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Meditation is a contemplative technique which involves a conscious attempt to concentrate attention on some object of thought or awareness, in a nonanalytical way and prevents associative or ruminating thought processes . It usually involves turning the attention inward to the mind itself.
Meditation is sometimes considered a spiritual or religious practice as in Eastern religions, where it has been performed for over 5,000 years. It has also become mainstream in Western culture. It encompasses any of a wide variety of spiritual practices which emphasize mental activity or quiescence. Meditation can be used for personal development, or to focus the mind on God (or an aspect of God).
The English word meditation comes from the Latin meditatio, which originally indicated every type of physical or intellectual exercise, then later evolved into the more specific meaning "contemplation." The use of the word meditation in the western Christian tradition has referred generally to a more active practise of reflection on some particular theme such as "meditation on the sufferings of Christ". Similarly in Western philosophy, one finds, for example, Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy, a set of six mental exercises which systematically analyze the nature of reality.
"Meditation" in its modern sense, refers to Yogic meditation that originated in India. Since late nineteenth century, Theosophists adopted the word "meditation" to refer to various spiritual practices drawn from Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Eastern religions. Thus the English word "meditation" does not exclusively translate any single term or concept, and can be used to translate words such as the Sanskrit dhyana, samadhi and bhavana.
Meditation is usually defined as one of the following:
- a state of relaxed concentration on the reality of the present moment
- a state that is experienced when the mind dissolves and is free of all thoughts
- "concentration in which the attention has been liberated from restlessness and is focused on God."
- focusing the mind on a single object (such as a religious statue, or one's breath, or a mantra)
- a mental "opening up" to the divine, invoking the guidance of a higher power
- reasoned analysis of religious teachings (such as impermanence, for Buddhists).
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 by a number of religious and spiritual movements, such as Yoga and the New Age movement, as well as limited use in Christianity.
From the point of view of psychology, meditation can induce an altered state of consciousness. The goals of meditation are varied, and range from spiritual enlightenment, to the transformation of attitudes, to better cardiovascular health.
Types of meditation
According to Perez-De-Albeniz & Holmes (2000), the different 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.
Categorizing the varieties of meditation is difficult. One common way is according to religion or lineage. Some meditative traditions, such as yoga or tantra, are common to several religions or occur outside religious contexts. Therefore, to avoid controversy, this article will not attempt to classify all meditations into a religious class or lineage.
The Bahá'í Faith teaches that meditation is necessary for spiritual growth, alongside obligatory prayer and fasting. 'Abdu'l-Bahá wrote:
"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 a particular form of meditation, some Bahá'í practices bring about a meditative state. One of these practices is the daily obligatory chanting of the Arabic phrase Alláhu Abhá (Arabic: الله ابهى) (God is Most Glorious) 95 times or as many as you like, which is preceded by ablutions. This is similar to the Sufi practice of chanting the names of God. The word Abhá comes from the same root as Bahá' (Arabic: بهاء "splendor" or "glory"), which Bahá'ís consider to be the "Greatest Name of God".
Also, many of the prayers and Tablets of the Báb and Bahá'u'lláh are intended to bring about a meditative or ecstatic state on the part of the participant. These writings often contain a phrase extolling God or listing several of His names and attributes, which are repeated over and over again throughout the text. For example, in the Long Healing Prayer, almost every verse is followed by "Thou the Sufficing, Thou the Healing, Thou the Abiding, O Thou Abiding One". In the Tablet of the Holy Mariner, every phrase is followed by "Glorified be my Lord, the All-Glorious!"
- Main article: Buddhist meditation
Meditation has always been central to Buddhism. The Buddha himself was said to have achieved enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi tree. 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. 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 Chan Buddhism school (which branched out into the Japanese Zen, and Korean Seon schools), ts'o ch'an meditation and koan meditation practices are extremely important, allowing 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. However, visitors to Tibetan monasteries are often surprised to discover that many monks go through their day without "meditating" in a recognizable form, but are more likely to chant or participate in group liturgy.
See also: Dhyāna in Buddhism
- Main article: Christian meditation
Christian traditions have various practices which might be identified as forms of "meditation." Many of these are monastic practices. Some types of prayer, such as the rosary and Adoration (focusing on the eucharist) in Catholicism or the hesychasm in Eastern Orthodoxy, may be compared to the form of Eastern meditation that focuses on an individual object.
Christian meditation is considered a form of prayer. Some Christian prayer is made primarily by using the intellect, through the contemplation of the divine mysteries. However, Christian prayer or meditation through the heart, as described in the Philokalia is a practice towards Theosis, which involves acquiring an inner stillness and ignoring the physical senses.
According to the Old Testament book of Joshua, a form of meditation is to meditate on scriptures. This is one of the reasons why bible verse memory is a practice among many evangelical Christians. "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)
There are several types of meditation in Hinduism. These include (but are not limited to):
- Vedanta, a form of Jnana Yoga.
- Raja Yoga as outlined by Patanjali, which describes eight "limbs" of spiritual practices, half of which might be classified as meditation. Underlying them is the assumption that a yogi should still the fluctuations of his or her mind: Yoga cittavrrti nirodha.
- Surat shabd yoga, or "sound and light meditation"
- Japa Yoga, the repetition of a mantrait is very important
- Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of love and devotion, in which the seeker is focused on an object of devotion, eg Krishna
- Hatha Yoga, in which postures and meditations are aimed at raising the spiritual energy, known as Kundalini, which rises through energy centres known as chakras
There are two concepts or schools of meditation in Islam. One is that which is described in the Qur’an and Sunnah, i.e. developed during the life and times of the prophet or shortly thereafter. Another is that which has been developed by the Sufis, Muslim ascetics, in later times.
- The original concept of meditation is based on contemplation, called Tafakkur and Tadabbur (Arabic in the Qur’an. Literally, this refers to reflection upon the universe. Muslims feel this is a form of intellectual development which emanates from a higher level, i.e. from God. This intellectual process through the receiving of divine inspiration awakens and liberates the human mind, permitting man’s inner personality to develop and grow so that he may lead his life on a spiritual plane far above the mundane level. This is consistent with the global teachings of Islam, which views life as a test of our practice of submission to Allah, the one God.
- The second form of meditation is the Sufis Meditation, it is largely based on mystical exercises. However, this method is controversial among Muslim scholars. One group of Ulama, Al-Ghazzali, for instance, have accepted it, another group of Ulama, Ibn Taymiya, for instance, have rejected it as an bid'ah (Arabic: بدعة) (religious innovation).
Sufism relies on a practice similar to Buddhist meditation, known as Muraqabah 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[How to reference and link to summary or text]. 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.
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
- Main article: Jewish meditation
There is evidence that Judaism has had meditative practices from the earliest times. 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).
In modern Jewish practice, one of the best known meditative practices is called hitbodeidut (התבודדות) or hisbodeidus is explained in Kabbalah and Hassidic philosophy. The word hisbodedut, which derives from the Hebrew word "boded", בודד (a state of being alone) and claimed to be related to the sfirah of Binah (lit. 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 /Merchava/, from the root /R-Ch B/ meaning "chariot"(of God).
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New Age meditations are influenced by Eastern philosophy and practice such as yoga, Hinduism and Buddhism, yet may contain some degree of Western influence. Examples of such meditations include:
- Sahaja Yoga, the Global Meditation meditation, free, practice started by H.H.Shri Mataji Nirmala Srivastava.Sahaja Yoga is a unique method of meditation based on an awakening that can occur within each human being. Through this process an inner transformation takes place by which one becomes moral, united, integrated and balanced. One can actually feel the all pervading divine power as a cool breeze, as described in all religions and spiritual traditions of the world.
- Transcendental Meditation, a form of meditation (transcending) restored and specialized by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
- NSR Meditation, a self-instructional form of transcending distributed by Istituto Scientia and Natural Stress Relief/USA.
- 5Rhythms, a movement meditation technique invented by Gabrielle Roth.
- FISU (Foundation for International Spiritual Unfoldment) was established by Gururaj Ananda Yogi's prime disciples Rajesh Ananda and Jasmini Ananda whom are the leaders ever since.
- Ananda Marga Meditation was propounded by Shrii Shrii Anandamurtiiji in India and revived sacred practices taught by SadaShiva and Sri Krs'na. His system of meditation is based on original Tantra as given by Shiva and has sometimes been referred as "Rajadhiraja Yoga".
- Main article: Nām Japō
In Sikhism, the practices of simran and Nām Japō encourage quiet meditation. This is focusing ones 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 the called the tenth gate or dasam dwar. It is said that when one reaches this stage through continuous practise 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 conjurs 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 householders life instead of wandering around jungles meditating, as was popular practise 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.
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”.
Although the term meditation is usually associated with one's body assuming a static, "meditative" posture, the dynamic types of meditation, widely used in Karma Yoga, are also quite widespread. An example of such activity could be Natya Yoga or a Shamanistic dance, such as described by Carlos Castaneda.
Sri Aurobindo used to meditate while walking. 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.
Also the Thai monk Luang Por Teean taught a (more conservative) form of dynamic meditation, involving 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 dynamic meditation is a type of vipassana meditation, which is popular in Thailand, and is becoming more well known in the western countries, too.
Often Taoist Internal martial arts, especially Tai Chi Chuan are thought of as moving meditation. A common phrase being, "movement in stillness" refering 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.
Forms of meditation which are devoid of mystical content have been developed in the west as a way of promoting physical and mental well being.
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.
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 exercizes 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.
Acoustic and photic
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 context
Most traditions address the integration of mind, body, and spirit (this is a major theme of the Bhagavad-Gita); or that of spiritual practice with family life, work, and so on. Often, meditation is said to be incomplete if it doesn't lead to positive changes in one's daily life and attitudes. In that spirit some Zen practitioners have promoted "Zen driving," aimed at reducing road rage.
Meditation is often presented not as a "free-standing" activity, but as one part of a wider spiritual tradition. Nevertheless, many meditators today do not follow an organized religion, or do not consider themselves to do so faithfully. Religious authorities typically insist that spiritual practices such as meditation belong in the context of a well-rounded religious life that may include ritual or liturgy, scriptural study, and the observance of religious laws or regulations.
Perhaps the most widely-cited spiritual prerequisite for meditation is an ethical lifestyle. Many martial arts teachers urge their students to respect parents and teachers, and inculcate other positive values. Some traditions incorporate "crazy wisdom" or intentionally transgressive acts, in their sacred lore if not in actual practice: Sufi poets (e.g. Rumi, Hafiz) celebrate the virtues of wine, which is forbidden in Islam.
Most meditative traditions discourage drug use. Exceptions include some forms of Hinduism and the Rastafari movement, which have a long tradition of cannabis using renunciates; and certain Native American traditions, which use peyote, ayahuasca, or other restricted substances in a religious setting.
A number of meditative traditions requires permission from a teacher or elder, who in turn has received permission from another teacher, and so on, in a lineage. Most Chinese traditions rely on the Confucian concept of a Sifu. Hinduism and Buddhism stress the importance of a spiritual teacher (Sanskrit guru, Tibetan lama). Orthodox Christianity has "spiritual elders" (Greek gerontas, Russian starets); Catholic religious have spiritual directors.
The immediate meditative environment is often held to be important. Several traditions incorporate cleansing rituals for the place where one meditates, and others offer instructions for an altar or other accessories.
- Main article: Asana
Different spiritual traditions, and different teachers within those traditions, prescribe or suggest different physical postures for meditation. Most famous are the several cross-legged postures, including the Lotus Position.
Many meditative traditions teach that the spine should be kept "straight" (i.e. that the meditator should not slouch). Often this is explained as a way of encouraging the circulation of what some call "spiritual energy," the "vital breath", the "life force" (Sanskrit prana, Chinese qi, Latin spiritus) or the Kundalini. In some traditions the meditator may sit on a chair, flat-footed (as in New Thought); sit on a stool (as in Orthodox Christianity); or walk in mindfulness (as in Theravada Buddhism).
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. Practitioners of the Soto Zen tradition meditate with their eyes open, facing a wall, but most schools of meditation assume that the eyes will be closed or only half-open.
Often such details are shared by more than one religion, even in cases where mutual influence seems unlikely. One example would be "navel-gazing," which is apparently attested within Eastern Orthodoxy as well as Chinese qigong practice. Another would be the practice of focusing on the breath, which is found in Orthodox Christianity, Sufism, and numerous Indic traditions.
Sitting cross-legged (or upon one's knees) for extended periods when one is not sufficiently limber, can result in a range of ergonomic complaints called "meditator's knee".
Frequency and duration
These vary so greatly that it is difficult to venture any general comments. On one extreme there exist monks and nuns whose whole lives are ordered around meditation; on the other hand, one-minute meditations are not out of the question.
Twenty or thirty minutes is broadly accepted as being a typical duration. Experienced meditators often find their sessions growing in length of their own accord. Observing the advice and instructions of one's spiritual teacher is generally held to be most beneficial.
Many traditions stress regular practice. Accordingly, many meditators experience guilt or frustration upon failing to do so. Possible responses range from perseverance to acceptance. Also, many meditators stress the importance of continual practice in order to strengthen concentration for prolonged meditation sessions as well as increased focus during their daily lives.
Purposes and effects of meditation
- Main article: Health applications and clinical studies of meditation
The purposes for which people meditate vary almost as widely as practices. Meditation may serve simply as a means of relaxation from a busy daily routine; as a technique for cultivating mental discipline; or as a means of gaining insight into the nature of reality, or of communing with one's God. Many report improved concentration, awareness, self-discipline and equanimity through meditation.
Many authorities avoid emphasizing the effects of meditation — sometimes out of modesty, sometimes for fear that the expectation of results might interfere with one's meditation. For theists, the effects of meditation are considered a gift of God or from the Holy Spirit/Ghost, and not something that is "achieved" by the meditator alone, just as some say that a person will not convert to Christianity without the influence of the Holy Spirit/Ghost's presence.
Commonly reported results from meditation include:
- Greater faith in, or understanding of, one's religion or beliefs
- An increase in patience, compassion, and other virtues and morals or the understanding of them
- Feelings of calm or peace, and/or moments of great joy
- Consciousness of sin, temptation, and remorse, and a spirit of contrition.
- Sensitivity to certain forms of lighting, such as fluorescent lights or computer screens, and sometimes heightened sense-perception.
- Surfacing of buried memories.
- Experience of spiritual phenomena such as kundalini, extra-sensory perception, or visions of deities, saints, demons, etc.
Some traditions acknowledge that many types of experiences and effects are possible, but instruct the meditator to keep in mind the spiritual purpose of the meditation, and not be distracted by lesser concerns. For example, Mahayana Buddhists are urged to meditate for the sake of "full and perfect enlightenment for all sentient beings" (the bodhisattva vow). Some, as in certain sects of Christianity, say that these things are possible, but are only to be supported if they are to the glory of God.
- Attentional retraining
- Interior Life
- Relaxation therapy
- Skumin mind control method
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