Friday, March 14, 2008

The Indian Connection

You can find meditation’s deepest roots in India, where sadhus (wandering holy men and women) and yogis have cultivated the practice in one form or another for more than 5,000 years. Attribute it to the climate, which slows the pace of life, or to the monsoon, which forces people to spend more time indoors, or just to the unbroken line of meditators over the ages. Whatever the reasons, India provided the fertile soil in which the meditative arts flourished and from which they spread both east and west.

The earliest Indian scriptures, the Vedas, don’t even have a word for meditation, but the Vedic priests performed elaborate rites and chants to the gods that required tremendous concentration. Eventually, these practices evolved into a form of prayerful meditation that combined the use of breath control and devotional focus on the Divine. (See Chapter 1 for more on focus.) The deeper they delved, the more these priests realized that the worshipper and the object of worship, the individual being and the divine being itself, are one and the same — a profound insight that continued to inspire and instruct spiritual seekers through the ages.

From the garden of Vedic and post-Vedic spirituality sprouted three of India’s best-known meditative traditions — yoga, Buddhism, and tantra — which I cover in the following sections.

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