Meditation is a practice that’s been done for thousands of years, so understanding the exact origins can be a bit challenging, especially considering the wide amount of meditations you can do. But many associate meditation with religion, but is it really a religion or does it have anything to do with it?
While meditation is more closely associated with Buddhism and Hinduism, meditation is more of a process of detaching the mind from our thoughts, as well as having a deeper understanding of where these thoughts come from, which based on that, you end up becoming less bothered by a particular thought.
Meditation today doesn’t have to do anything with religion and is accessible to everyone and anyone, no matter your beliefs or religion. And even if meditation might have had religious roots, it no longer is a religious practice.
However, because of how meditation promotes self acceptance and exploration, as well as enlightenment, it’s more closely related to a spiritual practice, rather than a religious one. Even if you also can meditate without being spiritual whatsoever.
For instance, many meditators see colors when they are at it, which can represent something going on in your life or a stage you’re in, which can allow for spiritual development. But it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s an inherently spiritual practice, as meditation can be anything and a subjective experience.
Depending on who you ask, some will tell you it’s religious and others will say it helps them make better logical decisions.
Religion and Meditation, The Correlation
While meditation doesn’t have any direct explicit connection with one religion, many religions choose to incorporate meditation, often to deepen the purpose of the said religion.
For instance, in Christianity, one form of meditation is done through prayer, often done in conjunction with quiet time and worship. However, in no way do most Christians view meditation as a means to replace salvation, but rather something that compliments the practice.
But not every Christian chooses to incorporate meditation, in fact, most don’t in the traditional sense of mindfulness, even if the practice itself could help make the prayer feel more profound.
Other religions used meditations for the same purposes we do today, but often with a deeper spiritual touch to it, like finding enlightenment, often, this was the goal of Buddhist meditation.
Buddhism embraces the concept of pain and understands that it’s a part of our growth, which, to this day, is a mindset that’s applied to mindful meditation and a type of thinking that would be useful to adopt, considering things at times get hard with meditation.
It also focuses on detachment to things such as cravings and emotions, which comes in helpful when the mind identifies with those attachments and bases its identity on those.
It’s believed that Hinduism gave birth to Yoga, by combining meditation with movement. To this day, people practice Yoga and have become quite popular across the west. Both meditation and yoga have gained traction and continue to do so in our modern day life.
It is thought that the Indian monk Swami Vivekananda, a key figure in the religion of Hinduism introduced many in the western world to the practice of Yoga and popularized it.
A Key Difference in Meditation and Religion
However, in many religions, the concept of punishment, good or bad, is often present and kept in mind as a guide on how to live to avoid what some religions would deem sins. Often, this is accompanied by a feeling of guilt or shame, which both are things that put you in a lower vibrational stage and stagnate your progress.
In that way, meditation is contrary to that, as, during the time you are staring at your thoughts through mindful meditation, you’re not categorizing your thoughts by good or bad, but rather, allowing them to be.
The concept of evil, while pleasant, helps us navigate life without engaging what we deem that way, but this can be more intensified post-meditation practice, given how we are allowed to clear our minds, and rather than living on the basis of strict religious principles, such morality comes from within, rather than externalizing it.
In that way, meditation allows you to be benevolent without necessarily engaging in any religious practice for that. However, in no way is this to insulate that there is anything wrong to combine religion and meditation. Some religions, as stated earlier, use meditation as a supplement to help their own religion.
You Don’t Need to Be Religious To Meditate
Meditation allows you to hold any beliefs you presently have, and still benefit from the practice, and given how there are so many meditations that can be tailored to specific aspects, meditation becomes what you choose for it to become.
Depending on who you are, meditation might have a different meaning to you, and at times, you take a step back and question your entire belief system, which in turn, can allow you to go from being fixated to one religion to questioning.
Questioning your own belief system opens up the possibility for you to develop new belief systems that you weren’t aware of, something many call growing, because at this point, you’re no longer limiting your thinking to your preconceived notion of reality.
The act of questioning can be many times disused by many religions, but in contrast, the practice promotes creativity and critical thinking as it’s used by many to enhance their problem solving abilities.
No matter if you’re a scientist or deeply religious person, meditation can serve you in a diverse set of ways that either align with the expectation you had to begin with or don’t.
If you are religious, it can strengthen your religious beliefs, especially if you regularly engage with religion. Your focus is augmented on what you’re doing. Be it a prayer, or something completely different like exercising.
When Meditation Doesn’t Go Hand In Hand With Religion
Some don’t choose to do meditation because they associate the practice with religion and want nothing to do with it. For instance, some see the mere act of chanting as something religious, even when it isn’t and just serves the purpose of relaxation without any religious strings attached to it.
Opponents of meditation on the religious side see it as counter-religious, because of the fact that it can make your mind free. It’s not in the best interest of those inculcating a specific dogma on you, to be asking yourself whether your beliefs align with your true self.
This creates fear for starting meditation, many don’t want to abandon a belief system they feel comfortable with because comfort gives us a sense of safety, but that safety limits our freedom.
Likewise, the mind will many times stop people from meditating without there being anything religious attached to it. For some religions, to be meditating, it’d be the same as breaking a paradigm.
Paradigm shifts can be scary, but two things can happen, you either strengthen your belief in something or you expand your consciousness, which then allows you to think critically about those beliefs and choose if they align with a specific religion.
At this point, it’s worth taking into account with what purpose you come into meditation. Even if there aren’t any wrong reasons to meditate, having a goal can change your outcome.
There’s a difference between letting the meditation experience happen to you and trying to intervene with the experience to steer it more in a direction that aligns with your beliefs.
Your Beliefs Aren’t Always Yours
The same can be said for your thoughts. You are not your thoughts. When these thoughts have been implanted in you by a third party, that’s where your concept of reality is limited to.
The detachment of meditation lets you see these thoughts in their purest form, which for some, can be frightening and lead them to abandon the practice, because while meditation can be confrontational, it only lets you see things from an angle you haven’t considered before.
This can be a good thing because you’d be making more mindful choices post-meditation, and negative in the sense that it can be traumatizing, making people resort to denial and never return to the practice again.
But the less detached you are and identify with your beliefs, looking at them as separate to you, rather than your identity, the more you’re able to choose beliefs that align with your true self, something you get in touch with while being in a profound stage of meditation.
Beliefs inculcated on you by religion aren’t yours. They are someone else’s, you’re just letting that belief coexist with you. This, depending on who you are and what your purpose is can be a good thing or a bad thing.