Buddhist Meditation
 

- Buddha Web

Quivering, wavering,
hard to guard,
to hold in check:
the mind.
The sage makes it straight
like a fletcher,
the shaft of an arrow.

Like a fish
pulled from its home in the water
and thrown on land:
this mind flips and flaps about
to escape Mara's sway.

Hard to hold down,
nimble,
alighting wherever it likes:
the mind.
Its taming is good.
The mind well-tamed
brings ease.

So hard to see,
so very, very subtle,
alighting wherever it likes:
the mind.
The wise should guard it.
The mind protected
brings ease.

Wandering far,
going alone,
bodiless,
lying in a cave:
the mind.
Those who restrain it:
from Mara's bonds
they'll be freed.

- Dammapada

On Line Resources

- Bodhi Leaves publications on line articles (BPS)

- Wheel Publications on line articles (BPS)

- Mindfulness in Plain English (by Ven. Henepola Gunaratana)

- Modern Texts on the Practice of Meditation (Vipassana.com)

- Buddhist Meditation by Francis Story (Access to Insight)

- Practical Advice for Meditators
by Bhikkhu Khantipalo
(Access to Insight)

- The Jhanas In Theravada Buddhist Meditation by Ven.
Henepola Gunaratana
(Access to Insight)

 

Samatha

- Anapana Sati Meditation on Breathing by Ven. Mahathera Nauyane Ariyadhamma (Access to Insight)

 

Vipassana 

- Satipatthana Vipassana by
Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw
(Access to Insight)

 

What (Theravada) Meditation Isn't..(Misconceptions)

- Meditation is just a relaxation technique
- Meditation means going into a trance
- Meditation is a mysterious practice which cannot be understood
- The purpose of meditation is to become a psychic superman
- Meditation is dangerous and a prudent person should avoid it
- Meditation is for saints and holy men, not for regular people
- Meditation is running away from reality
- Meditation is a great way to get high
- Meditation is selfish
- When you meditate, you sit around thinking lofty thoughts
- A couple of weeks of meditation and all my problems will go away

Read More Details...

 

Books on Meditation

- Buddhist Cultural Centre Sri Lanka

 

Meditation Centres

- List of Meditation Centers in Sri Lanka (pdf doc) (from BPS)

- Buddhist Cultural Centre Sri Lanka

- Meditation centers in Sri Lanka (from Vipassana.com)

 

The Practice

In meditation, we follow the same basic procedure. We set aside a certain time, specifically devoted to developing this mental skill called mindfulness. We devote these times exclusively to that activity, and we structure our environment so there will be a minimum of distraction. This is not the easiest skill in the world to learn. We have spent our entire life developing mental habits that are really quite contrary to the ideal of uninterrupted mindfulness. Extricating ourselves from those habits requires a bit of strategy.

Where To Sit
Find yourself a quiet place, a secluded place, a place where you will be alone. It doesn't have to be some ideal spot in the middle of a forest. That's nearly impossible for most of us, but it should be a place where you feel comfortable, and where you won't be disturbed. It should also be a place where you won't feel on display. You want all of your attention free for meditation, not wasted on worries about how you look to others. You only need to find a place where you don't feel self-conscious, and where you can meditate without undue distraction. 

When To Sit
The most important rule here is this: When it comes to sitting, the description of Buddhism as the Middle Way applies. Don't overdo it. Don't underdo it. This doesn't mean you just sit whenever the whim strikes you. It means you set up a practice schedule and keep to it with a gentle, patient tenacity. Setting up a schedule acts as an encouragement. If, however, you find that your schedule has ceased to be an encouragement and become a burden, then something is wrong. Meditation is not a duty, nor an obligation.

How Long To Sit
A similar rule applies here: Sit as long as you can, but don't overdo. Most beginners start with twenty or thirty minutes. Initially, it's difficult to sit longer than that with profit. The posture is unfamiliar to Westerners, and it takes a bit of time for the body to adjust. The mental skills are equally unfamiliar, and that adjustment takes time, too.

As your interest in meditation grows, you'll find yourself making more room in your schedule for practice. It's a spontaneous phenomenon, and it happens pretty much by itself--no force necessary. 

 

The Five Hindrances for Meditation (pañcanivarana)

The following five states are likely to prevent or block the success of our efforts for meditation. They are called by the Buddha the five mental hindrances (pañcanivarana) because they close the doors to both spiritual and worldly progress. Although the Buddha originally taught them as the main obstacles to meditation, with a little reflection we can see that they are equally detrimental to success in our mundane undertakings.

1. Sensual Desire (Kamacchanda)
2. Ill-will (byapada)
3. Sloth and Torpor (thinamiddha)
4. Restlessness and Remorse (uddhaccakukkucca)
5. Doubt (vicikiccha)

Their removal by unremitting exertion is the first task facing the meditator. As he proceeds in his practice, striving with patience and diligence, there come suddenly momentary breaks in the course of his efforts when the hindrances fall away, the flow of inner verbalization stops, and the mind abides one-pointedly on the object. The achievement of this momentary concentration, brief as it is, gives immense satisfaction. It is a powerful experience unleashing spurts of mental energy which flood up to the surface of consciousness and inundate the mind with waves of joyous refreshment. It brings an elating thrill bordering on ecstasy, crowning the yogin's previous endeavors and inspiring further effort. [3]

 

The Five Spiritual Faculties

Spiritual progress (includes meditation) depends on the emergence of five cardinal virtues.

1. Faith (saddha)
2. Effort/Vigor (viriya) 
3. Mindfulness
4. Concentration
5. Wisdom

The conduct of the ordinary worldling is governed by his sense-based instincts and impulses. As we progress, new spiritual forces gradually take over, until in the end the five cardinal virtues dominate and shape everything we do feel and think.

Faith is called "the seed," and without it the plant of spiritual life cannot start at all. Without faith one can, as a matter of fact, do nothing worthwhile at all.The faculty of faith provides the element of inspiration and aspiration which steers the mind away from the quagmire of doubt and settles it with serene trust in the Triple Gem as the supreme basis of deliverance.Generally speaking, faith is, however, regarded as only a preliminary step, as a merely provisional state. In due course direct spiritual awareness will know that which faith took on trust, and longed to know: "Now we see through a glass darkly, but then face to face." Much time must usually elapse before the virtue of wisdom has become strong enough to support a vigorous insight into the true nature of reality. Until then quite a number of doctrinal points must be taken on faith.

Little need be said about the need for being energetic if one wants to achieve something. Without vigor, without strenuous effort, without perseverance, one obviously cannot make much progress. Everybody knows what "vigor" is, although a generation which made the fortune of the discoverers of "night-starvation" might wish that it had more of it.

Mindfulness and concentration are the two virtues which are concerned with the development of inward calm.Concentration (samadhi) continues the work of mindfulness.In its simplest form, concentration is the narrowing of the field of attention in a manner and for a time determined by the will. The mind is made one-pointed, does not waver, does not scatter itself, and it becomes steady like the flame of a lamp in the absence of wind. Without a certain degree of one-pointedness no mental activity at all can take place. Each mental act lasts, strictly speaking, for one moment only, and is at once followed by another. The function of concentration is to provide some stability in this perpetual flux, by enabling the mind to stand in, or on, the same object, without distraction, for more than one moment.

The faculties of faith and wisdom form one pair, aimed at balancing the capacities for devotion and comprehension; the faculties of energy and concentration form a second pair aimed at balancing the capacities for active exertion and calm recollection. Above the complementary pairs stands the faculty of mindfulness, which protects the mind from extremes and ensures that the members of each pair hold one another in a mutually restraining, mutually enriching tension. 

 

For Buddhist, meditation is an essential part of  Noble eight fold path which covers under ‘Right Mindfulness”.

The Buddha said: “O, bhikkhus (monks), there are two kind of illness, what are those two? Physical illness and mental illness. There seem to be people who enjoy freedom physical illness even for a year or two… even for hundred years or more. But O bhikkhu, rare in this world who enjoy freedom from mental illness even for one moment, except those who are free from mental defilements (i.e., except arahants).

The Buddha’s teaching, particularly his way of ‘meditation’, aims at producing a state of perfect mental health, equilibrium and tranquility. It is unfortunate that hardly any other section of the Buddha’s teaching is so much misunderstood as ‘meditation’, both by Buddhists and non-Buddhists. The moment the word ‘meditation’ is mentioned, one think of an escape from the daily activities of life; assuming a particular posture, like a statue in some cave or cell in a monastery, in some remote place cut off from society; and musing on, or being absorb in, some kind of mystic or mysterious thought or trance. True Buddhist ‘meditation’ does not mean this kind of escape at all. The Buddha’s teaching on this subject was so wrongly, or so little understood, that in later times the way of meditation deteriorated and degenerated into a kind of ritual or ceremony almost technical in its routine.

Most people are interested in meditation in order to gain some spiritual or mystic powers like the “third eye”, which others do not possess.

The word mediation is a very poor substitute for the original term bhavana, which means ‘culture’ or ‘development’, i.e., mental culture or mental development. The Buddhist bhavana, properly speaking, is mental culture in the full sense of the term. It aims at cleansing the mind of impurities and disturbances, such as lustful desires, hatred, ill-will, indolence, worries and restlessness, skeptical doubts, and cultivating such qualities as concentration, awareness, intelligence, will, energy, the analytical faculty, confidence, joy, tranquility, leading finally to the attainment of highest wisdom which sees the nature of things as they are, and realizing the Ultimate Truth, Nibbana.

Two apparently distinct streams of Buddhist meditation may be discerned, though when meditation is established, these are seen to be complementary. 

 

Samatha Bhavana

This form of meditation existed even before the Buddha. However it is not essential (mandatory) for the realization of Nibbana. The Buddha himself, before his Enlightenment, studied these yogic practices under different teachers and attained to the highest mystic state; but he was not fully satisfied with them, because they did not give complete liberation, they did not give insight into the Ultimate Reality.

Samatha bhavana, the development of mental tranquillity with concentration, is accompanied by three benefits; it gives happiness in the present life, a favorable rebirth, and the freedom from mental defilements which is a prerequisite for attainment of insight. In samatha, the mind becomes like a still, clear pool completely free from disturbance and agitation, and ready to mirror on its surface the nature of things as they really are, the aspect of them which is hidden from ordinary knowledge by the restlessness of craving. It is the peace and fulfillment which is depicted on the features of the Buddha, investing his images with a significance that impresses even those who have no knowledge of what it means. Such an image of the Buddha can itself be a very suitable object of meditation, and is, in fact, the one that most Buddhists instinctively use. The very sight of the tranquil image can calm and pacify a mind distraught with worldly hopes and fears. It is the certain and visible assurance of Nibbana.

Note:
For novice mediators, Samatha bavana is recommended. It is simpler and need less assistance from a teacher. Interestingly most of the topics that you will be meditating have no direct connection to Buddhism, but general phenomena like concentrate on breathing (Anapana sati),  meditate on loving kindness (metta meditation).  

 

Vipassana Bhavana

Vipassana bhavana is realization of the three signs of being, anicca, dukkha, and anatta, by direct insight. These three characteristics, impermanence, suffering and non-self, can be grasped intellectually, as scientific and philosophical truth, but this is not in itself sufficient to rid the mind of egoism and craving. The final objective lies on a higher level of awareness, the direct "intuitional" plane, where it is actually experienced as psychological fact. Until this personal confirmation is obtained, the sphere of sense perception (ayatana) and sensory-responses remain stronger than the intellectual conviction; the two function side by side on different levels of consciousness, but it is usually the sphere dominated by avijja which continues to determine the course of life by volitional action. The philosopher who fails to live according to his philosophy is the most familiar example of this incompatibility between theory and practice. When the direct perception is obtained, however, what was at its highest intellectual level still merely a theory becomes actual knowledge, in precisely the same way that we "know" when we are hot or cold, hungry or thirsty. The mind that has attained it is established in the Dhamma, and pañña, wisdom, has taken the place of delusion.
Note:
Usually you need a experience teacher's advice and some indepth knowledge in Buddhism for Vipassana meditation.

 
Anapana Sati Meditation (A samatha meditation Suitable for all)

One of the most well-known, popular and practical example of meditation connected with body is called ‘The Mindfulness or Awareness of in and out breathing’ (anapanasati). It is for this meditation only that a particular and definite posture is prescribed in the text. For other forms of meditation given in this sutta, you may sit, stand, walk, or lie down, as you like. But, for cultivating mindfulness of in and out breathing , one should sit, according to the text, ”cross-legged, keeping the body erect and mindfulness alert”. But sitting cross-legged is not practical and easy for people of all countries, particularly for Westerners. Therefore, those who find it difficult to sit cross-legged may sit on a chair, “keeping the body erect and mindfulness alert”. It is very necessary for this exercise that meditator should sit erect, but not stiff; his hands placed comfortably on his lap. Thus seated, you may close your eyes, or you may gaze at the tip of your nose, as it may be convenient to you.

An alternative meditative posture sutable for woman

This, unlike the Yogic systems, does not call for any interference with the normal breathing, the breath being merely used as a point on which to fix the attention, at the tip of the nostrils. The attention must not wander, even to follow the breath, but must be kept rigidly on the selected spot. In the initial stages it is advisable to mark the respiration by counting, but as soon as it is possible to keep the mind fixed without this artificial aid, it should be discontinued and only used when it is necessary to recall the attention.

You breathe in and out all day and night, but you are never mindful of it, you never for a second concentrate your mind on it. Now you are going to do just this. Breathe in and out as usual, without any effort or strain. Now, bring your mind to concentrate on your breathing- in and breathing-out; let your mind watch and observe your breathing in and out; let your mind be aware and vigilant of your breathing in and out. When you breathe, you sometimes take deep breaths, sometimes not. This does not matter at all. Breathe normally and naturally. The only thing is that when you take deep breaths you should be aware that they are deep breaths, and so on. In other words, your mind should be so fully concentrated on your breathing that you are aware of its movements and changes. Forget all other things, your surroundings, your environment; do not raise your eyes and look at anything. Try to do this for five or ten minutes.

At the beginning you will find it extremely difficult to bring your mind to concentrate on your breathing. You will be astonished how your mind runs away. It does not stay. You begin to think of various things. You hear sounds outside. Your mind is disturbed and distracted. You may be dismayed and disappointed.

It is at this stage that certain psychic phenomena appear, which may at first be disconcerting. A stage is reached when the actual bodily dukkha, the sensation of arising and passing away of the physical elements in the body, is felt. This is experienced as a disturbance, but it must be remembered that it is an agitation that is always present in the body but we are unaware of it until the mind becomes stabilized. It is the first direct experience of the dukkha (suffering) which is inherent in all phenomena — the realization within oneself of the first of the Four Noble Truths, Dukkha Ariya Sacca.

But if you continue to practice this exercise twice daily, morning and evening, for about five or ten minutes at a time, you will gradually, by and by, being to concentrate your mind on your breathing. After a certain period, you will experience just that split second when your mind is fully concentrated on your breathing, when you will not hear even sounds nearby, when no external world exists for you. As the state of mental quiescence (samatha) is approached, the breath appears to become fainter and fainter, until it is hardly discernible.

When that is passed there follows the sensation of piti, rapturous joy associated with the physical body.This slight moment is such a tremendous experience for you, full of joy, happiness and tranquility, that you would like to continue it. But still you can not. Yet, if you go on practicing this regularly, you may repeat the experience again and again for longer and longer periods. This is the moment when you lose yourself completely in your mindfulness of your breathing. As long as you are conscious of yourself you can never concentrate on anything.  

This exercise of mindfulness of breathing, which is one of the simplest and easiest practices, it meant to develop concentration leading up to very high mystic attainments (dhyana). Besides, the power of concentration is essential for any kind of deep understanding, penetration, insight into the nature of things, including the realization of Nibbana.

Apart from all this, this exercise on breathing gives you immediate results. It is good for your physical health, for relaxation, sound sleep, and for efficiency in your daily work. It makes you calm and tranquil. Even at moments when you are nervous or exited, if you practice this for a couple of minutes, you will see for yourself that you become immediately quiet and at peace. You feel as if you have awakened after a good rest.

 

Meditation in Day to day Life

Another very important, practical, and useful form of ‘meditation’ (mental development) is to be aware and mindful of whatever you do, physically or verbally, during the daily routine of work in your life, private, public or professional. Whether you walk, stand, sit, lie down, or sleep, whether you stretch or bend your limbs, whether you look around, whether you put on your clothes, whether you talk or keep silence, whether you eat or drink, even whether you answer the calls of nature- in these and other activities, you should be fully aware and mindful of the act you perform at the moment. That is to say, that you should live in the present moment, in the present action. This does not mean that you should not think of future or past at all. On the contrary, you think of them in relation to the present moment, the present action, when and where it is relevant.

People do not generally live in their actions, in the present moment. They live in the past or in the future. Though they seem to be doing something now, here, they live in somewhere else in their thoughts, in their imaginary problems and worries, usually in the memories of the past or in desires and speculations about the future. Therefore, they do not live in, nor do they enjoy, what they do at the moment. So they are unhappy and discontented with the present moment, with the work at hand, and naturally they can not give themselves fully to what they appear to be doing.

Sometimes you can see a man in a restaurant reading while eating - a very common sight. He gives you the impression of being a very busy man, with no time even for eating. You wonder whether he eats or reads. One may say that he does both. In fact, he does neither, he enjoys neither. He is strained, and disturbed in mind, and he does not enjoy what he does at the moment, does not live his life in the present moment, but unconsciously and foolishly tries to escape from life. (This does not mean, however, that one should not talk with a friend while having lunch or dinner.)

You can not escape life however you may try. As long as you live, whether in a town or in a cave, you have to face it and live it. Real life is the present moment and not the memories of the past which is dead and gone, nor the dreams of the future which is not yet born. One who lives in the present moment lives the real life and he is the happiest.

When asked why his disciples, who lived a simple and quiet life with only one meal a day, were so radiant, the Buddha replied: “They do not repent the past, nor do they brood over the future. They live in the present. Therefore they are radiant. By brooding over the future and repenting the past, fools dry up like green reeds cut down (in the sun).”

Mindfulness, or awareness, does not mean that you should think and be conscious “I am doing this” or “I am doing that”. No just the contrary. The moment you think “I am doing this”, you become self-conscious, and then you do not live in the action, but you live in the idea “I am”, and consequently your work too is spoilt. You should forget yourself completely, and lose yourself in what you do. The moment a speaker becomes self-conscious and thinks “I am addressing an audience”, his speech is disturbed and his trend of thought broken. But when he forgets himself in his speech, in his subject, then he is at his best, he speaks well and explains things clearly. All great works – artistic, poetic, intellectual or spiritual - is produced at those moments when its creators are lost completely in their actions, when they forget themselves altogether, and are free from self-consciousness.

This mindfulness or awareness with regard to our activities, taught by the Buddha, is to live in the resent moment, to live in the present action. Here in this form of meditation, you have not got to perform any particular action in order to develop mindfulness, but you have only to be mindful and aware of whatever you may do. You have not got to spend one second of your precious time on this particular ‘meditation’: you have only to cultivate mindfulness and awareness always, day and night, with regard to all activities in your usual daily life. Those two forms of ‘meditation’ discussed above are connected with our body.

Then there is a way of practicing mental development (meditation) with regard to all our sensations or feelings, whether happy, unhappy, or neutral. Let us take only one example. You experience so unhappy, sorrowful sensation. In this state your mind is cloudy, hazy, and not clear, it is depressed. In some cases, you do not even see clearly why you have that unhappy feeling. First of all, you should learn not to be unhappy about your unhappy feeling, not to be worried about your worries. But try to see clearly why there is sensation or feeling of unhappiness, or worry, or sorrow. Try to examine how it arises, its cause, how it disappears, and its cessation. Try to examine it as if you are observing it from outside, without any subjective reaction, as a scientist observes some object. Here, too, you should not look at it as “my feeling” or “my sensation” subjectively, but only look at it as “a feeling” or “a sensation” objectively. You should forget again the false idea of ‘I’. When you see its nature, how it arises and disappears, and your mind grows dispassionate towards that sensation, and becomes detached and free. It is the same with regard to all sensations or feelings.

Now let us discuss the form of meditation with regard to our mind. You should be fully aware of the fact that whenever your mind is passionate or detached, whenever it is overpowered by hatred, ill-will, jealousy, or is full of love, compassion, whenever it is deluded or has clear and right understanding, and so on and so forth. We must admit that very often we are afraid or ashamed to look at our own minds. So we prefer to avoid it. One should be bold and sincere and look at one’s own minds one looks at one’s face in a mirror.

Here is no attribute of criticizing or judging, or discriminating between right and wrong, or good and bad. It is simply observing, watching, examining. You are not a judge, but a scientist. When you observe your mind, and see its true nature clearly, you become dispassionate with regard to its emotions, sentiments, and states. Thus you become detached and free, so that you may see things as they are.

Let us take on example. Say you are really angry, overpowered by anger, ill-will, and hatred. It is curious, and paradoxical, that the man who is in anger is not really aware, not mindful that he is angry. The moment he becomes aware and mindful of that state of his mond, the moment he sees his anger, it becomes, as if it were shy and ashamed, and begins to subside. You should examine its nature, how it arise, how it disappears. Here again it should be remembered that you should not think ”I am angry”, or “my anger”. You should only be aware and mindful of the state of an angry mind.  You are only observing and examining an angry mind objectively. This should be the attitude with regard to all sentiments, emotions, and states of mind.

Metta Meditation (Another samatha meditation for novice)

Metta bhavana is the most universally beneficial form of discursive meditation, and can be practiced in any conditions. With steady perseverance in metta bhavana a point can be reached at which it becomes impossible even to harbor a thought of ill-will.

It is taught in Buddhism that the cultivation of benevolence must begin with oneself. There is a profound psychological truth in this, for no one who hates or despises himself consciously or unconsciously can feel true loving-kindness for others. To each of us the self is the nearest object; if one's attitude towards oneself is not a wholesome one, the spring of love is poisoned at its source. This does not mean that we should build up an idealized picture of ourselves as an object of admiration, but that, while being fully aware of our faults and deficiencies, we should not condemn but resolve to improve ourselves and cherish confidence in our ability to do so.

Metta bhavana, therefore, begins with the thought: "May I be free from enmity; may I be free from ill-will; may I be rid of suffering; may I be happy."

This thought having been developed, the next stage is to apply it in exactly the same form and to the same degree, to someone for whom one has naturally a feeling of friendship.

When the thought of metta has been developed towards a friend, the next object should be someone towards whom one has no marked feelings of like or dislike. Lastly, the thought of metta is to be turned towards someone who is hostile. It is here that difficulties arise. They are to be expected, and the meditator must be prepared to meet and wrestle with them. 

If this thought is dwelt upon and fully comprehended, feelings of hostility will be cast out. When the thought of loving-kindness is exactly the same, in quality and degree, for all these four objects — oneself, one's friend, the person toward whom one is neutral, and the enemy — the meditation has been successful.

 

References:

1. Mindfulness in Plain English by Ven. Henepola Gunaratana

2. Buddhist Meditation by Francis Story (The Anagarika Sugatananda)