Meditation

A form of religious practice in which the devotee maintains an inner focus, characterized more as a state of prayer than active thought or speculation. Its general purpose is to achieve clear understanding of something, whether it be a piece of scripture, an idea, an object, the relationship between the human and the divine, or even ultimate truth. Another goal of meditation, and sometimes one of its clearest features, is the attainment of calm and peace. All major religious traditions have forms of meditation. In Hinduism, the various schools of yoga adopt different methods, but the general overall intention of meditation is the cleansing of the mind and soul so that the true nature of reality, and one’s place in relation to it, might be grasped. Beyond yoga practices, Hindu worshippers commonly use for ms of meditation in everyday worship. One frequent method is the repetition of a mantra. Hindu sannyasi, or holy men, might spend long periods, or even lifetimes, in modes of meditation. These might involve particular postures, such as sitting in the cross-legged lotus position, as well as the chanting of mantras. In the Tantric form of Hinduism, meditation is designed to awaken the divine energies that lie dormant within the body and, under the guid- ance of gurus, meditators are urged to visualize the release of those energies as well as use other methods. Some aspects of Tantric meditation have spilled over into popular Hinduism and into Tibetan Buddhism. Meditation is most common in Buddhism, where the precedent for it was set by the Buddha himself, who gained his enlightenment and banished temptations while engaging in meditation. The Buddhist tradition likens the mind to a wild animal that is dangerous when untamed but very useful if it is properly trained, and meditation is training. The method is generally mental concentration on a particular memory, idea, or object; different schools make different recommendations. If practiced properly and under guidance, meditation in Buddhism is thought to lead the devotee through four stages of concentration: detachment from the material world, combined with a feeling of peace and happiness; consciousness of the spiritual limits of reason; the maintenance of peace but fading away of happiness; and the fading away of peace to a point of pure self-possession. This meditational progression will not result into entrance into the state of being known as nirvana, the Buddhist goal. Instead it will train the mind properly so that nirvana might possibly be reached through more advanced insight. Buddhist methods of meditation are not as varied as those found in Hinduism and involve sitting, calm, and sometimes chanting. In some schools, notably the Zen practice of zazen, or sitting, meditation plays a very central role. In Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, meditation is considered a less mainstream approach to faith. Among Jews, meditation is used by those following the path of the Kabbalah as well as by Hasidic Jews. There, the main method is concentration on the spiritual world in the attempt to gain awareness of the sefirot, the emanations of God. In Christianity, meditation is more common in the Eastern Orthodox and other eastern traditions than in Roman Catholicism or Protestantism. In Eastern Orthodoxy, monks use repetition of the Jesus Prayer, which runs simply, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner, in hopes of synchronizing the repetitions with breathing, thereby uniting the head and the heart. Mastery of this technique might lead to a vision of the light of God. Roman Catholic monasteries, meanwhile, often feature contemplative methods and practice that bear a close resemblance to meditation. In Islam, meditation is generally associated with Sufi mysticism, where devotees also seek an inner vision of the divine. There, contemplative methods are combined with often rather energetic spiritual exercises in pursuit of this vision. Among the important contemplative methods is ritual prayer or litany from the Qur’an known as a dhikr or remembrance. By repeating it, the Sufi gains greater purity of the heart, although by itself it does not lead to divine visions. More broadly, the common practice in Islam of memorizing and reciting Qur’anic prayers might function also as a basic form of meditation. SEE ALSO: monasticism; Sufism; Zen Buddhism

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