From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Meditation usually refers to a state of extreme relaxation and concentration, in which the body is generally at rest and the mind quieted of surface thoughts. Several major religions include ritual meditation; however, meditation itself need not be a religious or spiritual activity. Most of the more popular systems of meditation are of Eastern origin.
Another form of meditation is more closely akin to prayer and worship, wherein the practitioner turns spiritual thoughts over in the mind and engages the brain in higher thinking processes. The goal in this case is the receipt of spiritual insights and new understanding.
Strategies common to many forms
Meditation generally involves discounting wandering thoughts and fantasies, and calming and focusing the mind. Meditation does not necessarily require effort and can be experienced as "just happening". Physical postures include sitting cross-legged, standing, lying down, and walking (sometimes along designated floor patterns). Quiet is often desirable, and some people use repetitive activities such as deep breathing, humming or chanting to help induce a meditative state.
Meditation can be done with the eyes closed (as long as one does not fall asleep), or with the eyes open: focusing the eyes on a certain point of an object or image, and keeping the eyes constantly looking at that point.
Purposes of meditation
The purposes for which people meditate vary almost as widely as practices. It may serve simply as a means of relaxation from a busy daily routine, or even as a means of gaining insight into the nature of reality or of communing with one's God. Many have found improved concentration, awareness, self-discipline and equanimity through meditation. The disciplined self-cultivation aspect of meditation plays a central role in Taoism, Sikhism, Hinduism and Buddhism. Generally, there is religious meditation, where one meditates to commune with or on the Divine, and focus meditation, where one meditates to improve health or mental faculties. Very often there is significant overlap between these two positions in many meditative traditions.
In the Samadhi or Shamatha, or concentrative, techniques of meditation, the mind is kept closely focused on a particular word, image, sound, person, or idea. This form of meditation is often found in Hindu and Buddhist traditions (especially the Pure Land school), as well as in Christianity (Gregorian chant, for example), Jewish Kabbalah, and in some modern metaphysical schools.
Mindful awareness traditions
Vipassana and anapanasati are parts of the broader notion of mindful awareness, which is part of the Noble Eightfold Path, the ultimate goal in Buddhism that leads to Enlightenment, and expounded upon in the Satipatthana sutta. While in anapanasati meditation the attention is focused on the breath, in vipassana the mind is instead trained to be acutely aware of not only breathing, but all things that one comes to experience.
The concept of vipassana works in believing that the meditator's mind will eventually take note of every physical and mental experience "real-time" or as it happens, the goal being that it will gradually reveal to the practitioner how one's mind unknowingly attaches itself to things that are impermanent in nature. Thus, when such things cease to exist, one experiences the suffering from its loss. This in turn can gradually free one's mind from the attachment to the impermanent that is the root of suffering. In other words, in vipassana (insight, or seeing things as they are) meditation, the mind is trained to notice each perception or thought that passes without "stopping" on any one. This is a characteristic form of meditation in Buddhism.
However, in at least some forms of vipassana, one does not attend to whatever perceptions arise, but purposely moves one's attention over their body part by part, checking for perceptions, being aware and equanimous with them, and moving on. This form of meditation has some resemblance with "choiceless awareness" — the kind of meditation that J. Krishnamurti addressed.
Jesus, according to the New Testament, often left his apostles and the crowds to distance himself in the wilderness areas of Palestine to engage in long periods of spiritual meditation and fasting wherein he is reported to have communicated with God. The 40 days following his baptism were spent in such a manner. Christian traditions have varying approaches to the subject of meditation, but they are especially to be found in the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions, often associated with monastic practises.
Health applications of meditation
Meditation has entered the mainstream of health care as a method of stress and pain reduction. For example, in an early study in 1972, transcendental meditation was shown to effect the human metabolism by lowering the biochemical byproducts of stress, such as lactate (lactic acid), and by decreasing heart rate and blood pressure and inducing favorable brain waves. (Scientific American 226: 84-90 (1972))
As a method of stress reduction, meditation is often used in hospitals in cases of chronic or terminal illness to reduce complications associated with increased stress including a depressed immune system. There is a growing consensus in the medical community that mental factors such as stress significantly contribute to a lack of physical health, and there is a growing movement in mainstream science to fund and do research in this area (e.g. the establishment by the NIH in the U.S. of 5 research centers to research the mind-body aspects of disease.)
Dr. James Austin, a neurophysiologist at the University of Colorado, reported that Zen meditation rewires the circuitry of the brain in his landmark book Zen and the Brain. This has been confirmed using sophisticated imaging techniques which examine the electrical activity of the brain.
Dr. Herbert Benson of the Mind-Body Medical Institute, which is affiliated with Harvard and several Boston hospitals, reports that meditation induces a host of biochemical and physical changes in the body collectively referred to as the "relaxation response." The relaxation response includes changes in metabolism, heart rate, respiration, blood pressure, and brain chemistry.
- Hinduism's two major meditative traditions evolved with the schools of Yoga and Vedanta, two of the six limbs of Hindu philosophy.
- Theravada Buddhist practice involves both Samadhi and Vipassana, as well as the developing of "loving kindness" (Metta).
- Mahayana Buddhism practices various forms of Dhyana (Chan or Zen), visualizations, prayer and chanting.
- There are religious meditations associated with Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
- Taoism has a long history of meditative studies.
- Many martial arts schools teach forms of meditation, especially based on Buddhist or Taoist models.
- Advaita Vedanta
- meditation (alternative medicine)
- New Age
- Silva Mind Control
- Tao Yin
- The Whirling Dervishes
- Agni Yoga 101: Link to the Soul and Purify the Vehicles by Using the Solar Fire of the Soul Star (http://home.thirdage.com/Spirituality/rainbowbridge1/)
- 40 meditation practices in four positions (http://www.chriscorrigan.com/parkinglot/meditation.html)
- Sounds That Soothe - meditation music (http://www.soundsthatsoothe.co.uk)
- Free meditation classes online - Meditation Society of Australia (http://www.meditation.org.au/online.asp)
- Vipassana meditation website (http://www.dhamma.org/)
- Blue Mountain Center of Meditation (http://www.nilgiri.org/)
- Kadampa Buddhism (http://www.kadampa.org/english/index.php/)
- Kundalini Meditation (http://www.sacredspaceyogasanctuary.com/)
- Meditative Running (http://www.religiousbook.net/Books/Online_books/Pr/Practices_44.html)
- Jiddu Krishnamurti on meditation (http://www.katinkahesselink.net/kr/meditate.htm)
- New York Times Article on the increasing use of meditation in hospitals (http://www.nytimes.com/library/national/science/health/112399hth-cancer-meditation.html)
- International Zen Association (http://www.zen-azi.org/)
- A personal account of and help with inquisitive meditation on 'Who am I' (http://homepage.mac.com/nhpfister)
- Wildmind on-line meditation teaching and resource (http://www.wildmind.org)
- Instructions for concentration and mindfulness (http://www.geocities.com/derekacameron)
- Mind Power (http://www.mindpowerwinners.com/didyou.html)
- Energy Dynamics (http://www.energydynamicstraining.com/default.htm)
- Atmashakti (http://www.atmashakti.org/)
- Wu style T'ai Chi Ch'uan (http://www.wustyle.com/)
- Matthew Flickstein and Bhante Henepola Gunaratana. (1998) Journey to the Center: A Meditation Workbook. Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86-171141-6
- John Daishin Buksbazen, Peter Matthiessen (Foreword). (2002) Zen Meditation in Plain English. Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86-171316-8
- Meditation The First And Last Freedom, by Osho
- Kamalashila, Meditation: The Buddhist Way of Tranquillity and Insight, Windhorse Publications, 1996. ISBN 1-899579-05-2
- James Austin, Zen and the Brain, Cambridge: MIT Press, 1999, ISBN 0262511096