Meditation is a tool for training the mind to achieve higher levels of awareness. To do a job correctly, the proper tool is needed. A hammer is a valuable tool but is useless if the job involves tightening a screw. It is for this reason that Buddhist practice different forms of meditation. Each meditation is designed to enhance a specific capacity of the mind. Some medications are used to strengthen concentration by focusing on an object. Another one may be used to become one with the object, while others are intended for self-reflection. Experimenting with these different forms of meditation offers the opportunity to deepen the understanding of one’s self and enhance one’s experience of life.
Regardless of the challenges, we may be facing, all challenges arise from the mind, not from something that exists outside of ourselves. By learning how to practice the different forms of mediation, one can address their challenge with greater specificity.
The following is a brief description of the various categories of meditation:
The term “Samatha” can be translated to mean “tranquility” or “concentration.” For most of us, our minds are a place of constant thought activity. Before it is possible to explore deeper levels of consciousness, we first need to learn to quiet our minds and to strengthen our concentration. It is for these outcomes that Samatha meditation is used. The technique for carrying out Samatha meditation is quite simple. It involves placing our focus on a single object, without the mind wandering. The cause of difficulty for most people when meditating is breaking the bad habits that we have developed through the ages. We are continually seeking novelty and stimulation, which is especially true today and why cell phones have become such a big part of our lives. With their capacity for email, text messaging, and internet access, our cell phones meet our needs for both novelty and stimulation.
To practice Samatha meditation is to get to know a deeper aspect of ourselves, an aspect that offers complete fulfillment, without a service contract!
When the practitioner can place a singular focus on an object, the mind becomes quiet, and the practitioner will experience a sense of rapture. This rapture comes from concentrated attention, which is normally fragmented as the result of the activity of thoughts.
Once the practitioner develops the ability to calm their mind and focus their concentration on an object, they are ready for Vipassana meditation, which is a profound meditation. While Samatha meditation involves meditating on an object, you become the object of meditation in Vipassana. The concentration that was developed through Samatha meditation becomes the tool to remove the layers of illusions that prevent us from intuitively knowing our true self, which is our enlightened nature.
The discovery of your true self, through Vipassana, takes ongoing practice and the length of time before this realization appears is different with each person. Unlike the rapture experienced in Samatha meditation, which is only temporarily experienced, the realization of the true self is permanent.
During Vipassana meditation, the practitioner learns to have complete awareness of their thoughts, sensations, and emotions without engaging with them. They also perceive how everything that is experienced is impermanent. Our thoughts, perceptions, and sensations are constantly appearing, disappearing, and changing in their intensity. More importantly, the practitioner develops the awareness that he or she is not her mental functions. Who you are is not your thoughts, perceptions, sensations, or anything else that you experience.
While Vipassana and Samatha are the two main forms of Buddhist meditation, they belong to a group of larger categories of meditative styles. Most meditations belong to one or more of these categories. These categories are: Concentrative, generative, receptive, and reflective.
Concentrative meditation is the most common form of meditation by which the one who is meditating places their attention on the object of their meditation. An example of a concentrative meditation would be Samatha. Almost anything can be the object of your meditation, but two common objects that are used are a candle or the breath. The observing of breath is good for beginners of mediation because the breath’s natural rhythm will make it easier for you to get grounded into a relaxed state.
Generative meditations are used to cultivate greater levels of compassion, empathy, and kindness as well as developing a deeper understanding of those emotions that we experience as being negative, such as suffering.
While concentrative meditation is intended for the cultivating of concentration, receptive meditation is about allowing all of that is experienced to enter our awareness without resisting anything. It involves reaching a state of complete acceptance and allowing for whatever is happening at the moment.
Reflective meditation is practiced to develop deeper insight into the nature of things, such as the impermanence of life or the interconnection among all things. Reflective meditation is also used in taking a deeper look at a problem. It includes a component of concentrative meditation in that the goal is to keep one’s attention on the problem to be solved without being distracted.
Guidelines for meditation
Before attempting to meditate, the following guidelines will allow you to get the most of out of your meditative experience:
- Meditation can be performed while sitting in a chair just as effectively as it can be performed while sitting on the floor.
- Do not have expectations of what should happen or should not happen.
- Do not attempt to suppress, resist, or change anything that you experience; allow all that you experience to appear without any involvement by you.
- When you first start meditating, limit your practice to no more than five minutes and gradually lengthen the time according to your comfort level. The key to meditation is not to force anything or to exert any effort. The only effort that you should exert is to get yourself to do the exercises.
Note: Some of these meditations are lengthy. Familiarizing yourself with them before attempting to do them is important. It is recommended that you read through these mediations out loud while recording them on a voice recorder so that you do not have to try to remember each step while meditating.
We will start with a basic meditation, the breath meditation. I recommend that you practice this meditation before attempting any of the other ones. This meditation will provide you with the needed skills to perform the other meditations successfully. When you feel comfortable with the breath meditation, proceed with the other ones. Additionally, the meditations that follow are ranked according to difficulty. The following are examples from each category of meditation:
- Find a quiet and comfortable place.
- When sitting, you want to sit upright while at the same time being comfortable.
- In your sitting position, close your eyes and rest your hands on your thighs with your palms facing the floor.
- Breathing normally, place your attention on your breath by focusing on the sensations that you experience as you inhale and exhale.
- Allow yourself to rest in the space between your out breath and the next in the breath.
- While focusing on your breath, be aware of any thoughts or feelings that present themselves to you. If a thought should come, redirect your attention back to the breath.
- Do not become discouraged if you find yourself frequently distracted by thoughts. Every time you become distracted by a thought, and return your attention to your breath, you are strengthening your ability to concentrate.
- Increase the duration of your meditation as your ability to concentrate on your breath improves.
While the previous meditations involved you concentrating on your object of meditation, the goal of performing receptive meditations is to keep your attention relaxed and allow all of your experiences to enter the field of your awareness with unconditional acceptance.
- Begin by practicing the breath meditation.
- When you are ready, allow your attention to wander where ever it wants to go. Though you are allowing your attention to wander, do not label, judge, analyze, or resist, anything that you experience. Your only job is to be aware of what you are experiencing, nothing else.
- If a thought enters your awareness, be aware of it. Do not engage with it. If you experience an emotion, feeling, or sensation, remain as the one who is aware of it. Do not get involved with it in any way.
- If you perceive an image, be aware of it. Do not judge anything that you experience. Do not try to change anything or try to make anything happen.
- Notice that your senses are operating without any effort on your part, nor can you control them. All that you can do is to be aware of their functioning.
- Be like the empty space of a room that remains untouched by all that enter it.
- Stay in your mediation for as long as you desire.
(Meditation on compassion)
Begin this meditation as you would the breath mediation by making yourself comfortable and focusing on your breath. For this meditation, you will want to close your eyes.
- When you are feeling relaxed, thinking of someone whom you love or care about (use can also think about an animal).
- When you have this person in mind, think about the challenges that they have faced in the past or that they are currently facing. As you think of this, allow yourself to fully experience the feelings that arise within you.
- When you are fully associated with your feelings for them, silently tell them that you are there for them.
- Now think of a person whom you know but have no emotional connection with. As you think of them, imagine what challenges they may have faced in their life (note: I used the word “imagine” in case you do not know anything about their personal history. trust whatever thoughts come to you).
- As you think of what they have gone through, fully experience the feelings that arise within you.
- When you are fully associated with your feelings, silently tell them that you are there for them.
- Now think of a person of whom you know that you have a sense of resistance toward. Think of a person who pushes your buttons or who tests your patience.
- As you think of them, imagine what challenges they may have faced in their life (note: I used the word “imagine” in case you do not know anything about their personal history. trust whatever thoughts come to you).
- As you think of what they are going through, fully experience the feelings that arise within you.
- When you are fully associated with your feelings for them, silently tell them that you are there for them.
- Now think of yourself. Think of the challenges that you have faced in your life. As you think of what you have gone through, fully experience the feelings that arise within you.
- When you are fully associated with your feelings, offer compassion to yourself. You can also tell yourself “I love you.”
Many people have a hard time loving or caring for themselves, which is why this step is the last step in this meditation. By starting the meditation with someone who is easy to love and care for, you successively moved toward individuals with whom you progressively have fewer feelings for. When you can have compassion for all of these individuals, it is less of a jump to love yourself. If you have difficulty in experiencing compassion for yourself, continue to practice this exercise until you can.
You can use this same mediation for any emotion that you want to cultivate, including forgiveness,
Reflective meditation involves delving deep into a topic or subject and studying it through your direct experience. When performing these meditations, do not involve anything from your past. Do not turn to your past experience, what you learned, or your knowledge. Rely exclusively on your immediate and direct experience.
Mediation on Seeing
- Begin by practicing breath meditation.
- If you are doing the breath meditation with your eyes closed, open them when you are ready to start this meditation.
- When you are ready, look at an object that is in your environment.
- As you look at the object, ask yourself if the act of seeing stops where the object begins or does the act of seeing and the object being seen merge into each other.
- Now ask yourself if the act of seeing originates from within you or from outside of you.
- Now ask yourself how seeing is known. In other words, how do you know seeing is taking place?
If your response to this question is “I know seeing is taking place because I see things,” then ask yourself “what knows this?” Whatever answer you give, ask yourself “What knows this?”
- Ultimately you know that seeing is taking place because you are aware of seeing taking place.
- Now return your attention to the object. Determine for yourself if the awareness of seeing and the act of seeing are one and the same, or are they separate from each other.
Hopefully, you have so far come to the following conclusions:
- The act of seeing is inseparable from the object being seen.
- The act of seeing ours from within.
- The act of seeing is known because there is an awareness of it.
- The awareness of seeing and the act of seeing are indivisible.
- Based on these realizations, we can conclude that the object is seen, the act of seeing, and awareness of seeing are inseparable from each other.
- Since the act of seeing occurs from within, then that which we refer to as being “within us” and “outside of us” is also inseparable.
- Any perceived sense of separation in life is just an illusion.
Vipassana Meditation 2
- Begin by practicing the breath meditation.
- When you are ready, with your eyes closed, notice what is happening within you. Notice the thoughts, sensations, and perceptions that enter your experience; however, do not engage with them. Be as in the receptive meditations where you allow all of the experience to express itself without any interference from you.
- While being aware of everything that you experience, do not give your attention to any of them. If you have difficulty do this, place your focus on your breath.
These mental functions will appear in your awareness, so there is no need to resist them; they are not in your control. What you can control is the amount of attention that we give them.
- Remain detached from everything that you experience.
- Let go of any thoughts of the past or future.
- Let go of any thoughts or judgments about this moment.
- Let go of any expectations that you have of what should or should not happen.
- Let go of all hopes and anticipations.
- Let go of all thoughts as to whether you are doing this exercise correctly or incorrectly.
- Let go of any concept of time and space.
- Let go of your memories or dreams.
- Let go of all thoughts as to whether or not this exercise is working.
- What do you experience when you let go of all of your attachments?
- What do you experience when you remain as the awareness of experience instead of personalizing or identifying with it?
- Do you know who you are? Does anything concern you? Is there anything that is missing? Is there anything that you need? If you can sincerely say “no” to all of these questions, then you are on the right path.
- Allow yourself to immerse yourself in this space but do not try to maintain it or control it. Rather, treat it as another experience for you to witness.