Morality, Ethics and Religion

The link between faith and ethics or morals – I don't make a distinction between these words because it's complicated, including questions like whether religion is essential to or appropriate for ethics, and whether ethics is one of the necessary features or requirements for defining a group of activities as "religion." Regarding the first instance, in certain parts of the world, being outside the majority faith or outside the Abrahamic, “God-fearing” sects altogether can easily be considered hypocritical or ethically suspect; declaring yourself an atheist or a practitioner of animism, for example, can easily lead to skepticism.

The mission of the Enlightenment and post-Enlightenment intelligentsia in Europe has been to build and legitimize ethics on nontheological grounds; this is unquestionably one of Kant's accomplishments and a continuing project in ethics in the analytic tradition. Concerning the second issue, late-nineteenth-century evolutionists used ethics as a standard to differentiate between so-called "magic" and "religion," and it was one of the accomplishments of later twentieth-century anthropology, through the study of people like Mary Douglas, to explain the ethical in such unusual positions as food taboos and hygienic procedures. One of the most important aspects of this research is that ethics may be implied, as well as overt, in ways of practice.

The entire debate is framed by two major historical cycles. The first is the curtailment or retrenchment of faith in Europe, especially Christianity and Judaism, by movements or innovations that may be categorized as "secularist," particularly in law, research, and philosophy. Attempts to undermine or abolish faith within communist regimes may be added to this general image. The second historical phase tends to be a worldwide effort to defeat animism or polytheism, especially by the two major rival monotheistic religions, Christianity and Islam, which are thereby put in more conflict with one another and claim their respective roles in part on moral grounds.

This is a kind of moral rationalization, but it's not the same as Weber's disenchantment. Many of these past processes include "counter-reformations," through which purificatory "fundamentalism," in answer to the first, but also animism, if not polytheism, and theological pluralism, in response to both, return, resurge, or merely perdure. While the former response is sometimes identified with an ethos, if not a politics, of social change that begins with the home, the latter is often associated with an ethics of personal self-fashioning. Scholars in religion and ethics, like anthropologists, are not necessarily impartial participants of all of these vast historical systems, which are partially constituted by argument. They are authors, whose use of terms and perspective has consequences. We engage in these systems either explicitly or indirectly. The analytic ground is complicated, as these remarks indicate, by the lack of consensus about what constitutes either "religion" or "ethics," and by the fact that the different meanings proposed for one sometimes have clear consequences for discerning or describing the other, leading to circular debates regarding their "relationship."

Furthermore, it is far from obvious that essentially secular and analytical modes of thought such as philosophy or anthropology will avoid their philosophical heritage from particular religious practices and instead function indirectly within their parameters. In what follows, I would not pretend to have the authority to decide which meanings are valid in any objectivist context, assuming that some are correct. I'll try to mix a realistic account built on an anthropological tradition of abstraction, analogy, and deduction with a practical, inductive, geographical, and ethnographic understanding of how things turn out in real life, in human history, and over time. This necessitates approaching cultural difference with rigor and generosity, as well as coming to terms with the fundamental conflict between relativism and universalism. Finally, this article will only examine some of the claims that arise from reasoning about the relationship between religion and ethics.


MORALITY LIKE RELIGION IS NOT MEASURABLE.



One issue with the answer to Frazer that ethics can be found in the most surprising ways is that it may leave the relationship between ethics and faith unquestioned, simply extending the scope of both. However, faith – in the form of the ideas and, most importantly, the practices that go by the word – has little more claim of being ethical than all other human endeavors. Indeed, ethics, defined as the repeated establishment of standards for assessing practice as good, just, right, etc., as well as subsequent behavior adopted in light of such criteria, may be argued to be intrinsic to all human behavior. Even when ethics is clearly described as good conduct or the profession, explanation, advocacy, or cultivation of such behavior, or the knowledge of its limits, it is debatable whether it is more widespread in religion than elsewhere, considering assertions to the contrary by certain religious authority. Robert Orsi, for example, shows the cruelty as well as the benefit that faith can incite in his admirable and brave account of mid-twentieth-century North American Roman Catholicism. Although faith is often thought to include ethical certainty and self-formation, Orsi's is only one of the academic accounts that demonstrate how a religious practice can be riven with internal ethical debate and unequal implications.

Thus, the Muslim piety movement, for example, will be unable to substantiate the arguments that its followers are inherently superior to other Muslims or that they often behave ethically. Furthermore, being ethical or behaving ethically, as well as the related rewards and punishments, as well as the risks and delusions, are not to be equated with acting ethically. Ethics must inevitably involve self-questioning, not only about one's own arguments or actions, but also about the boundaries of what is possible in areas like human well-being, understanding pain, and delivering justice. Indeed, a central argument in Geertz's popular essay on faith is that it does not only have a theodicy, but also take responsibility for recognizing its limitations. To this, one might add the conflict that exists in all religious hierarchies between ethical people, practice, or insight and the authority or influence to render or enact ethical judgments or lay claim to the ethical high ground. This isn't to say that religion doesn't provoke or motivate people to do good things at times, and often religious leaders, such as "saints," can be used as ethical role models, as can everyday people who use "religious" tools to expand their ethical scope.

Religion, on the other hand, will seek and execute demons, heretics, and immodest people in ways that outsiders might find hypocritical, and it often honors ethically ambiguous characters such as roaming ascetics, holy fools, trickster figures, and the like. Indeed, myth has been criticized for its ethical complexity, and this ambiguity can be seen in different aspects of mythopraxis, particularly in the variety of traditions and figures synonymous with "liminality," carnival, and other similar events. Finally, common people's ethical actions and insights may be "religiously" told while remaining beyond and sometimes contradicting the precepts of "official" faith, as in popular attempts in Vietnam to satisfy and liberate the dead's ghosts. Anthropological definitions of “religion” have shifted over time, from relatively narrow objectivist accounts in which belief in God or other “supernatural” beings was simply asserted as a definition, to broader accounts characteristic of symbolic and structural anthropology, and more recently, to narrower genealogical and skeptical ones based on the emergence into public discourse of the word “religion.”

One of the reasons why some anthropologists painted the field so widely was to demonstrate that rituals outside of Abrahamic beliefs or "axial sects" were not outside the ethical pale, and thus deserved the same academic and functional respect as those within them. Such rituals may be interpreted as substantive and ethically aware as those within Abrahamic traditions thanks to the structural–symbolic convergence of the s and s. Indeed, the popularity of this work provided anthropologists with the resources and confidence to take on the Abrahamic rituals themselves, which had previously been left to scholars beyond those traditions.

Not just that, but the Abrahamic sects were distinguished by systems, relationships, and stereotypes that could be seen in popular culture as well as within their respective gatekeepers' established boundaries. “Sacrifice” in all of its forms, from headhunting to Hindu temple offerings, rules for butchering and consuming animals, alms and charity, or Faustian bargains made with innocent victims, is a prime example of an analytical, not “natural” category that allows for fruitful comparison across cultural, religious, and institutional lines and encourages anthropological work within the Old Testament. Sacrifice connects to the philosophical side of the gift literature, raising and debating different concerns regarding the relative and absolute principles and virtues of sharing and receiving, reciprocity, and altruism. The notion of "grace" can underpin claims concerning the "pure blessing" in philosophical responses to Mauss, which are often marked by a Christian bias. In the work and lives of missionaries and religious martyrs, as well as activists in philanthropy, international development, and humanitarian aid, similar ideals of ostensibly selfless giving recur, repeating Weber's formulation of the calling.

However, we know that one-sided ethical formulations of pure donation or entirely disinterested actions can be viewed with caution, at the very least tempered by Mauss' sense of balance, which he derived from both Aristotle on virtuous conduct and Kant and Durkheim on duty. The combination of desire and disinterest, independence and duty in the gift has been well explained by Parry, who draws the appeal of the pure gift from a kind of idealized dialectical contrast to the notion of the capitalist pure product, rather than from the Christian idea of grace. Furthermore, according to Mauss and Lévi-Strauss, circulation, like reciprocity, is generally regarded as a social good in and of itself; moreover, these are known as the forms in which precapitalist communities "naturally" operate, rather than as heroic actions or explicit religious values difficult to attain in this universe by ordinary mortals. Finally, Mauss regarded acts of generosity and sacrifice as "absolute social facts," rather than abstracting them as "religion" or "ethics," far less addressing them in terms of the "relationship" between those reified abstractions. This implies, in fact, that the topic of this essay is historically specific, only possible to formulate and discuss in this way in a secular modern epoch. Human sacrifice has provided a major theological source for ethical contemplation in a particular kind of abstraction. For centuries of scholars, the Akedah, the account of Abraham's sacrifice of Isaac, has done so, not just for religious believers but also for historians and anthropologists interested sacrifice. The interpretation of this religious occurrence or story can ultimately lead to a distinction between religious and ethical considerations.

The Akedah reveals for Kierkegaard that religion is a teleological suspension of the ethical. Having divine beliefs and demonstrating it goes far above the ethical – a father willing to sacrifice his son – or, at the very least, beyond ordinary ethics. This desire to destroy his children, to make a human sacrifice, is not selfish or ethically utilitarian, as the Greek sacrifice of Iphigenia by her father, Agamemnon, as portrayed by Euripides, may be, but it is supra-ethical; it serves no calculable ends. And it's true that much of what falls under the banner of religion pushes people to violent extremes that aren't ethical in the ordinary sense: headhunting in Southeast Asia, slicing off the foreskins of Muslim and Jewish babies or children, penitential flagellation in Roman Catholicism and Shi'ism, the Hindu widow who jumps onto the funeral pyre, the Buddhist protester who throws herself on the ground.

Religion, in the very least, provides an idea of a hero or martyr who sacrifices the mundane for something greater or above. Victor Turner argued, more generally and less dramatically, that the liminal period of ritual is a moment where social norms and distinctions are dismantled, making everything and anything possible, and thereby beyond ethics in any respects but the existential one of pure liberation. To summarize, religion may also contextualize or circumscribe ethics, but religion may often be contextualized or circumscribed by ethical considerations, whether by a silent "descent into the usual" Das or a drastic overturning. To summarize, religion and ethics are not completely isomorphic and cannot be fully associated with one another from an anthropological standpoint. Yet, to ostensibly liberate the spiritual from the supernatural, an account of faith and ethics must consider the historical repercussions of abstracting them from the rest of social and cultural life as distinct contemporary regimes.

And of the most intriguing steps here will undoubtedly be to replace a plain binary pair with the triangulation that is common in today's culture of faith, ethics, and law. For example, the statute should be formulated as legal as it comes to delivering justice; but what happens when it is seen as breaching fundamental ethical values from a moral standpoint, such as admitting or banning capital punishment, abortion, blood transfusion, or same-sex marriage? What does it mean to transform a secular legal language of freedom into a religious language of duty, loyalty, respect, obedience, and so on, and vice versa? Where does “ethics” fit into this discussion, and how does or does it help to mediate or intensify conflict? An ethnocentric account of ostensibly dis-embedded institutions, on the other hand, must be wary of the ethnocentric assumption that our context, whether we call it “modernity” or “postmodernity” or the neoliberal state, is a special case, unique in its radical difference from all the other cultural and historical differences that preceded it and that continue to be found more or less hidden alongside it or that the neoliberal state is a special case, unique in

Aren't there conflicts between faith, ethics, and the law all over the place? Isn't it true that Igbo mothers of polluting twins who were doomed for imminent death were among the first to convert to Christianity because of ethical concerns in the face of divine injunction? Tensions between Rujia Confucian ethical ritualism and Legalism have existed in China since ancient times. Finally, rather than take the institutionalization of faith and ethics in a historical sense literally in a way that assumes their mutual incommensurability, it would be more interesting to think of "religion" and "ethics" as separate, incommensurable approaches to analyze the social whole or the human experience. In anthropological accounts of the relationship between faith and ethics, there are roughly two main streams or themes that can bypass any of the aporias I've mentioned. I refer to these streams as Durkheimian and Weberian, after their respective metaphysical forefathers Kant and Aristotle, while noting that there is a lot of overlap and diversity between them in practice. The Durkheimian stream stresses submission to a particular social or liturgical order, while the Weberian stream is concerned with the realistic juxtaposition of alternate living styles.

 


Neopaganism and Wicca

Thousands of witches, Druids, Heathens, Radical Faeries, and other neopagans have met in July for Starwood, a multiday festival of drumming, singing, bonfires, seminars, conferences, ceremonial performances, and sorcery that has been held for over forty years. Now the largest neopagan festival in North America, Starwood started in Pennsylvania in 1981 and has since been hosted at different locations in New York and Ohio, usually drawing between 1,400 and 1,600 participants. Starwood, like other neopagan festivals around the country, features a wide range of seminars on philosophical subjects, diverse types of political action, pagan rites, and a variety of vendors selling food, drink, clothes, jewelry, and ritual implements—all in a vibrant, welcoming, partylike environment. Attendees wear everything from Druid robes and witches' caps to wildly imaginative dresses, exotic belly-dancer dresses, and everyday jeans and T-shirts. Starwood also has a “clothing-optional” clause, and it is not unusual for people to show up “sky clad,” or completely nude.

“Starwood is a seven-day exploration of mind, body, and soul, of imagination and possibilities, including over 20 performances of music, drumming, dance, and theatre,” according to the festival's promoters, who organized the gathering in the hilly woodlands of southeast Ohio in July 2014. It's a multiversity of over 150 lectures, seminars, and rituals taught by well-known professors from a variety of areas, disciplines, customs, and cultures. Tenting and cycling, food stalls, co-op childcare, fishing, hot showers, a Kid Village, and interactive displays are all part of this family-friendly camping festival. Costume parades, jam sessions, merchants, dances, giant puppets, all-night drumming, and much more abound at Starwood, including our massive and notorious Bonfire!”

While Starwood is the largest of its kind, it is only one of dozens of pagan festivals held around the country—often in unexpected places, such as Hawkfest Drum and Dance in Georgia, Prometheus Rising in Pennsylvania, Women's Gathering in Indiana, Moondance in Alabama, Summerland Spirit Festival in Wisconsin, the Midwest Witches' Ball in Michigan, and the Pagan Unity Festival in Tennessee. The energy, scope, and diversity of neopaganism as a religious movement in contemporary America are reflected in this vibrant and diverse festival community. Hundreds of neopagan organizations exist in the United States today, including not only well-known organizations like Wicca, but also numerous Druid societies that trace their roots back to ancient European Druidic practices. Dianic sects are those whose primary emphasis is on the goddess. Heathen groups that are influenced by Germanic practices. Gaia, or the Earth Goddess, is the subject of the Church of All Worlds. The Radical Faeries, for example, are a gay and lesbian collective. Despite their vast differences, these different neopagan movements share at least a few characteristics.

To begin with, unlike New Age spirituality and many new faith movements, neopagan sects generally look backward to an old, usually pre-Christian history from which they wish to either restore or derive inspiration in the modern world. Second, unlike most modern faith sects, neopagan communities are more loosely structured. They are united in more fluid, flexible societies such as covens, rather than drawing strict lines between insiders and outsiders, and individuals can be active in several groups or simply practice on their own. Third, neopaganism is a rather practice-oriented movement, with a focus on ceremonial execution and sorcery rather than dogmatic belief structures. It is a "religion without the middleman," allowing people to partake in magical ritual without relying on priests or other religious authority. Finally, most types of neopaganism place a strong emphasis on female roles or gender equity. Many have a strong environmental ethic, seeing the natural world as holy or infused with spiritual energy. And the fact that many of these organizations have roots in far older sources, they are all "neo-" or "modern" movements in the sense that they have just recently originated or, as some might say, "reemerged" in America and Europe, roughly after the 1950s and 1960s. The eccentric British author Gerald Gardner, who claimed to have been born into an ancient coven of witches that had secretly survived centuries of Christian rule and was now resurfacing in the twentieth century, was the most influential figure in the resurgence of modern paganism.

Gardner's nascent Wicca revival, however, soon spawned a vast number of modern paganisms, first in England, then in Europe and the United States, beginning in the 1950s. The strong relationship of neopaganism with two other social and political movements, feminism, and environmentalism, has been one of the most important—though certainly not the only—reasons for its popularity in the United States. In the 1960s, at the height of the American counterculture movement, with the emergence of emerging manifestations of feminism and a new environmental consciousness, neopaganism exploded in popularity in the United States. At the same time as modern witchcraft expanded through San Francisco, New York, and other major American cities, progressive theologians like Mary Daly published popular feminist works like The Church and the Second Sex (1969). At the same time as American neopagans started to evoke the Earth Goddess, environmentalists such as Rachel Carson were writing groundbreaking books like Silent Spring (1962) and others that helped ignite the new environmentalist movement.

In other words, much as the Spiritualist movement partnered with influential modern social movements like abolition and women's liberation, so has modern neopaganism partnered with new social movements like post-1960s feminism and environmentalism. We must concentrate on early Wicca as it originated in England and then started to inspire female witches in the United States, such as Starhawk and Z Budapest, due to the enormous diversity of contemporary neopaganism. Starhawk has created an earth-based spirituality that works for both environmental protection and social justice by combining paganism and goddess worship with women's rights, political advocacy, and environmentalism. Starhawk, perhaps North America's most popular neopagan poet, has also begun to be taken seriously in the scholarly study of faith, giving a lecture at Harvard Divinity School in 2013.

The role of feminism and environmentalism in modern neopaganism, on the other hand, poses several difficult questions and debates. Are neopagans like Starhawk questioning gender roles and patriarchal norms by associating women with "the Goddess" and "the earth"? Or are they ironically reinforcing common gender roles about women's relationship to nature, the earth, the body, and reproduction? At the same time, they raise the question of whether mystical phenomena like neopaganism are necessary for addressing today's many environmental problems, or whether such appeals to the divine are a diversion from and impediment to meaningful action on serious environmental problems.

Defining Hinduism by its History

'Hinduism' is an English term coined by Raja Rammohan Roy, an Indian social reformer, in 1816 and 1817. Rammohan Roy, a Hindu by birth and an outspoken critic of Hinduism as it was taught at the time, coined the phrase to characterize the religion of his forefathers, who believed in the unity of God, as'real Hinduism.' The word 'Hindu' is derived from the ancient Persian expression 'Sindhu', the name of the Indus river, which was initially used to describe a person who lived in the lands east of the Indus. While Al-Biruni in the eleventh century AD provided a precise and accurate description of those beliefs and practices, it is unclear how and when 'Hindu' with its ethno-geographical connotation came to mean a society with recognizable socio-religious beliefs and practices. The archaeology of Hindu worship and religion can be found in South Asia in the second millennium BC and Southeast Asia in the early-mid first millennium AD. Hinduism is still a living religion in India, Nepal, and Southeast Asia, where it lost its dominance in the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, with just around 5% in Singapore, 2% in Indonesia, though more than 90% of the Balinese, and a very small group of Chams in south-central Asia.

 

What distinguishes Hinduism as a faith in terms of worship and ritual? The explanation of Hindu ritual conduct in India:

Within each or more of these classes, the average middle-class Hindu may be brought by one or more aspects of his daily religious practice, namely:

1. The veneration of ordinary stocks and stones, as well as local arrangements that are odd or grotesque in scale, form, or place.

2. The veneration of inanimate objects endowed with enigmatic motion.

3. Creatures who are hated are worshipped.

4. The veneration of visible, animate, or inanimate objects that are explicitly or indirectly useful and beneficial, or that have some nonsensical purpose or property.

5. Worship of a Deo, or ghost, a formless and empty object - a hazy impersonation of the strange feeling that comes over in some locations.

6. Worship of departed ancestors and other people that were familiar to the worshipper throughout their lifetime.

7. At shrines, people who had a good reputation in life or who died in a strange or famous manner are worshipped.

8. The worship of demigods or minor deities as demigods or subordinate deities in temples.

9. Worship of various territorial incarnations of the elder gods, as well as their representations.

10. The worship of departmental or sub-deities.

11. Hinduism's supreme gods, as well as their ancient incarnations and personifications, as documented in the Brahmanic scriptures.

And, in terms of the types of worship described in the just-completed catalogue, they are all heavily tinged by a heavy skylight reflection of overarching Brahmanism, from which the upper classes now claim to derive their meanings instantly.

 

Hinduism is defined largely in terms of what Hindus 'do' rather than what they 'say,' according to this definition. Hinduism, unlike Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam, does not have a historical creator or a codified canon that all adherents embrace. Hindu holy books are an incomplete guide to what the faith is about because they emphasize only certain elements based on the context from which they were written. Archaeology, with its focus on experience rather than contemplation, is a good place to start when looking into Hinduism's history.

Archaeological evidence has long been used to study Hinduism: temple architecture, statues, pictures and their iconography, and the spatial distribution of inscriptions are among the most studied categories. The body of Indian archaeological evidence from specific time periods needs to be analyzed on a regular basis. The essay explores holy sites in several spatial and temporal perspectives, from early historic Rajasthan to mediaeval Vijayanagara to Bali, to add to archaeology's contributions to the study of Hinduism. Another critical part of Lyall's interpretation is his focus on the overlapping existence of many modes of rituals and worship in most practicing Hindus' life cycles. The appearance of some of these elements in the Indian archaeological record indicates that they date from the late centuries BC; however, several of these elements seem to have a much longer ancestry. The apsidal finished shrines are part of a religious architectural pattern that dates to the third and second centuries BC. At third-millennium BC Nindowari in Baluchistan, the tradition of placing votive figurines at shrines is as old as the ceremonial obsession with cultic bathing - which would find continuity in later Hinduism's sanctity associated with water - and the worship of trees, with Harappan sites yielding evidence of both. But does the existence of certain elements imply that Hinduism can be traced back to India's protohistoric cultures? The substantive disparity in proof character cautions against drawing such a simple conclusion. For eg, at the Daimabad site in the second millennium BC, an agate phallus - later a symbol of the god Shiva, a member of the Brahmanical triad particularly synonymous with devastation - was discovered in an ash-filled pit, but it is only one specimen from a culture that spanned a wide area in Maharashtra. In comparison, there are many types of evidence of Shiva worship from the late centuries BC, including lingas or phallus, depictions of devotees worshipping a Shiva-linga, and emblems consistent with Shiva worship on coins. 

By this time, a few deities had developed a transregional influence, and a worshipper of one deity in one place would have been completely at ease worshipping the same deity in another. Many regions of early historic India, for example, had deities synonymous with fertility, water, and safety, as well as shrines for their worship. The Brahmanical system, with its numerous socio-religious sanctions and legislation, was still in effect by this period, and was a defining characteristic of Hinduism. For the first time, a cohesive body of evidence dating from the late centuries BC in South Asia and the early-mid first millennium AD in Southeast Asia has been assembled, allowing the 'archaeology of Hinduism' to be mapped out. As a result, this essay does not subscribe to the view that Hinduism was a nineteenth-century colonial invention, as premodern sources reveal the existence of Hinduism as a religious system of beliefs and practices, and the Dharmasastra texts, some of which date back to the second century BC, are a clear indicator of a self-aware social and religious identity.

Furthermore, the archaeological prominence of Hindu values and practices in India in the late centuries BC, which coincided with the advent of a materially configured Buddhism, may have been partially a reaction to and a result of a broader engagement with contemporary religious groups that contested the Brahmanical tradition's dominance. The Mauryan dynasty's consolidation of urban development and development of a pan-Indian empire were key factors in the convergence of early India's religions. In a situation where various religious traditions were both in conversation and rivalry with each other, worshippers of Shiva, Vishnu, and other Hindu gods and goddesses seem to have created and consolidated their own material language of theistic worship. Architectural, sculptural, inscriptional, and other material evidence for Hindu beliefs and practices exist many centuries later in Southeast Asia - especially from the Malay Peninsula, parts of Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand, and some of the Indonesian archipelago's islands - but not simultaneously or identically manifested in all of these regions. Two early sources of evidence currently come from Vietnam and two Indonesian islands: from the former comes the Vo Canh inscription written in Sanskrit on three sides of a stupa, and which is dated palaeographically to the third century AD: 'The surviving passages appear to describe a donation of wealth made by "the joy of the family of the daughter of the grandson of the king Sri Mara" to give equality to his sons, brothers and male descendants .... Theological words used in the text are most likely Hindu in origin, but they come from a pre-Puranic tradition.' Slightly later are the east Kalimanatan stone pillars or stupa, inscribed with Sanskrit verses and dated palaeographically to c. the fourth-fifth century AD, which commemorate gifts given to brahmins for their performance of rituals characteristic of archaic Hindu practices in India on behalf of king Mulavarman.

Several fifth-century Sanskrit inscriptions from a polity named Taruma orTarumanagara, which refer to Hindu deities, as well as fifth-sixth-century Vishnu sculptures, lingas, and other Hindu-related materials from Cibuaya, have yielded roughly contemporary evidence. Evidence of the local acceptance or transformation of other Indian ideas and components, such as Buddhism, which coexisted and or or fluctuated in dominance within any given region during the premodern period, models of kingship and social order, Sanskrit, the calendrical structure, literary practices, and so on, occurs around the early-mid-first millennium AD. The fact that Hinduism has been shaped and reshaped by numerous influences over its history in South and Southeast Asia warrants further investigation.

 

Identifying prayer and ceremonial spaces


 

Hindu worship and practice are made up of intertwined components that can be used in both public and private spaces. Though a detailed examination of this rich and diverse geography is beyond the reach of this article, the following section provides a general typology of the contexts in which Hindu worship took place.

 

Temples are a form of religious structure.


The temple, which was found both within and outside villages, was the most visible place of Hindu worship. The first temples in South Asia appear in the late centuries BC, and although no complete specimen has survived, the ground plans indicate a variety of forms, ranging from elliptical to apsidal. Many depictions of temples in Indian art from the late centuries BC are made of perishable materials. Temples of this kind were popular in village India until recently, implying that, although excavated stone examples date from the late centuries BC, temples made of clay, bamboo, or wood may predate them. The earliest temples in Southeast Asia date from the mid-first millennium AD, and are known from the remains of their foundations, as in India. For example, remains of fourth-sixth-century AD brick temples and a fifth-seventh-century AD stone and brick temple foundation and linga uncovered at Nen Chua, and remains of a sixth century Vaishnodevi temple uncovered in the Malay Peninsula. Shrines were often made of perishable materials, but whether they predate the oldest temples in Southeast Asia made of robust materials needs further research. The remaining shrines from the fourth to sixth centuries AD, coinciding with the Gupta dynasty, are comparatively complete, with most of them having been discovered in central and north India.

Temple plans were more elaborate in the intervening years, with podiums, superstructures, colonnaded rooms, vestibules, and open courts. They are often adorned with reliefs portraying saints, mythological scenes, and regal processions. However, though elaborate buildings became more prevalent in later times, such as at mediaeval Vijayanagara; similarly, architecturally simplistic shrines did not vanish in Southeast Asia, such as at Angkor. As temples generally enshrined a presiding deity, which, particularly from early shrines, often no longer survives in situ, an immense wealth of Hindu icons of worship are encountered in South and Southeast Asia - rendered in a variety of mediums such as wood, stone, various metals, and terracotta - as temples generally enshrined a presiding deity which, especially from early shrines, often no longer survives in situ. Where they do exist, they can be interpreted in a variety of ways.

Shiva was worshipped in his aniconic form, the phallic symbol, and sometimes in his human form, or a mixture of both. Vishnu, or the preserver deity of the Brahmanical triad, was generally worshipped by images. Brahma, the triad's creator deity, was often depicted in human form, but his popularity as a cult god was limited. In India, goddesses such as Gajalakshmi and Mahishasuramardini were widely worshipped, and some of the oldest temples featured goddesses like Gajalakshmi and Mahishasuramardini on plaques. There were also classic depictions of animal-human hybrids, such as Ganesha, the elephant-headed deity. Humans were often often depicted as animals, such as Vishnu as Matsya, a shark, Kurma, a tortoise, Varaha, a boar, and Kalki, a horse. Outside of temples, images were revered in open air shrines and when carried in processions, such as many of the famed South Indian bronzes carried in processions.

Texts identify a wide range of temple rituals, and archaeological representations of those activities can be looked for when excavating temple sites. Some of them started well before the foundation was built. For example, after a location was selected, it had to be consecrated by foundation ceremonies; ceremonial deposits were often deposited in temple foundations. Furthermore, some temple rituals have left material remains, such as large terracotta bowls excavated from the temple areas at Bhitari in north India between AD 450 and 550, which were likely used to give food to the deity or for the ceremonial feeding of large numbers of worshippers or pilgrims. Sprinklers or from the Bhitari temple fields, which priests likely used to sprinkle water when doing worship; animals sacrificed for the deity or e.g. domestic sheep and humped cattle bones were discovered in the inner sanctum of the Parasuramesvara temple in Gudimallam, Andhra Pradesh. Votive offerings in the shape of terracotta figurines of various gods and goddesses, as well as lamps, ablution basins, and votive offerings in the form of terracotta figurines of various gods and goddesses.

Generally, the votive figurines given were associated with the shrine's presiding deity, though this was not always the case. In addition to a Vishnu portrait and sculpted panels portraying him, the excavated votive artefacts at the ninth-century AD Avantisvami temple in Kashmir dedicated to Vishnu contained terracotta miniature lingas, which were usually rendered to Shiva. The appearance of such offerings can be explained by the surrounding presence of a Shiva temple or Avantisvara: devotees may have reached the Avantisvami temple after worshipping Shiva there, bearing the same kind of paraphernalia that was used for Shiva worship. They made miniature linga offerings to Vishnu as well, disregarding those who believed Vishnu and Shiva worship were mutually exclusive. Mendicants and preceptors have traditionally held a special role in Hinduism, which is also evident in the temples with which they were associated during their lifetimes. 

The temple of Srirangam in Tamil Nadu, dedicated to Vishnu, is a well-known example of this; the twelfth-century Hindu reformer and philosopher Ramanuja lived here for a large part of his life and, evidently, was also buried here, his shrine being built at that exact place. Although the origins of this tradition are unknown, evidence of teacher shrines can be found as early as the Gupta period, for example, a c. fourth-century AD stone pilaster from Mathura bears an inscription suggesting that it was used in a shrine dedicated to recalling a line of Maheshvara teachers. Preceptors may also influence the design of temples constructed by their devotees.


 

Tanks, sacrifice places, and folk shrines


Though temples remain the most spectacular of Hinduism's holy sites, public ceremonies were not exclusive to them. Other arenas include sacrificial sites, areas where ceremonial donations are publicly performed, prayer near rivers, and village shrines. The options for identifying such locations, as well as the nature of archaeological evidence that may shed light on the related rituals, are discussed further below. Many of India's popular Hindu pilgrimage sites are situated at the source or along the banks of rivers, where ancestor oblations, river worship with fire, and bathing in them on special days are all practiced on a regular basis. Such performances rarely leave permanent archaeological marks or Hooja, according to this article, while Sringaverapura, on the left bank of the Ganga river, is one site that has yielded such evidence in connection with a water source. 

The river was some distance from the village in ancient times, so a huge tank complex was built to provide good potable water for the inhabitants. The system drained water from the river into a silting chamber and a series of tanks through a canal. In the first century AD, one of them, Tank C, became associated with certain religious rites, and among the remains are terracotta figurines of deities such as Kubera, Shiva, Parvati, and Hariti or Shashthi, as well as animals and votive tanks. The essence of the ceremonies that necessitated such objects remains unclear, but the tank complex seems to have served a dual purpose: its waters offered both physical and moral nourishment. Outside of temples, archaeological remnants of public ceremonies can be found in specially prepared grounds or spaces for the execution of sacrifices. There are brick platforms in the shape of a syena, hawk, or eagle with spread wings at Jagatgram, in the north Indian state of Uttaranchal, that closely resemble descriptions in Vedic literature.

The epigraphs on some bricks show that these consecrate rites were associated with the asvamedha or horse sacrifice. Oblations of various kinds were commonly offered at such sacrifices, but no such evidence has been found at Jagatgram. However, the Kushana period from AD 100-300 altars at Sanghol in Punjab have yielded large quantities of organic material from ritual fire altars, and a palaeobotanical investigation of these Kushana period from AD 100-300 altars confirmed that the material was of the kind that was usually used in sacrifices, e.g. of various food grains, such as rice, barley, black gramme, lentil, and sesame; edible fruits These findings bring to life, possibly for the first time, the detailed depictions of intricate sacrificial sacrifices and oblations used in Hindu religious texts. The question of social access to worship and the rights of various communities to conduct rites at Indian religious sites is typically overlooked in archaeological studies. While it is difficult to find archaeological evidence of the Brahmanical system in Southeast Asia, in which different social classes were given entry based on their caste hierarchy position, or which only occurred in theory, it is difficult to believe that such sites were not distinguished by caste exclusions.

Given that the Arthasastra, a text from the late third millennium BC, prescribed where the cremation grounds of the various varnas, or four social divisions, should be located, it seems possible that not everybody was granted entry to arenas like temples, to worship and conduct rituals there. In terms of whether there were any arenas outside of temple Hinduism where all these communities could come together to pray, ethnographic records indicate that there were. The 'Devi,' or goddess, who is commonly revered in such places, is represented by a variety of village shrines, ranging from artificial platforms on which a rough stone is worshipped as her embodiment to natural objects such as trees, caves, and hills. 

Since Brahman priests are not expected to mediate at these shrines, devotees from all social classes attend. Similarly, ethnographic accounts of village shrines are likely to be signifiers of a premodern existence, as folk gods revered at such shrines can be found in the early historical record. In the Hindu tradition, public places of worship and ceremony were of different forms, some of which were distinguished by caste sanctions that revealed limits. Convergences and backgrounds with shared social values and tolerances may also exist; village shrines were one such intersection point.

 

Worship in the home


Hindu rites and worship took place in a variety of domestic settings. Unfortunately, little is known archaeologically about domestic-level Hindu activities in Southeast Asia; much of what is currently known is focused largely on what can be gleaned from excavation reports of historic settlements in India, especially data on their structural remains. One point to remember is that, much as today, citizens of diverse religious faiths lived together, resulting in the spatial coexistence of various forms of domestic worship. Excavations at Kapilavastu, for example, have uncovered habitational evidence dating from about 800 BC to the third century AD, as well as terracotta Buddha figures attesting to Buddhist icon worship in the early centuries AD. 

However, as shown by terracotta heads or, for example, one depicting Shiva with a snake-hood on top and a long yajyopavita or holy thread on his back, there were Shiva devotees. Jains may have also worshipped there, as evidenced by the presence of a naked Jina figure or ibid. on the terracottas. In India, terracotta figurines, votive terracotta reservoirs, and female and male figurines were commonly used in domestic worship. Female terracotta figurines have been discovered in ancient rural settlements, such as Narhan, where they were particularly prevalent between c. 200 BC and AD 600. Some of the plaques at Narhan are of the same genre as those found in the north Indian cities of Tamluk, Kausambi, Ahicchhatra, and Rajghat, implying that those who believed in the influence of this 'goddess' comprised a wide cross-section of urban and rural communities. It's also worth noting that female figurines and terracotta votive tanks are commonplace items with nothing particularly 'Hindu,' 'Buddhist,' or 'Jain' about them when seen in isolation. As a result, interpretations of them as Hindu ritual markers must be dependent on their archaeological background.


What does Meditation Mean?

In the West, the word "meditation" has a long and complicated history, and it has no exact counterpart in Asian cultures. However, interactions with Asian, especially Indian, spiritual traditions have had a significant impact on modern use of the language. As a result, our present perception of the definition represents a combination of Western and Asian interests. The word "meditation," mostly in its Latin form meditatio, has long been associated with Christianity in the West, but it has often been associated with philosophy and the arts. In this multifaceted tradition, the word usually refers to an associative and nonlinear form of reflection that goes beyond strictly logical reasoning but still “engages the analytical or discursive faculties,” as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it. Meditation is a form of meditation, prayer, or creative visualization that is often based on scripture. When Western writers started to read Indian and other Asian classics, the word "meditation" came to be used in a broader context, referring to Buddhist and Yogic rituals that are "aimed at the eradication of rational or earthly mental thought," according to the Oxford English Dictionary. The technological direction of the empirical investigation of these activities has bolstered certain non-discursive interpretations of the word.

Almost all empirical meditation research explores technical, rather than content-oriented, Asian activities, as Are Holen points out in this volume, and these have often dominated the general public's interest in meditation over the last half-century. As a consequence, the word "meditation" is now most often used to describe activities that do not primarily include "the intellectual or discursive faculties." The Asian rituals examined in this book include a wide range of beliefs, including discursive and non-discursive practices, content-oriented and narrowly technological practices. The current essay seeks to describe the word "meditation" in a way that raises interesting concerns about the essence of meditation as a starting point for these discussions. Meditation is an attention-based method for inner change, according to the proposed meaning. This description is expansive and inclusive, but it is also very progressive in certain ways. In the one side, it encompasses a variety of rituals that are frequently referred to by other names, such as ceremony, meditation, and reflection. However, it specifically prohibits a variety of activities that are often referred to as meditation, such as pure calming methods.

 

Furthermore, the proposed term is limited to technical practices and excludes randomly produced mental states. It also excludes literary or metaphysical works that are often referred to as "meditations" on a particular subject. The different aspects of the concept of "meditation," as well as the boundaries between meditation and other phenomena, will be discussed in depth in this article. Furthermore, by connecting these elements to the tradition of meditation on the Eurasian plateau, as well as material from other essays in this book, this essay would seek to demonstrate the definition's cultural significance. 

However, certain fundamental definitional issues must be discussed before proceeding with this discussion. Definitions that are generic Some cultural historians object to the use of abstract, unitary meanings, such as the one that defines meditation as "an attention-based strategy for inner change," since they are intentionally disrespectful to cultural and historical features in some ways. In comparison to the historical, cultural, and social “situatedness” reflected here, such a description of meditation can easily be accused of being anachronistic and Eurocentric in application of modern-day Western ideas on a largely premodern Asian material. This is easily mistaken for what cultural theorists derisively refer to as "essentialism," a way of thought that ascribes a stable and frequently abstract "essence" to social, cultural, or otherwise human phenomena. As a result, generic meanings are often used as instruments by natural scientists, who appear to ignore cultural and historical differences and regard individual vocabulary usage and local semantic schemes as having no bearing on their study.

Indeed, scientists engaged in scientific science or psychology proposed the majority of earlier standardized concepts of meditation. Furthermore, while generic meanings resist making overt references to cultural and historical aspects, they are far from benign in the sense that they are unaffected by their surroundings. The above-mentioned concept of meditation is related to scientific concerns, which are often rooted in culture and tradition. Some may argue that the definition's reference to "technique" reflects a strong Asian influence, whereas European and Middle Eastern forms of meditation are often less technical and more devotional than many Indian and Chinese forms, while others may argue that the reference to "technique" is a result of modern scientific and technological concerns and therefore in reality linked to "technique." Both ideas can include some facts.

The idea that a definition's semantic ramifications are bound to embody certain cultural and historical considerations clearly means that these concerns should be explained and made the subject of critical reflection, which is exactly what this essay aims to do. Our meaning refers to certain characteristics of a "stuff" called "meditation" that can, for the time being, be considered useful and fascinating to investigate and debate. In any case, it's unclear what will be an alternative to a standardized description. We should not "rest satisfied with reproducing native lexicography and, thus, giving in to the prevailing culture of localism, calling any attempt at generalization a western imposition," as religion historian Jonathan Z. Smith puts it. The formal stipulative and precising processes by which the academy challenges and attempts to regulate second-order, specialist use cannot be substituted for how ‘they' use a word.”

It would be difficult to see what a comparative analysis of meditation would compare if it was exclusively focused on local ideas rather than a philosophy of meditation that transcends all languages and cultures. The problem does not seem to be solved by Smith's own proposal of a "self-consciously polythetic mode of classification that surrenders the concept of ideal, special, single differentia." “No examples of attempts at the polythetic classification of religions or religious phenomena,” Smith says, and a critic of Smith's work observes that “the reader who wants an exhaustive list of the features of a polythetic concept of faith is in for a disappointment; Smith does not provide it.”

Though subsequent scholars have made a few attempts in this direction, the task has largely proved to be too difficult. Polythetic definitions have proven useful in biology, where they have aided in the resolution of issues left by conventional monothetic species definitions. Also polythetic meanings, in such situations, have a monothetic heart, since they presuppose a single ancestral history of species listed together. Meditation, as a social and personal phenomenon, has no such monothetic core—no stable "essence," if you will.

 

Furthermore, whereas biological organisms are typically defined by features that have “a actual, distinct, and independent character,” meanings of social and personal phenomena “cannot be carried out by comparison to discrete empirical particulars, but require instead a dependence on further features of the same character that are equally polythetic,” as Rodney Needham puts it. Since “comparative research, whether morphological, practical, or mathematical, are made more difficult and perhaps even unfeasible,” the enormous difficulty of polythetic classification of social and personal phenomena can ultimately make it impracticable.

There's no need to believe that social and personal manifestations like meditation, which lack the monothetic essence found in biological organisms, are naturally separated into groups. More than likely, they are not natural taxa, and any grouping, beyond the conceptualizations imposed on them by various languages in various ways, would include artificial elements. The aim of describing meditation is to provide a single point of reference to which comparative studies of meditation may relate, rather than to imply a natural class of meditative phenomena.

A monothetic definition fits this purpose better than a polythetic definition since it is more concise and less ambiguous, which is why some scholars have considered it "fair to question if a definition of a polythetic term is at all a definition, because it is obviously imprecise." Despite accusations to the contrary, a precise generalized meaning can easily be paired with a keen understanding of the historical and cultural situatedness of natural language meanings, as well as the social and personal realities to which those definitions relate, as well as the ambiguities, family resemblances, overlaps, and gradient distinctions that underpin both language and fact.

Natural language terms like “meditation” in English—or, for that matter, the Arabic dhikr, Sanskrit dhyana, and Chinese jng-zu—are multivalent, mutable, and fuzzy, much like the social and personal phenomenon to which they refer. Ses ideas and phenomena, on the other hand, can all be usefully linked to a single meaning of meditation, even though they differ in different ways. If meditation is characterized as a practice, the states of mind protected by the English term “meditation” and the Sanskrit dhyana, as well as the metaphysical and creative items referred to by the English term, fall beyond the meaning. However, the recitation implied by Arabic dhikr, the imagery implied by some Tantric applications of Sanskrit dhyana, and the seated pose implied by Chinese jng-zu limit these terms to a much narrower variety of activities than our common understanding of meditation. A monothetic meaning provides one with a shared emphasis in a comparative analysis of meditation, against which the peculiarities of each practice can be illuminated. Just like thinking about dhikr as meditation helps one understand the practice better, examining meditation in the light of presumptions coming from dhikr highlights meditation's connection to modern forms of human subjectivity that are ingrained in the way we think and act but are not often easily thinking of their similarities and differences is a great way to learn more about all of them.

Bashir uses the phrase "with its most commonsensical English sense," but his argument is equally true if we think of meditation as a technical concept with a single definition. A rudimentary version of a generalized meaning would be purely stipulative, with no broader analytical ambitions than to have a common ground for the comparative treatment of similar phenomena through cultures and languages A theoretical definition is a more powerful variant of a generalized definition, as it not only has functional ramifications but also aims to link the given notion to broader theoretical problems. As we've seen, describing meditation as a method rather than a state or a nontechnical mode of activity suggests a certain theoretical understanding of meditation, as does the idea of meditation being attention-based, excluding automatized ritualistic practice, and performed in order to achieve long-term inner transformation rather than only passing changes of state or changes that only impact the body.

Because of these metaphysical consequences, a consideration of the concept becomes much more than a mere terminological problem, since it touches on the essence of the phenomenon to which the word in question refers. Methodology Both ways of meditation, according to our meaning, are “techniques.” Unlike many of the ordinary social interactions usually observed by sociologists and anthropologists, a method is a deliberate procedure that is not taken for granted. A technique is formal in the sense that its methods are well-defined; however, this does not rule out the possibility of accidental or even imaginative components, such as when unexpected thoughts are the focus of meditation. It is continuous, as in the sequence of postures and movements involved in Hatha Yoga or Tàij, the nonrepetitive chanting of the whole Lotus Stra in Buddhism or the Book of Psalms, not sequential, as in the sequence of postures and movements involved in Hatha Yoga or Tàij, the nonrepetitive chanting of the entire Lotus Stra in Buddhism or the Book of Psalms.

A technique is separated from other practices in terms of time, stance, and place, as well as by particular routines. And it's being done to produce such outcomes, which we'll get to later, at least in part by using fundamental processes that are implicit in the essence of the human body and mind. The technical elements of meditation are seen with ambivalence in many meditative practices. For example, content-oriented meditative prayer and imagery are common, devotional rituals emphasize an intimate relationship with God, and apophatic practices traditionally emphasize “unmediated” interaction with the divine or “direct” realization of ultimate reality. In both situations, this will lead to a pessimistic outlook about meditation's technicality. This does not mean that content-oriented, devotional, or apophatic rituals are not included in our definition; however, we put a greater focus on their technical elements, as opposed to the traditions' emphases. The ambivalence about the technicality of meditation is often expressed directly in paradoxical comments, such as Meister Eckhart's notion of a "pathless direction" in the thirteenth to fourteenth centuries, or the Zen Buddhist notion of a "gateless gate."

At other moments, a deep cynicism about meditative methods is juxtaposed with exhortations to meditate, such as when the “Platform Stra” portrays Hunéng, a seventh- to eighth-century Chinese Zen master, as saying that he “has no techniques,” w jling, but in the same work exhorting his disciples to continue practicing “straight sitting,” dun-zu, i.e., meditation, after he has passed The paradox is simply explained in “The Epistle of Prayer” in the Christian context: “It is not necessary for a man to achieve greatness in this work unless these two ways, or two others like them, come first.” The perfection of this piece, though, is its suddenness, which comes without means.” Jiddu Krishnamurti is best known in modern times for his resistance to meditation practices, claiming that "the reality is a pathless forest," but others have interpreted his stance as a method of formal meditative awareness training. A recent series of essays on the Zen tradition of shi-kan ta-za, or "only stay," alternates between insisting on the technique's lack of method and explaining distinctly technical elements including exposure to the lower belly, precise breathing techniques, and a heavy emphasis on proper bodily posture. 

Sheng Yen, a Buddhist master from Taiwan, calls one of his meditation methods "the method of no method." The deep goal-orientation implicit in the concept of a technique is one explanation for this doubt or ambivalence. Techniques are used to achieve specific effects, but actively pursuing effects can, paradoxically, make achieving them more challenging. The achievement of a target may divert the mind's attention away from the actual practice, and it may include a mental concentration so intense that it fails to notice facts that are more transient and ephemeral.

A technological mindset can also inspire passivity, as though the transformative effects of meditation would happen on their own, almost mechanically or magically, rather than requiring a deep sense of agency and personal involvement. It may also obstruct the personal dedication expected in some meditative rituals, such as the Sikh practices discussed in this volume by Kristina Myrvold. In the Christian tradition, relying on tactics is often seen as impeding God's grace, as in the following quote from Jacques Philippe's Time for God about meditative prayer: “St. Jane Frances de Chantal once said, ‘The safest way of prayer is not to have one, because prayer is received not by artifice,' as we might think now, but by grace.' There is no such thing as a ‘method' of prayer, as in a series of directions or protocols that we must simply follow in order to pray effectively.” In general, meditation's technological orientation can be compared with prayer's content-oriented orientation. Although both meditation and prayer seek to achieve such results, prayer usually does so explicitly through its text, while meditation usually does so indirectly, in a nonlinear manner, through technological elements that draw on universal mechanisms.

For instance, prayer may aim at obtaining the forgiveness of sins by asking for it, or may try to achieve intimate contact with God through the expression of devotion, while meditation may seek to obtain its transformative effects at least partly by means of cross-cultural elements that go beyond such content, for example, by directing one’s attention to the breath, by repeating certain sound combinations, by gazing at or visualizing geometrical figures, and so on. Such mechanisms typically lie beyond the individual’s direct control, and the main effects of meditation result from the methodical practice of a technique rather than any purposeful striving.

Though the result of prayer can often be out of one's reach, it is usually thought of as relying on God's grace rather than any processes found in the human mind or body. Also technological elements are given content-oriented meanings in many cultures, such as when the breath is interpreted as an indicator of existence's transience in Buddhist contexts, as a connection to celestial energies in Daoist and Yogic contexts, or as the breath of life in Christian contexts. And from the viewpoint of an observer will the universal processes involved in certain elements be seen, regardless of the cultural context in which they are used. Since this makes it easier to quantify, scientific concepts of meditation prefer to focus on its theoretical dimensions. Meditation makes “use of a particular procedure, precisely defined,” according to one often cited term. Instead of or in addition to "technique," other meanings include terminology like "psychoactive workout," "social conditioning," and "self-regulation/emotional and attentional regulatory practice." Meditation's technical orientation is often compared with other practices' material orientation by stating that meditation stresses "method rather than content," whereas non-meditative practices like self-hypnosis, imagination, and psychotherapy "primarily aim at transforming mental contents such as feelings, images, and emotions."

However, in our definition, substantive material is not removed from the concept of meditation as long as technical elements are present. The activity orientation involved in describing meditation as a technique includes a vital component of individual organization. Meditation is something that the professional does, not something that is administered to him or her. Our meaning excludes so-called accidental or natural meditations, which occur as unintentional reactions to a scene or circumstance, such as the Buddha's well-known childhood experience of meditative bliss: “I remember once, when my father the Sakyan was working and I was seated in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, I entered & stayed in the first jhana =Skt. dhyana; generally translated as “meditation”: rapture & relaxation born of seclusion, followed by guided reflection & evaluation.”

Most traditions, however, recognize that meditative activity often takes place in a setting, and that elements of the context can be as significant as the mediation technique itself in causing transformative transformation, as Sarah Shaw argues in this volume for the Buddhist example. Person or communal meditation can be practiced, and even communal meditation can require a lot of individual agency, as shown by the fact that monks who have been practicing meditation together for years don't really know what each other is doing.

The degree of reliance on an instructor or master can also differ, ranging from no reliance beyond initial guidance to so-called supervised meditations, in which all stages of the practice depend on continuous directions from a teacher or a tape recorder, as in some of the Sikh practices mentioned in this volume by Myrvold. The master's position in Morten Schlütter's kan activities is an in-between scenario, in which the meditator is repeatedly given new kans to ponder in addition to the original technical guidance. Pay close attention. Meditation is founded on the utilization of focus, according to the proposed meaning. In one way, this is stating the obvious: all ways of meditation include focusing one's mind on a single meditation object. The object may be a static object, like a geometrical figure in yantra meditation, or a dynamic aspect, like the ever-changing truth sought to be included in shi-kan ta-za and other Zen practices.

In any case, the approach entails drawing the viewer's focus to this thing. Meditation entails cultivating the mode of attention in addition to the focus of attention. Although many meditative practices have detailed discussions of what constitutes an effective meditation object, others argue that any external or internal object may serve this purpose, with the key distinction being the mode of focus, mental orientation, and how attention is focused toward this object. In certain instances, this entails the development of a single-minded, deeply absorbed, and effortless mental state. In other ways, the teaching aims to develop an open and accommodating mental approach toward sudden desires and even distracting feelings. In order to overcome worldly connection and let the mind reside in a realm that goes beyond all matters, meditative attitudes are often seen as stimulating an aspect of alienation or separation from the artefacts of the universe. Meditation is thought to promote a way of life that brings in a deeper intimacy with the stuff of the world at all moments, or perhaps even concurrently.

In any situation, the mode of focus is crucial, and every effort to meditate mechanically, on autopilot, would be outside of our meaning. Meditation is a technique for increasing one's consciousness. Meditation methods, according to a number of theoretical definitions, include the preparation of consciousness, or perception. Some of them also go so far as to exclude visualization exercises from the area of meditation, claiming that they seek to change the contents of attention rather than train the attention itself. They also exempt “controlled breathing and body postures, yoga, or body movement and assumed energy modulation, Tai Chi Tài-j and Chi gong Q-gng” based on the same rationale. In reality, most types of recitative practice, which often includes the deliberate modification of mental material, will be excluded from this line of thought. The effect will be a very limited definition of meditation, excluding, for example, the visualization methods discussed in this volume by Madhu Khanna, Geoffrey Samuel, and Sarah Shaw, as well as most aspects of orthodox Christian meditation.

The irony is that concentration preparation does not preclude efforts to change or alter the contents of the mind. Most visualization exercises, as well as many body practices and recitative techniques, combine the two. In the next post, we'll return to a review of the uses of attention, which classifies meditation methods in part based on the "center of attention" and "form of attention." Transformation of the Soul Meditation is performed with the aim of completing "mental change," according to the proposed meaning. Traditional views of the modifications are theological or metaphysical, but nothing in our meaning precludes psychological, philosophical, or other existential interpretations. Descriptions of transformative reform are usually diverse and ambiguous in literary records from various schools and traditions. There are only a few dispersed comparative analyses of long-term trajectories of meditative systems in the scientific literature, and they are narrow in depth.

One scholarly concept of meditation mentions "social growth," but says nothing on what it entails beyond general comments about promoting positive feelings and suppressing negative emotions. “Inner transition results of long-term fundamental changes involving many facets of the individual, such as perceptual, physical, intellectual, moral, or behavioral behaviors, gradually bringing about the anchoring of the individual in more fundamental aspects of existence,” I propose as a preliminary concept. This description can be seen in a number of ways. Such transition is commonly associated with getting closer to God in monotheistic religions originating in the Middle East, and the same may be true of the Sikh tradition of nm simran mentioned by Myrvold in this volume. The aim of many Hindu schools, including Edwin F. Bryant's Yogic disciplines and Khanna's yantra and cakra practices, is to understand the supreme Self, purua or tman, which is also sometimes equated with God, vara or Brahman, or iva in union with akti.

Though some have pointed to similarities between the ultimate Self that Buddhism is supposed to deny and the "Buddha nature," Ch. fó-xng, prevalent in the meditative traditions of Tibet, as discussed by Samuel in this volume, and of East Asia, as discussed by Samuel in this volume, the aim in the various Buddhist approaches is either to become enlightened to the fundamental emptiness of the self or of all being, though some have pointed to similarities between the ultimate Self that Buddhism is supposed to deny. The aim of Daoism, as defined by Harold D. Roth, and Neo-Confucianism, as described by Masaya Mabuchi, is to enhance one's proximity to the Way, Dào, which has clear moralistic undertones in Neo-Confucianism. While some of them mean a greater mystical realm to which the meditator eventually opens his or her eyes, modern schools of meditation frequently reject the metaphysical connotations of conventional terminologies. Others, as shown by Holen's contribution, have a more scientific approach to the processes at hand. In both cases, the aim is for the individual to become more permanently rooted in facets of life that are deemed more central in the particular cultural sense than his or her starting point.

This perspective on inner change does not imply belief in the perennialist notion that all schools of meditation, theology, mysticism, and so on are, at their heart, efforts to achieve the same universal truth, as Robert K. C. Forman famously claimed in the contemporary sense. In certain cases, structural and linguistic parallels between different meditative traditions can represent actual substance similarities, whether that substance is linked to the notion of an ineffable experience of a non-phenomenal reality, as is usually argued within the perennialist discourse, or to effable and phenomenal experiences, as Matthew T. Kapstein suggests for the widespread of meditative traditions. In other contexts, as with comparisons between descriptions of meditative and drug-induced spiritual encounters, formal and informative parallels between various practices can be superficial and gloss over underlying distinctions. Along with some fundamental variations, the structure of their discourses binds the different schools of meditation together. “Models of incremental self-transformation, often based upon the active cultivation through years of ascesis or meditative practice, and those of abrupt or sometimes aggressive alteration in the structure of the self—for example, in religious conversion,” write David Shulman and Guy G. Stroumsa.

The transitions caused by meditative practice seem to be firmly placed in the first division when stated this way. However, though meditation is often viewed as a lifelong endeavor, meditative transition is often viewed as a rapid and, paradoxically, unplanned occurrence. This is particularly true of the prevalent schools of Zen Buddhism, which Schlütter describes in this book. Perhaps even more interestingly, that is also true in certain Christian ways of reflection, as shown by the quote from "The Epistle of Prayer" quoted above, which indicates that the transformations are "sudden and without any means."

When Shulman and Stroumsa say that in incremental self-transformation, the self is "the active agent of its own evolution," while in abrupt transition, the self is "a passive beneficiary of the process," the situation becomes much more complicated. This seems to be fair. However, as previously mentioned, the relationship between the practices involved in meditative activity and the outcomes obtained is not linear, regardless of whether the effects are incremental or abrupt. Shaw observes how “meditation subjects, selected and engaged with intent, coincide with surprise objects, or external activities, happening at critical and timely moments” in her essay on southern Buddhism in this book. Suddenness and passive recipiency are mixed with gradualness and individual agency, or, in Shaw's terms, "a ready openness to the fortuitous and lucky." The scientific aspects of meditation are mixed with the nontechnical aspects of daily life. Sudden religious conversion can also be claimed to imply a person's anchoring of more basic facets of life, at least as seen through the lens of the faith in question.

However, Shulman and Stroumsa may be correct in claiming that such conversion is unusual in meditative processes. Meditation is most commonly practiced within a particular tradition to which the adept already belongs, and the practice pursues long-term aims established by this tradition, at least in premodern contexts. Meditation is dependent on social settings as well as instruction, transmission, and perception cultures, in addition to the technique itself. It is often performed in groups, and many schools of meditation claim that the benefits of group meditation outweigh the benefits of individual meditation. Many meditative practices put considerable power in the hands of the master disciple, such as the abba of early Christianity, the shaikh of Sufism, the Indian guru, or the Chinese sh-fu. All of this raises the issue of what the essence of the transformed "individual" or "self" is. Is this self, like the nineteenth-century Western idealist view, essentially a subjective arena of human agency springing from within? Is it a tabula rasa that gets its key characteristics from experiences and pressures from the environment, resulting in an interior or interiorized sociality?

One potential understanding of meditation's deep incorporation into its sociocultural meaning is that the shifts are the result of an outside-in movement, in which socially determined perceptions are interiorized and influence the transition. These standards may be part of the ritual itself in certain cases, such as meditations on a particular religious subject, or they may be part of the atmosphere surrounding the practice in other cases. In either case, this outside-in movement resembles one of the potential operating processes of the placebo effect in psychology, neuroscience, and somatic medicine, where optimism and beliefs have been proposed as key influences in the treatment's outcome. It also has elements in common with autosuggestion and autohypnosis, all of which would be explored in more depth in the following article. Finally, it is consistent with social and cultural constructivist views on human cognition, which have long been dominant in cultural and religious studies.

However, this isn't the only way to explain how meditation and its sociocultural meaning are so closely linked. As we've seen, Shulman and Stroumsa argue that meditative change entails more involved agency, not less, than abrupt religious conversion. Meditation is sometimes seen as largely an individual endeavor, except in communal contexts, as argued above. The enhanced influence due to communal activity in meditation traditions is only partially attributed to simple social influences such as inspiration and encouragement; it is most commonly interpreted as the result of divine forces released during meditation. Directed meditations, such as some of the Sikh practices mentioned by Myrvold in this book, are at best peripheral to the area of meditation of most religions, in which practice is carried out in direct response to continuous guidance from a meditation guide, or a tape or compact disc, as in some of the Sikh practices described by Myrvold in this volume. Modern scientific conceptions of meditation tend to emphasize human agency, describing it as a "self-regulation exercise" that employs a "self-focus capacity" or a "self-observation mentality" to achieve a "self-induced state."

Furthermore, there is often a conflict between meditative traditions and the values and ideals engendered by their broader religious or cultural backgrounds, which meditation is often thought to overcome. The Chinese Zen “recorded sayings,” y-lù, urge meditators to “destroy the Buddha when you see him, and kill the patriarchs when you see them,” implying the need to let go of all inner obedience to sacred authority. The relationship between the established church and its numerous contemplative orders has been tense in Catholicism, owing to the contemplatives' insistence on their own personal visions of realities that the church feels compelled to control. The technological and non-semantic existence of some meditation objects—such as body and breath practices, “objectless” concentration training, meaningless mantras, aniconic yantras, de-semanticized Zen kans, and the blurring of the recitative material in some Sufi dhikr practices—indicates that meditation can transcend the webs of meaning offered by the cultural and religious context.

All of this suggests that, rather than just adapting to societal norms, people are becoming more autonomous. Social contexts can be more important than only providing external cultural values, moral beliefs, and interpretive webs of meaning. The environment's inspiration and affirmation do not actually promote conformism, but they may provide the sense of security required for individual exploration of existential problems. Similarly, the instruction of instructors or masters may not only be directed toward the exercise of authority, but may also aim to offer resources for technological or existential clarity to the pupil or disciple.

According to this perspective, meditative change entails not only the interiorization of external perceptions or webs of meaning, but also the activation of internal and individual cycles that may be physiological, psychological, or metaphysical in nature, or all three at once. This viewpoint is consistent with perennialism but does not need it, since the inner elements stimulated may or may not belong to what is called the perennial “core” of prayer, mysticism, or faith. In the next essay in this series, we'll look at how outside-in and inside-out shifts interact in different ways of meditative practice. 

Some modes of self-transformation, as described by Shulman and Stroumsa, do not always mean the long-term anchoring of an individual in the more fundamental aspects of life that meditative transformation and religious conversion are thought to imply. Demonic possession and spirit mediumship may refer to long- or short-term contact with entities that are outside of most people's daily experience, but they are rarely considered to be part of the more basic layers of life in the context mentioned above. The most apparent long-term change involved in spirit mediumship is not on the part of the spirit medium himself, but on the part of the group or person that the medium is representing. Finally, while madness may be long-term or short-term, it is generally assumed to cause a person to lose touch with the fundamentals of daily reality rather than becoming embedded in more essential facets of life.

Nonetheless, some currents of thought in a variety of cultures have treated certain types of madness as portals to or expressions of knowledge or inspiration, and are often also linked to meditative activity. Though none of these modifications—religious conversion, demonic possession, spirit mediumship, or insanity—are characteristic of meditation, they do exist, demonstrating the breadth of the changes associated with the activity. The qualifier "inner" in the word "inner transition" means that the modifications are implied to go beyond merely physical effects on the body.

This is in contrast to other medical and gymnastic practices, in which mental preparation is prioritized over physical accomplishment or well-being. The common use of physical exercise for character development falls somewhere in the middle. Both the body and the mind are normally engaged in meditation, but the “embodied” essence of meditation is not included in its meaning. Many meditative traditions emphasize the body by postures and gestures, as well as bodily meditation artefacts and numerous efforts to "liberate" the mind or spirit from the body. The verb zu "to rest" is a constituent aspect in many expressions for meditation in Chinese: jng-zu, sit in quietude, d-zu, hit-sit, chán-zu, sit in zen, zu-chán, sit in zen, ji-f-zu, sit cross-legged, dun-zu, sit straight, and zhèng-zu, sit straight. While sitting meditation is the most common form of the practice, there are also lying, standing, walking, and even dancing meditations. In the same way, though closed eyes are associated with meditation, half-closed or open eyes are also normal.

And, whatever part the body plays in the practice and method of meditation, the transformative changes it brings about go beyond bodily considerations. Mental States Any characteristics often associated with meditation, such as sitting posture and closed eyes, are not included in our classification. This is particularly true in the case of so-called meditative states of mind. These factors have little bearing on the concept, which emphasizes long-term trait changes rather than short-term state changes.

In this regard, our technical use of the word "meditation" differs from common English usage, which often refers to brief shifts in state, often as a result of practice and other times as a sudden shift with no relation to practice. The Arabic muraqaba, mushhada, and mu'yana; Sanskrit yoga, dhyana, and samadhi; and Chinese chán, borrowed from Sanskrit dhyana, all have this semantic discrepancy between activity and state of mind. In many meditative practices, transient states of mind play a significant part, and the transient encounters described in the meditative literature are often understood to be transformative in the sense of redefining a person's relationship to himself and his surroundings. This holds true for many of the traditions mentioned in this book, including Bryant's presentation of the seven ways of samadhi in the Yoga tradition. Meditation is often related to particular states of mind, and the essence of those transient states may often separate it from other activities.

Such states are also more easily defined and identified than long-term changes of trait, and most meditative traditions have terms that designate states or stages along the way. State-oriented practices are not excluded from the proposed concept, but they must also be expected to bring in long-term reforms. Sufism, for example, accepts a number of common intermittent states, but connects them to a number of long-term phases. Many traditions caution practitioners of the dangers of temporary states, which may tempt them away from true transformation. Schlütter explains how the Chinese Zen master Dà-hu criticizes those who want quietness instead of “breaking their mind of life and death” in his contribution to this volume. Another Chinese Zen master, X-yn, advises against "greedily pursuing the domain of purity," which he describes as "a Zen disease to be avoided by any practitioner."

In the Christian faith, “The Cloud of Unknowing” warnings against the practitioner wrongly “imagining... to be the fire of love, lighted and fanned by the power and kindness of the Holy Ghost,” and “The Epistle of Prayer” urges the practitioner to “neither care nor think whether you are in pain or in bliss.” In today's world, Jon Kabat-Zinn, the most well-known adherent of mindfulness meditation, states unequivocally that "every state of mind is a meditative state," whereas Acem Meditation's free mental attitude is defined as "neither a thought, nor a specific experience, nor a state of mind."

The pervasive interest in meditative states of mind reflects a deep fascination with "experience" that has dominated religious thought since the late eighteenth century, and contemporary religious studies since William James' classic book The Varieties of Religious Experience. The “experience” orientation of religious studies in general, and Asian religion studies in particular, has been slammed as a new Western concept imposed on premodern and Asian religions. Modern Hindu and Buddhist adherents and scholars have been chastised for translating the Western concept of "holy experience" into scriptures that are mostly prescriptive and performative rather than informative and experience-oriented. Nonetheless, both contemporary and conventional meditation discourses are often concerned not only with long-term inner development but also with the more urgent mental changes that meditation is also believed to bring about. Even if they are not uniformly present or included in the concept, such changes in state are prototypical aspects of meditation.

 

The following list attempts to provide a concise description of physiological, emotional, and spiritual states that are often associated with meditation: 

• A decrease in arousal.

• Concentration on the mind.

• Emotional sharpness.

• A feeling of being in touch with the most fundamental facets of life.

The conventional focus on silence, calmness, stillness, quietude, and tranquilly, as well as contemporary scientific interest in mental and physical stimulation, are covered in the first point. According to some researchers, the degree of arousal distinguishes meditative from ecstatic and shamanic phases, with ecstasy and shamanism suggesting a rise in arousal and meditation implying a decline.

The theoretical emphasis on transient relaxing of rationality and preconceived ideas, referred to as "logic relaxation," in which "ego-related problems and essential assessments are suspended," also belongs here. The second argument is that meditative states are correlated with a high level of mental concentration. Absorption differs from concentration in that it is involuntary rather than active, though the meanings often correlate, so that Sanskrit dhyana and samadhi, for example, may refer to both the process of focusing and spontaneous mental absorption, which may or may not be the result of meditation. Increased attention absorption is often interpreted as implying less or even no spontaneous thinking movement, also known as mind wandering. The third point is the subtle perception and attentive presence that are often associated with meditation. Sleep, drowsiness, or sloth was considered one of the five barriers to meditative development in Buddhism. Notice that this type of consciousness and presence is usually accompanied by satisfaction, as opposed to the caution and watchfulness often associated with adjectives like "warning" and "wakeful."

This mixture has been dubbed a "wakeful hypometabolic physiologic condition" in the scientific literature. The fourth argument is about fleeting encounters that are more directly related to our anxiety about a person's long-term anchoring in more basic facets of life. The experiences in question are often couched in metaphorical and strongly culture-dependent language, referring to a personified god, the self, a way or path, or more abstract notions such as emptiness or timelessness, or, in Kohn's definition of meditation, "a deeper, subtler, meditative state." It's debatable whether various accounts of such events refer to the same ultimate truth, as the perennial view claims, not just because such representations are always culturally situated, but also because the meanings themselves are so vague. Also within members of the same group, descriptive comparisons may mask significant experiential distinctions, varying from subtle illusions of a transcendent world to drunken hallucinations caused by psychedelic drugs.


Arousal reduction, in the idealized picture, allows for mental absorption as thoughts slow down, resulting in increased mental focus and, eventually, better interaction with essential facets of reality: 

  • Arousal reduction arousal reduction arousal reduction arousal reduction
  • Absorption of the mind
  • Automatic lucidity
  • A feeling of being in touch with the most basic facets of truth

When a person's long-term relationship to himself and his surroundings is redefined, this sense of touch becomes transformative. The image's simple simplicity, however, is deceiving, and not only because of the apparent difficulties in distinguishing the fundamental aspects of truth described in the fourth point. The first, second, and third points are all difficult to understand. Regarding the first argument, some cultures associate meditation with ecstatic states rather than any kind of arousal reduction, and religious historians have criticized Mircea Eliade's popular distinction between high-arousal and low-arousal ecstasy.

The exhausting and not especially relaxing experience of uncertainty is consistently mentioned as a precondition for meditative development in one Zen Buddhist practice. In terms of the second argument, efforts to clear the mind of random thoughts have been divisive throughout meditation's history. Vipayan, also translated as "insight meditation," is a distinct category in the Buddhist tradition that covers meditative rituals that do not strive for mental absorption. The Chinese Zen master Hānshān Déqīng changed his original emphasis on ridding the mind of thoughts to a focus on seeing the illusory nature of the thoughts and thus no longer being attached to them. Furthermore, while current research seems to support the first argument, namely arousal reduction, the evidence on the second point is much more ambiguous. On the one hand, seasoned practitioners of breathing meditation, loving-kindness meditation, and "choiceless consciousness" showed less mind wandering during meditation in two scientific trials, and self-reported time on task during breathing meditation improved in a third study, both appearing to support this claim. Another research, which asked participants to push a button every time their mind wandered during meditation, found no distinction between seasoned and beginner meditators, with mind wandering happening on average every eighty seconds over a twenty-minute session in both classes.

Some meditation effects have been found to be stronger in techniques that enable the mind to wander rather than in concentrative activities. In terms of the third stage, certain western modes of meditation, such as Transcendental Meditation and Acem Meditation, regard sleep as only one of many possible states of mind during meditation. Meditation's benefits can include mental focus, but it's also possible that sleep and drowsiness play a role. During a visit to a Chinese Zen monastery, I spoke with a monk who lamented about falling asleep as soon as he began meditating, but added that after those periods of meditation-induced sleep, his mind became much clearer. Yoga Nidra is a form of lucid sleep that is considered meditative in the Yoga tradition. To summarize, meditation is not always about individual mental states, but rather about cycles that can involve a variety of moods or emotions. As a result, our concept of meditation excludes any physiological, psychological, or metaphysical states typically associated with meditative practice. Meditation and Other Meditation Techniques To summarize, meditation is a method in the sense of a consciously undertaken and structured process requiring ongoing, i.e., repeated or long-term action aimed at achieving such outcomes, at least in part, by universal processes.

If the use of attention is marked by a limited concentrative emphasis or an accessible and inclusive consciousness, it is attention-based. The expected consequences involve a long-term and profound inner change that affects several dimensions of a person's life, including perceptual, cognitive, intellectual, and behavioral habits, as well as a transition toward more fundamental aspects of nature. In addition, a variety of other traits are often associated with meditation but do not appear in our description. We've seen how the traditional perception of meditation includes closed eyes and a sitting stance. In terms of outcomes, we've seen how meditation is often correlated with short-term changes of state, such as arousal reduction, mental absorption, mental insight, and a sense of interaction with basic facets of life. While none of these attributes are included in our classification, they are all considered to be representative of meditation.

Meditation, when described in this way, can be differentiated from a variety of other modes of practice with which it shares certain characteristics. The borderlines, on the other hand, are always gradient rather than absolute, and there is a lot of space for overlap. The following is only a rough sketch of each of these distinctions. Meditation and pure calming methods are often lumped together in scientific debate. Only meditation, in our terms, has long-term transformative goals beyond the wellness and well-being that come with simple stimulation. Methods like radical muscle activation and autogenic conditioning, with a few exceptions, are not promoted as transformative practices. In general, contemporary calming methods that rely solely on momentary rest and leisure are not included in our concept of meditation. Medicine and meditation are etymologically related, so they may overlap. Meditation is often practiced for better health in both modern and traditional settings, and inner practices can be supplemented by medicinal plants, tablets, and concoctions, as in the Tibetan practices mentioned by Samuel in this volume.

Meditation was once thought to have the ability to drive out ghosts that might otherwise inflict sickness in early China. However, as Roth points out in this book, there was no full correlation between meditation and medicine in early China, and the two were considered different areas. Only when health-oriented approaches are not used for long-term inner transformation are they considered meditation in our terms. Prayer, like meditation, is a consciously practiced activity that often observes more or less well-defined protocols. It always seeks to achieve certain outcomes, such as the forgiveness of sins, but it can also be inspired by a sense of duty rather than the expectation of potential benefits. One of the most important differences between meditation and prayer is the constant practice inherent in the former. Prayer involves much more nuanced operations, and it often involves sequences of acts or utterances rather than a single continuous activity; it is linear rather than continuous. Meditation, unlike prayer, is a technical mode of self-transformation rather than a communicative way of communicating commitment, plea, obedience, or gratitude to a spiritual being in the prototypical example. 

In fact, there is a lot of overlap, such as when an orthodox Christian prays the Jesus Prayer, which is a brief, formulaic, and intensely devotional prayer that is repeated over and again, often with the help of breathing exercises. Sufism's dhikr, Hinduism's japa, and Buddhism's niàn-fó, Chinese, or nen-butsu, Japanese, are all related practices. Devotional visualization approaches require similar considerations. Many types of meditation, including prayer, seek to make contact with basic facets of reality, and are often defined in anthropomorphic terms as supernatural entities with their own sense of agency. Prayer approaches meditation as it becomes wordless, as in certain types of Christian mysticism. While the word "mysticism" is broad and multifaceted, it usually refers to personal perceptions and states rather than technological concerns. Meditation as a tool for self-transformation can or may not be associated with a mystical orientation. Meditation differs from ritual in that it is typically more centered on the person rather than the group, and it involves continuous or repeated activity rather than the stepwise or sequential processes of ritual.

Meditation, on the other hand, should be done in a group environment and ritual in an individual setting. In a number of rituals, repetition is also an essential component. Meditation is also surrounded by routine, and practices incorporate meditative components, but the line between the two is blurry. Shamanism and spirit mediumship include visiting a certain state of mind and communicating with gods or spirits not for the shaman or medium's own sake, but for the sake of another person or a group. Though this is not the same as the self-transformative goal of meditation, many cultures believe that meditation is beneficial not only to the meditator but also to his surroundings, and group meditation is often performed for the sake of the whole society. What about bodywork like Hatha Yoga, Tai Chi, and Qi Gong? These are associated with inner change which require the use of attention, including the fact that they rely on the body. They vary from the more common types of meditation in that they contain sequential rather than repeated movements, in addition to being static and therefore long-lasting postures.

Traditional martial arts, which are often said to have meditative aspects, place a greater emphasis on external self-defense than internal transformation. However, it is arguable that some of them achieve this aim in part by including strategies for inner change, but, like body rituals, in a manner that is dependent on sequential rather than repeated motions. Though it is a transformative technique, psychotherapy varies from meditation in many ways. For starters, it necessitates the intervention of a physician, while meditation typically occurs without the constructive or interfering presence of another entity. Second, psychotherapy scarcely qualifies as a technique in our narrow context, as it lacks the long-term or routine characteristics that distinguish meditation. However, different types of instruction, which are often associated with meditation and are often considered necessary for its purpose, share these and other psychotherapy characteristics. There are meditative and non-meditative aspects of certain practices.

 Some practitioners pursue long-term improvement, whereas others seek short-term relaxation; some prioritize inner growth, whereas others prioritize physical health; some have moral goals, whereas others seek to enhance their career or athletic results. This pattern isn't limited to western meditation practices. Traditional meditative techniques can also be used to attain material prosperity, physical fitness, and other worldly benefits, as Myrvold and Samuel demonstrate in this book. This review of the essence of meditation does not address all of the issues surrounding the concept, and we might still be undecided on whether or not to incorporate specific activities. In the very least, we have a set of parameters to address.

Many techniques, whether they are called meditation or have other names, which come close to our meaning but lack one or two characteristics, putting them in the grey area between meditation and other forms of practice. Some meditation-like activities, for example, mimic ritual and prayer except that they are performed in steps rather than in a continuous or repeated manner. Rather than defining a natural class or taxon, our description aims to provide a single point of reference for cross-cultural and comparative research based on functional and theoretical considerations.