Old Testament in Genesis 24, mentions Isaac meditating.
According to the Old Testament Book of Joshua, one form of meditation is to meditate on holy scriptures. Many forms of Christian meditation involve repetition of certain sacred scripts or words or something similar. We can say that in the Christian Catholic system for example – prayer – in the form known as ‘saying the Rosary’ – which involves multiple repetitions of the Hail Mary prayer, is basically definitely a form of meditation.
There is also a Christian mantra meditation that is taken from the Bible – thus is is a Christian Bible Meditation – I give details about this in the Mantras page
In the same way we can say that Christian meditation is considered a form of prayer, or we can also say the opposite – Christian prayer is a form of meditation.
From this it is obvious that even if you are already deeply involved in some kind of religion, there is no conflict with doing some form of meditation at the same time… in fact often meditation will deepen and strengthen your religious beliefs, so it can be a great help in this way.
In Judaic/Jewish history, there is evidence that meditation has been practised from the earliest times. Evidence for this exists both in the Old Testament – which is considered sacred writings by both the Jews and the Christians – and also in the Jewish Torah or Tanach holy writings.
In present time Jewish practice, there is use of meditation practices – the best known of these is called Hitbodeidut.
Most of the Eastern Buddhism offshoots, or other systems, that show some similarity to Buddhism, such as Taoism, Baha’i, Jainism and Sikhism, all use forms of meditation as part of their spiritual disciplines.
Islam (the Muslim faith), has basically two kinds of meditation that are practised regularly.
The most common and original historical ‘mainstream’ one was developed and taught in and soon after the time of Muhammed, and is mentioned frequently in the Qur’an (or Koran), which of course is the most holy of the teachings in Islamic history.
It is called Tafakkur in the Qur’an, and refers to contemplative meditation and reflection upon the universe.
The second form of Islamic meditation, ( which is not recognised by some mainstream Muslim scholars), is largely based on mystical exercises of one sort or another, and often includes music and/or dancing. This is the Sufi tradition, and is based on a form of meditation that is similar to the Buddhist meditation practice, and is called Muraqabah.
Other more modern meditation systems
There are many modern meditation systems and techniques that do not take any particular religion as their basis, but involve using meditation as a tool for health benefits or similar reasons.
As regards the overall history of meditation, these are very modern newcomers with no history of their own as such, but just the same, very valuable and probably what will concern us most in this website.
Generally speaking, these modern methods of meditation are not part of any particular religion or philosophy, but instead they teach meditation as a tool, to use as a method of relaxation for stress relief, or sometimes to help with insommnia, although many of them take techniques from the more traditional Eastern systems.
They also all have health benefits, on both a mental or psychological level, and also on a physical level. We will be looking at this in greater detail in the section on Benefits of Meditation.
Probably the most well known of these modern systems is Transcendental Meditation. This was started by a Hindu Yogi called Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. It uses different Mantras (see section on Types of meditation), that are selected on the base of age and sex of the people wishing to learn.
Unfortunately it is quite expensive to learn, even though they have a very big organisation, (that has admittedly done a lot of research into scientific studies about the benefits of meditation.) It is probably the first organisation in history to charge for teaching meditation. This has traditionally always been free, with information passed from a teacher to a pupil for no charge.
Some more modern systems, that we could probably call New Age Meditations, include the following –
The ARICA Organisation. This is an interesting organisation that was founded by a very knowledgeable and spiritual man called Oscar Ichazo. He spent a long time together with teachers and experts from many different meditation and spiritual systems from around the world, in a town in Chile, called Arica.
What they tried to do was to “take apart” all the different meditation and spiritual systems, in order to see what it was in each system that “make it click”, that gave it its most power, or what made it work best.
They then tried to put all this knowledge back together again, using the best tools that they had discovered from the different sytems in history, and set up this New Age system called ARICA, (after the town where is was developed).
They use many different meditation techniques, some of which we will be exploring in detail later in this website.
Other modern systems, that I will mention here, but will not go into in great detail, include –
Natural Stress Relief – a technique that is taught by the Scientia Institute.
Shambala Training – founded by Chogyam Trungpa Rimpoche in 1976.
5 Rhythms – a meditation system started by Gabrielle Roth.
Autogenic Training – developed by a German psychiatrist called Johannes Schultz in 1932.
In addition to these, there are several systems that use modern forms of Yoga or other exercises together with meditations.
Finally a very new form of meditation,with no long history to back it up, uses flashing lights or repetitive electronic sounds –
The idea behind this is that the brainwaves can be seen to have certain frequencies or speeds,, depending on whether we are awake, asleep, relaxed, tense, and so on.
These brainwaves can be easily measured by using a machine called an EEG (ElectroEncephaloGram), that has a long history of use medically, especially in diagnosing conditions such as Epilepsy, or assessing brain damage.
It has been found that if you flash lights, or make electronic noises at someone, at the same particular speeds, or frequencies, that the brain shows when they are relaxed – then the brain ‘picks up’ these frequencies and automatically the person also relaxes.
This is called “entraining”, and is very interesting and shows huge promise, but has not yet been developed enough to be inexpensively available. I am sure that this will change very soon with all of the rapid advances in the field of electronics.
For further information about this check out my page called Entrainment, and also my CD and MP3 downloads page
So this brings us to the end of the section on the History of Meditation. We will be looking at several of these systems in more detail further on in the website, but this gives you a good overview.
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