Aspects of the Soul: Meditation

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Meditation describes a state of concentrated attention on some object of thought or awareness. It usually involves turning the attention inward to the mind itself. Meditation is often recognized as a component of Eastern religions, where it has been practiced for over 5,000 years. It has also become mainstream in Western culture. It encompasses any of a wide variety of spiritual practices which emphasize mental activity or quiescence. Meditation can be used for personal development, or to focus the mind on God (or an aspect of God).

+++++ Overview

The word meditation comes from the Latin meditatio, which originally indicated every type of physical or intellectual exercise, then later evolved into the more specific meaning "contemplation." The use of the word meditation in the western Christian tradition has referred generally to a more active practice of reflection on some particular theme such as "meditation on the sufferings of Christ". Similarly in Western philosophy, one finds, for example, Descartes' Meditations on First Philosophy, a set of six mental exercises which systematically analyze the nature of reality.

"Meditation" in its modern sense refers to Yogic meditation that originated in India. In the late nineteenth century, Theosophists adopted the word "meditation" to refer to various spiritual practices drawn from Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Eastern religions. Thus the English word "meditation" does not exclusively translate any single term or concept, and can be used to translate words such as the Sanskrit dhyana, samadhi and bhavana.

Meditation is usually defined as one or more of the following:

* a state of relaxed concentration on the reality of the present moment
* a state that is experienced when the mind dissolves and is free of all thoughts
* "concentration in which the attention has been liberated from restlessness and is focused on God."
* focusing the mind on a single object (such as a religious statue, or one's breath, or a mantra)
* a mental "opening up" to the divine, invoking the guidance of a higher power reasoned analysis of religious teachings (such as impermanence, for Buddhists).

Meditation may be for a religious purpose, but even before being brought to the West it was used in secular contexts, such as the martial arts. Beginning with the Theosophists, though, meditation has been employed by a number of religious and spiritual movements, such as Yoga and the New Age movement, as well as limited use in Christianity.

From the point of view of psychology, meditation can induce an altered state of consciousness. The goals of meditation are varied, and range from spiritual enlightenment, to the transformation of attitudes, to better cardiovascular health.

+++++ Types of meditation

According to Perez-De-Albeniz & Holmes (2000), the different techniques of meditation can be classified according to their focus. Some focus on the field or background perception and experience, also called mindfulness; others focus on a preselected specific object, and are called "concentrative" meditation. There are also techniques that shift between the field and the object.

Categorizing the varieties of meditation is difficult. One common way is according to religion or lineage. Some meditative traditions, such as yoga or tantra, are common to several religions or occur outside religious contexts. Therefore, to avoid controversy, this article will not attempt to classify all meditations into a religious class or lineage.

+++++ Hinduism

Hinduism can safely be considered the oldest religion that professed meditation as a spiritual and religious practice. Yoga (Devanagari) is one of the six schools of Hindu philosophy, focusing on meditation. In India, Yoga is seen as a means to both physiological and spiritual mastery.

There are several types of meditation in Hinduism. These include (but are not limited to):

* Vedanta, a form of Jnana Yoga.
* Raja Yoga as outlined by Patanjali, which describes eight "limbs" of spiritual practices, half of which might be classified as meditation. Underlying them is the assumption that a yogi should still the fluctuations of his or her mind: Yoga cittavrrti nirodha.
* Surat shabd yoga, or "sound and light meditation"
* Japa Yoga, the repetition of a mantrait is very important
* Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of love and devotion, in which the seeker is focused on an object of devotion, eg Krishna
* Hatha Yoga, in which postures and meditations are aimed at raising the spiritual energy, known as * * Kundalini, which rises through energy centres known as chakras
* Sahaja Yoga, the yoga of instant self-realization through the awakening of dormant Kundalini energy.

Meditation techniques involve realizing one's spiritual self. The basic premise is the acceptance of equality among all and consequent divinity of all and is intrinsically positive and affirming. It takes away many of the false constructs that are the reason for most misery and frames life as a gloriously positive thing. Since every Being is equal and equally divine, there is no reason to hate, fear, indulge in vanity, greed, pettiness etc. When these preoccupations of the mind are removed, each Being's time and energy are now available to discover what fulfills the Self in truth and to align his or her actions and experiences in accord to that. This is not the same as saying one must repress normal life experiences and consequent emotions - it is to view them in the right context and with the right perspective and to let them pass if they are contrary to the true Being. This allows for normal life experiences in all their colourfulness without the associated attachment and long term baggage.

Although rooted in Hindu philosophy, meditation techniques may be regarded as secular in the same sense that the Mindfulness techniques based on the Buddhist tradition are. Even a very scientific person would not feel that the approach takes away from his or her curiosity about things, scientific scepticism and experience-based mode of learning.

+++++ Buddhism

Meditation has always been central to Buddhism. The Lord Buddha himself was said to have achieved enlightenment while meditating under a Bodhi tree. Most forms of Buddhism distinguish between two classes of meditation practices, shamatha and vipassana, both of which are necessary for attaining enlightenment. The former consists of practices aimed at developing the ability to focus the attention single-pointedly; the latter includes practices aimed at developing insight and wisdom through seeing the true nature of reality. The differentiation between the two types of meditation practices is not always clear cut, which is made obvious when studying practices such as Anapanasati which could be said to start off as a shamatha practice but that goes through a number of stages and ends up as a vipassana practice.

Tibetan Buddhism (Vajrayana) emphasizes tantra for its senior practitioners; hence its alternate name of Tantrayana Buddhism. However, visitors to Tibetan monasteries are often surprised to discover that many monks go through their day without "meditating" in a recognizable form, but are more likely to chant or participate in group liturgy. In this tradition, the purpose of meditation is to awaken in us the sky-like nature of mind, and to introduce us to that which we really are, our unchanging pure awareness, which underlies the whole of life and death.[citations needed]

Meditation is the way to bring us back to ourselves, where we can really experience and taste our full being, beyond all habitual patterns. In the stillness and silence of meditation, we glimpse and return to that deep inner nature that we have so long ago lost sight of amid the busyness and distraction of our minds.

The gift of learning to meditate is the greatest gift you can give yourself in this life. For it is only through meditation that you can undertake the journey to discover your true nature, and so find the stability and confidence you will need to live, and die, well. Meditation is the road to enlightenment.- Sogyal Rinpoche, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

Some of the Buddha's meditative techniques were shared with other traditions of his day, but the idea that ethics are causally related to the attainment of religious insight was original.

+++++ Christianity

Christian traditions have various practices which might be identified as forms of "meditation." Many of these are monastic practices. Some types of prayer, such as the rosary and Adoration (focusing on the eucharist) in Catholicism or the hesychasm in Eastern Orthodoxy, may be compared to the form of Eastern meditation that focuses on an individual object.

Christian meditation is considered a form of prayer. Some Christian prayer is made primarily by using the intellect, through the contemplation of the divine mysteries. However, Christian prayer or meditation through the heart, as described in the Philokalia is a practice towards Theosis, which involves acquiring an inner stillness and ignoring the physical senses.

According to the Old Testament book of Joshua, a form of meditation is to meditate on scriptures. This is one of the reasons why bible verse memory is a practice among many evangelical Christians. "Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it, then you will be prosperous and successful." (Joshua 1:8)

+++++ Islam

There are two concepts or schools of meditation in Islam. One is that which is described in the Qur'an and Sunnah, i.e. developed during the life and times of the prophet or shortly thereafter. Another is that which has been developed by the Sufis, Muslim ascetics, in later times.

The original concept of meditation is based on contemplation, called Tafakkur and Tadabbur (Arabic in the Qur'an). Literally, this refers to reflection upon the universe. Muslims feel this is a form of intellectual development which emanates from a higher level, i.e. from God. This intellectual process through the receiving of divine inspiration awakens and liberates the human mind, permitting man's inner personality to develop and grow so that he may lead his life on a spiritual plane far above the mundane level. This is consistent with the global teachings of Islam, which views life as a test of our practice of submission to Allah, the one God.

The second form of meditation is the Sufi meditation, it is largely based on mystical exercises. However, this method is controversial among Muslim scholars. One group of Ulama, Al-Ghazzali, for instance, have accepted it, another group of Ulama, Ibn Taymiya, for instance, have rejected it as an bid'ah.

Sufism relies on a practice similar to Buddhist meditation, known as Muraqaba or Tamarkoz which is taught in the Oveyssi-Shahmaghsoudi Sufi order. Tamarkoz is a Persian term that means 'concentration,' referring to the "concentration of abilities". Consequently, the term concentration is synonymous to close attention, convergent, collection, compaction, and consolidation.

+++++ Judaism

There is evidence that Judaism has had meditative practices from the earliest times. For instance, in the Torah, the patriarch Isaac is described as going (lasuach) in the field - a term understood by all commentators as some type of meditative practice (Genesis 24:63).

Similarly, there are indications throughout the Tanach (the Hebrew Bible) that Judaism always contained a central meditative tradition.[citation needed]

In modern Jewish practice, one of the best known meditative practices is called hitbodedut or hisbodedus is explained in Kabbalah and Hassidic philosophy. The word hisbodedut, which derives from the Hebrew word "boded", (a state of being alone) and said to be related to the sfirah of Binah (lit. understanding), means the process of making oneself understand a concept well through analytical study.

Kabbalah is inherently a meditative field of study. Kabbalistic meditative practices construct a supernal realm which the soul navigates through in order to achieve certain ends. One of the most well known types of meditation is Merkabah, from the root /R-K-B/ meaning "chariot"(of God).

+++++ New Age

New Age meditations are often influenced by Eastern philosophy and mysticism such as Yoga, Hinduism and Buddhism, yet may contain some degree of Western influence. Examples of such meditations include:

* Passage Meditation, a modern method developed by spiritual teacher Eknath Easwaran, involves silent, focused repetition of memorized passages from world scripture and the writings of great mystics.
* Sahaja Yoga, the Global Meditation meditation, a practice started by H.H.Shri Mataji Nirmala Srivastava. Sahaja Yoga is said[attribution needed] to be a unique method of meditation based on an awakening that can occur within each human being.   
* Transcendental Meditation, a form of meditation taught and promoted by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi.
* Natural Stress Relief, a meditation technique invented by the Scientia Institute.          
* 5Rhythms, a movement meditation technique invented by Gabrielle Roth.            
* FISU (Foundation for International Spiritual Unfoldment) was established by Gururaj Ananda Yogi's prime disciples Rajesh Ananda and Jasmini Ananda whom are the leaders ever since.       
* Ananda Marga meditation was propounded by a Mahakaula Guru Shrii Shrii Anandamurtiiji in India and revived sacred practices taught by SadaShiva and Sri Krs'na. His system of meditation is based on original Tantra as given by Shiva and has sometimes been referred as "Rajadhiraja Yoga". He revised many yogic and meditative practices and introduced some new techniques.

+++++ Effortless Meditation

J Krishnamurti used the word meditation to mean something entirely different from the practice of any system or method to control the mind. He said, "Man, in order to escape his conflicts, has invented many forms of meditation. These have been based on desire, will, and the urge for achievement, and imply conflict and a struggle to arrive. This conscious, deliberate striving is always within the limits of a conditioned mind, and in this there is no freedom. All effort to meditate is the denial of meditation. Meditation is the ending of thought. It is only then that there is a different dimension which is beyond time." For Krishnamurti, meditation was choice-less awareness in the present. He said "..When you learn about yourself, watch yourself, watch the way you walk, how you eat, what you say, the gossip, the hate, the jealousy - if you are aware of all that in yourself, without any choice, that is part of meditation."

+++++ Purposes and effects of meditation

The purposes for which people meditate vary almost as widely as practices. Meditation may serve simply as a means of relaxation from a busy daily routine; as a technique for cultivating mental discipline; or as a means of gaining insight into the nature of reality, or of communing with one's God. Many report improved concentration, awareness, self-discipline and equanimity through meditation.

Many authorities avoid emphasizing the effects of meditation - sometimes out of modesty, sometimes for fear that the expectation of results might interfere with one's meditation. For theists, the effects of meditation are considered a gift of God or from the Holy Spirit/Ghost, and not something that is "achieved" by the meditator alone, just as some say that a person will not convert to Christianity without the influence of the Holy Spirit/Ghost's presence.

Commonly reported results from meditation include:

* Greater faith in, or understanding of, one's religion or beliefs
* An increase in patience, compassion, and other virtues and morals or the understanding of them
* Feelings of calm or peace, and/or moments of great joy
* Consciousness of sin, temptation, and remorse, and a spirit of contrition.
* Sensitivity to certain forms of lighting, such as fluorescent lights or computer screens, and sometimes heightened sense-perception.
* Surfacing of buried memories.
* Experience of spiritual phenomena such as kundalini, extra-sensory perception, or visions of deities, saints, demons, etc.

Some traditions acknowledge that many types of experiences and effects are possible, but instruct the meditator to keep in mind the spiritual purpose of the meditation, and not be distracted by lesser concerns. For example, Mahayana Buddhists are urged to meditate for the sake of "full and perfect enlightenment for all sentient beings" (the bodhisattva vow). Some, as in certain sects of Christianity, say that these things are possible, but are only to be supported if they are to the glory of God.

Keywords: Meditation, Intuition, Intuitive, Spiritual, New Age, Articles, UK, South Africa, Cape Town

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