Meditation and the Religions of the World

Meditation and the Religions of the World

Meditation and the Religions of the World

Secular and spiritual meditations have fundamental differences and they are completely different in many ways. Spiritual growth and the attainment of an elevated state are the typical end result of spiritual meditation. In the meantime, secular meditation is focused more on gaining relaxation, achieving self-improvement and promoting stress reduction. The latter is commonly practice because the objective of doing so can easily be attained. Nevertheless, secular meditation is founded on spiritual meditation, which emerged in the development of the different religions practiced in the world today.

To better understand the origins of meditation and how it works to transform a person’s mental, spiritual, and physical state, here is an overview of the meditative practices of some of the world’s major religions. Majority of them dates back to centuries.

Zen Buddhism

One of the most popular Buddhist schools in the world today is Zen Buddhism. The religion came to Japan from China. The teachings of the Buddha spread beyond the borders of India to countries in mainland Asia, traveling eastward and westward with traders taking the Silk Route. In Japan, the form of Buddhism that is now widely practiced amongst the populace started developing in the 8th century. Dosho, a Japanese monk established the practices of Japanese Buddhism after returning from China and learning about the religion. Dosho established the very first meditative hall in the Nara Prefecture and from that time onward, meditation has been established as an important element of Zen Buddhism.

 Meditation in Christianity

Among Christians and Roman Catholics, meditation is more commonly associated with monks and nuns who have sworn to a vow of silence while meditating on the Word of God. This idea of engaging in meditation may be difficult to understand, especially amongst Christians who relate meditation to Eastern mysticism. Nevertheless, monastic life is not the only area where meditation plays a role in Christianity. The Bible is believed to have passages describing meditation, particularly in the Old Testament. John Main, a Benedictine monk who believed that repetitive prayer is a form of meditation, promoted the important role of meditation in Christian life. Some scholars point out that praying the Holy Rosary is a form of meditation as well.

Meditative practice in other world religions

In Islam, a traditional form of contemplative meditation is mentioned in the Qur’an, which emphasizes on reflecting about the nature of the Universe. This form of meditation is known to Muslims as “Tafakkur.” Sufism is the other form of meditation in the Islamic traditions and this is more mystical in nature. Although it is much more complex in nature, millions of people practice this kind of meditation. It is a sect of Islam that focuses on true spiritual cultivation. Moslems consider meditation as a method for spiritual cultivation. This practice is also believed to facilitate relaxation of the mind and body in order to facilitate the search for divine wisdom and guidance.

Meditation is widely practiced in modern Judaism as well. Kabbalah is a system of mysticism that involves meditative practices. Generally, meditation is either instituted in formal services or applied more informally while engaged in unstructured praying activities, particularly those that are executed in solitude. There are some who combined it with worship. Nevertheless, the practice of meditation takes many forms in the Jewish religion.

Aside from the two situations mentioned above, traditional Jewish practices such as intuitive methods, visualization, analyses of philosophical and mystical concepts, and in the combinations of Divine names. It is important to note that major religions of the world have meditation as part of their beliefs. They considered the practice as a way to be one with their God.

Meditation and its Origins in the Religious Traditions

Meditation and its Origins in the Religious Traditions

Meditation and its Origins in the Religious Traditions

The monks of the Benedictine order developed the formal steps to meditation in the 12th century. These served as the basis for most modern meditation techniques. In fact almost all techniques practiced today have an influence of this religious order. The monks espoused the following: “read, ponder, pray, contemplate” and the meditative practices in the different religions being observed today share these essential elements.

Origins of meditation in the East

Nevertheless, the very first successful attempts at formalizing meditation occurred centuries ahead of the Benedictine monks. They are not the ones who first practice this activity. Even before Western cultures and religions promulgated meditative practice as essential to the observance of their Faith, the rich and ancient religions of the East were already using meditation as a means of achieving altered states of being. One of the most successful pioneers in formalizing meditative practice was Gautama Buddha. He was a well-known person who practiced meditation. The importance of meditation in the Buddha’s attainment of Enlightenment can be seen in all the statues of the Enlightened One adorning Buddhist temples and homes. Buddhism revolves around this religious practice. The lotus position is a meditative pose and the Buddha is usually depicted in this attitude. If you happen to visit countries that practice Buddhism, their praying position is the lotus position.


Spread of meditation in the West

Eastern cultures were already benefiting from the positive effects of meditation for a few thousand years before Western cultures were exposed to it. However, once meditation entered the mainstream, there was no stopping it to spread. The mid-20th century was witness to the evolution of meditation as Western societies modified the basic tenets to suit their needs. Even the younger generations are seeing the benefits of this practice. This led to the diversification of meditative traditions and the huge number of meditation techniques practiced today. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, meditation became the subject of studies that sought to determine the basis for its positive effects on the mind and the body. The practice was dissected and studies in an attempt by Western cultures to understand exactly how it works.

Western cultures took particular interest on Yoga and meditation, expanding the practice with secular versions of what used to be exclusively religious practice, which originated in Hinduism. Until now, Yoga is one of the most widely practiced Eastern traditions that involves meditation. The popularity of Yoga is founded on its widely acknowledged effects on relaxation, stress reduction, and self-improvement.

Benefits of meditation to modern man

Daily stresses can offset the delicate balance of a person’s psychological state, leading to behavioral problems and mental disorders, many of which are undiagnosed and untreated. With so many problems the world has to offer, meditation is needed by a lot of people. Mental health specialists recognize the value of meditation in helping people regain mental balance. Today, meditation is often recommended along with other interventions for anxiety, depression and stress disorders.

Aside from its value in the treatment of mental and behavioral disorders, meditation is also one of the alternative approaches to resolving drug addiction, alcoholism, and other addictive habits such as smoking. Meditation gives the practitioner the chance to think more clearly and make smarter choices in life. Many cultures and religions have contributed to the development and evolution of meditative practices. Until today, it is still continuing to evolve. We have all of them to thank for contributing to the shaping of a practice that helps millions of people today in attaining peace of mind, a positive outlook, and success in life. It has also cured a lot of disease.


Origins and Evolution of Meditative Practices

origins of meditation

Origins and Evolution of Meditative Practices

There was a time when meditation was an activity that only monks, gurus, and spiritual leaders engaged in. It is also considered to be a serious activity and a way to commune with the higher being. It was a concept that was as unfamiliar to common folk as the deepest mysteries of their religion. In fact a few decades ago, you will need to study it in a deeper level to achieve the result that is expected from it. Today, things have changed. Meditation is not the exclusive province of spiritualists and the deeply religious. It has already become accessible to everyone who wants to lead a less complicated and more peaceful way of life. Even if you are not monk or spiritual leader, you can practice meditation and attain its benefits.

For thousands of years, meditation was exclusively practiced by Eastern cultures. It is unknown to other part of the world. Eventually, Western cultured imbibed meditative practice mostly due to the spread in popularity of New Age, Yoga, and similar spiritual movements. Meditation was introduced to the mainstream, and it is now both widely practiced in religious and secular circles. Even ordinary people can do it. Most modern practitioners of meditation follow the tradition of a form called “Yogic meditation” which was developed in India more than a century ago. Nevertheless, the word “meditation” connotes a universal practice that the world’s major religions have in common.

Origins in India five millennia ago

In order to understand meditation, it is important to learn of its origins. Archaeological records show evidence of meditative practice on record in Hindu Scripture called “Tantras”. The writings were made in the Indus Valley more than 5,000 years ago. These ancient writings are recognized by scholars as the first document to mention activities that resemble meditation as we know it today.

Another archaeological finding that supports the prehistoric origins of meditation is the discovery made in the 1920s by Sir John Marshall. A carved figure in the attitude of meditation was discovered in Mohenjo-daro, acknowledged by historians as the capital of the civilization that thrived in the Indus Valley around 4,600 years ago. This progressive civilization spanned modern day India and Pakistan.

Because of these archeological discoveries, the general agreement points to the Indus Valley as the place where meditation originated. By far, there are no other archeological or historical evidence found elsewhere which is dated at an earlier date. Scholars also agree that the practice of meditation could have originated earlier than 5,000 years, though there are no existing records to be found.

Modern applications of meditative practice

Since the West has adopted the practice of meditation, its applications have expanded to include uses in the world of medicine, specifically psychotherapy. There are many health benefits that are related to it. From the work of Jacobson on progressive relaxation, various schools of thought have emerged, which incorporates meditation in order to achieve physical and mental relaxation. Today, behavioral approaches and meditation techniques are used together to facilitate the reduction of daily stresses.

Because of the high-paced and often stressful lifestyle that characterizes living in urban centers, more people are being diagnosed with depression, anxiety disorders and other mental health disorders. There are also other problems that can be cured by this practice. Psychotherapists have found success in the treatment of various mental health problems in the use of meditation along with biofeedback, relaxation techniques, hypnosis, and other alternative approaches that does not involve taking prescription drugs. For example, an approach known as multi-modal therapy has been shown to alter behavior. This approach involves the use of meditation.

Origins and Expansion of Meditation

origins of meditation

Origins and Expansion of Meditation

Secular versions of meditation that are now spreading like wildfire around the world are all based on Eastern religious traditions. In fact, these kinds of meditation are becoming popular not just on this side of the world but on other parts as well. Perhaps many people do not realize that the relaxation techniques recommended for people who are dealing with very stressful situations borrow largely from Eastern cultures. The practices are known to cure problems of the modern world.

Origins, development, and expansion of meditative traditions

Historians attribute the origins of meditative practices primarily to India, where an ancient Indus valley civilization that existed 5,000 years ago left cave well figures of men in meditative postures. It was also in India where the founder of Buddhism, Siddhartha Gautama pioneered the formal integration of meditation into religious practice. From there, meditation spread throughout Asia where it was adopted by different cultures. Every culture has its own interpretation of meditation. There are some cultures that add their own approaches to this practice. This led to the expansion of meditative practices to encompass hundreds of different approaches, which eventually trickled to the West.


Modern meditative practices have already been influenced by other Eastern cultures, which added their own beliefs in principles to the basic tenets set down in early Buddhist traditions. Practitioners of meditation in China and Japan have formulated their own meditative traditions in the effort to reconcile the practice with their culture and beliefs. From a purely religious practice, meditation has since evolved and expanded to include secular forms and medical applications.


Western cultures initially viewed meditation as a purely religious practice and likened it to a certain type of catatonic state. The dissociative stance was not considered as an “appropriate” intervention for use in the healthcare setting. Gradually, meditation was accepted as a beneficial practice after studies and tests were made. In the 1970’s, the very first studies on “mind-body intervention” were published in the “Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. This was the start of the wide acceptance of meditation as a legitimate intervention tool in psychology, particularly in the treatment and prevention of mental health disorders. Today, the world of medicine considers meditation as an effective method in calming the mind and promoting relaxation.

Common characteristics of meditative practices

The use of meditation in religion involves attaining a heightened level of spirituality and understanding, which are not part of the objective of secular meditation. Nevertheless, there are elements that tie them together. All meditative practices have similar elements in common, three of which are a quiet setting, a single-minded focus and a passive attitude. The approaches vary, but the end goal is quite similar—attainment of peace, stillness, and clarity of mind.

Different approaches to meditation

The variety of meditation techniques being practiced today is quite staggering but it is evolving and adjusting to the modern world. There are meditation techniques for stress relief that aims to put to the fore alpha brain wave activity in order to promote a more relaxed attitude. It is being used as a therapy to cure health problems. Meanwhile, some approaches to meditation are more reflective in nature. For instance, Christian meditation is focused specifically on prayer and reflection on the Word of God. This approach is not primarily geared toward relaxation, but more on sensing the presence of God and communing with Him. This type of meditation is also promoted for stress relief and relaxation, however there’s more to the practice in that answers and solutions to problems are being actively sought as well. There is no doubt meditation has gone a long way since its inception thousands of years ago.

Origins and Uses of Meditative Practice

origin of meditation

Origins and Uses of Meditative Practice

For more than five thousand years, based on documented archaeological discoveries of the 20th century, meditation has been ushering the learned and the religious along the path to salvation. It is being used to be closer to the higher power. Meditative practice is not only a means to achieving salvation and enlightenment but it also serve other purpose related to health. Modern practitioners are more familiar with the uses of meditation in relieving body pain, stress, mental anxiety, and promoting a calm and quiet state of mind. In fact there are many conditions of the body that can be cured by this activity. The interest in meditation is rapidly growing because of its numerous benefits to a person’s mental and physical well-being. In fact, there are some government that promotes this to their community.

 The purpose of meditation

Meditation is a practice that entails turning one’s focus inward. It is a process that involves quieting the mind and shutting out the rest of the world. It is like transcending on a different state. Meditation is essentially all about focusing the mind and coaxing it back toward the sound, word, prayer, mantra, or object chosen as point of focus. One of the techniques employed by practitioners of meditation is repeatedly chanting mantras in order to slow down brain activity. This is how an altered state may be achieved. There are studies that were done related to this activity and it showed that the mind really transfer from one state to another.

There are many different meditation techniques, but despite the variety, meditative practice has one main objective. The main purpose of meditation is to achieve a mind that is clear and quiet. This is the desired alternative to the usual clutter and negativity, which characterize human thought. It is a form of relaxation that changes the state of a person.

The meditative state

This trance-like state is a means of promoting body and mind relaxation, and on a deeper level mastery of one’s mental and physical faculties. Nevertheless, the benefits of meditation go beyond achieving a relaxed state or an altered state of consciousness. Studies show that meditation is alters the state of the brain. As such, developing meditation as a habit can help a person change certain behaviors, replacing destructive and cyclical habits with more productive ones.

Prehistoric origins

Meditation brings about an altered state of mind, which can be achieved in many ways. Historians believe that meditation was already practiced even before civilizations were formed. Religious practices were instrumental in institutionalizing meditation. However, the oldest records that mention meditative practices are 5,000 years of age. The experts argue that practicing meditation does not require a cultural context. Thus, meditation could have been performed well before five thousand years ago. Although there is no evidence from before this time, experts are convinced of earlier origins of the practice, emerging from primitive hunter-gatherer societies.

Religious traditions and meditative practice

The practice of meditation is central to religious observance. Prayer is considered as a form of meditation. Meditation in its traditional form may not be widely practiced in Christianity, but certain traditions in Islam, Judaism, Buddhism and Hinduism involve entering the meditative state.

Modern practitioners of secular and spiritual meditation are mainly influenced greatly by two of the most widely practiced religions of the world—Buddhism and Hinduism. The meditative traditions of these two philosophies now have a global reach. One of the first religious leaders to formalize meditative practice is the founder of Buddhism—the Buddha. He established the foundations that would make meditation a structured practice that can be learned.