Buddhist Meditation

Buddhist Meditation

Buddhist meditation is the practice of meditation in Buddhism. An important part of the Buddhist path is the cultivation of meditative and contemplative techniques that lead to altered states of consciousness, called dhyānas and samādhi in Indian languages.

These states of mind were considered to have the power to lead to a deeper kind of knowledge about the nature of the world. The closest terms for "meditation" in the classical languages of Buddhism are bhāvanā ("cultivation, development, production") and jhāna or dhyāna (meditative absorption).

Buddhists practice meditation as part of the Buddhist path toward liberation from impurities (kleshas) and craving (upādāna). This liberation is called awakening (bodhi) or nirvana.

There are many and varied Buddhist meditation techniques depending on each tradition, for example in the Visuddhimagga (The Way of Purification) of the theravāda school, up to 40 meditative methods are listed.

Buddhist contemplative methods may include asubha bhavana (reflections on the aversive nature of the body), reflection on dependent arising, mindfulness practices such as satipatthana, anussati (recollections or remembrances), anapanasati (breath meditation), and the brahma-viharas (such as loving-kindness and compassion).

These techniques aim to develop qualities such as equanimity and mindfulness, samadhi (concentration), samatha (tranquility), and vipassanā (insight). These meditation techniques are preceded and combined with practices that aid this development, such as moral restraint and right effort to develop healthy states of mind.

Although these techniques are used in the various Buddhist schools, there is also great diversity. In the Theravada tradition, meditation techniques are generally classified as samatha (calming the mind) and vipassana (gaining insight).

East Asian Buddhism retained a wide range of meditation techniques, dating back to Sarvastivada Buddhism and Indian Mahayana Buddhism. Tibetan Buddhism includes unique forms of tantric meditation, such as deity yoga, which includes visualization and mantras, as well as yogic practices that make use of the subtle body, such as the six dharmas of Naropa.

Pre-Buddhist India

The two main traditions of meditative practice in pre-Buddhist India were the Jain ascetic practices and the various Vedic practices of the Brahmins. The degree to which these two traditions influenced the development of early Buddhist meditation continues to be debated in Buddhist scholarship.

Early Buddhist texts mention that Siddhartha Gautama trained with two teachers known as Āḷāra Kālāma and Uddaka Rāmaputta, both of whom taught "formless jhanas" or "mental absorptions of the immaterial plane," a key practice of Buddhist meditation. Alexander Wynne considers these historical figures associated with the doctrines of the early Upanishads.

ccording to modern indologists such as Johannes Bronkhorst, early Buddhist texts contain ascetic and meditative techniques that can be shown to be practices of the Jains of the pre-Buddhist era.

These are practices that include extreme fasting and forceful "breathless meditation. " According to early texts, the Buddha rejected the more extreme Jain ascetic practices in favor of the middle way.

Presectarian Buddhism

Early Buddhism, as it existed before the development of the various later Buddhist schools, is called presectarian Buddhism. Its meditation techniques are described in the Nikayas of the Pali Canon and the Chinese Agamas, as well as in other early Buddhist texts.

In the early texts, formal meditation is supported and preceded by numerous practices and disciplines. In the earliest sources, several key supporting elements for meditation include a correct worldview, ethical conduct (such as keeping the five precepts), restraint of the senses, and right effort.

Restraint of the senses means controlling the response to sensual perceptions, not giving in to lust or aversion, but simply noticing the objects of perception as they appear.

Right effort aims to prevent the arising of unwholesome states and to generate wholesome states. By following these preparatory steps and practices, the mind prepares itself, almost naturally, for the practice of meditation.


Ancient sources contain an outline of various meditations or contemplations that are called anussati (pāli; Sanskrit: anusmriti). The term means "recollection," "contemplation," or "remembrance. "

In various contexts, Pali literature and Mahayana sutras in Sanskrit highlight and identify different enumerations of remembrances. In the Anguttara Nikaya (AN 1.287-296), ten contemplations are named:

Recollection of the Buddha (pali. buddhānussati, Skt. buddhanusmrti)
Remembrance of the Dhamma (pali. dhammānussati, Skt. dharmanusmrti)
Recollection of the Sangha (pali. saṅghānussati, Skt. sanghanusmrti)
Remembrance of generosity (pali. cāgānussati).
Remembrance of ethics (Pali. sīlānussati)

Remembrance of the devas (pali. devatānussati).
Remembrance of death (pali. maraṇānussati).
Remembrance of the body (pali. kāyagatāsati).
Remembrance of breath (pali. ānāpānasati).
Remembrance of peace (pali. upasamānussati).

In the Anguttara Nikaya of the Pali canon, it is stated that the practice of any of these ten remembrances leads to nirvana. The Visuddhimagga identifies the Ten Remembrances as meditation subjects useful for developing the concentration necessary to suppress and destroy the five hindrances.

Mindfulness and satipaṭṭhāna.

An important quality for a Buddhist meditator to cultivate is mindfulness (sati). Mindfulness is a multipurpose term that refers to remembering, open receptive attention and keeping something in mind.

It also refers to remembering the Buddha's teachings and knowing how these teachings relate to one's own experiences. Buddhist texts mention different types of mindfulness practice.

In the Satipaṭṭhāna sutta and its parallel texts, as well as in numerous other early Buddhist texts, the Buddha identifies four foundations for mindfulness (Pali: satipaṭṭṭhāna, Skt: smṛtyupasthāna): the body (including the four elements, the parts of the body, and death); the feelings (vedana); the mind (citta); and the phenomena or principles (dhammas, such as the five hindrances and the seven factors of enlightenment).

Different ancient texts offer different enumerations of these four mindfulness practices. Meditation on these subjects is said to develop perception.

Satipaṭṭhāna (Pali; Skt: smṛtyupasthāna) is an important Buddhist term meaning "establishment of mindfulness," "presence of mindfulness," or, alternatively, "foundations of mindfulness." 

Indologist Rupert Gethin argues that satipaṭṭhāna derives from sati+upaṭṭṭhāna, and defines it as "the activity of observing or watching the body, feelings, mind, and dhammas," as well as "a quality of mind that 'serves' the mind," or a "presence of mind. "

Gethin further notes that sati ('mindfulness') refers to "remembering" or "keeping in mind" something. It is to keep something in mind without wavering or losing it.

According to the learned monk Bhikkhu Anālayo, sati does not literally mean memory, but "that which facilitates and enables memory." This is particularly applicable in the context of satipaṭṭhāna, where sati refers not to remembering past events, but to an "awareness of the present moment," and to remembering to remain in that awareness (especially if one's attention wanders).

He also states that sati is a detached, uninvolved, non-reactive observation that does not interfere with what is observing (such an active function is instead associated with right effort, not mindfulness). This allows one to clearly attend to things in a more sober, objective and unbiased way.

Bhikkhu Bodhi writes that sati is "a presence of mind, attention or awareness," as well as "a bare attention, a detached observation of what is happening within us and around us in the present moment...the mind is trained to remain in the present, open, calm, alert, contemplating the present event."

According to Bhikkhu Sujato, mindfulness is "the quality of mind that recalls and focuses awareness within an appropriate frame of reference, keeping in mind the what, why and how of the task at hand. "

Satipaṭṭhāna, in turn, provides the specific meditation topics for mindfulness meditation practice. It is "a prescription of how to practice," which, "introduces certain specific objects of meditation. " Likewise, according to Thanissaro Bhikkhu, the "four frames of reference" (satipaṭṭhāna) are "a set of teachings showing where a meditator should focus attention and how. "

Contemplation of the breath

Ānāpānasati (Sanskrit: ānāpānasmṛti, "mindfulness of breathing"), is a fundamental meditation practice in numerous Buddhist traditions, including Theravada and Zen, as well as in many mindfulness programs.

In a general sense, Anapanasati generally refers to paying attention to the breathing process and using it as a meditative focus. Both in ancient times and today, anapanasati is one of the most widely used Buddhist methods for contemplating bodily phenomena.

A traditional method given by the Buddha in the Ānāpānasati Sutta is to go to the forest and sit under a tree and then simply contemplate the process of breathing and note its duration. The meditator then calms his breath until it becomes very subtle and calm.

The meditator then trains his mind to be sensitive to happiness, bliss and various other mental processes. This leads to a very peaceful and calm state, which is then applied to the development of the seven mental factors that lead to enlightenment.

Reflection on the unpleasant

One of the main contemplative practices taught in early Buddhist sources is asubha-bhavana ("reflection on unpleasantness"). It includes two practices: cemetery contemplations and reflections on disgust.

Cemetery contemplations (Pali: maranasati: contemplation on death, or memento mori), in which one contemplates the various stages of a corpse's decomposition (either in the imagination or by being physically present next to a corpse).

The Satipatthana Sutta (MN 10) and the Kayagata-sati Sutta (MN: 119) include sections on cemetery contemplations that focus on nine stages of corpse decomposition The meditator is supposed to meditate on how his own body will also be in this state at death.

The cultivation of Maranassati is said to lead to right effort and also helps develop a sense of spiritual urgency (saṃvega) and renunciation (nekkhamma).

According to the Maranassatisutta, a monk should reflect on the many possibilities that could bring death and then direct his thoughts to the unskillful mental qualities that he has yet to abandon.

"Just as a person whose turban or head is on fire would put forth effort, diligence, endeavor, mindfulness, and alertness to extinguish the fire in his head, the monk should put forth effort to abandon those same perverse and unskillful qualities. "

Paṭikkūlamanasikāra, "reflections on disgust." Paṭikkūlamanasikāra is a meditation in which thirty-one parts of the body are contemplated in various ways.

In addition to developing mindfulness and samādhi (concentration, dhyana), this form of meditation is considered conducive to overcoming desire and lust. In the Pali tradition, the 31 different parts of the body are:

head hairs (pali: kesā), body hairs (lomā), nails (nakhā), teeth (dantā), skin (taco), flesh (maṃsaṃ), tendons (nahāru), bones (aṭṭhi), bone marrow (aṭṭhimiñjaṃ), kidneys (vakkaṃ), heart (hadayaṃ), liver (yakanaṃ), pleura (kilomakaṃ), spleen (pihakaṃ), lungs (papphāsaṃ), large intestine (antaṃ), small intestine (antaguṇaṃ), undigested food (udariyaṃ), feces (karīsaṃ), bile (pittaṃ), phlegm (semhaṃ), pus (pubbo), blood (lohitaṃ), sweat (sedo), fat (medo), tears (assu), skin oil (vasā), saliva (kheḷo), mucus (siṅghānikā), joint fluid (lasikā), urine (muttaṃ). 

The name of this type of meditation is found in the sectional headings used in the Mahasatipatthana Sutta (Dīgha Nikāya 22) and in the Satipatthana Sutta (MN 10).


Many ancient Buddhist scholars, such as Vetter, Bronkhorst, and Anālayo, consider the practice of jhāna (Sanskrit: dhyāna, "contemplation," "meditation," "absorption") to be a central part of ancient Buddhist spirituality. According to Bronkhorst and Vetter, the oldest Buddhist meditation practice is the four dhyānas and the practice of mindfulness (Pali: sati).

According to Gethin, they are states of "perfect mindfulness, stillness and lucidity. " They are described in the Pali Canon as trance-like states without desire. In the early texts, the Buddha is depicted as entering jhāna both before his awakening under the bodhi tree and also before his final nirvana (see: the Mahāsaccaka-sutta and the Mahāparinibbāṇa Sutta).

Alexander Wynne agrees that the Buddha taught the four dhyānas, but argues that the Buddha adopted them from the Brahmin masters Āḷāra Kālāma and Uddaka Rāmaputta.

However, the Buddha rejected his Vedic goal of union with Brahman and thus reinterpreted the four dhyānas as referring primarily to states of mind that could be useful for attaining insight or wisdom (leading to liberation).

The Pali nikayas and Chinese agamas describe four jhānas, each having different qualities and becoming increasingly subtle.The qualities associated with the first four jhanas are as follows:

First dhyāna: one can enter the first dhyāna when one isolates oneself from sensuality and unskillful qualities. There is non-sensual pīti (bliss) and sukha (pleasure) as a result of seclusion, while vitarka and vicara (directed thought and inquiry) continue.

Second dhyāna: there is pīti ("bliss") and nonsensual sukha ("pleasure") as a result of concentration (samadhi-ji, "born of samadhi"). In this state there is also ekaggata (unification of consciousness) and inner tranquility. Vitarka ("directed thought") and vicara ("evaluation") have disappeared in this meditation.

Third dhyāna: there is conscious and alert equanimity (upekkha) and one feels bodily pleasure.

Fourth dhyāna: this state is one of pure equanimity and mindfulness (upekkhāsatipārisuddhi) where there is neither pleasure nor pain.

Several early sources mention how liberating insight or wisdom (prajña) is attained after the practice of the dhyānas. For example, in the Mahasaccaka sutta, the dhyāna is followed by the perception of the four noble truths.

Some scholars, such as Bronkhorst and Vetter, have argued that the idea that insight leads to liberation was a later development in Buddhism and that there are inconsistencies with the early Buddhist presentation of samadhi and insight.

However, others such as Collett Cox and Damien Keown have argued that insight or discernment (prajña) is a key aspect of the ancient Buddhist liberation process, which cooperates with samadhi to remove obstacles to enlightenment (i.e., the āsavas).

Immaterial attainments.

In addition to the four jhānas, there are also four subtle meditative attainments called āyatana (dimension, sphere, base). They are also sometimes called the "immaterial jhānas" in later scholastic literature. These four are:

The dimension of infinite space (Pali: ākāsānañcāyatana, Skt: ākāśānantyāyatana),
The dimension of infinite consciousness (viññāṇañcāyatana, vijññānānantyāyatana),

The dimension of infinite nothingness (ākiñcañāyatana, ākiṃcanyāyatana),
The dimension of neither perception nor non-perception (nevasañññānāsaññāyatana, naivasaṃjñānāsaṃjñāyatana).

There is also another high-level meditative attainment mentioned in the early sources, this is called nirodha-samāpatti (the attainment of cessation) also called saññā-vedayita-nirodha, "the extinction of sensation and perception. "

The four heavenly abodes.

Another important set of contemplations in the early sources are the four immeasurables or four celestial abodes (brahmavihāras) that are said to lead to "liberation of mind" (cetovimutti, i.e. dhyana). They are also associated with a class of devas called brahmas and their celestial realms.

The four brahmavihāras are:

Friendship, loving-kindness (pāli: mettā, Sanskrit: maitrī) is active goodwill toward all;

Affection (pāli and Sanskrit: karuṇā) results from metta, is identifying the suffering of others as one's own and wanting to help them;

Empathic joy (pāli and Sanskrit: muditā): is the feeling of joy because others are happy, even if one has not contributed to it; it is a form of sympathetic joy;
Equanimity (pāli: upekkhā, Sanskrit: upekṣā): is serenity, treating everyone with impartiality.

According to the learned monk Anālayo:

The effect of cultivating the brahmavihāras as a liberation of the mind finds its illustration in a simile describing a conch shell blower who is able to make himself heard in all directions.

This illustrates how the brahmavihāras must develop as a limitless radiation in all directions, as a result of which they cannot be nullified by other, more limited karma.

The practice of the four divine abodes can be seen as a way to overcome ill will and sensual desire and to train oneself in the quality of deep concentration (samadhi).

Samatha (serenity) and vipassanā (insight).

The Buddha is said to have identified two important mental qualities that arise from wholesome meditative practice:

"serenity" or "tranquility" (samatha) that stabilizes, composes, unifies and concentrates the mind;

"insight" or "clear vision" (vipassanā) that enables one to see, explore, and discern the nature of reality and conditioned phenomena.

It is said that tranquility meditation can lead to the attainment of supernatural powers such as psychic powers and mind reading, while insight meditation can lead to the realization of nibbāna.

In the Pali canon, the Buddha never mentions separate samatha and vipassana meditation practices; instead, samatha and vipassana are two qualities of mind, to be developed through meditation.

However, some meditation practices favor the development of samatha, others favor the development of vipassana (such as contemplation of the aggregates), while others (such as mindfulness of breathing) are classically used to develop both mental qualities.

In the Sutta on the Four Ways of Becoming an Arhat (AN 4.170), Ananda reports that people attain the status of arahat by using serenity and insight in one of three ways:

they develop serenity and then insight.
develop insight and then serenity

They develop serenity and insight together, as, for example, by attaining the first jhana, and then seeing in the associated aggregates the three marks of existence, before moving on to the second jhana.

Through the meditative development of serenity, one is able to suppress obscure obstacles; and, with the suppression of obstacles, it is through the meditative development of insight that one attains liberating wisdom.

Furthermore, the Buddha is said to have extolled serenity and insight as conduits to attaining nirvana, the unconditioned state. In the Kimsuka Tree Sutta (SN 35.245) the Buddha provides an elaborate metaphor in which serenity and insight are "the swift pair of messengers" delivering the message of nirvana through the noble eightfold path.


The oldest sources of the theravāda tradition on meditation are found in the Pali Canon, which includes the abhidamma (theravada scholastic works) and texts such as the Patisambhidamagga (The Path of Discrimination) that provide commentaries to meditation suttas such as the anapanasati sutta.

Later works of medieval scholasticism expanded and developed the earlier meditation teachings.


An early theravāda meditation manual is the Vimuttimagga (Way of Freedom, c. 1st or 2nd century AD). The most influential theravāda scholar is Buddhaghoṣa, author of the 5th-century Visuddhimagga (Way of Purification), who seems to have been influenced by the earlier Vimuttimagga.

The doctrine of the Visuddhimagga reflects the scholasticism of the theravāda abhidhamma, which includes several innovations and interpretations not found in the early discourses (suttas) of the Buddha.

The text focuses on kasina meditation, a form of concentration meditation in which the mind is focused on a (mental) object (usually a colored disc).

The Visuddhimagga also describes forty meditation topics, most of which are found in the early texts. Buddhaghoṣa advises that a person should "apprehend from among the forty meditation topics one that suits his own temperament" on the advice of a "good friend" (kalyāṇa-mittatā) who is knowledgeable in the various meditation topics (ch. III, §28).

Buddhaghoṣa outlines the forty meditation topics as follows (ch. III, §104; ch. IV-XI):

ten kasinas: earth, water, fire, fire, air, blue, yellow, red, white, light, and "limited space".

ten kinds of digestible things (i.e., corpses): "the swollen, the livid, the festering, the cut, the gnawed, the scattered, the cut and scattered, the bleeding, the worm-infested, and the skeleton."

ten memories: Buddhānussati, the Dhamma, the Sangha, virtue, generosity, the virtues of the deities, death (see the Upajjhatthana Sutta), the body, breath (see anapanasati), and peace (see Nibbana).

four divine abodes: mettā, karuṇā, mudita and upekkha.
four immaterial states: limitless space, limitless perception, nothingness, and neither perception nor non-perception.

a perception of the disgusting nature of food.
a "defining" theme, i.e., the four elements.

After describing how to use the meditative themes to attain the various jhanas (meditative abstinences), Buddhaghosa (in the third part of the text, which focuses on insight or wisdom - pañña) next discusses the five skandhas (aggregates), the ayatanas (cognitive dimensions), the four noble truths, dependent origination (pratitya-samutpada), and the practice of vipassana that lead to the development of wisdom.

Contemporary Theravāda

Beginning in the 20th century, the Burmese vipassana movement has been particularly influential, especially the "New Burmese Method" or "Vipassanā School" approach, developed by Mingun Sayadaw and U Nārada and popularized by Mahasi Sayadaw.

Here samatha is considered an optional but not necessary component of the practice-vipassanā is possible without it. Another Burmese method popularized in the West, especially that of Pa-Auk Sayadaw, maintains the emphasis on samatha.

Other Burmese traditions, derived from Ledi Sayadaw through Sayagyi U Ba Khin and popularized in the West by Mother Sayamagyi and S. N. Goenka, take a similar approach. These Burmese traditions have influenced Western Theravada-oriented teachers, especially Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg and Jack Kornfield.

There are also other lesser-known Burmese meditation methods, such as the system developed by U Vimala, which focuses on mindfulness of dependent arising and cittanupassana (mindfulness of mind). Likewise, Sayadaw U Tejaniya's method also focuses on mindfulness.

In Thailand, perhaps the most influential development is the Thai Forest Tradition, which derives from Mun Bhuridatta and was popularized by Ajahn Chah. This tradition emphasizes the inseparability of samatha and vipassana. Other prominent practitioners of this tradition include Ajahn Thate and Ajahn Maha Bua, among others.

There are other forms of Thai Buddhist meditation associated with particular teachers, such as Buddhadasa Bhikkhu's presentation of anapanasati, Ajahn Lee's method of breathing meditation (which influenced his American student Thanissaro), and Luangpor Teean Cittasubho's "dynamic meditation".

There are other less conventional forms of Theravada meditation practiced in Thailand, such as the vijja dhammakaya meditation developed by Luang Pu Sodh Candasaro and the meditation of the former supreme patriarch Suk Kai Thuean (1733-1822).

Catherine Newell notes that these two forms of modern Thai meditation share certain characteristics in common with tantric practices, such as the use of visualizations and the centrality of body maps.

A less common type of meditation is practiced in Cambodia and Laos by followers of the borān-kammaṭṭhāna ("ancient practices") tradition. This form of meditation includes the use of mantras and visualizations.

Meditation in the Sarvāstivāda School

The Sarvāstivāda tradition (now defunct), and its related sub-schools such as the Sautrāntika and Vaibhāṣika, were the most influential Buddhists in northern India and Central Asia.

Their highly complex Abhidharma treatises, such as the Mahavibhasa (The Great Commentary on the Abhidharma), the Sravakabhumi (Stages of the Disciples), and the Abhidharmakosha, contain new developments in meditative theory that had a great influence on meditation as practiced in East Asian Mahayana and Tibetan Buddhism.

Individuals known as yogācāras (yoga practitioners) were influential in the development of Sarvāstivāda meditation praxis, and were also influential in the development of Mahayana meditation.

The dhyāna Sutras (Chinese, 禪経) or "meditation abstracts" (Chinese, 禪要) are a group of Buddhist meditation texts mostly based on the meditation teachings of the Sarvāstivāda school of Kashmir (c. 1st-4th centuries CE) and Gandhara. Most of the texts are only preserved in Chinese. They were key sources in the development of Chinese Buddhist meditation practices.

According to K.L. Dhammajoti, the practitioner of Sarvāstivāda meditation begins with the samatha meditations, divided into the fivefold mental stillnesses, each recommended as useful for particular personality types:

contemplation on the impure (asubhabhavana), for the person of the greedy type.
meditation on loving-kindness (maitri), for the hateful type
contemplation on conditioned arising, for the ignorant type
contemplation on the division of the dhatus (sources of experience), for the conceited type
attention to the breath (anapanasmrti), for the distracted type.

Contemplation of the impure, and attention to the breath, were particularly important in this system; they were known as the "gates to immortality" (amrta-dvāra).

The Sarvāstivāda system practiced meditation on the breath using the same sixteen-aspect model used in the anapanasati sutta, but also introduced a unique six-aspect system consisting of:

counting the breaths to ten,
following the breath as it enters through the nose into the whole body,
fixing the mind on the breath,
observing the breath in various places,

The modification is related to the practice of the four applications of mindfulness and the purification stage of the
purification stage of the arising of vision.

This method of sixfold breathing meditation was very influential in East Asia, and was expanded upon by the Chinese meditation master tiantai Zhiyi.

After the practitioner has attained tranquility, Sarvāstivāda masters then recommend that one proceeds to practice the four applications of mindfulness (smrti-upasthāna) in two ways. First one contemplates each specific feature of the four applications of mindfulness, and then one contemplates all four collectively.

Despite this systematic division of samatha and vipasyana meditation, the Sarvāstivāda masters maintained that the two practices are not mutually exclusive.

The Mahavibhasa, for example, notes that, in relation to the six aspects of mindfulness of breathing, "there is no fixed rule here-everyone can enter samatha or everyone can enter vipasyana. "

The Sarvāstivāda masters also held that attaining the dhyānas was necessary for the development of insight and wisdom.

Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism

Mahāyāna practice focuses on the path of the bodhisattva, a being who aspires to full Buddhahood. Meditation (dhyāna) is one of the transcendent virtues (paramitas) that a bodhisattva must perfect in order to attain Buddhahood and is therefore central to mahāyāna Buddhist praxis. Indian mahāyāna Buddhism was initially a loosely connected network of groups and associations, each drawing on diverse Buddhist texts, doctrines, and meditation methods.

Because of this, there is no single set of Indian mahāyāna practices that can be said to apply to all Indian mahāyānists, nor is there a single set of texts that were used by all of them.

Textual evidence shows that many mahāyāna Buddhists in northern India, as well as in Central Asia, practiced meditation in a manner similar to that of the Sarvāstivāda.

This can be seen in the most comprehensive and extensive Indian mahāyāna treatise on the practice of meditation, the Yogācārabhūmi-Śāstra (The Treatise on the Fundamentals for Yoga Practitioners, compiled around the fourth century).

The Yogācārabhūmi is a compendium that explains in detail the theory of yogācāra meditation, and expounds numerous methods of meditation as well as related advice.

Among the topics covered in this text are the various themes of early Buddhist meditation, such as the four dhyānas, the different types of samādhi, the development of insight (vipaśyanā), and tranquility (śamatha), the four foundations of mindfulness (smṛtyupasthāna) the five hindrances (nivaraṇa), and classical Buddhist meditations such as contemplation of unattractiveness (aśubhasaṃjnā), impermanence (anitya), suffering (duḥkha), and contemplation of death (maraṇasaṃjñā).

Other works of the yogācāra school, such as Asaṅga's Abhidharmasamuccaya, and Vasubandhu's Madhyāntavibhāga-bhāsya also deal with meditation topics such as mindfulness, smṛtyupasthāna, the 37 wings of awakening, and samadhi.

Mahāyāna Sutras

Some mahāyāna sutras also teach classical Buddhist meditation practices. For example, the Mahāratnakūṭa Sūtra and the Mahāprajñāpāramitā Sūtra teach the four fundamentals of mindfulness.

The Prajñāpāramitā Sutras are some of the earliest mahāyāna sutras. Their teachings focus on the bodhisattva path (i.e., the paramitas), the most important of which is the perfection of transcendent knowledge or prajñāpāramitā.

This knowledge is associated with the early Buddhist practice of the three samādhis (meditative concentrations): emptiness (śūnyatā), signlessness (animitta), and desirelessness or apraṇihita. These three samadhis are also mentioned in the Mahāprajñāpāramitōpadeśa (Ch. Dà zhìdù lùn), chapter X.

In the Prajñāpāramitā Sutras, prajñāpāramitā is described as a type of samādhi that is also a deep understanding of reality that arises from meditative insight and that is totally nonconceptual and completely without attachment to any person, thing, or idea.

The Aṣṭasāhasrikā Prajñāpāramitā, possibly the oldest of these texts, also equates prajñāpāramitā with what it calls the aniyato (unrestricted) samādhi, "the samādhi of not taking (aparigṛhīta) any dharma," and "the samādhi of not clinging to (anupādāna) any dharma" (as a self). According to Shi Huifeng, this meditative concentration:

'involves not only not clinging to the five aggregates as representing all phenomena, but also not clinging to the very notion of the five aggregates, to their existence or nonexistence, to their impermanence or eternity, to their unsatisfactory or satisfactory being, to their emptiness or being, to their generation or cessation, and so on with other antithetical pairs.

To thus misperceive the aggregates is to "course in a sign" (nimite carati; xíng xiāng 行相), that is, to engage in signs and the conceptualization of phenomena, and not to course in Prajñāpāramitā. Even to perceive oneself as a bodhisattva curating, or the Prajñāpāramitā in which one curates, are equally curating in signs.

Other Indian mahāyāna texts show innovative new methods that were unique to mahāyāna Buddhism. Texts such as the Pure Land sutras, the Akṣobhya-vyūha Sūtra, and the Pratyutpanna Samādhi Sūtra teach meditations on a particular Buddha (such as Amitābha or Akshobhia).

Through repetition of his name or some other phrase and certain visualization methods, one is said to be able to meet a Buddha face to face or at least be reborn in a Buddha-field (also known as a "pure land") such as Abhirati and Sukhavati after death.

The Pratyutpanna Samādhi Sūtra, for example, states that if one practices Buddha-remembering (buddhānusmṛti) by visualizing a Buddha in their Buddha-field and developing this samadhi for about seven days, they may be able to meet this Buddha in a vision or dream to learn the dharma from them.

Alternatively, being reborn in one of their Buddha-fields allows one to meet a Buddha and study directly with them, enabling one to attain Buddhahood more quickly. A set of sutras known as the Visualization Sutras also describe similar innovative practices using mental imagery.

These practices have been considered by some scholars as a possible explanation for the source of certain mahāyāna sutras that are traditionally viewed as direct visionary revelations from Buddhas in their pure lands.

Memorization and recitation.

Another popular practice was the memorization and recitation of various texts, such as sutras, mantras, and dharanis. According to Akira Hirakawa, the practice of reciting dharanis (chants or incantations) became very important in Indian mahāyāna.

These chants were believed to have "the power to preserve good and prevent evil," as well as being useful for attaining meditative concentration or samadhi. Important mahāyāna sutras, such as the Lotus Sutra, the Heart Sutra, and others, include dharanis.

Ryûichi Abé states that dharanis also figure prominently in the Prajñāpāramitā Sutras, in which the Buddha "praises dharani enchantment, along with the cultivation of samadhi, as a virtuous activity of a bodhisattva. " Dharanis also figure in the Mahāprajñāpāramitōpadeśa, Chapter X, as an important quality of a bodhisattva.

Later mahāyāna treatises.

A later mahāyāna work dealing with meditation practice is Shantideva's Bodhicaryāvatāra (8th century), which describes how a bodhisattva's meditation was understood in the late Indian mahāyāna period.

Shantideva begins by asserting that isolating the body and mind from the world (and from discursive thoughts) is necessary for the practice of meditation, which must begin with the practice of tranquility (śamatha).

He promotes classical practices such as meditating on corpses and living in forests, but these are preliminary to mahāyāna practices, which focus initially on generating bodhicitta, a mind determined to awaken for the benefit of all beings.

An important part of this practice is to cultivate and practice the realization that oneself and other beings are actually the same, and therefore all suffering, not just "mine," must be eliminated.

Shantideva calls this meditation "the exchange of self and other" and considers it the pinnacle of meditation, as it both provides a basis for ethical action and cultivates insight into the nature of reality, i.e., emptiness.

Another late Indian mahāyāna meditation text is the Bhāvanākrama (stages of meditation, ninth century) of Kamalaśīla, which teaches perception (vipaśyanā) and tranquility (śamatha) from the perspective of the yogācāra-madhyamaka school.

Mahāyāna of East Asia

The forms of meditation practiced during the early stages of Chinese Buddhism did not differ much from those of Indian Mahayana Buddhism, although they contained developments that may have arisen in Central Asia.

The works of the Chinese translator An Shigao (安世高, c. 147-168 CE) are some of the earliest meditation texts used by Chinese Buddhism and focus on mindfulness of breathing (annabanna, 安那般那).

The Chinese translator and scholar Kumarajiva (344-413 CE) transmitted several meditation works, including a meditation treatise entitled The samādhi sūtra on sitting meditation (坐禅三昧经, T.614, K.991) that teaches the Sarvāstivāda system.

These texts are known as the dhyāna sutras. They reflect the meditation practices of Kashmiri Buddhists, influenced by the Sarvāstivāda and Sautrantika meditation teachings, but also by Mahayana Buddhism.

East Asian Yogācāra

The East Asian yogācāra school or "school of single consciousness" (Ch. wéishí-zōng), known in Japan as the Hossō school was a very influential tradition of Chinese Buddhism.

They practiced various forms of meditation. According to Alan Sponberg, they included a class of visualization exercises, one of which focused on constructing a mental image of the bodhisattva Maitreya in the Tusita sky.

A biography of the Chinese master and translator Xuanzang describes him practicing this type of meditation. The goal of this practice seems to have been rebirth in the Tusita heaven, in order to meet Maitreya and study Buddhism under his guidance.

Another method of meditation practiced in Chinese yogācāra is the so-called "five-level discernment of the vijñapti-mātra (impressions only)," introduced by Xuanzang's disciple Kuījī (632-682), which became one of the most important teachings of East Asian yogācāra.

According to Sponberg, this type of vipasyana meditation was an attempt to "penetrate into the true nature of reality by understanding the three aspects of existence in five successive steps or stages." These stages or progressive ways of seeing (kuan) the world are:

"discard the false - preserve the real" (ch 'ien-hsu ts'un-shih).
"renouncing the diffuse - retaining the pure" (she-lan liu-ch 'un)
"to gather in the extensions - to return to the source" (she-mo kuei-pen)
"suppress the subordinate - manifest the superior" (yin-lueh hsien-sheng)
"discarding phenomenal aspects - realizing the true nature" (ch 'ien-hsiang cheng-hsing)

Tiantai Buddhism

The highly systematic and comprehensive meditation methods of the tiantai school were very influential in the Chinese Buddhist tradition. Tiantai meditation is based primarily on the works of Zhiyi, which emphasize various methods of śamatha and vipaśyanā (Ch. zhǐ-guān).

Zhiyi's Śamathavipaśyanā Concise (小止観), Mohe Zhiguan (摩訶止観, Sanskrit Mahāśamathavipaśyanā), and Six Subtle Dharma Gates (六妙法門) are the most influential. Rujun Wu identifies Zhiyi's Mahā-śamatha-vipaśyanā as the seminal meditation text of the tiantai school. In his Śamathavipaśyanā Concise, Zhiyi states:

The attainment of nirvāṇa is realizable by many methods whose essential elements do not go beyond the practice of śamatha and vipaśyanā. Śamatha is the first step in untying all bondages and vipaśyanā is essential for uprooting delusion.

Śamatha provides nourishment for the preservation of the knowing mind, and vipaśyanā is the skillful art of promoting spiritual understanding. Śamatha is the unsurpassed cause of samādhi, while vipaśyanā engenders wisdom.

Zhiyi's magnum opus, the Great Śamathavipaśyanā (Móhē-zhǐ-guān), outlines his system of meditation as consisting of 25 preparatory practices, four types of samadhi, and ten modes of contemplation. Zhiyi regarded the four samadhis as the main pillar of tiantai meditation practice. The four samadhis are:

Constantly Sitting Samādhi (chángzuò sānmèi 常坐三昧) - 90 days of sitting motionless, leaving the seat only for reasons of natural necessity.

Samādhi of steady walking (chángxíng sānmèi 常行三昧) - 90 days of mindful walking and meditating on Amitabha.

Samādhi performed walking and sitting (bànxíng bànzuò sānmèi 半行半坐三昧) - Includes various practices such as chanting, contemplation of the emptiness of all dharmas and "Lotus samādhi" which includes penance, prayer, worship of the Buddhas and recitation of the Lotus sutra.

Samādhi of none (fēixíng fēizuò sānmèi 非行非坐三昧) - This includes "awareness of mental factors" when they arise in the mind. They are to be contemplated as "do not move, do not originate, do not become extinct, do not come, do not go."

The tiantai school also places great emphasis on ānāpānasmṛti, or mindfulness of the breath, in accordance with the principles of śamatha and vipaśyanā.

Zhiyi classifies breathing into four main categories: panting (喘), leisurely breathing (風), deep, calm breathing (氣), and stillness or rest (息). Zhiyi holds that the first three types of breathing are incorrect, while the fourth is correct, and that breathing should attain stillness and rest.

Huayan school

The Huayan school was an important school of Chinese Buddhism, which also greatly influenced Chan (Zen) Buddhism. An important element of their meditation theory and practice is what was called the "fourfold dharmadhatu" (sifajie, 四法界).

The dharmadhatu (法界) is the goal of bodhisattva practice, the ultimate nature of reality or the deepest truth to be known and realized through meditation. According to Fox, the fourfold dharmadhatu is "four cognitive approaches to the world, four ways of apprehending reality."

The meditation of the Huayan school aims to progressively ascend through these four "increasingly holographic perspectives on a single phenomenological multiplicity." These four ways of seeing or knowing reality are:

All dharmas are seen as separate particular events or phenomena (shi 事). This is the mundane way of seeing.

All events are an expression of li (理, the absolute, principle or noumenon), which is associated with the concepts of shunyata, "the One Mind" (yi xin 一心) and buddha nature. This level of understanding or perspective of reality is associated with meditation on "true emptiness."

Shi and Li are seen as interpenetrating (lishi wuai 理事無礙), this is illuminated by meditation on the "non-obstruction of principle and phenomena".

All events interpenetrate (shishi wuai 事事無礙), "all distinct phenomenal dharmas interfere and permeate all senses" (as Master Zongmi says). This is seen through meditation on "universal omnipresence and complete accommodation."

According to Paul Williams, the reading and recitation of the Avatamsaka sutra was also a central practice for the tradition, for monks and laypeople.

Pure Land Buddhism

In Pure Land Buddhism, repeating the name Amitābha is traditionally a form of mindfulness of the Buddha (Skt. buddhānusmṛti). This term was translated into Chinese as nianfo (in traditional Chinese: 念佛).

The practice is described as calling the Buddha to mind by repeating his name, to enable the practitioner to bring his or her full attention to that Buddha (samādhi).

This can be done vocally or mentally, and with or without the use of Buddhist prayer beads. Those who practice this method usually commit to a fixed set of repetitions per day, often from 50,000 to over 500,000.

The repetition of the dhāraṇī of Pure Land Rebirth is another method of meditation in Pure Land Buddhism. The repetition of this dhāraṇī is said to be very popular among traditional Chinese Buddhists.

Another practice found in Pure Land Buddhism is the meditative contemplation and visualization of Amitābha, his attendant bodhisattvas, and the Pure Land. The basis for this is found in the Amitāyurdhyāna Sūtra (The Meditation Sūtra of Amitābha).

Chan (Zen)

The chan (Zen) school is famous for its emphasis on sitting meditation (坐禅, Ch. zuòchán, Jp. zazen, Ko. jwaseon). During sitting meditation, practitioners usually adopt a position such as lotus, half-lotus, or seiza, often using the dhyāna mudrā.

Often, a square or round cushion placed on a cushioned mat is used for sitting. In other cases, a chair may be used. Various techniques and forms of meditation are used in different Zen traditions. Attention to the breath is a common practice, used to develop concentration and mental focus.

Another common form of sitting meditation is the so-called "silent enlightenment" (Ch. mòzhào, Jp. mokushō). This practice was traditionally promoted by the Caodong school of Chinese Chan and is associated with Hongzhi Zhengjue (1091-1157).

In Hongzhi's practice of "nondual objectless meditation," the mediator strives to be aware of the totality of phenomena rather than focusing on a single object. They meditate in this way without any interference, conceptualization, grasping, goal-seeking, or subject-object duality.

This practice is also popular in the major schools of Japanese Zen, but especially in Sōtō, where it developed into a practice known as shikantaza (Ch. zhǐguǎn dǎzuò, "just sitting").

During the Sòng dynasty, a new method of meditation was popularized by figures such as Dahui, which was called kanhua chan ("observe the phrase" meditation) that referred to contemplation on a single word or phrase (called the huatou, "critical phrase") of a gōng'àn (koan). In Chinese chan and Korean seon, this practice of "observing the huatou" (hwadu in Korean) is a widely practiced method.

In the Japanese rinzai school, introspection kōan developed its own formalized style, with a standardized curriculum of kōans that must be studied and "passed" in sequence. This process includes standardized questions and answers during a private interview with the Zen master himself.

Inquiry into the kōans can be practiced during zazen (sitting meditation), kinhin (walking meditation), and throughout all activities of daily life. The goal of the practice is often referred to as kensho (seeing one's true nature). The practice of kōan is particularly emphasized in the rinzai school, but also occurs in other schools or branches of Zen depending on the line of teaching.

Tantric and Esoteric Meditations

Tantric Buddhism (also known as esoteric Buddhism, vajrayāna or secret mantra) refers to several traditions that developed in India from the 5th century onwards and then spread to the Himalayan and East Asian regions.

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, it is also known as vajrayāna (Tib. dorje thegpa "the vehicle of the indestructible weapon"), while in East Asian Buddhism it is known as zhenyan (Ch: 真言, "true word", "mantra"), as well as mìjiao (esoteric teaching).

In Japan, tantric practices are known as mikkyō (esoteric practices) and are part of shingon, tendai, and also Zen Buddhism (to a lesser extent).
Tantric Buddhism generally includes all traditional forms of Mahayana meditation, but focuses on several unique forms of "tantric" or "esoteric" meditation, which are considered faster and more effective.

These tantric Buddha forms are derived from texts called the Buddhist tantras. To practice these advanced techniques, it is usually required to be initiated into the practice by an esoteric master (Sanskrit: acarya) or guru (Tib. lama) in a ritual consecration called abhiseka (Tib. wang).

Tibetan Vajrayana

In Tibetan Buddhism, tantric meditations are known as "the practice of the secret mantra," "the process of meditation on the indestructible way of the secret mantra," and also as "the way of the mantra," "the way of the method," and "the secret way. " These practices are considered by Tibetan Buddhists to be the fastest and most powerful path to Buddhahood.

In Tibetan Buddhism, higher tantric yogas are usually preceded by preliminary practices (Tib. ngondro), which include sutrayana practices (i.e., non-tantric mahayana practices) as well as preliminary tantric meditations. Tantric initiation is necessary to enter into tantra practice.

The central defining form of vajrayana meditation is deity yoga (devatayoga). This practice involves the recitation of mantras, prayers, and visualization of the yidam or deity (usually the form of a Buddha or bodhisattva) along with the associated mandala of the pure land of the deity.

Advanced deity yoga involves imagining oneself as the deity and developing "divine pride," the realization that oneself and the deity are not separate. In Tibetan Buddhism, the class of tantras called the unsurpassed yoga tantras, (Skt. anuttarayogatantra, also known as mahayoga) is itself considered the most superior of all tantric practices.

The tantric practice of anuttarayoga is divided into two stages, the generation stage and the culmination stage. In the generation stage, one meditates on emptiness and visualizes the chosen deity (yidam), its mandala and accompanying deities, which results in identification with this divine reality (called "divine pride").

In the culmination stage, the focus shifts from the deity form to the direct realization of ultimate reality (which is variously defined and explained). The practices of the culmination stage also include techniques that work with the substances of the subtle body (Skt. bindu, tib. thigle) and the "vital winds" (vayu), as well as with the luminous nature of the mind.

They are often grouped into different systems, such as the six dharmas of Naropa, or the six yogas of Kalachakra.

A fundamental theory of tantric practice is the theory of transformation, which states that negative mental factors, such as desire, hatred, greed, pride, can be utilized and transformed as part of the path to liberation.

This view can be seen in the Hevajra tantra, which states: "by passion the world is bound, by passion it is also liberated" and "one who knows the nature of poison can dispel poison with poison. "

Another distinctive feature of tantric yoga in Tibetan Buddhism is that tantra uses the resulting state of buddhahood as the path (or in some schools such as Gelug, a similitude of buddhahood). It is therefore known as the effect vehicle or result vehicle (phalayana) that "brings the effect to the path. "

Other forms of meditation in Tibetan Buddhism include the mahamudra and dzogchen teachings, taught by the Kagyu and Nyingma lineages respectively. The aim of these is to become familiar with the ultimate nature of mind that underlies all existence, the dharmakāya.

There are also other practices such as dream yoga, tummo (inner fire), yoga of the intermediate state (in death) or bardo, sexual yoga and chöd.

Esoteric Buddhism of East Asia

Chinese esoteric Buddhism focused on a different set of tantras than Tibetan Buddhism (such as Mahavairocana Tantra and Vajrasekhara), so its practices come from these different sources, although they revolve around similar techniques such as visualization of mandalas, mantra recitation and the use of mudras.

This also applies to the Japanese shingon school and the tendai school (which, although derived from the tiantai school, also adopted esoteric practices).

In the tradition of East Asian esoteric praxis, the use of mudras, mantras, and mandalas are considered to be the "three modes of action" associated with the "three mysteries" (sanmi 三密), which are considered the hallmarks of esoteric Buddhism.

These "three modes of action" or "ritual technologies" are the "secrets" of body, speech and mind" and are revealed in the abhisheka (coronation) ritual in which initiates took tantric samaya vows. Other exclusively esoteric features include homa fire rituals, ajikan (阿字観, which is based on the visualization of a siddham letter A) and dharani.

The use of ritual magic and spells for spiritual and worldly benefit was also a feature of Chinese esoteric Buddhism.

Therapeutic uses of meditation

In the 20th and 21st centuries, mindfulness and Buddhist meditation techniques began to be advocated for (secular) psychological purposes by psychologists and Buddhist meditation experts such as Thích Nhất Hạnh, Pema Chödrön, S. N. Goenka, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jack Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, Tara Brach, and Sharon Salzberg.

These figures are credited with playing an important role in integrating the healing aspects of Buddhist meditation practices with modern psychology. Although mindfulness meditation has received the most research attention, loving-kindness meditation (metta) is beginning to be used in a wide range of research in the fields of psychology and neuroscience.

Clinical psychologists, theorists, and researchers have also incorporated Buddhist practices into widespread formalized psychotherapies. Buddhist mindfulness practices have been explicitly incorporated into a variety of psychological treatments.

Two popular therapeutic practices that utilize Buddhist mindfulness techniques are Jon Kabat-Zinn's Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) and Marsha M. Linehan's Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). Other prominent therapies using mindfulness are Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) by Steven C. Hayes and Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT).

In Japan, psychotherapy and Buddhist meditation practices have also been synthesized in different ways. Morita therapy was developed by Shoma Morita (1874-1938), who was influenced by Zen Buddhism.

Another important researcher in this field, Professor Yoshiharu Akishige, promoted Zen psychology, i.e., the idea that the ideas of Zen should not only be studied, but should inform psychological practice. Research in this field continues with the work of Japanese psychologists such as Akira Onda and Osamu Ando.

Another popular Buddhist-based psychotherapy is Naikan therapy, developed from the Buddhist introspection Jōdo Shinshū by Ishin Yoshimoto (1916-1988). Naikan therapy is used in correctional institutions, in education, to treat alcohol dependence, as well as by individuals seeking self-development.

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