Buddhist Meditation

what is it and how to practice it

Everyone knows that most of the meditation techniques we know today have their roots in Buddhism . But did you know that there are different schools of Buddhism, each with their own schools of thought and styles of meditation? In this article we will find out which are the most important, how they were born and how Buddhist meditation is practiced.

What is Buddhist Meditation

The Buddhist meditation , as the name suggests, is the term used commonly awareness practices are shown to originate from the precepts of the Buddhist doctrine . All forms of Buddhism – and, by extension, Buddhist meditation techniques – originated from the Buddha’s insights into the nature of existence, the causes of suffering, the reasons for happiness, and the directions for living a healthy and constructive life.

These practices then extended beyond the borders of the countries in which they developed and gradually gained popularity in the West as well (read our history of meditation to find out more).

The three main Buddhist meditation practices are:

  • Samatha
  • Vipassana
  • Metta or loving kindness

Buddhists practice meditation as part of the path to liberation , awakening and Nirvana  (a transcendent state in which there is neither suffering, desire, nor sense of self) and their daily practice includes a variety of meditation techniques that they aim to develop equanimity, awareness, concentration, tranquility and intuition.

These meditation techniques are preceded and combined with other practices that aid spiritual growth, such as moral restraint and the conscious effort to develop healthy mental states.

History of Buddhist Meditation

In the classical language of Buddhism, meditation is referred to as bhāvanā , which means “mental development”, or dhyāna , which means “mental calm”. The exact origins of these forms of meditation are strongly debated: some argue that meditation itself originated from Buddhism (although the famous Buddha image meditating in the lotus position was born only many years later), while others trace it back to the Hindu culture.

What is certain is that the earliest written accounts of Buddhist meditation in India are found in the sutras of the Pāli Canon , which dates back to the 1st century BC.The Pāli is a collection of scriptures from the Theravada Buddhist tradition whose content was passed down orally during the first council. Buddhist immediately after the Buddha’s death. The Pali Canon mentions the Four Noble Truths that underlie Buddhist doctrine, placing meditation as a step along the path of salvation from pain .

There is a path of practice to follow to free yourself from pain.

The teachings of the Buddha

The Buddha, known by other names including Siddhārtha Gautama in Sanskrit or Siddhattha Gotama in Pali, was a prince who became a monk, sage, philosopher and religious leader. Buddhism is founded precisely on the basis of its teachings.

For this reason, many mistakenly assume that the Buddha created or invented meditation: in reality the texts of Buddhism refer to many different meditation practices that already exist and the Buddha himself turned to other enlightened masters to learn the practice and modalities. of self-realization. Although the Buddha did not invent meditation, his teachings were instrumental in spreading the value of meditation as a practice.

The teachings of the Buddha (which form the basis of the doctrine of Buddhism) are:
• The three universal truths (which illustrate the law of karma )
• The four noble truths (which explore human suffering )
• The noble eightfold path (which enunciates the eight practices for liberation from the cycle of reincarnation, represented by the wheel of Dharma )

It is precisely in the eightfold path that meditation forms the basis of three practices of liberation (right effort, right mindfulness and right concentration). Being aware in the present moment is fundamental for an adequate life and for the development of self-awareness.

Buddhist meditation techniques

As we have seen, meditation occupies a central place in Buddhism and, in its higher stages, combines the discipline of introspection  with the insight derived from wisdom or prajna . The object of concentration, kammatthana , can vary according to the individual and the situation. Below we explore the three most popular Buddhist meditation techniques: Samatha, Vipassana, and Metta.

Samatha meditation

Samatha means “tranquility” and is a Buddhist practice that focuses on developing calm , clarity and equanimity .

With proper guidance and commitment, cultivating these qualities can lead to deep inner peace . When combined with vipassana (awareness), it can lead to profound insights and even spiritual awakening . The initial stages of this meditation technique are essentially non-denominational and can be practiced by anyone regardless of their religion.

This form of meditation is particularly suitable for those looking for a way to develop meditation practice and the benefits it can bring, while continuing with the challenges of daily life. The mind is brought to a state of rest and is not allowed to wander from one thought to another.

Samatha has its roots in the Thai Buddhist tradition and was introduced to England in 1962 by Nai Boonman, a Thai meditation teacher.

How to do Samatha meditation

The basic practice of samatha meditation is as follows:

  1. Sit in a comfortable meditation position – find a pose that doesn’t hurt your back or knees.
  2. Keep your back straight and try to find the right compromise that allows you not to be too stiff or too relaxed.
  3. Watch your breath – you don’t have to manipulate your breath, use abdominal breathing, or increase the depth of your inhalations as in other meditation techniques. Breathe normally and pay attention to the breathing process, one breath at a time.
  4. Keep your awareness focused on the act of breathing, but without making it an exercise in pure concentration: you should keep an attitude of curiosity, as if you want to find out more about the way your breathing works.
  5. Recognize the thoughts that crop up in your mind without getting involved. Watch them and let them go, then return to focus on the breath. Let the thought arise, become aware of it and then let it go.

Vipassana meditation

Vipassana is one of the oldest Buddhist meditation practices and can be roughly translated with the term “intuition” intended as a deep awareness of what is happening, exactly how it happens.

Most meditative practices focus on Samatha, as they ask the individual to focus on one thing (e.g. the breath) and exclude all other thoughts.

Instead, in Vipassana meditation the individual is encouraged to use their concentration to gain a true understanding of the nature of their reality . The ultimate goal is to achieve liberation by breaking down the walls that prevent us from understanding our true reality.

As a meditation technique it is very gradual and the achievement of liberation can take many years. The technique itself is rather delicate but extremely accurate in helping the individual to reach final awareness through a dedicated series of exercises.

How to do Vipassana meditation

There are three main stages of the practice:

  1. Sila – which means “morality”, relating to the renunciation of worldly thoughts and desires.
  2. Anapanasati – or “awareness of the breath”, in which the individual brings their awareness to their breath without control or judgment.
  3. Vitarka – where the individual simply names the breathing process – both physical and mental – without deepening the thought.

Starting with an inhalation, the technique continues by removing any other awareness of external events around the practitioner and building from there to the next exhale and so on.

The aim is to create a state of hyper-awareness for everything that is happening in the immediate reality, exactly as it is happening.

Metta or loving kindness

Another well-known technique for practicing Buddhist meditation is metta, or loving kindness . This form of meditation is about love, kindness and awakening positive feelings first towards ourselves and then towards the entire universe.

How it is practiced

Metta is practiced by directing desires of loving kindness towards ourselves, then opening the circle and wishing well to a person who is dear to us, then a neutral person, a person we do not like, and finally all beings, regardless of how we feel. we feel about them.

Food for Thought

Buddhist teachings share some fundamental beliefs. Practitioners are encouraged to reflect on them in a purposeful and contemplative way. This contemplation can easily be integrated into a meditation session.

One of the best known contemplations is called “The four thoughts that transform the mind” . Their purpose is to give us a good reason to sit down and practice rather than, for example, spend the next two hours engaging in unproductive activities for the mind.

The four thoughts

These four thoughts, in short, are:

  1. The rarity and preciousness of human life : “I can choose to devote my energy to developing wisdom, compassion and the power to help others. Many people in other situations, as well as other life forms such as animals, do not have this possibility. I recognize the preciousness of this opportunity and I promise not to waste it. “
  2. The impermanence of life and the inevitability of death : “Who knows how long this precious life will last? Everything changes. My whole existence depends on one breath. I have no time to lose!”
  3. The power of our actions : “Everything that exists has a cause and every action has consequences. My actions have a greater impact than I can imagine. “
  4. The inevitability of dissatisfaction : “Sooner or later we will be separated from all the material things we are attached to. So much effort, so little lasting gain. Doesn’t it make more sense to focus my energy on developing wisdom, compassion and empathy? May my meditation practice help me achieve this. “