FAITH TRADITIONS AND MEDITATION
What are some of these traditions that are related to faith and meditation? Would anyone be able to learn how to use them in collaboration with their faith? I find it fascinating and important to see how the different faiths of the word view and use meditation. I hope that this will help clarify any misconceptions there may be.
In the teachings of the Baha’i Faith meditation, along with prayer, is one of the primary tools for spiritual development, and it mainly refers 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 Baha’i 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, and that both prayer and meditation are needed to bring about and to maintain a spiritual communion with God. 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 Baha’i’s should read a passage of the Baha’i 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. The Nineteen Day Fast, a nineteen-day period of the year, during which Baha’is adhere to a sunrise-to-sunset fast, is also seen as meditative, where Baha’is must meditate and pray to reinvigorate their spiritual forces.
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. Buddhists pursue meditation as part of the path toward Enlightenment and Nirvana. The closest words for meditation in the classical languages of Buddhism are bhavana, jhana dhyana and vipassana. 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– that are used across Buddhist schools, as well as significant diversity. In the Theravada 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: (a) “serenity” or “tranquility” which steadies, composes, unifies and concentrates the mind; and (b) “insight” 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; with the release of the hindrances, through the meditative development of insight that one gains liberating wisdom.
Christian Meditation is a term for 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 and reflecting on their meaning in the context of the love of God. Christian meditation contrasts with cosmic styles of eastern meditation as radically as the portrayal of God the Father in the Bible contrasts with discussions of Krishna or Brahman in Indian teachings. Unlike eastern meditations, most styles of Christian meditations do not rely on the repeated use of mantras, but are 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”.
Taoist or Daoist meditation has a long history, and has developed various techniques including concentration, visualization, qi cultivation, contemplation, and mindfulness meditations. Traditional Daoist meditative practices were influenced by Chinese Buddhism beginning around the 5th century, and later had influence upon Traditional Chinese medicine and the Chinese martial arts.
Three basic types of Daoist meditation: “concentrative”, “insight”, and “visualization”. Ding (literally means “decide; settle; stabilize”) refers to “deep concentration”, “intent contemplation”, or “perfect absorption.” Guan (lit. “watch; observe; view”) meditation seeks to merge attain unity with the Dao. Daoist masters based it upon the Tiantai Buddhist practice of Vipassana “insight” or “wisdom” meditation. Cun (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 Linbao 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 “immortality”.
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”, Oigong “life-energy exercises”, Neigoing “internal exercises”, Neidan “internal alchemy”, Yiquan “Standing Meditation/Intent-Fist”, 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.
There are many schools and styles of meditation within Hinduism. Yoga is generally done to prepare one for meditation, and meditation is done to realize union of one’s self, one’s atman, 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, which includes the Bhagavad Gita.
Within yoga practice there are eight limbs leading to “aloneness.” These are ethical discipline, rules, physical postures, breath control, withdrawal from the senses, one-pointedness of mind, meditation, and finally samadhi, which is often described as the realization of the identity of the Self with the omnipresent (Brahaman), and is the ultimate aim of all Hindu yogis.
Meditation has been laid stress upon by all religions. The meditative state of mind is declared by the Yogis to be the highest state in which the mind exists. When the mind is studying the external object, it gets identified with it, loses itself. To use the simile of the old Indian philosopher: the soul of man is like a piece of crystal, but it takes the colour of whatever is near it. Whatever the soul touches … it has to take its colour. That is the difficulty. That constitutes the bondage.
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. 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.
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, 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