Buddhist Meditation

Bhikkhu T. Seelananda ,

Some people believe that meditation is something by means of which to escape from ordinary living into a miraculous state. But it is not such an escape. It is a means of purification in the act of living. To some westerners meditation means stress management or self-management of disease. But it really, helps one to purify the mind of disturbances such as lustful desires, hatred ,ill will, indolence, worries, anxieties ,restlessness, and skeptical doubts .There are some people who practise meditation to run away from their problems. But that is not Buddhist meditation (Bhavana).

The term Bhavana is not correctly translated into English as "meditation". Bhavana is best translated as "mental development". The English word "meditate" means turning over in the mind. Take the example " I meditate revenge". This means I am planning revenge." A pre-meditated act" means an act planned deliberately. Buddhist "Bhavana" is quietening the mind- not "turning over and over" in the mind. When one quietens the mind and stops "planning" one becomes clean in mind (i.e. free of thoughts), and one cannot plan what to do. So Bhavana is cleaning of the mind of defilements.

There are many methods of meditation and many religions advocate meditation. There are even business meditation and meditation goggles!. The Ven. M. Punnaji points out in the Dhamma Vijaya Meditation Issue (Vol.5.N0.1.p.60) that there are six different types of popular meditation in the world today. They are as follows:


    1. Mantra meditation
    2. Visualizing meditation
    3. Concentration meditation


    1. Reflection meditation
    2. Tranquilizing meditation
    3. Insight meditation .

Of these types of meditation, what is unique in Buddhism is "Vipassana meditation" through which one would be able to see things as they really are. The Buddha also practised various other types of meditation before his Enlightenment. But he understood that they could not bring forth knowledge of the nature of real existence of the world and beings (that is what he sought for). So he went from place to place seeking the truth. As a result he himself realized complete mental purification by practising Vipassana meditation. The truth that he realized is fourfold, namely:

  1. unsatisfactoriness (dukkha)
  2. cause of unsatisfactoriness (samudaya)
  3. cessation of unsatisfactoriness(nirodha)
  4. Path leading to the cessation of unsatisfactoriness(Magga)

In Buddhism there are two types of mental development, namely,

  1. Samatha Bhavana (concentration mental development )
  2. Vipassana Bhavana (insight mental development).

For convenience let us call these meditation.

Samatha or concentration meditation helps to develop tranquility while insight meditation teaches the method of realizing the true nature of beings and the world. Our mind is frequently scattered in all directions. It jumps from one point to another just like a monkey jumps from branch to branch. Once defining the nature of mind the Buddha said "Let the wise man guard his thought, which is difficult to perceive, which is extremely subtle, which wanders at will. Thought which is well guarded is the bearer of happiness" (Dh.36).Through concentration meditation(Samatha) one can subdue the five hindrances which are the primary obstructions to develop meditation.

They are:

  1. sensual desire
  2. ill will
  3. sloth and torpor
  4. restlessness and worry
  5. doubt

But through Insight meditation one will be able to eradicate defilements step by step, part by part , and piece by piece finally in toto. It is a complete destruction of greed, hatred ,and delusion. The one who attained such a state is, unattached and called the Arahant. He has brought mental development to perfection.

We are aware that we all live here, in this world, only for a short period of time. A period of one hundred years is mostly the maximum. We must not forget that our life is uncertain and that death is certain. Death is unavoidable. What is most important is not how we came to this world or how we depart from this world, but how we live in this world. Therefore we have to think of ourselves and our lives. When we think of this so called man ,it is nothing but a component of five aggregates ,namely:

The aggregate of form (Rupa)
The aggregate of feeling (Vedana)
The aggregate of perception (Sanna)
The aggregate of mental formation (Sankhara)
The aggregate of consciousness (Vinnana)

Buddhist mental development (vipassana) teaches us the Way to realize these five aggregates or the five faculties of existence. The Buddha stressed the need and importance of practising meditation .What was precisely prescribed by the Buddha was mental development through four foundation of mindfulness( Satipatthana Bhavana) . For this purpose he delivered the Satipatthana Sutta in which he said" There is ,monks, this one way to the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and distress, for the disappearance of pain and sadness, for the gaining of the right path, for the realization of Nibbana :-that is to say the four foundation of mindfulness"(D.N.22.Sutta.Walshe's Tr).

According to this Sutta, there are fourfold contemplation on mindfulness, namely:

  1. body as body
  2. feeling as feeling
  3. mind as mind
  4. mind-objects as mind –objects.

Of the four, at this juncture, let us try to understand the 1st step of the 1st foundation (kayanupassana). When we say body here, there are three ways of conceiving corporeality to be realized ,namely:

  1. through breath (assasapassasa kaya)
  2. through matter (rupakaya)
  3. through mental awareness of subtle corporeality -mind -(namakaya)

So to understand them properly one should practise Anapana Satipatthana meditation.(contemplation on breath).This is how you have to practise this meditation.

How to practise Bhavana

  1. Sit down cross legged
  2. Keep your body erect
  3. Close your eyes
  4. Rest your hands on your lap keeping right on the left
  5. Directing your mind towards the posture of the body investigate from the top of your head to the tip of your toes whether there is any rigidity, stiffness or clumsiness in your body.
  6. Now keep your full attention to the tip of your nose , to the process of breathing (in/out)
  7. Breathing in... ,breathing out.., long....short...you may observe it, do not grasp , let it go naturally, If you can contemplate on breathing properly you will be able to understand all the stages one by one. (There are 16 stages).

According to the Anapanasati Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya there are 16 stages to be comprehended. The fulfillment of the four foundations of mindfulness by awareness of the breath fulfils the seven factors of enlightenment, and these in turn fulfill clear knowledge and deliverance. Thus the entire path to Nibbana will be realized from the contemplation of in and out breathing. That is the Buddhist Bhavana revealed and expounded by the Buddha. Let us strive to practise mental development daily.

May all beings attain Enlightenment !

Paramita International Buddhist Society
N0.7. Balumgala,