Showing posts with label Meditative. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Meditative. Show all posts

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.