a brief history of meditation


Although an apparent resurgence in today’s world of the essential need for meditation to counteract our stressful busy lives, history teaches us that it is certainly nothing new. It is no surprise that India, synonymous with spiritual practices is the birth place of meditation. Nonetheless recently cave art has been discovered, dated at 5,000-3,500 BCE displaying early humans sitting in what appears to be the state of meditation. From the development of man the earliest written records of meditation appear in the Hindu Vedas (1,500 BCE), these traditions were only in print years after generations of cultures had learned the practice by rote and passed on their knowledge. Yoga was born out of Hinduism which although physical in its foundation, fundamentally is meditation. 

Buddhism whose founding father is Gautama Siddharta (6th Century BCE) historically turned his back on his royal heritage to seek enlightenment. Once attained he became the embodiment of the Buddha and the teachings of loving kindness and vipassana over centuries swept across Asia and the world. Other branches developed within Eastern Religions including JAINISM (India), TAOISM (China) and CONFUCIANISM (China). The Asian continent influenced and penetrated Greek philosophers consciousness (327-325 BCE) to practice meditation developing contemplation and concentration approaches. 

Once Christian popularity grew in the West, mystics refined their practice on the repetition of religious words / phrases (possibly influenced by the SUFIS') bringing them closer to God. Advancements of Christian meditation were produced by Benedictine and Trappist Monks (16th Century).

Zen an extension of Buddhism was founded in the 8th Century by the Indian / Persian Monk Boddidharma and has created diverse lineages that grew from his teachings e.g. CHA'N(China), ZEN(Japan) and THIEN(Vietnam). Koan’s (riddles / stories of wisdom) are a specific tool to bring students into awareness. Another tradition shaped 1,400 years ago by Indian teachings through the religion of Islam is Sufism. Predominantly focussing on mantra and gazing on a desired point. This closely followed by JUDAISM, Abraham Abulafia (1240-1291) later impacted the mystic wisdom of Kabbalah and its core foundations of names for God, prayers, philosophical ethics and symbolism.

Since the 1700s eastern thought and reasoning began to translate esoteric texts such as the Upanishads (Hinduism) and countless Buddhists sutras. As a consequence the practice of meditation grew at an exponential rate in the western world. The birth of T.M (transcendental meditation) and with its proponents Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry Thoreau highlighted its popularity in the 1960s by the Maharishi Yogi teaching the Beatles.

In the present day the necessity to be religious to practice meditation is inaccurate. Techniques have been designed specifically to be engaged with a westerner’s mindset, such as 'Mindfulness' (M.B.S.R. - mindfulness based stress reduction) founded by Jon Kabat-Zinn and are now highly subscribed to by hospitals and health centres worldwide, to alleviate conditions of patients associated with stress.

From the historical religions and cultures aforementioned four schools of thought take precedence in the popularity of meditation. BUDDHISM - focussing on the eradication of suffering. ZEN - establishing our own insights of awareness as opposed to the teachings of texts and doctrines. T.M.- (transcendental meditation) concentrating on personal mantra to reinvigorate body and mind and MINDFULNESS - (M.B.S.R.) fusing together Yoga (Hatha) practices with Buddhist influenced meditation. All of the above wholeheartedly have contributed to the quest of human being’s desire for peace and happiness.