Meditation is a mental and physical course of action that a person uses to separate themselves from their thoughts and feelings in order to become fully aware.
It plays a part in virtually all religions although some don't use the word 'meditation' to describe their particular meditative or contemplative practice.
Meditation does not always have a religious element. It is a natural part of the human experience and is increasingly used as a therapy for promoting good health and boosting the immune system.
Anyone who has looked at a sunset or a beautiful painting and felt calm and inner joy, while their mind becomes clear and their perception sharpens, has had a taste of the realm of meditation.
Successful meditation means simply being - not judging, not thinking, just being aware, at peace and living each moment as it unfolds.
In Buddhism the person meditating is not trying to get into a hypnotic state or contact a supernatural entity.
Meditation involves the body and the mind. For Buddhists this is particularly important as they want to avoid what they call 'duality' and so their way of meditating must involve the body and the mind as a single entity.
In the most general definition, meditation is a way of taking control of the mind so that it becomes peaceful and focused, and the meditator becomes more aware.
The purpose of meditation is to stop the mind rushing about in an aimless (or even a purposeful) stream of thoughts. People often say that the aim of meditation is to still the mind.
There are a number of methods of meditating - methods which have been used for a long time and have been shown to work. People can meditate on their own or in groups.