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
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 were introduced to the United States early in the 20th century by Swami Vivekananda and popularized by Paramehansa Yogananda. In the 1960’s there was an explosion of interest in meditation fueled by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi teaching Transcendental Meditation."[2] "In the West, scientific research on meditation from the 1970s focused on psychological and psychosomatic illnesses." " the practice of “mindfulness meditation,” an adaptation of Buddhist techniques, was popularized in the United States beginning in the 1980s. Its medical use as an adjunct to psychotherapy was widely embraced in the late 1990s, leading to its adoption in many psychiatric facilities."[3]
21st century In the early 21st century, meditation has become 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 Event type Details Location
5,000 BC–3,500 BC 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 The Vedas, a large body of religious texts, contain the oldest written mention of meditation.[1][4][5][6] India
6th–5th century BC The period marks the first development of other forms of meditation in Taoist China and Buddhist India.[7][4] China, India
6th century BC 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 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 Vimalakirti Sutra writes on meditations and enlightened wisdom practiced by the Zen.[7]
3rd century CE Greek philosopher Plotinus develops meditation techniques based on his philosophy of “The One, The Intellect and The Soul.”[7]
400 CE 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 The first meditation hall opens in Japan.[7][8] Japan
8th century AD The expansion of Japanese Buddhism meditation practices spread into Japan.[7] Japan
10th–14th century 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–12th century AD 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 Meditation becomes an important aspect of Sufism (Islamic mysticism), and is practiced by breathing heavily and repeating holy words.[4][9][10]
1227 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 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]
16th century Spanish Basque Catholic priest Ignatius of Loyola and Spanish nun Teresa of Avila become instrumental in the development of Western Christian meditation.[7]
18th century The study of Buddhism in the West was a topic mainly focused upon by intellectuals.[7]
1890s Schools of yoga begin forming in Hindu revivalism.[7]
1922 Literature 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
1927 Literature The first English translation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead is published.[4]
1935 Literature (book) The Buddhist society in London publishes Concentration and Meditation, an eclectic work drawing on both Ceylonese and Japanese sources.[11] United Kingdom
1936 An early piece of scientific research on meditation is published.[1]
1950s The Vipassana movement, or insight meditation, starts in Burma.[12] Burma
1955 The first piece of scientific research on meditation using electroencephalography is published.[1]
1958 Literature (book) 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.[12] United States
1960s 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 Expansion In Europe and America, Hatha Yoga and trascendental meditation begins to gain popularity.[7][12]
1974 Study Study shows that crime rates decline in cities where at least 1% of the population learned trascendental meditation.[13]
1970 Study Western scientists start trying to understand what happens during meditation and yoga.[14]
1970–1975 Study Dr. 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 Literature RE Orenstein publishes The Techniques of Meditation and their Implications for Modern Psychology.[15]
1972 Literature (book) GS Parker, JC Gilbert, and RW Thoreson publish Reduction of Automatic Arousal in Alcoholics as a Function of Anxiety Management Strategies.[15]
1975 Gopi Krishna publishes bestselling title The Awakening of Kundalini, helping popularize the concept of kundalini to the world.[14]
1977 Study 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]
1979 RN Walsh publishes Meditation Research: An Introduction and Review.[15]
1987 Literature MM Kuchera publishes The Effectiveness of Meditation Techniques to Reduce Blood Pressure Levels: A Meta-Analysis.[15]
1990 Literature (book) JW Fuson publishes The Effect on Trascendental Meditation Program on Sleeping and Dreaming Patterns.[15]
1991 Literature G Clemens, and H Schenklihn publish Scientific Research on Maharishi's Trascendental Meditation.[15]
1996 Organization The Chopra Center for Wellbeing is founded by Deepak Chopra and David Simon.[12]
1996 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.[16][4] United States
1996 Literature (book) Y Haruki, I Ishii and M Suzuli publish Comparative and Psychological Study on Meditation.[15]
1997 Literature German-born spiritual teacher Eckart Tolle publishes The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlishtment, which introduces readers to present-moment awareness.[12]
2003 Study 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 Study 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]
2007 Study 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 Study 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 Study 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]
2011 Study 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 Study 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]
2013 Study 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 founf to hav reduced rates of stress-induced inflammation. The studies prove that Therefore, meditation is an effective way to relieve inflammatory symptoms.[4]
2016 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][17] United States

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See also

External links


  1. 1.00 1.01 1.02 1.03 1.04 1.05 1.06 1.07 1.08 1.09 1.10 "The History of Meditation: A Brief Timeline of Practices and Traditions". liveanddare.com. Retrieved 15 January 2019. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 "An Overview of Meditation: Its Origins and Traditions". psychologytoday.com. Retrieved 4 January 2019. 
  3. "Meditation". britannica.com. Retrieved 5 January 2019. 
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 4.16 4.17 4.18 "Meditation: History, Benefits, Types, Techniques, Quotes, Myths, Misconceptions & How to Meditate". siddhiyoga.com. Retrieved 5 January 2019. 
  5. Engfer, Lee. India in Pictures. 
  6. Etter, Christopher. Untitled. 
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 7.11 7.12 7.13 "Origin of Meditation". meditationforhealthyliving.com. Retrieved 5 January 2019. 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 "History of Meditation". school4meditation.com. Retrieved 5 January 2019. 
  9. The Encyclodedia of Christianity (Erwin Fahlbusch, Geoffrey William Bromiley, Jan Milic Lochman, John Mbiti, Jaroslav Pelikan ed.). 
  10. Sharify-Funk, Meena; Rory Dickson, William; Shobhana Xavier, Merin. Contemporary Sufism: Piety, Politics, and Popular Culture. 
  11. Conze, Edward. Buddhist Meditation. 
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 12.3 12.4 Eisler, Melissa. "The History of Meditation". chopra.com. Retrieved 14 January 2019. 
  13. Weber, Joseph. Transcendental Meditation in America: How a New Age Movement Remade a Small Town in Iowa. 
  14. 14.0 14.1 Carney, Scott. A Death on Diamond Mountain: A True Story of Obsession, Madness, and the Path to Enlightenment. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 15.2 15.3 15.4 15.5 15.6 Meditation practices for health state of the research. 
  16. "How Meditation Went Mainstream". time.com. Retrieved 5 January 2019. 
  17. "How Meditation Changes the Brain and Body". nytimes.com. Retrieved 5 January 2019.