The Background of Meditation: Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholic, Jewish
The practice of meditation has been around for several millennia. Although there are no recorded texts which would point exactly when this practice started, several ancient civilizations became the cradle of today’s meditation practices. India particularly is hailed as the proponent of meditation as an organized practice. Over centuries, many Hindi scholars have written about meditation, from the ways of doing it to its benefits. Some of the well-known Hindi texts include the Vedas and the Yoga Sutras which was written by Patanjali.
But no one has arguably been more influential in the world of meditation than Siddharta Gautama, otherwise known as Buddha. In 500 BC, he achieved enlightenment through the practice of meditation. His influence spread throughout Asia and eventually the whole world.
While the East has been practicing meditation for several centuries already, the Western world picked the practice up much later. In fact, it was only in the mid-20th century when meditation became a popular practice among Westerners.
Meditation generally refers to the state of concentrated focus on an object of thought or awareness. The background of meditation stems from the aim to get into a higher state of consciousness. It is usually based on ancient beliefs that make up the component of eastern religions. Its practice has bee going on over 5,000 years.
When it comes to meditation, different beliefs hold different spiritual and psychological practices in order to develop or achieve a higher degree of mental consciousness and awareness. Many religions have developed their own method and technique of meditation that allows their adherents to arrive at a higher state of consciousness.
The differences in the techniques used may be classified according to their focus. There are certain techniques that focus on a certain perception or experience while there are others that focus on a specific object to achieve higher consciousness. There are also some forms of meditation that combine the use of open focus and the use of a specific object for focus in their practice to achieve a higher state of consciousness.
“The act of meditation is being spacious.”
The Background of Meditation: Hinduism
One of the popular religions known to practice meditation is Hinduism. It is considered as the oldest religion that focuses on meditation as a spiritual and religious practice. There are several forms of meditation that is practiced in the different Hinduism sects. The principal of them is the Yoga, one of the six schools of Hindu philosophy. It provides several types of meditation that Hindu believers and even a number of Western adherents have learned to practice.
One of the many forms of Yoga is the Raja Yoga which states the eight limbs of spiritual practices, with half of them classified as meditation. Then there is the Vedanta which is a form of Jnana Yoga. The Surat Shabd Yoga uses a form of meditation that uses sound and light to achieve a higher state of consciousness. There is also the Bhakti Yoga which practices a form of meditation that focuses on an object of love or devotion. The Japa Yoga which practices a form of meditation where a mantra is being repeated aloud or silently. There is also the Hatha Yoga where different postures and positions are used in meditation in order to raise one's spiritual energy.
In Hinduism, the object of meditation is to achieve a calm state of mind. In the Yoga Sutras, there are five different states of mind being described. There is the Ksipta which describes an agitated state of mind that is unable to think to listen or remain quiet. Then there is the Mudha, a state of mind where no information seems to reach into the brain. The Viksipta is considered as a higher state of mind where information may reach the mind but it is not able to process it. In this state, the mind moves from one thought to another and in a confused inner speech.
The Ekagra is another higher state of the mind characterized by calmness but not asleep. This state allows a person to stay focused and pay attention. Probably the highest state that a mind can achieve is in Nurodha where the mind is no longer disturbed by erratic thoughts and is completely focused and totally centered in what a person is doing. This will provide you with a basic background of meditation that will allow you to understand better how it is being practiced.
“Undisturbed calmness of mind is attained by cultivating friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and indifference toward the wicked.”
The Background of Meditation: Buddhism
Is Buddhist meditation a religion in itself or simply a mental exercise like most others? While Buddhist meditation is not a religion, it is inspired by the goals of the Buddhism religion. After all, the human mind is the heart of Buddhist teaching.
The Dhamma, or the teaching of the Buddha, is probably the most misunderstood among all other religions. The Buddha is also being likened to God and people have considered the Buddhist meditation as a hypnotic method to flee from the real world.
There are eight noble truths involve in Buddhism. The first noble truth is the dukkha, a Pali word which means unpleasant experiences like worry, pain, sorrow, fear, etc. The second noble truth points out that dukkha is the consequence of desire and craving. The third noble truth says that dukkha can be resolved, while the fourth noble truth tells us the means by which the third noble truth can be achieved.
Buddhism, through the fourth noble truth, is then closely linked to Buddhist meditation. It was transformed into a method or discipline of releasing people from the bondage of negative feelings and enhancing the nature of human life. This part of the Dhamma is known as the Noble Eightfold Path, which encompasses lessons that can influence the personal and social aspect of one’s life.
It may be understood therefore that the cause of everyone’s agony is psychological. Logic would tell us that the cure would be psychological as well. Thus, Buddhism designed mind exercises called Buddhist meditation aimed to cure these psychological problems. However, Buddhist meditation is often confused with other practices that that claim to have possessed powers after engaging in meditation, which is totally in contrast to the Eightfold Path.
Some people view meditation, Buddhist meditation included, as a higher state of the pious life. That meditation is a step towards sainthood or being a holy person. Meditation is not an act of converting a sinner to have a deeper commitment to his religion. But it is just a good instrument to free oneself from the clutter that fills the mind in order to have a more serene life.
The goals of Buddhist meditation do not differ much from other methods of meditation. Specifically, though, Buddhist meditation aims to get rid of the dukkha and attain Nirvana. According to many Buddhist meditation practitioners, Nirvana is too difficult to put into words. But they describe it as the highest point of moral and psychological maturation.
Since Buddhist meditation, like any other technique, is a personal experience which brings about self-fulfillment, it must be practiced according to one’s conviction and faith that enlightenment and bliss are attainable.
“We must experience the Truth in a direct, practical and real way. This is only possible in the stillness and silence of the mind, and this is achieved by means of meditation.”
The Background of Meditation: Catholic
Meditation is in one way or another, a method of praying. Praying is raising the mind and heart to God. Vocal praying involves using words like in a normal conversation, either our loud or silently. Meditation or to meditate, on the other hand, is using the imagination instead of using speech like this.
Catholic meditation is very different from the perception of some religions where “meditation” involves setting the mind free of thinking about things, “quieting the mind”. Catholic meditation is the opposite which is more a very active and thoughtful responsibility, not physically but mentally, a kind of prayer.
Catholic meditation has a set of four different steps for meditation. But before going into that, one should also consider posture and choosing a topic.
The position of the body in catholic meditation is not essential, but there are proper ways to position your self for meditation. Like praying, it can be done kneeling or sitting. In sitting, it is always best to do it in the liturgical way of sitting posture; feet flat on the floor, slightly back, hands on the lap, palms down, shoulders a little bit forward, and head slightly bowed.
Choosing a topic
Meditating on something is going to be needed. Choosing something from the gospel is best. Any scene or event recorded by the Evangelists or a recent gospel you heard or a gospel just about to come up. A mystery of the rosary or a station of the cross as a topic for mediation can also be used.
4 steps of Catholic Meditation:
1. Place yourself in God’s presence
Before beginning meditation, it is important to bring to mind God’s presence. This doesn’t mean that you must be physically in a church, you just need to think of yourself being watched over by God and not being alone. Sometimes this can be done quickly, but sometimes it may take a while, but in any way, it is very important to do this before beginning to meditate.
2. Ask for God’s help
Seeking for God’s help is recognizing that any benefits from the meditation are God’s free gift and not a result of our own natural thought process. No person can do without God’s help. Ask for help in your prayer from the Blessed Mother, the Saints, or Angels in the church that you are meditating in.
3. Actual Meditation
The meditation consists of two parts: the first thing to do is to imagine a scene you have chosen to meditate on, picture the scene, the appearance, and also the sounds. Include the background or any noticeable smells in your imaginary scene. The key is to make as vivid and realistic scene as possible; the second phase of meditating is to place yourself into that scene you’ve just imagined and interacting with the scene as what you may have done if you were really there.
4. Give thanks
First, thank God for his help in your meditation, then proceed to thank all those whom you asked for help during the second step.
Catholic meditation is complete after the fourth step. The catholic way of meditation has always been differentiated from other forms of meditation, as its basis of the meditation is faith and belief of the Catholic religion.
“Meditation is like a gym in which you develop the powerful mental muscles of calm and insight.”
The Background of Meditation: Jewish
Jewish meditation has existed since biblical times. The practice takes many forms, such as sitting silently and emptying the mind; focusing on Hebrew letters, words, or phrases; an awareness and channeling of breath; chanting; and contemplating Torah philosophy. The meditated before or after prayer sometimes or other times they did it independent of prayer.
Jewish meditation tradition has been hidden for centuries since rabbis worried that it might lead to idolatry in the Diaspora, or that might be of danger to uninitiated people. At the time of emancipation, meditation was strongly disavowed by secularized Jews because it was a reminder of ghetto life considered “old-fashioned”. During the Holocaust, most of the Eastern European rabbis who had hanged on to the knowledge of it were killed.
What is Jewish meditation?
Jewish meditation as described is any kind of meditation when done in a Jewish context, in the service of Jewish spiritual activity as it were in the Jewish morphic field. The basic definition and aim of Jewish meditation is “stabilizing the mind” called in Hebrew “yishuv ha da’at”. This means reaching a state of mind which is settled, awake, clear, relaxed, and renewed. Hebrew is understood as the language of the soul, and the root of all human languages, it is the means of communication that exceeds the consciousness of separation between man and God and between everyday awareness and deeper levels of the soul.
There are many Jewish meditation techniques and is best obtained in any skill with steady effort and practice. A variety of meditative practices exist with Kabbalah. Each generation making its own contribution, whatever the method though, it should help strengthen our sense of connection with the Source of Life, and this connection should be joined together into our daily life. Here is a shortlist of a variety of techniques that have been used in Judaism throughout the ages:
Music has been used to induce a prophetic state of consciousness. Song has great powers of healing and they open the gates of holiness.
Accurately visualizing a letter (aleph-bet) allows you to get in touch with its particular vibration, just as work of arts remind a certain feeling so does each letter of the aleph-bet call forth certain energy. Accurate visualization of each letter can be a very powerful meditative technique.
Praying from what has been thought by sages of the Talmud and spontaneous prayers that arise in our own heart. Prayers should not become mechanical and devoid sincerity and saying a prayer in our own words and in our own language letting Him know all our needs and our thoughts and feelings is recommended.
There is a story about a young kid, that in the fast of "Yom Kipor" (Jewish holiday) came with his father to the Synagogue. The kid couldn't talk as he was mute. As the people chant the prayers and the holy songs, the energy was raising and raising. Suddenly a strong sound of a whistle came from the crowd, it was the mute boy, his father started yelling at him "what have you done! you disturbed all the people in their prayers", The rabbi came to the kid and hugged him, and told everybody "that kid just open the gates of heaven as his prayer came straight from his heart!".
This is also a meditative technique found in Judaism, if one does not know what to say in prayer, then one may just repeat the phrase “Ribbono Shel Olam” (master of the universe).
There are other techniques such as I-Thou, Nature, Community, Hashmal, and others in Jewish meditation. Jewish meditations taught are a traditional but timeless method for making one's self new, and in the process arriving at a stabilized mind, a basically healthy mind which is believed to be the foundation for a good life and service of man and God.
“The more regularly and the more deeply you meditate, the sooner you will find yourself acting always from a center of peace.”
Today, more and more meditation centers and organizations crop up in the West. While meditation used to be intertwined with religious practices, a good number of Western meditation centers are stripped off this spiritual aspect. They usually focus now on the health benefits of this practice especially in the fast-paced world of today.
But regardless of the loss of the spiritual side of meditation, it is still widely recognized for its benefits to people’s mental well-being. It was and it still remains as one of the central aspects of meditation.