Timeline of meditation

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This is a timeline of meditation, attempting to describe important events in the history of the practice. The books listed on this timeline have the purpose to illustrate mostly the scientific literature.

Big picture

Time period Development summary
Ancient times The earliest documentation of meditation is found in the Indian subcontinent. The Vedas, a large body of religious texts, contain the oldest written mention of meditation.
18th century Several texts of Eastern philosophy begin to be translated into European languages, especially the Upanishads, Bhagavad Gita, and Buddhist Sutras. Along the century, the study of Buddhism in the West becomes a topic for intellectuals, with the philosopher Schopenhauer being perhaps one of its most famous admirers.[1]
20th century Yoga and meditation are introduced to the United States early in the century by Swami Vivekananda and popularized by Paramehansa Yogananda. In the 1960’s, an explosion of interest in meditation is fueled by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi teaching Transcendental Meditation.[2] In the West, scientific research on meditation from the 1970s focuses on psychological and psychosomatic illnesses. The practice of “mindfulness meditation,” an adaptation of Buddhist techniques, is popularized in the United States beginning in the 1980s. Its medical use as an adjunct to psychotherapy is widely embraced in the late 1990s, leading to its adoption in many psychiatric facilities.[3]
21st century Meditation becomes mainstream and greatly secularized. Although spiritual meditation continues to exist, it is the secular approach to the practice —for its benefits to the body, mind, and wellness— which is the reason for its ever-increasing popularity.[1]

Full timeline

Year Category Details Location
5,000 BC–3,500 BC Early development The oldest documented evidence of the practice of meditation are wall arts in the Indian subcontinent, showing people seated in meditative postures with half-closed eyes.[1][2] India
1500 BC Hindu meditation The Vedas, a large body of religious texts, contain the oldest written mention of meditation.[1][4][5][6] India
6th–5th century BC Early development The period marks the first development of other forms of meditation in Taoist China and Buddhist India.[7][4] China, India
6th century BC Buddhist meditation Indian prince Siddhartha Gautama abandons his royal life and sets out to attain Enlightenment, learning meditation and philosophy in the process. Over the next several centuries, Buddhism would spread all over Asia, and many different lineages would form.[1] India
20 BC Early development Hellenistic Jewish philosopher Philo writes a form of “exercises” of a spiritual nature, involving concentration and attention (prosoche). Philo is considered to have brought meditation to the west."[4][7]
100 CE Buddhist meditation Vimalakirti Sutra writes on meditations and enlightened wisdom practiced by the Zen.[7]
3rd century CE Early development Greek philosopher Plotinus develops meditation techniques based on his philosophy of “The One, The Intellect and The Soul.”[7]
400 CE Yoga meditation The Yoga Sutras of Pantajali, a collection of 196 Indian aphorisms, lists meditation (dhyana) as one of the nine steps of yoga.[4] India
653 Buddhist meditation The first meditation hall opens in Japan.[7][8] Japan
8th century AD Buddhist meditation The expansion of Japanese Buddhism meditation practices spreads into Japan.[7] Japan
10th–14th century Christian meditation Hesychasm, a mystical tradition of contemplative prayer in the Eastern Orthodox Church, is developed, particularly on Mount Athos in Greece, and involves the repetition of the Jesus prayer.[7][8][4] Greece
11th century AD Christian meditation Italian Benedictine monk Anselm of Aosta develops meditative prayers, which focuse towards the monsatic traditions of Lectio Divina, a traditional Benedictine practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer.[9]
11th–12th century AD Islamic meditation The islamic concept of Dhikr is interpreted by various meditative techniques and becomes one of the essential elements of Sufism, or Islamic mysticism.[7]
12th century Carthusian monk Guigo II terms four formal steps in Latin: lectio, meditatio, oratio, and contemplatio, which interprets “read, ponder, pray, contemplate.[7]
12th century Islamic meditation Meditation becomes an important aspect of Sufism (Islamic mysticism), and is practiced by breathing heavily and repeating holy words.[4][10][11]
1227 Buddhist meditation Japanese Buddhist priest Dogen writes the first sitting meditation instructions (Zazen), and the first community of monks is established in Japan.[7][8][4] Japan
1240–1291 Jewish meditation The Jewish esoteric tradition of Kabbalah develops its own forms of meditation. These are mostly based on the deep contemplation of philosophical principles, names of God, symbols, prayers, and the Tree of Life.[1]
14th century Christian meditation Prominent theologian Gregory Palamas promotes and supports meditative prayers.[12][13]
16th century Christian meditation Spanish Basque Catholic priest Ignatius of Loyola and Spanish nun Teresa of Avila become instrumental in the development of Western Christian meditation.[7]
1628 Christian meditation English cleric Thomas Taylor writes Puritan handbook Meditation from the Creatures, recommending to include images from the sensible world (metaphorical of God's glory).[14] United Kingdom
1632 Christian meditation Puritan colonial leader Thomas Hooker in colonial New England defines meditation in his The Souls Preparation for Christ as follows: "It is a settled exercise for two ends: first to make a further inquiry of the truth: and secondly, to make the heart affected therewith."[15] United States
18th century Buddhist meditation The study of Buddhism in the West remains a topic mainly focused upon by intellectuals.[7]
1868–1955 Buddhist meditation Burmese monk Mingun Sayadaw promotes insight meditation on the basis of momentary concentration. He teaches meditators to inventory every moment of perception as it arose at a sense door, in order to break down all experience into an ever-changing flow of impressions.[16]
1885–1959 Buddhist meditation Thai meditation teacher Luang Pu Sodh Candasaro develops Dhammakaya meditation as a method of Buddhist meditation.[17]
1890s Hindu meditation Schools of yoga begin forming in Hindu revivalism.[7]
1922 Buddhist meditation German writer Hermann Hesse writes the well-known book Siddhartha, which is the story of a man’s spiritual journey of self-discovery.[4] Germany
1924 Organization The Kaivalyadhama Health and Yoga Research Center is founded in India by Swami Kuvalayananda. India
1927 Buddhist meditation The first English translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead is published.[4]
1935 Buddhist meditation The Buddhist society in London publishes Concentration and Meditation, an eclectic work drawing on both Ceylonese and Japanese sources.[18] United Kingdom
1936 Research An early piece of scientific research on meditation is published.[1]
1939 Literature Peter Kelder publishes The Eye of Revelation, which reveals the Five Tibetan Rites to the Western world.[19]
1941 Meditation music French composer Olivier Messiaen premieres Quatuor pour la fin du temps, a piece of chamber music.[20]
1950s Buddhist meditation The Vipassana movement, or insight meditation, starts in Burma.[21] Burma
1950s Trascendental meditation Indian guru Maharishi Mahesh Yogi promotes trascendental meditation. He also coins the term Transcendental Meditation to distinguish the technique from other meditative practices and to emphasize its independence from Hinduism.[22]
1955 Research The first piece of scientific research on meditation using electroencephalography is published.[1]
1955 Research An early piece of scientific research on meditation using electroencephalography is conducted.[1]
1958 Buddhist meditation American novelist Jack Kerouac publishes The Dharma Bums, which explores his early experience with Buddhism. The book soon attracts popular interest and curiosity to meditation.[21] United States
1960s Trascendental meditaton Indian yógī Swami Rama becomes one of the first yogis to be studied by Western scientists, being examined at the Menninger Clinic, where he demonstrates his ability to voluntarily control his bodily processes (such as heartbeat, blood pressure, and body temperature) which science previously considered being involuntary.[1]
1960s Trascendental meditaton In Europe and America, Hatha Yoga and trascendental meditation begins to gain popularity.[7][21]
1960s Passage Meditation Indian spiritual teacher Eknath Easwaran develops his method of Passage Meditation, and first teaching it systematically at the University of California, Berkeley.[23][24] United States
1964 Meditation music Jazz clarinetist Tony Scott releases Music for Zen Meditation.[25]
1965 Christian meditation Christian dogmatic constitution Dei verbum (Latin for Word of God), one of the principal documents of the Second Vatican Council, emphasizes the use of Lectio divina.[26]
1966 Secular meditation The Acem Meditation technique develops in Norway.[27] Norway
1970s Secular meditation Clinical psychology and psychiatry start developing meditation techniques for numerous psychological conditions.[28]
1970 Research Western scientists start trying to understand what happens during meditation and yoga.[29]
1970–1971 Research The first Transcendental Meditation research studies are conducted at UCLA and Harvard University and published in Science and the American Journal of Physiology.[30] United States
1970–1975 Research American cardiologist Herbert Benson at Harvard University shows the effectiveness of meditation through his research. His contributions would help meditation be considered as appropriate for healthcare purposes instead of a mere religious practice.[1] United States
1971 Research RE Orenstein publishes The Techniques of Meditation and their Implications for Modern Psychology.[31]
1972 Literature (book) GS Parker, JC Gilbert, and RW Thoreson publish Reduction of Automatic Arousal in Alcoholics as a Function of Anxiety Management Strategies.[31]
1974 Meditation music German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen composes meditative work Inori.[32]
1974 Research Study shows that crime rates decline in cities where at least 1% of the population learned trascendental meditation.[33]
1975 Hindu meditation Gopi Krishna publishes bestselling title The Awakening of Kundalini, helping popularize the concept of kundalini to the world.[29]
1975 Medical application Dr. Herbert Benson becomes well known for his use of meditation to treat heart disease.[34] United States
1976 Meditation music American composer Ben Johnston composes Visions and Spells.[35]
1977 Research James Funderburk, a student of Swami Rama of the Himalayan Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy, publishes an early collection of scientific studies on meditation.[1]
1977 Meditation music Canadian composer R. Murray Schafer releases The Tuning of the World.[36]
1979 Research RN Walsh publishes Meditation Research: An Introduction and Review.[31]
1979 Medical application American professor Jon Kabat-Zinn opens the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and teaches mindfulness-based stress reduction to treat chronic conditions for which physicians could offer no further help.[34] United States
1981 Vipassana meditation The first Vipassana meditation centers outside India and Myanmar are established in Shelburne, Massachusetts, and Blackheath, New South Wales, Australia.[37] United States, Australia
1982 Literature American psychologist and Yoga teacher Joan D'Arcy Cooper publishes Guided Meditation and the Teachings of Jesus in which she suggests that the words of Jesus, as recorded in the canonical gospels, may perhaps have been intended to be considered, and are enriched by hearing or reading them as Guided Meditations, through which the reader or listener can meditate upon the message and meaning inherent in the text, and thereby come to know God.[38]
1985 Vipassana meditation The Vipassana Research Institute (VRI) is founded in Igatpuri, India, for the purpose of conducting research into the sources and applications of Vipassana.[37] India
1987 Literature MM Kuchera publishes The Effectiveness of Meditation Techniques to Reduce Blood Pressure Levels: A Meta-Analysis.[31]
1988 Research Daniel Goleman defines and characterizes meditations as "the need for the meditator to retrain his attention, whether through concentration or mindfulness, is the single invariant ingredient in... every meditation system".[39]
1989 Christian meditation The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith issues document “Some Aspects on Christian Meditation”, which contains guidance on yoga.[40]
1990 Literature (book) JW Fuson publishes The Effect on Trascendental Meditation Program on Sleeping and Dreaming Patterns.[31]
1991 Literature G Clemens, and H Schenklihn publish Scientific Research on Maharishi's Trascendental Meditation.[31]
1991 Christian meditation The World Community for Christian Meditation is founded. Its members, weekly meditation groups and centers span over 100 countries.[41]
1992 Yoga meditation The Isha Foundation is founded. It serves as an educator, catalyst and resource for yoga science and natural health.[42] India
1992 Research Jevning et al. define and characterize meditation as "a stylized mental technique... repetitively practiced for the purpose of attaining a subjective experience that is frequently described as very restful, silent, and of heightened alertness, often characterized as blissful."[43]
1992 Research (negative effects) Study conducted at the School of Medicine at the University of California, Irvine, finds that participants were more aware of their negative qualities after returning from a meditation retreat.[44] United States
1996 New Age meditation The Chopra Center for Wellbeing is founded by Deepak Chopra and David Simon.[21]
1996 New Age meditation American weekly news magazine TIME reports on Deepak Chopra’s book Ageless Body, Timeless Mind, having sold 137,000 copies in one day right after Chopra was featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show.[45][4] United States
1996 Research Y Haruki, I Ishii and M Suzuli publish Comparative and Psychological Study on Meditation.[31]
1997 Literature German-born spiritual teacher Eckart Tolle publishes The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightment, which introduces readers to present-moment awareness.[21]
2000 Medical application The first major clinical trial of mindfulness with cancer patients is conducted, with results indicating beneficial outcomes for the mindfulness-based stress reduction programs.[46]
2003 Research Study proves that meditation can change the brain so that the immune system functions better. All 25 participants in the study showed an increase in antibodies. The findings showed that meditation produced positive effects on immune function.[4]
2005 Research Study proves that meditation changes the brain, expanding the areas of it that are associated with focus and attention. After using magnetic resonance images used to assess the cortical thickness of the participants, the study shows that the regions of the brain associated with attention, sensory processing and interception are thicker in participants with meditation or yoga experience than in participants with no experience. The thickness revealed more prominent in older participants, implying that meditation may equipoise age-related cortical thinning.[4]
2006 Research Walsh and Shapro define and characterize meditation as "a family of self-regulation practices that focus on training attention and awareness in order to bring mental processes under greater voluntary control and thereby foster general mental well-being and development and/or specific capacities such as calm, clarity, and concentration".[47]
2006 Research Cahn and Polich define and characterize meditation as "practices that self-regulate the body and mind, thereby affecting mental events by engaging a specific attentional set.... regulation of attention is the central commonality across the many divergent methods".[48]
2007 Research Study led by Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, proves that meditation changes the brain and how it focuses, stating that people who meditate are better at detecting a change in stimuli, like emotional facial expressions.[4]
2008 Research B. L. Fredrickson publishes Study showing increasing positive emotions as a direct result of loving-kindness meditation, called the broaden-and-build theory, as it broadens the mind and builds positive emotions. The study shows that a regular meditation practice increases positive emotions, which then increased things like mindfulness, social support, and purpose. Fredrickson also predicted that over time, the participants that participated in loving-kindness meditation would have a more positive outlook on life.[4]
2009 Research The International Society of Psychoneuroendocrinology publishes an article based on findings that meditation helps to modulate stress and the diseases that are caused by stress. The study concludes that meditation can reduce stress-induced immune responses, as well as behavioural ones.[4]
2009 Research (negative effects) Study conducted at Seattle Pacific University shows that participants felt delusional due to meditation.[44]
2011 Research Anthony Zanesco, a psychologist at the University of California conducts a study involving adults attending a three-month retreat at the Shambhala Mountain Centre in Colorado and are taught a variety of different meditation techniques. Once the retreat is completed, Zanesco finds that it enhanced the participant’s emotional well-being. It also helped them to have better focus and attention on everyday tasks.[4] United States
2012 Statistics The United States National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) finds that 8.0% (18 million) of American adults use meditation.[49] United States
2012 Research Cognitive neuroscientist Amishi Jha at the University of Miami, conducts a study with 48 US Marines heading to Iraq. She practiced mindful meditation with them, which helped them to improve their memory. After spending two hours a week in meditation training, Jha finds that their stress decreased, but also that those who did their ‘homework’ also saw an increase in their working memory capacity. The marines also stated that they seemed to be in a more positive mood.[4]
2012 Mindfulness meditation There are over 700 mindfulness-based stress reduction programs offered worldwide and MBSR becomes the main mindfulness training program used in psychological research.[34]
2013 Research Medical News Today publishes an article comparing two methods of reducing stress and chronic inflammatory conditions. This includes mindfulness meditation and exercises unrelated to mindfulness. After comparing two groups, those that participated in mindfulness meditation are found to have reduced rates of stress-induced inflammation. Thus, the studies prove that meditation is an effective way to relieve inflammatory symptoms.[4]
2014 Research A review of 47 meditation trials, collectively including over 3,500 participants, finds essentially no evidence for benefits related to enhancing attention, curtailing substance abuse, aiding sleep or controlling weight.[50]
2016 Research Article published in the New York Times highlights how meditation changes the brain and the body, talking about how meditation rewires the brain to help deal with things like stress, well-being, and various diseases. This is demonstrated through a study that involved 35 unemployed men and women who were actively seeking work and were under tremendous stress due to their unemployment. Half of them learned meditation techniques at a retreat center, while the others were taught fake techniques. At the end of the trial, brain scans showed that those that practiced proper techniques had more activity in the portion of the brain that controls stress, focus, and calmness.[4][51] United States
2017 Research A systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of meditation on empathy, compassion, and prosocial behaviors finds that meditation practices have small to medium effects on self-reported and observable outcomes, concluding that such practices can "improve positive prosocial emotions and behaviors".[52]
2017 Research (negative effects) Study by researchers from Brown University and the University of California examine the experience of 60 meditation practitioners, and reveal that meditation can cause surprising negative side effects, affecting participants' emotions, sensory perception, social interaction, and sense of self, among other effects.[44] United States

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References

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