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Simple Buddhist Meditation

Buddhism encourages smriti (Pali: sati), mindfulness, that is, developing a widening consciousness of what is within and outside you -- seated in a special posture, and going about your life. Proper mindfulness meditation is may be placed on the seventh level of the Eightfold Path.

From the earliest Buddhism, shamatha and vipashyana are foundational: Shamatha is development of tranquillity and calm abiding, or peacefulness. It assists further development. Vipashyana is intuitively based clear understanding. When some measure of tranquillity and clear-headedness are developed, you can next engage in other forms of meditation that develop sustained attention and focus.

A well focused and trained mind enters subtler, delightful mental states in time. The time it takes, varies. Such states are called dhyanas (Pali: jhanas), or absorption levels. Samádhi is a collective term for at least some of them. Buddha refers to the dhyanas and samádhi in the eighth step of the eightfold path, and again toward his death. Dhyana is rendered as Jhana in Pali, Ch'an in Chinese, and Zen in Japanese, and in these cultures dhyana has come to stand for meditation at large.

In Buddhism, proper meditation skills are basic.

Basic Meditation

The disciple Ananda once asked Buddha if there was one particular quality one should cultivate that would best bring one to full awakening. Be mindful of breathing, Buddha answered quite extensively:

Sit down, fold your legs crosswise, keep your body erect, and set mindfulness to the fore. Always mindful, breathe in; mindful breathe out. . . . Breathe in, sensitive to the entire body, and breathe out sensitive to the entire body. Breathe and calm the bodily processes, sensitive to rapture, to pleasure, to mental processes, and to calming of mental processes. Breathe, sensitive to the mind, satisfying the mind, steadying the mind, releasing the mind. (cf. Samyutta Nikaya 54.13.)

The quotation speaks of stages of progress at breathing meditation. The passage does not tell there are different ways of breathing, though. One way is when you sniff at a lovely flower, another is when you snore in bed - and then there is a range of breathing ways between them described in traditional Hatha Yoga, for example. A tip or three: Make the breath as natural and elegant and relaxed as well can be, and you might as well end up on a fit track.

Now, Thanissaro Bhikkhu observes in The Steps of Breath Meditation (2002):

When the Buddha teaches breath meditation, [i]n the later stages of breath meditation the emphasis is focused less on the breath than on the mind as it relates to the breath . . .

When a sense of rapture and pleasure comes from the breath, he tells you to knead . . . water into flour . . .

By 'kneading', Buddha uses an image of letting rapture, pleasure, or bright awareness fill the entire body.

Beginners often get stuck in non-essentials. Then what about lots of classifications, as are found in ample measure in lots of works? A clue: The crown of meditation involves to rise beyond classifications. But find your level and seek to go on from there without being marred, or not marred and indoctrinated all to much - That is Tibetan Buddhism in a nutshell. Direct ways of Dzogchen or Mahamudra, for example, are for dispensing with classification and preliminary exercises and visualisations for the sake of meditation and Awakening.

Buddha teaches in essence: Find a splendid and fit meditation method and practice it well enough to get Enlightened. That is a foremost task. [see Bhumija Sutta]

If you find you have been distracted by sounds around and thoughts within, let them pass while you resume focusing with some measure of success on the meditation method. Also, and independently of the meditation session, by quiet mindfulness one may let impressions glide by.

If you have great and worthwhile thoughts during meditation you could jot them down while you recall them. Or one may learn to take mental notes on what to do after rising from meditation. If you find yourself filled with swelling feelings - relax and just resume the attentiveness training.

Awareness of the breath may be developed by applying oneself to it. There are many methods.


Traditionally, five enlisted hindrances to good meditation (including focus-training) are:

  1. Vulgar desires;
  2. Anger, hatred, ill will;
  3. Sloth, sluggishness, torpor;
  4. Restlessness and worry;
  5. Doubt, instead of mature open-mindedness.

Menial methods and lack of proficiency (skills) can be added to the list. Lack of evidence may hinder some practitioners too. Being dumbfounded is not good either.

Among the factors that may help development and happiness are superior methods, as Buddha clarifies in Bhumija Sutta. Keen, observant performance, circumspect, solid and regular training; meticulous efforts without strain; and adjusting beautifully to one's level and competence at any given time are sides to meditation skills to build.

It generally helps to deepen one's meditation and integrate regular meditation in a rewarding lifestyle.

On the Way, some may train many skills in communicating adequately - and develop meditation to relax in deeper and deeper meditation, and reap appreciativeness, and reduce the effects of stress too if things go well (see Mayo Clinic Staff, 2017).


Buddhist meditation, Literature  

Bielefeldt, Carl. 1988. Dogen's Manuals of Zen Meditation. London: University of California Press, 1988.

Conze, Edward. 2003. Buddhist Meditation. New York: Dover Publications. (1956)

Dogen, Eihei. 2004. Beyond Thinking: A Guide to Zen Meditation. Ed. Kazuaki Tanahashi. London: Shambhala.

Geshe Kelsang Gyalpo. 1993. A Meditation Handbook. 2nd ed. London: Tharpa Publications Maharishi Foundation USA. 2018. What's the evidence? 2018.

Mayo Clinic Staff. 2017. Meditation: A simple, fast way to reduce stress. Oct. 17, 2017.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu. 2002. The Steps of Breath Meditation.

Vimalamitra. 2000. The Stages of Meditation. Tr. Lozang Jamspal. Ladakh, IN: Ladakhratnashridipika Leh.

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