KIRAN ATMA: Meditation Origins
Showing posts with label Meditation Origins. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Meditation Origins. Show all posts

Meditation And Soul Transformation



Meditation is performed with the goal of attaining "inner change," according to the proposed definition. 


  • Traditional explanations of the changes are religious or spiritual, but nothing in our description precludes psychological, philosophical, or other existential interpretations. 
  • Descriptions of transformational development in literary texts from many schools and traditions are usually diverse and ambiguous. 

There are just a few scattered comparative investigations of long-term trajectories of contemplative processes in the scientific literature, and they are restricted in scope. 


One scientific definition of meditation includes "[mental] growth," but says nothing about what that entails beyond general comments about fostering good emotions and decreasing negative ones. 


“Inner transformation consists in long-term fundamental changes affecting many aspects of the person, such as perceptual, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, or behavioral patterns, eventually bringing about the anchoring of the person in more fundamental aspects of existence,” I propose as a tentative definition. This term may be interpreted in a number of ways. 


  • Such change is typically associated with growing closer to God in monotheistic faiths originating in the Middle East, and the Sikh practice of nam simran.
  • The goal of many Hindu systems, like Yogic disciplines and  yantra and chakra practices, is to discover the ultimate Self (purua or atman), which is frequently associated with God (Isvara or Brahman, or Siva in u nion with Sakti). 
  • The goal of the various Buddhist approaches is to become enlightened to the fundamental emptiness of the self or of all existence, though some have drawn parallels between the ultimate Self that Buddhism is supposed to deny and the "Buddha nature" prevalent in Tibet's and East Asia's meditative traditions.



The goal of Daoism and Neo Confucianism, as defined by Harold D. Roth and Masaya Mabuchi, is to enhance one's closeness to the Way (Dao), which in Neo-Confucianism frequently has strong moralistic overtones. 


  • Although some of them suggest a higher spiritual world to which the meditator progressively opens his or her consciousness, modern schools of meditation frequently eschew the religious implications of older terminology. 
  • Others take a more scientific approach to the processes at hand. 
  • In both instances, the goal is for the individual to become more firmly rooted in elements of life that are deemed more essential in the relevant cultural context than his or her starting point. 




This understanding of inner change does not imply agreement with the perennialist notion that all schools of meditation (or religion, mysticism, and so on) are, at their core, efforts to attain the same ultimate truth.


  • In some cases, structural and linguistic parallels between different meditative traditions may reflect actual substance similarities, whether that substance is linked to the notion of an ineffable experience of a nonphenomenal reality, as the perennialist discourse usually argues, or to effable and phenomenal experiences.
  • In other instances, as has been argued in the past about similarities between descriptions of contemplative and drug-induced mystical experiences, formal and descriptive analogies across various traditions may be misleading and gloss over fundamental distinctions. 
  • Even with such fundamental distinctions, the form of their discourses binds the different schools of meditation together. 




Models of progressive self-transformation, typically based upon the deliberate development over years of ascesis or contemplative practice, and those of abrupt or even violent alteration in the structure of the self—for example, in religious conversion. 


  • The changes produced by contemplative practice seem to be firmly placed in the first category when stated this way. 
  • However, although meditation is often seen as a lifelong endeavor, contemplative change is occasionally viewed as a sudden and, ironically, unplanned occurrence. 
  • This is especially true of the main schools of Zen Buddhism.
  • Perhaps even more unexpectedly, it is also true of certain Christian types of contemplation, as shown by the quote from "The Epistle of Prayer" mentioned above, which indicates that the changes occur "sudden and without any methods." 




In progressive self-transformation, the self is "the active agent of its own development," but in abrupt change, the self is "a passive receiver of the process," the situation becomes even more complicated. 


  • This seems to be reasonable. However, as previously stated, the relationship between the activities engaged in meditation practice and the benefits gained is not linear, regardless of whether the consequences are gradual or abrupt. 
  • Meditation objects, selected and engaged with purpose, intersect with surprise objects, or external occurrences, happening at important and opportune moments.
  • Suddenness and passive recipiency are coupled with gradualness and individual action, or, in Shaw's words, "a voluntary openness to the unexpected and lucky." 




The technological aspects of meditation are blended with the nontechnical aspects of daily life. 


  • Sudden religious conversion may also be claimed to imply a person's grounding in more basic elements of existence, at least when seen through the lens of the religion in question. 
  • Meditation is more frequently practiced within a particular tradition to which the adept already belongs, and the practice seeks long-term objectives specified by this tradition, at least in premodern settings. 
  • Meditation is dependent on social circumstances as well as learning, transmission, and interpretation cultures, in addition to the method itself. 
  • It is often performed in groups, and many schools of meditation think that the benefits of group meditation outweigh the benefits of solo meditation. 



Many meditation traditions put a significant emphasis on the master-disciple relationship, giving the abba of early Christianity, the shaikh of Sufism, the Indian guru, or the Chinese shifu tremendous authority. All of this raises the issue of what the nature of the changed "person" or "self" is. 


Is the self, as the nineteenth-century Western idealists saw it, mainly a subjective field of individual action emerging from within? 

Is it a tabula rasa that gets its primary characteristics from perceptions and effects from the environment, resulting in an inner or interiorized sociality? 



One potential explanation of meditation's strong integration into its sociocultural environment is that the alterations are the result of an outside-in movement, in which socially determined expectations are interiorized and influence the transformation.


  • These expectations may be part of the practice itself in some instances, such as meditations on a particular religious topic, or they may be part of the environment around the practice in other cases. 
  • In any case, this outside-in movement parallels one of the potential functioning processes of the placebo effect in psychology, psychiatry, and somatic medicine, where motivation and expectations have been proposed as significant elements in the treatment's success. 
  • It also has aspects in common with autosuggestion and autohypnosis.


Finally, it is compatible with long-held social and cultural constructivist perspectives on human cognition in cultural and religious studies. 


  • However, this isn't the only way to explain how meditation and its social environment are so closely linked. 
  • Contemplative change entails more active activity, not less, than abrupt religious conversion. 



Meditation is frequently regarded as mainly a solitary activity, even in social settings, as stated above. 


  • The enhanced impact ascribed to community practice in meditation traditions is only partially attributable to simple social variables such as inspiration and support; it is more frequently understood as the influence of spiritual forces produced during meditation. 
  • Guided meditations, in which practitioners follow continuous instructions from a meditation guide are at most peripheral to the subject of meditation in most traditions.
  • Modern scientific definitions of meditation tend to emphasize individual agency, describing it as a "self-regulation activity" that employs a "self-focus skill" or a "self-observation attitude" to achieve a "self-induced condition." 



Furthermore, there is often a conflict between contemplative traditions and the expectations and ideals engendered by their broader religious or cultural settings, which meditation is typically thought to transcend. 


  • The Chinese Zen “recorded sayings” (yulu) urge meditators to “kill the Buddha when you see him, and kill the patriarchs when you see them,” implying the necessity to let rid of any internal allegiance to holy authority. 
  • The relationship between the established church and its different contemplative orders has been tense in Catholicism, owing to the contemplatives' insistence on their own particular views of realities that the church felt compelled to regulate. 
  • The technical and non-semantic nature of some meditation objects—such as body and breath practices, “objectless” attention training, meaningless mantras, aniconic yantras, de-semanticized Zen koans, and the blurring of the recitative content in some Sufi dhikr practices—indicates that meditation may transcend the webs of meaning provided by the cultural and religious context. 



All of this suggests that, rather than just adapting to societal norms, people are becoming more autonomous. 


  • Social settings may be more important than only providing outward cultural standards, spiritual goals, and interpretative webs of meaning. 
  • The environment's incentive and encouragement may not necessarily promote conformism, but they may offer the feeling of security required for individual investigation of existential problems. 



Similarly, the direction of instructors or masters may not necessarily be oriented toward the exercise of authority, but may also attempt to offer chances for technical or existential clarity to the pupil or disciple. 


  • According to this perspective, meditative transformation entails not only the interiorization of external expectations or webs of meaning, but also the activation of internal and individual processes that may be physiological, psychological, or spiritual in character, or all three at once. 
  • This viewpoint is consistent with perennialism but does not need it, since the inner components awakened may or may not belong to what is called the perennial “core” of meditation, mysticism, or religion. 



The interaction between outside in and inside out changes in different kinds of contemplative practice.


  • Some kinds of self-transformation, as defined by Shulman and Stroumsa, may not always indicate the long-term anchoring of a person in the more basic elements of life that contemplative transformation and religious conversion are thought to suggest. 
  • 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 seldom considered to be part of the more basic levels of existence in the manner described above. 
  • The most apparent long-term change involved in spirit mediumship is not on the part of the spirit medium himself or herself, but on the part of the community or person that the medium is helping. 



Finally, although madness may last a long time or a short time, it is generally believed to cause a person to lose touch with the fundamentals of daily reality rather than becoming anchored in more essential elements of life. 


  • Nonetheless, some currents of thinking in a number of cultures have seen certain kinds of lunacy as portals to or manifestations of knowledge or insight, which are sometimes even linked to contemplative practice. 
  • While none of these changes—religious conversion, demonic possession, spirit mediumship, or insanity—are characteristic of meditation, they do occur, demonstrating the breadth of the changes connected with the practice. 
  • The qualifier "inner" in the phrase "inner transformation" implies that the changes are indicated to transcend beyond merely physical impacts on the body. 
  • This is in contrast to certain medical and gymnastic traditions, in which mental training is prioritized above physical accomplishment or well-being. 
  • The traditional use of physical exercise for character development falls somewhere in the middle. 
  • Both the body and the mind are typically engaged in meditation, although the “embodied” aspect of meditation is not included in its description. 

Many contemplative traditions emphasize the body via postures and motions, as well as physical meditation objects and different efforts to "liberate" the mind or spirit from the body. 

Most clearly, contemplative practice is often associated with a sitting (and sometimes cross-legged) position, and the Chinese verb zuo, which means "to sit," is a component element in several words for meditation: jingzuo (silent sitting), dazuo (hit sitting), chanzuo (zen sitting), zuochan (zen sitting), jiaf Uzuo (cross-legged sitting), duanzuo (straight sitting), and zhèngzuo (straight sitting) (sit straight). 



While sitting meditation is the most common form of the practice, there are also laying, standing, strolling, and even dance meditations. 


  • Similarly, although closed eyes are often associated with meditation, half-closed or open eyes are also frequent. 
  • And, whatever part the body plays in the practice and process of meditation, the transformational changes it brings about transcend beyond bodily concerns.


You may also like to read more about Meditation, Guided Meditation, Mindfulness Mediation and Healing here.



Meditation And Attention

 


Meditation is based on the employment of attention, according to the proposed definition. 


  • In one sense, this is stating the obvious: all kinds of meditation include focusing one's attention on a single meditation object. 
  • The object may be a static object, such as a geometrical figure in yantra meditation, or a dynamic element, such as the ever-changing reality desired to be incorporated in shikan ta-za and other Zen practices. 

In any instance, the method entails drawing the viewer's attention on this item. 

Meditation entails cultivating the mode of attention in addition to the object of attention. 


While many meditative traditions have elaborate discussions of what constitutes an effective meditation object, others claim that any external or internal object can serve this purpose, with the key difference being the mode of attention, mental attitude, and how attention is directed toward this object. 


  • In many instances, this entails the development of a single-­minded, completely immersed, but easy mental state. 
  • In other instances, the training aims to develop an open and welcoming mental attitude toward spontaneous impulses and even distracting ideas. 

A contemplative attitude is often seen as generating an element of distance or detachment from worldly items in order to transcend worldly attachment and allow the mind to dwell in a realm that is beyond all things.


Meditation is said to create a manner of being that brings about a deeper connection with the objects of the world at other times, or perhaps even simultaneously. 


  • In any instance, the mode of attention is critical, and any effort to meditate mechanically, on autopilot, will fall outside our definition. 
  • Meditation is a technique for increasing one's consciousness. 

Meditation methods, according to a number of scientific definitions, include the training of attention (or awareness). 


  • Some of them even go so far as to exclude visualization methods from the area of meditation, claiming that they seek to change the contents of attention rather than train the attention itself. 
  • They also reject “controlled breathing and body postures (yoga), or body movement and purported energy manipulation (Tai Chi [Tai­j] and Chi gong [Qi­gong])” based on the same reasoning. 
  • In reality, most kinds of recitative meditation, which also includes the intentional change of mental material, would be excluded from this line of thought. 
  • The outcome would be a very limited definition of meditation, excluding, for example, the visualization methods discussed in this book by Madhu Khanna, Geoffrey Samuel, and Sarah Shaw, as well as most kinds of traditional Christian meditation. 


The truth is that attention training does not exclude efforts to change or alter the contents of the mind. 

  • Many visualization exercises, as well as many body practices and recitative methods, combine the two. 
  • We may also classify meditation methods in part based on the "focus of attention" and "mode of attention."


You may also like to read more about Meditation, Guided Meditation, Mindfulness Mediation and Healing here.



Meditation Mental States



Some characteristics often associated with meditation, such as sitting posture and closed eyes, are not included in our description. This is especially true in the case of so-called contemplative states of consciousness. 

  • These factors have little bearing on the definition, which emphasizes long-term characteristic changes rather than short-term condition changes. 

 

In this regard, our precise use of the word "meditation" differs from common English use, which often refers to brief shifts in condition, sometimes as a consequence of practice and other times as a spontaneous shift with no connection to effort. 


The Arabic muraqaba, mushahada, and mu'ayana, as well as Sanskrit yoga, dhyana, and samadhi, and Chinese chan, all have this lexical ambiguity between practice and state of mind (borrowed from Sanskrit dhyana). 


In many contemplative traditions, transitory states of consciousness play a significant role, and the transient experiences described in the meditation literature are often considered to be transformational in the sense of changing a person's relationship to himself and his environment. 


  • This also applies to many of the techniques such as the seven kinds of samadhi in the Yoga tradition. 
  • Meditation is often connected to particular states of thought, and the nature of such transient experiences may occasionally differentiate it from other techniques. 
  • Long-term changes in characteristic are more difficult to describe and identify, although most meditation traditions have words that indicate states or stages along the process. 
  • State-oriented activities are not excluded from the proposed definition, but they must also be designed to bring about long-term reforms. 
  • Sufism, for example, acknowledges a variety of common transitory moods (ahwal) but connects them to a variety of long-term stages (maqamat). 

Many traditions caution practitioners about the dangers of transitory experiences, which may lead them away from true transformation. 


  • Da-hui (–), a Chinese Zen teacher, condemns those who seek silence instead of “breaking[ing] [their] consciousness of birth and death.” Xu-y un (?–), another Chinese Zen teacher, cautions against "greedily pursuing the world of purity" and labels it "a Zen disease to be avoided by every practitioner." 
  • In the Christian tradition, “The Cloud of Unknowing” warns against the practitioner mistaking “a spurious warmth, engendered by the fiend” for “the fire of love, lighted and fanned by the grace and goodness of the Holy Ghost,” and “The Epistle of Prayer” instructs the practitioner to “neither care nor consider whether you are in pain or in bliss.”

In today's world, Jon Kabat-Zinn, the most well-known proponent of mindfulness meditation, says unequivocally that "any state of mind is a meditative state," whereas Acem Meditation's free mental attitude is defined as "neither an emotion, nor a specific experience, nor a state of mind." 

The broad interest in contemplative states of mind reflects a significant preoccupation with "experience" that has dominated religious thinking from the late eighteenth century, particularly contemporary religious studies since William James' landmark work The Varieties of Religious Experience. 


The “experience” approach of religious studies in general, and Asian religion studies in particular, has been slammed as a contemporary Western concept foisted on premodern and Asian religions. 


  • Modern Hindu and Buddhist adherents and academics have been chastised for putting the Western concept of "religious experience" onto texts that are frequently prescriptive and performative rather than descriptive and experience-oriented. 
  • However, both contemporary and traditional meditation discourses are often concerned not just with long-term inner development but also with the more immediate changes in mental state that meditation is believed to bring about.

 Even though they are not always present or included in the definition, some alterations of state are archetypal aspects of meditation. 




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


  • arousal decrease. 
  • absorption of the mind 
  • mental lucidity 
  • a feeling of being in touch with the most basic elements of reality 



The historic focus on:

  1. silence,
  2.  serenity, 
  3. stillness, 
  4. quietude, 
  5. and tranquillity, 

As well as contemporary scientific interest in mental and physical relaxation, are covered in the first point. 

  • According to some academics, the degree of arousal distinguishes contemplative from ecstatic and shamanic states, with ecstasy and shamanism suggesting a rise in arousal and meditation meaning a reduction.
  •  The scientific emphasis on temporary relaxing of logic and preconceived assumptions, referred to as "logic relaxation," in which "ego-related worries and critical assessments are postponed," also fits here. 



The second point is that meditative experiences are linked with a high level of mental concentration. 

  • Absorption differs from concentration in that it is spontaneous rather than active, but the words often overlap, so that Sanskrit dhyana and samadhi, for example, may refer to both the act of focusing and spontaneous mental absorption, which may or may not be the result of meditation. 
  • Increased mental immersion is often interpreted as implying less or even no random thinking activity, also known as mind wandering. 


The third component is the subtle awareness and attentive presence that are often associated with meditation. 


  • Sleep, sleepiness, or sloth are considered one of the five barriers to contemplative development in Buddhism. 
  • Note that this kind of awareness and presence is usually accompanied with relaxation, as opposed to the vigilance and watchfulness frequently associated with words like "alert" and "wakeful." 
  • This combination has been dubbed a "wakeful hypometabolic physiologic state" in the scientific literature. 

The fourth point is about fleeting experiences that are more obviously connected to our worry for a person's long-term grounding in more basic elements of life. 


  • The experiences in question are typically 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, "a deeper, subtler, meditative state." 
  • It's debatable if various reports of such experiences relate to the same ultimate reality, as the perpetual perspective claims, not only because such descriptions are often culturally contextual, but also because the words themselves are so vague. 
  • Even among members of the same culture, descriptive similarities may mask significant experience variations, ranging from faint glimpses of a transcendent reality to inebriated hallucinations produced by psychedelic substances. 


Arousal reduction, in the idealized picture, allows for mental absorption when thoughts slow down, resulting in greater mental clarity and, eventually, closer touch with basic elements of reality: 


  • When a person's long-term relationship to himself and his environment is redefined, this feeling of touch becomes transformational. 
  • The image's simple beauty, however, is deceiving, and not only because of the apparent problems in describing the basic elements of reality mentioned in the fourth point. 

The first, second, and third points are all difficult to understand. 


  • Regarding the first point, certain traditions associate meditation with ecstatic experiences rather than any kind of arousal reduction, and religious historians have disputed Mircea Eliade's famous distinction between (high-arousal) ecstasy and (low-arousal) enstasy. 
  • The unpleasant and not very soothing sensation of uncertainty is frequently mentioned as a prerequisite for contemplative development in one Zen Buddhist school. In terms of the second issue, efforts to clear the mind of random ideas have been divisive throughout meditation's history. 


In the Buddhist tradition, contemplative techniques that do not aim for mental absorption are classified as vipasyana (commonly translated as "insight meditation"). Hanshan Deqing, a Chinese Zen teacher, shifted his attention from purging the mind of ideas to recognizing the illusory nature of thoughts and therefore no longer being tied to them. 


  • Furthermore, although current research seems to support the first argument, namely arousal decrease, the evidence on the second point is much more ambiguous. 
  • On the one hand, experienced practitioners of breathing meditation, loving-kindness meditation, and "choiceless awareness" reported less mind wandering during meditation in two scientific studies, and self-reported time on task during breathing meditation increased in a third study, all seeming to support this point.


Another research, which asked participants to push a button every time their mind wandered during meditation, found no difference between expert and novice meditators, with mind wandering happening on average every eighty seconds during a twenty-minute session in both groups. 


  • Some meditation benefits have been found to be stronger in techniques that allow the mind to wander rather than in concentrative practices. 
  • In terms of the third point, some contemporary forms of meditation, such as Transcendental Meditation and Acem Meditation, see sleep as simply one of many distinct mental states that may occur during meditation. 
  • Meditation's benefits may include mental clarity, but it's also possible that sleep and sleepiness play a role. 
  • During a visit to a Chinese Zen monastery, I talked with a monk who grumbled about falling asleep as soon as he began meditating, but noted that his mind got much clearer after such periods of meditation-induced sleep. 
  • Yoga Nidra is a kind of lucid sleep that is considered contemplative in the Yoga tradition. 



To summarize, meditation is not necessarily about particular mental states, but rather about processes that may involve a variety of moods or feelings. 

As a result, our definition of meditation excludes any physiological, psychological, or spiritual experiences usually linked with contemplative practice.


You may also like to read more about Meditation, Guided Meditation, Mindfulness Mediation and Healing here.



Other Meditation Techniques



Meditation is a method in the sense of a consciously chosen and systematic practice including continuous (i.e., repetitive or long-term) action intended at generating specific results, at least in part, via universal processes. 


Whether the use of attention is defined by a limited concentrative focus or an expansive and inclusive awareness, it is attention­ based. 


  • Its anticipated consequences include long-­term and basic interior change impacting many areas of a person's life, including perceptual, emotional, intellectual, and behavioral patterns, as well as a movement toward more fundamental components of existence. 
  • In addition, a number of additional qualities are often associated with meditation but do not appear in our description. 
  • We've seen that the popular notion of meditation includes closed eyelids and a sitting position. 


In terms of effects, we've seen how meditation is often linked with short­term changes in state, including arousal reduction, mental absorption, mental clarity, and a feeling of touch with basic elements of reality. 


  • Although none of these qualities are mentioned in our description, they are nevertheless considered to be indicative of meditation. 
  • Meditation, when defined in this way, may be differentiated from a variety of other kinds of practice with which it has certain characteristics. 
  • The borderlines, on the other hand, are often gradient rather than absolute, and there is a lot of space for overlap. 

The following is just a basic outline of some of these differences. 


  • Meditation and pure relaxation methods are often lumped together in scientific discourse. 
  • Only meditation, in our language, has long-­term transformational goals beyond the health and well­being that come with simple relaxation.
  • Methods like progressive muscle relaxation and autogenic training, with a few exceptions, are not promoted as transformational techniques. 
  • In general, contemporary relaxation methods that concentrate only on brief rest and enjoyment are excluded from our definition of meditation. 
  • Medicine and meditation are etymologically linked, thus they may overlap. 


Meditation is often practiced for better health in both contemporary and traditional settings, and inner techniques may be complemented with medical plants, pills, and concoctions.


  • Meditation was formerly thought to have the ability to drive away demons that might otherwise cause sickness in early China. 
  • However, the overlap between meditation and medicine in early China was far from total, and the two were regarded as distinct professions. 
  • Only when health­ oriented methods are also utilized for long­term inner change are they considered meditation in our language. 
  • Prayer, like meditation, is a consciously performed activity that often follows more or less well-defined protocols. 
  • It is often intended to produce specific results, such as the forgiveness of sins, but it may also be driven by a feeling of duty rather than the expectation of future benefits. 

One of the most important differences between meditation and prayer is the constant action required in the former. 


  • Prayer involves considerably more complicated behaviors, and it often involves sequences of acts or utterances rather than a single continuous activity; it is sequential rather than continuous. 
  • Meditation, unlike prayer, is a technical technique of self­transformation rather than a communication way of expressing devotion, supplication, submission, or thanks to a supernatural entity in the archetypal instance. 

In reality, there is a lot of overlap, such as when an Orthodox Christian does the Jesus Prayer, which is a brief, formulaic, and very devotional prayer that is repeated again and over, sometimes with the use of breathing exercises. 


  • Sufism's dhikr, Hinduism's japa, and Buddhism's nianfo (Chinese) or nenbutsu (Japanese) are all related activities. 
  • Devotional visualization techniques need similar concerns. 



Many kinds of meditation, like prayer, seek to make touch with basic elements of reality, which are often described in anthropomorphic terms as divine creatures with their own sense of action. 


  • Prayer approaches meditation when it becomes wordless, as in certain types of Christian mysticism. 
  • Although the word "mysticism" is broad and complex, it usually refers to personal experiences and states rather than technical problems. 
  • Although meditation as a self­-transformative practice may be associated with a mystical perspective, it is not always the case. 
  • Meditation varies from ritual in that it is usually more focused 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, may be done in a group environment and ritual in an individual one. In a number of rituals, repetition is also an important component. 
  • Meditation is often accompanied by ritual, and rituals include contemplative elements, thus the line between the two is hazy. 



Shamanism and spirit mediumship include entering a different state of consciousness and communicating with gods or spirits not for the shaman or medium's own benefit, but for the benefit of another individual or a community. 


While this is not the same as the self­-transformational goal of meditation, many traditions believe that meditation is beneficial not just to the meditator but also to his surroundings, and communal meditation is often performed for the benefit of a whole community. 



What about Hatha Yoga, Tai­ji, and Qi­gong, for example? 


  • These are focused with inner change and require the use of attention, despite the fact that they concentrate on the body. 
  • They vary from the most common types of meditation in that they include sequential rather than repeated movements in addition to static (and therefore long-lasting) postures. 
  • Traditional martial arts, which are often said to have meditative elements, place a greater emphasis on outward self­defense than interior transformation. 

However, it is arguable that some of them achieve this aim in part by incorporating methods for inner change, but, like physical practices, in a manner that is focused on sequential rather than repeated motions. 



Though it is likewise a transformational activity, psychotherapy varies from meditation in many ways. 


  • For starters, it necessitates the presence of a therapist, while meditation often occurs without the active or interfering presence of another person. 
  • Second, psychotherapy barely qualifies as a method in our limited definition, since it lacks the long-term or repeated elements that define meditation. 

Note, however, that other kinds of guiding, which are often associated with meditation and are sometimes regarded necessary for its efficacy, share these and other therapeutic characteristics. 




There are meditative and non-meditative aspects to many activities. 


  • Some practitioners want long-­term change, while others seek short­-term relaxation; some prioritize inner growth, while others prioritize physical health; some pursue spiritual goals, while others attempt to enhance their job or sports performance. 
  • This phenomena isn't limited to contemporary meditation practices. 
  • Traditional meditation techniques may also be used to gain financial riches, physical health, and other worldly advantages.
  • This examination of the nature of meditation does not address all of the issues surrounding the word, and we may still be undecided about whether or not to include certain practices. 



At the very least, we have a set of criteria to debate. 


  • Many activities, whether they are named meditation or have other titles, may come close to our description but lack one or two characteristics, thereby falling into the gray region between meditation and other kinds of practice. 
  • Some meditation ­like activities, for example, mirror ritual and prayer in that they are performed in steps rather than in a continuous or repeated manner. 

Rather than defining a natu­ral class or taxon, our definition aims to provide a single point of reference for cross-cultural and comparative research based on practical and theoretical considerations.


You may also like to read more about Meditation, Guided Meditation, Mindfulness Mediation and Healing here.



Meditation Techniques



All kinds of meditation, according to our definition, are “techniques.” 


  • Unlike many of the daily social behaviors usually examined by sociologists and anthropologists, a method is a purposeful activity that is not taken for granted. 
  • A method is systematic in the sense that its processes are well-defined; nevertheless, this does not rule out the possibility of spontaneous or even creative aspects, such as when random ideas are the focus of meditation. 


It is continuous, in the sense that the intentional activity is either continuous (as when sustained attention is directed toward an image) or repetitive (as when a word or a sound combination is repeated over time), rather than sequential (as in the Hatha Yoga or Tai­j sequence of postures and movements, the nonrepetitive chanting of the entire Lotus Sutra in Buddhism, or the Book of Psa). 


  • A method is separated from other activities in terms of time, posture, and place, as well as via particular rituals. 
  • And it is done in order to accomplish specific results, which we will discuss more below, at least in part by using universal processes that are inherent in the structure of the human body and mind. 


The technical elements of meditation are viewed with ambivalence in many contemplative traditions. 


  • For example, content-oriented contemplative prayer and imagery are common, devotional traditions stress a personal relationship with God, and apophatic practices generally emphasize “unmediated” communion with the divine or “direct” revelation of ultimate truth. In all instances, this may lead to a negative attitude about meditation's technicalities. 
  • However, this does not rule out content-­oriented, devotional, or apophatic activities from our definition; rather, we put a greater focus on their technical elements, as opposed to the traditions' emphases. 
  • The ambiguity over the technicalities of meditation is often expressed directly in paradoxical expressions, such as Meister Eckhart's concept of a "pathless way" in the thirteenth to fourteenth centuries, or the Zen Buddhist notion of a "gateless gate." 
  • At other times, a strong skepticism of meditative techniques is juxtaposed with exhortations to meditate, such as when the “Platform Sutra” depicts Huineng, a seventh-­ to eighth-­century Chinese Zen master, claiming that he “has no techniques” (wu ji-­ liang), but in the same work exhorting his disciples to continue practicing “straight sitting” (duan-­zuo)
  • The contradiction is well-explained in “The Epistle of Prayer” in the Christian context: “It is not possible for a man to achieve perfection in this task unless these two methods, or two more like them, arrive first.” 
  • The beauty of this piece, however, is its suddenness, which comes without means.” 
  • Jiddu Krishnamurti is most known for his anti-meditation stance (“the truth is a pathless land”), yet others have viewed his method as a kind of systematic contemplative awareness training. 


A new collection of essays on the Zen practice of shi-kan ta-za (lit. "just sit") oscillates between insisting on the practice's lack of method and describing clearly technical elements such as attention to the lower abdomen, specific breathing practices, and a strong focus on correct bodily posture.  


  • Sheng Yen, a Buddhist teacher from Taiwan, calls one of his meditation methods "the way of no method." 
  • The strong goal-­orientation inherent in the concept of a method is one explanation for this skepticism or ambivalence. 

Techniques are used to produce certain results, yet actively pursuing outcomes may, paradoxically, make achieving them more difficult. 


  • The pursuit of a goal may distract the mind's attention away from the actual practice, and it may include a mental concentration so intense that it fails to see realities that are more transient and transitory. 
  • A technical approach may also promote apathy, as if the transformational benefits of meditation would happen on their own, almost mechanically or magically, rather than requiring a strong feeling of agency and personal involvement. 
  • It may also obstruct the personal commitment needed in certain contemplative traditions, such as the Sikh practices detailed in this book by Kristina Myrvold. 

A reliance on techniques is sometimes seen in the Christian tradition as standing in the way of God's grace, as in the following quotation from Jacques Philippe's Time for God about meditative prayer: 

"St. Jane Frances de Chantal used to say, 'The best method of prayer is not to have one,' because prayer is not obtained by artifice'—by technique, we would say ­today—­but by grace". 


In general, meditation's technical emphasis may be compared with prayer's content-­orientation. 


  • While both meditation and prayer seek to achieve specific results, prayer usually does so directly via its content, while meditation usually does it indirectly, in a nonlinear manner, using technical elements that build on universal processes. 
  • For example, prayer may seek to obtain forgiveness of sins by asking for it, or it may seek to achieve intimate contact with God through the expression of devotion, whereas meditation may seek to achieve its transformative effects at least in part through cross-­cultural elements that go beyond such content, such as directing one's attention to the breath, or repeating certain sound co­ordinates. 
  • The primary benefits of meditation come from the systematic application of a technique rather than any intentional effort, and such processes are usually outside the individual's direct control.
  • While the result of prayer may sometimes be out of one's control, it is usually thought of as relying on God's grace rather than any processes inherent in the human mind or body. 
  • Even technical elements are given content-oriented interpretations in various traditions, such as when the breath is interpreted as an expression of existence's transience in Buddhist settings, as a connection to cosmic energy in Daoist and Yogic contexts, or as the breath of life in Christian situations. 



Only from the viewpoint of an outsider can the universal processes involved in such elements be seen, regardless of the cultural context in which they are employed. Because this makes it easier to measure, scientific definitions of meditation tend to concentrate on its technical elements. 


  • Meditation involves “use of a particular method (well defined),” according to one often cited definition. Instead of or in addition to "technique," other definitions include words like "[psychoactive] exercise," "[mental] training," and "[self-­regulation/emotional and attentional regulatory] practice." 
  • Meditation's technical orientation is sometimes contrasted with other practices' content orientation by stating that meditation emphasizes "process rather than content," whereas non-meditative practices like self-hypnosis, visualization, and psychotherapy "aim primarily at changing mental contents..." such as thoughts, images, and emotions. 
  • However, in our view, meaningful content is not precluded from the concept of meditation as long as technical elements are included. 
  • When it comes to identifying meditation as a method, individual agency is a critical component of the practice approach. 
  • Meditation is something that the practitioner does, not something that is done to him or her. 



Our definition excludes so-called spontaneous or natural meditations, such as the Buddha's famous childhood experience of meditative bliss: 

"I recall once, when my father the Sakyan was working, and I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, then—quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful mental quali­ties." 


Most traditions, however, recognize that contemplative practice always takes place in a context, and that elements of the environment may be as important as the meditation method itself in initiating transformational change, as Sarah Shaw argues in this book for the Buddhist example. 


  • Individual or community meditation may be performed, and even communal meditation can include a lot of individual agency, as shown by the fact that monks who have been practicing meditation together for years don't always know what each other is doing. 
  • The degree of reliance on a teacher or master will also vary, ranging from no reliance beyond the initial instruction to so-­called guided meditations, in which all stages of the practice rely on continuous instructions from a teacher or a tape recording, as in some of the Sikh practices discussed in this volume by Myrvold. 
  • The master's function in Morten Schlütter's koan practices is an in-between scenario, in which the meditator is constantly given fresh koans to contemplate in addition to the original technical instructions.



You may also like to read more about Meditation, Guided Meditation, Mindfulness Mediation and Healing here.



What Are The Origins Of Meditation? What Is The Definition Of Meditation?



    What Is Meditation?


    In the west, the word meditation has a long and complicated history, and it has no precise counterpart in Asian traditions.


    • Encounters with Asian culture, particularly the spiritual traditions of India, have had a significant influence on contemporary use. 
    • In my observation, the modern concept of meditation represents a mingled knowledge of Western and Asian issues, a strange combination of the old and the new. 


    The word "meditation," typically in its Latin form meditti, has been associated with Christianity in the West, but also with philosophy and the arts.  

    In this complex tradition, the word usually refers to an associative and nonlinear form of thought that goes beyond simply logical thinking but nevertheless “engages the intellectual or discursive faculties,” as the Oxford English Dictionary puts it. 


    • Meditation is a kind of reading, prayer, or creative imagery that is frequently based on scripture. 
    • When Western academics started to interpret Indian and other Asian classics, the word "meditation" came to be used in a broader meaning, referring to Buddhist and Yogic practices that are "aimed at the elimination of rational or worldly mental activity," according to the Oxford English Dictionary. 
    • The technical focus of the scientific study of these activities has bolstered such non-discursive interpretations of the word. 
    • Almost all scientific meditation research investigates technical (rather than content-oriented) Asian techniques, and they have also dominated the general public's interest in meditation in the last half-century. 
    • As a consequence, the word "meditation" is now increasingly often used to describe activities that do not mainly involve "the intellectual or discursive powers." 
    • The Asian traditions examined include a wide range of activities, including discursive and non-discursive practices, content-oriented and strictly technical techniques. 
    • The current article tries to define the word "meditation" in a manner that raises interesting issues about the nature of meditation as a starting point for these debates. 



    How Does Meditation Work?


    Meditation is an attention-­based method for inner change, according to the proposed definition. 


    • This concept is wide and comprehensive, but it is also very radical in certain ways. 
    • On the one hand, it encompasses a variety of activities that are frequently referred to by other titles, such as ritual, prayer, and contemplation. 
    • However, it specifically excludes a variety of methods that are often referred to be meditation, such as pure relaxation techniques. 
    • Furthermore, the proposed definition is limited to technical activities and excludes spontaneously generated mental states. 
    • It also eliminates artistic or philosophical works that are often referred to as "meditations" on a certain subject. 


    The many elements of the concept of "meditation," as well as the boundaries between meditation and other phenomena, will be discussed in depth in this article. 


    We must also try to demonstrate the cultural significance of the definition by connecting these elements to the history of meditation throughout the Eurasian continent, using material from previous articles in this collection. 



    Meditation - Arriving At A Definition


    However, certain fundamental definitional issues must be addressed before further with this topic. Definitions that are generic:


    • Certain cultural historians object to the use of general, unitary definitions, such as the one that defines meditation as "an attention-based method for inner change," since they are intentionally oblivious to cultural and historical characteristics in some ways. 

    • In contrast to the historical, cultural, and social “situatedness” portrayed in most of the articles in this collection, such a description of meditation may readily be accused of the anachronistic and Eurocentric imposition of modern-­day Western ideas on a mainly premodern Asian material. 


    This is readily mistaken for what cultural historians derisively refer to as "essentialism," a way of thought that ascribes a constant and sometimes abstract "essence" to social, cultural, or other ­human events. 


    • As a result, generic definitions are often seen as tools by natural scientists, who tend to ignore cultural and historical differences and regard actual language usage and local conceptual frameworks as irrelevant to their study. 
    • Indeed, scientists engaged in biological research or psychology proposed the majority of early general definitions of meditation. 
    • Furthermore, although generic definitions avoid making explicit references to cultural and historical characteristics, they are far from neutral in the sense that they are unaffected by their surroundings. 
    • The above-mentioned description of meditation is connected to theoretical issues, which are also rooted in culture and history. 

    Some might argue that the definition's reference to "technique" reflects a strong Asian influence, since European and Middle Eastern forms of meditation are typically less technical and more devotional than many Indian and Chinese forms, while others might argue that the reference to "technique" is a product of modern scientific and technological concerns and thus in reality reflects a strong Asian influence, since many Indian and Chinese forms of meditation are typically less technical and more devotional, while others might argue that the reference to "technique" is a product of Both ideas may have some truth. 


    • The fact that a definition's theoretical implications are likely to reflect certain cultural and historical concerns merely means that these concerns should be explained and made the subject of critical thought, which is exactly what this article aims to accomplish. 
    • Our description refers to certain characteristics of a "thing" termed "meditation" that may, at least for the time being, be considered helpful and interesting to investigate and discuss. 
    • In any event, it's unclear what would constitute an alternative to a general definition. 

    We should not “rest satisfied with replicating native lexicography and, therefore, give in to the prevailing attitude of localism, labelling e ­very effort at generalization a western imposition,” as religion historian Jonathan Z. Smith puts it. 


    • The systematic stipulative and precising processes by which the academy disputes and tries to regulate second-­order, specialized use cannot be substituted for how ‘they' use a word.” 
    • In particular, if a comparative study of meditation were entirely focused on local ideas rather than a definition of meditation that transcends each unique language and culture, it would be difficult to understand what it would be comparing. 


    Smith's own proposal for a "self-consciously polythetic method of categorization that surrenders the notion of flawless, unique, single differentia" does not seem to address the problem. 


    • Smith acknowledges that he is aware of "no examples of attempts at the polythetic classification of religions or religious phenomena," and a reviewer of Smith's work observes that "the reader who expects an exhaustive list of [the] characteristics [of a polythetic definition of religion] is in for a disappointment; Smith does not supply it." 


    While some academics have made efforts in this approach, the task has mostly proved to be too difficult. 


    • Polythetic definitions have proven helpful in biology, where they have helped to solve issues left unsolved by conventional monothetic species definitions. 
    • Even polythetic definitions, in such circumstances, have a monothetic core, since they assume a shared evolutionary origin of species classed together. 
    • Meditation, as a social and personal phenomenon, has no such monothetic core—no permanent "essence," if you will. 


    Furthermore, while biological species are usually defined by features that have a real, distinct, and independent character, social and personal phenomena cannot be defined by reference to discrete empirical particulars, but [entail] instead a reliance on further features of the same character that are likewise polythetic.


    • Because “comparative investigations, whether morphological, functional, or statistical, are made more intimidating and maybe even unfeasible,” the immense complexity of polythetic categorization of social and personal phenomena may ultimately make it impractical. ­ 
    • There's no reason to believe that social and personal phenomena like meditation, which lack the monothetic core found in biological species, are naturally classified into classes. 
    • More than likely, they are not natural taxa, and any categorization, beyond the conceptualizations imposed on them by various languages in various ways, will include artificial elements. 
    • The goal of defining meditation is to create a single point of reference to which comparative studies of meditation may relate, rather than to propose a natural class of contemplative experiences. 
    • A monothetic definition fulfills this goal better than a polythetic one since it is more exact and less ambiguous, which is why some academics have wondered “whether a definition of a [polythetic] notion is, after all, a definition, because it is definitely imprecise.” 


    Despite accusations to the contrary, a precise generic definition can easily be combined with a keen awareness of the historical and cultural situatedness of natural language concepts, as well as the ambiguities, family resemblances, overlaps, and gradient distinctions that underpin both language and reality. 


    • Natural language notions like English "meditation"—or, for that matter, Arabic dhikr, Sanskrit dhyana, and Chinese jng-zu—are multivalent, changeable, and hazy, as are the social and personal experiences to which they relate. 
    • These ideas and experiences, on the other hand, may all be usefully linked to a single definition of meditation, even if they differ in different ways. 
    • If meditation is defined as a practice, the states of mind encompassed by the English word “meditation” and the Sanskrit dhyana, as well as the philosophical and artistic outputs alluded to by the English term, fall beyond the definition. 
    • However, the recitation indicated by the Arabic dhikr, the imagery implied by certain Tantric usage of the Sanskrit dhyana, and the sitting position required by the Chinese jng-zu limit these words to a considerably smaller range of activities than our common understanding of meditation. 
    • A monothetic definition provides us with a common focus in a comparative study of meditation, against which the idiosyncrasies of each tradition may be emphasized. 

    “Just as thinking about dhikr as meditation helps us 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 always easily recognizable,” Shahzad Bashir wrote in an essay on the personal and social aspects of the Sufi practice of dhikr. 


    • Bashir uses the phrase "in its most commonsensical English sense," but his argument is as true if we conceive of meditation as a technical word with a single definition. 
    • A rudimentary form of a generic definition would be simply stipulated, having no higher theoretical ambitions than to provide a common basis for the comparative study of comparable phenomena across cultures and languages. 
    • A theoretical definition is a more powerful form of a generic definition, since it not only has practical consequences but also aims to connect the defined concept to broader theoretical problems. 



    As we've seen, defining meditation as a technique rather than a state or a nontechnical form of practice implies a particular theoretical perspective on meditation, as does the idea of meditation being attention-­based rather than automatized ritualistic practice and practiced for long-­term inner transformation and not just passing changes of state or changes that affect only the body. 


    Because of these theoretical ramifications, a debate of the definition becomes much more than a ­simple terminological issue, since it touches on the nature of the phenomena to which the term refers.


    You may also like to read more about Meditation, Guided Meditation, Mindfulness Mediation and Healing here.