The History of Meditation
While many people are familiar with meditation, they aren’t familiar with how wide-reaching this practice really is and just how far back the history of meditation dates.
In our society today, meditation is an extremely common practice and one that has helped millions of people find inner peace in their lives.
So, where exactly does meditation come from? Simply put, the art of meditation is so old and so established, that it can be difficult to determine who first started it and where it first came from. However, this brief outline of the history of meditation will help you get a better feel for the history of this art-form.
The Origins of Meditation
It is difficult to pinpoint how long meditation has been around for, and where exactly the practice originated, but there are some historical cues that may gives us some clues on where and when meditation started.
There is no exact date on when meditation began, bust most experts agree it was around 5,000 years ago that meditation first came to fruition. And while many people today use meditation as part of their routine, it was thought that meditation was first a practice mostly for hunters and gatherers.
These primitive individuals passed their meditative practices down from generation to generation, laying down the foundation of the meditative practices that we know of today.
Yogis and Sages
When you talk about the early days of meditation, it is important to mention Yogis and Sages. Yogis meditated in caves, as did Sages (rishis) were part of the Vedic culture. This is the oldest tradition in meditation, and there are still many people who choose to meditate in caves and follow these practices.
A Timeline on Meditation’s History
Here are a few key dates on the timeline of meditation that can help you get a better idea of where this practice first started and how it developed.
3,500-5,000 BCE- Cave paintings in India first appeared around this time. These images showed people sitting in meditative postures with their eyes partially closed.
1,500 BCE- This is the first time that meditation was first mentioned in written form in the Vedas.
6th Century BCE- Siddhartha Gautama abandoned his royal life as a prince and set out to attain a state of Enlightenment. During this process he learned about meditation and philosophy from the best Yogis in his region.
He then spend the next decade of his life teaching meditation, and eventually became the Buddha and his teachings are the foundation of the Buddhist religion as its known today.
Between 600-500 BCE- Meditation grew tremendously and developed in Taoist China and Buddhist India.
400-200 BCE- The Bhagavad Gita was written. This is an epic poem that is still referenced today and a scripture that discusses the philosophy of yoga and meditation. It is seen as a guide to how to live a spiritual life.
653 CE- Years later the first ever meditation hall opened in Japan. In the 8th century, Japanese Buddhism began to evolve and meditation halls like this became even more common.
History of Meditation in the Western World
After these early milestones, meditation began taking off even more starting in the 18th century. During this time, translations of these ancient meditation teachers began to reach western scholars.
This is when meditation first really came to the western world.
Another big milestone occurred in 1922 when Hermann Hesse published the famous book Siddhartha. This was the story of the Buddha’s spiritual journey of self-discovery and really brought the teachings of the Buddha to people around the globe.
Another popular book was published in 1927 when Tibetan Book of the Dead was published. This book is thought to be responsible for attracting westerners to Tibetan Buddhism.
In 1958 Jack Kerouac published The Dharma Bums, which highlighted the famous author’s experience with Buddhism and attracted a great deal of popular interest and curiosity in meditation. In the 1960s, Hatha Yoga and Transcendental Meditation not only became popular in America but throughout Europe as well.
In 1979 Joh Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusetts—to treat patients with chronic illnesses. It was one of the first major forays of meditation as a medical treatment.
Almost 20 years later, Dr. Deepak Chopra and Dr. David Simon then founded the Chopra Center for Wellbeing—establishing the official foray of meditation into our modern world and highlighting its impact it can have on our health and wellbeing.
Today, of course, you can find meditation centers, facilities, treatment plans and programs online and in communities around the country, and around the world. While it took a long time to get there—today meditation has truly become a popular fixture in our culture.
If you are currently practicing meditation and are curious about where this practice first came from, then learning about the history of meditation can really help bring meditation into focus for you. The more you understand about meditation and its journey to get to where it is today, the better your appreciation of this practice will be.