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Focusing the Mind & the History of Meditation

Posted by on Dec 3, 2009

It seems that our reality is getting more and more subjective. We once lived in a Newtonian world: objects in motion tended to stay in motion, force and mass where determiners of most of the properties of the objects in our presence.  We were relegated to a purely mechanical world. Then came the ideas of Einstein and Bose. Noted physicist Jayant Narlikar stated,

S.N. Bose’s work on particle statistics (c.1922), which clarified the behviour of photons (the particles of light in an encolsure) and openned the door to new ideas on statistics of Microsystems that obey the rules of quantum theory, was one of the top ten achievements of 20th century Indian science and could be considered in the Nobel Prize class. 1

We essentially left the mechanical world and entered the world of wave/particles and an exploration of consciousness. Since that discovery in the 1920’s quantum science has increasingly crossed over into the sectarian world, finding repeated correlates to the hypothesis of its brightest minds. It seems modern science is rediscovering one of the oldest practices on earth – that of meditation or focusing the mind.

Neuroscientist Richard Davidson of the University of Wisconsin has been “exploring ways in which individuals can use focus to change problematic attentional, cognitive, and emotional patterns.  The mental-fitness regimens that he and colleagues in a half-dozen labs around the world are working with are based on meditation, which boils down to exercise in paying rapt attention to a target for a certain period of time. Various Eastern and Western religions have used it over the past 2,500 years to enhance spiritual practice, but meditation is easily stripped of its sectarian overtones to its behavioural essence of deliberate, targeted concentration that invites a calm, steady psychophysiological state.” (Gallagher, Winifred, from Rapt c. 2009 New York, Penguin Press)

Davidson, perhaps, does not realize that the practice of giving an object rapt attention, i.e., meditation – has been around for over 5000 years. Dr. Muata Ashby discovered that the ancient Eqyptians, specifically, those men and women from the 19th Dynasty (1290-1224 B.C.E.) were practicing what was called the “ankh ba” mantra meditation.  The ankh ba symbol represented eternal life, a teaching which many Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, Daoist, and other Eastern religions share.

We also draw much of our yogic knowledge relating to meditation from the Vedic period in history which has similar teachings to the 19th Egyptian Dynasty. The Vedic Age is considered the period in history when the oldest sacred Indo-Aryan texts were composed, such as the Bhagavad Gita. (Many sholars of the Mahabharata place this book’s origins at the Battle of Kuruksetra in 3137 B.C due to specific astrological references in the Vedic scriptures, the year 3102 B.C. is the beginning of kali yuga which began 35 years after the battle 5000 years ago.)  Most scholars place the Vedic period in the 1st and 2nd millenia BCE and continuing through the 6th century.

In fact, Mahayana schools of Buddhism have developed a variety of other ritual and devotional practices, including meditation, many of which were inspired or influenced by the existing religious cultures of India, China, Japan, Southeast Asia, and Tibet. Many of these practices were derived from ancient Egypt. The Hindu religious teachings gave us varied meditation practices also: Vedanta, Raja Yoga, Surat Shabd Yoga, and Japa Yoga. Each of these practices have oral traditions as old as 5000 years.

Additionally, Japan and China gave us Zazen meditation (“seated concentration”) which uses a koan or intellectual puzzle to “frustrate” the mind with an intellectual conundrum, only so that, with focss, it can reorganize at a higher level. Needless to say, there are numerous ways in which meditation has been practiced over the course of human history, but what Davidson may be remarking on is the new non-religious way in which “focusing” is being taught to the masses.

Nataliya Schetchikova, PhD, ACA News Assistant points out in a recent article, the joining of religious and scientific sects. Western and developed countries have increasingly given attention to mental and physical health, and while our pharmaceutical advances have been great in the past several decades, we have increasingly become a drugged nation with nary the benefits that are consistently being reported by meditators.  In Schetchikova’s article, she points to the willingness of the Dalai Lama to cooperate with branches of science, psychology and neurophysics in order for all of us to understand what I presume he has known all along – that meditation has incredible gifts to give us, including decreased stress, prolonged life, and greater feelings of happiness and compassion.

In a recently published study by Harvard School of Medicine, meditation and yoga practices have now been found to actually “turn off” disease causing genes, and activate genes that bring greater health and vitality. Dr. Herbert Benson, originally called the fruits of meditation, “the relaxation response”, but the degree of the effectiveness of meditation is only just now beginning to be understood, and the most recent study with the partnership of Dr. Dean Ornish helped to prove a higher degree of Dr. Benson’s earlier presumption.

Interestingly, scientists are still mostly looking at meditation from purely physical and cognitive levels, since these are the things they can currently measure with some accuracy using available technological devices such as EEG and fMRI machines, as well as study participant behavior analysis. If we were to just look at behavioral and physical changes alone, we would be missing one of the greatest long-standing benefits of continued meditation practice.

If the ancient Egyptians and almost every Eastern civilized culture since has been inclined to sit and focus, what might the mystery of the practice truly be?

To be Continued. . .

(c) Christina Sarich

1 The Scientific Edge by Jayant V. Narlikar, Penguin Books, 2003, page 127. The work of other 20th century Indian scientists which Narlikar considered to be of Nobel Prize class were Srinivasa Ramanujan, Chandrasekhara Venkata Raman and Megh Nad Saha.

Spirituality and Brahm Mantra Brahm Mantra AUM HRIM RAMA JAYA RAMA JAYA JAYA RAMA is a spiritual mantra. Develop your spirituality by chanting of Brahm Mantra. The constant, round the clock recitation of Brahm Mantra works as a spiritual dynamo.

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