Meditation, also referred to as mindfulness, is an ancient practice that has existed since human beings could master the art of concentration. The act itself evokes the soul and quiets the part of the brain that is hyper-focused on the physical aspect of being alive. People are often focused on what will happen or what has happened, meditation allows you to just be present in the moment and revel in that experience. Meditating has physical and mental benefits because of the calming effects it has on the body, but for many it is also the key to spiritual growth and enlightenment. This article will dive deep into the history of meditation and how it continues to develop today.
The History of Spiritual Meditation
The history of meditation starts with spiritual meditation. The term “Meditation” came from meditatum(latin) which means “to ponder”. Religions helped spread the practice and used the healing properties of meditation to inspire faith, heal the sick, and further the human consciousness. The exploration of what lies beyond the 3D experience and what created the universe started with deep inner reflection, physical stillness, and concentration.
The three of the major world religions that began the spread of meditation was Hinduism, Buddhism and Taoism. These religions have similar meditative techniques and practices, but they each have a unique motivation for meditating that set them apart.
The earliest written records of meditation are traced back to India in the Vedas. The Vedas date back to 1700 BCE and are some of the oldest religious texts ever to be recovered. It is written in Vedic Sanskrit which is why it’s called the Vedas.
The Vedas contain poems, hymns, and rituals based on ancient knowledge that was passed down orally for generations and revelations said to be experienced by ancient sages during intense meditation. This collection is used as scripture in the religion of Hinduism.
Within the Vedas there is the concept of Dhyana which translates to meditation as we know of it and is used as a way to gain knowledge of one’s inner self. Dhyana or mediation is stressed as a key part of life that unifies a person with their soul, other people, and the divine. Like much of Hinduism, meditation is not only seen as a religious act but also a cultural one.
Many Indian religions are influenced by the practices found in the ancient Vedas, including Buddhism. Much like Judaism lends scripture to Christianity and Islam, Hinduism shares the same culture and ancient connection to the Vedas. When Buddhism was created it borrowed many aspects of Hindu traditions, including meditation. The origin of Buddha, the founder of the religion, is about how a Prince finds enlightenment through meditation and self-discovery.
Buddhist meditation was and is used to still the mind and body for the purpose of becoming more focused, aware, and peaceful. It emphasizes letting go of worry and putting a pause on your constant stream of consciousness. A common meditative practice in Buddhism is focusing on the rhythm of your breath and observing passing thoughts with detachment.
Buddhist teachings state that meditation will make you a better person so you can live the way Buddha did without cruelty, hate, and stress. The goal is to live and act with intention like you do when you’re in a state of deep mindfulness. Mindfulness also allows Buddhist to become more capable of contemplating spiritual aspects of their life, such as the deeper meaning behind seemingly everyday occurrences.
In China, they use Taoist meditation in alignment with the Taoist philosophy. Laozi, an ancient philosopher in China, began developing Taoism during the 4th century BCE. For centuries Taoist have taught meditation to followers of Taoism as a way for them to return to source.
The most used Taoist meditation techniques are concentration, insight, and visualization. They are used along with breathing exercises, physical movement and proper posture to achieve an optimal flow of energy and mindfulness.
Taoism borrowed certain aspects of Buddhism later in its history as it developed. Many people practice Taoist philosophy and are Buddhist. Both religions believe in reincarnation and living with integrity and both use meditation to do so.
Taoist meditation differs from Buddhist and Hindu meditation because it focuses more on a concept called chi. Chi is the universal flow of energy, and Taoist meditation is used to flow with that energy.
The most used Taoist meditation techniques are concentration, insight, and visualization. They are used along with breathing exercises and proper posture to achieve an optimal flow of energy and mindfulness.
Even though India has the earliest written evidence of people practicing meditation, many have theorized that history of meditation can be traced back to when mankind began. Neanderthals meditated using fire rituals and many neuroscientists work to prove that this tradition was the spark needed for human evolution.
These fire rituals entailed staring into fires for a long amount of time. Other variations of this ritual are how our ancient ancestors would stare up into the night sky at stars for an extended amount of time or lie low hidden in one spot waiting for game listening to the surrounding wildlife. Although some of these examples are average feats, the concentration and stillness needed for these activities is like the methods used in meditation.
The reason these shamanistic fire rituals helped Neanderthals 200,000 years ago was the mental clarity they gained from practicing concentration. With this newfound ability to focus and scrutinize their surrounding, they began using symbolism in their cave paintings and depicting themselves in deep trances.
Modern humans today may have inherited the ability to concentrate from their ancestors through gene mutations, but this is still up for debate. Regardless of what they passed down through DNA, these rituals were passed down through generations and further developed with time.
For much of history, common folk did not understand the mysticism surrounding meditation so they could not easily access the benefits of the practice. Meditation was something reserved for monks and religious practitioners. Often described in colorful and abstract language, it was hard to grasp what meditation means and how you do it.
Today, 500 million people practice meditation and use meditating techniques to achieve inner peace.
With more and more studies focused on mindfulness the true benefits of mediation are being realized once again . Below is a list of the proven benefits it has on the mind and body:
- Relieve stress levels.
- Help with anger and/or anxiety.
- Increase emotional intelligence.
- Improve memory.
- Help with self-discipline.
- Aid in better sleep.
- Ease chronic pain.
- Correct hormonal imbalances.
- Increased inner peace.
These benefits don’t vary based on the method you use to achieve a mindful state but the longer you meditate the more pronounced these benefits become.
What Can You Take From This?
Although meditation has and will continue to develop, it is still worth the time to look into the past and see where it came from. By doing so you learn about the earliest written record of spiritual meditation and why they thought becoming more mindful was so important, how it may have led humankind through evolution, and how it continues to spread throughout the world today.
You can also use this article to recognize what you may want meditation to mean in your life by reading why three major world religions incorporate it into their practices. There are also many proven medical benefits such as deeper sleeping patterns or easing pain that may inspire you.
Combine the techniques in the different distinct types of meditation mentioned in the article. Whether you want to use concentration and stare into the stars for a while like our ancient ancestors or follow the way of tao meditation and move with the energy of the Divine there is a meditation technique and method meant for you.