Meditation in World Religion

    Meditation is the complement to prayer.  While prayer directs the heart to Ultimate Reality as a transcendent object, meditation cleanses the heart of all finite objects which obscure Reality so that its ultimate point may be found within.  Meditation takes several forms, and the scriptures teach several meditative techniques.

    Hindu, Jain, Taoist, and Buddhist scriptures describe meditation as sitting in a quiet spot, restricting all sense stimuli, controlling the mind's wandering thoughts and feelings, and finally attaining a stillness that reveals the true self-nature within.  This self-nature may be the original Nothingness, or a union with the creative Spirit that flows through all things.  In Confucian meditation this tranquillity is to make the mind clear and receptive to the impartial evaluation of knowledge.

    Meditative spiritual practices are also widespread in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.  Most of these practices were developed by mystics and monastics long after the scriptures had been compiled, and regrettably they are under represented in an anthology which is limited to scripture.  Some are meditations on scripture: For example in Roman Catholicism the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola and The Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross instruct one to meditate on events in Jesus' life and passion and identify one's own spiritual journey with them.  Muslim Sufis often base their meditation on one or several of the Qur'an's Ninety-nine Most Beautiful Names of God.1  Jewish mystics may meditate on a verse of Torah to uncover its hidden meaning.  Many Jews and Christians employ silent meditation as a valuable preparation for prayer; it is a time of quiet when the mind is calmed and clarified before communing with God.

    The distinctive Theravada Buddhist discipline of the Four Arousings of Mindfulness aims at achieving awareness of all movements, sensations, feelings, thoughts, and ideas as they come and go in the body and mind. The Buddha taught in the Satipatthana Sutta that one should become mindful at every moment on the ever-changing phenomena of body, senses, and thought.  Through this meditation, a person realizes that everything in his body and all the phenomena of his mind are transitory and unreal, and he thus realizes the truth of Dependent Origination.  A Mahayana Buddhist meditation is to construct a mental image: for example an image of Buddha, a bodhisattva, or the Pure Land.

    Finally, there is shamanistic meditation, where the goal is to receive a vision from the spiritual plane.  After a communal initiation, assisted by songs, fasting, and invoking the spirits, the person on a vision quest goes to a lonely spot free of distraction.  There he remains, meditating, until the moment when he breaks through beyond ordinary consciousness to receive a supernatural vision that gives purpose to his life and endows him with spiritual powers.

posted on the TIKKUN (now DONMEH) mail list
Thu, 10 Dec 1998
Damian J. Anderson
World Scripture: A Comparative Anthology of Sacred Texts, Ed. Andrew Wilson

Meditation in the Eastern Traditions

Buddhist Meditation Mindfulness (Buddhist Meditation) Confucian Meditation
Taoist Meditation Jain Meditation Meditation in the Upanishads

quotes on meduitation

Verily, from meditation arises wisdom.  Without meditation wisdom wanes.

                   BuddhismDhammapada 282

Calm is his mind,
calm is his speech,
calm is his action,
who, rightly knowing, is wholly freed,
perfectly peaceful and equipoised.

                   BuddhismDhammapada 96

Concentration is unafflicted one-pointedness.

                   Mahayana Buddhism.  Nagarjuna, Precious Garland 2

The Master said, "Hui is capable of occupying his whole mind for three
months on end with no thought but that of Goodness.  The others can do so,
some for a day, some even for a month, but that is all."

                   Confucianism.  Analects 6.5

Within the lotus of the heart he dwells, where the nerves meet like the
spokes of a wheel at its hub.  Meditate on him as OM.  Easily may you
cross the sea of darkness.

                   VedantaMundaka Upanishad 2.2.6

In the cool, dew-drenched night are shining the stars:
At this hour are awake the devotees, lovers of God,
    meditating each day on the Name--
Their hearts meditating on the lotus feet of God,
    whom they forsake not for an instant.

                   Sikhism.  Adi Granth, Asa Chhant, M.5, p. 459

One must not stand up and say the Tefillah except in a serious frame of mind.  The pious men of old used to wait an hour, and then say the prayer, in order to direct their hearts to their Father in heaven.

                   JudaismMishnah, Berakot 3

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1 See Qur'an 59.22-24, p. 836.

2 Precious Garland 437: The same definition is given in Bhagavad Gita 6.12, pp. 843f.

3 Berakot 5.1: The 'Tefillah' refers to the Amidah, the Eighteen Benedictions, one of the
chief Jewish prayers.  Cf. Berakot 30b, p. 829; Chuang Tzu 23, p. 735.

page uploaded 9 February 1999