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Buddhist Meditation

If you’re seeking to understand the Buddhist theories and practice of meditation, this page is about exactly that.
We welcome you and hope that you’ll learn a lot about this ancient form of purifying and refining your mind, spirit, and body.

“Meditation is not to escape from society, but to come back to ourselves and see what is going on.“
Thich Nhat Hanh

A General Discussion of Buddhist Meditation

For years now, there’s been a renewed interest in meditation as a relaxation technique, or as a means to improving one’s performance in one’s career. As such, a lot of attention has been given to Buddhist meditation. There is something about Buddhism that is almost synonymous with the idea of meditation to many Westerners. Perhaps that explains its popularity.

Much like meditation itself, Buddhist meditation comes in many different forms. For instance, there is Theravada Buddhism, Mahayana Buddhism, Zen Buddhism, and even different sects of Zen such as Rinzai. As you might well imagine, a complete understanding of Buddhist meditation is well beyond the scope of this page. Instead of trying to explain each and every one of the sects individually, we’re instead going to focus on the common points that all forms of Buddhist meditation tend to share.

Buddhist Meditation Techniques - Chanting

In our coverage of the background of meditation, we talked about how many forms of meditation involve something called the “mantra”. This is an object or process that you focus on intently, to the exclusion of all else, in order to train the mind to alertly perceive the present reality in the face of all distraction. One of the most popular forms of mantra in Buddhist meditation is the chant.

Buddhists believe that by rhythmically chanting prayers during meditation, they can focus the mind on the flow and rhythm of those chants to achieve a state of meditation. There are many hundreds of prayers that are well suited to use in meditation, or you can even make up your own.

In fact, your chant needn’t be a prayer at all. Many people just recite a singular sound over and over, such as the well-known “Om”. Whatever the case, it all achieves the same effect.

For an excellent example of Buddhist meditation that makes use of chants, check out this video of Tibetan Buddhists chanting the Pali Metta Sutra.

Buddhist Meditation Techniques – Breathing

Another mantra commonly found in Buddhist meditation is simply breathing. This is especially true of Zen Buddhist sects, where the focus of meditation is on learning to perceive reality as accurately and consciously as possible. Because breathing is basically the most automatic and thoughtless of all processes, it’s thought that by paying conscious attention to one’s breath and letting go of all distractions, one will better prepare their mind to pay attention to the details of reality. In addition, they will be conscious of every aspect of reality, even those parts that used to be automatic and thoughtless, such as breathing.

In addition to the mental and spiritual benefits of using one’s breath in Buddhist meditation, deep breathing carries its own benefits as well. For instance, it’s been shown that habitual deep breathing increases the capacity of the lungs, and strengthens the abdominal muscles. In a very real sense, then, it’s a form of exercise! You’ll also increase your circulation, giving you more energy, and there are many who say that deep breathing in Buddhist meditation can help rid the body of toxins and impurities as well.

No matter what, it’s clear that the use of deep, conscious breathing, is an integral part of Buddhist meditation and one that should be seriously studied by any practitioner.

Zen Koans

One of the most unique things about Buddhism, and especially the Zen sects, is the koan. A koan is an ambiguous riddle that is usually given by a teacher to a student, so that the student can use it as a mantra while meditating. The ultimate point is that when a student deciphers the answer to a koan, he or she has been said to gain an increase in personal enlightenment.

Whether you’re a believer in enlightenment or not, it’s clear that the koan is a very effective form of mantra, and that pondering riddles is a good mental exercise that everyone can partake in.

There are literally thousands of koans, and a good number of them have been collected in various volumes over the years. Some of our favourites are:

• Escaping Heat and Cold
A monk asked Tozan, "How can we escape the cold and heat?" Tozan replied, "Why not go where there is no cold and heat?" "Is there such a place?" asked the monk. Tozan commented, "When cold, be thoroughly cold; when hot, be hot through and through.”

• Banzan in the Marketplace
One day Banzan was walking through a market. He overheard a customer say to the butcher, "Give me the best piece of meat you have." "Everything in my shop is the best," replied the butcher. "You can not find any piece of meat that is not the best." At these words, Banzan was enlightened.

• Heaven and Hell
A soldier came to Hakuin and asked "Is there really a paradise and a hell?"

"Who are you?" inquired Hakuin.

"I am a samurai," the warrior replied.

"You, a samurai!" exclaimed Hakuin. "What kind of ruler would have you as his guard? Your face looks like that of a beggar!"

The soldier became so angry that he began to draw his sword, but Hakuin continued. "So you have a sword! Your weapon is probably as dull as your head!"

As the soldier drew his sword Hakuin remarked "Here open the gates of hell!"

At these words, the samurai, perceiving the discipline of the master, sheathed his sword and bowed.

"Here open the gates of paradise," said Hakuin.

• What do You Call It?
Shuzan held out his short staff and said, "If you call this a short staff, you oppose its reality. If you do not call it a short staff, you ignore the fact. Now what do you wish to call this?"

The Focus on Conscious Life Experience in Zen and Buddhist Meditation

One other important thing to mention about Buddhist meditation techniques is that, while you can use meditation to achieve any number of positive effects, Buddhists usually practiced with a particular goal in mind. That goal is, of course, enlightenment. One of the most essential steps towards enlightenment, however, is the conscious recognition of the world as it truly is.

Buddhists believe that humans are unable to see reality as it truly is, because their mind forces them to make judgements and to see things with prejudice. By overcoming this mental process through meditation, they believe that it’s possible to begin to see things as they really are, and take them for what they are.

In line with this, Buddhists tend to place a lot of value on living and experiencing things. That’s not to say that a Buddhist will go out of his or her way just to have “new” experiences, but rather that, no matter what they’re doing, they try to maintain a totally conscious take on it.

Try this for yourself. The next time you’re driving, try to remain totally conscious of what you’re doing. Think about the feel of the steering wheel on your hands, how the seat belt feels against your clothes, and the sounds of the tires on the road, and the other cars. Every action we undertake should be a rich experience for the consciousness and enjoyed by all the senses. When you learn to live in this state all the time, it’s akin to meditating 24 / 7. Given all the talk we’ve done about the benefits of meditation, isn’t that a worthy goal to shoot for?

Take the FREE Quiz

Relaxation Quiz
Relaxation exercises are not exactly the same as meditating, but many benefits from both are similar. Maybe you might gain from becoming more relaxed – one way or another. You can find out quickly and easily by taking our FREE QUIZ! This quiz will only take you a few moments, but it might just help you in making one of the most important decisions of your entire life! Why risk missing out?
How Relaxed are You

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