What is The History of Meditation?
The practice of meditation is of prehistoric origin, and is found throughout history, especially in religious contexts.
The exact origins of Buddhist meditation are subject to debate among scholars. Early written records of the multiple levels and states of meditation in Buddhism in India are found in the sutras of the Pāli Canon, which dates to 1st century BCE. The Pali Canon records the basic fourfold formula of salvation via the observance of the rules of morality, contemplative concentration, knowledge and liberation, thus placing meditation as a step along the path of salvation. By the time Buddhism was spreading in China, the Vimalakirti Sutra which dates to 100CE included a number of passages on meditation and enlightened wisdom, clearly pointing to Zen.
In the west, by 20 BCE Philo of Alexandria had written on some form of “spiritual exercises” involving attention (prosoche) and concentration and by the 3rd century Plotinus had developed meditative techniques, which however did not attract a following among Christian meditators. Saint Augustine experimented with the methods of Plotinus and failed to achieve ecstasy.
The Silk Road transmission of Buddhism introduced meditation to other oriental countries. Bodhidharma is traditionally considered the transmitter of the concept of Zen to China. However, the first “original school” in East Asia was founded by his contemporary Zhiyi in the 6th century in central China. Zhiyi managed to systematically organize the various teachings that had been imported from India in a way that their relationship with each other made sense. Wonhyo and Uisang promoted Korean Buddhism in the 7th century.
There is evidence that Judaism has inherited meditative practices from its predecessor traditions in Israelite antiquity. For instance, in the Torah, the patriarch Isaac is described as going “lasuach” in the field – a term understood by most commentators as some type of meditative practice (Genesis 24:63). There are indications throughout the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) that Judaism always contained a central meditative tradition.
With the growth of Japanese Buddhism from the 8th century onwards, meditative practices were brought to and further developed in Japan. The Japanese monk Dosho learned of Zen during his visit to China in 653 and upon his return opened the first meditation hall in Japan, at Nara. Meditative practices continued to arrive in Japan from China, and were subjected to modification. When Dōgen returned to Japan from China around 1227, he wrote the instructions for Zazen, or sitting meditation, and conceived of a community of monks primarily focused on Zazen.
Early practices of Jewish meditation grew and changed by the Middle Ages. Jewish meditation practices that developed included meditative approaches to prayer, mizvot and study. Some forms of meditation involved Kabbalistic practices, and some involved approaches of Jewish philosophy.
Sufi view or Islamic mysticism involves meditative practices. Remembrance of God in Islam, which is known by the concept Dhikr is interpreted in different meditative techniques in Sufism or Islamic mysticism. This became one of the essential elements of Sufism as it was systematized in the 11th and 12th centuries. It is juxtaposed with fikr (thinking) which leads to knowledge. By the 12th century, the practice of Sufism included specific meditative techniques, and its followers practiced breathing controls and the repetition of holy words.
Eastern Christian meditation can involve the repetition of a phrase in a specific physical posture, and can be traced back to the Byzantine period. Between the 10th and 14th centuries, hesychasm was developed, particularly on Mount Athos in Greece, and continues to the present. It involves the repetition of the Jesus prayer. It is possible that there were interactions between Hesychasts and the Indians or the Sufis, but this can not be proven.
Western Christian meditation contrasts with most other approaches in that it does not involve the repetition of any phrase or action and requires no specific posture. Western Christian meditationprogressed from the 6th century practice of Bible reading among Benedictine monks called Lectio Divina, i.e. divine reading. Its four formal steps as a “ladder” were defined by the monk Guigo II in the 12th century with the Latin terms lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio (i.e. read, ponder, pray, contemplate). Western Christian meditation was further developed by saints such as Ignatius of Loyola and Teresa of Avila in the 16th century.
By the 18th century, the study of Buddhism in the West was a topic for intellectuals. The philosopher Schopenhauer discussed it, and Voltaire asked for toleration towards Buddhists. The first English translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead was published in 1927.
New schools of yoga developed in Hindu revivalism from the 1890s. Some of these schools were introduced to the west, by Vivekananda and later gurus. Other schools were designed as secularized variants of yoga traditions for use by non-Hindus, e.g. the system of Transcendental Meditation popular in the 1960s, and numerous forms of Hatha Yoga derived from the Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga school, which became known simply as “Yoga” in western terminology.
Rather than focusing on spiritual growth, secular meditation emphasizes stress reduction, relaxation and self-improvement. Both spiritual and secular forms of meditation have been subjects of scientific analyses and research. However, after 60 years of scientific study, the exact mechanism at work in meditation remains unclear.
The ‘Jubu’ (Jewish Buddhist) group are a very articulate current influence on meditation thinking in the West.
History of defining meditation
In 1971, Claudio Naranjo noted that “The word ‘meditation’ has been used to designate a variety of practices that differ enough from one another so that we may find trouble in defining what meditation is.”:6 There remains no definition of necessary and sufficient criteria for meditation that has achieved universal or widespread acceptance within the modern scientific community, as one study recently noted a “persistent lack of consensus in the literature” and a “seeming intractability of defining meditation”.:135 Since then attempts have been made to achieve definitions of meditation.
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- Hadot, Pierre; Arnold I. Davidson (1995) Philosophy as a way of lifeISBN 0-631-18033-8 pages 83-84
- Hans Urs von Balthasar, Christian meditation Ignatius Press ISBN 0-89870-235-6 page 8
- The Sutra of perfect enlightenment: Korean Buddhism’s guide to meditation by A. Charles Muller, 1999 ISBN 0-7914-4101-6 page 5
- Kaplan, Aryeh (1985). Jewish Meditation. New York: Schocken Books. pp. 40–41. ISBN 0-8052-1037-7.
- Zen Buddhism : a History: Japan by Heinrich Dumoulin, James W. Heisig, Paul F. Knitter 2005 ISBN 0-941532-90-9 page 5
- Soto Zen in Medieval Japan by William Bodiford 2008 ISBN 0-8248-3303-1 page 39
- The Cambridge History of Japan: Medieval Japan by Kōzō Yamamura, John Whitney Hall 1990 ISBN 0-521-22354-7, p. 646
- Alan Brill, Dwelling with Kabbalah: Meditation, Ritual, and Study in Jewish Spirituality and Divine Law by Adam Mintz, Lawrence H. Schiffman 2005 ISBN 0-88125-865-2 page 146
- Prayer: a history by Philip Zaleski, Carol Zaleski 2005 ISBN 0-618-15288-1page 147-149
- Global Encyclopaedia of Education by Rama Sankar Yadav & B.N. Mandal 2007 ISBN 978-81-8220-227-6 page 63
- Sainthood and revelatory discourse by David Emmanuel Singh 2003 ISBN 81-7214-728-7 page 154
- Spiritual Psychology by Akbar Husain 2006 ISBN 81-8220-095-4 page 109
- “Mount Athos: History”. Macedonian Heritage. Archived from the original on 7 December 2009. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
- An introduction to the Christian Orthodox churches by John Binns 2002 ISBN 0-521-66738-0 page 128
- “Hesychasm”. OrthodoxWiki. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
- Christian Spirituality: A Historical Sketch by George Lane 2005 ISBN 0-8294-2081-9 page 20
- Christian spirituality: themes from the tradition by Lawrence S. Cunningham, Keith J. Egan 1996 ISBN 0-8091-3660-0 page 38
- The Oblate Life by Gervase Holdaway, 2008 ISBN 0-8146-3176-2 page 109
- After Augustine: the meditative reader and the text by Brian Stock 2001 ISBN 0-8122-3602-5 page 105
- Abelson, Peter (April 1993) Schopenhauer and Buddhism. Philosophy East and West Volume 43, Number 2, pp. 255-278. University of Hawaii Press. Retrieved on: 12 April 2008.
- Enlightenment and reform in 18th-century Europe by Derek Edward Dawson Beales 2005 ISBN 1-86064-949-1 page 13
- Shakya, Tsering “Review of Prisoners of Shangri-la by Donald Lopez”. online
- A clinical guide to the treatment of human stress response by George S. Everly, Jeffrey M. Lating 2002 ISBN 0-306-46620-1 page 200
- Encyclopedia of Psychology and Religion by David A. Leeming, Kathryn Madden, Stanton Marlan 2009 ISBN page 559
- A clinical guide to the treatment of human stress response by George S. Everly, Jeffrey M. Lating 2002 ISBN 0-306-46620-1 pages 201-202
- Claudio Naranjo (1972, originally published 1971), in: Naranjo and Orenstein, On the Psychology of Meditation. New York: Viking.
- Kenneth Bond; Maria B. Ospina; Nicola Hooton; Liza Bialy; Donna M. Dryden; Nina Buscemi; David Shannahoff-Khalsa; Jeffrey Dusek; Linda E. Carlson (2009). “Defining a complex intervention: The development of demarcation criteria for “meditation““. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality. 1 (2): 129–137. doi:10.1037/a0015736.
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