I love history and I love to discover new things and the history of Western meditation is pretty fascinating.
When I started yoga in my teens and was introduced to meditation, I became keen to know more about its inception and evolution. I was aware that many eastern philosophies incorporate meditation as an essential practice and was amazed to learn that scholars date its practice as far back as the fourth millennium B.C. In fact many ancient scripts from the East and the Middle East substantiate the fact that meditation was widely practiced. I did not learn at this point however that meditation has a rich history in Europe.
Little known is the fact that meditation was practiced and taught in both ancient Rome and Greece over 2,500 years ago. Well before Alexander the Great, who was a student of Aristotle, returned from India with his Indian Guru, ancient Greek philosophers such as Pythagoras, Socrates, Plato and Aristotle taught and practiced meditation. The Greek Master philosophers are accredited as being the founders of western science and civilisation but they also deeply explored the esoteric mysteries of life and reality. Historical fact however, proves their so called discoveries in these areas were practiced in India thousands of years earlier.
The fact that ancient Greeks and Romans were influenced by Indian sages becomes more apparent when we find that, for example Pythagoras travelled extensively and built an ashram on a Greek island called Samos. Here he shared his extensive knowledge of what he had learned in the East and Egypt. He spent the majority of his time on Samos mediating in a cave. Interestingly, he is the first person to refer to himself as a philosopher which, literarily translated means “lover of wisdom”. He eventually moved to southern Italy where his community thrived and where he set down the principles upon which western science was founded. It should be noted here that Pythagoras’ community was first and foremost based on spiritual principles of love and forgiveness and the practice of learning to know oneself and the nature of reality. Knowing oneself can only be achieved by introspection which of course is meditation.
Ancient Indian beliefs such as the Law of Karma and reincarnation were commonly accepted in this and other communities and schools founded by the ancient Greek philosophers. Pythagoras believed that in order to understand the nature of the cosmos one must search within, a view shared by all the latter Greek philosophers. Whilst ancient Indian texts have provided a wealth of spiritual and metaphysical knowledge to centuries of seekers, the early Greek philosophers first brought this knowledge to the western world. Sadly, due to war and religious differences, much of these great men’s work was destroyed or lost and the western world no longer had access to their spiritual wisdom. Meditation became a forgotten practice. Fortunately, enough written material survived to allow scholars to recognise the wisdom and teachings of that time echoes the knowledge and tenants of a more ancient wisdom – that of India.
Scholars are now in agreement that the similarities between Indian philosophy and the ancient Greek philosophers are too many to ignore. Thankfully, due to Indian tradition their ancient scripts have been safely handed down through the millennia and the wisdom that inspired Greek philosophers and provided the cornerstone of our society is still readily available to everyone.