Meditation is the psychologic practice of concentrating your mind and thoughts in order to become fully aware. It is a way to take responsibility for your own state of mind and train it to focus and redirect your thoughts. Meditation has many psychological and physical benefits such as expanding your awareness, calming your mind and opening your heart. There are numerous different types of meditation all used for various different situations and for specific benefits. Meditation has been practised all over the world for thousands of years in many cultures. It can often be associated with religion as nearly every religion has a tradition of using meditative practices. Although meditation was originally meant to help deepen understanding of the sacred and spiritual forces of life, it does not always have a religious element. It is now more globally practiced as an everyday experience promoting good health and boosting the immune system.
What is Buddhist Meditation?
In Buddhism, meditation practices are techniques that encourage and develop concentration, emotional positivity and clarity. It is not about reaching a deeper state of consciousness or any supernatural element but simply achieving a greater attentiveness without judgement. Buddhist meditation is done with the aim of achieving awareness and enlightenment. To be able to examine and be free in your own mind without distraction. This can often be referred to as mindfulness. Mindfulness is a psychological process in which you learn to be fully aware of what is happening in the present moment, in your mind, body and surroundings. Mindfulness encourages you to observe your wandering thoughts and emotions as they appear in your mind, but to not be overwhelmed by them. The intention is to not get involved with the thoughts but to simply acknowledge them as they arise. By doing so you are keeping yourself grounded to the present moment. Mindfulness is done with the purpose to become more self-aware, less stressed and be able to control unhelpful and unwanted thoughts.
Buddha Shakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism, was born as a prince in northern India in 624BC. The prince had given up a life of great wealth and privilege to go on a penniless quest to find enlightenment. He retired to the forest where he followed a life of meditation, he sat in a state of subtle absorption and after six years he attained what he had set out to achieve. He was then subsequently requested to teach others the path of enlightenment through the practice of meditation.
Buddhists peruse meditation as part of the path towards their awakening and Nirvana. Nirvana is the spiritual goal for all Buddhists. A variety of meditation techniques are used in order to achieve this. They include those such as asubha bhavana (reflections and repulsiveness) and sati (mindfulness). These are just some of the many techniques that are used to develop a wholesome state of mind. Meditation involves both the body and the mind. For Buddhists, this is highly important as they aim to avoid something called duality. Non-duality is an experience without opposite and it cannot be resolved with illusion. The experience of non-duality is very real and is one of consistent happiness. Therefore, this particular way of meditating must involve both the body and mind as a single entity.
Why is Meditation important to Buddhism?
Buddhists believe that meditation is a means to achieve enlightenment and Nirvana. The basic foundations of Buddhism are the Four Noble Truths. They are the truths that; suffering exists, suffering has a cause, suffering can end and that there is a path to end suffering. For Buddhists, this can be achieved by the practice of meditation. To achieve enlightenment, you have to end suffering. To end suffering you have to understand what is causing you to suffer, normally attachment. To be able to understand what is causing you to suffer, you must practice meditation. Meditation is believed to be crucial to a life without ignorance and therefore a life of complete happiness. Buddhists believe that the main courses of suffering drive not from external circumstance, not from fate, not from god but from our own confusion about the nature of reality and therefore life. Meditation is indented to abolish this delusion of fantasy, to end suffering and to become one with reality at that exact moment. To Buddhists, meditation is not just part of a religion but a way of life. Dedicating their lives to achieving awareness and enlightenment to live without stress and suffering. Those who achieve awakening are then able to teach others to be able to do the same. To examine their own mind, to be free in yourself without distraction. This is the ultimate goal for all Buddhists, to become Buddha, the awakened one. It has often been said that Buddhism is more like a science than a religion and both its physical and psychical benefits reflect this.
Although meditation is often associated to Buddhism along with many other religions, it is not strictly a religious practice. Anyone can follow the same teachings to become mindful and reach a state of enlightenment through meditation. Living in such a fast-paced modern world where the rates of depression, anxiety and stress are ever growing, introducing practices such a meditation enables you to remove yourself from confusion and live completely in the moment. The practice is growing ever popular in the western world as more and more people are becoming aware of its life altering benefits. Buddhist meditation can help identify and eliminate habitual patterns of thinking that keep us unsatisfied. By gaining realistic expectations of others and ourselves and acknowledging that happiness does not come from materialistic items but from our state of mind. By accepting that everything in our lives is impermanent.
There are many Buddhist retreats and group meditation centres where people all around the world are able to go and be taught the practice of Buddhist meditation by those who have found enlightenment. However, you can practice meditation anywhere and with anymore. Due to westernisation, it is now possible to have guided videos and tapes to help you practice meditation from your own home. This is as well as Buddhist meditation books and articles online to help you on your journey of enlightenment.