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  • Written by  Ian Gawler
  • // Sunday, 05 August 2012 08:09
Ian Gawler

The history of meditation part one - From early beginnings to Chicago

This is the first in a series of 5 posts on the history of meditation, adapted from Meditation- an In-depth Guide by Ian Gawler and Paul Bedson

Meditation resided for thousands of years almost exclusively in the domain of spiritual practice. However, it is clear that meditation has much to offer that is very relevant to our modern lives, whether or not we are spiritually inclined. In a series of posts, we will explore where meditation came from, how it has evolved in the West, and how it has emerged as maybe the best, most proven self-help technique for healing body and mind.


Currently, meditation is going through quite a renaissance. However, one of its great strengths is its longevity. The earliest written records of meditation being practised come from China and are dated around 5000 BC. In India written records first appeared about 1500 BC, and in the West, in Greece, about 750 BC. It would seem that in pre-recorded history the practice of meditation stretches back into antiquity.

From such early beginnings meditation has been practised continuously in virtually all cultures. While this practice is often associated primarily with Eastern cultures and religions, it is apparent that meditation is a widespread and long-lasting phenomenon. What this tells us is that meditation has been well tried and tested.

Consider this. In just the last few centuries many of the great minds of the West have taken to their laboratories and studied physics, chemistry and the workings of the physical world. Very useful! But for thousands of years, countless great minds in the East took to their deserts or their caves, went into the laboratories between their ears and studied the workings of their minds. The mind science they learned has been handed down from generation to generation, often directly by word of mouth, but often in written form.

As a consequence, we know in great detail what meditation has to offer, how to practise it, what pitfalls to look out for and how to use this mind science to our best advantage. Meditation is a very safe and reliable technology. This is of particular significance and relevance when it comes to using meditation as a therapy.

Of course, during meditation’s genesis, and even up until quite recent times, it was a practice that was singularly focused upon spiritual realisation.

During the 1800s, meditation in the West was largely the domain of Christian contemplatives and a few adventurous explorers of the occult, spiritualism, mental healing and transcendental experience.

This all changed when the first World Parliament of Religions was held in Chicago in 1893. This single event was epoch-making. For the first time major spiritual leaders from the East gathered and presented something of their experience, knowledge and presence to a large gathering of influential Westerners. The ramifications were wide- spread and continue to be felt. The Interfaith Movement began, and at the same time a serious interest in the study and practice of meditation was sparked in the Western world

To be continued ...