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The Best Meditation Techniques in Buddhism
Buddhism offers a smorgasbord of different meditation techniques we can practice to achieve everything we could possibly wish for: from developing peace, eliminating our anger, cultivating compassion, to meditations that will bring us to ultimate, ever-lasting happiness and wisdom (also known as achieving Enlightenment in Buddhism).
Below I’ve listed the most common meditation techniques that can be found across a variety of different Buddhist schools and traditions. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully it can be used as a framework to help you understand how these different meditations can be used, and may assist you in choosing which ones you might like to try and explore further.
When determining which meditation technique is the best for you to practice, I think it really comes down to personal preference. I often find myself using different techniques depending on my current state of mind. For instance, if my mind is racing with many thoughts, then I usually prefer counting my breaths to help calm it down. Also, if there is a particular spiritual quality I’m looking to cultivate, then I will focus on a meditation designed specifically for increasing that.
One thing that is certain is that all these meditations will have many more benefits than the outcomes I’ve listed below. For instance, the loving-kindness meditation is likely to not only increase your feeling of love for others and reduce your enmity and aversion, but it will also lead to greater happiness, contentment and peace. Basically, there are too many wonderful benefits to list for each of the different meditations, so I’ve limited my descriptions to just detailing their intended purpose and what they primarily aim to achieve.
Developing One-Pointed Concentration
Samatha Meditation or Calm Abiding Meditation – This practice usually involves watching our breath as our object of meditation. This meditation is specifically designed to calm and focus our mind so we can develop our powers of concentration. We can also add a technique of counting our breaths to help increase our concentration and reduce the general distractibility of our mind.
It is also possible to use an external object for this type of meditation. You might choose to meditate on a Buddha statue and place all your visual and mental attention on one aspect of it. Usually it’s best to select a specific part of the statue to meditate on, rather than trying to focus on the whole thing. You could alternatively use a photo of the Buddha or your teacher to also inspire faith and devotion. Or you can just meditate on a small part of any object in front of you. I often focus on a small plastic blue flower, placing all my concentration on the center of it.
In the short term, this meditation will bring greater peace, happiness and clarity to your life if you practice it on a weekly or (better yet!) daily basis. But its main objective is to help establish a concentrated and stable mind so you can move onto the final goal of developing insight. When we can access deeper states of awareness, it will reveal the true nature of ourselves and our reality which leads to ultimate peace and happiness (Awakening/Enlightenment).
There are a number of variations we can make to the common practice of watching our breath, especially if our mind is particularly distracted or distressed by negative emotions.
- Adding colors to your breath if you’re a visual person
• Adding qualities to the breath to help remove negative emotions, for instance, visualizing you’re breathing in a positive quality and breathing out something negative that you need to let go of.
Walking Meditation – Not all of us are great at sitting for long periods of time. Fortunately, we can break up our sessions with walking meditation. At full day retreats, it is common to interchange sitting and walking meditations so that one hour of sitting meditation is followed by 30 minutes of walking meditation. Generally, walking meditation is designed to complement our sitting meditations so that we maintain our concentration between our seated sessions. This meditation pays close attention to the movement of our feet as we walk slowly, back and forth, in a small, defined area.
Meditations to Allay Meditative Obstacles & Quicken One’s Realization of Emptiness
Vajrayana Buddhism (also known as Tibetan Buddhism) and many Mahayana Buddhist schools are filled with a multitude of deity meditation practices. These sometimes involve visualizing the deity as an external being that we can request blessings from. But the real transformative meditations are the ones where you visualize yourself as the deity, in their form, reciting their mantras, and meditating on the spiritual qualities they possess (immeasurable compassion and wisdom). Through the power of imagining yourself as the ‘end result’ – as a being that’s already enlightened – we can help those qualities to germinate and come to fruition faster. These meditations also help break us free of clinging to self, as we’re no longer identifying with our ordinary, egoistic self, but rather one who is endowed with enlightened qualities.
There are literally hundreds of different deity meditation practices and each school has practices which they favor most, so it’s impossible to list them all. But below I’ve listed some of the more common deity practices found in most of the Vajrayana Buddhist schools and some of their specific purposes.
Green Tara – seen as the female embodiment of all the Buddha’s wisdom, she is considered the mother who dispels all fears.
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