The Origin of Meditation
Although the practice of Meditation and Yoga may be closely related in many ways, Meditation as a formal and separate practice that did not arise until much later in history. In fact, a little more than 5,000 years ago. However, it is most likely that human beings have been practicing, to some degree, some form of meditation since virtually the beginning of their existence.
Any time that you take some time out to gather your thoughts or get some fresh air to clear your mind, you are technically using meditation to relax and focus your mind. However, for the purposes of this article, we will review the two main types of Meditation, their development and their split into many discreet subsets.
Pinpointing the Origin of the Art of Meditation
Although writings about meditation generally began about 5,000 years ago (they would have had to due to the formalization of writing not occurring until this time), it is fairly obvious that meditation had to originate far earlier due to its integration into religion. In fact, as meditation (whether you realize it or not) is part of our lives every day, it contributes largely to the concept of human awareness and language. As mentioned above, every time you collect your thoughts, you are resorting to some form of meditation. How then, can the practice of organized meditation be pinpointed?
Well, there was a large influx of religious meditation in the Eastern part of the world about 40,000-50,000 years ago. The two sections of meditation that arose were Mantra and Mindfulness. Most experts attribute the development and evolution of these two particular types of meditation to the following major events that took place around the same time:
About 50,000 years ago, tools crafted for specific purposes began to become standard. In fact, templates for the construction of tools for hunting and leisure/beauty arose around this time. With the larger amounts of tools being constructed, early civilizations were allowed more time to contemplate their existence and the altruistic obligations that they had to society and their peers.
The additional development of instruments during this time allowed for the production of early music and art. This also led to the first examples of what we now can refer to as culture. With culture comes more art. With more art comes more qualitative thought processes. With more thought processes comes meditation.
After the development of standardized tools, the act of colonial expansionism followed. As a species, we are constantly concerned with the discovery of new areas to inhabit and new worlds to explore. The inhabitants of the past were no different. Even with a severely minimalist population 50,000 years ago, the people decided to build boats and the like to travel to what is now Australia and New Guinea to further populate these islands.
As early man began to spread, so did their cultures. While early culture was still fairly similar, the new environments began to cause differences in culture based on the surroundings of the people involved. While the development of tools founded the first form of meditation referred to as mindfulness. The cultural differences that arose founded the second form of meditation referred to as Mantra. According to historian Jared Diamond, the development of vocal sounds and inflections for communication also founded the use of meditation as a mantra technique.
Soon after the expansion of culture and the rapid explosion of population came the inevitable development of organized religion and the incorporation of meditation about 40,000 years ago. One of the first uses of meditation was to contemplate the deaths of others. The original mantras that were founded were used for religious purposes and practiced at the elaborate burial sites, or cemeteries that began to spring up around this time.
It was not long after this time that meditation became an integral part of religion and spread as teachings of stress relief and a means of justifying existence. Without clear scientific evidence (or, in fact, the ability to understand) many of the questions that early man had about their life and the world that they inhabited, many people turned to the familiar religious meditation to cope with non-religious and every day problems and occurrences. The standardized practice of meditation was born.
Even though inter-tribe conflict was unavoidable during the early existence of man, a combination of rapid expansion, standardized tools and the organization of separate cultures and religion led to organized conflict and war. At this time, elaborate burial sites were forced to expand in a very short amount of time and the early population must have experienced a large increase in altruistic (or support of other people without an immediate personal benefit or reward) stress. There is evidence that meditation became a strong part of coping with loss and mental preparation for battle.
During this time, meditation and the corresponding mindsets began to take form as standard practice. People used meditative techniques to contemplate whether or not they were on the "good" side of a conflict. In addition, people needed to relax after conflict or free the many thoughts that must have been dancing in their minds. As a result, meditation evolved into a means for survival. With continuously expanding ideas and technological (relatively speaking) advances, people needed to remain focused and have clear heads. It is estimated that (even more than now) more people used meditation during this time.
The Divisions as they are Today
All of the above circumstances were necessary events that needed to take place for the origin and eventual split of approaches to occur for meditation. Cultural and societal differences ultimately led to, and promoted, the different ideas about how, when, and why to use meditation.
This evolution of meditation techniques and approaches continues even as this article is being written. As new technological advances are achieved, new meditation techniques arise to address these changes and advances.
For example, individuals that use prefer to incorporate music during their meditation sessions would be very pleased to see the development of portable devices for the playing of music.
In the same way, individuals that enjoy specific scents when meditating would be in a much better position to practice their trade after the development on incense and candles.
While the origins of meditation are still somewhat unclear (as it is obvious that people could think and reflect before they could record or talk) we can be sure that societal advances that arose 50,000 years ago greatly contributed to the standardization of meditative techniques.