Meditation is the practice of focusing the mind, often formalized into a specific routine. Meditation is usually recognized as a component of Eastern religions, originating in Vedic Hinduism. It encompasses any of a wide variety of spiritual practices which emphasize mental activity or quiescence. Meditation can also be used for personal development, such as the exercises of Hatha yoga. Many practice meditation in order to achieve eternal peace, while others do it in order to become healthier and friendlier.
Meditation is usually defined as one of the following: a state that is experienced when the mind dissolves and is free of all thoughts focusing the mind on a single object (such as a religious statue, or one’s breath, or a mantra) a mental “opening up” to the divine, invoking the guidance of a higher power reasoned analysis of religious teachings (such as impermanence, for Buddhists). Its ritual and contemplative qualities are similar to prayer in Western religions, but prayer emphasizes communication with a higher being, whereas meditation focuses on developing oneself. Meditation may be for a religious purpose, but even before being brought to the West it was used in secular contexts, such as the martial arts. Beginning with the Theosophists, though, meditation has been employed by a number of religious and spiritual movements, such as Hatha yoga and the New Age movement, as well as limited use in Christianity. It has been suggested that the recent popularity of “meditation” as a religious practice in the West signals some discomfort with more traditional Christian and Jewish practices such as prayer. Others see meditation and prayer as harmonious: Edgar Cayce taught that “Through prayer we speak to God. In meditation, God speaks to us.”
From the point of view of psychology, meditation can induce an altered state of consciousness. However, many religious people would challenge the assumption that such mental states (or any other visible result) are the “goal” of meditation. The goals of meditation are varied, and range from spiritual enlightenment, to the transformation of attitudes, to better cardiovascular health.
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