In Buddhism, there are certain actions and practices that mark it apart from other belief systems. This includes actions underlined by their ethical belief system. Enlightenment is the ultimate purpose of undertaking these actions. Therefore, it is enlightenment or liberation, that is the ultimate goal for the Buddhist. All Buddhist traditions place a great emphasis on the practice of meditation. This is part and parcel to reaching Nirvana.
In this guide, we will discuss the importance of meditation in Buddhist practice. We will look at the main types of meditation. Next, we will look deeper into the popular,
What is Meditation?
To really understand what meditation is and what purpose it serves, it helps to first take a look at two of the fundamental elements of Buddhist teaching.
Impermanence and Suffering
One of the things that the original Buddha came to understand was that life is suffering for most people. In other words, because of desire, the nature of impermanence, and so on, change is a constant part of life. Specifically, it is desiring that things not change, or to have something other than what is contributes to further suffering. It is through our attachments and wants that much of our suffering lies. Consequently, we also struggle with the problem of impermanence.
Since everything is always changing, including people themselves, nothing is permanent. This can make it hard for someone to grasp on to an identity or source of meaning. For the Buddhist, the mistake is in seeking these attachments in the first place. Anxiety, anger, sadness, and other negative emotions find their root in the inability to grasp the concept of impermanence.
Back to Meditation
We understand that our suffering lies in our need to find external attachments and that we have little control. We must take action to internalize this without resorting to nihilism. Afterward, when we can let go of our attachments and begin to take responsibility for our actions and our feelings, we are truly ready to begin our path to enlightenment. Then, once we have released attachment and want and taken ownership, we can begin to change our lives to be consistent with a morally just life.
Meditation is the practice by which the Buddhist begins to reshape their mind. The basic idea is to be able to calm and center the mind. This allows for deep concentration. Ordinarily, this is when you really begin to discover yourself. You learn what the patterns of your mind are and how to accept, alter, and move on from negative states. This is the way that followers can gain clarity of mind and heart and cultivate more peace and compassion in themselves.
History of Meditation
However, while it is true that this practice is incredibly important in Buddhist practice, it actually originates in Hindu practice. The earliest known references to the practice of meditation come from Hindu Vedas of India. Moreover, Chinese Confucians, Taoists, as well as other derivatives such as Janism, also commonly practiced meditation.
Similarly, so-called “spiritual exercises”, a form of meditation, was known to the Romans. We have written references to these practices from Philo of Alexandria from 20 BCE. Plotinus, in the 3rd century AD, developed his own meditation techniques and taught widely. Likewise, early Buddhists too, of course, were adherents to the practice of meditation and as the teachings spread, so too did the practice.
As time progressed, meditation became an important part of even some monotheistic religions. Sufism, starting in about the 12 century AD, is an Islamic sect. They practice something similar to a manta in the 99 Names of God. As well, early Christians also practiced a form of meditation, though it went by different terms.
Why is Meditation Important?
There have been a lot of studies on the benefits of meditation. These benefits are widely varied and extensive. Meditation is important to reaching enlightenment and cultivating compassion. For stress relief, many have long turned to meditation as a great solution. Many people who suffer from anxiety and other mental distress find comfort in meditation.
For the Buddhist, this is where one takes their journey to non-attachment and Nirvana. It is how one separates themselves from their thoughts. This allows one to become fully present in the moment. It allows the person who is meditating to take control of their feelings and their mind. Though they can work to separate themselves from attachment and desire.
Types of Meditation
There are many different kinds of meditation that Buddhists practice. Even within these types of meditation, there are variations. For the purposes of this piece, we will touch on the main aspects of the most common types of meditation.
As the name implies, the goal of this form of meditation is to transcend, or rise above oneself. This is a relaxed form of meditation that focuses on centering and calm. You most often practice in a quiet room with you in a comfortable seated position. To create a calm, centered feeling, mantras are used in this form of meditation. In turn, you repeat the mantra during the practice to help guide and maintain focus.
This type of mediation often requires the assistance of a practiced expert. While this more advanced form of meditation is helpful for both relaxation and the Buddhist spiritual journey. And you often practice while seated since there are specific moves to perform. To direct the order and movement required in these exercises, a teacher is important in this kind of meditation.
One of the main goals of Zen meditation is to be able to step back and look at your thoughts objectively. This will help you foster proper thought and help to develop compassion.
This is a more physical form of meditation that incorporates physical movements with meditation. Practicing this type of meditation is typically a group or class activity. It combines controlled movements with traditional meditation techniques. Indeed, this has the two-fold benefit of providing physical fitness, as well as relaxation and other psychological benefits.
This is often considered a subset of mindfulness meditation. In this type of mediation, focus and practice surround breathing. By concentrating solely on one’s breathing, it becomes easier to let thoughts go and to view them without judgment. By focusing on breathing, you do not leave room in the mind for other thoughts, allowing you to be present at the moment. This type of meditation has also proven to be highly useful for people who suffer from anxiety
Mindfulness is a way of staying in the present moment and maintain a focus on this. It is proven to be highly effective at reducing stress and anxiety. It isn’t surprising that it has become one of the most popular forms of mediation. With mindfulness meditation, one focuses on their surroundings, their inner feelings, but without any judgment.
In this form of meditation, breathing, mantras, or a simple point of focus helps achieve the right state of mind. One of the great things about this type of meditation is that you can practice almost anywhere. As one gets into a state of focus and maintains it, one can simply observe their feelings and their surroundings without attachment.
Progressive Relaxation Meditation
As the name implies, this form of meditation requires one to focus on their bodies. It is a process by which, through focus, one seeks to use meditation to reduce stress and achieve calm. It often starts with focus on one specific area of the body. As that area of the body becomes relaxed, one moves on to the next part. Tensing and relaxing of the muscles is used as part of the practice. In addition to being useful as a Buddhist meditative practice, it can also help reduce pain and aid in sleep.
You will also often hear it referred to as loving kindness meditation. Through this form of meditation, one seeks to cultivate love and kindness in all areas of their life. Metta meditation uses focused breathing to help concentrate our focus on loving kindness. The goal is to open up this loving kindness to all, even one’s enemies or persecutors.
In Metta meditation, when you find your center, begin to think and send out compassionate thoughts. You direct your compassionate thoughts to specific individuals or an entire group of people. The idea is to focus on and promote love for oneself and everyone around them. This type of practice often uses repeating of mantras to help center the mind and open it to loving kindness.
This type of meditation is one of the most useful as it has a wide range of benefits. It helps to spread compassion, which is a huge part of Buddhist doctrines. It can also help to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Cultivating loving kindness gives people a better outlook on life generally.
Metta is a Pali word most often translated to loving kindness. It also means benevolence, goodwill, and to take an active interest in the well-being of another. For the Buddhist, this is an incredibly important concept. The Metta Sutta, in Buddhism, is the most important text that discusses loving kindness. It also refers to meditative practices (Metta Bhavana) that seek to spread loving kindness and to cultivate compassion.
In Theravada Buddhism, one of the most popular sects, loving kindness is one of the four sublime states. It is also one of the ten paramis in this form of Buddhism. It plays a huge role in almost all sects of Buddhism, as the maxim “do no harm” and “cultivate and spread compassion” are such important elements of the belief system.
Loving Kindness Meditation
As noted above,
These thoughts are often directed towards a particular individual, but they can also be directed to sentient beings generally. The purpose of this type of meditation is really, in essence, to spread love. It is intended to help the practitioner feel, cultivate, and spread compassion to others. Love in this sense is an unconditional thing. This means love without conditions, without caveats, just pure love.
It is important for the person who practices this to understand that nothing is expected in return. You are simply sending love and compassion out to others because it is the right thing to do. There is no expectation of reward.
How to Practice Loving Kindness Meditation
As with all forms of meditation, it is important to find a calm, quiet, and relaxed space. This is the best way to have a productive meditation session. You want soft lighting and to find a comfortable spot where you can be seated. Once you are seated and comfortable, you will want to begin to focus on your breathing. This is a good way to help concentrate and remain focused.
Once you have your breathing under control, begin to focus thoughts of peace, calm, and love towards yourself. Loving others starts with a love for
Next, while continuing on with measured breathing, begin to spread the compassion and love towards those you care about most. This is when you begin to repeat mantras. You can come up with your own or use any of the standard mantras that are often used. This includes phrases like:
- “May you (may all beings) be safe, happy, healthy, live joyously”
- “Imagine all humanity safe from harm”
- “Let you be healthy and strong”
The general idea is to have a short phrase of compassion and love that you can silently or quietly repeat to yourself. While repeating the phrase, focus the love on the person or people or beings that you are trying to spread loving kindness to. The goal of this practice is to spread love to all sentient beings.