Buddhist meditation forms the foundation of numerous meditation techniques popular today, particularly for those new to meditation. Practices such as Vipassana and Anapanasati are rooted in the teachings of Buddha. Moreover, contemporary methods like Jon Kabat Zinn’s Body Scan Meditation draw inspiration from Buddhist principles.
Buddhist meditations are pivotal in our journey of mindfulness. Let’s explore some of the most accessible Buddhist techniques.
8 Buddhist Meditations Techniques
Anapanasati [Mindful Breathing]
An ideal starting point for beginners in Buddhist meditation is Anapanasati, or Mindful Breathing.
This method, prevalent in Theravada, Tiantai, and Chan Buddhism, involves a deliberate approach to mindful breathing. Practitioners focus on their breath, acknowledging wandering thoughts, and ultimately meditating on a sense of tranquility. The Ānāpānasati Sutta suggests that this leads to internal serenity.
- Begin by sitting cross-legged, kneeling, or on a chair, ensuring your spine is straight yet relaxed. Tilt your chin down slightly and rest your tongue lightly against the roof of your mouth.
- Concentrate on your breath, following its path from your nose to your diaphragm and back out. This focus helps in achieving what Buddha termed “equanimity,” or mental steadiness.
- Allow each exhalation to flow naturally into the next inhalation without effort.
- Pay attention to your entire breath. The Anapanasati Sutta  states, “He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to the entire body. I will breathe out sensitive to the entire body.'” Thus, be mindful of your whole body during this practice.
- As thoughts and emotions arise, simply observe them and label them as “Thought” or “Feeling,” then gently return to focusing on your breath.
- Continue this meditation for about twenty minutes.
This technique offers numerous benefits. It anchors the mind to the breath, preventing it from straying. As expressed by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, “Feelings are temporary, like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing remains my anchor.”
This practice also has mental health benefits.
Studies from institutions like Harvard Medical School have shown that mindful breathing exercises can decrease amygdala activity, regulate cortisol levels, lessen sympathetic nervous system activity, and enhance parasympathetic nervous system functioning. This collective effect contributes to a sense of calmness.
There’s a humorous side to losing your mind when portrayed by comedians like Jim Carrey, but maintaining mental control is a serious matter, achievable through mindfulness.
Mindfulness involves attentively observing the present moment without judgment. It’s fundamentally about acceptance. As Shamash Alidina, author of “Mindfulness For Dummies,” puts it, “In mindfulness, acceptance is the precursor to change.”
At its core, mindfulness revolves around two key concepts: Sati, or mindfulness itself, and Satipatthana, the establishment of mindfulness.
To practice mindfulness, one must understand the Four Foundations as outlined in the Pali Satipatthana Sutta by Buddha.
The Four Foundations of Mindfulness include:
- Mindful awareness of the body
- Awareness of feelings (vedana)
- Mindfulness of the mind (citta)
- Awareness of phenomena (dhammas)
Focusing on these four elements is crucial. To delve deeper into mindfulness, refer to the link provided at the beginning of this section.
Zen, a Japanese branch of Mahayana Buddhism, shares similarities with Taoism and offers a variety of meditation practices.
Prominent among these is Zazen, or seated meditation, and “kinhin” or Zen walking, as explained by Brad Warner in his book, How To Sit Zazen. The essence of Zazen is to sit and experience the present moment in a non-judgmental way, letting thoughts and feelings pass freely without attachment.
For guidance on Zazen, consider reading my detailed guide on Zen meditation techniques.
Zen Walking (Kinhin)
Most of us enjoy a good walk, but Zen Walking takes this simple activity to a new level of mindfulness.
This tranquil Buddhist meditation technique focuses on the act of walking itself.
You might wonder, “Why should I focus on walking?” The answer lies in numerous benefits. Studies from Michigan State University indicate that Zen walking increases bodily awareness and movement consciousness, leading to enhanced self-control. It’s also a mild form of exercise, especially beneficial for older adults and those with slight mobility issues.
Think about the amount of time you spend walking daily. Imagine transforming these moments into periods of mindfulness. The impact on your overall mindfulness would be substantial, making walking meditation a valuable practice.
Additionally, research by Gotink et al. (2016) suggests that mindful walking helps reduce stress and regulate mood. Pairing this with Forest Bathing (Japanese Shinrin Yoku) can amplify the positive effects.
Vipassana is central to understanding the workings of the mind in Buddhist meditation. It involves keen observation and categorizing of mental experiences.
In Vipassana, one observes thoughts and sensations, labeling them appropriately – like identifying a sound as “sound” or a physical sensation as “sensation.” This method aids in comprehending the essence of existence and reduces our reaction to thoughts and emotions.
LionsRoar, a Buddhist website, describes Vipassana as “The practice of consistent detailed attention to sensation, enabling one to discern the true nature of reality.”
Renowned scholar Robert Buswell highlights Vipassana’s role in recognizing the three signs of existence in Theravada Buddhism, namely:
- Anicca, or “impermanence”
- Dukkha, translating to “suffering” or “dissatisfaction”
- Anattā, or “non-self”
Vipassana stands out as a superior technique for gaining insight and fostering non-reactivity.
Highly acclaimed in Buddhist circles, as noted by Peter Harvey, is the practice of Loving Kindness, also known as Metta. Prominent teachers like Sharon Salzberg often teach this meditation.
The purpose of this practice is to cultivate love and kindness, essential in Buddhism. Kindness forms part of the Brahma-viharas (sublime attitudes), alongside Karuna (Compassion), and is one of the “ten perfections” or “Paramis,” representing ideal virtues.
Moreover, Loving Kindness Meditation is beneficial for mental well-being.
Research by Barbara Frederickson indicates that just seven weeks of practicing this meditation can enhance emotions like love, joy, gratitude, and awe.
Furthermore, a study by Kok et al. (2013) found that Metta boosts positive emotions, diminishes negative feelings, and improves vagal tone, a measure of wellness.
Typically following Anapanasati, Samatha is a meditation focused on intense concentration.
Unlike other Buddhist meditations that maintain a broad focus while acknowledging thoughts and feelings, Samatha involves single-pointed focus on one object.
It’s important to note that there are variations in these techniques. As Indologist Johannes Bronkhorst points out, early Buddhist teachings contained contradictions, leading to different interpretations and practices among Buddhist schools.
Compiling the Techniques
With an understanding of various Buddhist meditations, beginners can start implementing these practices in a structured manner.
Here’s a recommended plan:
Start by dedicating yourself to the practice. Initially, engage in simple breathing meditation for twenty minutes daily, which is likely to bring peace and enhance concentration.
Continue your breathing meditation and incorporate Zen walking into your routine, such as during your commute. This can be practiced anywhere safe, ideally in a serene, natural setting for added benefits like Forest Bathing.
Expand to general mindfulness in daily activities, such as dishwashing, exercising, or showering, to integrate meditation into everyday life.
Add Anapanasati, Vipassana and Samatha to your daily practice, spending twenty minutes on one of these techniques each day.
By the fourth week, you will be practicing mindful breathing daily, engaging in mindfulness throughout the day, performing Zen Walking, and dedicating time to either Samatha, Anapanasati, or Vipassana.
Following this path may lead you to a deeper understanding of concepts like Om Mani Padme Hum.