The Origins of Meditation
We have all heard of meditation and you may have even practiced it in some form. But what are the origins of meditation? Where did it begin and how did it spread all over the world as it has today.
In the Beginning
Meditation can be traced back through history to around 5,000 BCE in India. It is during this period we begin to see the pose of meditation that we recognize today: seated, legs crossed, eyes closed, hands held together. However, we don’t see any written reference to meditation until nearly three and a half thousand years later, around 1,500 BCE in the Vedas scriptures. This significant gap can only be explained by the religious teachings of gurus during this time in India. They taught their students by word of mouth and shared practice, therefore, there is very little information written by them during this time. But even this reference is fleeting and is merely shown as contemplation rather than the full practice.
During the 6th and 5th centuries BCE we can see more and more references to meditation through Buddhist India and Taoist China. But it is much later in Pi Canon, the foundation of Theravada Buddhism containing teachings, disciplines, and sermons. It is in the Pi Canon where we can see the origins of meditation that we are familiar with. It tells us the path to salvation is through observing and following the rules of morality. How contemplative thought concentration can provide not only knowledge but also liberation.
The Teaching of Zen
Fast forward a few hundred years and Buddhism is spreading and with it begins the evolution of meditation into what we know as Zen. The literal meaning of the word Zen is “meditation” and it is within the practice of Zen that we can see the forms of meditation that are practiced all over the world today. Buddhism and Zen were spread through Asian countries via the Silk Road. It is along its path that Buddhist monks entered China.
We can also see the meditational practices were woven into Islam, Judaism, and Christianity: the contemplativeness that is encouraged, the repeating of verses or prayers, breathing techniques, and even the way prayers are made. It was not until the 20th century and onwards that we see meditation begin to lose its religious connotations. Up until this point, meditation was used in conjunction with a religion such as Buddhism or Hinduism, and while it is still seen as a religious act to many, you can also find it practiced in a secular environment such as workplaces, hospitals, and in meditational retreats.
Past is Present
As you can see, the origin of meditation spans back thousands of years, and it is argued by many scholars that it dates back even further, we just don’t have the physical evidence to confirm this. And while it has spread through the world and over the years been molded and shaped to conform to the doctrines of that time and place, the principles are exactly the same as they were more than 7,000 years ago.