Our name hails from Maya Devi, the mother of Buddha, whose teachings ultimately became the foundation for mindfulness meditation. The Maya Devi Temple’s flower garden in Lumbini, Nepal commemorates the site of Buddha’s birth around 563 BCE. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1997, the Maya Devi Temple is a protected space surrounded only by temples; it’s forbidden to build hotels, shops or other businesses in the nearby area. Each year, more than 1.6 million people travel to Lumbini to visit the Maya Devi Temple. Visitors flock to the site to meditate from the early hours of the morning through the evening.
Buddha believed he could find freedom and peace in an imperfect world. Mindfulness meditation, which directly comes from Buddhism, consists in paying attention to an object in order to experience both calm and awareness. With the intention of putting an end to distractions that invaded the consciousness and prohibited true concentration, Buddha was compelled to learn to harness his mind and senses.
To do so meant sitting cross-legged and unmoving with a straight spine. Next came learning to breathe slowly, similar to the even breaths we take while sleeping. This type of breathing has been found to have a significant effect on our mental state, leading to intense feelings of calm and openness. Once Buddha mastered those two tasks, he worked on trying to concentrate on a single point. This meant paying attention to his thoughts by observing them and without judging them and focusing on an object.
That is how mindfulness meditation got its start. Nowadays, in mindfulness meditation, one will still focus on an object, be it a candle or the breath, while noticing any thoughts or sensations.
As a child, Buddha sat in the shadows of a rose apple tree when a feeling of pure joy came over him. Instinctively, he sat up in what we know today as a traditional meditative pose—with a straight back and crossed legs—and strong feelings of a calm happiness washed over him. From this experience came mindfulness, the precursor to meditation. Buddha noticed how his feelings and sensations changed together with the ebb and flow of his consciousness. He discerned the ways in which his senses and thoughts changed through interactions with the world around him and made himself aware of his every move.
With the goal of achieving a sense of deepening calm or a “release of the mind,” Buddha set out to recreate the feelings of calm contentedness he had sitting under the rose apple tree. This led him to meditate in the lotus position underneath a Bodhi tree, also known as an old sacred fig tree or Ficus religiosa. As it turned out, Buddha didn’t sit beneath just any tree. He chose to quiet his mind in the shadows of a tree with a lengthy lifespan. The average Bodhi tree lives between 900 and 1,500 years. Those still in their native habitats are said to thrive for more than 3,000 years.
The Maya Devi Temple commemorates the place where Buddha was born.
Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, founding Executive Director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, became the first person to demonstrate the specific benefits of meditation. Kabat-Zinn found that the heart rate decreases during meditation and brain rhythms change, allowing individuals to neurologically detach themselves from their surroundings and therefore become more sensitive to contemplation. These exercises have been found to offer many benefits, including the ability to relax and ease anxiety.