Buddhist meditation practices
There are a variety of meditation practices within Buddhism.
There is no single term in Buddhism that directly corresponds to the English term "meditation." Two Sanskrit terms that are often translated as "meditation" are bhāvanā and yoga.
- bhāvanā means "bringing into being"; in Buddhism, it refers to mental or spiritual exercises aimed at cultivating wholesome mental states that facilitate the realization of the Buddhist path.
- yoga is a generic term for spiritual training or practice within Indian religious traditions.
Both of these terms are used to refer to a variety of types of spiritual practices, including meditation practices.
Two types of "meditation practices" (bhāvanā or yoga) that are essential within all Buddhist traditions are: "calm" (samatha) and "insight" (vipassana). Calm meditation entails the cultivation of mental concentration (samadhi) for the purpose of making the mind more calm and stable. Insight meditation is used to cultivate clarity and wisdom (prajna)
Calm and insight
Two types of "meditation practices" (bhāvanā or yoga) recognized within all Buddhist traditions are:
- calm (samatha) – the development of calm, stillness, etc.
- insight (vipassana) – the development of insight, wisdom, etc.
Rupert Gethin states:
- The goal of Buddhist practice is to bring to an end the operation of these defilements (kleshas). The basic method is to restore to the mind something of its fundamental state of clarity and stillness. This clarity of mind provides the opportunity for seeing into the operation of the defilements and the mind’s true nature, for seeing things as they really are, for fully awakening. The way of returning the mind to its state of clarity is by the use of the techniques of calm meditation, which can temporarily suppress or block the immediate defilements that disturb the mind; the way of seeing clearly into the nature of the mind is by the methods of insight meditation, which, in association with calm, can finally eradicate those defilements.
- In Buddhism two approaches to meditative development are recognized, calm (samatha) and insight (vipassana). Of the two, the development of insight is the distinctively Buddhistic form of meditation. This system of meditation is unique to the Buddha’s Teaching and is intended to generate direct personal realization of the truths discovered and enunciated by the Buddha. The development of calm is also found in non-Buddhist schools of meditation. However, in the Buddha’s Teaching calming meditation is taught because the serenity and concentration which it engenders provide a firm foundation for the practice of insight meditation. Each of the two types of meditation has its own methodology and range of meditation subjects.
The terms samatha and vipassana emphasize the goal or the end-point of the practice – what is to be accomplished. The manuals for these practices emphasize the stages of accomplishment. Buddhist texts also present a variety of "meditative techniques" for achieving samatha and vipassana. See next section.
A variety of techniques or methods are used to facilitate meditation practice. The following techniques can be used to develop either calm (shamatha) or insight (vipassana) meditation:
- mindfulness of breathing (anapanasati) – begins with focusing on the breath, and then expands to focus on sensations of the body, mental activity, and other phenomena
- four establishments of mindfulness (satipatthana) - entails developing mindfulness of all aspects of experience through focusing on the four domains of the physical body, physical and mental sensations, mental events, and dhammas (additional frameworks for contemplation)
- four immeasurables (apramāṇa) - focuses on cultivating mental states of loving kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity
States of meditative concentration
The following terms are used to described states of meditative concentration that can be achieved through calm (samatha) meditation:
- samadhi - remaining single-pointedly focused on an object of interest
- dhyana - higher states of mind in which the mind is fully absorbed in a particular object of focus, and is no longer pre-occupied with the sphere of the senses (kāmāvacara)
Traditional texts on meditation practices
Some commonly cited traditional texts regarding meditation practices include:
- Anapanasati Sutta (in the Pali Nikayas) and its parallels in the Āgamas (Ānāpānasmṛti Sūtra)
- Satipatthana Sutta (in the Pali Nikayas) and its parallel in the Āgamas (Smṛtyupasthāna Sūtra)
- Yogācārabhūmi-Śāstra (Treatise on the Stages of Yoga), a classic north Indian compendium on meditation used by the Indian Yogācāra school, remains influential in East Asian Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism
- Buddhaghosa's Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purification), used in Theravada Buddhism
- Kamalashila's Bhāvanākrama (Stages of Meditation), a late Indian Madhyamaka work, used in Tibetan Buddhism
- Zhiyi's Great Calm and Insight (Mohe Zhiguan) – used in the Chinese Tiantai school
- Bhikkhu Bodhi, ed. (2000), A Comprehensive Manual of Abhidhamma, Pariyatti Publishing
- Buswell, Robert E.; Lopez, Donald S. (2014), The Princeton Dictionary of Buddhism, Princeton University
- Gethin, Rupert (1998), Foundations of Buddhism, Oxford University Press
- Arbel, Keren (2017), Early Buddhist Meditation: The Four Jhanas as the Actualization of Insight, Taylor & Francis
- Bronkhorst, Johannes (1993), The Two Traditions Of Meditation In Ancient India, Motilal Banarsidass Publ.
- Bronkhorst, Johannes (2012), Early Buddhist Meditation. (paper presented at the conference "Buddhist Meditation from Ancient India to Modern Asia", Jogye Order International Conference Hall, Seoul, 29 November 2012
- Lachs, Stuart (2006), The Zen Master in America: Dressing the Donkey with Bells and Scarves
- Schmithausen, Lambert (1981), On some Aspects of Descriptions or Theories of 'Liberating Insight' and 'Enlightenment' in Early Buddhism". In: Studien zum Jainismus und Buddhismus (Gedenkschrift für Ludwig Alsdorf), hrsg. von Klaus Bruhn und Albrecht Wezler, Wiesbaden 1981, 199–250
- Shankman, Richard (2008), The Experience of Samadhi: An In-depth Exploration of Buddhist Meditation, Shambhala
- Thubten Chodron, Guided Meditations on the Lamrim – The Gradual Path to Enlightenment
- Vetter, Tilmann (1988), The Ideas and Meditative Practices of Early Buddhism, BRILL
- Wynne, Alexander (2007), The Origin of Buddhist Meditation, Routledge