People often wonder if meditation is a religious practice upon hearing of it. It’s often associated with Hinduism and Buddhism, although all religions practice some sort of meditative technique. The question arises because followers of other religions may not want to change their faith and atheists wouldn’t want to engage in any religious rituals.
Meditation per se is not a religious practice, even though it has been closely associated with religion for centuries. It’s only a technique meant to enhance our inner mechanism and help us attain inner peace. Practicing meditation doesn’t require you to change your religious faith or even have such beliefs.
But what is meditation? What role does it play in various religions? How can we practice meditation for secular means? Let’s answer these questions in detail.
What is meditation?
The definition of meditation changes depending on one’s level of understanding. For starters, think of meditation as an exercise for the mind to train our attention and awareness. Just as physical exercise trains the body to become stronger and healthier, meditation trains the mind to become calmer and more loving.
Originally, the word “meditation” denoted an act of thinking deeply about something. But when Eastern practices spread to Western culture, this term was used to define those techniques. In Christianity and Judaism, meditation still denotes the act of contemplation to understand and connect to the Divine.
The most common way to meditate is by focusing your attention on a particular object. It could be your breathing, body sensations, a mantra, or an object outside of you. You’ll only be able to focus for a few seconds before your mind wanders off. Then, you train your attention by bringing it back to the object of meditation and maintain your awareness.
Meditation offers dozens of remarkable benefits. Although science has yet to catch up with it, the current scientific studies prove that meditation can significantly improve the quality of our lives. Read my article on 20 science-backed benefits of meditation to understand how it helps you in various aspects of your life.
We often use terms such as mindfulness and concentration when talking about meditation. To learn more about the science behind mindfulness meditation, how it benefits you, and how to practice it, read this article: Mindfulness Meditation: Everything You Need to Know. It’ll give you the perfect introduction to meditation and get you started with it.
Is meditation religious?
We discussed that meditation can be seen as an exercise for the mind. Can any religion claim exclusivity to physical exercise? No. Similarly, meditation per se is not a religious practice. It has its roots in religion, but we can think of it as a gym for our mind, helping us attain inner peace.
No one religion, person, or organization can own inner tranquility. It’s a state of mind within us that we can experience if we put in the work. So if we attain peace and balance within us, it’s ours, right? The word “meditation” just points toward the act of accessing the inner clarity and peace by unfolding layers of the mind.
Anything you do to access this serenity within you can be termed as meditation – taking a mindful stroll, writing poetry, or sitting cross-legged with your eyes closed.
In India, people often cook food to offer it to their deity at festivals. No matter how much effort and organization they put in to prepare it, the food will still just be food. Similarly, meditation is the act of training your mind. People may surround it with all kinds of beliefs about the afterlife or God, but essentially, it’s the art of focus and awareness.
While we can meditate without having any religious beliefs, do you know what the ancient sages had in mind when they developed this practice? Read my article on the true purpose of meditation to discover the higher aim and definition of meditation. Again, you don’t have to follow any religion or have the same goal as in that article. You can meditate and benefit your mind to live a more composed life and attain inner peace, helping you function better in the world.
The role of meditation in religions
Although meditation in itself can’t be termed religious, it has been a part of every religion since forever. Let’s discuss how meditation is interpreted in some major religions and what role it plays in them.
Most meditation techniques practiced today in the West stem from ancient Buddhist texts. The spread of Buddhist modernism to the West has a huge role to play in it. Mindfulness and other meditative practices have been reinterpreted and modernized, leading to mindfulness-based therapies.
For Buddhists, meditation is crucial on the path to nirvana or enlightenment. It results in the development of two paramount qualities of mind: serenity and insight. When the mind is pliant and still because of serenity, insight helps us see the nature of the phenomenon and attain liberation from the cycle of rebirth. So meditation helps us put an end to suffering.
Many schools and styles of meditation are taught within Hinduism. The Sanskrit word for meditation is Dhyana. Hindus practice Yoga and Dhyana to realize one’s eternal self or soul. In Advaita Vedanta (non-duality), it’s the realization of the omnipresent Brahman. The aim of Hinduism is identical to that of Buddhism, namely, liberation from the cycle of rebirth.
The Yoga popular in the West is Hatha Yoga, which is only a branch of actual Yoga. Hatha Yoga is the preparatory stage of a spiritual aspirant. It prepares one’s body and mind for self-realization. Then, ascetic discipline and meditation are practiced to progress on the path to enlightenment.
Muslims perform Salah five times a day. It’s a practice in which the body goes through several postures as the mind attains a level of concentration. Islamic mysticism or Sufism also has mantra meditation, known as dhikr. Followers of Sufism practice various meditative techniques, such as repetition of holy words and breathing controls.
Muslims believe that meditation improves our healing ability and enhances creativity. It is also said to awaken the heart and mind to allow inner growth and submission to God.
Christian meditation differs from the meditation techniques found in the East. In Christianity, meditation is a form of prayer to connect with and reflect upon the word of God. It’s a deliberate attempt to focus one’s mind on specific thoughts or passages from the Bible and reflect on their meaning.
Christian meditation doesn’t use mantras or breath control to reach a particular state of mind. It aims to deepen the practitioner’s relationship with God.
As we’ve said, one can think of meditation like a gym for one’s mind. If you’re religious, rest assured that focusing your attention on your breaths will not harm your faith just as physical exercise doesn’t. Similarly, if you’re not religious, you need not fear that you’ll become religious by meditating.
If you’re thinking about getting into meditation, I encourage you to try it for a few weeks and see how it benefits you. If you feel that it has a calming effect on you, increase the length or number of your sessions to intensify your practice.
Some people argue that meditation is over-hyped, and it’s not as effective as it’s advertised to be. Make sure you read this article to find out the truth: Is meditation overrated?
This website is full of guides aimed at beginner practitioners, and you can explore the meditation category for answers to a lot of beginner questions.
Good luck and happy meditating! 😊