When we think of meditation, we most often think of it as originating in the Indian subcontinent. This is fairly accurate, although not the whole picture. The earliest known reference to meditation in the region is found on one of the seals in the ruins of civilizations which existed prior to 1500 BCE.

Chinese forms of meditation have been known to exist long before the seventh century BC. Siberian and African shamanic cultures hold even earlier precursors to the Asian meditative arts. In the West, meditation took on the form of contemplative prayer, with an unbroken tradition of mysticism from the NeoPlatonists through the medieval mystics. In our day and age, meditation is being studied scientifically for its effects on the brain.

In Sanskrit the generic term for meditation is dhyana, which refers to both inner contemplation, and the intermediate state between concentration on an object (dharana) and complete absorption in it (samadhi).

The general consensus is that humans have been meditating for 5000 years or so, and probably even longer than that. Why? Why do humans meditate?

It’s to answer the fundamental question of “Who am I?” and related to it, “What is the purpose of life?” Meditation is essentially the quest for understanding and meaning. It’s a way for humans to find their place both in a cultural and cosmical context. And it has the added dimension of self-understanding which leads to an improved life.

Meditation is the process of self-discovery. On one level the meditation experience shows us the patterns of our lives—how we have carried on our emotional characteristics since childhood. But on another level it frees us from these patterns, making it easier for us to see our inner potentials.

— Tarthang Tulku

All traditions from which the meditative arts are sourced include in their core a profound psychology. This is a psychology which is part and parcel of the wisdom that these traditions hold, and which the practitioner can also access.

When we look backward at the patterns of our thoughts, we can sometimes observe and identify the deceptions created by our self-images. We can learn to see through the mind’s posturings and pretenses and through all our explanations and excuses. We can realize we are still just playing games and are far from genuine self-knowledge.

— Tarthang Tulku

When we improve our own life within first, then outwardly too there’s a ripple effect in our own household, and from there in expanding circles in the rest of society.

Meditation is actually prescribed by more and more doctors. And there’s interest in meditation as a way to curb heart attacks. At the same time, the real value of meditation seems to be in this:

The animal has no power to analyze its condition and its environment; only man has that rational capacity. As such, man is meant to use that power to improve himself and to get the most out of life. Superior intelligence was not given to the human being merely to be used to eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner; marry and beget children. It was given that man might understand the meaning of life and find soul freedom…. Beyond all the books that are written, it is God’s Book of Nature that remains the most difficult to understand. But the whole creation, including the chapter of human existence, can be read when God becomes a teacher.

— Paramahansa Yogananda

If the word “God” is challenging, replace it with anything else that works for you.

Having first-person knowledge about our own workings, the workings of Nature, and to be free from bondage to pain, suffering and delusion is invaluable, the ultimate prize. Meditation imparts real, useable wisdom. It lets us know we’re not little egos stuffed into physical forms that are designed to perish. With meditation we have a way out of our maddening thoughts and burning emotions. Our sojourn here is not a dicey game.

When we spend conscious time with our breath on a daily basis, with our consciousness, and our heart, we relate to life as a part of life, instead of separate from and afraid of it. This brings about a knowing that compassion is a worthwhile investment, awareness and consideration of ‘other’ whether other is human, species or planet, is beneficial for all, and the entire journey can be enjoyable, meaningful and beautiful.

This is the world in which I want my child to have his future. How about you?

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Why Do Humans Meditate?

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