By Susan Chow, PhD, ELS
Meditation is an ancient practice that is believed to originate in India several thousand years BCE. Throughout early history, the practice was adopted by neighboring countries quickly and formed a part of many religions throughout the world.
The terminology used today to “meditate” was not introduced until the 12th century AD, coming from the Latin word meditatum.
The earliest documented records that mentioned meditation involved Vedantism, a Hindu tradition in India, around 1500 BCE. However, historians believe that meditation was practiced before this time, as early as 3000 BCE.
Between 600-500 BCE, the development of other meditation forms was recorded in Taoist China and Buddhist India, although the exact origins of these practices, particularly Buddhist meditation, continues to be debated among historians. The formula to salvation of morality, contemplative concentration, knowledge and liberation were believed to involve meditation as a central component.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, outlining the eight limbs of yoga, was compiled between 400-100 BCE. In the same period, the Bhagavad Gita was written, which discusses the philosophy of yoga, meditation and the practice of living a spiritual life.
The practice of meditation also spread to other cultures in the West, via the Silk Road, to influence religions such as Judaism. Later, in the 3rd century AD, Plotinus developed meditative techniques, which were not easily integrated into the Christian faith.
A Japanese monk, Dosho, discovered Zen on a visit to China in 653 and introduced the practice of meditation to Japan upon return to the country, opening the first hall for meditation. The practice grew significantly in Japan from 8th century AD onward, bringing the practice of meditation with it.
The term “meditate” originates from the Latin word meditatum, which means, “to ponder.” Monk Guigo II introduced this terminology for the first time in the 12th century AD.
Middle Ages and Modern History
Throughout the middle ages, the practice of meditation grew and developed into many religious traditions as a form of prayer, such as Jewish meditation.
In the 18th century, the ancient teachings of meditation began to become more popular among the population of Western cultures.
In 1927, the book “Tibetan Book of the Dead” was published, which attracted significant attention from Westerners and excited interest about the practice. This was followed by the Vipassana movement, or insight meditation, which began in Burma in the 1950s. “The Dharma Bums” was published in 1958, attracting more attention to meditation at this time.
In 1979, the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program was founded in the United States, which used meditative techniques in the treatment plans for patients with chronic diseases.
Since this time, meditation has become increasingly more common, such that a survey in 2007 found that almost 1 in 10 Americans has meditated. It plays a central role in many religious traditions and rituals, in addition to helping individuals to manage stress and improve overall well being.
Last Updated: Nov 22, 2015