Meditative practices have existed for so long that our historiography itself provides too small a section to be able to determine their beginnings. The oldest documented account of meditation is found in a figure that was carved into a wall in India from about 5000 BC to 3500 BC 1,2,3.
The first written records are found in the Vedas, an ancient collection of religious Indian texts that were previously only handed down orally. In the following, an attempt has been made to reproduce some of the thoughts from the Vedas and to distinguish them from Western philosophy.
The Vedas did not develop behind the city walls, as is the case in the Greek or European flows. The Vedas rather originated in the forest, which shaped the consciousness of its inhabitants in a different way than stone and mortar do. The early followers of this philosophy were supplied by the forest and strove for a harmonious coexistence with nature; moreover, they did not see themselves separated from nature. Because the forest provided them with all necessary things: food, protection from the elements and clothing. Moreover, he integrated the principle of growth in his inhabitants, which is why the desire to wall in his property never arose. One did not want to cut oneself off, but to grow into nature and oneself. Only in the deep inside could the truth be fathomed, which connects all things together. All these principles were passed on and are still today part of the many religions and philosophies that emerged from the Vedas 4,5.
The Vedas also speaks about the society and its own life. Here came the wisdom that the way is the goal and that rules and restrictions have a place in one’s life. Imagine that a chess player would run with each piece as if it were a queen. He’d be powerful, but it wouldn’t be a game at all. Our society, too, only functions if everyone lives out his freedom and power in the spirit of the game. Man himself, he said, must therefore bring himself into a kind of excitement with the laws, as if he were a harp. If a string is not tensioned, it does not sound, but if the tension is too great, the string breaks. Only when the measure is precisely balanced, that is, when everyone lives according to the optimum degree of freedom and restriction, can the harmony of truth be heard. 4
As you can see, the Vedas are not only a guide to meditation. The wealth of content and stories, about which one can philosophize endlessly, explains why the field of action of the Vedas inspired several world religions.
The written texts of the Vedas are dated around 1500 BC. These texts were further developed around 500 BC in Chinese Taoism by Lao-Tze and in Indian Buddhism by Siddhārtha Gautama.5,6.
The origins of Zen Buddhism
When Buddhism spread also in China, it came 100 A.D. to a mixture of the Indian Mahayana Buddhism and the Chinese Taoism, which later (800 A.D.) spread as Zen Buddhism particularly in Korea and Japan.
However, meditative practices are not exclusively found in religions, but have been part of many philosophical currents for ages; the Vedas themselves can be called a philosophy. Also the Stoicism took over the principles of meditation since the beginning of our era and changed them according to its principles. For example, in the so-called “Pre-Meditatio Malurum” a Stoic ponders in detail what he could lose, what great defeats await him and how all coincidences could turn against him, only to face with gratitude after the meditation the fact that hardly any of this has happened. But if the Stoic should then really be overwhelmed by misfortune, it would hurt him less, for he saw it coming and enjoyed it for as long as it lasted 8.
The development of meditation was also visible in the Christianity, for example, in Hesychasm, a spiritual practice developed by orthodox Byzantine monks. The Jesus Prayer was repeated over a period of time which can also be used by Orthodox Christians and breathing exercises were used to maintain concentration. From a specific perspective this practice can be understood as Meditation, because a kind of mantra is being repeated to reach the peace of souls. Christian meditation differed according to location. In the East certain words were repeated in a certain fixed physical posture, whereas in Western Christianity meditation has found a different place. It can be found in the divine readings of the Benedictine monks, where no words are repeated or certain poses are taken. Instead, the aim of meditation is to find a deeper access to God and open one’s heart to Him. 9,10,11,12.
Also in the Islamic tradition the meditative exercises and ascetic currents can be found. Here, the dying of the ego, the dissolution into the divine principle and the extinction of sensual perception, which is also known in the Buddhist tradition under other terms: for example, as the merging into Nirvana, the understanding of the dual nature of things or the meditation, which is about letting all thoughts pass by without value.13
Around the years 20-10 B.C., writings were also written in Judaism that focused on mindfulness and concentration as a method of spiritual exercises. It is also proven that meditative practice has a deeply rooted tradition in Judaism. According to some currents, there are breathing exercises in which the syllables of the Divine Name are applied to inhaling and exhaling.14, 15.
In Judaism there is also something similar to the chakras, except that this is the Tree of Life, a complex and ancient arrangement of human values that have been placed on the body in order to focus on it individually and piece by piece. There are also more classical contemplative exercises in a sitting position and also walking meditations, although not all Jews are engaged in meditation and consider the prayers to be more meaningful.14.
The Jewish meditation tradition was also further cultivated and changed somewhat in the Middle Ages. A Jewish meditation consisted of mitzvah (this word means both commandment and something like a good deed out of religious impulse), prayer and study. Today, there are also Jewish religious communities that begin a half-hour meditation exercise every Friday, which can sometimes be guided by someone.14,15,16,17,18.
Japanese meditation while sitting
In Japan, the Buddhist monk Dogen published his instruction on sitting meditation (zazen) in 1227 AD. As a result, a monastic community was founded, which was mainly based on it and still has a great influence on the image of meditation in the West. 6,7,19.
In modern times meditation and mindfulness have begun a triumphal procession in the western world. The focus is no longer on spirituality, but on other things that are closely related to everyday life and social development. Especially the reduction of stress, increase of abilities (such as concentration) and relaxation are in the focus of the worldly meditation practice.
The positive effects of meditation have increasingly been the focus of research in recent years, and numerous findings on the effects of meditation have already been made. If you would like to know more about the effects of meditation, gratitude and mindfulness today, please have a look at our other articles.
You want to make meditation and mindfulness accessible to your employees? Then take a look at Mindfulif’s offer for companies.
- „live and dare“ history of mediation
- „Timeline of meditation„
- Tagore, R. (1921). Sādhanā: der Weg zur Vollendung. Munich: Kurt Wolff.
- “positive psychology” on the history of meditation
- Irvine, W. B. (2009). A guide to the good life: The ancient art of stoic joy. Oxford University Press.
- „Heiligenlexikon“ Hesychasmus
- „Benediktiner“ Mönch sein
- „Benediktiner“ Das geistliche Leben
- Kloster Weltenburg
- Relinfo zum Sufismus
- velveteenrabbi über jüdische Meditation
- bbc über jüdische Meditation
- chabad über die Kabbala
- hagalil über die Kabbala
- religion Lexikon