The Indian Origins of the Mindfulness Technique

  • Article tells you about the Indian origins of the Mindfulness technique with appropriate references.

With mind, meditate on me as being prana - Kaushitaki Upanishad, 3.2.


The indigenous dhyana parampara of our culture has been appropriated by the West and repackaged and delivered to the world in the form of so-called Mindfulness, without even acknowledging it's very Vedic roots. Ours is a deep tradition of contemplation and meditation. 


The ancient Vedic Rishis churned more and more over the idea of creation and evolution and in this course they handed over to us the brilliant tradition of meditation which is unique to our ethos. Meditation, is being preached in the West as a remedial measure or therapy for many of our physical ailments, has a much superior dimension in the Indian value system which is being obliterated by the materialistic West.


Reclaiming this ancient knowledge, that has exemplary Vedic overtones, is the need of the hour.


The goal of spiritual upliftment makes it imperative to move ahead on the path of Shravan, Manama, Nididhyasana and at last the culmination in the form of Nirvikalpa Samadhi. The final stage Nididhyāsana is profound meditation on the Mahavakyas, which our seers performed to attain the Advaita of Atman and Brahman. This exquisite Jnana form of meditation with a such transcendental purpose is the distinctiveness of the Sanatan tradition and difficult to find elsewhere.


Far beyond being a meditative process of the subtle mind, in Vedic culture this so-called “Mindfulness” occupies the central place as a holistic approach towards accomplishing oneness of the Atman with the Brahman.


Similarly, Buddhism aims at enlightenment and Mindfulness is considered the path towards enlightenment. In fact, several sources consider the English word “mindfulness” to be a simple translation of the Buddhist concept of Sati.  As per Buddhism, Mindfulness (i.e. Sati) is not present in every state of mind, but needs to be brought into being instead. As soon as Sati is brought into an individual’s being, through various methods, she becomes Bodhisatva and reaches Nirvana thus achieving the goal of absolute enlightenment.


Sanatan Dharmic cultures have a long tradition of myriad thought-schools constantly engaging in mutual exchanges, thereby getting influenced with each other. In this context the concept of so-called mindfulness can be traced back to the Vedic ontology particularly the Upanishadic wisdom, which subsequently got manifest in its variants across several Darshans of Indic tradition.  


Jnanadeva tu Kaivalyam is the basis of the non-dual tradition which emphasizes on the Jnana Marg to achieve the aim of liberation with the aid of mindfulness. The semblance of the consciousness principles with the mindfulness concept proves this. Therefore the Vedic tradition is, beyond doubt, the foundation of the Mindfulness and the Jnana is a cardinal route to attain expertise over it.


इ॒यं विसृ॑ष्टि॒र्यत॑ आब॒भूव॒ यदि॑ वा द॒धे यदि॑ वा॒ न । यो अ॒स्याध्य॑क्षः पर॒मे व्यो॑म॒न्सो अ॒ङ्ग वे॑द॒ यदि॑ वा॒ न वेद॑ ॥ ७॥

Whence all creation had its origin,

  he, whether he fashioned it or whether he did not,

  he, who surveys it all from highest heaven,

  he knows - or maybe even he does not know.


The aforementioned Nasidiya Sukta is the cornerstone of the inquisitorial approach employed by our Rishis to explore more and more on the subject of Atman and Brahman. In this Sukta, the question of creation is confabulated open-endedly, where first the answer is derived and then left open for further inquisition. This is the ultimate Jnana of the Upanishdas.


In his introductory remarks about the Upanishadas Maharshi Aurobindo wrote, “The Upanishads are the supreme work of the Indian mind, and that it should be so, that the highest self-expression of its genius, its sublimest poetry, its greatest creation of the thought and word should be not a literary or poetical masterpiece of the ordinary kind, but a large flood of spiritual revelation of this direct and profound character, is a significant fact, evidence of a unique mentality and unusual turn of spirit.”


Adi Shankaracharya, the great sage of Adavita Vedanta, considers the Upanishadas as “the knowledge of the Brahman after the removal of the veil of ignorance.” The consciousness principle is originated out of the mystical teachings of the Upanishdas. In our culture, both the orthodox as well as the heterodox schools of thoughts draw inspiration from the Upanishadas.


The Shad-Darsanas (Six schools of philosophy) or the Shat-Sastras are: the NYAYA, founded by Gautama Rishi, the VAISESHIKA by Kanada Rishi, the SANKHYA by Kapila Muni, the YOGA by Patanjali Maharshi, the PURVA MIMAMSA by Jaimini, and the UTTARA MIMAMSA or VEDANTA by Badarayana or Vyasa. 


All of them have a common goal and that is attainment of liberation (nirvana), though the means are diverse. Among these various pathways, meditation is one of the eight limbs of Yoga being elucidated metaphysically by Patanjali, which is a culmination of the yogi’s sadhana, or practice. It is said, when a yogi reaches the state in which he or she is no longer a slave to the mind, moksha or the true and eternal liberation has been attained.


Mindfulness, thus occupies a place of significance in our classic wisdom and a quintessential technique for the attainment of the goal of enlightenment. Adi Guru Shankara remains the most profound yogi to expound the Adavitic Jnana as the source of mindfulness for integration of the Atman and Brahman. Shankara states in his classic work Vivekchudamani:


“श्रुतेः शतगुणं विद्यान्मननं मननादपि | निदिध्यासं लक्षगुणम् अनन्तं निर्विकल्पकम्” ||

"Reflection (manana) is hundred times superior to listening (sravana); meditation (nididhyasana) is hundred times superior to reflection; nirvikalpaka samadhi is infinitely superior”.


Hence, in India we have a brilliant tradition of assigning preference to extramundane upliftment over worldly advancements and “Mindfulness” meditation has been an important conveyance to those who aspire to traverse through the path of mystical expedition in Dharmic ethos.


Conversely, the West has always labored hard to appropriate whatever is ours, rewrap it with their own notions and then sell it to the world as their own, without even acknowledging the source.


This practice must be contained. We must individually and collectively safeguard our precious heritage from becoming the victim of such selfish onslaughts.


Author has obtained M. Phil and Ph. D. in History. She has published articles on a variety of historical, Dharmic and Samskritic aspects. 

Dr David Frawleyji shared this article on his Facebook page and wrote, “Mindfulness is often just another term from the meditation practices that have permeated the dharmic traditions of India. Meditation (dhyana), Self-inquiry (Atma-vichara), taking the attitude of the witness (sakshi-bhava), observing the mind and mindfulness (moment by moment awareness) are central to the Vedic and yogic traditions. Note excellent article by eSamskriti.”

To read all articles by author


Also read

1 What is Manana

2 What is Shravana

3 What is Nididyasana

4 What is Moksha

5 Shad Darshanas – Six Systems of Hindu Philosophy

6 Characteristics of Indian Philosophy

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