Meditation generally comes in various techniques designed for different goals. And when it comes to Buddhist meditation, there are also a variety of Buddhist meditation techniques. They are all practiced differently and help improve the meditators’ experience in different ways.
Although they share the some similar aspects, they are all unique in their own way.
Understanding all of them will help you know the significant differences with each and get to choose the form of Buddhist meditation you find to be your right fit.
Let’s take a comprehensive look at Buddhist meditation.
What is Buddhist Meditation?
It is a form of mind training that originates from Buddhism. It is more of a way of working intentionally with your mind to better your experience of life.
While there are many types of Buddhist meditation, they all seek to help train the mind to stop the constant mental race of thoughts and bring the mind to relaxed wakefulness state.
Although the practice has its roots from Buddhism, it is not only limited to them. People from all religions and countries are encouraged to work with it for their own self development.
This tradition is mostly aimed at improving mindfulness and awareness
It helps the meditator build qualities of mindfulness, quietness, calmness, peace and harmony.
The Buddhist philosophy works with the idea that if the meditator is able to understand how their mind and feelings operate, through observation and experience, they are able to act and react in a way that is beneficial to them and others.
The basic form of Buddhist meditation begins with calming the noisy nature of the mind and improving mental concentration.
From there, other forms take the practice a step further to build insight through the inquiry of the nature of reality.
History of Buddhist Meditation
Buddhism dates back to the 6th century, where a prince known as Siddhartha Gautama, decided to give up his easy and luxurious lifestyle in the palace to seek spiritual wealth.
He was able to find and study under respected yogis of his time who helped him learn philosophy and meditation. After all the teachings he received from the teachers, he felt there was more than that he needed.
So, he went on with his seeking journey and was able to find enlightenment. He then began to teach people the path of enlightenment and spiritual awakening as well as meditation.
After his death, his followers created a religion, Buddhism, under his teachings and started spreading it. The next few centuries it had grown very popular in Asia. It has also gained a mass following in the West as many people are getting interested in meditation.
How Buddhist Meditation Works
All the varieties of Buddhist meditation are rooted in the teachings of Buddha about life. His teachings revolve around the cause of happiness and suffering, the nature of existence and the principles that people should keep in mind in order to live a fulfilled life full of peace and harmony.
By meditation and observation, the meditator is able to learn how their mind and body works and how they respond to internal and external stimuli.
With this knowledge, the meditator is able to naturally and easily make changes to the actions and reactions they find dissatisfying within themselves, and this leads to freedom.
One of the critical components of Buddhist meditation is mindfulness. This is the quality of being aware of the present moment.
Mindfulness helps proper observation to take place without forming opinions and judgments of what is being observed.
For you to become more mindful, according to the Buddha, there are 4 aspects you need to be aware of:
1. The mind – Here, you focus on the thoughts and feelings you get in the present moment.
2. The body – With the body, you become keen on what your senses pick up in the present moment .
3. Feelings – This aspect is about observing how you feel about the things you perceive in your mind and through your senses in the present moment.
4. Phenomena – Here, you take note of how you perceive things. The nature of your perception.
Types of Buddhist Meditation
There are a lot of varieties of Buddhist practices such as Nichiren, Shingon, Pure Land and Vipassana meditation that are taught all over the world. The list, however, is not limited to the listed practices only. There are many other meditative exercises that are based on Buddhist traditions that help improve the mind and the overall quality of life.
We take a look at 3 compelling Buddhist techniques.
Shamatha is commonly known as Mindfulness meditation. This is where you cultivate the skill of mindfulness by training your mind to remain in the “now” and experience all that is.
It is a well-known Buddhist practice that helps people become peaceful, remain calm and composed even during difficult situations and sharpen their mental clarity.
One of the teachings from Gautama Siddhartha, the Buddha, that stresses on the importance of this mindfulness practice is the one where he said, “Don’t dwell in the past, do not dream about the future, concentrate the mind in the present moment”.
After having developed these qualities, it is possible to go further than that, through practices like Vipassana meditation that encourage inquiry of the self and the nature of reality that will help you become spiritually awake and more insightful.
2. Contemplative Meditation
Also called Dhyanaparaya, is the contemplative meditation. As the name suggests, it is based on reflection and contemplation.
Ideally, Buddhism has some fundamental traditions that the people who practice it should take time to understand, on a deeper level.
They are supposed to contemplate on the traditions which transform the way they think and act. Contemplation is often blended in with the meditation sessions. They promote use of time and resources for worthy causes instead of just mere temporary pleasures of life.
This meditation of contemplating on Buddhist teachings does not apply to all forms of meditation, only to this one.
An example of the aspects that the practitioners are encouraged to direct their contemplation towards is a profound statement like this:
“I have the ability to commit myself and my energy to building sagacity, knowledge, compassion towards others and the capacity to be of benefit to them. There are many people in different situations as well as other living beings like animals that don’t have this ability. I acknowledge I have this great chance and I promise not to waste it away.”
3. Metta or Loving Kindness Meditation
This is another form of Buddhist meditation that builds the value of love, compassion and kindness within the meditators. It seeks to reduce the negative feelings of hate, dislike and resentment towards ourselves and others.
The gist of this practice is to wish well for ourselves in all our endeavors, then towards the people and animals that we love. From there, we also have good thoughts, hopes and wishes for those who we wouldn’t term as either friends or enemies.
Finally, we got to people who we would classify as enemies.
The practice begins with a period of mindfulness and after the meditation, some few more minutes of mindfulness in silence are also accommodated.
Detaching ourselves from material things is also important as it helps us focus on the most valuable things in our lives, that is our self development in terms of cultivating admirable values like kindness, intelligence, happiness and good relations with others.
Benefits of Buddhist Meditation
Each style of Buddhist meditation carries its own set of benefits since the way to meditate with each style varies. Some of the benefits linked to Buddhist meditation include:
1. May help reduce stress – Many forms of Buddhist meditation have shown the potential of helping to reduce high stress levels. For instance, a study on Vipassana meditation showed that the participants who went through a 10 days training on Vipassanna meditation had more improved physical and psychological well-being than the others who didn’t (1).
2. Promotes calmness and a better quality of life – As earlier said, most Buddhist styles of meditation use Shamatha (mindfulness) as their basic technique. The technique helps to reduce the racing of thoughts and wandering of the mind. This in turn makes for a quiet mind which brings peacefulness and calmness (2).
3. Improves your emotional health – Loving kindness meditation aids in cultivating love, compassion, generosity and concern for others. The practice encourages positivity and good moral values that promote a happier life. Mindfulness meditation also helps with reducing high levels of aggression and allows for better reactions during trying situations. By being more mindful, you stand a better chance to react better to provocative scenarios (3).
4. May enhance your cognitive abilities – If you practice Vipassana meditation on the long term, you may improve cognitive functions related to attention, concentration, reasoning and more. Neuroimaging studies on Vipassana meditation show that long term meditators have increased thickness in the areas of their brain including the right insula and the gray matter in the hippocampus. Also, during meditation, the prefrontal cortex and the anterior cingulate cortex are activated (4).
5. Increase knowledge, insight and perception – Vipassana meditation increases knowledge and improves perception and insight through mindful observation, self inquiry and inquiry into the nature of reality. As meditators seek to understand themselves and the true nature of reality, they get to become more knowledgeable and insightful which improve the way they perceive things.
With regard to this, the Buddha said, “Meditation brings wisdom, lack of meditation leaves ignorance. Know well what leads you forward and what holds you back and choose the path that leads to wisdom.”
How to Do Buddhist Meditation
Once you have chosen the type of Buddhist meditation you feel is your right fit, your next essential task is to know how to do the practice the right way.
Each meditation has its own way of being practiced and it is crucial that you make an effort of learning how to do the practice as it should be done. This is the only way to enjoy the benefits.
Beginners are always encouraged to get guided meditation for their preferred type of meditation first, before they can do it on their own. Getting guidance on how to meditate helps the beginner take away the guesswork and have the ample time to get fully involved in the meditation session, both physically and mentally.
Therefore, we recommend taking meditation training from credible meditation sources.
If you reside near a center or a meditation studio that offers the kind of meditation you are interested in and the place is reputable, you could join the center for meditation classes.
Also, you can get online resources that offer the same. You can choose to work with an online meditation group, meditation websites, podcasts, apps, videos on YouTube or other video sites, or even meditation scripts.
However, you should approach this with caution as there are many resources out there that don’t offer the full version of the meditation type you’ve settled for.
Make sure you do your due diligence so that you get a resource that is entirely useful and which will serve you well.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s) on Buddhist Meditation
1. Do you have to be a Buddhist to practice Buddhist meditation?
No. You don’t have to be a Buddhist to immerse yourself into Buddhist meditation. If there is a religion you were brought up in, you can still keep the required traditions of it while doing meditation. If you are not in any religion, you should also not be worried as you will not be made to practice any form of religion while you are on Buddhist meditation. Meditation is more of a way to connect with your mind’s nature. The mantras you find in some forms of this meditation help you increase your focus and attention and connect with your mind deeply.
2. What are the four noble truths according to Buddhist traditions?
There are 4 nobles truths about life that help practitioners become more acquainted with the truth and thus help them find the way of peace and happiness. They are:
* Life is painful and frustrating – This means that life is unpredictable and oftentimes things can go wrong. There are times things will go well for you and there are also times we get to face pain and frustration.
* The cause of suffering can be ended by releasing expectations and attachment – We tend to get easily attached to people we find close to us and the different things revolving around our lives, which brings us pain, disappointment and a feeling of being a failure. And the way to reduce the pain and disappointment is by giving up attachment which will allow us not to have the great expectations that often lead to hurt.
As the Buddha said, “You only lose what you cling to.”
* Suffering has a cause – As said in the previous point, the main reason we find ourselves in suffering is due to the attachment we have of the things we know.
* Meditation practice (mindfulness and awareness practice) is the way to end suffering – When we train our minds in awareness and mindfulness, we reduce the tendency of fantasizing about the future or being stuck in the past on things we cannot change. We remain present which helps us be at peace and happy not to mention being able to see the reality of things as opposed to what we fantasize.
In essence, it is important to choose the type of Buddhist meditation you know will help you achieve your goals based on the kind of experience you want to have or the attributes you want to build within yourself.
Once you have picked your preferred type of meditation, you should make an effort to practice it often. Based on your daily schedule, you could aim to meditate every day for a few minutes, to a few times a week.
The idea is, the more you meditate, the better you get at it and the more you experience the benefits of the practice. It may be a little difficult to do at first but with consistent practice, you will be able to have an easy time through your meditation sessions.
Every experienced meditator started out the same but with consistency, they mastered the practice. And you too can!
Even in his absence, the Buddha reminds you, “No one saves us but ourselves, no one can and no one may, we ourselves must walk the path” and “Peace comes from within, don’t seek without”.