What Is the Goal of Meditation?
Sometimes even the most seasoned meditates find it difficult to meditate on a daily basis. But isn’t it funny how we find time to watch TV, go shopping and do everything else? When we understand how valuable meditation is for our well-being on every level, though, we naturally give it top priority and incorporate it into our lives.
The wise meditation masters of yore taught that the goal of meditation isn’t to abide forever in a bliss bubble – the goal is to foster well-being and, ultimately, end suffering. Mediators often describe rewarding experiences after only a few weeks of daily meditation. Those who find meditation to be a strenuous undertaking simply need to shift their expectations. Once we appreciate the wide-ranging holistic benefits of meditation, we begin to truly appreciate the practice. Consequently, we gladly set aside more time to meditate until our practice time becomes second nature.
5 Reasons To Meditate
Inner peace and calmness
Imagine what happens when you neglect your housework for too long. Dirt and dust accumulate, garbage piles up and everything’s out of place. Now picture your body as your home. A lot of junk gets stored in your mind, soul and body every single day. It may be in form of negative emotions, thoughts and energies. When you lack regular mindful meditation, this junk can accumulate to toxic levels. If left unprocessed, feelings of stress, anxiety and depression can become so overwhelming that they affect your quality of life. Regular meditation can counter this toxicity by instilling a deep sense of calmness and peace of mind. This in itself is a very rewarding experience.
The ability to abide in the present moment
People tend to disregard the simple power of living in the here and now. Meditation grounds you in the present. It will likely make you calmer and more level-headed. Your self-awareness will also improve, and it will be easier for you to acknowledge your thoughts, feelings and sensations without necessarily reacting to them. As a result, you’ll acquire a taste for living in the present moment.
A mind that is tuned in to the present is less likely to be overwhelmed by negative, anxious or stressful feelings about the past or future. Studies suggest that mindfulness meditation actually rewires the physical brain. Those parts of the brain that are responsible for anxiety, depression and poor concentration shrink whereas those regions associated with cognition, happiness and calmness increase in size.
Unlocking the source of inspiration
The active mind can be seen in terms of two components: the conscious and the subconscious. The conscious mind is responsible for active thinking and decision-making. It doesn’t hold long-term memory. Rather, it processes a single thought at a time. It has been suggested that the “conscious mind commands and the subconscious carries out.” The subconscious mind can be the source of great ideas, solutions and inspiration. For some mediators, an important goal of meditation is to unlock joy and creativity from within. Meditation trains the mind to be unperceptive to distractions, and by the same token it gives the mind’s natural inventiveness more space to reveal itself – and the conscious mind the means to take note of it.
Well-being and fulfillment
We’re all looking to lead happy, fulfilling lives. Most of us look to external sources for our happiness – relationships, material circumstances, recognition, etc. This may be effective when things are going our way, but when we depend on circumstances beyond our control for happiness, we’re setting ourselves up to fail because external circumstances are always changing. One day we’re healthy, the next day we’re sick. One day we’re employee of the month, the next day the company packs up and moves overseas. One day we’re hopelessly in love, the next day we’re not.
According to the highly esteemed meditation teacher and philosopher Tr-inlay Rinpoche, our minds are the only true and lasting source of happiness. Meditation gives us the means to access the mind’s inner wealth so we no longer need to depend on outer circumstances for fulfillment and well-being.
Buddhists have long believed that meditation and compassion go hand in hand. Now there are studies that validate this belief. One reason is that mindfulness seems to highlight our interconnections, and the recognition of interconnections naturally builds empathy. In an article published in Atlantic Magazine, professor of psychology David De-steno writes, “Mindfulness meditation […] has lately been promoted for its abilities to enhance the brain and heal the body, but many of its most experienced teachers argue that its fundamental purpose involves the soul. As Trungram Gyalwa, one our Mind Trainers and an exceptional teacher in the Tibetan tradition, recently pointed out to me, meditation’s effects on memory, health, and cognitive skills, though positive, were traditionally considered secondary benefits by Buddhist sages. The primary objective of calming the mind and heightening attention was to attain a form of enlightenment that would lead to a deep, abiding compassion and resulting beneficence.”
It may not be as lofty as the top five, but a final meditation perk is better sleep. According to a recent study conducted by the Harvard Medical School, mindfulness meditation reduces fatigue, insomnia and depression within one month of beginning practice. Due to the rising levels of stress and anxiety today, many individuals suffer from some sort of sleep disorder. One unique side benefit of meditation is that by helping us declutter the mind, it promotes a better quality of sleep.
We hope that learning about the goal and perks of meditation will inspire you to get the ball rolling.
By reading this article it’s clear that you’re interested in the practice of meditation and its results: making life more joyful and meaningful. And so are we! Mind works is a non-profit organization with a mission to share authentic meditation guidance to you and our worldwide followers. Click the link below to find out more and discover:
Meditation Questions: What is the Main Goal of Meditation?
I just received an excellent meditation question from John Q. It opens a large can of worms, inside of which is at least one elephant in the room, so what with all of these elephants and worms and mixed metaphors, be ready for a wild ride.
“I want to know what is the Main Objective of meditation. I always thought that it was to clear your mind, and to be in the “Now” and not allow any thoughts in. And then I read a very popular book on meditation titled :”How to Meditate” by Pema Chodron.
I quote: ‘steadfastness means that when you meditate and you allow yourself to experience what’s happening in that moment-which could be your mind going a hundred miles an hour,your body twitching,your head pounding,your heart full of fear,whatever comes up-you stay with that experience. That’s it.’
I’m going to address this in two parts. First I’ll attempt to disentangle these apparently contradictory ideas and second, I will tell you what I think meditation is actually all about.
Is the goal of meditation to clear the mind of thoughts?
The idea that meditation is intended to clear the mind of thought is technically correct, but this is only part of the story and this has created a lot of confusion.
The first thing to understand is that while the GOAL of meditation may be a state free of mental disturbance, the best METHOD to get there is NOT by trying to think of nothing.
I’ve lost count of the number of people who tell me that they can’t meditate because they can’t stop thinking during meditation. I tell them that it is perfectly normal to have thoughts during meditation, and that it is an indication that they are alive and human, which is not a bad thing. After all, they hardly need ANOTHER thing to worry pointlessly about. Tragically, some people give up trying to meditate because of this misleading idea that they have to stop thinking.
Pema Chodron, quoted in John’s question above, seems to be trying to reassure her readers similarly. She is emphasizing the importance of shifting your perspective and identifying with the witnessing aspect of consciousness rather than the thoughts themselves.
In meditation we learn to identify with our core of self awareness (the Atman), rather than with our thoughts. If you do this successfully, something very interesting might happen. I’ve seldom heard anyone describe their revelation of Oneness so beautifully as comic actor, Jim Carney:
So what do you do you think about in meditation?
The mind is designed to think, so rather than just letting it run on aimlessly along all kinds of crazy trails, mostly worrying about stuff you have no control over, in meditation you train yourself to focus on a single idea, instead of many.
A very effective way to do this is through the use of a Mantra. A mantra is a word or phrase, usually in Sanskrit, which is repeated mentally, and gives the mind a point of focus. It is a simple but very powerful technique for training the mind that has been used in meditation for millennia.
What is the true goal of meditation?
The ultimate goal of meditation is more than just ‘mindfulness’ or ‘being in the now’. Enlightenment, Ananda, Self-Realization, Oneness with God, a state of Grace, all these attempts to name or describe the goal of meditation fall far short, inevitably, because the goal of meditation is to transcend the mind and experience directly the Oneness of the Universe – something beyond thought or imagination, and certainly beyond words.
“The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao The name that can be named is not the eternal name.”
This is often termed, Self-Realization. Here the capitalized ‘Self’ signifies that we are talking about something other than the regular everyday ‘self’ as we experience it. It refers to what is variously called the Higher Self, the Supreme Consciousness, God, Allah etc. What Albert Einstein referred to as ‘the Supreme Intelligence’.
In other words, the goal of meditation is to realize that you are God.
Now I know that sounds kind of hard. Or perhaps even unlikely or impossible, or perhaps you are not sure whether or not God exists. Nevertheless, the yogis who first developed meditation in ancient India more than 7000 years ago (to get a little perspective on this, Buddha lived about 2500 years ago) were very clear that this is the ultimate purpose of spiritual meditation. They called this Dhyana, which is one of the eight limbs of Astaunga Yoga.
So what should we focus on in meditation? If you are trying to achieve anything, most people will advise you to focus on your goal. And the goal of meditation is, as stated above, bliss or infinite love – the experience of Cosmic Consciousness or Oneness.
This is why the meaning of the Mantra is very important. It should embody the goal – the idea of oneness and infinite peace and love. If you think about that for 10,000 hours or so, you’ll begin to feel really different, believe me!
The Goal of Meditation
How Meditation Can Help
Today, millions of people meditate around the world – 18 million in the United States alone.
There must be a reason why such a sizable chunk of the global population is resorting to the calming art of meditation. Before commencing this practice, many beginners wonder: what is the goal of meditation? Is it simply to relax and calm the mind, or is there more to it than meets the eye? Delightfully, meditation has a wide array of mental and health benefits that anyone can enjoy. For instance, this practice has been proven to improve anxiety, stress and depression. It also eases the symptoms of IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), improves your sleep and enhances concentration.
The Essence of Meditation
Although we may speak volumes about how to practice different meditation techniques, this wouldn’t have any meaningful impact to us if we didn’t comprehend the true goal of meditation. Here’s a question we should all ask ourselves: what do I intend to gain from this practice? Do I want to enhance my overall health and wellness, or is it simply a matter of changing my entire perception of the world and living a happier life? There’s so much we can learn from looking within. According to Trinity Rinpoche, a revered meditator, there exist a rich gold mine within each and every one of us. Everything we seek – health, wealth, happiness and genuine well-being – stems from deep within us. Using meditation, you can tap into these abundant reservoirs and experience a tremendous difference in your life.
That is essentially the true goal of meditation: to tune our minds away from the clutter of thought that frequently occupies our mind and get in syncs with our inner conscience. We develop a deeper awareness of ourselves as well as everyone (and everything) around us. However, every meditator knows that the mind is the biggest obstacle to achieving this self-awareness. It is unruly and undisciplined. It doesn’t like being guided towards a clear, disciplined path. That’s why many newbies end up getting frustrated after the first couple of sitting meditation sessions. However, the goal of meditation is to be consistent and persistent.
How Can You Cultivate Stillness?
After identifying a specific goal of meditation that you wish to pursue, it’s important to create a conducive environment for practicing your daily meditations. If you prefer being in a group, you can always join any guided meditation class around your area.
Here is a simple guide on how you can achieve the stillness required to meditate:
- Get a simple, serene place where you can meditate without any interruptions. You could choose a quiet room around the house, your bedroom for instance.
- Pick a convenient time. Choose a period when you’re not too busy, preferably early morning or later in the evening when you get home from work. Remember: the ‘busier’ you claim to be, the more time you should set aside to meditate.
- Time yourself. For starters, take 5-10 minutes to meditate. Use a timer to track your minutes when meditating.
- Get a comfortable sitting position. You can sit on a meditation mat, a cushion or even a chair. The goal of meditation is to get comfy enough to avoid pain and other distractions. Use the posture that you prefer most.
- Straighten your back. Your spine should be completely aligned with your neck and head. Picture a stack of coins and aim to maintain your back as straight as that stack.
- Concentrate on how you breathe. One goal of meditation is to concentrate on any object you desire. The breath is the most popular object. Start off by taking some deep breaths, then bring your awareness to your in breaths and out breaths.
- Shift your attention to the body: notice how you’re feeling at that precise moment. Feel the sensations pulsating through your body. At the same time, let go of the tensions that exist in certain muscle groups.
- When you notice your mind wandering, gently refocus it. Often, your mind will inevitably wander and deviate from meditation. You might suddenly start thinking of what you’ll have for supper or how much office work is pending. When this happens, don’t be hard on yourself. Rather, refocus your mind to your breathing.
- Don’t be rash in concluding. Since the goal of meditation is largely step-wise, avoid rising up too fast when the session is over. When the timer buzzes, gently open your eyes and be aware of your surroundings. Then slowly get on your feet and conclude everything.
In the short term, your goal for every meditation is to become aware of what’s going on in the present moment without judging it. But what about in the long term?
Isn’t the goal of meditation to become enlightened? I addressed this back in episode 62, which you can find at mindful15.com/enlightenment. The answer is, yes, but this is a broad, long-term goal. Enlightenment involves seeing the truth of world around us and the truth about how our own minds work. It is what we’re aiming for long-term, but there are so many specific truths to discover that the goal of enlightenment feels overwhelming, vague and to some, unachievable. It also has mystical overtones. All these things can actually stand in your way of reaching the goal.
Jon Kabat Zinn, well-known meditation teacher and founder of the acclaimed Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program says he used to believe that if you just meditated, you would eventually see growth. Now he believes that a personal vision or goal is necessary (1). The goal will likely be dynamic, that is changing over time, but having one helps to remind you of why you’re practicing and focuses your efforts.
In a study of long term mediators, D. H. Shapiro found that over time, mediators’ goals tend to follow a typical progression (2). They begin with the goal of learning to self-regulate, to relive their own stress, for example. As their practice grows, their goals tend more toward self-exploration, learning for example, about their habitual reactions and about how their minds work. Eventually, the goals shifts toward self-liberation and compassion, that is learning to free themselves from reactions and extend more empathy and care towards themselves and others.
But this progression is described as a natural one. You need not follow this progression in a deliberate, planned way. Your goals are personal and should simply be aligned with what’s important to you at this time.
The goals of meditation.
Meditation is a means to enhanced consciousness. The ultimate goal of meditation is, accordingly, to attain the highest level of consciousness possible to one. This sum mum bon-um (highest good) is generally understood as threefold, although the three aspects are ultimately one and the same event, which may be called ‘realization’.
The first aspect is ‘enlightenment’, which may be defined as the overcoming of all personal ignorance, illusion or delusion, in the broadest sense. It is a maximal, all-inclusive consciousness; the widest and deepest potential for knowledge (including information and understanding).
The second aspect is ‘liberation’, which may be defined as the overcoming of all personal weaknesses, difficulties or obstructions, in the broadest sense. Thus, enlightenment relates to cognition, while liberation concerns volition. Granting they are possible achievements, they necessarily come together and not apart, with liberation as a necessary adjunct of enlightenment. Knowledge is freedom.
Note that the term ‘enlightenment’ (or ‘illumination’) is often construed as referring to some inner experience of light. But that mental analogy to physically ‘seeing a light’, though occasionally valuable, is not the essence intended by the term. One should rather have an image of a man walking tentatively in the dark, feeling his way slowly – when suddenly a bright light is turned on. Now, he can at last see everything around him and where he is going, and he can walk about freely, and find any object he seeks without knocking into things. This analogy is preferable, because it illustrates the conjunction of light and liberty. A man in the dark is like a man in chains, hardly able to move, uncertain and afraid, unable to travel directly to any destination and having to expend much too much effort to go any distance. When the light goes on, he is instantly freed from his invisible chains, and he can hop, skip and jump at will, and dance with joy.
The third presumed consequence of achieving the apex of consciousness is greatly enhanced ethical understanding – or ‘wisdom’. This relates to the third function of the soul, which is valuation. It suggests a maximum of sagacity in one’s value judgments and pursuits. It would not suffice to have knowledge and freedom, if one were ignorant of values and thus incapable of virtue.
Just as valuation in general involves the operation of both the functions of cognition and volition – so wisdom is the natural and necessary outcome of enlightenment and liberation. At every level of human experience, sagacious valuing is indicative of a harmonious intersection between knowing and willing. Wisdom, or extreme sagacity, occurs when these functions reach their peak of perfection.
It should be stressed that wisdom does not only signify knowing right from wrong in any given situation, but also implies naturally doing what is right and avoiding what is wrong in that situation. It is not a mere theoretical understanding of values, but additionally involves a practice of virtue that testifies to having fully internalized such understanding. The cognitive and volitional faculties of the sage are concordant.
While full enlightenment, liberation and wisdom may be identified as the ultimate goal(s) of meditation – we may of course still consider increased but less than complete degrees of knowledge, freedom and discernment (between good and bad, right and wrong) as valuable intermediate goals. The situation is not “either-or” – i.e. either total blindness, impotence and stupidity, or utter perfection. We may have to gradually work our way towards the ideal, going through partial improvements until we attain the desired result.
Our experiences are likely to be proportionate to our progress along that Path or Way. We may have momentary so-called mystical experiences of lesser intensity than the ultimate experience of enlightenment, but find such reward encouraging and stimulating. If we practice meditation correctly and regularly over an extended period of time, our sense of freedom may increase noticeably. Things seem clearer and easier, and we exhibit more and more wisdom in our choices.
Traditions thus speak of a via perfectionist or dhammapada (way of perfection), implying a long spiritual road to be traveled, until the final step radically changes everything for us and we attain full realization.
It should be noted that the term ‘realization’ has a double meaning, one relative and one absolute:
- It signifies, firstly, the actualization of one’s personal full potential as a human being, i.e. the full maturing of our faculties of cognition, volition and valuation.
- Additionally, it suggests that this self-perfection coincides with the extreme achievement of cognition of absolute reality, maximum freedom and wisdom of choice.
Logically, these two attainments are not necessarily identical: it could be argued that a given person’s relative best is still not good enough in absolute terms. However, some spiritual philosophies overcome this possible objection by considering the possibility of stretching the pursuit of ultimate perfection over more than one lifetime.
Furthermore, there are two ways to view the meditative enterprise; these ways are referred to in Zen as pursuit of gradual vs. sudden realization.
- We can view ourselves as standing somewhere on a mountain, eager to climb up to its peak, by diligently “working on ourselves”. We have to find the best way to do that, either feeling our way alone or using maps handed down to us by predecessors, or traveling with other seekers. Sometimes we may fall back, and have to climb again just to reach our previous position. Sometimes the mountaintop seems nearby; then, as we approach it, we discover the mountain is much bigger than it seemed from lower down. This mountain climb may take a lifetime of hard labor; some say many lifetimes.
- Another way to view the challenge is as a puzzle to be solved. If we could only find the key, it would open for us the door to realization. No need for one to climb or move mountains. One needs only constantly be alert for some clue, attentive for some hint – which may fleetingly come from anywhere. If we spot it somehow, a veil will be lifted and all will become clear right where we stand. The mountain will instantly disappear, and we will suddenly find ourselves at its central axis (just like someone at the top). There is no climbing to do; the job requires detective work.
Of course, both perspectives are true and worth keeping in mind. The long-term climb seems to be our common lot; but it is our common hope to somehow immediately pierce through the mystery of existence. The latter is not so much a shortcut on the way up, as a cutting through and dissolving of the underlying illusions. Moreover, the theater of our search for insight is not so much “out there” as “in here”.
Another distinction to note is that between temporary/partial and permanent/full realization. On the way to complete realization, one may momentarily experience glimpses of it. Such fortunate foretastes of heaven do not however count as realization in a strict sense. One is only truly realized when one is irreversibly installed in such experience.
With regard to terminology, note that the terms realization, enlightenment, liberation, and (the attainment of) wisdom, are in practice mostly used interchangeably, because one cannot attain any one aspect of this event without the others. Sometimes, realization (etc.) is written with a capital letter (Realization), to distinguish complete and definitive from partial or temporary realization. Usually, the context makes clear which variant is intended.
Another term commonly used for realization is ‘awakening’. This term suggests that our existence as ordinarily experienced is like a dream – a dream of problems that cannot be solved from within the dream, but only by getting completely out of the state of sleep. I have experienced such dreams occasionally: I was somehow cornered in a very difficult situation and could imagine no way out of it, no winning scenario; so (realizing I must be dreaming), I simply willed myself out of slee solving the problem in a radical manner.
To the person who has just awoken, the world within the dream, with all its seemingly inescapable difficulties, permanently loses all importance, instantly becoming nothing worth getting concerned with anymore. This metaphor illustrates how spiritual awakening is more than a set of ad hoc solutions to the problems of ordinary existence: it is a general solution that cuts through the illusions and takes us straight to the underlying reality. This image makes realization easier to conceive.
Many forms of meditation have their roots in spiritual or religious disciplines. Modern meditative practices are strongly influenced by Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, but other religions also have a tradition of meditation. Within a religious or spiritual context, practitioners believe that meditation opens the mind to divine influence or serves as a form of prayer or worship. For these practitioners, the goal of meditation is an increased understanding, often a purely intuitive understanding, of spiritual truths.
Modern practitioners of meditation may employ it as a form of stress reduction. Meditation often involves techniques of physical and mental relaxation, including deep breathing and sitting in a relaxed posture. For these practitioners, meditation quiets the worries of daily life and provides a sense of relaxation. As a result, they feel better able to deal with the problems they face. The goal of meditation for these practitioners is to build confidence, increase focus and concentration, and reduce anxiety.
Medical evidence for the health benefits of meditation is tentatively positive. A 1992 study in the “American Journal of Psychiatry” found that meditation reduced symptoms of anxiety and panic in some people with anxiety disorders, while a 2007 report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found some evidence that meditation helps to improve cardiovascular health. It called for further research. For some practitioners, therefore, the goal of meditation is to improve health.
Meditation goals are as diverse as meditation practitioners. In addition to the common goals of stress reduction, health and spirituality, many people meditate to achieve a specific goal, such as improved performance at school, at work or in sports. In cases where someone is trying to achieve a specific goal, she may meditate on that goal, focusing her attention on it, sometimes in the form of an affirmation or short statement related to the goal.