Where does mindfulness come from? What is its history?
The origins of living mindfully cannot be pinned down absolutely, as in itself “being aware” is not a formal practice, It is likely that in the ancient past, at least on a basic level, humans were more in touch with nature and with what was gong on externally, these children of the universe were definitely not multi-screening…
However as we now know ancient tribes have always had power struggles, made war and done all sorts or crazy things, so its probably best to correlate the beginnings of mindfulness with the first growth of meditation, which also pre-dates written record. It is generally accepted that the first people to formally practice meditation existing on the Indian subcontinent over 7,000 years ago.
Many people point to the view that meditation – which forms a huge part of Yoga – is a tantric practice originally followed by devotees of Shiva. Indeed the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, from the 15th century, states that it was developed by a tantric sage with the same name. Other written sources, such as the Shiva Samhita, claim the same thing. That is why in India, Shiva is called the King of Yoga. He is believed to have lived on the subcontinent during the first Vedic Aryan invasion of India over 7,000 years ago.
Subsequently meditation became integrated within wider Hindu society and overtime also became part of Buddhism, itself a development of that societies practices. Approximately 600BC, Siddhartha Gautama (Buddha) reached “enlightenment” by meditating under a Bodhi Tree. The major break between Buddhism and Hinduism occurred, as Buddha’s followers did not believe meditation to be a means of getting closer to a higher being – a God, but rather as a means of realising one’s interconnectedness with all things.
More or less in parallel with the development of Buddhism, Daoism (also known as Taoism due historic issues in translation) was on the rise in China. Daoism, is a philosophical tradition of Chinese origin which emphasises living in harmony with the Dao. Dao is a word signifying the “way” or “key”. Dao is the intuitive knowing of “life” that cannot be grasped whole-heartedly as just a concept, but has to be known through actual living experience of one’s everyday being.
Unsurprisingly, when followers of Buddhism and Daoism met, they had quite a lot in common, and started to adopt each others practices. Culminating in Zen Buddhism. Zen emphasises rigorous self-control, meditation-practice, insight into Buddha-nature, and the personal expression of this insight in daily life, especially for the benefit of others. It de-emphasises knowledge of texts, and favours direct understanding through Zazen – the nature of existence.
In more recent times, the “developed” countries of the world are seeing an increase in the number of people that do not follow a specific religion. This has led to the growing popularity of “Mindfulness”, a way of being not directly tied to a faith – it’s open to all. Whilst it can be argued that their have been many mindful people before Jon Kabat-Zinn, his pioneering research which began in 1979 and led to the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) programme has popularised the term and alternative approach to meditative practice.