Article by Jane Michael
While most religions in the world have some form of meditation as a core practice (be it Christian monasticism or Islamic daily prayer), none have made it so central a tenet as Buddhism has. As such, there are many variations in the practice and goals of meditation within Buddhism. This article therefore is necessarily an overview and brief introduction to the wide range of Buddhist meditation.
Buddhism has taught meditation to its adherents since the 5th century BC. Gautama Buddha (or simply “the Buddha”, meaning “he who has achieved enlightenment”), the founder of the religion and its supreme teacher sought escape from this world and found it in meditation. Since then, this has been passed on to his followers.
Broadly speaking, Buddhist meditation has as its goal the achievement of a deeper state of relaxation, or a heightened sense of awareness, a knowledge of the true nature of things. Ultimately, all meditation is seen as the path to enlightenment (a state in which a person is freed from all delusions about the world) and nirvana(a similar state, where one is free from greed and hate). Buddhism teaches that the root of all suffering and pain in the world is ignorance combined with greed and desire. On reaching nirvana, the soul is freed from all suffering, and indeed from the very cycle of rebirth.
Techniques for meditation vary between different schools of thought – for example, there are hundreds of traditional methods of achieving mindfulness (a state of mind in which you are strongly aware of the present moment and distant from your own thoughts) and there are thousands of mental visualisations used in meditation. Different forms of meditation are designed to develop different desirable characteristics: concentration, loving-kindness, compassion, wisdom, freedom and so forth. Many techniques are common however, such as a focus on breathing as a means to reach tranquility and awareness. This method, known as Anapanasati has been recommended as a method by itself to reach nirvana .
This technique usually involves sitting comfortably, back straight and with no difficulty breathing. The meditator breathes normally, observing their breaths and simply becoming aware of them. No attempt is made to regulate, simply to observe and become aware of the body and its functioning. Meanwhile the meditator is trained to focus on eliminating thought. To an untrained meditator, thoughts will constantly break the calm of meditation, but with practise, true mental tranquility can be achieved. While this simplifies, the ultimate goal is to eliminate thought and clear the mind through a series of stages to reach nirvana.
The philosophy of Buddhist meditation is therefore one of liberation – the teaching that man can escape from his self-imposed suffering through awareness of his surroundings and focusing his thoughts. Buddha sought to escape from old age, illness and death, and provided, through meditation, a prescription to his followers, an exhortation to follow him and hope to achieve his fate. Through clearing the mind of infirmities such as greed and hate, meditation seeks to heal the body of its infirmities.
About the Author
Jane Michael is the head writer at the Center for Meditation. Meditation is her practice and her passion. Buddhist meditation is a great way to start your meditation practice.
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