The word "Hindu" derives from a Persian way of characterizing the variety of traditions and cultural practices that can be found on the other side of the Indus River, the great Himalayan cascade that now bisects Pakistan. "Hindu" describes persons practicing Vedic ritual or worshipping Krishna. "Hindu" also describes the shared customs of Jains, Sikhs, and Zoroastrians.
The excavations of early Indian civilization reveal a dynamic, multicultural society in constant trade and contact with Mesopotamia. It flourished over 5,000 years ago and remained largely unchanged for two millennia. The seals, insignia, and ruins from this era indicate a veneration of female energy that has endured in the form of goddess worship, as well as a respect for animals that can be seen throughout India. The iconic heroes and heroines of this ancient culture were often depicted in poses resembling modern-day meditation.
At least 3,500 years ago, collections of songs known as the "Knowledge Hymns" or Vedas circulated first in northwest India, then spread east through the Ganges River plain and then south through the Decean to the very tip of India. These hymns include praise of the earth goddess, the sky gods, and the great seers and philosophers who originated sacrificial rituals and brought some order to society. In an unbroken oral tradition, these chants passed from generation to generation up to the present.
From the wisdom of the Vedas arose several philosophical schools and traditions of worship. Perhaps the most compelling image can be found in Indra's attempt to harness the thunder and the rain, necessary for the replenishment of life in India's critical monsoon season. Gentler images include the description of two birds on the same tree, one always active, the other looking on wisely and dispassionately. India still grapples with its extreme weather and places great value on the aspect of being human that allows one to sit and reflect.
Widely popularized 1,300 years ago, the spiritual philosophy known as Tantra arose as a marriage of these concerns. Tantra speaks of an intimacy between the human body and the cosmos. Meditation reveals that the earth stands in relationship with our sense of smell, located in the human nose. The scent of snow on the distant mountains, the fragrance of flowers bursting forth following the rains, the musky smell of fertile humus remind us of our reliance on Mother Earth.
Meditation also establishes the connection between the water we drink and the saliva that allows us to digest our food. …