Meditation has been defined as: "self regulation of attention, in the service of self-inquiry, in the here and now."
Meditation can be practiced while walking or doing simple repetitive tasks. Walking meditation helps 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."
The Bahá'í Faith teaches that meditation is necessary for spiritual growth, alongside obligatory prayer and fasting. `Abdu'l-Bahá is quoted as saying:
"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 () (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".
Buddhist meditation is fundamentally concerned with two themes: transforming the mind and using it to explore itself and other phenomena.
The historical Buddha himself, Siddhartha Gautama, was said to have achieved enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi tree.
In Buddhist mythology, there were twenty eight Buddhas and all of them used meditation to make spiritual progress. Most forms of Buddhism distinguish between two classes of meditation practices, samatha 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).
Theravada buddhism was the original practice, and uses a style of individuality each person is different ergo so is the path to Nirvana. Traditional popular meditation subjects include the breath (''anapana'') and loving-kindness (''mettā'').
In the Vipassana style of meditation the awareness is initially focused on the rising and falling breath and then (when respiration is almost suspended and the mind and heart still) on either some simple symbol (candle flame), body part (thumb or tip of the nose) or concept (provided any of these is unlikely to evoke emotional or intellectual disturbance).
One particularly influential school of Buddhist meditation in the 20th century was the Thai Forest Tradition which included such notable practitioners of meditation as Ajahn Thate, Ajahn Maha Bua and the Ajahn Chah.
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.
The Japanese haiku poet Basho saw poetry as a process of meditation concerned with the art of describing the brief appearances of the everlasting self, of eternity, in the circumstances of the world.
We get a sense of this ethical purpose in his writing at the commencement of his classic work Narrow Roads to the Deep North. In a more lonely and perhaps more profound pilgrimage than Chaucer depicted in the Canterbury Tales, Basho reflects on mortality in intermingled poetry and prose as he journeys north from shrine to shrine.
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 the true nature of mind: unchanging pure awareness, which underlies the whole of life and death.
Kværne (1975: p.164) in his extended discussion of sahaja, discusses the relationship of sadhana interiority and exteriority in relation to mandala thus:
"...external ritual and internal sadhana form an indistinguishable whole, and this unity finds its most pregnant expression in the form of the mandala, the sacred enclosure consisting of concentric squares and circles drawn on the ground and representing that adamantine plane of being on which the aspirant to Buddhahood wishes to establish The unfolding of the tantric ritual depends on the mandala; and where a material mandala is not employed, the adept proceeds to construct one mentally in the course of [their meditation." gendered language repaired in square parenthesis; first example employed "him", the second example "his"
''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'' Thus, meditative process 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.
It has been argued that meditative traditions of Buddhism (which predated the recorded birth of Jesus by 500 years and were present in Asia Minor and Alexandria during Jesus' life), influenced the development of some aspects of Christian contemplative faith (Buddhism and Christianity).
The Bible mentions ''meditate'' or ''meditation'' about twenty times, fifteen times in the Book of Psalms alone. When the Bible mentions meditation, it often mentions obedience in the next breath. An example is the Book of Joshua: "Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night."
Christian traditions have various meditative practices. These include Monastic traditions such as Lectio Divina, rosary meditations, and Eucharistic Adoration in Catholicism or the hesychast tradition in Eastern Orthodoxy which may involve recitation of the "Jesus Prayer."
Christian meditation is the middle level in a broad three stage characterization of prayer: it involves more reflection than first level vocal prayer, but is more structured than the multiple layers of contemplation in Christianity. Saints such as Thomas Aquinas and Teresa of Avila have emphasized the importance of meditation in Christianity.
Christian meditation is distinct from and contrasts with cosmic styles of oriental meditation. A 1989 document generally known as ''Aspects of Christian meditation'' set forth the position of the Holy See with respect to the differences between Christian and eastern styles of meditation.
The document, issued as a letter to all Catholic bishops, stresses the differences between Christian and eastern meditative approaches. It warns of the dangers of attempting to mix Christian meditation with eastern approaches since that could be both confusing and misleading, and may result in the loss of the essential Christocentric nature of Christian meditation.
The earliest clear references to meditation in Hindu literature are in the middle Upanishads and the Mahabharata, which includes the Bhagavad Gita. According to Gavin Flood, the earlier Brihadaranyaka Upanishad refers to meditation when it states that "having becoming calm and concentrated, one perceives the self (''ātman'') within oneself".
Raja Yoga (sometimes simply referred to as ''Yoga'') is one of the six orthodox (''āstika'') schools of Hindu philosophy, focusing on meditation. ''Dhyana'', or meditation, is the seventh of eight limbs of the Raja Yoga path as expounded by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. Patanjali recommended "meditation with the Lord as the object" as a part of the spiritual practices (''sadhana'') that leads to ''samadhi'', or blissful inner peace.
The word 'Yoga' is derived from the Sanskrit ''yuj'', which means "to control", "to yoke", "to unite", and refers to techniques and disciplines of asceticism and meditation which lead to spiritual experience. The practices of Yoga help one to control the mind and senses so the ego can be transcended and the true self (''atman'') experienced, leading to ''moksha'' or liberation. Meditation in Hinduism is not confined to any school or sect and has expanded beyond Hinduism to the West.
The influential modern proponent of Hinduism who first introduced Eastern philosophy to the West in the late 19th century, 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."
A Muslim is obliged to pray at least five times a day: once before sunrise, at noon, in the afternoon, after sunset, and once at night. During prayer a Muslim focuses and meditates on God by reciting the Qur'an and engaging in dhikr to reaffirm and strengthen the bond between Creator and creation. This guides the soul to truth. Such meditation is intended to help maintain a feeling of spiritual peace, in the face of whatever challenges work, social or family life may present.
The five daily acts of peaceful prayer are to serve as a template and inspiration for conduct during the rest of the day, transforming it, ideally, into one single and sustained meditation: even sleep is to be regarded as but another phase of that sustained meditation.
Meditative quiescence is said to have a quality of healing, and—in contemporary terminology—enhancing ''creativity''. The Islamic prophet Muhammad spent sustained periods in contemplation and meditation. It was during one such period that Muhammad began to receive the revelations of the Qur'an.
Following are the styles, or schools, of meditation in the Muslim traditions:
- ''Tafakkur'' or ''tadabbur'', 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.
- Meditation in the Sufi traditions is largely based on a spectrum of mystical exercises, varying from one lineage to another. Such techniques, particularly the more audacious, can be, and often have been down the ages, a source of controversy among scholars. One broad group of ulema, followers of the great Al-Ghazzali, for example, have in general been open to such techniques and forms of devotion, while another such group, those who concur with the prodigious Ibn Taymiya, reject and generally condemn such procedures as species of bid'ah (Arabic: بدعة) or mere innovation.
Numerous Sufi traditions place emphasis upon a meditative procedure similar in its cognitive aspect to one of the two principal approaches to be found in the Buddhist traditions: that of the concentration technique, involving high-intensity and sharply focused introspection. In the Oveyssi-Shahmaghsoudi Sufi order, for example, this is particularly evident, where muraqaba takes the form of tamarkoz, the latter being a Persian term that means ''concentration''.
Meditation has been one of the core spiritual practices undertaken by the Jains since the era of first Tirthankar Lord Rishabha. All the twenty four Tirthankars have practiced deep meditation before attaining enlightenment. They are all shown in meditative postures in the images or idols. Lord Mahaveer practiced deep meditation for twelve years and attained enlightenment.
The Oldest Jain Canon (4th Century BCE) describes meditation of Mahavira before attaining kevala Jnana:
Giving up the company of all householders whomsoever, he meditated. Asked, he gave no answer; he went, and did not transgress the right path. (AS 312) In these places was the wise Sramana for thirteen long years; he meditated day and night, exerting himself, undisturbed, strenuously. (AS 333) And Mahavira meditated (persevering) in some posture, without the smallest motion; he meditated in mental concentration on (the things) above, below, beside, free from desires. He meditated free from sin and desire, not attached to sounds or colours; though still an erring mortal (khadmastha), he wandered about, and never acted carelessly. (AS 374-375)
After more than twelve years of austerities and meditation, Mahavira entered the state of Kevala Jnana while doing shukla dhayana, the highest form of meditation:
The Venerable Ascetic Mahavira passed twelve years in this way of life; during the thirteenth year in the second month of summer, in the fourth fortnight, the light (fortnight) of Vaisakha, on its tenth day called Suvrata, in the Muhurta called Vigaya, while the moon was in conjunction with the asterism Uttaraphalguni, when the shadow had turned towards the east, and the first wake was over, outside of the town Grimbhikagrama, on the northern bank of the river Rigupalika, in the field of the householder Samaga, in a north-eastern direction from an old temple, not far from a Sal tree, in a squatting position with joined heels exposing himself to the heat of the sun, with the knees high and the head low, in deep meditation, in the midst of abstract meditation,he reached Nirvana, the complete and full, the unobstructed, unimpeded, infinite and supreme best knowledge and intuition, called Kevala.
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. 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. To live in samayik is called living in the present. The Samayika takes on special significance during Paryushana, a special eight- or ten-day period (depending on the sect) practiced by the Jains. One of the main goal of Samayika is to inculcate the quality of equanimity. It encourages to be consistently spiritually vigilant. Samayaika is practiced in all the Jain sects and communities.
In Uttarādhyayana Sūtra, Mahavira explains the various benefits of meditation:
Acharya Mahaprajna, the 10th Head of Jain Swetamber Terapanth sect , formulated a well organized meditation system known as preksha meditation in the 1970s. With this, he rediscovered the Jain Meditation techniques available in ancient Jain scriptures.
The system consists of the perception of the breath, body, the psychic centres, psychic colors, thought and of contemplation processes which can initiate the process of personal transformation. A few important contemplation themes are - Impermanence, Solitariness, Vulnerability. It aims at reaching and purifying the deeper levels of existence. Regular practice is believed to strengthen the immune system and build up stamina to resist against ageing, pollution, viruses, diseases. Meditation practice is an important part of the daily lives of the religion's monks.
The ''kayotsarg'' method is found to be very useful by many Jains. It is the process of complete relaxation with high degree of self awareness.
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 into and that eventually develops right insight. In ''vipaka vichāya'', one reflects on the eight causes or basic types of ''karma''. In ''sansathan vichāya'', when one thinks about the vastness of the universe and the loneliness of the soul.
There exists a number of meditation techniques such as ''pindāstha-dhyāna, padāstha-dhyāna, rūpāstha-dhyāna, rūpātita-dhyāna, savīrya-dhyāna'', etc. In ''padāstha dhyāna'' one focuses on ''Mantras''. 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.
New Age meditation as practiced 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.
Many New Age groups combine yoga with meditation where the control of mind and breathing is said to be the highest yoga.
In Zen Yoga Aaron Hoopes talks of meditation as being an avenue to touching the spiritual nature that exists within each of us.
Among the meditation techniques identified as "New Age" are Sahaja Yoga, Transcendental Meditation, Natural Stress Relief, 5Rhythms, Transmission Meditation, and Theta Healing.
In Sikhism, the practices of simran and Nām Japō encourage quiet meditation. This is focusing one's attention on the attributes of God. Sikhs believe that there are 10 'gates' to the body; 'gates' is another word for 'chakras' or energy centres. The top most energy level is called the tenth gate or dasam dwar. When one reaches this stage through continuous practice meditation becomes a habit that continues whilst walking, talking, eating, awake and even sleeping. There is a distinct taste or flavour when a meditator reaches this lofty stage of meditation, as one experiences absolute peace and tranquility inside and outside the body.
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, 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, Internal alchemy, Daoyin and Zhan zhuang is a large, diverse array of breath-training practices in aid of meditation with much influence on 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”.
"The ''Guanzi'' essay 'Neiye' 內業 (Inward training) is the oldest received writing on the subject of the cultivation of vapor and meditation techniques. The essay was probably composed at the Jixia Academy in Qi in the late fourth century B.C."
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 according to Jiddu Krishnamurti
Jiddu Krishnamurti used the term "meditation" to mean something entirely different from the practice of any system or method to control the mind, or to consciously achieve a specific goal or state: "Man, in order to escape his conflicts, has invented many forms of meditation. These have been based on desire, will, and the urge for achievement, and imply conflict and a struggle to arrive. This conscious, deliberate striving is always within the limits of a conditioned mind, and in this there is no freedom. All effort to meditate is the denial of meditation. Meditation is the ending of thought. It is only then that there is a different dimension which is beyond time."
For Krishnamurti, meditation was choiceless awareness in the present: ''When you learn about yourself, watch yourself, watch the way you walk, how you eat, what you say, the gossip, the hate, the jealousy - if you are aware of all that in yourself, without any choice, that is part of meditation."
Meditation using beads
Many religions have their own Prayer beads. 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. Each set of ten is separated by another bead. The Hindu japa mala has 108 beads, as also in Jainism, as may the Buddhist juzu. The Muslim mishbaha has 99 beads. Prayers and specific meditations of each religion are different and there are theological reasons for the number of beads. Prayer beads 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.
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Last Updated: Feb 1, 2011