The English meditation is derived from the Latin meditatio, from a verb meditari, meaning "to think, contemplate, devise, ponder".
The term meditation was introduced as a translation for Eastern spiritual practices, referred to as dhyāna in Buddhism and in Hinduism, which comes from the Sanskrit root dhyan, meaning to contemplate or meditate. The term "meditation" in English may also refer to practices from Islamic Sufism, or other traditions such as Jewish Kabbalah and Christian Hesychasm.An edited book about "meditation" published in 2003, for example, included chapter contributions by authors describing Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions. Scholars have noted that "the term 'meditation' as it has entered contemporary usage" is parallel to the term "contemplation" in Christianity,but in many cases, practices similar to modern forms of meditation were simply called "prayer". Christian, Judaic, and Islamic forms of meditation are typically devotional, scriptural or thematic, while Asian forms of meditation are often more purely technical.
The history of meditation is intimately bound up with the religious context within which it was practiced.]Some authors have even suggested the hypothesis that the emergence of the capacity for focused attention, an element of many methods of meditation,may have contributed to the latest phases of human biological evolution.
Some of the earliest references to meditation are found in the Hindu Vedas of India. Wilson translates the most famous Vedic mantra "Gayatri" as: "We meditate on that desirable light of the divine Savitri, who influences our pious rites" (Rigveda : Mandala-3, Sukta-62, Rcha-10). Around the 6th to 5th centuries BCE, other forms of meditation developed via Confucianism and Taoism in China as well as Hinduism, Jainism, and early Buddhism in Nepal and India.
In the west, by 20 BCE Philo of Alexandria had written on some form of "spiritual exercises" involving attention (prosoche) and concentration and by the 3rd century Plotinus had developed meditative techniques.
The Pāli Canon, which dates to 1st century BCE considers Buddhist meditation as a step towards liberation.By the time Buddhism was spreading in China, the Vimalakirti Sutra which dates to 100 CE included a number of passages on meditation, clearly pointing to Zen (known as Chan in China, Thiền in Vietnam, and Seon in Korea). The Silk Road transmission of Buddhism introduced meditation to other Asian countries, and in 653 the first meditation hall was opened in Singapore.Returning from China around 1227, Dōgen wrote the instructions for zazen.
The Islamic practice of Dhikr had involved the repetition of the 99 Names of God since the 8th or 9th century. By the 12th century, the practice of Sufism included specific meditative techniques, and its followers practiced breathing controls and the repetition of holy words. Interactions with Indians, Nepalese or the Sufis may have influenced the Eastern Christian meditation approach to hesychasm, but this can not be proved. Between the 10th and 14th centuries, hesychasm was developed, particularly on Mount Athos in Greece, and involves the repetition of the Jesus prayer.