A traditional spiritual exercise in both Eastern and Western
mystical systems, usually involving a static sitting position, a
blocking of the mind from normal sensory stimuli, and a conEncyclopedia
of Occultism & Parapsychology 5th Ed. Meditation
centration upon divine thoughts or mystical centers in the
In Christian and some Eastern traditions, meditation was
often enhanced by asceticismprolonged fasts and other physical
mortification practiced in order to assert the supremacy of
the soul over all physical and sensory demands. Certain welldefined
stages of spiritual growth are recorded by saints and
mystics, notably the awakening of the soul, contemplation, the
dark night of the soul, illumination, and spiritual ecstasy.
Several basic types of meditation can be distinguished by the
particular nature of the alteration of consciousness sought. For
example, Zen meditation tends to produce a focused concentration
in the present. The person who meditates in this way is
perfectly alert but takes no notice of surrounding noises or
other phenomena. Instead of blocking outside distractions, the
meditator allows them to come and go as quickly as they arise,
always retaining perfect concentration.
In Hindu-based meditation forms, an attempt is made to
distance oneself from the illusionary outside world of noise
and distractions and retreat completely into the real world
of the inner self, which causes a trancelike state. In such a condition
one can easily step into a state of ecstacy and lose consciousness
of the outside world.
Meditation in the West is frequently identified with contemplation
of a religious symbol or pious story. That is, the consciousness
remains awake and alert as in Zen, but also shut off
from the outside world in total concentration upon a predetermined
thought. Roman Catholics, for example, have a number
of meditative practices built around contemplation of particular
episodes in the life of Jesus, the Virgin Mary, or the saints,
while Protestants have extolled the value of contemplating
verses of Scripture.
Eastern meditation traditions are numerous and complex.
In Hinduism, for example, meditation was usually taught by a
guru only to a properly qualified pupil who had already followed
a pathway of sadhana, or spiritual discipline that ensured
purification at all levels. The various yoga systems describe
such spiritual disciplines in detail, with special emphasis on
moral restraints and ethical observances. Meditation without
such preliminary training was considered premature and dangerous.
The most generally known system has been that of the sage
Patanjali (ca. 200 B.C.E.), who taught that in order to experience
true reality one must transcend the body and mind. In his Yoga
Sutras, Patanjali outlines a program of physical exercises (to
strengthen a meditation posture), breathing techniques (to
purify the body), withdrawal of the senses, concentration, and
meditation, culminating in mystical experience.
In this process supernormal powers might be manifested,
but were to be ignored. The ultimate goal of meditation was
spiritual illumination transcending individuality and extending
the consciousness beyond time, space, and causality, but
also interfusing it with the everyday duties and responsibilities
of the individual. Thus it was not necessary for an illuminated
individual to renounce the world, and there are stories in
Hindu scriptures of kings and princes who did not forsake their
mundane tasks after transcendental experience.
It is clear from consideration of the practices of many religions
that meditation may be active or passive, depending
upon the techniques employed and the degree of purification
of the meditator. Fixed concentration upon one mental image,
sound, or center in the body is a passive mechanical technique
that may bring relaxation, a sense of well-being, and other benefits,
but is not in itself spiritual or transcendental in the traditional
sense of those terms. The popular so-called transcendental
meditation technique of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi
appears to be of this order, hence criticism from practitioners
of other systems.
In active meditation systems, there must be purification at
all levelsphysical, mental, emotional, and spiritualand the
mind is exercised creatively before it can transcend its own activity.
Meditators who have attained stages of higher consciousness
or mystical illumination testify that there is a gradual process
of refinement arising from the activity of a mysterious
energy that Hindu mystics call kundalini that modifies the entire
Today the variety of meditation techniques practiced
throughout the world all have their advocates and practitioners
in the West. Both teachers and texts are available to the aspiring
student, and psychologists have dedicated research time to
exploring the variant effects of the differing systems, from Zen
meditation to Sufi dancing to drug-enhanced states of consciousness
to Christian contemplative practices. Each of the
meditation practices has particular benefits, though the majority
of those benefits are only received as the practice is placed
within a larger system of spiritual activity, with which it is normally
Augustine of Hippo. Confessions of St. Augustine. Edited by
Francis J. Sheed. New York Sheed, 1943.
John of Ruysbroeck. Adornment of the Spiritual Marriage.
Translated by P. Synschenk. London, 1916.
Gopi Krishna. Kundalini, the Evolutionary Energy in Man.
Boulder, Colo. Shambhala, 1970.
. Kundalini for the New Age Selected Writings. Edited by
Gene Kieffer. New York Bantam, 1988.
Luk, Charles. The Secrets of Chinese Meditation. London n.p.,
Melton, J. Gordon. The Ways of Meditation. Evanston, Ill.
Stellium Press, 1974.
Patanjali The Yoga-Sutras of Patanjali. Translated by M. N.
Dvidedi. Adyar, India Theosophical Publishing House, 1890.
Underhill, Evelyn. Mysticism A Study in the Nature and Development
of Mans Spiritual Consciousness. London n.p., 1911.
Van Over, Raymond. Total Meditation. New York Collier