Meditation is a practice where an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness, either to realize some benefit or for the mind to simply acknowledge its content without becoming identified with that content, or as an end in itself.
The term meditation refers to a broad variety of practices that includes techniques designed to promote relaxation, build internal energy or life force (qi, ki, prana, etc.) and develop compassion, love, patience, generosity and forgiveness. A particularly ambitious form of meditation aims at effortlessly sustained single-pointed concentration meant to enable its practitioner to enjoy an indestructible sense of well-being while engaging in any life activity.
The word meditation carries different meanings in different contexts. Meditation has been practiced since antiquity as a component of numerous religious traditions and beliefs. Meditation often involves an internal effort to self-regulate the mind in some way. Meditation is often used to clear the mind and ease many health concerns, such as high blood pressure, depression, and anxiety. It may be done sitting, or in an active way—for instance, Buddhist monks involve awareness in their day-to-day activities as a form of mind-training. Prayer beads or other ritual objects are commonly used during meditation in order to keep track of or remind the practitioner about some aspect of that training.
Meditation may involve generating an emotional state for the purpose of analyzing that state—such as anger, hatred, etc.—or cultivating a particular mental response to various phenomena, such as compassion. The term “meditation” can refer to the state itself, as well as to practices or techniques employed to cultivate the state. Meditation may also involve repeating a mantra and closing the eyes. The mantra is chosen based on its suitability to the individual meditator. Meditation has a calming effect and directs awareness inward until pure awareness is achieved, described as “being awake inside without being aware of anything except awareness itself.” In brief, there are dozens of specific styles of meditation practice, and many different types of activity commonly referred to as meditative practices.
- Modern definitions and Western models
- Definitions and scope
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- Western typologies
- Forms of meditation
- Physical postures
- Prayer beads
- Religious and spiritual meditation
- Indian religions
- New religious movements
- East-Asian religions
- Iranian religions
- Bahá’í Faith
- Abrahamic religions
- Modern spirituality
- New Age
- Pagan and occult religions
- Indian religions
- Western context
- Dissemination in the west
- Secular applications
- Sound-based meditation
- Relaxation Response
- Mental silence
- Sound-based meditation
- Research on meditation
- Beneficial effects
- Negative effects
- Meditation, religion and drugs
The history of meditation is intimately bound up with the religious context within which it was practiced. Some authors have even suggested the hypothesis that the emergence of the capacity for focused attention, an element of many methods of meditation,may have contributed to the final phases of human biological evolution. Some of the earliest references to meditation are found in the Hindu Vedas. Wilson translates the most famous Vedic mantra ‘Gayatri’ thus : “We meditate on that desirable light of the divine Savitri, who influences our pious rites” (Rgveda : Mandala-3, Sukta-62, Rcha-10). Around the 6th to 5th centuries BCE, other forms of meditation developed in Confucian, and Taoist China and Hindu, Jain and Buddhist India.
In the west, by 20 BCE Philo of Alexandria had written on some form of “spiritual exercises” involving attention (prosoche) and concentration and by the 3rd century Plotinus had developed meditative techniques.
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 (known as Chan in China, Thiền in Vietnam, and Seon in Korea). The Silk Road transmission of Buddhism introduced meditation to other Asian countries, and in 653 the first meditation hall was opened in Singapore. Returning from China around 1227, Dōgen wrote the instructions for zazen.
The Islamic practice of Dhikr had involved the repetition of the 99 Names of God since the 8th or 9th century. By the 12th century, the practice of Sufism included specific meditative techniques, and its followers practiced breathing controls and the repetition of holy words. Interactions with Indians or the Sufis may have influenced the Eastern Christian meditation approach to hesychasm, but this can not be proved. Between the 10th and 14th centuries, hesychasm was developed, particularly on Mount Athos in Greece, and involves the repetition of the Jesus prayer.
Western Christian meditation contrasts with most other approaches in that it does not involve the repetition of any phrase or action and requires no specific posture. Western Christian meditation progressed from the 6th century practice of Bible reading among Benedictinemonks 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.
Secular forms of meditation were introduced in India in the 1950s as a Westernized form of Hindu meditative techniques and arrived in the United States and Europe in the 1960s. Rather than focusing on spiritual growth, secular meditation emphasizes stress reduction, relaxation and self-improvement. Both spiritual and secular forms of meditation have been subjects of scientific analyses. Research on meditation began in 1931, with scientific research increasing dramatically during the 1970s and 1980s. Since the beginning of the ’70s more than a thousand studies of meditation in English-language have been reported. However, after 60 years of scientific study, the exact mechanism at work in meditation remains unclear.
Modern definitions and Western models
Definitions and scope
As early as 1971, Claudio Naranjo noted that “The word ‘meditation’ has been used to designate a variety of practices that differ enough from one another so that we may find trouble in defining what meditation is.” There remains no definition of necessary and sufficient criteria for meditation that has achieved universal or widespread acceptance within the modern scientific community, as one study recently noted a “persistent lack of consensus in the literature” and a “seeming intractability of defining meditation“.
In popular usage, the word “meditation” and the phrase “meditative practice” are often used imprecisely to designate broadly similar practices, or sets of practices, that are found across many cultures and traditions.
Some of the difficulty in precisely defining meditation has been the need to recognize the particularities of the many various traditions. There may be differences between the theories of one tradition of meditation as to what it means to practice meditation. The differences between the various traditions themselves, which have grown up a great distance apart from each other, may be even starker. To accurately define “what is meditation” has caused difficulties for modern scientists. Scientific reviews have proposed that researchers attempt to more clearly define the type of meditation being practiced in order that the results of their studies be made clearer. Taylor noted that to refer only to meditation from a particular faith (e.g., “Hindu” or “Buddhist”)
“…is not enough, since the cultural traditions from which a particular kind of meditation comes are quite different and even within a single tradition differ in complex ways. The specific name of a school of thought or a teacher or the title of a specific text is often quite important for identifying a particular type of meditation.”
Several definitions of meditation that have been used by influential modern reviews of research on meditation across multiple traditions. Within a specific context, more precise meanings are not uncommonly given the word “meditation”. For example, “meditation” is sometimes the translation of meditatio in Latin. Meditatio is the third of four steps of Lectio Divina, an ancient form of Christian prayer. “Meditation” also refers to the seventh of the eight steps of Yoga in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, a step called dhyāna in Sanskrit. Meditation refers to a mental or spiritual state that may be attained by such practices, and also refers to the practice of that state.
This page mainly focuses on meditation in the broad sense of a type of discipline, found in various forms in many cultures, by which the practitioner attempts to get beyond the reflexive, “thinking” mind (sometimes called “discursive thinking” or “logic”) into a deeper, more devout, or more relaxed state. The terms “meditative practice” and “meditation” are mostly used here in this broad sense. However, usage may vary somewhat by context – readers should be aware that in quotations, or in discussions of particular traditions, more specialized meanings of “meditation” may sometimes be used (with meanings made clear by context whenever possible).[mepr-show if=”loggedout”]
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Ornstein noted that “Most techniques of meditation do not exist as solitary practices but are only artificially separable from an entire system of practice and belief.” This means that, for instance, while monks engage in meditation as a part of their everyday lives, they also engage the codified rules and live together in monasteries in specific cultural settings that go along with their meditative practices. These meditative practices sometimes have similarities (often noticed by Westerners), for instance concentration on the breath is practiced in Zen, Tibetan and Theravadan contexts, and these similarities or “typologies” are noted here.
Progress on the “intractable” problem of defining meditation was attempted by a recent study of views common to seven experts trained in diverse but empirically highly studied (clinical or Eastern-derived) forms of meditation. The study identified “three main criteria… as essential to any meditation practice: the use of a defined technique, logic relaxation, and a self-induced state/mode. Other criteria deemed important [but not essential] involve a state of psychophysical relaxation, the use of a self-focus skill or anchor, the presence of a state of suspension of logical thought processes, a religious/spiritual/philosophical context, or a state of mental silence.” However, the study cautioned, “It is plausible that meditation is best thought of as a natural category of techniques best captured by ‘family resemblances’… or by the related ‘prototype’ model of concepts.”
In modern psychological research, meditation has been defined and characterized in a variety of ways; many of these emphasize the role of attention.
In the West, meditation is sometimes thought of in two broad categories: concentrative meditation and mindfulness meditation. These two categories are discussed in the following two paragraphs, with concentrative meditation being used interchangeably with focused attention and mindfulness meditation being used interchangeably with open monitoring,
Direction of mental attention… A practitioner can focus intensively on one particular object (so-called concentrative meditation), on all mental events that enter the field of awareness (so-called mindfulness meditation), or both specific focal points and the field of awareness.
One style, Focused Attention (FA) meditation, entails the voluntary focusing of attention on a chosen object. The other style, Open Monitoring (OM) meditation, involves non-reactive monitoring of the content of experience from moment to moment.
Other typologies have also been proposed, and some techniques shift among major categories. Evidence from neuroimaging studies suggests that the categories of meditation, defined by how they direct attention, appear to generate different brainwave patterns.Evidence also suggests that using different focus objects during meditation may generate different brainwave patterns.
Forms of meditation
Some mantra techniques (as with Transcendental Meditation) do not require learning special positions, only sitting comfortably with eyes closed.
Most of the ancient religions of the world have a tradition of using some type of prayer beads as tools in devotional meditation. Most prayer beads and Christian rosaries consist of pearls or beads linked together by a thread. The Roman Catholic rosary is a string of beads containing five sets with ten small beads. Each set of ten is separated by another bead. The Hindu japa mala has 108 beads (the figure 108 in itself having spiritual significance, as well as those used in Jainism and Buddhist prayer beads. Each bead is counted once as a person recites a mantra until the person has gone all the way around the mala. The Muslim mishbaha has 99 beads. Specific meditations of each religion may be different.
Religious and spiritual meditation
Jain meditation and spiritual practices system were referred to as salvation-path. It has three important parts called the Ratnatraya “Three Jewels”: right perception and faith, right knowledge and right conduct. Meditation in Jainism aims at realizing the self, attaining salvation, take the soul to complete freedom. It aims to reach and to remain in the pure state of soul which is believed to be pure consciousness, beyond any attachment or aversion. The practitioner strives to be just a knower-seer (Gyata-Drashta). Jain meditation can be broadly categorized to Dharmya Dhyana and Shukla Dhyana.
There exists a number of meditation techniques such as pindāstha-dhyāna, padāstha-dhyāna, rūpāstha-dhyāna, rūpātita-dhyāna, savīrya-dhyāna, etc. In padāstha dhyāna one focuses on Mantra. A Mantra could be either a combination of core letters or words on deity or themes. There is a rich tradition of Mantra in Jainism. All Jain followers irrespective of their sect, whether Digambara or Svetambara, practice mantra. Mantra chanting is an important part of daily lives of Jain monks and followers. Mantra chanting can be done either loudly or silently in mind. Yogasana and Pranayama has been an important practice undertaken since ages. Pranayama – breathing exercises – are performed to strengthen the five Pranas or vital energy. Yogasana and Pranayama balances the functioning of neuro-endocrine system of body and helps in achieving good physical, mental and emotional health.
Contemplation is a very old and important meditation technique. The practitioner meditates deeply on subtle facts. In agnya vichāya, one contemplates on seven facts – life and non-life, the inflow, bondage, stoppage and removal of karmas, and the final accomplishment of liberation. In apaya vichāya, one contemplates on the incorrect insights one indulges, which eventually develops right insight. In vipaka vichāya, one reflects on the eight causes or basic types of karma. In sansathan vichāya, one thinks about the vastness of the universe and the loneliness of the soul.
Acharya Mahapragya formulated Preksha meditation in the 1970s and presented a well-organised system of meditation. Asana and Pranayama, meditation, contemplation, mantra and therapy are its integral parts. Numerous Preksha meditation centers came into existence around the world and numerous meditations camps are being organized to impart training in it.
Buddhist meditation refers to the meditative practices associated with the religion and philosophy of Buddhism. Core meditation techniques have been preserved in ancient Buddhist texts and have proliferated and diversified through teacher-student transmissions. Buddhistspursue meditation as part of the path toward enlightenment and nirvana. The closest words for meditation in the classical languages of Buddhism are bhāvanā, jhāna/dhyāna, and vipassana. According to Manmatha Nath Dutt, there is hardly any difference between mainstream Hinduism’s Dhyana, Dharana and Samadhi with the Buddhist Dhyana, Bhavana, Samadhi, especially as both require following the precepts (nayas and niyamas).
Buddhist meditation techniques have become increasingly popular in the wider world, with many non-Buddhists taking them up for a variety of reasons. There is considerable homogeneity across meditative practices – such as breath meditation and various recollections (anussati) – that are used across Buddhist schools, as well as significant diversity. In the Theravāda tradition alone, there are over fifty methods for developing mindfulness and forty for developing concentration, while in the Tibetan tradition there are thousands of visualization meditations. Most classical and contemporary Buddhist meditation guides are school-specific.
The Buddha is said to have identified two paramount mental qualities that arise from wholesome meditative practice:
- “serenity” or “tranquillity” (Pali: samatha) which steadies, composes, unifies and concentrates the mind;
- “insight” (Pali: vipassana) which enables one to see, explore and discern “formations” (conditioned phenomena based on the five aggregates).
Through the meditative development of serenity, one is able to release obscuring hindrances; it is with the release of the hindrances through the meditative development of insight that one gains liberating wisdom.
Yoga is generally done to prepare one for meditation, and meditation is done to realize union of one’s self, one’s ātman, with the omnipresent and non-dual Brahman. This experience is referred to as moksha by Hindus, and is similar to the concept of nirvana in Buddhism. The earliest clear references to meditation in Hindu literature are in the middle Upanishads and the Mahabharata, the latter of which includes the Bhagavad Gita. According to Gavin Flood, the earlier Brihadaranyaka Upanishad refers to meditation when it states that “having become calm and concentrated, one perceives the self (ātman) within oneself”.
Within Patañjali’s Ashtanga yoga practice there are eight limbs leading to kaivalya “aloneness.” These are ethical discipline (yamas), rules (niyamas), physical postures (āsanas), breath control (prāṇāyama), withdrawal from the senses (pratyāhāra), one-pointedness of mind (dhāraṇā), meditation (dhyāna), and finally samādhi, which is often described as the realization of the identity of the Self (ātman) with the omnipresent (Brahman), and is the ultimate aim of all Hindu yogis.
New religious movements
Meditation in Hinduism has expanded beyond Hinduism to the West. Mantra meditation, with the use of a japa mala and especially with focus on the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, is a central practice of the Gaudiya Vaishnava faith tradition and the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), also known as the Hare Krishna movement. Other popular New Religious Movements include the Ramakrishna Mission, Vedanta Society, Divine Light Mission, Chinmaya Mission, Osho, Transcendental Meditation, Oneness University, and Brahma Kumaris.
In Sikhism, simran (meditation) and good deeds are both necessary to achieve the devotee’s Spiritual goals; without good deeds meditation is futile. When Sikhs meditate they aim to feel God’s presence and immerge in the divine light. It is only God’s divine will or order that allows a devotee to desire to begin to meditate. Guru Nanak in the Japji Sahib daily Sikh scripture explains, “Visits to temples, penance, compassion and charity gain you but a sesame seed of credit. It is hearkening to His Name, accepting and adoring Him that obtains emancipation by bathing in the shrine of soul. All virtues are Yours, O Lord! I have none; Without good deeds one can’t even meditate.” Japji Sahib (Stanza 21).
Nām Japnā involves focusing one’s attention on the names or great attributes of God. The practices of Simran and Nām Japnā encourage quiet internal meditation but may be practiced vocally in the sangat (holy congregation). Sikhs believe that there are ten ‘gates’ to the body, the nine visible holes (nostrils, eyes, ears, mouth, urethra, anus) and the tenth invisible hole. The tenth invisible hole is the topmost energy level and is called the tenth gate or Dasam Duaar. When one reaches this stage through continuous practice meditation becomes a habit that continues whilst walking, talking, eating, awake and even sleeping. There is a distinct taste or flavour when a meditator reaches this lofty stage of meditation, and experiences absolute peace and tranquility inside and outside the body.
Followers of the Sikh religion also believe that love comes through meditation on the lord’s name since meditation only conjures up positive emotions in oneself which are portrayed through our actions. The first Guru of the Sikhs, Guru Nanak Dev Ji preached the equality of all humankind and stressed the importance of living a householder’s life instead of wandering around jungles meditating, the latter of which being a popular practice at the time. The Guru preached that we can obtain liberation from life and death by living a totally normal family life and by spreading love amongst every human being regardless of religion.
In the Sikh religion, kirtan, otherwise known as singing the hymns of God is seen as one of the most beneficial ways of aiding meditation, and it too in some ways is believed to be a meditation of one kind.
Livia Kohn distinguishes three basic types of Daoist meditation: “concentrative”, “insight”, and “visualization”. Ding 定 (literally means “decide; settle; stabilize”) refers to “deep concentration”, “intent contemplation”, or “perfect absorption.” Guan 觀 (lit. “watch; observe; view”) meditation seeks to merge and attain unity with the Dao. It was developed by Tang Dynasty (618–907) Daoist masters based upon the Tiantai Buddhist practice of Vipassanā “insight” or “wisdom” meditation. Cun 存 (lit. “exist; be present; survive”) has a sense of “to cause to exist; to make present” in the meditation techniques popularized by the Daoist Shangqing and Lingbao Schools. A meditator visualizes or actualizes solar and lunar essences, lights, and deities within his/her body, which supposedly results in health and longevity, even xian 仙/仚/僊, “immortality”.
The (late 4th century) Guanzi essay Neiye 內業 “Inward training” is the oldest received writing on the subject of qi cultivation and breath-control meditation techniques. For instance, “When you enlarge your mind and let go of it, when you relax your vital breath and expand it, when your body is calm and unmoving: And you can maintain the One and discard the myriad disturbances. … This is called “revolving the vital breath”: Your thoughts and deeds seem heavenly.”
The (c. 3rd century BCE) Daoist Zhuangzi records zuowang or “sitting forgetting” meditation. Confucius asked his disciple Yan Hui to explain what “sit and forget” means: “I slough off my limbs and trunk, dim my intelligence, depart from my form, leave knowledge behind, and become identical with the Transformational Thoroughfare.”
Daoist meditation practices are central to Chinese martial arts (and some Japanese martial arts), especially the qi-related neijia “internal martial arts”. Some well-known examples are daoyin “guiding and pulling”, qigong “life-energy exercises”, neigong “internal exercises”, neidan “internal alchemy”, and taijiquan “great ultimate boxing”, which is thought of as moving meditation. One common explanation contrasts “movement in stillness” referring to energetic visualization of qi circulation in qigong and zuochan “seated meditation”,versus “stillness in movement” referring to a state of meditative calm in taijiquan forms.
In the teachings of the Bahá’í Faith, meditation along with prayer are both primary tools for spiritual development and mainly refer to one’s reflection on the words of God.While prayer and meditation are linked, where meditation happens generally in a prayerful attitude, prayer is seen specifically as turning toward God, and meditation is seen as a communion with one’s self where one focuses on the divine.
The Bahá’í teachings note that the purpose of meditation is to strengthen one’s understanding of the words of God, and to make one’s soul more susceptible to their potentially transformative power, more receptive to the need for both prayer and meditation to bring about and maintain a spiritual communion with God.
Bahá’u’lláh, the founder of the religion, never specified any particular form of meditation, and thus each person is free to choose their own form. However, he specifically did state that Bahá’ís should read a passage of the Bahá’í writings twice a day, once in the morning, and once in the evening, and meditate on it. He also encouraged people to reflect on one’s actions and worth at the end of each day. During the Nineteen Day Fast, a period of the year during which Bahá’ís adhere to a sunrise-to-sunset fast, they meditate and pray to reinvigorate their spiritual forces.
There is evidence that Judaism has had meditative practices that go back thousands of years. For instance, in the Torah, the patriarch Isaac is described as going “לשוח”(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 meditation was used by the prophets. In the Old Testament, there are two Hebrew words for meditation: hāgâ (Hebrew: הגה), which means to sigh or murmur, but also to meditate, and sîḥâ (Hebrew: שיחה), which means to muse, or rehearse in one’s mind.
Some meditative traditions have been encouraged in the school of Judaism known as Kabbalah, and some Jews have described Kabbalah as an inherently meditative field of study. Aryeh Kaplan has argued that, for the Kabbalist, the ultimate purpose of meditative practice is to understand and cleave to the Divine. Classic methods include the mental visualisation of the supernal realms the soul navigates through to achieve certain ends. One of the best known types of meditation in early Jewish mysticism was the work of the Merkabah, from the root /R-K-B/ meaning “chariot” (of God).
Meditation has been of interest to a wide variety of modern Jews. In modern Jewish practice, one of the best known meditative practices is called “hitbodedut” (התבודדות, alternatively transliterated as “hisbodedus”), and is explained in Kabbalistic, Hasidic, and Mussar writings, especially the Hasidic method of Rabbi Nachman of Breslav. The word derives from the Hebrew word “boded” (בודד), meaning the state of being alone. Another Hasidic system is the Habad method of “hisbonenus”, related to the Sephirah of “Binah”, Hebrew for understanding. This practice is the analytical reflective process of making oneself understand a mystical concept well, that follows and internalises its study in Hasidic writings.
The Musar Movement, founded by Rabbi Israel Salanter in the middle of the nineteenth-century, emphasized meditative practices of introspection and visualization that could help to improve moral character.
Christian meditation is a term for a form of prayer in which a structured attempt is made to get in touch with and deliberately reflect upon the revelations of God. The word meditation comes from the Latin word meditari, which means to concentrate. Christian meditation is the process of deliberately focusing on specific thoughts (e.g. a biblical scene involving Jesus and the Virgin Mary) and reflecting on their meaning in the context of the love of God.
Christian meditation contrasts with Eastern forms of meditation as radically as the portrayal of God the Father in the Bible contrasts with depictions of Krishna or Brahman in Indian teachings. Unlike Eastern meditations, most styles of Christian meditations do not rely on the repeated use of mantras, and yet are also intended to stimulate thought and deepen meaning. Christian meditation aims to heighten the personal relationship based on the love of God that marks Christian communion.
In Aspects of Christian meditation, the Catholic Church warned of potential incompatibilities in mixing Christian and Eastern styles of meditation. In 2003, in A Christian reflection on the New Age the Vatican announced that the “Church avoids any concept that is close to those of the New Age”.
Christian meditation is sometimes taken to mean the middle level in a broad three stage characterization of prayer: it then involves more reflection than first level vocal prayer, but is more structured than the multiple layers of contemplation in Christianity.
Remembrance of God in Islam, which is known by the concept Dhikr is interpreted in different meditative techniques in Sufism or Islamic mysticism. This became one of the essential elements of Sufism as it was systematized traditionally. It is juxtaposed with fikr (thinking) which leads to knowledge. By the 12th century, the practice of Sufism included specific meditative techniques, and its followers practiced breathing controls and the repetition of holy words.
Numerous Sufi traditions place emphasis upon a meditative procedure which comes from the cognitive aspect to one of the two principal approaches to be found in the Buddhist traditions: that of the concentration technique, involving high-intensity and sharply focused introspection. In the Oveyssi-Shahmaghsoudi Sufi order, for example, this is particularly evident, where muraqaba takes the form of tamarkoz, the latter being a Persian term that means concentration. Meditative quiescence is said to have a quality of healing, and—in contemporary terminology—enhancing creativity.
Tafakkur or tadabbur in Sufism literally means reflection upon the universe: this is considered to permit access to a form of cognitive and emotional development that can emanate only from the higher level, i.e. from God. The sensation of receiving divine inspiration awakens and liberates both heart and intellect, permitting such inner growth that the apparently mundane actually takes on the quality of the infinite. Muslim teachings embrace life as a test of one’s submission to God.
Meditation in the Sufi traditions is largely based on a spectrum of mystical exercises, varying from one lineage to another. Such techniques, particularly the more audacious, can be, and often have been down the ages, a source of controversy among scholars. One broad group of ulema, followers of the great Al-Ghazali, for example, have in general been open to such techniques and forms of devotion.
In recent years, meditation or Muraqaba has been popularized in various parts of the world by Silsila Naqshbandia Mujaddadia under Nazim Al-Haqqani and Silsila Azeemia under Khwaja Shamsuddin Azeemi.
New Age meditations are often influenced by Eastern philosophy, mysticism, Yoga, Hinduism and Buddhism, yet may contain some degree of Western influence. In the West, meditation found its mainstream roots through the social revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, when many of the youth of the day rebelled against traditional belief systems as a reaction against what some perceived as the failure of Christianity to provide spiritual and ethical guidance. New Age meditation as practised by the early hippies is regarded for its techniques of blanking out the mind and releasing oneself from conscious thinking. This is often aided by repetitive chanting of a mantra, or focusing on an object. New Age meditation evolved into a range of purposes and practices, from serenity and balance to access to other realms of consciousness to the concentration of energy in group meditation to the supreme goal of samadhi, as in the ancient yogic practice of meditation.
Pagan and occult religions
Religions and religious movements which use magic, such as Wicca, Thelema, Neopaganism, occultism etc., often require their adherents to meditate as a preliminary to the magical work. This is because magic is often thought to require a particular state of mind in order to make contact with spirits, or because one has to visualize one’s goal or otherwise keep intent focused for a long period during the ritual in order to see the desired outcome. Meditation practice in these religions usually revolves around visualization, absorbing energy from the universe or higher self, directing one’s internal energy, and inducing various trance states. Meditation and magic practice often overlap in these religions as meditation is often seen as merely a stepping stone to supernatural power, and the meditation sessions may be peppered with various chants and spells.
Dissemination in the west
Methods of meditation have been cross-culturally disseminated at various times throughout history, such as Buddhism going to East Asia, and Sufi practices going to many Islamic societies. Of special relevance to the modern world is the dissemination of meditative practices since the late 19th century, accompanying increased travel and communication among cultures worldwide. Most prominent has been the transmission of numerous Asian-derived practices to the West. In addition, interest in some Western-based meditative practices has also been revived, and these have been disseminated to a limited extent to Asian countries. Also evident is some extent of influence over Enlightenment thinking through Diderot’s Encyclopédie; although he states, “I find that a meditation practitioner is often quite useless and that a contemplation practitioner is always insane”.
Ideas about Eastern meditation had begun “seeping into American popular culture even before the American Revolution through the various sects of European occult Christianity,” and such ideas “came pouring in [to America] during the era of the transcendentalists, especially between the 1840s and the 1880s.” But The World Parliament of Religions, held in Chicago in 1893, was the landmark event that increased Western awareness of meditation. This was the first time that Western audiences on American soil received Asian spiritual teachings from Asians themselves. Thereafter, Swami Vivekananda… [founded] various Vedantaashrams… Anagarika Dharmapala lectured at Harvard on Theravada Buddhist meditation in 1904; Abdul Baha … [toured] the US teaching the principles of Bahai, and Soyen Shaku toured in 1907 teaching Zen…
In the late 19th century, Theosophists adopted the word “meditation” to refer to various spiritual practices drawn from Hinduism, Buddhismand other Indian religions. Thus the English word “meditation” does not exclusively translate to any single term or concept, and can be used to translate words such as the Sanskrit dhāraṇā, dhyāna, samādhi and bhāvanā.
More recently, in the 1960s, another surge in Western interest in meditative practices began. Observers have suggested many types of explanations for this interest in Eastern meditation and revived Western contemplation. Thomas Keating, a founder of Contemplative Outreach, wrote that “the rush to the East is a symptom of what is lacking in the West. There is a deep spiritual hunger that is not being satisfied in the West.” Daniel Goleman, a scholar of meditation, suggested that the shift in interest from “established religions” to meditative practices “is caused by the scarcity of the personal experience of these [meditation-derived] transcendental states – the living spirit at the common core of all religions.”
Another suggested contributing factor is the rise of communist political power in Asia, which, “set the stage for an influx of Asian spiritual teachers to the West,” oftentimes as refugees.
Meditation may be for a religious purpose, but even before being brought to the West it was used in secular contexts. Beginning with the Theosophists meditation has been employed in the West by a number of religious and spiritual movements, such as Yoga, New Age and the New Thought movement.
Meditation techniques have also been used by Western theories of counseling and psychotherapy. Relaxation training works toward achieving mental and muscle relaxation to reduce daily stresses. Jacobson is credited with developing the initial progressive relaxation procedure. These techniques are used in conjunction with other behavioral techniques. Originally used with systematic desensitization, relaxation techniques are now used with other clinical problems. Meditation, hypnosis and biofeedback-induced relaxation are a few of the techniques used with relaxation training. One of the eight essential phases of EMDR (developed by Francine Shapiro), bringing adequate closure to the end of each session, also entails the use of relaxation techniques, including meditation. Multimodal therapy, a technically eclectic approach to behavioral therapy, also employs the use of meditation as a technique used in individual therapy.
From the point of view of psychology and physiology, meditation can induce an altered state of consciousness. Such altered states of consciousness may correspond to altered neuro-physiologic states.
Today, there are many different types of meditation practiced in western culture. Mindful breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and loving kindness meditations for instance have been found to provide cognitive benefits such as relaxation and decentering. With training in meditation, depressive rumination can be decreased and overall peace of mind can flourish. Different techniques have shown to work better for different people.
As stated by the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a U.S. government entity within the National Institutes of Health that advocates various forms of Alternative Medicine, “Meditation may be practiced for many reasons, such as to increase calmness and physical relaxation, to improve psychological balance, to cope with illness, or to enhance overall health and well-being.”
Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School conducted a series of clinical tests on meditators from various disciplines, including the Transcendental Meditation technique and Tibetan Buddhism. In 1975, Benson published a book titled The Relaxation Response where he outlined his own version of meditation for relaxation. Also in the 1970s, the American psychologist Patricia Carrington developed a similar technique called Clinically Standardized Meditation (CSM). In Norway, another sound-based method called Acem Meditation developed a psychology of meditation and has been the subject of several scientific studies.
Biofeedback has been used by many researchers since the 1950s in an effort to enter deeper states of mind.
Over the past 20 years, Mindfulness and mindfulness-based programs have become increasingly important to Westerners and in the Western medical and psychological community as a means of helping people, whether they be clinically sick or healthy.[154, see video below] Jon Kabat-Zinn, who founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program in 1979, has defined mindfulness as ‘moment to moment non-judgmental awareness. Several methods are used during time set aside specifically for mindfulness meditation, such as body scan techniques or letting thought arise and pass, and also during our daily lives, such as being aware of the taste and texture of the food that we eat. Scientifically demonstrated benefits of mindfulness practice include an increase in the body’s ability to heal and a shift from a tendency to use the right prefrontal cortex instead of the left prefrontal cortex, associated with a trend away from depression and anxiety, and towards happiness, relaxation, and emotional balance.
Jacobson’s Progressive Muscle Relaxation was developed by American physician Edmund Jacobson in the early 1920s. In this practice one tenses and then relaxes muscle groups in a sequential pattern whilst concentrating on how they feel. The method has been seen to help people with many conditions especially extreme anxiety.
As a result of the popularity in participation of mindfulness, conferences such as Wisdom 2.0 have arisen. Mindfulness has entered the secular world in many ways, seemingly allowing for mindfulness to reach a greater number and diversity of people. However, current evidence does not support the particular claim that frequent lack of reference to Buddhism has been a catalyst for the explosion of interest in mindfulness over the past several decades.
Sahaja yoga meditation is regarded as a mental silence meditation, and has been shown to correlate with particular brain and brain wave activity. Some studies have led to suggestions that Sahaja meditation involves ‘switching off’ irrelevant brain networks for the maintenance of focused internalized attention and inhibition of inappropriate information. Sahaja meditators scored above peer group for emotional wellbeing measures on Short Form 36 Health Survey.
Research on meditation
Research on the processes and effects of meditation is a growing subfield of neurological research. Activation of the parasympathetic nervous system and stress relief are thought to play a role in meditation’s positive effects on chronic health conditions. Modern scientific techniques and instruments, such as fMRI and EEG, have been used to see what happens in the body of people when they meditate, and how their bodies and brain change after meditating regularly.
Since the 1950s hundreds of studies on meditation have been conducted, though many of the early studies were flawed and thus yielded unreliable results. More recent reviews have pointed out many of these flaws with the hope of guiding current research into a more fruitful path. More reports assessed that further research needs to be directed towards the theoretical grounding and definition of meditation.
There are rare cases of meditation-induced psychosis, primarily in persons with pre-existing psychotic conditions, and also cases where meditation had adverse effects in individuals without psychiatric history.
Peer Reviewed Articles
Some research has indicated that meditation can have negative effects, often relating to surfacing of pre-existing trauma or depression.
Meditation, religion and drugs
Many traditions in which meditation is practiced, such as Sahaja Yoga, Transcendental Meditation  Buddhism, Hinduism, and other religions, advise members not to consume intoxicants, while others, such as the Rastafarian movements and Native American Church, view drugs as integral to their religious lifestyle.
The fifth of the five precepts of the Pancasila, the ethical code in the Theravada and Mahayana Buddhist traditions, states that adherents must: “abstain from fermented and distilled beverages that cause heedlessness.”
On the other hand, the ingestion of psychoactives has been a central feature in the rituals of many religions, in order to produce altered states of consciousness. In several traditional shamanistic ceremonies, drugs are used as agents of ritual. In the Rastafari movement, cannabis is believed to be a gift from Jah and a sacred herb to be used regularly, while alcohol is considered to debase man. Native Americans use peyote, as part of religious ceremony, continuing today. In India, the soma drink has a long history of use alongside prayer and sacrifice, and is mentioned in the Vedas.
During the 1960s, both eastern meditation traditions and psychedelics, such as LSD, became popular in America, and it was suggested that LSD use and meditation were both means to the same spiritual/existential end. Many practitioners of eastern traditions rejected this idea, including many who had tried LSD themselves. In The Master Game, Robert S de Ropp writes that the “door to full consciousness” can be glimpsed with the aid of substances, but to “pass beyond the door” requires yoga and meditation. Other authors, such as Rick Strassman, believe that the relationship between religious experiences reached by way of meditation and through the use of psychedelic drugs deserves further exploration.
For more complementary information please click the boxes below
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- Watts, Alan. “11 _10-4-1 Meditation.” Eastern Wisdom: Zen in the West & Meditations.The Alan Watts Foundation. 2009. MP3 CD. @4:45
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- For descriptions of some of the more prominent approaches, both eastern and western, see Goleman’s (1988) Meditative Mind, ISBN 0-87477-833-6 and Shear’s (2006) Experience of Meditation, ISBN 978-1-55778-857-3, both listed in this page’s bibliography.
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- The verb root “dhyai” is listed as referring to “contemplate, meditate on” and “dhyāna” is listed as referring to “meditation; religious contemplation” on page 134 of Macdonell, Arthur Anthony (1971) [Reprinted from 1929]. A practical Sanskrit dictionary with transliteration, accentuation and etymological analysis throughout. London: Oxford University Press.
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- Goleman, Daniel (1988). The meditative mind: The varieties of meditative experience. New York: Tarcher. ISBN 0-87477-833-6.
- Jonathan Shear, ed. (2006). The experience of meditation: Experts introduce the major traditions. St. Paul, MN: Paragon House. ISBN 978-1-55778-857-3.
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- Jean L. Kristeller (2010). “Spiritual engagement as a mechanism of change in mindfulness- and acceptance-based therapies”. In Ruth A. Baer & Kelly G. Wilson. Assessing mindfulness and acceptance processes in clients: Illuminating the theory and practice of change. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger. pp. 152–184. ISBN 978-1-57224-694-2.. Page 161 states “In Christianity, the term ‘contemplation’ is parallel to the term ‘meditation’ as it has entered contemporary usage”
- Halvor Eifring, “Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Technical Aspects of Devotional Practices”, in Halvor Eifring (ed.), Meditation in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Cultural Histories, 2013, ISBN 978-1441122148 pages 1-16.
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- Christian spirituality: themes from the tradition by Lawrence S. Cunningham, Keith J. Egan 1996 ISBN 0-8091-3660-0 page 38
- The Oblate Life by Gervase Holdaway, 2008 ISBN 0-8146-3176-2. page 109
- After Augustine: the meditative reader and the text by Brian Stock 2001 ISBN 0-8122-3602-5. page 105
- A clinical guide to the treatment of human stress response by George S. Everly, Jeffrey M. Lating 2002 ISBN 0-306-46620-1. page 200
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- Murphy, Michael. “1”. The Physical and Psychological Effects of Meditation: Scientific Studies of Contemplative Experience: An Overview. Archived from the original on June 15, 2010.
- A clinical guide to the treatment of human stress response by George S. Everly, Jeffrey M. Lating 2002 ISBN 0-306-46620-1. pages 201-202
- Roger Walsh & Shauna L. Shapiro (2006). “The meeting of meditative disciplines and western psychology: A mutually enriching dialogue”. American Psychologist(American Psychological Association) 61 (3): 227–239. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.61.3.227. ISSN 0003-066X. PMID 16594839.
- B. Rael Cahn & John Polich (2006). “Meditation states and traits: EEG, ERP, and neuroimaging studies”. Psychological Bulletin (American Psychological Association) 132(2): 180–211. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.132.2.180. ISSN 0033-2909. PMID 16536641.
- R. Jevning, R. K. Wallace & M. Beidebach (1992). “The physiology of meditation: A review: A wakeful hypometabolic integrated response”. Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews 16 (3): 415–424. doi:10.1016/S0149-7634(05)80210-6. PMID 1528528.
- Number of citations in PsycINFO: 69 for Walsh & Shapiro, 2006 (2 July 2010); 95 for Cahn & Polich, 2006 (2 July 2010); 57 for Jevning et al (1992) (3 July 2010); 103 for Goleman, 1988 (2 July 2010).
- Claudio Naranjo (1972, originally published 1971), in: Naranjo and Orenstein, On the Psychology of Meditation. New York: Viking.
- Kenneth Bond, Maria B. Ospina, Nicola Hooton, Liza Bialy, Donna M. Dryden, Nina Buscemi, David Shannahoff-Khalsa, Jeffrey Dusek & Linda E. Carlson (2009). “Defining a complex intervention: The development of demarcation criteria for “meditation””. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality (American Psychological Association) 1 (2): 129–137. doi:10.1037/a0015736.
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- Lutz, Dunne and Davidson, “Meditation and the Neuroscience of Consciousness: An Introduction” in The Cambridge handbook of consciousness by Philip David Zelazo, Morris Moscovitch, Evan Thompson, 2007 ISBN 0-521-85743-0 page 499-551 (proof copy) (NB: pagination of published was 499-551 proof was 497-550). Archived May 2, 2014.
- “John Dunne’s speech”. Archived from the original on May 2, 2014.
- Eugene Taylor (1999). Michael Murphy, Steven Donovan & Eugene Taylor, ed. “Introduction”. The physical and psychological effects of meditation: A review of contemporary research with a comprehensive bibliography 1931-1996 (Sausalito, CA: Institute of Noetic Sciences): 1–32.
- Besides Lectio and Yoga, examples include Herbert Benson’s (1975) Relaxation Response ISBN 0-380-00676-6, Jon Kabat-Zinn’s (1990) Full Catastrophe Living ISBN 0-385-29897-8, and Eknath Easwaran’s (1978) Passage Meditation ISBN 978-1-58638-026-7
- see Shapiro, 1982/1984; Bond, Ospina, et al, 2009; Appendix B, pp. 279-282 in Ospina, Bond, et al, 2007).
- Rappe, Sara (2000). Reading neoplatonism : Non-discursive thinking in the texts of plotinus, proclus, and damascius. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-65158-5.).
- Bond, Ospina et al (2009)
- Robert Ornstein (1972, originally published 1971), in: Naranjo and Orenstein, On the Psychology of Meditation. New York: Viking. LCCN 76149720
- Bond, Ospina et al, 2009, p. 131.
- The full quotation from Bond, Ospina et al (2009, p. 135) reads: “It is plausible that meditation is best thought of as a natural category of techniques best captured by ‘family resemblances’ (Wittgenstein, 1968) or by the related ‘prototype’ model of concepts(Rosch, 1973; Rosch & Mervin, 1975).”
- The full quote from Bond, Ospina et al (2009, p. 130) reads: “The differences and similarities among these techniques is often explained in the Western meditation literature in terms of the direction of mental attention (Koshikawa & Ichii, 1996; Naranjo, 1971; Orenstein, 1971): A practitioner can focus intensively on one particular object (so-called concentrative meditation), on all mental events that enter the field of awareness (so-called mindfulness meditation), or both specific focal points and the field of awareness (Orenstein, 1971).”
- Fred Travis & Jonathan Shear (2010). “Focused attention, open monitoring and automatic self-transcending: Categories to organize meditations from Vedic, Buddhist and Chinese traditions”. Consciousness and Cognition 19 (4): 1110–8. doi:10.1016/j.concog.2010.01.007. PMID 20167507.
- Perez-De-Albeniz, Alberto; Jeremy Holmes (March 2000). “Meditation: concepts, effects and uses in therapy”. International Journal of Psychotherapy 5 (1): 49–59. doi:10.1080/13569080050020263. Retrieved 2007-08-23.
- Dietrich Lehmann, P. L. Faber, Peter Achermann, Daniel Jeanmonod, Lorena R. R. Gianotti & Diego Pizzagalli (2001). “Brain sources of EEG gamma frequency during volitionally meditation-induced, altered states of consciousness, and experience of the self”. Psychiatry Research 108 (2): 111–121. doi:10.1016/S0925-4927(01)00116-0. PMID 11738545.
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- Meditation and Mantras by Vishnu Devananda 1999 ISBN 81-208-1615-3. pages 82-83
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- Kamalashila (2003), p. 4, states that Buddhist meditation “includes any method of meditation that has Enlightenment as its ultimate aim.” Likewise, Bodhi (1999) writes: “To arrive at the experiential realization of the truths it is necessary to take up the practice of meditation…. At the climax of such contemplation the mental eye … shifts its focus to the unconditioned state, Nibbana….” A similar although in some ways slightly broader definition is provided by Fischer-Schreiber et al. (1991), p. 142: “Meditation – general term for a multitude of religious practices, often quite different in method, but all having the same goal: to bring the consciousness of the practitioner to a state in which he can come to an experience of ‘awakening,’ ‘liberation,’ ‘enlightenment.'” Kamalashila (2003) further allows that some Buddhist meditations are “of a more preparatory nature” (p. 4).
- The Pāli and Sanskrit word bhāvanā literally means “development” as in “mental development.” For the association of this term with “meditation,” see Epstein (1995), p. 105; and, Fischer-Schreiber et al. (1991), p. 20. As an example from a well-known discourse of the Pali Canon, in “The Greater Exhortation to Rahula” (Maha-Rahulovada Sutta, MN 62), Ven. Sariputta tells Ven. Rahula (in Pali, based on VRI, n.d.): ānāpānassatiṃ, rāhula, bhāvanaṃ bhāvehi. Thanissaro (2006) translates this as: “Rahula, develop the meditation [bhāvana] of mindfulness of in-&-out breathing.” (Square-bracketed Pali word included based on Thanissaro, 2006, end note.)
- Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), entry for “jhāna1“; Thanissaro (1997); as well as, Kapleau (1989), p. 385, for the derivation of the word “zen” from Sanskrit “dhyāna.” PTS Secretary Dr. Rupert Gethin, in describing the activities of wandering ascetics contemporaneous with the Buddha, wrote:
- “…[T]here is the cultivation of meditative and contemplative techniques aimed at producing what might, for the lack of a suitable technical term in English, be referred to as ‘altered states of consciousness’. In the technical vocabulary of Indian religious texts such states come to be termed ‘meditations’ ([Skt.:] dhyāna / [Pali:] jhāna) or ‘concentrations’ (samādhi); the attainment of such states of consciousness was generally regarded as bringing the practitioner to deeper knowledge and experience of the nature of the world.” (Gethin, 1998, p. 10.)
- Goldstein (2003) pages 92, 227.
- Examples of contemporary school-specific “classics” include, from the Theravada tradition, Nyanaponika (1996) and, from the Zen tradition, Kapleau (1989).
- These definitions of samatha and vipassana are based on the “Four Kinds of Persons Sutta” (AN 4.94). This article’s text is primarily based on Bodhi (2005), pp. 269-70, 440 n. 13. See also Thanissaro (1998d).
- See, for instance, AN 2.30 in Bodhi (2005), pp. 267-68, and Thanissaro (1998e).
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- The Katha Upanishad describes yoga, including meditation. On meditation in this and other post-Buddhist Hindu literature see Randall Collins, The Sociology of Philosophies: A Global Theory of Intellectual Change. Harvard University Press, 2000, page 199.
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- Taylor (1999, p. 7) stated that “the increased Soviet influence in India, the Cultural Revolution in China, the Communist Chinese takeover of Tibet and Mongolia, and the increased political influence of Chinese Communism in Korea and Southeast Asia were key forces that collectively set the stage for an influx of Asian spiritual teachers to the West. An entirely new generation of them appeared on the American scene and they found a willing audience of devotees within the American counter-culture. Swami A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami, Swami Satchitananda, Guru Maharaji, Kerpal Singh, Nayanaponika Thera, Swami Rama, Thich Nhat Hanh, Chogyam Trungpa, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Swami Muktananda, Sri Bagwan Rujneesh, Pir Viliyat Kahn, and the Karmapa were but a few of the names that found followers in the United States… [and] the most well known and influential… today remains Tenzin Gyatso, the fourteenth Dalai Lama of Tibet, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.”
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- Kabat-Zinn gives the body scan and food meditations in “Mindfulness for Beginners” the 2CD set, and Matthieu Ricard gives the letting thoughts arise and pass away in his 2CD set “Happiness: A Guide to Cultivating Life’s Most Important Skill”
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- see Progressive muscle relaxation from where these two references were taken showing that this method reduces extreme anxiety, 1) Craske & Barlow (2006). Worry. Oxford University Press. p. 53. ISBN 0-19-530001-7. and 2) Chen WC; Chu H; Lu RB; Chou YH; Chen CH; Chang YC; O’Brien AP; Chou KR. (Aug 2009). “Efficacy of progressive muscle relaxation training in reducing anxiety in patients with acute schizophrenia”. Journal of Clinical Nursing 18 (15): 2187–96. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2702.2008.02773.x. PMID 19583651.
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- There has been a dramatic increase in the past 10 or 15 years or so of studies on the impact of meditation upon one’s health. Translator for The Dalai Lama, interviewed in a video here
- http://www.investigatingthemind.org/ “…the power of our non-invasive technologies have made it possible to investigate the nature of cognition and emotion in the brain as never before…” Mind and Life Institute summary of Investigating the Mind 2005 meetings between The Dalai Lama and scientists
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- “Empirical research on meditation started in the 1950s, and as much as 1,000 publications on meditation already exist. Despite such a high number of scientiﬁc reports and inspiring theoretical proposals (Austin, 19 9 8; Shapiro & Walsh,1984; Varela, Thompson, & Rosch, 19 9 1;Wallace, 2 0 0 3 ; West, 1987), one still needsto admit that little is known about the neurophysiological processes involved in meditation and about its possible long-term impact on the brain. The lack of statistical evidence, control populations and rigor of many of the early studies; the heterogeneity of the studied meditative states;and the difﬁculty in controlling the degree of expertise of practitioners can in part account for the limited contributions made by neuroscience-oriented research on meditation.” – “Meditation and the Neuroscience of Consciousness: An Introduction” by Lutz, Dunne and Davidson
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A1. Keng, S.-L., Smoski, M. J., & Robins, C. J. (2011). Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies. Clinical Psychology Review, 31(6), 1041–1056. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.cpr.2011.04.006
A2. Dakwar, E., & Levin, F. R. (2009). The Emerging Role of Meditation in Addressing Psychiatric Illness, with a Focus on Substance Use Disorders. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 17(4), 254–267. http://doi.org/10.1080/10673220903149135
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