Most Popular Buddhist Meditation Techniques

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Buddhist meditation techniques are quite popular all over the world, and some of them are actually very easy to practice. Their concept is simple and does not involve adopting any kind of rigid beliefs or dogmas.

Some of the popular Buddhist meditation practices we are going to discuss are as follows:

  • Samatha (calm, clarity, and mindfulness)
  • Vipassana (Insight)
  • Metta (Love-Kindness meditation)
  • Walking Meditation
  • Zazen (Zen Meditation)
  • Pure Land
  • Nichiren

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Samatha (mindfulness) Meditation

This is a popular Buddhist meditation technique that helps in developing calmness and clarity of mind. For beginners, this is usually the starting point of meditation.

Samatha is a meditation technique that involves maintaining awareness of the breath, observe the flow of air in and out of the nostrils. This is something easy to practice across all age groups.

If you have never meditated before, practicing Samatha meditation can be a good starting point.

The objective here is to allow the flow of feelings and emotions through our mind without invoking any kind of reaction to them.

Many people have a misconception that we need to completely stop the flow of thoughts their mind. As a result, they try to do it forcefully and when they’re not able to do that, they get frustrated.

Our body has been designed in such a manner that it’s impossible to stop thoughts altogether. But yes, we can reduce the frequency of these thoughts and more importantly be indifferent to them. Trying to fight with your mind is futile. Just let it go (surrender).

With regular practice, you will become more resilient to the afflicting thoughts and emotions arising in your conscious mind. They will no longer affect you in any way. You will be able to simply watch them come and go.

In order to do Samatha meditation, you sit in a comfortable cross-legged position (if sitting on the mat is uncomfortable for you, you can also sit on a chair and practice) on the mat, close of eyes and keep you back straight.

Don’t force yourself in any particular position and make appropriate adjustments to comfort yourself. If you are not relaxed, you will not be able to meditate.

If you have issues with your knees or lower back, check out this post where I have explained how to meditate in such a situation.

Start by watching the movement of the breath in and out of your body. Don’t force your breath and try to maintain a steady rhythm.

While practicing meditation your mind will keep wandering away to thoughts every now and then. Whenever that happens just bring your awareness back to your breath gently.

Don’t feel bad if you are not able to keep your attention on the breath. That happens to everybody in the beginning.

Slowly with time and practice, wandering of your overactive mind reduces significantly, and as a result, you start feeling more calm and relaxed.

A calm mind helps in developing more clarity and improves decision making. It makes us more kind and compassionate towards ourselves and also towards other people.

Samatha is a stage in which you understand the connection between your mind and the body. It helps you to clear your mind and liberates you from stress, anxiety, and depression.

Eventually, it prepares you for a higher stage of meditation known as the Vipassana, where you start developing insight.

Vipassana (Insight) Meditation

Vipassana originates from the Theravada school of Buddhism. While the Samatha meditation helps us to bring our mind to a restful state and experience calm and happiness, vipassana helps us to see things clearly, as they are in reality.

The ultimate objective of practicing Vipassana is to see clearly the impermanence of life and liberate oneself from the shackles of the illusory world. It is a process through which awareness and mindfulness can be cultivated in a gradual manner.

This practice does not have any dogmas associated with it. In vipassana, you completely let go of all that you have learned over years and clear your mind to realize the absolute truth. It is our ego that puts false beliefs in our minds and which is also the root cause of our suffering.

By practicing vipassana we learn to let go of the ego. And as a result, we feel much happier and lighter.

It involves paying attention to the sensations in various parts of the body. For example, while sitting in meditation you are likely to encounter distractions like thoughts arising in the mind, discomfort in the body like pain in the back, or stiffness in the legs, etc.

You pay attention to how these sensations arise in your body, play for some time, and then disappear. The idea is not to fight with these sensations but to simply observe them in a sense of detachment. All of the feelings, sensations, and emotions you experience in your body is not you.

The process of practicing vipassana is almost similar to that of Samatha meditation in which we sit and observe the flow of breath in and out of the nostrils. But vipassana is much more intense as compared to the Samatha and involves sitting for long durations of time.

Just as a restless monkey keeps jumping from one branch to another, our mind also behaves in a similar manner, jumping from one thought to another. This monkey mind does not like to be tamed and resists when we try to do so. By practicing meditation, we learn to tame the monkey mind.

Vipassana meditation’s popularity in India has been attributed to S. N. Goenka who is a very renounced vipassana teacher. He was born in Burma where he learned Vipassana from his teacher Sayagyi U Ba Khin. In 1963 he moved to India and started teaching Vipassana himself.

Metta (Loving Kindness Meditation)

Loving kindness meditation or Metta is practiced to develop love, compassion, forgiveness, and kindness towards ourselves as well as towards other people. Even towards those who have not been very kind to us.

We divide this meditation practice into three broad phases just to get started.

In the first phase, we meditate on ourselves or our loved ones and generate feelings of love and kindness within us. If you don’t want to focus on any person, another way to do this is to imagine yourself to be in a happy place. This can be any place you like to visit.

For example, if you like to be in the mountains and watch the sunrise early mornings, you can close your eyes and visualize the same setting. Imagine yourself to be filling up that entire space and see the emotions that come up.

If you don’t like to visualize a location, you can choose to meditate on someone you love, like your parent, spouse, children, or even your pet. The whole point is to generate the feeling of love within yourself and stay with that feeling.

If you are starting metta for the first time, you should stick with the first phase for a couple of days, until you feel comfortable and are ready to move further.

In the second phase, we move onto those people who are neutral towards us. They are neither very pleasant nor are unpleasant.

This could be that person who serves you coffee when you visit your favorite café, or a person who cleans your office desk, etc. Close your eyes and wish well for these people. Generate a feeling of love and compassion for them.

Feelings of compassion and forgiveness work more for us than to other people. It allows us to heal ourselves and get rid of all the accumulated negative energy.

In the third phase, think about people who have been unkind or rude to you. The reason why these people are unkind or unpleasant to us in the first place is that many of them are deeply hurt themselves.

Don’t allow them to hurt you, but at the same time don’t keep ill will or hatred towards them.

Don’t carry around any negative energy transmitted by them, but instead generate positive energy for yourself and them.

These people are already full of negative energy and they don’t need more of it. When you practice metta you generate love and kindness for these people. This helps you forgive them for their mistakes.

When you stay with positive emotions for a long duration the darkness inside you vanishes and this in turn creates a space for healing yourself.

Walking Meditation

This can be a wonderful option for all the busy folks out there. Walking is something everyone can do. It doesn’t take much effort and you can always spare time for it. In fact, walking meditation if done right can become your deep spiritual practice.

In walking meditation, we walk slowly and take each step with full awareness and mindfulness. We keep our bodies relaxed and take deep breathes before starting to walk. We take notice of how our legs touch the ground one after the other. Avoid taking sharp or sudden turns.

Just like with all other meditations while practicing walking meditation we also generate thoughts. Whenever we find ourselves lost in these thoughts we bring our attention back to the steps. It’s also better to practice conscious breathing while walking.

Walking meditation can be done at any time of the day. It can be done outside in the park or even at home. One can get started by just practicing it for 10 minutes a day.

Zen Meditation (Zazen)

Zen meditation, originally known as ‘dhyana’ in India, is a traditional Buddhist meditation technique and is said to be extremely beneficial to people suffering from anxiety and depression. It is a great technique to bring the mind to a state of restfulness.

Zazen involves concentrating on posture and breath and is slightly different from the techniques we have described above.

The way to start practicing zazen is to start by taking a few deep breaths. Choose a place where you are not likely to be disturbed for the next few minutes.

The posture traditionally recommended for zazen is either half lotus or full lotus. But if you lack flexibility in your legs or hips you can start by sitting on a chair as well.

As a beginner, you can also fold a thick blanket below you, but as you advance in your practice buying a zafu is a better option. Using a blanket will restrict you to a particular posture and may even cause hindrance in your meditation practice.

Zafu is a cozy meditation cushion. The best thing about using a zafu is that it is designed in such a way that it enables you to manipulate your sitting posture in a way that you feel comfortable.

Even the most experienced zen masters do not hesitate from using a zafu, because they have to make sure that no bodily discomfort causes hindrance in their meditation.

Once you are seated you focus on your breath. Let the inhalations be natural, focus just on the exhalations. Traditionally, Zen Meditation requires you to keep your eyes open, that way you are not distracted by either day dreaming or drowsiness.

It is very important to keep the spine erect and absolutely aligned with your head and neck. If your spine is not straight, it will be difficult for you to concentrate.

For a beginner, practicing Zen Meditation for 15 to 30 minutes a day is sufficient.

Pure Land

Pure Land is a popular practice in Mahayana Buddhism and is focused on Amitābha Buddha (the Buddha of the infinite light). There are three main meditation practices in pure land:

  1. Repeating the name of Amitābha and bringing all of the attention to that. In Mahayana Buddhism, Amitābha is considered to be the savior. Buddhist practitioners are supposed to perform a fixed set of repetitions every day either vocally or in their minds.
  2. Repetitions of the Rebirth dhāraṇī (Mantra for birth in the pure land) are popular among Chinese Buddhists.
  3. Meditative contemplation of visualization of Amitābha.

Pure Land is more of a traditional practice performed by staunch Mahayana Buddhist practitioners. The Amitābha or the celestial Buddha is not the traditional Gautama Buddha (the prince Siddhartha) we usually refer to, but a monk who was known as ‘Dharmakāra’.

Gautama Buddha never preached divinity or any promise of heaven, hell, or paradise. The practitioners of pure land believe that chanting the name of Amitābha will lead them to the pure land (something synonymous with the concept of heaven in the western world).

Nichiren

Nichiren again is a practice from Mahayana Buddhism which began in medieval Japan. This practice has been gained a lot of popularity in the west. It envisages that ‘enlightenment’ is available to everybody through the practice of chanting.

Nichiren was propagated by a 13th-century monk who believed that people were living a degraded life and a reform was necessary. Its concepts were based on the Lotus Sutra of the Mahayana Sutras which taught that all beings have the potential to become enlightened.

Final Thoughts

Buddhist meditation techniques form the core foundation of all Buddhist teachings and it is strongly believed that only through meditation one can truly find the path to self-discovery, and realize the truth.

The main objective of all Buddhism practices is to alleviate suffering by the realization of the self.

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