With 360 million followers, Buddhism is the fourth-largest religion in the world.
Buddhism is frequently considered a sort of psychology rather than a religion due to its emphasis on meditation and mindfulness.
Due to this emphasis, a lot of people think meditation is Buddhist… but is it?
What is the origin of meditation? Let’s find out!
Table of Contents
The Origin Of Meditation
Just like it’s hard to say how long meditation has been around, it’s also hard to say with exact precision where it came from.
Around 1500 BCE, Vedantism (which is a Hindu tradition in India) produced the first written records about meditation.
Historians, on the other hand, think that people were meditating before this time, as early as 3000 BCE.
Between 600 and 500 BCE, historians wrote about the development of other forms of meditation in Taoist China and Buddhist India.
The exact origins of these practices, especially Buddhist meditation, are still debated by historians.
Meditation was thought to be a key part of the formula for salvation, which included morality, introspective concentration, knowledge, and freedom.
Between 400 and 100 BCE, Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras, which describe the eight parts of yoga.
The Bhagavad Gita, which talks about the ideology of yoga, meditation, and how to live a spiritual life, was written at the same time.
The Silk Road also brought meditation to other cultures in the West, where it influenced religions like Judaism.
Later, in the third century AD, Plotinus came up with ways to meditate, but they were hard to fit into the Christian religion.
The History of Buddhism
Siddhartha Gautama, who later became known as “the Buddha” and started Buddhism, lived in the 5th century B.C.
Gautama was born in what is now Nepal to a wealthy family as a prince. Gautama was moved by the suffering in the world, even though he had a good life.
He chose to give up his luxurious life and live in poverty. When this didn’t make him happy, he started talking about the “Middle Way,” which means being somewhere in the middle of two extremes.
So, he tried to live a life without social luxuries but also without being too poor.
Buddhists think that Gautama found enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi tree.
He had been looking for it for six years. He spent the rest of his life teaching others how to reach this spiritual state.
Around 483 B.C., when Gautama died, his followers began to set up a religious movement. The teachings of Buddha became the basis for what would become Buddhism.
Is Meditation Buddhist?
As explored in the first chapter, it’s hard to tell where meditation exactly originated.
As we saw, the first written records of meditation were produced by Vedatism, which is a Hindu tradition in India, in 1500BCE.
So if we were to base the origin of meditation on the first written records, meditation would actually be Hindu and not Buddhist.
The first written records about Buddhist meditation appeared hundreds of years later between 600 and 500 BCE.
Then again, some historians believe meditation started way before the first written records. In addition, the exact origins of especially Buddhist meditation, are still debated by historians.
So it may as well have started with the Buddhists.
Do All Buddhists Meditate?
In the West, many Buddhist traditions put a lot of emphasis on meditation as a basic practice that is often taught to newcomers.
But most Buddhists did not meditate until the 20th century, when it became popular for ordinary people to do it. In the past, only certain monks were taught how to meditate.
Even the few Buddhists in history who thought meditation was important have not questioned that one could live a meaningful and genuine Buddhist life without meditating.
Some Buddhist schools put more emphasis on ways to practice than just sitting and meditating.
People can awaken by chanting, walking, seeing the Buddha and other figures in their minds, and making ritual works of art.
In Tibetan Buddhism, for example, sitting meditation is an important part of the path, but prostrations, visualizations, and prayers are also seen as important ways to practice.
Difference between buddhism and Hinduism
Although some might not know it, there is a difference between Buddhism and Hinduism.
Buddhism is about becoming awakened (Buddhi) by recognizing, experiencing, and validating the four noble truths.
In Hinduism, attaining the highest life is a process of removing the bodily distractions from life, allowing one to eventually understand the Brahma nature within.
How Do Monks Meditate? What Are Buddhist Meditations?
Buddhism has a lot of different ways to meditate that can help us get everything we want: peace, letting go of anger, growing compassion, and even meditations that will bring us to ultimate, everlasting happiness and wisdom (also known as achieving Enlightenment in Buddhism).
Here is a list of Buddhist meditations:
- Samatha Meditation or Calm Abiding Meditation
- Walking Meditation
- Vipassana Meditation
- Metta (Loving-Kindness) Meditation
- Meditation on the Sameness of Self and Others
- Tonglen Meditation
- Meditation on the Faults of Samsara
- Meditation on our Precious Human Life
- Meditation on Impermanence
- Meditation on Equanimity
- Meditation on Remembering the Kindness of Mother Sentient Beings
- Meditation on the Impurities of our Bodies
- Deity Meditations
Online Meditation/Mindfulness courses
As we explored, the exact origins of meditation are debatable.
If we were to follow the first written records of meditation, we can conclude that the origins of meditation actually lie in Hinduism.
However, since it is believed meditation started long before these written records, no one can say with complete certainty!
If you have any questions feel free to let me know in the comments below!