Origins Of Mindfulness​


The roots of Mindfulness are traced  to Siddhartha Gautama , the Lord Buddha born in the year 623 BC and he gave steps for Mindfulness. Buddha incidentally means “Enlightened one” in Sanskrit or “Fully awakened”  one in Pali. The ultimate purpose of Mindfulness practice was for  enlightenment , self realization or  spiritual awakening.

About 800 years after Buddha a monk called Asangah in India identified 9 distinct stages in the process of developing concentration.

Four centuries later Kamalashila another Indian monk who taught in Tibet elaborated on it and  wrote Bhavna Krama (3 part stages of meditation). Another valuable source of information is “Path of purification” (Visuddhimagga) compiled in the 5th century by the great Theravadin commentator, Buddhagosha.

In modern times Jon Kabat-Zinn is widely credited with popularising Mindfulness in a scientific way in the West. He was first introduced to meditation by Philip Kapleau, a Zen enthusiast who came to speak at MIT where Kabat-Zinn was a student. Kabat-Zinn also went on to study meditation with other Buddhist teachers such as Thich Nhat hanh and Seungsahn.

Today Mindfulness is used for Stress Management, Focus, Concentration and more.

However the origins clearly lie in the Indian subcontinent where these have been practiced for centuries before Christ or Buddha were born.

The Buddhist term translated into English as “mindfulness” originates in the Pali term SATI and in its Sanskrit counterpart SMRITI.

According to Robert Sharf, smriti originally meant “to remember,” “to recollect,” “to bear in mind,” as in the Vedic tradition of remembering the sacred texts. The term sati also means “to remember.”

However, breath (prana), meditation that are part of Yoga are Vedic practices that existed centuries before Buddhism. Buddha himself was born a Hindu and learnt all the spiritual practices that existed before his time.

One of the Buddhist practices called Ana-Pana meditation is a reference to two of the five Types of Pranas or types of lifeforce energy in our body. Ana is short for Apana. Pana is short for Prana. However there are 3 other types of prana called Samana, Vyana and Udana which are well documented in Yogic texts.

Origin of the word ‘Yoga’ and its relevance to breath:

The word ‘yoga’ is derived from two Sanskrit roots. They are yujir and yuj.

The Rig Veda is one of the oldest Vedic texts used the word ‘yoga’ with the meaning of ‘yoking’, ‘joining’, ‘coming together’ and ‘connection’. At a basic level it means to join the body with the mind. At a more spiritual level it implies a process of joining a human with the eternal spirit (brahman).

The word Yoga first finds mention in the “Rig Veda” an ancient Sanskrit text (approx. 10,000 years old circa 8000 BC). Further mentions are found in the “Svetasvatara and Katha Upanishads as well as the Bhagvad Gita (Vedic texts).  There are several types of Yoga mentioned like Karma  yoga, Bhakti yoga, Gyan yoga, Raja Yoga etc.

This knowledge was part of Vedic thought encapsulated in the concept of “Sanatana Dharma” or Eternal principles (truths)  that were meant to be relevant across all time periods. This knowledge evolved within the Indian subcontinent by the “Rishis” (seers) as was part of the earliest civilizations on planet earth.

Centuries later Patanjali compiled earlier knowledge in a text called “ Yoga Sutras” on the philosophy of yoga. He outlined eight limbs (steps) which are meant to be sequentially followed an indicate progress on the path to self-realization.

  • Yama – Five abstentions (or outer observances)
  • Niyama – Five inner observances
  • Asana – Meaning “seat” and referring to the physical posture needed for meditation which popularly evolved as “Hatha Yoga”
  • Pranayama Expand or Controlled or suspended breath/breathing exercises
  • Pratyahara – Withdrawal of the senses
  • Dharana – Single pointed concentration
  • Dhyana Meditation
  • Samadhi – Liberation

Thus Yoga (joining with divinity) consisted of  8 steps and were meant to be done sequentially and started from step 1 which was the foundation. It begins with bringing basic changes within, in terms of personal discipline in the way we interact with the world and  ourselves before we graduate to the physical postures called “Asana” and subsequent higher practices like Pranayama (breath control) and Dhyana (Meditation).

Most of the Western world however is familiar and primarily concerned with “Asana” or Hatha Yoga which are physical postures which are required for good health and well being.

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