A Basic Introduction to Meditation in Major South Asian and East Asian Religions
Meditation is known for helping the mind and the body come to peace. It is known for being a thoughtless process that helps individuals eliminate the extra and unnecessary thoughts that may be fluttering through their minds. The stereotypical image that tends to come to mind when one thinks “meditation” usually comprises of someone sitting upright and legs crossed on the floor with the back of the person’s hands resting on each of their legs with their fingers folding up so that the thumb touches one of the other fingers. While this meditation position is an extremely popular one, it is not the only one. Ancient documents suggest that meditation began in India. The practice spread throughout East Asia and other parts of the world. Depending on where people were located and the religions/philosophies they followed, distinct meditation styles and purposes developed in different geographic regions.
Meditation plays a prominent role in Hinduism and Buddhism. Both religions/philosophies emphasize the value in identifying and recognizing one’s self. Both religions/philosophies emphasize the value of finding and creating peace not only externally, but also internally within the mind and body. These are just some of the goals in which meditation acts as a means to achieve. While both religions/philosophies discuss the importance of meditating and encourage its followers to practice it, the purposes of meditation in each belief system slightly differ. DifferenceBetween writes, “The purposes of meditation in Hinduism are varied, like physical, mental, and spiritual enhancement, and also control of mind.” In Hinduism, meditating serves multiple purposes and is meant to improve various aspects (especially those listed in the quote) of one’s life. In Buddhism, meditating mostly serves as a technique to grasp a greater sense of self awareness. Thus, more of the focus is put on recognizing where individuals are and understanding their roles in the universe.
While this description is the baseline of how the purposes of meditation vary in two of the world’s major religions, more differences have emerged as Buddhism especially spread throughout East Asia and was infused with traditions in China, Tibet, and other neighboring countries. In Tibetan Buddhism, the ability to discipline one’s self and persist are some of the major characteristics one must possess in order to successfully meditate. In B. Allan Wallace’s article, “Tibetan Buddhist Meditation” for Tricycle Magazine, the author goes on to discuss how one must begin by learning to solely picture one specific entity. That entity could be a physical object, one’s body, or even the simple idea of existing in the universe. Wallace even goes on to discuss how paying attention to one’s breath can help one meditate if the act of imagining one simple thing is too difficult as he writes, “A key attribute of this practice, as opposed to visualization of the Buddha, is that in breath awareness the object of meditation, the breath, is present without our having to imagine it.”
Altogether, the purposes and procedures of meditation in Hinduism and Buddhism overlap yet slightly differ. Time and cultural diffusion have been the major contributors to these differences.