The history of meditation – We often talk about meditation as being a necessary way to unplug from the modern world, but it’s a practice that’s been around for over 5,000 years.
I’m sure 5,000 years ago they perhaps had less to ‘unplug’ from as the pace of life was certainly slower, but it’s a practice that is both spiritual and practical.
The ancient Vedas of India were the first to document meditation, about 1,500 BCE. At the same time, other forms of meditation developed in China, and only slightly later, in Japan. Meditation gained ground as a Buddhist spiritual practice between 500-600 BCE, with the first meditation hall opening in Japan in 653 BCE. The Bhagavad Gita, an epic poem that describes the philosophy of yoga, meditation and spirituality, was written around 400 BCE.
By 20 BCE, spiritual exercises involving mindfulness had spread to the west and were documented in early Greek texts, but the practice was not embraced by early Christianity (although prayer and meditation share remarkable similarities).
Throughout most of history, though, meditation was considered a spiritual practice that was the realm of monks, priests, other religious figures and a few intellectuals, and was largely unknown among the general population.
By the 20th century, meditation was becoming more prevalent in literature as scholars began translating the ancient texts. Hermann Hesse wrote Siddhartha in 1922, an epic tale of the Buddha’s spiritual journey of self-discovery. The first English translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead was published in 1927. This book describes and guides readers through what consciousness goes through in the time between death and the next rebirth. Around this time, new schools of yoga introduced meditation on a larger scale to Hindus in India, presumably as a response to the cultural oppression by British colonialists.
Vipassana meditation, which originated in India 2,500 years ago, saw a resurgence in Burma in the 1950s. This practice focuses on self-transformation by self-observation or mindful awareness and it can be considered the basis for secular modern meditation practices.
But it wasn’t until the 1960s that Transcendental Meditation and Hatha Yoga popularized meditation among non-Hindus in the West.
In the West, meditation has always been a largely secular practice. Its modern emphasis is primarily on self-improvement, and stress reduction – but it still didn’t gain widespread popularity until the 1990s, when Deepak Chopra became a household name among those interested in personal development.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts in 1979 as a way to help treat patients with chronic illnesses – and since then, meditation has been widely studied and increasingly applied for its therapeutic effects. The health benefits of meditation, and undisputable scientific research findings also caught the attention of those people who had shied away from meditation as being too “woo-woo” or New Age (even though the practice is 5,000+ years old!) and it became an acceptable practice among a growing populace.
Today, meditation is gaining ground rapidly, both as a performance enhancer among athletes and top executives (due to the individual’s development of intense focus and self-discipline), as a stress-reduction technique, and as a medical intervention that accelerates and promotes healing.
It used to be, that if you meditated, you were considered weird… but today, it is a normal part of any busy, modern person’s everyday routine, for greater health and wellbeing. How about you – are you ready to embrace this ancient method of unplugging?
It used to be, that when meditation became more widely known, it was perceived to be difficult, fairly unpleasant and time-consuming. Well, it can be difficult, but technology has made meditation accessible to everyone because it does the work of putting you into a meditative state. It can be unpleasant, but only if you choose to see it that way – and you can sit quite comfortably on a chair or sofa, instead of on the ground and in the Lotus position. And, it can be as time-consuming as you make it. 15-30 minutes is plenty for you to experience the benefits of meditation. You don’t have to sit for hours on end, unless you want to, to enjoy this 5,000 year old practice that has the most marvelous applications in today’s hurry-up, stressed-out world!