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According to recent scientific studies, it has been found that regular meditation has various benefits such as better focus, reduced levels of stress, etc.

Knowing that the roots of contemporary meditative practices comes from the buddist-like religions, is it problematic for a Jew to practice meditation? Assuming that all the religious aspects are taken out from the meditation sessions, would that make it fine?

Does Judaism have its own versions of meditation? And are there any sources within the Jewish texts (tanach/gemara/rishonim/acharonim/etc) that discuss meditation?

Just to clarify, when I say "meditation" I am not referring to having kavanah during davening but to actually sit alone in a quiet room for an allotted period time and just focus on breathing and clearing the mind from thinking.

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Rav Aryeh Kaplan in his book Jewish Meditation writes that meditation was really the practice of the prophets and mystics of Judaism. He bases this off the Gemara in Brachos 30b:

אין עומדין להתפלל אלא מתוך כובד ראש חסידים הראשונים היו שוהין שעה אחת ומתפללין כדי שיכוונו לבם לאביהם שבשמים

The Chassidim Harishonim would prepare for an hour before their prayers.

Excerpt from here:

Among the early mystical schools, there is a group that the Talmud cryptically refers to as the "First Hasidim." Among the things that the Talmud says about them is that they were zealous in bringing sacrifice, and scrupulously buried refuse containing sharp objects so as not to cause harm to others (Nedarim 10a, et al.). According to Rabbi Chaim Vital, these First Hasidim were among the important heirs to the prophetic tradition (Sha’arey Kedushah, Introduction).

The Mishnah states that “the First Hasidim would linger an hour and then pray.” To this, the Talmud adds that they would also wait an hour after their prayers, and that the prayer itself would also take an hour (Berakhot 30b). Since there were three daily prayer services, they would spend a total of nine hours each day involved in such devotion.

There is no mention in the Talmud as to what these Hasidim did during the hours before and after prayer, but the Kabbalists explain it in terms of classical meditative techniques (see Sha’ar HaKavanot LeMekubalim HaRishonim, p. 122). In order to place oneself in the frame of mind necessary for successful deep meditation, one must sit calmly beforehand, quietly building up spiritual energy. Similarly, after intense meditation, one must also sit quietly, absorbing the effects of ths experience. This would then clearly indicate that the prayer itself was used as a type of meditation among these First Hasidim.

He writes that meditation was the original intent of the Rabbis when they instituted the Amida Silent prayer.

  • Isn't this referring to the "davening meditation" and not the "achieving mindfulness meditation"? – Ani Yodea May 28 '15 at 13:54
  • What exactly did the Chassidim Harishonim do for that hour prior and following their prayers? – Ani Yodea May 28 '15 at 13:55
  • Yes, but I also mentioned the chasidim Harishonim – Shoel U'Meishiv May 28 '15 at 13:55
  • Rav Aryeh Kaplan Claims they meditated ie chanting mantra mindful breathing etc. – Shoel U'Meishiv May 28 '15 at 13:56
  • The Rambam said it first (IIRC)... – Isaac Kotlicky May 28 '15 at 14:18
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The שער רוח הקודש from Harav Chaim Vittal has many meditations. Before him, Rav Abulafya discussed meditations. We fund in Shmuel that Shaul Hamelech spent all night passed out in prophecy. The Targum there uses the term Shabach, to praise. This sounds more like meditating than predictions.

As for mind exercises that can be beneficial, there doesn't have to be a Mesora. We have the general rule that healing is permitted and we follow any new research.

In fact, the Rashba suggests in a Tshuva that when it comes to healing, perhaps even magic would be permitted.

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The roots of meditation come from the Creator, like all things. This is understood from the line in Tehillim (147:19), "He told His words to Yaacov and His judgements to Yisrael."

The Torah teachings on the type of meditation you are referring to are extensive and are still available today. There are schools in Israel and even individuals available online who might be able to help you in this area, like for example Rabbi Ariel Bar Tzadok at koshertorah.com.

For someone limited to English, the three books by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan are a good place to start. They are titled, "Meditation and the Bible", Meditation and Kabbalah" and "Jewish Meditation". As memory serves, the publisher was Weiser Press and it is probably available through Amazon.

Like is found in Mishnah Torah, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah at the beginning, each individual is required to "know" and "believe" that there is a first cause that this cause is the Creator of all.

This "knowing" aspect relates to that type of meditation which is associated with individual intellectual and emotional capacity. Generally, "knowing" is through thought, speech and action. It also has the implication of the connection of the spiritual with the physical, material plane of existence. This is because the word "know" in Hebrew (da'at) also has the meaning of connection, as in Adam "knew" Chava.

In fact, this is also the meaning of the word "mitzvah". It means "connection" ('tzavtah' in Hebrew, as found in Likkutei Torah, parshat Bechukotai 55:3). In other words, G-d's immanence in all aspects of creation, that there is no "place" devoid of "Him".

The "belief" aspect is associated with that type of meditation which transcends the finite qualities of ones self, meaning relating to the innermost aspect of soul or what the Torah says is "a piece of G-d above" (in Hebrew, 'chelek Elokah Mi'Me'al).

The daily requirement in halacha for meditation is associated with the recital of the Shema (Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Orach Chaim 60:5, 61:1, 63:5, 183:5). Minimally, the first two lines of Shema are to be said with "intention" morning and evening. What each individuals capacity is to fulfill that varies. But the intended meaning is that for someone with greater capacity, they are to meditate much more deeply. What is expected from a child is different from an adult and each and every individual is according to how they have been measured "Above".

And that is only the starting place. There are specific visualizations, and breathing patterns, what could be described as 'mantras', and even postures. Each enables greater connection, called "devekut" with the Creator.

In addition, lifestyle impacts ones effectiveness in meditation. The commandments one fulfills, what one eats, level of ritual "purity", types of clothing and the varying times of day, month and year impact on meditation. Geographic location also has its impact, beneficially or not. In other words, some things make the connection with the Creator more effective and are more conducive to the process, while others hinder. But it is important to keep in mind that these details only relate to that aspect of meditation which is associated with the finite, "knowing" side of the process.

To really open the door to this side of Jewish life requires learning Hebrew. It is the keys to the Kingdom and the foundation upon which everything is built. The written sources in Hebrew are extensive and show an uninterrupted tradition going back for 5775 years, all the way to the first "book" given to Adam HaRishon called "Sefer Raziel HaMalach" or "Sefer Toldot Adam HaRishon".

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