What is "meditation"?

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What is "meditation"?

Postby Rakshasa » Sun Dec 09, 2012 7:55 am

Since I am not very well versed in either Pali or Sanskrit (or Tibetan or Chinese), I read the Sutras/Suttas in English translations. The English translations of many Sutras also include terms like "meditation" which although in English may have a singular meaning (deep thought), it seems deficient in representing the origin terms and ideas in the Indic languages for which it is substituted.

I have my own ideas about what exactly is "meditation" and what are the forms of meditation available in the market but have no idea how they correspond to the actual types (or rather terms) in Buddhist language.

By my own experience, whenever I sit in the cross legged Lotus posture (actually half Lotus), I have the following three options to choose from:

1. Calm the mental activity, body and relax naturally. Energy is conserved here. Not focused on any particular object.
2. Sharpen the concentration by focusing on a single object and lead to single-pointedness of mind. Energy is expended here and I get tired afterwards.
3. Observe all the Dharmas. Improve mindfulness and wakefulness. Four Stations of Mindfulness.Vippassana.

In terms of the object of focus of mind, we could alternatively define the above three differently as:

1. Focus no nothing.
2. Focus on One thing.
3. Focus on everything.

Examples of the above three types of "meditation" would be IMO:

1. Shinkatza, Void meditation, wall-gazing, sky-gazing etc.
2. Anapanasati, Nembutsu, staring at a candle, etc.
3. Four Stations of mindfulness


I thoroughly believe that all the types of meditations available in the world can all be categorized into any of these three categories - there is no fourth type of meditation (Even Dzogchen fits there I think). I would like to know what are the peculiar benefits of each of these types of meditation and which one is emphasized by the Buddha (or by different sects).

Which of these leads to Jhanas? Which one leads to the understanding of Prajna? Which one leads to Nirvana?
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Re: What is "meditation"?

Postby Yudron » Sun Dec 09, 2012 8:45 am

Rakshasa wrote:
By my own experience, whenever I sit in the cross legged Lotus posture (actually half Lotus), I have the following three options to choose from:

1. Calm the mental activity, body and relax naturally. Energy is conserved here. Not focused on any particular object.
2. Sharpen the concentration by focusing on a single object and lead to single-pointedness of mind. Energy is expended here and I get tired afterwards.
3. Observe all the Dharmas. Improve mindfulness and wakefulness. Four Stations of Mindfulness.Vippassana.

In terms of the object of focus of mind, we could alternatively define the above three differently as:

1. Focus no nothing.
2. Focus on One thing.
3. Focus on everything.

Examples of the above three types of "meditation" would be IMO:

1. Shinkatza, Void meditation, wall-gazing, sky-gazing etc.
2. Anapanasati, Nembutsu, staring at a candle, etc.
3. Four Stations of mindfulness


I thoroughly believe that all the types of meditations available in the world can all be categorized into any of these three categories - there is no fourth type of meditation (Even Dzogchen fits there I think).


I don't know much about Dzogchen, but none of these fit with the Dzogchen as far as I know. "Calming the mind" implies as subtle dualistic perception; the calmer and the calmed. Focus isn't really a word we use much, because it implies effect and narrowing of the perceptual field, but the word for mindfulness or remembering is used (drenpa), and sometimes people use the term "Mindfulness of Dharmata." But emptiness is not a void in Dzogchen, and that really sets Dzogchen practice apart from the sutra-based schools, emptiness is inseparable with rigpa, awareness. Phenomena are never rejected.
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Re: What is "meditation"?

Postby Ukigumo » Sun Dec 09, 2012 9:00 am

This might be helpful:

Anapanasati Sutta

Note how mindfulness of the breath is linked up to the 'four frames of reference' (satipatthana) - which the Shakyamuni describes elsewhere as the direct path to nirvana. Basically anapanasati is supposed to be used to establish the Four Frames of Reference and the Seven Factors of Awakening.

I have to admit that even though I consider myself a (non-sectarian) Mahayana Buddhist, I don't know much about Mahayana Sutras that teach meditation. I've been taught meditation from both Theravadins and from the Chan tradition; both emphasis mindfulness of the breath.
All compound phenomena are like a dream;
a phantom, a drop of dew, a flash of lightning
That is how to meditate on them
That is how to observe them
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Re: What is "meditation"?

Postby icylake » Sun Dec 09, 2012 9:47 am

the original term must be dhyana or sammadhi, in chinese usually traslated as "Ding", or "Chan". i don't know much about Terabada or Tibetan buddhism. but i've heard that all of buddhist meditations are consisted of 'concentration(sammadhi)" and "insight(vipashana)". even Koan zen has the both at the same time.
and "Sutra of Great enlightment" , "Shurangama sutra" , "Avatamsaka sutra" or "the great tretise of the stages of enlightment" describing the stages of Mahayana(Boddhisattva) dhyana in detail.
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Re: What is "meditation"?

Postby Astus » Sun Dec 09, 2012 11:44 am

The two categories used are calming (samatha) and insight (vipasyana) to define meditation (bhavana). It is like this in Theravada and both Eastern and Northern Mahayana. The so called special forms like shikantaza and mahamudra are presented either as vipasyana or as the union of samatha and vipasyana.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: What is "meditation"?

Postby Rakshasa » Sun Dec 09, 2012 4:12 pm

Is mindfulness a form of calming (shamatha) or insight (vipassana)? Interesting that you say Shamatha is a form of calming the mind, I like allowing all the thoughts and mental activity to calm down just by sitting in lotus posture with erect spine and trying to relax every muscle of my body so I must be practicing Shamatha.

Where would you categorize "focusing" in the Buddhist scheme of meditation? Someone once told me that if you practice to stare at a candle light with complete focus for long time, you may develop psychic abilities. Since there is effort and mental focus required I dont think this could be classified as "Shamatha" (calming), right?
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Re: What is "meditation"?

Postby Rakshasa » Sun Dec 09, 2012 4:15 pm

icylake wrote:the original term must be dhyana or sammadhi, in chinese usually traslated as "Ding", or "Chan". i don't know much about Terabada or Tibetan buddhism. but i've heard that all of buddhist meditations are consisted of 'concentration(sammadhi)" and "insight(vipashana)". even Koan zen has the both at the same time.
and "Sutra of Great enlightment" , "Shurangama sutra" , "Avatamsaka sutra" or "the great tretise of the stages of enlightment" describing the stages of Mahayana(Boddhisattva) dhyana in detail.



What is the relationship between "Calming" (Shamatha), concentration (samadhi/jhana?) I read a Pali sutta once - which I do not recall now - which said that Vippassana can also develop Jhanas.
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Re: What is "meditation"?

Postby lowlydog » Sun Dec 09, 2012 5:00 pm

Rakshasa wrote:What is the relationship between "Calming" (Shamatha), concentration (samadhi/jhana?) I read a Pali sutta once - which I do not recall now - which said that Vippassana can also develop Jhanas.


I believe the object you start with is very important. It has been taught to me that the breath is a bridge linking the conscious mind to the unconscious mind. We begin with anapanasati(awareness of incoming breath and awareness of outgoing breath), we as beginners start with a large area encompassing the entire area from the base of the upper lip to the top of the bridge of the nose, as our mind and awareness sharpen we shrink the area of our focus to a small point the size of a fingertip between the base of the upper lip and the nostrils, one may even further shrink this area to a very small point at the tip of the upper lip. The only job we have to do is observe the breath in this area, the mind is not used to being placed in such a small area and it is described as a powerful elephant and when it gets angry it causes us all sorts of difficulties, we must develope a great deal of patience to train this elephant(mind) and persistantly bring it back to this small area and have it observe the breath.

Initially this is extremely difficult and can be very painful and frusterating, leading many meditators to quit, but if we are patient and persistent the mind will calm down and relax(shamatha) and then you will have a very powerful ally to help with your meditation. With a calm and relaxed mind we hone our concentration skills, developing the ability to keep our attention focused on the breath in this tiny area for longer and longer periods of time, the mind always wanting to cling to a thought(past or future) we keep our focus on the touch of the breath(present). With this practice we develope single pointed concentration (jhana).

With a moral and concentrated mind we have developed right concentration and may begin insight(vipassana) meditation, different traditions have different techniques, but ultimately we are observing the interaction of mind and body. Through the direct experience of insight we gain the highest wisdom(wisdom of experience) this wisdom is what rids us of our defilements. It is important to remain in contact with the body for this process of insight to work, so one should not move past the fourth jhana.

When the meditator is ripe(removed the base defilements that would lead to birth in the lower realms) a death occurs, the 5 body sense doors shut down(4th jhana), then the mind sense door shuts down(arupa jhanas), with the shutting down of the sense doors an experience of Nibbana occurs(9th jhana). This experience gives the meditator the wisdom to cut the lower fetters, returning to the body one is a completely changed individual never will they commit an action that could lead to birth in the lower realms.

Repeating this process will lead to much deeper experiences of Nibbana and the removal of deeper defilements until arahantship has been reached. :smile:
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Re: What is "meditation"?

Postby muni » Sun Dec 09, 2012 7:13 pm

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Re: What is "meditation"?

Postby Astus » Sun Dec 09, 2012 11:16 pm

Rakshasa wrote:Is mindfulness a form of calming (shamatha) or insight (vipassana)? Interesting that you say Shamatha is a form of calming the mind, I like allowing all the thoughts and mental activity to calm down just by sitting in lotus posture with erect spine and trying to relax every muscle of my body so I must be practicing Shamatha.

Where would you categorize "focusing" in the Buddhist scheme of meditation? Someone once told me that if you practice to stare at a candle light with complete focus for long time, you may develop psychic abilities. Since there is effort and mental focus required I dont think this could be classified as "Shamatha" (calming), right?


Mindfulness is the guardian of meditation, it keeps us on the object, and when the object is lost, we recognise that it is lost because of mindfulness. Mindfulness is a quality necessary for meditation, but it is not meditation in and of itself, since one has to be mindful when doing all sorts of things.

Focusing, being concentrated on a single object, can be used for calming the mind. However, focus alone is not meditation, because it can also result in a very agitated and narrow mind.

To be clear about the different qualities required for progressing on the path to liberation, I recommend you study the 37 factors of enlightenment.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: What is "meditation"?

Postby Jainarayan » Fri Jan 25, 2013 6:00 pm



I am sorry to resurrect an old thread, I know how people hate that, but I stumbled on this and wanted to say "thank you, thank you, thank you". In that short video, I gained more insight than I can express. It is for reasons and information like this I am glad I stumbled on this site. :twothumbsup:
Worthy, wise and virtuous: Who is energetic and not indolent, in misfortune unshaken,
flawless in manner and intelligent, such one will honor gain. - Digha Nikaya III 273
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Re: What is "meditation"?

Postby juliaaflowers » Thu Jan 31, 2013 1:57 pm

5 Steps Towards Meditation Mastery: http://youtu.be/FBRKczWj6Qc
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Re: What is "meditation"?

Postby Jikan » Thu Jan 31, 2013 3:13 pm

juliaaflowers wrote:5 Steps Towards Meditation Mastery: http://youtu.be/FBRKczWj6Qc


from the link you posted:

With the wisdom and expertise of Brendon Burchard's Experts Academy, I am developing my world class meditation technology systems to help hundreds of thousands of people to master their own minds, hearts and bodies. This video is another step in my own personal growth to help make this happen.


Who is Brendon Burchard, and what does his system have to do with Buddhism?
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Re: What is "meditation"?

Postby Feathers » Sat Feb 02, 2013 1:57 am

Jainarayan wrote:


I am sorry to resurrect an old thread, I know how people hate that, but I stumbled on this and wanted to say "thank you, thank you, thank you". In that short video, I gained more insight than I can express. It is for reasons and information like this I am glad I stumbled on this site. :twothumbsup:


Thank you to Muni, and thank you to Jainarayan for necroing the thread - that was a very, very helpful video indeed :twothumbsup:
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Re: What is "meditation"?

Postby randomseb » Sat Feb 02, 2013 8:37 am

In Zen it seems, based on the texts of the Patriarchs and ancient sages anyway, "meditation" seems to be not doing anything at all. That includes not doing "not doing". They discourse, for example, about how if you "calm your mind", you are actively "calming your mind", therefore you are busy doing something, not doing nothing, and so the point seems to be to just "watch", without specifically watching anything.. Just being and being aware of this being, sort of thing. By this practice, they say, your mind will "clean itself" naturally. That's all paraphrased of course.
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Re: What is "meditation"?

Postby Rakshasa » Sat Feb 02, 2013 10:21 am

I agree with you.

The first step of relieving one's mind from grasping dharmas is relieving the muscular tension on the head. People won't believe but our involvement in different matters, our deep thinking, our day dreaming etc manifests as a tension on our skull and other parts. So when I suddenly remember about Buddhism in the middle of my thought process or involvement with different affairs, the first thing that happens is that I suddenly realize that my head was quite tense, and I automatically relieve it (and feel easy in the body and mind). Unfortunately, this only happens for a minute or two, after which I am again grasping at different things.
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Re: What is "meditation"?

Postby Jainarayan » Sat Feb 02, 2013 3:11 pm

randomseb wrote:In Zen it seems, based on the texts of the Patriarchs and ancient sages anyway, "meditation" seems to be not doing anything at all. That includes not doing "not doing". They discourse, for example, about how if you "calm your mind", you are actively "calming your mind", therefore you are busy doing something, not doing nothing, and so the point seems to be to just "watch", without specifically watching anything.. Just being and being aware of this being, sort of thing. By this practice, they say, your mind will "clean itself" naturally. That's all paraphrased of course.


Doing in not doing. A tree grows; the planets move around the sun; they simply do it, and go with the flow. I don't remember where I found this, but it's part of a document I copied and kept:

Let the thoughts come. Do not force them to go away or try to avoid them. Do not think, 'why are these thoughts coming'? Just let them come and go. Do not focus on any thought. Always remember, no thought is important. Do not worry about any issues. In meditation, things which you gave importance to will come out strongly. And mostly the last thoughts will pop up as soon as mind begins to calm down.
Worthy, wise and virtuous: Who is energetic and not indolent, in misfortune unshaken,
flawless in manner and intelligent, such one will honor gain. - Digha Nikaya III 273
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Re: What is "meditation"?

Postby randomseb » Sat Feb 02, 2013 9:09 pm

Jainarayan wrote:Doing in not doing. A tree grows; the planets move around the sun; they simply do it, and go with the flow. I don't remember where I found this, but it's part of a document I copied and kept:

Let the thoughts come. Do not force them to go away or try to avoid them. Do not think, 'why are these thoughts coming'? Just let them come and go. Do not focus on any thought. Always remember, no thought is important. Do not worry about any issues. In meditation, things which you gave importance to will come out strongly. And mostly the last thoughts will pop up as soon as mind begins to calm down.


You could call this "Surfing the Waves of the Ocean of Mind"

(Ancient Hawaiians had surfing as a religious experience by spiritual types, not just for "fun".. this seems to make sense under that context)
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Re: What is "meditation"?

Postby Jainarayan » Sat Feb 02, 2013 9:59 pm

randomseb wrote:
Jainarayan wrote:Doing in not doing. A tree grows; the planets move around the sun; they simply do it, and go with the flow. I don't remember where I found this, but it's part of a document I copied and kept:

Let the thoughts come. Do not force them to go away or try to avoid them. Do not think, 'why are these thoughts coming'? Just let them come and go. Do not focus on any thought. Always remember, no thought is important. Do not worry about any issues. In meditation, things which you gave importance to will come out strongly. And mostly the last thoughts will pop up as soon as mind begins to calm down.


You could call this "Surfing the Waves of the Ocean of Mind"

(Ancient Hawaiians had surfing as a religious experience by spiritual types, not just for "fun".. this seems to make sense under that context)


Yes it does make sense, that's exactly what it sounds like. I like it. :smile: I am not good at consistent, disciplined meditation, probably because I haven't practiced and gained experience. But there's probably as many definitions and meanings of meditation as there are people who do it. My meditation is more like that surfing; like when I get onto Wikipedia. I can start on an article on The Beatles and wind up an hour later on the ultimate fate of the universe. I just go wherever it takes me. Of course I do have my deity meditation, so I guess I do have some discipline.
Worthy, wise and virtuous: Who is energetic and not indolent, in misfortune unshaken,
flawless in manner and intelligent, such one will honor gain. - Digha Nikaya III 273
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