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Yoga & Meditation

There are innumerable forms of meditation and meditative practices. It is not our job here to mention all of these, still less to evaluate them.

Meditation is a discipline without a history. It leaves no trace, no record. It is non-verbal, and resists rendering in words. But records of practice and indications of search do exist, and make for intriguing thought.

Harrapan YogiThe word zen is Japanese. It derives from the Chinese chan, itself a transliteration of the Pali dhyana and, further back still, the Sanskrit jhana. (Pali is the language of the earliest Buddhist texts, and Sanskrit is the language of the ancient Hindu and Vedic religion.) Impossible to translate, it is even more impossible not to translate; so usually it is given the English gloss meditation.

It might be an exaggeration, but it is a fitting exaggeration, to discern in this etymology a spiritual lineage. Suffice it to say the tradition of meditation goes back a long way. Prayer perhaps is yet older, for whenever a painful cry from lack or need first rang through the heavens, a prayer was raised. Prayer is an orientation to the ultimate, driven by present needs. Meditation is an orientation to the present, driven by ultimate needs.

None can say where or when meditation, as opposed to prayer, first arose. Worship is disinterested prayer, but it is not yet meditation. Meditation that contemplates deities or their stand-ins or their perfections approaches to worship. Bhakti or devotional yoga is worship or homage-laden meditation, a kind of disinterested prayer. Worship is prayer that is no longer petitionary, promissory or contractual in nature. Surrender is the final act of worship. But beyond worship there is simple meditation, just observation, reverant only to truth and the reality of the moment.

Meditation became in the jungles of India a spiritual technology of the most erudite kind. The mountain yogis mastered the regulation of breath, dominated the mind by fastening it to a post like an old ass, and asserting an imperial frequency throughout the phenomenal being.