history of meditation goes as far back as humanity started the journey to self
awareness. So where and how did meditation start and develop in history? What
is the origin of meditation? Let’s start to look at the word meditation and
it’s origin and see if we can find some clues.
Origins of Meditation
word meditate stems from the Latin root meditatum,
i.e. to ponder. In the old Testament it means to sigh or murmur, but also to
meditate. When the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek, hāgâ became the
Greek melete. The Latin Bible then translated hāgâ/melete
into meditatio. The use of the term meditatio as
part of a formal, stepwise process of meditation goes back to the 12th century
monk Guigo II.
Records Found in the History of Meditation
Researchers speculate that primitive hunter-gatherer
societies may have discovered meditation and its altered states of
consciousness while staring at the flames of their fires.
We have found records of older prehistoric civilizations that
practiced ‘meditation’ in the form of repetitive and rhythmic chanting,
prayers and offerings to please the Gods. This is as close we get to the
origins of meditation.
Tantric meditation developed by South India tribes between
ten and fifteen thousand years ago, was an expression of the desire to
understand the conscious mind.
Tantric meditation after being further developed seven
thousand years ago by the yogi Shiva, became an integral part of Taoism,
Buddhism, the Tibetan and Zen varieties and Sufism.
Indian scriptures called “tantras” mentioned meditation
techniques 5000 years ago.
Meditation is also practiced and mentioned in the Hindu
Vedantism which dates back to 1500 BC.
Buddha found enlightenment in and around 500 BC, and brought
forth Buddhist meditation which many of us associate meditation with
Buddha. But the History of Meditation began far before that.
Around 600 BC Taoist in China began developing meditation
practices as did the Buddhist’s in India, 100 years later.
The Pāli Canon, which dates to 1st century BCE considers
Indian Buddhist meditation as a step towards salvation. By the time
Buddhism was spreading in China, the Vimalakirti Sutra which dates to 100
CE included a number of passages on meditation, clearly pointing to Zen.
The Silk Road played an important role in the history of
meditation. Besides silk and other goods, the silk road also brought
Buddhist meditation to other oriental countries.
In Japan the first meditation hall opened in 653.
Returning from China around 1227, Dōgen wrote the instructions
The Islamic practice of Dhikr meditates with the repetition
of the 99 Names of God in the Qur’an since the 8th or 9th century.
Between the 10th and 14th centuries, hesychasm was developed,
particularly on Mount Athos in Greece, and involves the repetition of the
By the 12th century, the practice of Sufism recorded specific
meditative techniques, and its followers practiced breathing controls and
the repetition of holy words.
Western Christian meditation progressed from the 6th century
practice of Bible reading among Benedictine monks called Lectio Divina,
i.e. divine reading.
Its four formal steps as a “ladder” were
defined by the monk Guigo II in the 12th century with the Latin terms
”lectio”, ”meditatio”, ”oratio”, and ”contemplatio” (i.e. read,
ponder, pray, contemplate).
Western Christian meditation was further developed by saints
such as Ignatius of Loyola and Teresa of Avila in the 16th century.
Meditation was indeed for a long time deeply rooted and
popular in the East before it began spreading in the West much much later.
Only in the middle of the 20th Century began meditation it’s journey of
popularity in the West.