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History of Meditation – Part 2 – Early Teachings and Religious Roots

This is the second post in a 3-part series, “History of Meditation”. You can find part 1 here.

The Enso. A symbol of Zen
The Enso. A symbol of Zen

Meditation was becoming more and more popular by the time we adopted the modern calendar. In the previous post, we learned that meditation had already become a lifestyle amongst past civilizations. Our prehistoric ancestors had a form of environment-induced meditation. The ancient inhabitants of the Indus Valley were the first to record their meditation practices. We also looked at the initial influence religion had on meditation. Once the Common Era began, meditation would spread quickly due to its relationship with multiple religions.

Throughout the 7th century, eastern religions were continuing to spread and prosper. Additionally, this is when Japanese Buddhism started to flourish. A Japanese monk named Dosho travelled to China where he learned and adopted a form of meditation unheard of in his homeland: Zen Buddhism’s Zazen. Zazen is a seated meditation that’s known to be a study of self. “To study the Buddha Way is to study the self, to study the self is to forget the self, and to forget the self is to be enlightened by the ten thousand things” preaches Dogen Zenji (also known as Eihei Dogen), an ancient practitioner and teacher of Soto Zen. Along with the teachings of Zen Buddhism, it was vital to practice and educate others in order to excel with zazen and this is exactly what Dosho did. Upon his return to Japan, Dosho thought it necessary to spread Zen. He opened a meditation hall in Japan, the first of its kind, where he shared his discoveries.

The Shunkoin Temple in Kyoto, Japan
The Shunkoin Temple in Kyoto, Japan

During this time, many other religions were thriving. Each with their own forms of meditation attached to a religious belief. In Islam, they find meditation in Tafakkur. This is the act of deep contemplation and reflection of life. In Judaism, there is a firm belief in Kabbalah, a tradition of received wisdom. This gives root to Hitbodedut, a reflection of life’s little moments, similar to Tafakkur. In Christianity, forms of introspective thinking can be found in counting rosary beads and Eucharistic Adoration. Regardless of the religion, the commonality is that they all believe that we should take the time to reflect upon the lives we are blessed with and focus on the present.

As we near the contemporary history of meditation, it remains very ingrained in religion. In the next post in this series we will see the evolution of meditation and its widespread reach across the world.  


This is the second part in Muse’s “History of Meditation” series. Follow the 3-part series in the upcoming weeks.

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