Sunday, March 30, 2008

From the Middle East to the Rest of the West

Although meditation in the Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions had its own independent development, meditators in the Middle East may have been influenced by the practices of their counterparts in India and Southeast Asia . Historians do have evidence that traders and pilgrims traveled between the two regions constantly, and Buddhist monks appeared in Rome in early Christian times! There’s even the rumor, buoyed by some interesting historical coincidences, that Jesus may have learned how to meditate in India. While Indian meditators — following the ancient insight that atman equals Brahman (“I and the ground of being are one”) — turned their attention progressively inward, seeking the sacred in the depths of their own being, Western thinkers and theologians pointed to a God that purportedly exists outside the individual. At the same time, mystics in the West wrestled with the paradox that God is both inside and outside, personal and transcendent.

Meditation in the Western religions usually takes the form of prayer — that is, direct communion with God. But the meditative prayer of the monks and mystics differs from ordinary prayer, which often includes complaints and requests. Instead, meditative prayer approaches God with humility and devotion, contemplates His divine qualities, and invites His presence into the heart of the meditator. Ultimately, the goal is to surrender the individual self completely in union with the Divine.

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