Meditation is a mental discipline by which one attempts to get beyond the conditioned, "thinking" mind into a deeper state of relaxation or awareness. Meditation often involves turning attention to a single point of reference. It is recognized as a component of almost all religions, and has been practiced for over 5,000 years. It is also practiced outside religious traditions. Different meditative disciplines encompass a wide range of spiritual and/or psychophysical practices which may emphasize different goals -- from achievement of a higher state of consciousness, to greater focus, creativity or self-awareness, or simply a more relaxed and peaceful frame of mind.
The word meditation originally comes from the Indo-European root med-, meaning "to measure. From the root med- are also derived the English words mete, medicine, modest, and moderate. It entered English as meditation through the Latin meditatio, which originally indicated every type of physical or intellectual exercise, then later evolved into the more specific meaning "contemplation."
Meditation has been defined as: "self regulation of attention, in the service of self-inquiry, in the here and now. The various techniques of meditation can be classified according to their focus. Some focus on the field or background perception and experience, also called "mindfulness"; others focus on a preselected specific object, and are called "concentrative" meditation. There are also techniques that shift between the field and the object.
In mindfulness meditation, the meditator sits comfortably and silently, centering attention by focusing awareness on an object or process (such as the breath; a sound like a mantra, koan or riddle-like question; a visualisation; or an exercise). The meditator is usually encouraged to maintain an open focus:
... shifting freely from one perception to the next clear your mind of all that bothers you no thoughts that can distract you from reality or your personal being... No thought, image or sensation is considered an intrusion. The meditator, with a 'no effort' attitude, is asked to remain in the here and now. Using the focus as an 'anchor'... brings the subject constantly back to the present, avoiding cognitive analysis or fantasy regarding the contents of awareness, and increasing tolerance and relaxation of secondary thought processes.
Concentration meditation is used in many religions and spiritual practices. Whereas in mindfulness meditation there is an open focus, in concentration meditation the meditator holds attention on a particular object (e.g., a repetitive prayer) while minimizing distractions; bringing the mind back to concentrate on the chosen object. In some traditions, such as Vipassana, mindfulness and concentration are combined.
Meditation can be practiced while walking or doing simple repetitive tasks. Walking meditation helps to break down habitual automatic mental categories, "thus regaining the primary nature of perceptions and events, focusing attention on the process while disregarding its purpose or final outcome." In a form of meditation using visualization, such as Chinese Qi Gong, the practitioner concentrates on flows of energy (Qi) in the body, starting in the abdomen and then circulating through the body, until dispersed. Some meditative traditions, such as yoga or tantra, are common to several religions or occur outside religious contexts.
Evidence of the origins of meditation extends back to a time before recorded history. Archaeologists tell us the practice may have existed among the first Indian civilizations. Indian scriptures dating back 5000 years describe meditation techniques. From its ancient beginnings and over thousands of years, meditation has developed into a structured practice used today by millions of people worldwide of differing nationalities and religious beliefs
There are several types of meditation in Hinduism. Amongst these types are:
The ultimate end of meditation according to Patanjali is the destruction of primal ignorance (avidya) and the realization of and establishment in the essential nature of the Self.
Swami Vivekananda describes meditation as follows:
"Meditation has been laid stress upon by all religions. The meditative state of mind is declared by the Yogis to be the highest state in which the mind exists. When the mind is studying the external object, it gets identified with it, loses itself. To use the simile of the old Indian philosopher: the soul of man is like a piece of crystal, but it takes the colour of whatever is near it. Whatever the soul touches ... it has to take its colour. That is the difficulty. That constitutes the bondage. The colour is so strong, the crystal forgets itself and identifies itself with the colour. Suppose a red flower is near the crystal and the crystal takes the colour and forgets itself, thinks it is red. We have taken the colour of the body and have forgotten what we are. All the difficulties that follow come from that one dead body. All our fears, all worries, anxieties, troubles, mistakes, weakness, evil, are from that one great blunder — that we are bodies. This is the ordinary person. It is the person taking the colour of the flower near to it. We are no more bodies than the crystal is the red flower.
The practice of meditation is pursued. The crystal knows what it is, takes its own colour. It is meditation that brings us nearer to truth than anything else. ..."
The Bhagavad Gita stresses the importance of meditation. The Sixth Chapter of Bhagavad Gita - "The Yoga of Meditation" describes the technique of meditation, and the characteristics of the Yogi who is well established in meditation.. The Bhagavad Gita stresses the importance of meditation as follows "Make a habit of practising meditation and do not let your mind be distracted. In this way you will come finally to the Lord who is the light-giver, the highest of the high."
Meditation has always been central to Buddhism and considered a key tool in spiritual development. The historical Buddha himself, Buddha Shakyamuni, was said to have achieved enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi tree. There are countless Buddhas and all of them used meditation to make spiritual progress. Most forms of Buddhism distinguish between two classes of meditation practices, shamatha and vipassana, both of which are necessary for attaining enlightenment. The former consists of practices aimed at developing the ability to focus the attention single-pointedly; the latter includes practices aimed at developing insight and wisdom through seeing the true nature of reality. The differentiation between the two types of meditation practices is not always clear cut, which is made obvious when studying practices such as Anapanasati which could be said to start off as a shamatha practice but that goes through a number of stages and ends up as a vipassana practice.
Theravada Buddhism emphasizes the meditative development of mindfulness (sati, see for example the Satipatthana Sutta) and concentration (samadhi, see kammatthana), as part of the Noble Eightfold Path, in the pursuit of Nibbana (Nirvana). Traditional popular meditation subjects include the breath (anapana) and loving-kindness (mettā).
In Japanese Mahayana schools, Tendai (Tien-tai), concentration is cultivated through highly structured ritual. Especially in the Chinese Chán Buddhism school (which branched out into the Japanese Zen, and Korean Seon schools), ts'o ch'an meditation and koan meditation practices allow a practitioner to directly experience the true nature of reality (each of the names of these schools derives from the Sanskrit dhyana, and translates into "meditation" in their respective languages). The esoteric Shingon sect shares many features with Tibetan Buddhism.
Tibetan Buddhism (Vajrayana) emphasizes tantra for its senior practitioners; hence its alternate name of Tantrayana Buddhism. Many monks go through their day without "meditating" in a recognizable form, but are more likely to chant or participate in group liturgy. In this tradition, the purpose of meditation is to awaken the sky-like nature of mind, and to introduce practitioners to that which they really are: unchanging pure awareness, which underlies the whole of life and death.
Meditation is the way to bring us back to ourselves, where we can really experience and taste our full being, beyond all habitual patterns. In the stillness and silence of meditation, we glimpse and return to that deep inner nature that we have so long ago lost sight of amid the business and distraction of our minds.
The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this life. For it is only through meditation that you can undertake the journey to discover your true nature, and so find the stability and confidence you will need to live, and die, well. Meditation is the road to enlightenment.- Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying
Most Buddhist traditions recognize that the path to Enlightenment entails three types of training: virtue (sīla); meditation (samadhi); and, wisdom (paññā). Thus, meditative prowess alone is not sufficient; it is but one part of the path. In other words, in Buddhism, in tandem with mental cultivation, ethical development and wise understanding are also necessary for the attainment of the highest goal.
In 1975, the Benedictine monk, John Main introduced a form of meditation based on repetitive recitation of a prayer-phrase, traditionally the Aramaic phrase "Maranatha," meaning "Come, Oh Lord", as quoted at the end of both Corinthians and Revelation. The World Community for Christian Meditation was founded in 1991 to continue Main's work, which the Community describes as: "teaching Christian meditation as part of the great work of our time of restoring the contemplative dimension of Christian faith in the life of the church.
The Old Testament book of Joshua sets out a form of meditation based on scriptures: "Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it, then you will be prosperous and successful" (Joshua 1:8). This is one of the reasons why bible verse memory is a practice among many evangelical Christians.
The predominant form of worship among Quakers, or the Religious Society of Friends, has historically been communal silent prayer or meditation which consists of focusing on the Inner Light of Christ, listening for and awaiting the movement of the "still, small voice within," which may or may not result in being moved to spoken ministry. This process would of course necessitate the quieting of the worldly mind and spiritual discernment as to what genuinely proceeds from the Light as opposed to one's own thoughts and feelings.
Meditative quiescence is believed to have a quality of healing and creativity. The Muslim prophet Muhammad, whose deeds devout Muslims follow, spent long periods in meditation and contemplation. It was during one such period of meditation that Muhammad began to receive revelations of the Qur'an.
Two more concepts or schools of meditation in Islam:
Sufism relies on a practice similar to Buddhist meditation, known as Muraqaba or Tamarkoz which is taught in the Oveyssi-Shahmaghsoudi Sufi order. Tamarkoz is a Persian term that means ‘concentration,’ referring to the “concentration of abilities”. Consequently, the term concentration is synonymous to close attention, convergent, collection, compaction, and consolidation.
The Jains use the word Samayika, a word in the Prakrit language derived from the word samay (time), to denote the practice of meditation. The aim of Samayika is to transcend the daily experiences of being a "constantly changing" human being, Jiva, and allow for the identification with the "changeless" reality in the practitioner, the Atma. The practice of Samayika begins by achieving a balance in time. If the present moment of time is taken to be a point between the past and the future, Samayika means being fully aware, alert and conscious in that very moment, experiencing one's true nature, Atma, which is considered common to all living beings. The Samayika takes on special significance during Paryushana, a special 8-day period practiced by the Jains.
Meditation techniques were available in ancient Jain scriptures that have been forgotten with time. A practice called preksha meditation is said to have been rediscovered by the 10th Head of Jain Swetamber Terapanth sect Acharya Mahaprajna, and consists of the perception of the body, the psychic centres, breath and of contemplation processes which will initiate the process of personal transformation. It aims at reaching and purify the deeper levels of existence. Regular practice strengthens the immune system, builds up stamina to resist against aging process, pollution, chemical toxins, viruses, diseases, food adulteration etc. Jain Meditation is important to the daily lives of the religion's monks.
Acharya Mahaprajna says:
Soul is my god. Renunciation is my prayer. Amity is my devotion. Self restraint is my strength. Non-violence is my religion.
There is evidence that Judaism has had meditative practices that go back thousands of years. For instance, in the Torah, the patriarch Isaac is described as going "לשוח" (lasuach) in the field—a term understood by all commentators as some type of meditative practice (Genesis 24:63), probably prayer.
Similarly, there are indications throughout the Tanach (the Hebrew Bible) that meditation was central to the prophets. In the Old Testament, there are two Hebrew words for meditation: hāgâ (הגה), which means to sigh or murmur, but also to meditate, and sîḥâ (שיחה), which means to muse, or rehearse in one's mind.
In modern Jewish practice, one of the best known meditative practices is called hitbodedut (התבודדות) or hisbodedus is explained in Kabbalah and Hassidic philosophy. The word hisbodedut, which derives from the Hebrew word "boded", בודד (a state of being alone) and said to be related to the sfirah of Binah (lit. book of understanding), means the process of making oneself understand a concept well through analytical study.
Kabbalah is inherently a meditative field of study. Kabbalistic meditative practices construct a supernal realm which the soul navigates through in order to achieve certain ends. One of the most well known types of meditation is Merkabah, from the root /R-K-B/ meaning "chariot"(of God).
New Age meditations are often influenced by Eastern philosophy and mysticism such as Yoga, Hinduism and Buddhism, yet may contain some degree of Western influence. In the west meditation found its mainstream roots through the hippie- counterculture social revolution of the 1960s and 1970s when many of the youth of the day rebelled against traditional belief systems.
Followers of the Sikh religion also believe that love comes through meditation on the lord's name since meditation only conjures up positive emotions in oneself which are portrayed through our actions. The first Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Nanak Dev Ji preached the equality of all humankind and stressed the importance of living a householder's life instead of wandering around jungles meditating, the latter of which being a popular practice at the time. The Guru preached that we can obtain liberation from life and death by living a totally normal family life and by spreading love amongst every human being regardless of religion.
In the Sikh religion, kirtan, otherwise known as singing the hymns of God is seen as one of the most beneficial ways of aiding meditation, and it too in some ways is believed to be a meditation of one kind.
Taoism includes a number of meditative and contemplative traditions. Originally said to have their principles described in the I Ching, Tao Te Ching, Chuang Tzu and Tao Tsang among other texts; the multitude of schools relating to Qigong, Neigong, Daoyin and Zhan zhuang are a large, diverse array of breath training practises in aid of meditation with much influence from later Chinese Buddhism and with much influence on traditional Chinese medicine and the Chinese as well as some Japanese martial arts. The Chinese martial art T'ai Chi Ch'uan is named after the well-known focus for Taoist and Neo-Confucian meditation, the T'ai Chi T'u, and is often referred to as “meditation in motion”.
Often Taoist Internal martial arts, especially Tai Chi Chuan are thought of as moving meditation. A common phrase being, "movement in stillness" referring to energetic movement in passive Qigong and seated Taoist meditation; with the converse being "stillness in movement", a state of mental calm and meditation in the tai chi form.
"Meditation is the key for opening the doors of mysteries to your mind. In that state man abstracts himself: in that state man withdraws himself from all outside objects; in that subjective mood he is immersed in the ocean of spiritual life and can unfold the secrets of things-in-themselves.
Although the founder of the Faith, Bahá'u'lláh, never specified any particular forms of meditation, some Bahá'í practices are meditative. One of these is the daily repetition of the Arabic phrase Alláhu Abhá (Arabic: الله ابهى) (God is Most Glorious) 95 times preceded by ablutions. Abhá has the same root as Bahá' (Arabic: بهاء "splendor" or "glory") which Bahá'ís consider to be the "Greatest Name of God".
Osho, earlier named Rajneesh, introduced the meditation techniques which he termed Active Meditations, which begin with a stage of activity — sometimes intense and physical — followed by a period of silence. He emphasized that meditation is not concentration. Dynamic Meditation involves a conscious catharsis where one can throw out all the repressions, express what is not easily expressible in society, and then easily go into silence. Some of his techniques also have a stage of spontaneous dance. He said that, "If people are innocent there is no need for Dynamic Meditation. But if people are repressed, psychologically are carrying a lot of burden, then they need catharsis. So Dynamic Meditation is just to help them clean the place. And then they can use any method ... It will not be difficult. If they, right now, directly try, they will fail."
Sri Aurobindo used to meditate while walking.
Also the Thai monk Luang Por Teean taught a (more conservative) form of active meditation which in Luang Por Teean's translated books is usually translated as 'Dynamic Meditation'. It involves the use of the hands and arms during sitting meditation. He also used walking meditation as a complementary method. His teaching was aimed at developing awareness of the movements of the arms, which are moved continuously in a certain pattern throughout the meditation. The awareness is, however, not limited to the arms but inclusive of the whole life-experience. This type of active meditation is a type of vipassana meditation, which originated in Burma, but is becoming more well known in the western countries, too.
Jacobson's Progressive Muscle Relaxation was developed by American physician Edmund Jacobson in the early 1920s. Jacobson argued that since muscular tension accompanies anxiety, one can reduce anxiety by learning how to relax the muscular tension.
Autogenic training was developed by the German psychiatrist Johannes Schultz in 1932. Schultz emphasized parallels to techniques in yoga and meditation; however, autogenic training is devoid of any mysticism.
Australian psychiatrist Dr Ainslie Meares published a groundbreaking work in the 1960s entitled Relief Without Drugs, in which he recommended some simple, secular relaxation techniques based on Hindu practices as a means of combating anxiety, stress and chronic physical pain.
Herbert Benson M.D., of Harvard Medical School, conducted a series of clinical tests on meditators from various disciplines - mainly Transcendental meditation and Tibetan Buddhism. He first described the results in his 1975 book The Relaxation Response where he outlined a secular approach to achieving similar results.
Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche founded Shambhala Training in 1976, a secular program of meditation with a belief in basic goodness and teaching the path of bravery and gentleness. The 1984 book Shambhala: The Sacred Path of the Warrior contains student-edited versions of Trungpa's lectures and writings.
The book Sensual Meditation (1980) which was written by the founder of the Raëlian movement outlines a sequence of non-ascetic meditation exercises which emphasize a Sensual Meditation involving a physical and sensual awareness connected with current knowledge of how the body and mind are organized.
The 1999 book The Calm Technique: Meditation Without Magic or Mysticism by Paul Wilson has a discussion and instruction in a form of secular meditation.
Biofeedback has been tried by many researchers since the 1950s as a way to enter deeper states of mind.
Primordial Sound Meditation is an ancient meditation technique with its origins in the Vedic tradition of India. It has been modernized and revitalized by Drs. Deepak Chopra and David Simon of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing. It is a silent mantra meditation that uses primordial sounds (sounds of nature) that are linguistically structured and used to bring awareness to more and more subtle levels of thought.
Many religions have their own prayer beads or rosary. A rosary consists of pearls or beads linked together by a thread. Catholics use a string of beads containing five sets with ten small beads. Each set of ten is separated by another bead. The Hindu and Buddhist rosary has 108 beads and the Muslim rosary 99 beads. Prayers and specific meditations of each religion are different and there are theological reasons for the number of beads. Rosaries may come in different colors, sizes and designs. However, the central purpose, which is to pray repetitively and to meditate, is the same across all religions that use them as a prayer tool.
Newer forms of meditation are based on the results of EEG (electro-encephalogram) work in long-term meditators. Studies have demonstrated the presence of a frequency-following response to auditory and visual stimuli. This EEG activity was termed "frequency-following response" because its period (cycles per second) corresponds to the fundamental frequency of the stimulus. Stated plainly, if the stimulus is 5 Hz the resulting measured EEG will show a 5 Hz frequency-following response using appropriate time-domain averaging protocols. This is the justification behind such inventions as the Dreamachine and binaural beats.
"Meditation" in its modern sense refers to Yogic meditation that originated in India. In the late nineteenth century, Theosophists adopted the word "meditation" to refer to various spiritual practices drawn from Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikhism and other Eastern religions. Thus the English word "meditation" does not exclusively translate to any single term or concept, and can be used to translate words such as the Sanskrit dhyana, samadhi and bhavana.
Meditation may be for a religious purpose, but even before being brought to the West it was used in secular contexts, such as the martial arts. Beginning with the Theosophists, though, meditation has been employed in the West by a number of religious and spiritual movements, such as Yoga , New Age and the New Thought movement, as well as limited use in Christianity.
Meditation techniques have also been used by Western theories of counseling and psychotherapy. Relaxation training works toward achieving mental and muscle relaxation to reduce daily stresses. Jacobson is credited with developing the initial progressive relaxation procedure. These techniques are used in conjunction with other behavioral techniques. Originally used with systematic desensitization, relaxation techniques are now used with other clinical problems. Meditation, hypnosis and biofeedback-induced relaxation are a few of the techniques used with relaxation training. One of the eight essential phases of EMDR (developed by Shapiro), bringing adequate closure to the end of each session, also entails the use of relaxation techniques, including meditation. Multimodal therapy, a technically eclectic approach to behavioral therapy, also employs the use of meditation as a technique used in individual therapy.
From the point of view of psychology and physiology, meditation can induce an altered state of consciousness, and its goals in that context have been stated to achieving spiritual enlightenment, to the transformation of attitudes, and to better cardiovascular health.
Different spiritual traditions, and different teachers within those traditions, prescribe or suggest different physical postures for meditation. Sitting, supine, and standing postures are used. Most famous are the several cross-legged sitting postures, including the Lotus Position.
Other traditions, such as those related to kundalini yoga, take a less formal approach. While the basic practice in these traditions is also to sit still quietly in a traditional posture, they emphasize the possibility of kriyas - spontaneous yogic postures, changes in breathing patterns or emotional states, or perhaps repetitive physical movements such as swaying, etc., which may naturally arise as the practitioner sits in meditation, and which should not be resisted but rather allowed to express themselves in order to enhance the natural flow of energy through the body. This is said to help purify the nadis and ultimately deepen one's meditative practice.
Various hand-gestures or mudras may be prescribed. These can carry theological meaning or according to Yogic philosophy can actually affect consciousness. For example, a common Buddhist hand-position is with the right hand resting atop the left (like the Buddha's begging bowl), with the thumbs touching.
Quiet is often held to be desirable, and some people use repetitive activities such as deep breathing, humming or chanting to help induce a meditative state.
In their review of scientific studies of meditation, published in the International Journal of Psychotherapy, Perez-De-Albeniz and Holmes identified the following behavioral components of meditation:
The medical community has studied the physiological effects of meditation Many concepts of meditation have been applied to clinical settings in order to measure its effect on somatic motor function as well as cardiovascular and respiratory function. Also the hermeneutic and phenomenological aspects of meditation are areas of growing interest. Meditation has entered the mainstream of health care as a method of stress and pain reduction. In 1976, the Australian psychiatrist Ainslie Meares, reported in the Medical Journal of Australia, the regression of cancer following intensive meditation. Meares wrote a number of books on the subject, including his best-seller Relief without Drugs.
As a method of stress reduction, meditation is often used in hospitals in cases of chronic or terminal illness to reduce complications associated with increased stress including a depressed immune system. There is growing agreement in the medical community that mental factors such as stress significantly contribute to a lack of physical health, and there is a growing movement in mainstream science to fund research in this area (e.g. the establishment by the NIH in the U.S. of 5 research centers to research the mind-body aspects of disease.)
Dr. James Austin, a neurophysiologist at the University of Colorado, reported that Zen meditation rewires the circuitry of the brain in his landmark book Zen and the Brain (Austin, 1999). This has been confirmed using functional MRI imaging which examines the activity of the brain.
Dr. Herbert Benson of the Mind-Body Medical Institute, which is affiliated with Harvard and several Boston hospitals, reports that meditation induces a host of biochemical and physical changes in the body collectively referred to as the "relaxation response." The relaxation response includes changes in metabolism, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure and brain chemistry. Benson and his team have also done clinical studies at Buddhist monasteries in the Himalayan Mountains.
The MARC Center at UCLA founded by Susan Smalley, Phd and Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., is currently conducting research on the effects of mindful meditation and its practical applications to daily life. They have also found some evidence to suggest that it can help in treating ADHD
Various forms of meditation have been described in popular culture sources. In particular, science fiction stories such as Frank Herbert's Dune, Star Trek, Artemis Fowl, Star Wars, Maskman and Stargate SG-1 have featured characters who practice one form of meditation or another. Usually these practices are inspired by real-world meditation traditions, but sometimes they have very different methods and purposes.