What Is the Origin of Meditation?
There are many types of meditation and we are here to help you deepen your practice with whichever tradition speaks to you. In previous blog posts, we have explained the basics of meditation, what meditation is and how to get started. Virtually every religion has a mystical side that uses some sort of meditation. Here, we’ll explore the origins of some of the most widely used types of meditation. We hope this inspires you to expand into your place of inner stillness!
It is widely believed Transcendental Meditation, or TM, originated in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the ancient yogic sage, and that these teachings were revived in the mid-twentieth century in India when Brahmananda Saraswati passed the technique down to Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. By the 1960s, Transcendental Meditation had become a full-fledged worldwide movement, with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi leading the way initiating thousands with the technique. Today, millions of people across the globe practice TM and it’s also taught in many schools and universities worldwide.
Vipassana meditation is said to mean insight into the true nature of reality. The meditator gains such insight by being mindful of the thoughts, breath, actions and feelings. Vipassana is derived from the Theravada branch of Buddhism, which uses the most ancient Buddhist texts and oldest recorded Buddhist teachings. Today, Vipassana largely focuses on the rise and fall of the abdomen during breathing, while the meditator remains mindful of feelings and thoughts—a style that Burmese monk Mahasi Sayadaw made known throughout Asia and the West.
Concentration meditation is the practice of the meditator making his or her attention single-pointed. This singular focus can be on the breath, the spiritual eye (the point between the eyebrows) or a chakra. When concentration is successfully and mindfully on one area, it is impossible to simultaneously let incessant thoughts roam free. Hong-Sau (which we discussed in our last blog) is a form of concentration meditation in which the meditator focuses both on the breath and the spiritual eye to calm the mind and heart and uplift their consciousness.
Kundalini is our “sleeping energy” that lies coiled at the base of our spine. Kundalini meditation is a practice to awaken this energy to purify our subtle energy system, or chakra system. The concept of Kundalini is found in The Upanishads, one of the oldest spiritual texts of India. Kundalini began to become more well-known in the West when psychiatrist Carl Jung used the concept to explain how to expand to higher levels of consciousness in the early twentieth-century. Since then, many great teachers of East and West have taught Kundalini yoga and meditation all over the world. Kundalini meditation has become widely used in Hatha Yoga in the West to help raise yogis’ awareness to help prepare our bodies and minds to handle the powerful rising energy of Kundalini.
Guided meditation has an eclectic background and is one of the most widely used types of meditation today, especially in the north and south Americas. With guided meditation, a person or audio recording will verbally lead the meditator through meditation, usually prompting the meditator to think about something specific, envision a particular sight, or bring awareness to certain areas. Music and other types of sound are often part of guided meditation. The origins of guided meditation are difficult to pinpoint, as this type of practice is diversified across the globe throughout many cultures, traditions and religions. The purpose of guided meditation remains the same as as other meditation practices—to bring the meditator to an expanded state of consciousness, often with techniques that focus on awareness, breathing and concentration.
Kriya Yoga is an ancient technique of meditation that works directly on the subtle energy of the meditator. It uses a particular breathing technique combined with deep concentration and devotion to powerfully draw energy inward and upward. By raising his energy, the meditator also lifts his consciousness. Kriya Yoga was lost to the world for many centuries and was only practiced in hidden corners of the Himilayas. It was brought back out in to the world by the great Indian master Lahiri Mahasaya and was later brought to the West by Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the renowned bestselling classic, Autobiography of a Yogi.
The ancient roots of meditation might just be as ancient as the breath, consciousness and concentration, suggesting that meditation is a practice that helps us return to our own roots, of who we truly are. What type of meditation do you practice or would like to practice and why? We’d love to hear your answer in a comment!