The English word meditation comes from the Latin meditatio meaning ‘to ponder’ or ‘to ruminate.’ The Pali word usually translated as meditation is bhàvana and means ‘to develop,’ ‘to cultivate,’ or ‘to expand.’ Thus the word meditation is actually a poor description for the various techniques of psychological transformation taught by the Buddha.
In relation to thoughts, one could say that there are three approaches to meditation in Buddhism; (1) to utilize thoughts, (2) to still thoughts and (3) to observe thoughts.
Metta (loving-kindness) meditation would be an example of the first of these. The meditator deliberately thinks particular types of thoughts for the purpose of evoking certain emotions and behaviour. An example of the second of these types of meditation would be Mindfulness of Breathing, where the meditator focuses his or her attention on the breath thus slowing down and finally stopping the flow of thoughts. In Mindfulness meditation the mediator develops the ability to simply observe mental activity (thoughts, emotions, conceptualizing, etc) thus gradually becoming less influenced by them.
There are actually two types of meditation as taught by the Buddha. They are samatha, which is the calm, tranquil technique and then there is vipassana, which is the type leading to Insight. Most meditation techniques in the Buddha’s time and before and even still today are primarily the samatha type. That is, they lead to a relaxed peaceful state and sometimes to great experiences of joy, bliss, even trance, but no ultimate Insight of enlightenment. Right Concentration primarily deals with the samatha type of meditation which is aimed at these highly concentrative states. But vipassana meditation, when done correctly, can provide the inner calm of samatha and also can lead to the Insight wisdom of vipassana. Concentration meditation techniques include many different meditation subjects. There are 40 different meditation subjects of samatha and four major techniques or foundations for vipassana. It can be direct one-pointedness concentration on a devotional figure. The common subject for beginners is awareness of breath. The meditator remains in the present moment focusing on the in and out breath of the body. The mind and body become calm and free of negative thoughts. Listed below are the seven major Buddhist meditation techniques used today, all of which can provide the inner calm of samatha and also to the wisdom on Insight.
Mindfulness of breathing
Mindfulness of breathing (ànàpànasati) is the most basic and also the most popular form of Buddhist meditation. Focus your attention, your awareness, your mindfulness at the tip of your nose where the breath comes in and out at the tip. Try to keep your mouth closed, but if you need to open it for better breathing, that is okay. Keep your eyes closed, not tight, just in a relaxed closed state. This helps to center your attention inward. If you feel that you are falling over or that you might be leaning too much to one side, that is okay, it is normal. Just open your eyes slightly and if you feel comfortable in closing them again then do so. It is important not to “push” things or to try “too hard,” just let things happen. Notice your breaths, such as a long breath, notice it as a long breath, a short breath as a short breath, etc.
Mindfulness of sensations
Mindfulness of sensations (Vedanā) is the second part of the 4 Foundations of Mindfulness discussed in the Satipatthana Sutta. It is a valuable and important meditation and the main technique used by the S. N. Goenka vipassana centers.
Notice if you have any physical sensations in the body, any painful sensations such as in your legs or stomach or arms. Just notice the sensations. Do not push the unpleasant sensations away, just watch (observe with the mind) them. If you have a pleasant sensation (physical feeling) just watch it, do not cling to it. Inevitably you might cling on to some pleasant sensations, you will see the inherent suffering in that when you “miss” the sensation as it leaves. The practice is awareness and equanimity (balanced mind clinging to nothing). You will notice the impermanent nature of all these sensations.
Awareness of the mind
Awareness of the mind (Cittā) is the third part of the 4 Foundations of Mindfulness in the Satipatthana Sutta.
After doing some preliminary work with Mindfulness of breathing and Mindfulness of sensations, you might also notice some emotions arising or some thoughts. Just let the thoughts come and go. Do not cling to any and do not push any away. You will notice that the mind tends to wander off in thoughts quite often. This is normal. Just watch the thoughts and see how they come and go, not lasting for very long. If the mind wanders away in thoughts and it starts to bother you, then just bring the attention back to the breath.
You might notice some thoughts of anger coming to you. Maybe you remember something or someone that makes you angry. This anger eats at you inside. As you sit in meditation you can feel the heated sensations. You may feel your heartbeat going faster. You see how this is hurting you. You realize that these negative emotions hurt you first instead of whom your anger is directed towards. This is a form of realization. You can discover the truths of the Buddha’s teachings for yourself. It is impossible to be angry at someone without hurting yourself first. Therefore, you aim to have more peaceful thoughts and feelings toward yourself and others.
Meditation on the Dhamma
The word Dhamma represents the Buddha’s teachings and includes all of the Buddhist concepts, doctrines, and “theory.” The Dhamma is considered one of the most essential aspects of practice, one of the Triple Gems, the other two being the sangha (community) and the Buddha. Anyone who is a Buddhist / friend of Buddha’s teachings takes refuge in the Triple Gem. Since the Dhamma is a term for the all-inclusiveness of the Buddha’s teachings, the Buddha emphasized the importance of Dhamma:
“Remain with the Dhamma as an island, the Dhamma as your refuge, without anything else as a refuge.” Samyutta Nikaya 47.13 and also at Digha Nikaya 26
In the Four Foundations of Mindfulness the Buddha describes specific analytical contemplations in the part of the discourse on the meditation on the Dhamma, sometimes referred to as “mind-objects” in the Buddhist scriptures. This includes the analysis of the five aggregates, the seven factors of enlightenment, the hindrances to meditation, and The Four Noble Truths.
Walking meditation is done in the “rows” of the meditation hall, horizontally. Choose a position in the hall on one side and walk back and forth in a straight line in that row. You walk at your own pace by yourself in your row. Walking meditation is done at a slower pace than normal walking. This is to strengthen our mindfulness of each step or movement. Place your awareness to each step or if you can to each movement of lifting, moving, and placement of each foot.
As with all types of meditation, maintain awareness and equanimity. Notice the sensations of each movement of your feet and body and maintain a balanced mind to these sensations.
Metta meditation (mettà bhàvanà, loving kindness meditation) is a practice taught by the Buddha to both encourage and strengthen the ability to be more kind, thoughtful, gentle and loving.
To do this practice one sits in a comfortable posture, evokes a prayerful attitude and then thinks of oneself and wishes oneself well. Then one thinks of a cherished person, a neutral person, a disliked person and finally all people and likewise wishes them well in turn. Done with sensitivity and over a period of time, loving kindness meditation gradually develops a deeper self-acceptance, a strengthened appreciation of those one already loves, a warm and growing interest in casual acquaintances and less ill-will towards those one previously did not like.
Another form of meditation that is not discussed much by most teachers is that of Life Meditation. To do Life Meditation you simply make your life your meditation. It is not discussed too much because teachers do not want people to do only this type and forget the core meditations described in other articles in this category.
A popular saying is “Life is what happens while you are making plans for something else.” How true this statement is. Most people are ambitious and want to succeed in whatever it is that they are doing. So we plan our next promotion or purchase or whatever. We are always “on the way to something better.” By doing Life Meditation we can try to be present in each moment, while we are cooking, while we are cleaning, while we are working, and while we are communicating with others.
To do Life Meditation simply go about your daily routine. Notice the breath at any occasions where you have a moment to spare, such as when you are waiting for something. Notice the sensations whenever possible and also notice the thoughts. You are still going about your normal routine, but with more mindfulness and awareness. When you communicate with others, guard the sense doors and your reactions. As someone talks to you, monitor their speech to see if it is useful or wholesome speech. If it is not, politely avoid the person. If the speech is vicious and attacking, do not react immediately. Carefully size-up the situation and respond in a way that is not harmful, that is not hateful, that is not unproductive, or that is not hurtful to you, the other person, or others. How many times have we said things to someone that we later regretted? Whole friendships and marriages have been destroyed with a few misplaced words. If we had been more mindful and careful in our speech, a different result may have occurred. Therefore, it is best to practice this Life Meditation as often and as much as possible.
- Satipatthana Sutta
- Mindfulness of breathing
- Mindfulness of sensations
- Awareness of the mind
- Meditation on the Dhamma
- Metta meditation
- Life meditation
- Meditation postures
- Walking meditation