Types of Buddhist Meditation

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You probably know that the increasingly popular practices of mindfulness and meditation share Buddhist roots. But did you know that there are many different schools of Buddhism, each with its own meditation techniques and methods? This is because after the time of the historic Buddha, Siddhartha Gautama, in the 6th century BCE, Buddhism spread far and wide. As it spread, it adopted some of the characteristics and spiritual strengths of the lands where it became implanted.

All forms of Buddhism – and, by extension Buddhist meditation techniques – have arisen from the Buddha’s insights about the nature of existence, the causes of suffering, the causes of happiness, and guidelines for living a wholesome and constructive life. Buddhist meditation practices have now spread beyond the borders of the countries where they developed organically and are more widely available than ever before.

How do Buddhists Meditate?

Tibetan visualization practices, Zen, vipassana, Pure Land, Nichiren and a number of other Buddhist forms of meditation are now taught and practiced all over the western world. Below we present 3 inspiring methods; if you explore a bit, you’ll surely find many more!

Shamatha

Shamatha (mindfulness) is a well-known Buddhist practice that focuses on developing calmness, clarity, and equanimity. With the proper guidance and commitment, the cultivation of these qualities can ultimately lead to deep inner peace. When combined with vipassana (awareness) practices, it can lead to profound insights and spiritual awakening. The initial stages of mindfulness meditation are essentially non-denominational and can be practiced by anyone, regardless of their faith tradition.

The basis of shamatha, or mindfulness meditation, is as follows:

  1. Sit in a comfortable meditation posture: find a pose that doesn’t hurt your back or knees. Watch our Take Your Seat video on the Mindworks App or see our post to learn about the best Buddhist meditation postures. Keep your back straight and try to find a happy medium between too rigid and too relaxed.
  2. Observe your breath: You don’t have to manipulate your breath, use abdominal breathing or have long, deep in-breaths and out-breaths. Just breathe normally and pay attention to your breathing process, one breath at a time. Keep your awareness focused but be gentle; you should have an attitude of discovering and making friends with yourself.
  3. Acknowledge the thoughts that pop into your mind without engaging them. Simply observe them and let go. Come back to the breath. We call this “touch and go.” Let the thought arise, touch on it gently, and then let it go.

Metta or lovingkindness

Another popular method for how to practice Buddhist meditation is Metta, or lovingkindness, meditation. There are many different forms of this meditation as well. They begin with a period of śamatha to get the mind settled and receptive.

In one technique, we begin by directing wishes for well-being and lovingkindness toward ourselves. Then we open it out and direct lovingkindness towards a person or pet that we love. Then someone we feel neutral about, followed by somebody we have problems with or even an enemy. Ultimately our love flows equally towards all beings everywhere, regardless of how we feel about them. This form of meditation is about feeling the love and radiating out until the distinct edges that usually categorize us as “me, friend, enemy, etc.” fade away and what is left is benevolence, pure and simple.

We might repeat slogans or mantras that inspire our practice, such as “May my love for myself and others flow freely.” Or “May I and all living beings be safe, happy and peaceful.” A traditional Buddhist invocation is “May all beings find happiness and the cause of happiness. May they be free from suffering and the cause of suffering.” After a period of active metta practice, we sit in quiet awareness for a time.

Contemplative meditation

The Buddhist teachings share some fundamental beliefs. Practitioners are encouraged to reflect on them in a focused, contemplative manner. This contemplation may be integrated into a practice session. One of the best-known contemplations is called “The Four Thoughts that Transform the Mind.” Their purpose is to give us a good reason to sit down and practice rather than, for example, spend the next two hours on social media or in a shopping mall. These four thoughts, in brief, are:

  1. I can choose to devote my energy to developing wisdom, compassion and the power to benefit others. Many people in other situations, as well as other forms of life such as animals, don’t have this possibility. I recognize the preciousness of this opportunity and vow not to waste it.
  2. But who knows how long this precious life will last? Everything changes. My entire existence depends on an out-breath being followed by an in-breath. No time to waste!
  3. Everything that exists has a cause, and every action has consequences. This speaks to the truth of interdependence – and means that our actions have more of an impact than we might imagine.
  4. At one point or another, we will be separated from all of the material things we’re attached to. So much effort, so little lasting gain! Doesn’t it make more sense to focus our energy on being of benefit by developing the precious qualities of wisdom, compassion, and spiritual skills? May my meditation practice help me reach this goal!

Guided Buddhist Meditation

If you’re just starting your Buddhist meditation practice but aren’t quite sure how to go about it, try following a guided meditation. Mindworks Meditation Courses offer a variety of guided meditations for meditators of all levels. Also, check out our companion article What is Buddhist Meditation?

You might also join a local meditation class. It’s a great way to interact with other like-minded people and compare notes and tips. Now that we’ve answered the question “How do Buddhists Meditate?” it’s time to try it out for yourself. Have fun!

If you’re interested in trying meditation, but do not know where to start, here’s a list of seven types of meditation practice:

1. Mindfulness Meditation

Mindfulness meditation is the process of being fully present with your thoughts. Being mindful means being aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not being overly reactive to what’s going on around us.

Mindful meditation can be done anywhere. Some people prefer to sit in a quiet place, close their eyes, and focus on their breathing. But you can choose to be mindful at any point of the day, including while you’re commuting to work or doing chores.

When practicing mindfulness meditation, you observe your thoughts and emotions but let them pass without judgement.

2. Transcendental Meditation

Transcendental meditation is a simple technique in which a personally assigned mantra, such as a word, sound, or small phrase, is repeated in a specific way. It’s practiced 20 minutes twice each day while sitting comfortably with the eyes closed.

The idea is that this technique will allow you to settle inward to a profound state of relaxation and rest, with the goal of achieving inner peace without concentration or effort.

3. Guided Meditation

Guided meditation, which is sometimes also called guided imagery or visualization, is a method of meditation in which you form mental pictures or situations that you find relaxing.

This process is typically led by a guide or teacher, hence “guided.” It’s often suggested to use as many senses as possible, such as smell, sounds, and textures, to evoke calmness in your relaxing space.

4. Vipassana Meditation (Sayagyi U Ba Khin Tradition)

Vipassana meditation is an ancient Indian form of meditation that means to see things as they really are. It was taught in India more than 2,500 years ago. The mindfulness meditation movement in the United States has roots in this tradition.

The goal of vipassana meditation is self-transformation through self-observation. This is accomplished through disciplined attention to physical sensations in the body, to establish a deep connection between the mind and body. The continuous interconnectedness results in a balanced mind full of love and compassion, teachers of the practice claim.

Vipassana, in this tradition, is typically taught during a 10-day course, and students are expected to follow a set of rules throughout the entirety of the time, including abstaining from all intoxicants, telling lies, stealing, sexual activity, and killing any species.

5. Loving Kindness Meditation (Metta Meditation)

Metta meditation, also called Loving Kindness Meditation, is the practice of directing well wishes toward others. Those who practice recite specific words and phrases meant to evoke warm-hearted feelings. This is also commonly found in mindfulness and vipassana meditation.

It’s typically practiced while sitting in a comfortable, relaxed position. After a few deep breaths, you repeat the following words slowly and steadily. “May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be peaceful and at ease.”

After a period of directing this loving kindness toward yourself, you may begin to picture a family member or friend who has helped you and repeat the mantra again, this time replacing “I” with “you.”

As you continue the meditation, you can bring other members of your family, friends, neighbors, or people in your life to mind. Practitioners are also encouraged to visualize people they have difficulty with.

Finally, you end the meditation with the universal mantra: “May all beings everywhere be happy.”

6. Chakra Meditation

Chakra is an ancient Sanskrit word that translates to “wheel,” and can be traced back to India. Chakras refer to the centers of energy and spiritual power in the body. There are thought to be seven chakras. Each chakra is located at a different part of the body and each has a corresponding color.

Chakra meditation is made up of relaxation techniques focused on bringing balance and well-being to the chakras. Some of these techniques include visually picturing each chakra in the body and its corresponding color. Some people may choose to light incense or use crystals, color coded for each chakra to help them concentrate during the meditation.

7. Yoga Meditation

The practice of yoga dates back to ancient India. There are a wide variety of classes and styles of yoga, but they all involve performing a series of postures and controlled breathing exercises meant to promote flexibility and calm the mind.

The poses require balance and concentration and practitioners are encouraged to focus less on distractions and stay more in the moment.

Which style of meditation you decide to try depends on a number of factors. If you have a health condition and are new to yoga, speak to your doctor about which style may be right for you.

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! Mindworks 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:

  1. How to work with the mind and appreciate every moment
  2. How meditation enriches your life
  3. How to integrate meditation into your daily routine
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