A Brief History of Meditation


Jack Deneen

To find comfort in the modern world, we need to find ways to relax. Many people do this in different ways, whether this means playing a video game, or reading a book. One of the oldest ways to relax as well as connect to the self is found in the ancient art of meditation. Many people know how to meditate, but few know where it comes from. The history of meditation spans across different eras, different countries, and even different religions.

The first evidence of meditation can be found in 1500 B.C. with references of ancient meditation techniques found in ancient Hindu text. Although old, these forms of ancient meditation resemble less of meditation and more of deep thinking. 

The modern translation of the practice can be traced back to the Buddha, who lived in South East Asia around 600 B.C. The Buddha was critical to the development of  meditation, as his main teachings involved the enlightenment of your mind and body. The Buddha, also known as Sudhartha Guatama, was born to a rich family, but decided to give up his life of luxury to live a more grounded life, living almost as a peasant. He searched for enlightenment for six years, and finally reached enlightenment after meditating under a Bodhi Tree for 10 days. This show of resolve and dedication to his cause convinced many to pick up Buddhism and follow in the same steps as him, with many of his followers meditating frequently. Meditation then spread to different branches of Buddhism like Tibetan buddhism and Theravada. Meditation was mostly practiced in the South East Asian region, he surrounding areas’ religions, like confucionism and Islam, rarely practicing meditation. Even when Christian nations like Portugal, France, Great Britain and the Netherlands arrived in South East Asia, very few of them practiced meditation as it was seen as “un-Christian”, though some Enlightenment thinking promoted meditation, but soon, meditation would spread across the world. 

As early as 1870, many Buddhist monks moved to western countries and started to spread meditation ideas across the west. Meditation then gained momentum, spreading quickly with schools promoting meditation popping up all over the United States. The first major stage where meditation was shown to a broader audience was at the World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893. This exposed meditation to a wider audience. This event caused many people to try? meditation, though this enthusiasm was limited to a small group of people.

Meditation really took off in the 1960s, with many young adults seeking purpose in life, following the same path as the ancient Sidhartha once did. Living a more “down to earth” lifestyle, they began meditating frequently. A key individual in this movement was Ram Dass, a former professor at Harvard University who introduced the practice to countless groups of individuals. This new stage of enlightenment, normalized meditation in America and now meditation has become a staple in many people’s lives, helping people from Nepal to the U.S. relax and put their mind at ease. 

Today, people frequently practice meditation all across the world including in the U.S. with many people teaching and spreading meditation to new communities. In fact, in America, 14.2 percent of all people have meditated in the past year and the rates will only increase as more find solace in the calm and peace achieved by making meditation part of your lifestyle.  Starting your meditation practice today extends the long history of meditation that traces back thousands of years and is still going strong.  If you are interested in exploring the practice you might consider checking out apps like InsightTimer, Headspace, and countless others that make meditation accessible to anyone.