It is highly conceivable that meditation was discovered by one of our ancient relatives, who after a long day hunting and gathering, sat down and slipped into an altered state of consciousness while staring at the flames of a fire. Some may argue that the experience of spending time in dark caves also could lead the mind to enter a trance-like state. Meditation, perhaps the oldest form of mental, spiritual, health and wellness practice in existence, is in all probability as old as mythic thought and magic ritual.
The structured practice of meditation is thought to go back 5,000 years with its development in India, culminating in its initial development by Hindus as a means of discerning the true nature of Brahman (or God) and its later development by the Buddha (Siddhartha Guatama) who reached “enlightenment” by meditating under a Bodhi Tree, following years of disenchantment with established religious practices. The major break between Buddhism and Hinduism occurred as Buddha’s followers did not believe meditation to be a means of getting closer to an understanding of a higher being (God), but rather as a means of realising one’s interconnectedness with all things.
While meditation precedes all world religions, all the major religions have a tradition of meditation. It must be said, however, that religion does not hold the monopoly on meditation, self-actualization or enlightenment. You need not convert to a particular religion to practice meditation or to become self-aware. Meditation became universal, appearing in cultures all over the world. The differences appear to lie more with the goals, purposes and styles. Separate countries or cultures adopted different forms of the word “meditation,” and they each found their own unique way of practicing it.
Meditation was spread to Western society thousands of years after it was adopted in the East. Some forms of meditation were introduced in the United States as New Thought philosophy was developed in the early 1900s. About 50 years ago, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi introduced Transcendental Meditation (TM) to the world. The TM technique is based on the ancient Vedic tradition of enlightenment in India. This knowledge has been handed down by Vedic masters from generation to generation for thousands of years. In the 1960s and 1970s, many Western professors and researchers began testing the effects of meditation and learned about its multitude of benefits.
Various forms of meditation have been described in popular culture. In literature, we find meditation in Frank Herbert’s Dune, James Hilton’s Lost Horizon and Jack Kerouac’s The Dharma Bums. In television, Star Trek’s Vulcan race used meditation to calm and keep their tempestuous emotions under control as part of Surak’s doctrine of Logic. On the big screen, Star Wars included meditation chambers for those who follow the Force. These private inner sanctums are used by both Jedi and Sith to reflect upon the future, rejuvenate their inner strength and improve their subtle mental powers. Perhaps the most well-known meditation chamber was built for Darth Vader aboard his Super Star Destroyer, Executor.
Famous meditators include Lao Tzu, Confucious, St. Teresa of Avilla, Mahatma Gandhi, Benjamin Franklin, Ralph Waldo Emmerson, Henry David Thoreau, Ezra Pound, The Dalai Lama, Alan Watts, George Harrison, Stevie Wonder, David Lynch, Steven Seagal, Al Gore, Richard Gere, Gwyneth Paltrow, Alanis Morrisette and Jennifer Aniston.
SOURCE: University of Florida Interactive Media Lab, www.tm.org, Project-Meditation.org, www.healtalk.com, meditationexpert.co.uk, meditationcenter.com