Meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing their mind on a particular object, thought or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm and stable state.:228–29:180:415:107 Scholars have found meditation difficult to define, as practices vary both between traditions and within them.
Some of the earliest written records of meditation (Dhyana), come from the Hindu traditions of Vedantism. Meditation has been practiced since antiquity in numerous religious traditions and beliefs, often as part of the path towards enlightenment and self realization. Since the 19th century, it has spread from its origins to other cultures where it is commonly practiced in private and business life.
Meditation may be used with the aim of reducing stress, anxiety, depression, and pain, and increasing peace, perception, self-concept, and well-being. Meditation is under research to define its possible health (psychological, neurological, and cardiovascular) and other effects.
- 1 Etymology
- 2 Forms and techniques
- 3 Religious and spiritual meditation
- 4 Secular applications
- 5 History
- 6 Historiography
- 7 Research
- 8 Criticisms
- 9 Meditation, religion and drugs
- 10 See also
- 11 Notes
- 12 References
- 13 Bibliography
- 14 External links
The English meditation is derived from Old French meditacioun, in turn from Latin meditatio from a verb meditari, meaning "to think, contemplate, devise, ponder". The use of the term meditatio as part of a formal, stepwise process of meditation goes back to the 12th century monk Guigo II.
Apart from its historical usage, the term meditation was introduced as a translation for Eastern spiritual practices, referred to as dhyāna in Hinduism and Buddhism and which comes from the Sanskrit root dhyai, meaning to contemplate or meditate. The term "meditation" in English may also refer to practices from Islamic Sufism, or other traditions such as Jewish Kabbalah and Christian Hesychasm.
Forms and techniques
One style, Focused Attention (FA) meditation, entails the voluntary focusing of attention on a chosen object, breathing, image, or words. The other style, Open Monitoring (OM) meditation, involves non-reactive monitoring of the content of experience from moment to moment.
Direction of mental attention... A practitioner can focus intensively on one particular object (so-called concentrative meditation), on all mental events that enter the field of awareness (so-called mindfulness meditation), or both specific focal points and the field of awareness.:130
Focused methods include paying attention to the breath, to an idea or feeling (such as mettā (loving-kindness)), to a kōan, or to a mantra (such as in transcendental meditation), and single point meditation.
In "No thought" methods, "the practitioner is fully alert, aware, and in control of their faculties but does not experience any unwanted thought activity." This is in contrast to the common meditative approaches of being detached from, and non-judgmental of, thoughts, but not of aiming for thoughts to cease. In the meditation practice of the Sahaja yoga spiritual movement, the focus is on thoughts ceasing. Clear light yoga also aims at a state of no mental content, as does the no thought (wu nian) state taught by Huineng, and the teaching of Yaoshan Weiyan.
One proposal is that transcendental meditation and possibly other techniques be grouped as an 'automatic self-transcending' set of techniques. Other typologies include dividing meditation into concentrative, generative, receptive and reflective practices.
The transcendental meditation technique recommends practice of 20 minutes twice per day. Some techniques suggest less time, especially when starting meditation, and Richard Davidson has quoted research saying benefits can be achieved with a practice of only 8 minutes per day. Some meditators practice for much longer, particularly when on a course or retreat. Some meditators find practice best in the hours before dawn.
Asanas and positions such as the full-lotus, half-lotus, Burmese, Seiza, and kneeling positions are popular in Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism, although other postures such as sitting, supine (lying), and standing are also used. Meditation is also sometimes done while walking, known as kinhin, or while doing a simple task mindfully, known as samu.
Use of prayer beads
Some religions have traditions of using prayer beads as tools in devotional meditation. Most prayer beads and Christian rosaries consist of pearls or beads linked together by a thread. The Roman Catholic rosary is a string of beads containing five sets with ten small beads. The Hindu japa mala has 108 beads (the figure 108 in itself having spiritual significance, as well as those used in Jainism and Buddhist prayer beads. Each bead is counted once as a person recites a mantra until the person has gone all the way around the mala. The Muslim misbaha has 99 beads.
Striking the meditator
The Buddhist literature has many stories of Enlightenment being attained through disciples being struck by their masters. According to T. Griffith Foulk professor of Religion at Sarah Lawrence College the encouragement stick was an integral part of the Zen practice:
In the Rinzai monastery where I trained in the mid-1970s, according to an unspoken etiquette, monks who were sitting earnestly and well were shown respect by being hit vigorously and often; those known as laggards were ignored by the hall monitor or given little taps if they requested to be hit. Nobody asked about the 'meaning' of the stick, nobody explained, and nobody ever complained about its use.
Using a narrative
Richard Davidson has expressed the view that having a narrative can help maintenance of daily practice. For instance he himself prostrates to the teachings, and meditates "not primarily for my benefit, but for the benefit of others."
Religious and spiritual meditation
There are many schools and styles of meditation within Hinduism. In pre-modern and traditional Hinduism, Yoga and Dhyana are practised to realize union of one's eternal self or soul, one's ātman. In Advaita Vedanta this is equated with the omnipresent and non-dual Brahman. In the dualistic Yoga school and Samkhya, the Self is called Purusha, a pure consciousness separate from matter. Depending on the tradition, the liberative event is named moksha, vimukti or kaivalya.
The earliest clear references to meditation in Hindu literature are in the middle Upanishads and the Mahabharata (including the Bhagavad Gita). According to Gavin Flood, the earlier Brihadaranyaka Upanishad is describing meditation when it states that "having become calm and concentrated, one perceives the self (ātman) within oneself".
One of the most influential texts of classical Hindu Yoga is Patañjali's Yoga sutras (c. 400 CE), a text associated with Yoga and Samkhya, which outlines eight limbs leading to kaivalya ("aloneness"). These are ethical discipline (yamas), rules (niyamas), physical postures (āsanas), breath control (prāṇāyama), withdrawal from the senses (pratyāhāra), one-pointedness of mind (dhāraṇā), meditation (dhyāna), and finally samādhi.
Later developments in Hindu meditation include the compilation of Hatha Yoga (forceful yoga) compendiums like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the development of Bhakti yoga as a major form of meditation and Tantra. Another important Hindu yoga text is the Yoga Yajnavalkya, which makes use of Hatha Yoga and Vedanta Philosophy.
Jain meditation and spiritual practices system were referred to as salvation-path. It has three parts called the Ratnatraya "Three Jewels": right perception and faith, right knowledge and right conduct. Meditation in Jainism aims at realizing the self, attaining salvation, and taking the soul to complete freedom. It aims to reach and to remain in the pure state of soul which is believed to be pure consciousness, beyond any attachment or aversion. The practitioner strives to be just a knower-seer (Gyata-Drashta). Jain meditation can be broadly categorized to Dharmya Dhyana and Shukla Dhyana.[clarification needed]
Jainism uses meditation techniques such as pindāstha-dhyāna, padāstha-dhyāna, rūpāstha-dhyāna, rūpātita-dhyāna, and savīrya-dhyāna. In padāstha dhyāna one focuses on a mantra. A mantra could be either a combination of core letters or words on deity or themes. There is a rich tradition of Mantra in Jainism. All Jain followers irrespective of their sect, whether Digambara or Svetambara, practice mantra. Mantra chanting is an important part of daily lives of Jain monks and followers. Mantra chanting can be done either loudly or silently in mind.
Contemplation is a very old and important meditation technique. The practitioner meditates deeply on subtle facts. In agnya vichāya, one contemplates on seven facts – life and non-life, the inflow, bondage, stoppage and removal of karmas, and the final accomplishment of liberation. In apaya vichāya, one contemplates on the incorrect insights one indulges, which eventually develops right insight. In vipaka vichāya, one reflects on the eight causes or basic types of karma. In sansathan vichāya, one thinks about the vastness of the universe and the loneliness of the soul.
Buddhist meditation refers to the meditative practices associated with the religion and philosophy of Buddhism. Core meditation techniques have been preserved in ancient Buddhist texts and have proliferated and diversified through teacher-student transmissions. Buddhists pursue meditation as part of the path toward awakening and nirvana. The closest words for meditation in the classical languages of Buddhism are bhāvanā, jhāna/dhyāna, and vipassana.
Buddhist meditation techniques have become popular in the wider world, with many non-Buddhists taking them up. There is considerable homogeneity across meditative practices – such as breath meditation and various recollections (anussati) – across Buddhist schools, as well as significant diversity. In the Theravāda tradition, there are over fifty methods for developing mindfulness and forty for developing concentration, while in the Tibetan tradition there are thousands of visualization meditations. Most classical and contemporary Buddhist meditation guides are school-specific.
According to the Theravada and Sarvastivada commentatorial traditions, and the Tibetan tradition, the Buddha identified two paramount mental qualities that arise from wholesome meditative practice:
- "serenity" or "tranquility" (Pali: samatha) which steadies, composes, unifies and concentrates the mind;
- "insight" (Pali: vipassana) which enables one to see, explore and discern "formations" (conditioned phenomena based on the five aggregates).
Through the meditative development of serenity, one is able to weaken the obscuring hindrances and bring the mind to a collected, pliant and still state (samadhi). This quality of mind then supports the development of insight and wisdom (Prajñā) which is the quality of mind that can "clearly see" (vi-passana) the nature of phenomena. What exactly is to be seen varies within the Buddhist traditions. In Theravada, all phenomena are to be seen as impermanent, suffering, not-self and empty. When this happens, one develops dispassion (viraga) for all phenomena, including all negative qualities and hindrances and lets them go. It is through the release of the hindrances and ending of craving through the meditative development of insight that one gains liberation.
In the modern era, Buddhist meditation saw increasing popularity due to the influence of Buddhist modernism on Asian Buddhism, and western lay interest in Zen and the Vipassana movement. The spread of Buddhist meditation to the Western world paralleled the spread of Buddhism in the West. Buddhist meditation has also influenced Western Psychology, especially through the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn who founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) in 1979. The modernized concept of mindfulness (based on the Buddhist term sati) and related meditative practices have in turn led to several mindfulness based therapies.
In Sikhism, simran (meditation) and good deeds are both necessary to achieve the devotee's Spiritual goals; without good deeds meditation is futile. When Sikhs meditate, they aim to feel God's presence and immerge in the divine light. It is only God's divine will or order that allows a devotee to desire to begin to meditate.Nām Japnā involves focusing one's attention on the names or great attributes of God.
East Asian religions
Taoist meditation has developed techniques including concentration, visualization, qi cultivation, contemplation, and mindfulness meditations in its long history. Traditional Daoist meditative practices were influenced by Chinese Buddhism from around the 5th century, and influenced Traditional Chinese medicine and the Chinese martial arts.
Livia Kohn distinguishes three basic types of Taoist meditation: "concentrative", "insight", and "visualization". Ding 定 (literally means "decide; settle; stabilize") refers to "deep concentration", "intent contemplation", or "perfect absorption". Guan 觀 (lit. "watch; observe; view") meditation seeks to merge and attain unity with the Dao. It was developed by Tang Dynasty (618–907) Taoist masters based upon the Tiantai Buddhist practice of Vipassanā "insight" or "wisdom" meditation. Cun 存 (lit. "exist; be present; survive") has a sense of "to cause to exist; to make present" in the meditation techniques popularized by the Taoist Shangqing and Lingbao Schools. A meditator visualizes or actualizes solar and lunar essences, lights, and deities within their body, which supposedly results in health and longevity, even xian 仙/仚/僊, "immortality".
The (late 4th century BCE) Guanzi essay Neiye "Inward training" is the oldest received writing on the subject of qi cultivation and breath-control meditation techniques. For instance, "When you enlarge your mind and let go of it, when you relax your vital breath and expand it, when your body is calm and unmoving: And you can maintain the One and discard the myriad disturbances. ... This is called "revolving the vital breath": Your thoughts and deeds seem heavenly."
The (c. 3rd century BCE) Taoist Zhuangzi records zuowang or "sitting forgetting" meditation. Confucius asked his disciple Yan Hui to explain what "sit and forget" means: "I slough off my limbs and trunk, dim my intelligence, depart from my form, leave knowledge behind, and become identical with the Transformational Thoroughfare."
Taoist meditation practices are central to Chinese martial arts (and some Japanese martial arts), especially the qi-related neijia "internal martial arts". Some well-known examples are daoyin "guiding and pulling", qigong "life-energy exercises", neigong "internal exercises", neidan "internal alchemy", and taijiquan "great ultimate boxing", which is thought of as moving meditation. One common explanation contrasts "movement in stillness" referring to energetic visualization of qi circulation in qigong and zuochan "seated meditation", versus "stillness in movement" referring to a state of meditative calm in taijiquan forms.
Judaism has made use of meditative practices for 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). Similarly, there are indications throughout the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible) that the prophets meditated. In the Old Testament, there are two Hebrew words for meditation: hāgâ (Hebrew: הגה), to sigh or murmur, but also to meditate, and sîḥâ (Hebrew: שיחה), to muse, or rehearse in one's mind.
Classical Jewish texts espouse a wide range of meditative practices, often associated with the cultivation of Kavanah or intention. The first layer of rabbinic law, the Mishnah describes ancient sages "waiting" for an hour before their prayers, "in order to direct their hearts to the Omnipresent One (Mishnah Berakhot 5:1). Other early rabbinic texts include instructions for visualizing the Divine Presence (B. Talmud Sanhedrin 22a) and breathing with conscious gratitude for every breath (Genesis Rabba 14:9).
Some meditative traditions have been encouraged in Kabbalah, and some Jews have described Kabbalah as an inherently meditative field of study. Aryeh Kaplan has argued that, for the Kabbalist, the ultimate purpose of meditative practice is to understand and cleave to the Divine. Classic methods include the mental visualisation of the supernal realms that the soul navigates through to achieve certain ends. One of the best known types of meditation in early Jewish mysticism was the work of the Merkabah, from the root /R-K-B/ meaning "chariot" (of God).
Meditation has been of interest to a wide variety of modern Jews. In modern Jewish practice, one of the best known meditative practices is called "hitbodedut" (התבודדות, alternatively transliterated as "hisbodedus"), and is explained in Kabbalistic, Hasidic, and Mussar writings, especially the Hasidic method of Rabbi Nachman of Breslav. The word derives from the Hebrew word "boded" (בודד), meaning the state of being alone. Another Hasidic system is the Habad method of "hisbonenus", related to the Sephirah of "Binah", Hebrew for understanding. This practice is the analytical reflective process of making oneself understand a mystical concept well, that follows and internalises its study in Hasidic writings. The Musar Movement, founded by Rabbi Israel Salanter in the middle of the nineteenth-century, emphasized meditative practices of introspection and visualization that could help to improve moral character. Jewish Buddhists have adopted Buddhist styles of meditation.
Christian meditation is a term for a form of prayer in which a structured attempt is made to get in touch with and deliberately reflect upon the revelations of God. The word meditation comes from the Latin word meditari, which means to concentrate. Christian meditation is the process of deliberately focusing on specific thoughts (e.g. a biblical scene involving Jesus and the Virgin Mary) and reflecting on their meaning in the context of the love of God. Christian meditation is sometimes taken to mean the middle level in a broad three stage characterization of prayer: it then involves more reflection than first level vocal prayer, but is more structured than the multiple layers of contemplation in Christianity.
The Rosary is a devotion for the meditation of the mysteries of Jesus and Mary. “The gentle repetition of its prayers makes it an excellent means to moving into deeper meditation. It gives us an opportunity to open ourselves to God’s word, to refine our interior gaze by turning our minds to the life of Christ. The first principle is that meditation is learned through practice. Many people who practice rosary meditation begin very simply and gradually develop a more sophisticated meditation. The meditator learns to hear an interior voice, the voice of God”.
According to Edmund P. Clowney, Christian meditation contrasts with Eastern forms of meditation as radically as the portrayal of God the Father in the Bible contrasts with depictions of Krishna or Brahman in Indian teachings. Unlike some Eastern styles, most styles of Christian meditation do not rely on the repeated use of mantras, and yet are also intended to stimulate thought and deepen meaning. Christian meditation aims to heighten the personal relationship based on the love of God that marks Christian communion. In Aspects of Christian meditation, the Catholic Church warned of potential incompatibilities in mixing Christian and Eastern styles of meditation. In 2003, in A Christian reflection on the New Age the Vatican announced that the "Church avoids any concept that is close to those of the New Age".
Salah is a mandatory act of devotion performed by Muslims five times per day. The body goes through sets of different postures, as the mind attains a level of concentration called khushu.
A second optional type of meditation, called dhikr, meaning remembering and mentioning God, is interpreted in different meditative techniques in Sufism or Islamic mysticism. This became one of the essential elements of Sufism as it was systematized traditionally. 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.
Sufism uses a meditative procedure like Buddhist concentration, involving high-intensity and sharply focused introspection. In the Oveyssi-Shahmaghsoudi Sufi order, for example, muraqaba takes the form of tamarkoz, "concentration" in Persian.
Tafakkur or tadabbur in Sufism literally means reflection upon the universe: this is considered to permit access to a form of cognitive and emotional development that can emanate only from the higher level, i.e. from God. The sensation of receiving divine inspiration awakens and liberates both heart and intellect, permitting such inner growth that the apparently mundane actually takes on the quality of the infinite. Muslim teachings embrace life as a test of one's submission to God.
In the teachings of the Bahá'í Faith, meditation is a primary tool for spiritual development, involving reflection on the words of God. While prayer and meditation are linked, where meditation happens generally in a prayerful attitude, prayer is seen specifically as turning toward God, and meditation is seen as a communion with one's self where one focuses on the divine.
In Bahá'í teachings the purpose of meditation is to strengthen one's understanding of the words of God, and to make one's soul more susceptible to their potentially transformative power, more receptive to the need for both prayer and meditation to bring about and maintain a spiritual communion with God.
Bahá'u'lláh, the founder of the religion, never specified any particular form of meditation, and thus each person is free to choose their own form. However, he did state that Bahá'ís should read a passage of the Bahá'í writings twice a day, once in the morning, and once in the evening, and meditate on it. He also encouraged people to reflect on one's actions and worth at the end of each day. During the Nineteen Day Fast, a period of the year during which Bahá'ís adhere to a sunrise-to-sunset fast, they meditate and pray to reinvigorate their spiritual forces.
Pagan and occult
Movements which use magic, such as Wicca, Thelema, Neopaganism, and occultism, often require their adherents to meditate as a preliminary to the magical work. This is because magic is often thought to require a particular state of mind in order to make contact with spirits, or because one has to visualize one's goal or otherwise keep intent focused for a long period during the ritual in order to see the desired outcome. Meditation practice in these religions usually revolves around visualization, absorbing energy from the universe or higher self, directing one's internal energy, and inducing various trance states. Meditation and magic practice often overlap in these religions as meditation is often seen as merely a stepping stone to supernatural power, and the meditation sessions may be peppered with various chants and spells.
Mantra meditation, with the use of a japa mala and especially with focus on the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, is a central practice of the Gaudiya Vaishnava faith tradition and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), also known as the Hare Krishna movement. Other popular New Religious Movements include the Ramakrishna Mission, Vedanta Society, Divine Light Mission, Chinmaya Mission, Osho, Sahaja Yoga, Transcendental Meditation, Oneness University, Brahma Kumaris and Vihangam Yoga.
New Age meditations are often influenced by Eastern philosophy, mysticism, yoga, Hinduism and Buddhism, yet may contain some degree of Western influence. In the West, meditation found its mainstream roots through the social revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, when many of the youth of the day rebelled against traditional religion as a reaction against what some perceived as the failure of Christianity to provide spiritual and ethical guidance. New Age meditation as practised by the early hippies is regarded for its techniques of blanking out the mind and releasing oneself from conscious thinking. This is often aided by repetitive chanting of a mantra, or focusing on an object. New Age meditation evolved into a range of purposes and practices, from serenity and balance to access to other realms of consciousness to the concentration of energy in group meditation to the supreme goal of samadhi, as in the ancient yogic practice of meditation.
The US National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine states that "Meditation may be practiced for many reasons, such as to increase calmness and physical relaxation, to improve psychological balance, to cope with illness, or to enhance overall health and well-being." Meditation techniques have been used in Western counseling and psychotherapy. Relaxation training works toward achieving mental and muscle relaxation to reduce daily stresses. Sahaja (mental silence) meditators scored above control group for emotional well-being and mental health measures on SF-36 ratings.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation was developed by American physician Edmund Jacobson in the early 1920s. In this practice one tenses and then relaxes muscle groups in a sequential pattern while concentrating on how they feel. The method has been seen to help people with many conditions, especially extreme anxiety. These techniques are used in conjunction with others, originally systematic desensitization but now with techniques such as hypnosis and biofeedback-induced relaxation.
One of the eight essential phases of EMDR, developed by Francine 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, uses meditation in individual therapy.
Over the past 20 years, mindfulness and mindfulness-based programs have been used to assist people, whether they be clinically sick or healthy. Jon Kabat-Zinn, who founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program in 1979, has defined mindfulness as 'moment to moment non-judgmental awareness.' Several methods are used during time set aside specifically for mindfulness meditation, such as body scan techniques or letting thought arise and pass, and also during our daily lives, such as being aware of the taste and texture of the food that we eat.
Meditation in the workplace
As of 2016 around a quarter of U.S. employers were using stress reduction initiatives. The goal was to help reduce stress and improve reactions to stress. Aetna now offers its program to its customers. Google also implements mindfulness, offering more than a dozen meditation courses, with the most prominent one, "Search Inside Yourself", having been implemented since 2007. General Mills offers the Mindful Leadership Program Series, a course which uses a combination of mindfulness meditation, yoga and dialog with the intention of developing the mind's capacity to pay attention.
Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School conducted a series of clinical tests on meditators from various disciplines, including the Transcendental Meditation technique and Tibetan Buddhism. In 1975, Benson published a book titled The Relaxation Response where he outlined his own version of meditation for relaxation. Also in the 1970s, the American psychologist Patricia Carrington developed a similar technique called Clinically Standardized Meditation (CSM). In Norway, another sound-based method called Acem Meditation developed a psychology of meditation and has been the subject of several scientific studies.
From ancient times
The history of meditation is intimately bound up with the religious context within which it was practiced. Some authors have even suggested the hypothesis that the emergence of the capacity for focused attention, an element of many methods of meditation, may have contributed to the latest phases of human biological evolution. Some of the earliest references to meditation are found in the Hindu Vedas of India. Wilson translates the most famous Vedic mantra "Gayatri" as: "We meditate on that desirable light of the divine Savitri, who influences our pious rites" (Rigveda : Mandala-3, Sukta-62, Rcha-10). Around the 6th to 5th centuries BCE, other forms of meditation developed via Confucianism and Taoism in China as well as Hinduism, Jainism, and early Buddhism in Nepal and India.
In the Roman Empire, 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.
The Pāli Canon from the 1st century BCE considers Buddhist meditation as a step towards liberation. By the time Buddhism was spreading in China, the Vimalakirti Sutra which dates to 100 CE included a number of passages on meditation, clearly pointing to Zen (known as Chan in China, Thiền in Vietnam, and Seon in Korea). The Silk Road transmission of Buddhism introduced meditation to other Asian countries, and in 653 the first meditation hall was opened in Singapore. Returning from China around 1227, Dōgen wrote the instructions for zazen.
The Islamic practice of Dhikr had involved the repetition of the 99 Names of God since the 8th or 9th century. By the 12th century, the practice of Sufism included specific meditative techniques, and its followers practiced breathing controls and the repetition of holy words. Interactions with Indians, Nepalese or the Sufis may have influenced the Eastern Christian meditation approach to hesychasm, but this can not be proved. Between the 10th and 14th centuries, hesychasm was developed, particularly on Mount Athos in Greece, and involves the repetition of the Jesus prayer.
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 meditation progressed 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.
Modern dissemination in the West
Meditation has spread in the West since the late 19th century, accompanying increased travel and communication among cultures worldwide. Most prominent has been the transmission of Asian-derived practices to the West. In addition, interest in some Western-based meditative practices has been revived, and these have been disseminated to a limited extent to Asian countries.
Ideas about Eastern meditation had begun "seeping into American popular culture even before the American Revolution through the various sects of European occult Christianity",:3 and such ideas "came pouring in [to America] during the era of the transcendentalists, especially between the 1840s and the 1880s.":3 The following decades saw further spread of these ideas to America:
The World Parliament of Religions, held in Chicago in 1893, was the landmark event that increased Western awareness of meditation. This was the first time that Western audiences on American soil received Asian spiritual teachings from Asians themselves. Thereafter, Swami Vivekananda... [founded] various Vedanta ashrams... Anagarika Dharmapala lectured at Harvard on Theravada Buddhist meditation in 1904; Abdul Baha ... [toured] the US teaching the principles of Bahai, and Soyen Shaku toured in 1907 teaching Zen...:4
More recently, in the 1960s, another surge in Western interest in meditative practices began. The rise of communist political power in Asia led to many Asian spiritual teachers taking refuge in Western countries, oftentimes as refugees.:7 In addition to spiritual forms of meditation, secular forms of meditation have taken root. Rather than focusing on spiritual growth, secular meditation emphasizes stress reduction, relaxation and self-improvement.
Meditation has proven difficult to define as it covers a wide range of dissimilar practices in different traditions. In popular usage, the word "meditation" and the phrase "meditative practice" are often used imprecisely to designate practices found across many cultures. These can include almost anything that is claimed to train the attention or to teach calm or compassion. Dictionaries give both the original Latin meaning of "think[ing] deeply about (something)"; as well as the popular usage of "to focus one's mind for a period of time," "the act of giving your attention to only one thing," and "to engage in mental exercise (such as concentration on one's breathing or repetition of a mantra) for the purpose of reaching a heightened level of spiritual awareness." 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
Scholarly criteria for defining a practice as meditation were identified by Bond et al. (2009) as the use of a defined technique, logic relaxation, and a self-induced state or mode. Other criteria deemed important but not essential were a state of psychophysical relaxation, the use of a self-focus skill or anchor, the presence of a state of suspension of logical thought processes, a religious/spiritual/philosophical context, or a state of mental silence.:135 The study concluded that meditation may best be thought of as a natural category of techniques with certain family resemblances or similarity to some 'prototype' model of concepts, rather than something that can be defined precisely.:135 Other scholars across multiple traditions have attempted their own definitions; the following have been cited frequently in the psychological literature. Walsh & Shapiro (2006) state that "Meditation refers to a family of self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness in order to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control and thereby foster general mental well-being and development and/or specific capacities such as calm, clarity, and concentration":228–29 Cahn & Polich (2006) argue that the term meditation "is used to describe practices that self-regulate the body and mind, thereby affecting mental events by engaging a specific attentional set.... regulation of attention is the central commonality across the many divergent methods":180 Jevning et al. (1992) define meditation "as a stylized mental technique... repetitively practiced for the purpose of attaining a subjective experience that is frequently described as very restful, silent, and of heightened alertness, often characterized as blissful".:415 Goleman (1988) states that "the need for the meditator to retrain his attention, whether through concentration or mindfulness, is the single invariant ingredient in... every meditation system".:107
In modern psychological research, definitions of meditation often emphasize the role of attention. Scientific reviews have urged better definition to make studies easier to evaluate.:499 One review of the field provides a detailed set of questions as a starting point. The practitioner of meditation attempts to get beyond the reflexive, "thinking" mind (sometimes called "discursive thinking" or "logic"). This may be to achieve a deeper, more devout, or more relaxed state. Some of the difficulty in precisely defining meditation has been in recognizing the particularities of the many various traditions; and theories and practice can differ within a tradition. Taylor noted that even within a faith such as "Hindu" or "Buddhist", schools and individual teachers may teach distinct types of meditation.:2 Ornstein noted that "Most techniques of meditation do not exist as solitary practices but are only artificially separable from an entire system of practice and belief.":143 For instance, while monks meditate as part of their everyday lives, they also engage the codified rules and live together in monasteries in specific cultural settings that go along with their meditative practices.
Research on the processes and effects of meditation is a subfield of neurological research. Modern scientific techniques, such as fMRI and EEG, were used to observe neurological responses during meditation. Since the 1950s, hundreds of studies on meditation have been conducted, though the overall methodological quality of meditation research is poor, yielding unreliable results. Concerns have been raised on the quality of much meditation research, including the particular characteristics of individuals who tend to participate.
Since the 1970s, clinical psychology and psychiatry have developed meditation techniques for numerous psychological conditions. Mindfulness practice is employed in psychology to alleviate mental and physical conditions, such as reducing depression, stress, and anxiety. Mindfulness is also used in the treatment of drug addiction. Studies demonstrate that meditation has a moderate effect to reduce pain. There is insufficient evidence for any effect of meditation on positive mood, attention, eating habits, sleep, or body weight.
According to Bret Stetka, "many psychologists, neuroscientists and meditation experts are afraid that hype is outpacing the science." Richard J. Davidson, director of the Waisman Laboratory for Brain Imaging and Behavior, and founder of the Center for Healthy Minds at the Waisman Center, cautions against expecting too much of meditation for the treatment of illness:
With respect to physical illness I would say that the data there really are not very strong and certainly do not show that meditation is better than any other method for any disease. I don’t think there is a shred of evidence to suggest that. And with respect to psychiatric illness as we talked about earlier there is some evidence for depression, but for the most part, except for this limited case of Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy with depressive relapse, the evidence suggests again that mindfulness based interventions are no better than any other empirically well validated treatment. So, while someone may prefer a mindfulness based approach, it’s not necessarily going to be any better. And this is a sobering reminder that these practices were not originally designed for treating psychopathology or treating physical illness.
Evidence from neuroimaging studies suggests that the categories of meditation, as defined by how they direct attention, appear to generate different brainwave patterns. Evidence also suggests that using different focus objects during meditation may generate different brainwave patterns.
A 2017 systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of meditation on empathy, compassion, and prosocial behaviors found that meditation practices had small to medium effects on self-reported and observable outcomes, concluding that such practices can "improve positive prosocial emotions and behaviors". Mindful breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and loving kindness meditations have been found to provide cognitive benefits such as relaxation and decentering. With training in meditation, depressive rumination can be decreased and overall peace of mind can flourish. Different techniques have shown to work better for different people. Preliminary studies showed a potential relationship between meditation and job performance, resulting from cognitive and social effects.
Some studies offer evidence that mindfulness practices are beneficial for the brain's self-regulation by increasing activity in the anterior cingulate cortex. A shift from using the right prefrontal cortex is claimed to be associated with a trend away from depression and anxiety, and towards happiness, relaxation, and emotional balance.
From the point of view of psychology and physiology, meditation can induce an altered state of consciousness. Such altered states of consciousness may correspond to altered neuro-physiologic states.
Meditation has been correlated with unpleasant experiences in some people. More than a quarter of meditators report negative experiences such as anxiety, fear, and distorted emotions and thoughts. Meditators with high levels of repetitive negative thinking and those who only engage in deconstructive meditation are more likely to report unpleasant side effects. Adverse effects are less frequently reported in women and religious meditators.
The 2012 US National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) (n = 34,525), found 8.0% of US adults used meditation, with lifetime and 12-month prevalence of meditation use of 5.2% and 4.1% respectively. In the 2017 survey meditation use among workers was 9.9% (up from 8.0% in 2002).
The psychologist Thomas Joiner argues that modern mindfulness meditation has been "corrupted" for commercial gain by self-help celebrities, and suggests that it encourages unhealthy narcissistic and self-obsessed mindsets.
Meditation, religion and drugs
Many major traditions in which meditation is practiced, such as Buddhism and Hinduism, advise members not to consume intoxicants, while others, such as the Rastafarian movements and Native American Church, view drugs as integral to their religious lifestyle.
The fifth of the five precepts of the Pancasila, the ethical code in the Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist traditions, states that adherents must: "abstain from fermented and distilled beverages that cause heedlessness."
On the other hand, the ingestion of psychoactives has been a central feature in the rituals of many religions, in order to produce altered states of consciousness. In several traditional shamanistic ceremonies, drugs are used as agents of ritual. In the Rastafari movement, cannabis is believed to be a gift from Jah and a sacred herb to be used regularly, while alcohol is considered to debase man. Native Americans use peyote, as part of religious ceremony, continuing today.
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The term ‘meditation’ refers to a broad variety of practices...In order to narrow the explanandum to a more tractable scope, this article uses Buddhist contemplative techniques and their clinical secular derivatives as a paradigmatic framework (see e.g., 9,10 or 7,9 for reviews including other types of techniques, such as Yoga and Transcendental Meditation). Among the wide range of practices within the Buddhist tradition, we will further narrow this review to two common styles of meditation, FA and OM (see box 1–box 2), that are often combined, whether in a single session or over the course of practitioner's training. These styles are found with some variation in several meditation traditions, including Zen, Vipassanā and Tibetan Buddhism (e.g. 7,15,16)....The first style, FA meditation, entails voluntary focusing attention on a chosen object in a sustained fashion. The second style, OM meditation, involves non-reactively monitoring the content of experience from moment to moment, primarily as a means to recognize the nature of emotional and cognitive patterns
- 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.
- The full quote from Bond, Ospina et al. (2009, p. 130) reads: "The differences and similarities among these techniques is often explained in the Western meditation literature in terms of the direction of mental attention (Koshikawa & Ichii, 1996; Naranjo, 1971; Orenstein, 1971): A practitioner can focus intensively on one particular object (so-called concentrative meditation), on all mental events that enter the field of awareness (so-called mindfulness meditation), or both specific focal points and the field of awareness (Orenstein, 1971)."
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- "Single-pointed concentration (samadhi) is a meditative power that is useful in either of these two types of meditation. However, in order to develop samadhi itself we must cultivate principally concentration meditation. In terms of practice, this means that we must choose an object of concentration and then meditate single-pointedly on it every day until the power of samadhi is attained." lywa (2 April 2015). "Developing Single-pointed Concentration".
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- Alexander Wynne, The Origin of Buddhist Meditation. Routledge 2007, p. 51. The earliest reference is actually in the Mokshadharma, which dates to the early Buddhist period.
- The Katha Upanishad describes yoga, including meditation. On meditation in this and other post-Buddhist Hindu literature see Randall Collins, The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change. Harvard University Press, 2000, p. 199.
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- For instance, Kamalashila (2003), p. 4, states that Buddhist meditation "includes any method of meditation that has Enlightenment as its ultimate aim." Likewise, Bodhi (1999) writes: "To arrive at the experiential realization of the truths it is necessary to take up the practice of meditation.... At the climax of such contemplation the mental eye ... shifts its focus to the unconditioned state, Nibbana...." A similar although in some ways slightly broader definition is provided by Fischer-Schreiber et al. (1991), p. 142: "Meditation – general term for a multitude of religious practices, often quite different in method, but all having the same goal: to bring the consciousness of the practitioner to a state in which he can come to an experience of 'awakening,' 'liberation,' 'enlightenment.'" Kamalashila (2003) further allows that some Buddhist meditations are "of a more preparatory nature" (p. 4).
- The Pāli and Sanskrit word bhāvanā literally means "development" as in "mental development." For the association of this term with "meditation," see Epstein (1995), p. 105; and, Fischer-Schreiber et al. (1991), p. 20. As an example from a well-known discourse of the Pali Canon, in "The Greater Exhortation to Rahula" (Maha-Rahulovada Sutta, MN 62), Ven. Sariputta tells Ven. Rahula (in Pali, based on VRI, n.d.): ānāpānassatiṃ, rāhula, bhāvanaṃ bhāvehi. Thanissaro (2006) translates this as: "Rahula, develop the meditation [bhāvana] of mindfulness of in-&-out breathing." (Square-bracketed Pali word included based on Thanissaro, 2006, end note.)
- See, for example, Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), entry for "jhāna1"[permanent dead link]; Thanissaro (1997); as well as, Kapleau (1989), p. 385, for the derivation of the word "zen" from Sanskrit "dhyāna". Pāli Text Society Secretary Rupert Gethin, in describing the activities of wandering ascetics contemporaneous with the Buddha, wrote:
- [T]here is the cultivation of meditative and contemplative techniques aimed at producing what might, for the lack of a suitable technical term in English, be referred to as "altered states of consciousness". In the technical vocabulary of Indian religious texts such states come to be termed "meditations" ([Skt.:] dhyāna / [Pali:] jhāna) or "concentrations" (samādhi); the attainment of such states of consciousness was generally regarded as bringing the practitioner to deeper knowledge and experience of the nature of the world. (Gethin, 1998, p. 10.)
- Goldstein (2003) writes that, in regard to the Satipatthana Sutta, "there are more than fifty different practices outlined in this Sutta. The meditations that derive from these foundations of mindfulness are called vipassana..., and in one form or another – and by whatever name – are found in all the major Buddhist traditions" (p. 92). The forty concentrative meditation subjects refer to Visuddhimagga's oft-referenced enumeration. Regarding Tibetan visualizations, Kamalashila (2003), writes: "The Tara meditation ... is one example out of thousands of subjects for visualization meditation, each one arising out of some meditator's visionary experience of enlightened qualities, seen in the form of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas" (p. 227).
- Examples of contemporary school-specific "classics" include, from the Theravada tradition, Nyanaponika (1996) and, from the Zen tradition, Kapleau (1989).
- Reginald Ray (2004), What is Vipashyana?
- These definitions of samatha and vipassana are based on the "Four Kinds of Persons Sutta" (AN 4.94). This article's text is primarily based on Bodhi (2005), pp. 269–70, 440 n. 13. See also Thanissaro (1998d).
- See, for instance, AN 2.30 in Bodhi (2005), pp. 267–68, and Thanissaro (1998e).
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- Buddhist scholar B. Alan Wallace has argued that focused attention is a basis for the practice of mindfulness. He writes that "Truly effective meditation is impossible without focused attention... the cultivation of attentional stability has been a core element of the meditative traditions throughout the centuries" (p. xi) in Wallace, B. Alan (2006). The attention revolution: Unlocking the power of the focused mind. Boston: Wisdom. ISBN 978-0-86171-276-2.
- Matt J. Rossano (2007). "Did meditating make us human?". Cambridge Archaeological Journal. 17 (1): 47–58. Bibcode:2008CArcJ..18..327P. doi:10.1017/S0959774307000054. This paper draws on various lines of evidence to argue that "Campfire rituals of focused attention created Baldwinian selection for enhanced working memory among our Homo sapiens ancestors.... this emergence was [in part] caused by a fortuitous genetic mutation that enhanced working memory capacity [and] a Baldwinian process where genetic adaptation follows somatic adaptation was the mechanism for this emergence" (p. 47).
- Hadot, Pierre; Arnold I. Davidson (1995) Philosophy as a way of life ISBN 0-631-18033-8 pp. 83–84
- Zen Buddhism : a History: India and China by Heinrich Dumoulin, James W. Heisig, Paul F. Knitter 2005 ISBN 0-941532-89-5 p. 15
- Zen Buddhism : a History: India and China by Heinrich Dumoulin, James W. Heisig, Paul F. Knitter 2005 ISBN 0-941532-89-5 p. 50
- Zen Buddhism : a History: Japan by Heinrich Dumoulin, James W. Heisig, Paul F. Knitter 2005 ISBN 0-941532-90-9 p. 5
- Soto Zen in Medieval Japan by William Bodiford 2008 ISBN 0-8248-3303-1 p. 39
- The Cambridge History of Japan: Medieval Japan by Kōzō Yamamura, John Whitney Hall 1990 ISBN 0-521-22354-7
- An introduction to the Christian Orthodox churches by John Binns 2002 ISBN 0-521-66738-0 p. 128
- "Hesychasm". OrthodoxWiki. Retrieved 12 May 2010.
- Archived from the original Archived July 29, 2010, at the Wayback Machine on February 11, 2014.
- Christian Spirituality: A Historical Sketch by George Lane 2005 ISBN 0-8294-2081-9 p. 20
- Christian spirituality: themes from the tradition by Lawrence S. Cunningham, Keith J. Egan 1996 ISBN 0-8091-3660-0 p. 38
- The Oblate Life by Gervase Holdaway, 2008 ISBN 0-8146-3176-2 p. 109
- After Augustine: the meditative reader and the text by Brian Stock 2001 ISBN 0-8122-3602-5 p. 105
- Gustave Reininger, ed. (1997). Centering prayer in daily life and ministry. New York: Continuum. ISBN 978-0-8264-1041-2.
- The organization Contemplative Outreach Archived 2011-11-03 at the Wayback Machine, which teaches Christian Centering Prayer, has chapters in non-Western locations in Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea (accessed 5 July 2010)
- Eugene Taylor (1999). Michael Murphy; Steven Donovan; Eugene Taylor (eds.). "Introduction". The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation: A Review of Contemporary Research with a Comprehensive Bibliography 1931–1996: 1–32.
- 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
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- "meditation – Meaning". Cambridge English Dictionary.
- Claudio Naranjo (1972) , in: Naranjo and Orenstein, On the Psychology of Meditation. New York: Viking.
- "kundalini yoga, Transcendental Meditation, relaxation response, mindfulness-based stress reduction, and vipassana meditation" (Bond, Ospina et al., 2009, p. 131.
- Number of citations in PsycINFO: 254 for Walsh & Shapiro, 2006 (26 August 2018); 561 for Cahn & Polich, 2006 (26 August 2018); 83 for Jevning et al. (1992) (26 August 2018).
- Lutz, Dunne and Davidson, "Meditation and the Neuroscience of Consciousness: An Introduction" in The Cambridge handbook of consciousness by Philip David Zelazo, Morris Moscovitch, Evan Thompson, 2007 ISBN 0-521-85743-0 pp. 499–551 (proof copy) (NB: pagination of published was 499–551 proof was 497–550). Archived March 3, 2012, at the Wayback Machine
- This does not mean that all meditation seeks to take a person beyond all thought processes, only those processes that are sometimes referred to as "discursive" or "logical" (see Shapiro, 1982/1984; Bond, Ospina, et al., 2009; Appendix B, pp. 279–82 in Ospina, Bond, et al., 2007).
- An influential definition by Shapiro (1982) states that "meditation refers to a family of techniques which have in common a conscious attempt to focus attention in a nonanalytical way and an attempt not to dwell on discursive, ruminating thought" (p. 6, italics in original); the term "discursive thought" has long been used in Western philosophy, and is often viewed as a synonym to logical thought (Rappe, Sara (2000). Reading neoplatonism : Non-discursive thinking in the texts of Plotinus, Proclus, and Damascius. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-65158-5.)
- Bond, Ospina et al. (2009) – see fuller discussion elsewhere on this page – report that 7 expert scholars who had studied different traditions of meditation agreed that an "essential" component of meditation "Involves logic relaxation: not 'to intend' to analyze the possible psychophysical effects, not 'to intend' to judge the possible results, not 'to intend' to create any type of expectation regarding the process" (p. 134, Table 4). In their final consideration, all 7 experts regarded this feature as an "essential" component of meditation; none of them regarded it as merely "important but not essential" (p. 234, Table 4). (This same result is presented in Table B1 in Ospina, Bond, et al., 2007, p. 281)
- "John Dunne's speech". Archived from the original on November 20, 2012.
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