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Buddhist meditation

Buddhist meditation is the practice of meditation in


Buddhism. The closest words for meditation in the
classical languages of Buddhism are bhāvanā ("mental
development")[note 1] and jhāna/dhyāna (mental training
resulting in a calm and luminous mind).[note 2]

Buddhists pursue meditation as part of the path toward


liberation, awakening and Nirvana,[note 3] and includes a
variety of meditation techniques, most notably asubha
bhavana ("reflections on repulsiveness");[1] reflection
on pratityasamutpada (dependent origination); sati
(mindfulness) and anussati (recollections), including
anapanasati (breath meditation); dhyana (developing an
alert and luminous mind);[2][3][4][5][6] and the Brahma-
viharas (loving-kindness and compassion). These
techniques aim to develop equanimity and sati
(mindfulness); samadhi (concentration) c.q. samatha
(tranquility) and vipassanā (insight); and are also said to
lead to abhijñā (supramundane powers). These
meditation techniques are preceded by and combined
with practices which aid this development, such as
moral restraint and right effort to develop wholesome
states of mind.
Buddha Shakyamuni meditating in the lotus
While these techniques are used across Buddhist position, India, Bihar, probably Kurkihar, Pala
schools, there is also significant diversity. In the dynasty, c. 1000 AD, black stone - Östasiatiska
Theravada tradition, reflecting developments in early museet, Stockholm, Sweden
Buddhism, meditation techniques are classified as either
samatha (calming the mind) and vipassana (gaining
insight).[note 4] Chinese and Japanese Buddhism preserved a wide range of meditation techniques, which go
back to early Buddhism, most notably Sarvastivada. In Tibetan Buddhism, deity yoga includes
visualisations, which precede the realization of sunyata ("emptiness").[note 5]

Contents
Etymology
Pre-Buddhist India
Pre-sectarian Buddhism
Preparatory practices
Asubha bhavana (reflection on unattractiveness)
Anussati (recollections)
Sati/smrti (mindfulness) and satipatthana (establishment of mindfulness)
Anapanasati (mindfulness of breathing)
Dhyāna/jhāna
Four rupa-jhanas
Qualities
Interpretation
Arupas
Jhana and insight
Brahmavihāra
Early Buddhism
Samatha (serenity) and vipassana (insight)
Theravāda
Sutta Pitaka and early commentaries
Buddhaghosa
Contemporary Theravāda
Vipassana and/or samatta
Vipassana movement
Thai Forest tradition
Other forms
Sarvāstivāda
Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism
East Asian Mahāyāna
East Asian Yogācāra methods
Tiantai śamatha-vipaśyanā
Esoteric practices in Japanese Tendai
Huayan meditation theory
Pure land Buddhism
Chán
Tantric Buddhism
Therapeutic uses of meditation
Key terms
See also
Notes
References
Sources
Printed sources
Web-sources
Further reading
External links

Etymology
The closest words for meditation in the classical languages of Buddhism are bhāvanā (mental
development)[note 1] and jhāna/dhyāna.[note 2]
Pre-Buddhist India
Modern Buddhist studies has attempted to reconstruct the meditation practices of pre-sectarian Early
Buddhism, mainly through philological and text critical methods using the early canonical texts.[7]

According to Indologist Johannes Bronkhorst, "the teaching of the Buddha as presented in the early canon
contains a number of contradictions,"[8] presenting "a variety of methods that do not always agree with each
other,"[9] containing "views and practices that are sometimes accepted and sometimes rejected."[8] These
contradictions are due to the influence of non-Buddhist traditions on early Buddhism. One example of these
non-Buddhist meditative methods found in the early sources is outlined by Bronkhorst:

The Vitakkasanthāna Sutta of the Majjhima Nikāya and its parallels in Chinese translation
recommend the practicing monk to ‘restrain his thought with his mind, to coerce and torment
it’. Exactly the same words are used elsewhere in the Pāli canon (in the Mahāsaccaka Sutta,
Bodhirājakumāra Sutta and Saṅgārava Sutta) in order to describe the futile attempts of the
Buddha before his enlightenment to reach liberation after the manner of the Jainas.[7]

According to Bronkhorst, such practices which are based on a "suppression of activity" are not authentically
Buddhist, but were later adopted from the Jains by the Buddhist community.

The two major traditions of meditative practice in pre-Buddhist India were the Jain ascetic practices and the
various Vedic Brahmanical practices. There is still much debate in Buddhist studies regarding how much
influence these two traditions had on the development of early Buddhist meditation. The early Buddhist
texts mention that Gautama trained under two teachers known as Āḷāra Kālāma and Uddaka Rāmaputta,
both of them taught formless jhanas or mental absorptions, a key practice of proper Buddhist meditation.[10]
Alexander Wynne considers these figures historical persons associated with the doctrines of the early
Upanishads.[11] Other practices which the Buddha undertook have been associated with the Jain ascetic
tradition by the Indologist Johannes Bronkhorst including extreme fasting and a forceful "meditation
without breathing".[12] According to the early texts, the Buddha rejected the more extreme Jain ascetic
practices in favor of the middle way.

Pre-sectarian Buddhism
Early Buddhism, as it existed before the development of various
schools, is called pre-sectarian Buddhism. Its meditation-
techniques are described in the Pali Canon and the Chinese
Agamas.

Preparatory practices

Meditation and contemplation are preceded by preparatory


practices.[13] As described in the Noble Eightfold Path, right
The early Buddhist tradition also taught
view leads to leaving the household life and becoming a other meditation postures, such as the
wandering monk. Sila, morality, comprises the rules for right standing posture and the lion posture
conduct. Sense restraint and right effort, c.q. the four right performed lying down on one side.
efforts, are important preparatory practices. Sense restraint
means controlling the response to sensual perceptions, not
giving in to lust and aversion but simply noticing the objects of perception as they appear.[14] Right effort
aims to prevent the arising of unwholesome states, and to generate wholesome states. By following these
preparatory steps and practices, the mind becomes set, almost naturally, for the practice of
dhyana.[15][16][note 6]

Asubha bhavana (reflection on unattractiveness)

Asubha bhavana is reflection on "the foul"/unattractiveness (Pāli: asubha). It includes two practices, namely
cemetery contemplations, and Paṭikkūlamanasikāra, "reflections on repulsiveness". Patikulamanasikara is a
Buddhist meditation whereby thirty-one parts of the body are contemplated in a variety of ways. In addition
to developing sati (mindfulness) and samādhi (concentration, dhyana), this form of meditation is considered
to be conducive to overcoming desire and lust.[17]

Anussati (recollections)

Anussati (Pāli; Sanskrit: Anusmriti) means "recollection,"


"contemplation," "remembrance," "meditation" and
"mindfulness." [19] It refers to specific meditative or devotional
practices, such as recollecting the sublime qualities of the
Buddha or anapanasati (mindfulness of breathing), which lead
to mental tranquillity and abiding joy. In various contexts, the
Pali literature and Sanskrit Mahayana sutras emphasize and
identify different enumerations of recollections.

Sati/smrti (mindfulness) and satipatthana


(establishment of mindfulness)
Illustration of mindfulness of death using
corpses in a charnel ground, a subset of
An important quality to be cultivated by a Buddhist meditator is
mindfulness of the body, the first
mindfulness (sati). Mindfulness is a polyvalent term which satipatthana. From an early-20th-century
refers to remembering, recollecting and "bearing in mind". It manuscript found in Chaiya District, Surat
also relates to remembering the teachings of the Buddha and Thani Province, Thailand.[18]
knowing how these teachings relate to one's experiences. The
Buddhist texts mention different kinds of mindfulness practice.
According to Bronkhorst, there were originally two kinds of mindfulness, "observations of the positions of
the body" and the four satipaṭṭhānas, the "establishment of mindfulness," which constituted formal
meditation.[20] Bhikkhu Sujato and Bronkhorst both argue that the mindfulness of the positions of the body
wasn't originally part of the four satipatthana formula, but was later added to it in some texts.[20]

In the Pali Satipatthana Sutta and its parallels as well as numerous other early Buddhist texts, the Buddha
identifies four foundations for mindfulness (satipaṭṭhānas): the body (including the four elements, the parts
of the body, and death); feelings (vedana); mind (citta); and phenomena or principles (dhammas), such as
the five hindrances and the seven factors of enlightenment. Different early texts give different enumerations
of these four mindfulness practices. Meditation on these subjects is said to develop insight.[21]

According to Grzegorz Polak, the four upassanā have been misunderstood by the developing Buddhist
tradition, including Theravada, to refer to four different foundations. According to Polak, the four upassanā
do not refer to four different foundations of which one should be aware, but are an alternate description of
the jhanas, describing how the samskharas are tranquilized:[22]

the six sense-bases which one needs to be aware of (kāyānupassanā);


contemplation on vedanās, which arise with the contact between the senses and their objects
(vedanānupassanā);
the altered states of mind to which this practice leads (cittānupassanā);
the development from the five hindrances to the seven factors of enlightenment
(dhammānupassanā).

Anapanasati (mindfulness of breathing)

Anapanasati, mindfulness of breathing, is a core meditation practice in Theravada, Tiantai and Chan
traditions of Buddhism as well as a part of many mindfulness programs. In both ancient and modern times,
anapanasati by itself is likely the most widely used Buddhist method for contemplating bodily
phenomena.[23]

The Ānāpānasati Sutta specifically concerns mindfulness of inhalation and exhalation, as a part of paying
attention to one's body in quietude, and recommends the practice of anapanasati meditation as a means of
cultivating the Seven Factors of Enlightenment: sati (mindfulness), dhamma vicaya (analysis), viriya
(persistence), which leads to pīti (rapture), then to passaddhi (serenity), which in turn leads to samadhi
(concentration) and then to upekkhā (equanimity). Finally, the Buddha taught that, with these factors
developed in this progression, the practice of anapanasati would lead to release (Pali: vimutti; Sanskrit
mokṣa) from dukkha (suffering), in which one realizes nibbana.

Dhyāna/jhāna

Many scholars of early Buddhism, such as Vetter, Bronkhorst and Anālayo, see the practice of jhāna
(Sanskrit: dhyāna) as central to the meditation of Early Buddhism.[2][3][5] According to Bronkhorst, the
oldest Buddhist meditation practice are the four dhyanas, which lead to the destruction of the asavas as well
as the practice of mindfulness (sati).[24] According to Vetter, the practice of dhyana may have constituted
the core liberating practice of early Buddhism, since in this state all "pleasure and pain" had waned.[13]
According to Vetter,

[P]robably the word "immortality" (a-mata) was used by the Buddha for the first interpretation
of this experience and not the term cessation of suffering that belongs to the four noble truths
[...] the Buddha did not achieve the experience of salvation by discerning the four noble truths
and/or other data. But his experience must have been of such a nature that it could bear the
interpretation "achieving immortality".[25]

Alexander Wynne agrees that the Buddha taught a kind of meditation exemplified by the four dhyanas, but
argues that the Buddha adopted these from the Brahmin teachers Āḷāra Kālāma and Uddaka Rāmaputta,
though he did not interpret them in the same Vedic cosmological way and rejected their Vedic goal (union
with Brahman). The Buddha, according to Wynne, radically transformed the practice of dhyana which he
learned from these Brahmins which "consisted of the adaptation of the old yogic techniques to the practice
of mindfulness and attainment of insight".[26] For Wynne, this idea that liberation required not just
meditation but an act of insight, was radically different than the Brahminic meditation, "where it was
thought that the yogin must be without any mental activity at all, ‘like a log of wood’."[27]

Four rupa-jhanas

Qualities
The Suttapitaka and the Agamas describe four rupa-jhanas. Rupa refers to the material realm, in a neutral
stance, as different form the kama realm (lust, desire) and the arupa-realm (non-material realm).[28] The
qualities associated with the first four jhanas are as follows:[13][29][note 7]

First dhyana: the first dhyana can be entered when one is secluded from sensuality and
unskillful qualities. There is pīti ("rapture") and non-sensual sukha ("pleasure") as the result of
seclusion, while vitarka-vicara ("discursive thought") continues;[note 8]
Second dhyana: there is pīti ("rapture") and non-sensual sukha ("pleasure") as the result of
concentration (samadhi-ji, "born of samadhi"[32]); ekaggata (unification of awareness) free from
vitarka ("directed thought") and vicara ("evaluation"); and inner tranquility;[note 9]
Third dhyana: Upekkha (equanimous), mindful, and alert; senses pleasure with the body;
Fourth dhyana: upekkhāsatipārisuddhi[note 10] (purity of equanimity and mindfulness); neither-
pleasure-nor-pain.

Interpretation

According to Richard Gombrich, the sequence of the four rupa-jhanas describes two different cognitive
states.[34][note 11][35] Alexander Wynne further explains that the dhyana-scheme is poorly understood.[36]
According to Wynne, words expressing the inculcation of awareness, such as sati, sampajāno, and upekkhā,
are mistranslated or understood as particular factors of meditative states,[36] whereas they refer to a
particular way of perceiving the sense objects.[36][note 12][note 13] Polak notes that the qualities of the jhanas
resemble the bojjhaṅgā, the seven factors of awakening]], arguing that both sets describe the same essential
practice.[16] Polak further notes, elaborating on Vetter, that the onset of the first dhyana is described as a
quite natural process, due to the preceding efforts to restrain the senses and the nurturing of wholesome
states.[16][15]

Upekkhā, equanimity, which is perfected in the fourth dhyana, is one of the four Brahma-vihara. While the
commentarial tradition downplayed the Brahma-viharas, Gombrich notes that the Buddhist usage of the
brahma-vihāra, originally referred to an awakened state of mind, and a concrete attitude toward other beings
which was equal to "living with Brahman" here and now. The later tradition took those descriptions too
literally, linking them to cosmology and understanding them as "living with Brahman" by rebirth in the
Brahma-world.[38] According to Gombrich, "the Buddha taught that kindness - what Christians tend to call
love - was a way to salvation.[39]

Arupas

In addition to the four rūpajhānas, there are also meditative attainments which were later called by the
tradition the arūpajhānas, though the early texts do not use the term dhyana for them, calling them āyatana
(dimension, sphere, base). They are:

The Dimension of infinite space (Pali ākāsānañcāyatana, Skt. ākāśānantyāyatana),


The Dimension of infinite consciousness (Pali viññāṇañcāyatana, Skt. vijñānānantyāyatana),
The Dimension of infinite nothingness (Pali ākiñcaññāyatana, Skt. ākiṃcanyāyatana),
The Dimension of neither perception nor non-perception (Pali nevasaññānāsaññāyatana, Skt.
naivasaṃjñānāsaṃjñāyatana).
Nirodha-samāpatti, also called saññā-vedayita-nirodha, 'extinction of feeling and perception'.

These formless jhanas may have been incorporated from non-Buddhist traditions.[40][41]
Jhana and insight

Various early sources mention the attainment of insight after having achieved jhana. In the Mahasaccaka
Sutta, dhyana is followed by insight into the four noble truths. The mention of the four noble truths as
constituting "liberating insight" is probably a later addition.[42][43][40][41] Discriminating insight into
transiency as a separate path to liberation was a later development,[44][45] under pressure of developments in
Indian religious thinking, which saw "liberating insight" as essential to liberation.[13] This may also have
been due to an over-literal interpretation by later scholastics of the terminology used by the Buddha,[46] and
to the problems involved with the practice of dhyana, and the need to develop an easier method.[47]

Brahmavihāra

Another important meditation in the early sources are the four Brahmavihāra (divine abodes) which are said
to lead to cetovimutti, a “liberation of the mind”.[48] The four Brahmavihāra are:

1. Loving-kindness (Pāli: mettā, Sanskrit: maitrī) is active good will towards all;[49][50]
2. Compassion (Pāli and Sanskrit: karuṇā) results from metta, it is identifying the suffering of
others as one's own;[49][50]
3. Empathetic joy (Pāli and Sanskrit: muditā): is the feeling of joy because others are happy, even
if one did not contribute to it, it is a form of sympathetic joy;[49]
4. Equanimity (Pāli: upekkhā, Sanskrit: upekṣā): is even-mindedness and serenity, treating
everyone impartially.[49][50]

According to Anālayo:

The effect of cultivating the brahmavihāras as a liberation of the mind finds illustration in a
simile which describes a conch blower who is able to make himself heard in all directions. This
illustrates how the brahmavihāras are to be developed as a boundless radiation in all directions,
as a result of which they cannot be overruled by other more limited karma.[51]

The practice of the four divine abodes can be seen as a way to overcome ill-will and sensual desire and to
train in the quality of deep concentration (samadhi).[52]

Early Buddhism
Traditionally, Eighteen schools of Buddhism are said to have developed after the time of the Buddha. The
Sarvastivada school was the most influential, but the Theravada is the only school that still exists.

Samatha (serenity) and vipassana (insight)

The Buddha is said to have identified two paramount mental qualities that arise from wholesome meditative
practice:

"serenity" or "tranquillity" (Pali: samatha; Sanskrit: samadhi) which steadies, composes, unifies
and concentrates the mind;
"insight" (Pali: vipassanā) which enables one to see, explore and discern "formations"
(conditioned phenomena based on the five aggregates).[note 14]
It is said that tranquility meditation can lead to the attainment of supernatural powers such as psychic
powers and mind reading while insight meditation can lead to the realisation of nibbāna.[53] In the Pali
canon, the Buddha never mentions independent samatha and vipassana meditation practices; instead,
samatha and vipassana are two qualities of mind, to be developed through meditation.[note 15] Nonetheless,
some meditation practices (such as contemplation of a kasina object) favor the development of samatha,
others are conducive to the development of vipassana (such as contemplation of the aggregates), while
others (such as mindfulness of breathing) are classically used for developing both mental qualities.[54]

In the "Four Ways to Arahantship Sutta" (AN 4.170), Ven. Ananda reports that people attain arahantship
using serenity and insight in one of three ways:

1. they develop serenity and then insight (Pali: samatha-pubbangamam vipassanam)


2. they develop insight and then serenity (Pali: vipassana-pubbangamam samatham)
3. they develop serenity and insight in tandem (Pali: samatha-vipassanam yuganaddham) as in,
for instance, obtaining the first jhana, and then seeing in the associated aggregates the three
marks of existence, before proceeding to the second jhana.[55]

While the Nikayas state that the pursuit of vipassana can precede the pursuit of samatha, according to the
Burmese Vipassana movement vipassana be based upon the achievement of stabilizing "access
concentration" (Pali: upacara samadhi).

Through the meditative development of serenity, one is able to suppress obscuring hindrances; and, with the
suppression of the hindrances, it is through the meditative development of insight that one gains liberating
wisdom.[56] Moreover, the Buddha is said to have extolled serenity and insight as conduits for attaining
Nibbana (Pali; Skt.: Nirvana), the unconditioned state as in the "Kimsuka Tree Sutta" (SN 35.245), where
the Buddha provides an elaborate metaphor in which serenity and insight are "the swift pair of messengers"
who deliver the message of Nibbana via the Noble Eightfold Path.[note 16] In the Threefold training, samatha
is part of samadhi, the eight limb of the threefold path, together withsati, mindfulness.

Theravāda

Sutta Pitaka and early commentaries

The oldest material of the Theravāda tradition on meditation can be


found in the Pali Nikayas, and in texts such as the
Patisambhidamagga which provide commentary to meditation suttas
like the Anapanasati sutta.

Buddhaghosa Buddhaghosa with three copies of


Visuddhimagga, Kelaniya Raja Maha
An early Theravāda meditation manual is the Vimuttimagga ('Path of Vihara
Freedom', 1st or 2nd century).[57] The most influential presentation
though, is that of the 5th-century Visuddhimagga ('Path of
Purification') of Buddhaghoṣa, which seems to have been influenced by the earlier Vimuttimagga in his
presentation.[58]

The Visuddhimagga's doctrine reflects Theravāda Abhidhamma scholasticism, which includes several
innovations and interpretations not found in the earliest discourses (suttas) of the Buddha.[59][60]
Buddhaghosa's Visuddhimagga includes non-canonical instructions on Theravada meditation, such as "ways
of guarding the mental image (nimitta)," which point to later developments in Theravada meditation.[61]
The text is centered around kasina-meditation, a form of concentration-meditation in which the mind is
focused on a (mental) object.[62] According to Thanissaro Bhikkhu, "[t]he text then tries to fit all other
meditation methods into the mold of kasina practice, so that they too give rise to countersigns, but even by
its own admission, breath meditation does not fit well into the mold."[62] In its emphasis on kasina-
meditation, the Visuddhimagga departs from the Pali Canon, in which dhyana is the central meditative
practice, indicating that what "jhana means in the commentaries is something quite different from what it
means in the Canon."[62]

The Visuddhimagga describes forty meditation subjects, most being described in the early texts.[63]
Buddhaghoṣa advises that, for the purpose of developing concentration and consciousness, a person should
"apprehend from among the forty meditation subjects one that suits his own temperament" with the advice
of a "good friend" (kalyāṇa-mittatā) who is knowledgeable in the different meditation subjects (Ch. III, §
28).[64] Buddhaghoṣa subsequently elaborates on the forty meditation subjects as follows (Ch. III, §104;
Chs. IV–XI):[65]

ten kasinas: earth, water, fire, air, blue, yellow, red, white, light, and "limited-space".
ten kinds of foulness: "the bloated, the livid, the festering, the cut-up, the gnawed, the
scattered, the hacked and scattered, the bleeding, the worm-infested, and a skeleton".
ten recollections: Buddhānussati, the Dhamma, the Sangha, virtue, generosity, the virtues of
deities, death (see the Upajjhatthana Sutta), the body, the breath (see anapanasati), and
peace (see Nibbana).
four divine abodes: mettā, karuṇā, mudita, and upekkha.
four immaterial states: boundless space, boundless perception, nothingness, and neither
perception nor non-perception.
one perception (of "repulsiveness in nutriment")
one "defining" (that is, the four elements)

When one overlays Buddhaghosa's 40 meditative subjects for the development of concentration with the
Buddha's foundations of mindfulness, three practices are found to be in common: breath meditation,
foulness meditation (which is similar to the Sattipatthana Sutta's cemetery contemplations, and to
contemplation of bodily repulsiveness), and contemplation of the four elements. According to Pali
commentaries, breath meditation can lead one to the equanimous fourth jhanic absorption. Contemplation of
foulness can lead to the attainment of the first jhana, and contemplation of the four elements culminates in
pre-jhana access concentration.[66]

Contemporary Theravāda

Vipassana and/or samatta

The role of samatha in Buddhist practice, and the exact meaning of


samatta, are points of contention and investigation in contemporary
Theravada and western vipassanan. Burmese vipassana teachers
have tended to disregard samatta as unnecessary, while Thai
teachers see samatha and vipassana as intertwined.
The modern Thai Forest Tradition
The exact meaning of samatta is also not clear, and westerners have advocates practicing in the
started to question the receive wisdom on this.[67] While samatha is wilderness.
usually equated with the jhanas in the commentarial tradition,
scholars and practitioners have pointed out that jhana is more than a
narrowing of the focus of the mind. While the second jhana may be characterized by samadhi-ji, "born of
concentration," the first jhana sets in quite naturally as a result of
sense-restraint,[68] while the third and fourth jhana are characterized
by mindfulness and equanimity.[69] Sati, sense-restraint and
mindfulness are necessary preceding practices, while insight may
mark the point where one enters the "stream" of development which
results in vimukti, release.[70]

According to Anālayo, the jhanas are crucial meditative states which


lead to the abandonment of hindrances such as lust and aversion;
however, they are not sufficient for the attainment of liberating The practice of meditation by
insight. Some early texts also warn meditators against becoming Buddhist laypersons is a key feature
attached to them, and therefore forgetting the need for the further of the modern vipassana movement.
practice of insight.[71] According to Anālayo, "either one undertakes
such insight contemplation while still being in the attainment, or else
one does so retrospectively, after having emerged from the absorption itself but while still being in a mental
condition close to it in concentrative depth."[72]

The position that insight can be practiced from within jhana, according to the early texts, is endorsed by
Gunaratna, Crangle and Shankaman.[73][74][75] Anālayo meanwhile argues, that the evidence from the early
texts suggest that "contemplation of the impermanent nature of the mental constituents of an absorption
takes place before or on emerging from the attainment".[76]

Arbel has argued that insight precedes the practice of jhana.[77]

Vipassana movement

Particularly influential from the twentieth century onward has been the Burmese Vipassana movement,
especially the "New Burmese Method" or "Vipassanā School" approach to samatha and vipassanā
developed by Mingun Sayadaw and U Nārada and popularized by Mahasi Sayadaw. Here samatha is
considered an optional but not necessary component of the practice—vipassanā is possible without it.
Another Burmese method, derived from Ledi Sayadaw via Ba Khin and S. N. Goenka, takes a similar
approach. Other Burmese traditions popularized in the west, notably that of Pa Auk Sayadaw, uphold the
emphasis on samatha explicit in the commentarial tradition of the Visuddhimagga. These Burmese traditions
have been influential on Western Theravada-oriented teachers, notably Joseph Goldstein, Sharon Salzberg
and Jack Kornfield.

There are also other less well known Burmese meditation methods, such as the system developed by U
Vimala, which focuses on knowledge of dependent origination and cittanupassana (mindfulness of the
mind).[78] Likewise, Sayadaw U Tejaniya's method also focuses on mindfulness of the mind.

Thai Forest tradition

Also influential is the Thai Forest Tradition deriving from Mun Bhuridatta and popularized by Ajahn Chah,
which, in contrast, stresses the inseparability of the two practices, and the essential necessity of both
practices. Other noted practitioners in this tradition include Ajahn Thate and Ajahn Maha Bua, among
others.[79] There are other forms of Thai Buddhist meditation associated with particular teachers, including
Buddhadasa Bhikkhu's presentation of anapanasati, Ajahn Lee's breath meditation method (which
influenced his American student Thanissaro) and the "dynamic meditation" of Luangpor Teean
Cittasubho.[80]

Other forms
There are other less mainstream forms of Theravada meditation practiced in Thailand which include the
vijja dhammakaya meditation developed by Luang Pu Sodh Candasaro and the meditation of former
supreme patriarch Suk Kai Thuean (1733–1822).[80] Newell notes that these two forms of modern Thai
meditation share certain features in common with tantric practices such as the use of visualizations and
centrality of maps of the body.[80]

A less common type of meditation is practiced in Cambodia and Laos by followers of Borān kammaṭṭhāna
('ancient practices') tradition. This form of meditation includes the use of mantras and visualizations.

Sarvāstivāda
The now defunct Sarvāstivāda tradition, and its related sub-schools like the Sautrāntika and the Vaibhāṣika,
were the most influential Buddhists in North India and Central Asia. Their highly complex Abhidharma
treatises, such as the Mahavibhasa, the Sravakabhumi and the Abhidharmakosha, contain new developments
in meditative theory which had a major influence on meditation as practiced in East Asian Mahayana and
Tibetan Buddhism. Individuals known as yogācāras (yoga practitioners) were influential in the development
of Sarvāstivāda meditation praxis, and some modern scholars such as Yin Shun believe they were also
influential in the development of Mahayana meditation.[81] The Dhyāna sutras (Chinese: 禪 経 ) or
"meditation summaries" (Chinese: 禪要) are a group of early Buddhist meditation texts which are mostly
based on the Yogacara[note 17] meditation teachings of the Sarvāstivāda school of Kashmir circa 1st-4th
centuries CE, which focus on the concrete details of the meditative practice of the Yogacarins of northern
Gandhara and Kashmir.[1] Most of the texts only survive in Chinese and were key works in the development
of the Buddhist meditation practices of Chinese Buddhism.

According to K.L. Dhammajoti, the Sarvāstivāda meditation practitioner begins with samatha meditations,
divided into the fivefold mental stillings, each being recommended as useful for particular personality types:

1. contemplation on the impure (asubhabhavana), for the greedy type person.


2. meditation on loving kindness (maitri), for the hateful type
3. contemplation on conditioned co-arising, for the deluded type
4. contemplation on the division of the dhatus, for the conceited type
5. mindfulness of breathing (anapanasmrti), for the distracted type.[82]

Contemplation of the impure, and mindfulness of breathing, was particularly important in this system; they
were known as the 'gateways to immortality' (amrta-dvāra).[83] The Sarvāstivāda system practiced breath
meditation using the same sixteen aspect model used in the anapanasati sutta, but also introduced a unique
six aspect system which consists of:

1. counting the breaths up to ten,


2. following the breath as it enters through the nose throughout the body,
3. fixing the mind on the breath,
4. observing the breath at various locations,
5. modifying is related to the practice of the four applications of mindfulness and
6. purifying stage of the arising of insight.[84]

This sixfold breathing meditation method was influential in East Asia, and expanded upon by the Chinese
Tiantai meditation master Zhiyi.[82]
After the practitioner has achieved tranquility, Sarvāstivāda Abhidharma then recommends one proceeds to
practice the four applications of mindfulness (smrti-upasthāna) in two ways. First they contemplate each
specific characteristic of the four applications of mindfulness, and then they contemplate all four
collectively.[85]

In spite of this systematic division of samatha and vipasyana, the Sarvāstivāda Abhidharmikas held that the
two practices are not mutually exclusive. The Mahavibhasa for example remarks that, regarding the six
aspects of mindfulness of breathing, "there is no fixed rule here — all may come under samatha or all may
come under vipasyana."[86] The Sarvāstivāda Abhidharmikas also held that attaining the dhyānas was
necessary for the development of insight and wisdom.[86]

Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism


Mahāyāna practice is centered on the path of the bodhisattva, a being
which is aiming for full Buddhahood. Meditation (dhyāna) is one of
the transcendent virtues (paramitas) which a bodhisattva must
perfect in order to reach Buddhahood, and thus, it is central to
Mahāyāna Buddhist praxis.

Indian Mahāyāna Buddhism was initially a network of loosely


connected groups and associations, each drawing upon various
Buddhist texts, doctrines and meditation methods.[87] Because of
this, there is no single set of Indian Mahāyāna practices which can
be said to apply to all Indian Mahāyānists, nor is there is a single set
of texts which were used by all of them.

Textual evidence shows that many Mahāyāna Buddhists in northern


India as well as in Central Asia practiced meditation in a similar way
to that of the Sarvāstivāda school outlined above. This can be seen in
what is probably the most comprehensive and largest Indian
Mahāyāna treatise on meditation practice, the Yogācārabhūmi-Śāstra
(compiled c. 4th century), a compendium which explains in detail
Asaṅga, a Mahayana scholar who
Yogācāra meditation theory, and outlines numerous meditation
wrote numerous works and is
methods as well as related advice.[88] Among the topics discussed believed to have contributed to the
are the various early Buddhist meditation topics such as the four development of the Yogācārabhūmi.
dhyānas, the different kinds of samādhi, the development of insight
(vipaśyanā) and tranquility (śamatha), the four foundations of
mindfulness (smṛtyupasthāna), the five hindrances (nivaraṇa), and classic Buddhist meditations such as the
contemplation of unattractiveness (aśubhasaṃjnā), impermanence (anitya), suffering (duḥkha), and
contemplation death (maraṇasaṃjñā).[89] Other works of the Yogācāra school, such as Asaṅga's
Abhidharmasamuccaya, and Vasubandhu's Madhyāntavibhāga-bhāsya also discuss meditation topics such
as mindfulness, smṛtyupasthāna, the 37 wings to awakening, and samadhi.[90]

Some Mahāyāna sutras also teach early Buddhist meditation practices. For example, the Mahāratnakūṭa
Sūtra and the Mahāprajñāpāramitā Sūtra both teach the four foundations of mindfulness.[91]

The Prajñāpāramitā Sutras are some of the earliest Mahāyāna sutras. Their teachings center on the
bodhisattva path (viz. the paramitas), the most important of which is the perfection of transcendent
knowledge or prajñāpāramitā. This knowledge is associated with the early Buddhist practice of the three
samādhis (meditative concentrations): emptiness (śūnyatā), signlessness (animitta), and wishlessness or
desirelessness (apraṇihita).[92] These three samadhis are also mentioned in the Mahāprajñāpāramitōpadeśa
(Ch. Dà zhìdù lùn), chapter X.[93] In the Prajñāpāramitā Sutras, prajñāpāramitā is described as a kind of
samādhi which is also a deep understanding of reality arising from
meditative insight that is totally non-conceptual and completely
unattached to any person, thing or idea. The Aṣṭasāhasrikā
Prajñāpāramitā, possibly the earliest of these texts, also equates
prajñāpāramitā with what it terms the aniyato (unrestricted)
samādhi, “the samādhi of not taking up (aparigṛhīta) any dharma”,
and “the samādhi of not grasping at (anupādāna) any dharma” (as a
self).[94] According to Shi Huifeng, this meditative concentration:

entails not only not clinging to the five aggregates as


representative of all phenomena, but also not clinging to
the very notion of the five aggregates, their existence or
non-existence, their impermanence or eternality, their
being dissatisfactory or satisfactory, their emptiness or
self-hood, their generation or cessation, and so forth
with other antithetical pairs. To so mistakenly perceive
the aggregates is to “course in a sign” (nimite carati;
xíng xiāng 行 相 ), i.e. to engage in the signs and
conceptualization of phenomena, and not to course in
A dharani written in two languages –
Prajñāpāramitā. Even to perceive of oneself as a
Sanskrit and central Asian Sogdian
bodhisattva who courses, or the Prajñāpāramitā in
which one courses, are likewise coursing in signs.[95]

Other Indian Mahāyāna texts show new innovative methods which were unique to Mahāyāna Buddhism.
Texts such as the Pure Land sutras, the Akṣobhya-vyūha Sūtra and the Pratyutpanna Samādhi Sūtra teach
meditations on a particular Buddha (such as Amitābha or Akshobhya). Through the repetition of their name
or some other phrase and certain visualization methods, one is said to be able to meet a Buddha face to face
or at least to be reborn in a Buddha field (also known as "Pure land") like Abhirati and Sukhavati after
death.[96][97] The Pratyutpanna sutra for example, states that if one practices recollection of the Buddha
(Buddhānusmṛti) by visualizing a Buddha in their Buddha field and developing this samadhi for some seven
days, one may be able to meet this Buddha in a vision or a dream so as to learn the Dharma from them.[98]
Alternatively, being reborn in one of their Buddha fields allows one to meet a Buddha and study directly
with them, allowing one to reach Buddhahood faster. A set of sutras known as the Visualization Sutras also
depict similar innovative practices using mental imagery. These practices been seen by some scholars as a
possible explanation for the source of certain Mahāyāna sutras which are seen traditionally as direct
visionary revelations from the Buddhas in their pure lands.[99]

Another popular practice was the memorization and recitation of various texts, such as sutras, mantras and
dharanis. According to Akira Hirakawa, the practice of reciting dharanis (chants or incantations) became
very important in Indian Mahāyāna.[100] These chants were believed to have "the power to preserve good
and prevent evil", as well as being useful to attain meditative concentration or samadhi.[92] Important
Mahāyāna sutras such as the Lotus Sutra, Heart Sutra and others prominently include dharanis.[101][102]
Ryûichi Abé states that dharanis are also prominent in the Prajñāpāramitā Sutras wherein the Buddha
"praises dharani incantation, along with the cultivation of samadhi, as virtuous activity of a
bodhisattva".[101] They are also listed in the Mahāprajñāpāramitōpadeśa, chapter X, as an important quality
of a bodhisattva.[93]

A later Mahāyāna work which discusses meditation practice is Shantideva's Bodhicaryāvatāra (8th century)
which depicts how a bodhisattva's meditation was understood in the later period of Indian Mahāyāna.
Shantideva begins by stating that isolating the body and the mind from the world (ie from discursive
thoughts) is necessary for the practice of meditation, which must begin with the practice of tranquility
(śamatha).[103] He promotes classic practices like meditating on corpses and living in forests, but these are
preliminary to the Mahāyāna practices which initially focus on generating bodhicitta, a mind intent on
awakening for the benefit of all beings. An important of part of this practice is to cultivate and practice the
understanding that oneself and other beings are actually the same, and thus all suffering must be removed,
not just "mine". This meditation is termed by Shantideva "the exchange of self and other" and it is seen by
him as the apex of meditation, since it simultaneously provides a basis for ethical action and cultivates
insight into the nature of reality, i.e. emptiness.[103]

Another late Indian Mahāyāna meditation text is Kamalaśīla's Bhāvanākrama ( "stages of meditation", 9th
century), which teaches insight (vipaśyanā) and tranquility (śamatha) from a Yogācāra-Madhyamaka
perspective.[104]

East Asian Mahāyāna


The meditation forms practiced during the initial stages of Chinese Buddhism did not differ much from
those of Indian Mahayana Buddhism, though they did contain developments that could have arisen in
Central Asia.

The works of the Chinese translator An Shigao (安世高, 147-168 CE) are some of the earliest meditation
texts used by Chinese Buddhism and their focus is mindfulness of breathing (annabanna 安那般那). The
Chinese translator and scholar Kumarajiva (344–413 CE) transmitted various meditation works, including a
meditation treatise titled The Sūtra Concerned with Samādhi in Sitting Meditation ( 坐 禅 三 昧 经 , T.614,
K.991) which teaches the Sarvāstivāda system of fivefold mental stillings.[105] These texts are known as the
Dhyāna sutras.[106] They reflect the meditation practices of Kashmiri Buddhists, influenced by Sarvāstivāda
and Sautrantika meditation teachings, but also by Mahayana Buddhism.[107]

East Asian Yogācāra methods

The East Asian Yogācāra school or "Consciousness only school" (Ch. Wéishí-zōng), known in Japan as the
Hossō school was a very influential tradition of Chinese Buddhism. They practiced several forms of
meditation. According to Alan Sponberg, they included a class of visualization exercises, one of which
centered on constructing a mental image of the Bodhisattva (and presumed future Buddha) Maitreya in
Tusita heaven. A biography the Chinese Yogācāra master and translator Xuanzang depicts him practicing
this kind of meditation. The goal of this practice seems to have been rebirth in Tusita heaven, so as to meet
Maitreya and study Buddhism under him.[108]

Another method of meditation practiced in Chinese Yogācāra is called "the five level discernment of
vijñapti-mātra" (impressions only), introduced by Xuanzang's disciple, Kuījī (632–682), which became one
of the most important East Asian Yogācāra teachings.[109] According to Alan Sponberg, this kind of
vipasyana meditation was an attempt to "to penetrate the true nature of reality by understanding the three
aspects of existence in five successive steps or stages". These progressive stages or ways of seeing (kuan)
the world are:[110]

1. "dismissing the false - preserving the real" (ch 'ien-hsu ts'un-shih)


2. "relinquishing the diffuse - retaining the pure" (she-lan liu-ch 'un)
3. "gathering in the extensions - returning to the source" (she-mo kuei-pen)
4. "suppressing the subordinate - manifesting the superior" (yin-lueh hsien-sheng)
5. "dismissing the phenomenal aspects - realizing the true nature" (ch 'ien-hsiang cheng-hsing)
Tiantai śamatha-vipaśyanā

In China it has been traditionally held that the meditation methods used by the Tiantai school are the most
systematic and comprehensive of all.[111] In addition to its doctrinal basis in Indian Buddhist texts, the
Tiantai school also emphasizes use of its own meditation texts which emphasize the principles of śamatha
and vipaśyanā. Of these texts, Zhiyi's Concise Śamathavipaśyanā ( 小 止 観 ), Mohe Zhiguan ( 摩 訶 止 観 ,
Sanskrit Mahāśamathavipaśyanā), and Six Subtle Dharma Gates (六妙法門) are the most widely read in
China.[111] Rujun Wu identifies the work Mahā-śamatha-vipaśyanā of Zhiyi as the seminal meditation text
of the Tiantai school.[112] Regarding the functions of śamatha and vipaśyanā in meditation, Zhiyi writes in
his work Concise Śamatha-vipaśyanā:

The attainment of Nirvāṇa is realizable by many methods whose essentials do not go beyond
the practice of śamatha and vipaśyanā. Śamatha is the first step to untie all bonds and vipaśyanā
is essential to root out delusion. Śamatha provides nourishment for the preservation of the
knowing mind, and vipaśyanā is the skillful art of promoting spiritual understanding. Śamatha
is the unsurpassed cause of samādhi, while vipaśyanā begets wisdom.[113]

The Tiantai school also places a great emphasis on ānāpānasmṛti, or mindfulness of breathing, in
accordance with the principles of śamatha and vipaśyanā. Zhiyi classifies breathing into four main
categories: panting (喘), unhurried breathing (風), deep and quiet breathing (氣), and stillness or rest (息).
Zhiyi holds that the first three kinds of breathing are incorrect, while the fourth is correct, and that the
breathing should reach stillness and rest.[114] Zhiyi also outlines four kinds of samadhi in his Mohe Zhiguan,
and ten modes of practicing vipaśyanā.

Esoteric practices in Japanese Tendai

One of the adaptations by the Japanese Tendai school was the introduction of Mikkyō (esoteric practices)
into Tendai Buddhism, which was later named Taimitsu by Ennin. Eventually, according to Tendai Taimitsu
doctrine, the esoteric rituals came to be considered of equal importance with the exoteric teachings of the
Lotus Sutra. Therefore, by chanting mantras, maintaining mudras, or performing certain meditations, one is
able to see that the sense experiences are the teachings of Buddha, have faith that one is inherently an
enlightened being, and one can attain enlightenment within this very body. The origins of Taimitsu are found
in China, similar to the lineage that Kūkai encountered in his visit to Tang China and Saichō's disciples were
encouraged to study under Kūkai.[115]

Huayan meditation theory

The Huayan school was a major school of Chinese Buddhism, which also strongly influenced Chan
Buddhism. An important element of their meditation theory and practice is what was called the "Fourfold
Dharmadhatu" (sifajie, 四 法 界 ).[116] Dharmadhatu ( 法 界 ) is the goal of the bodhisattva's practice, the
ultimate nature of reality or deepest truth which must be known and realized through meditation. According
to Fox, the Fourfold Dharmadhatu is "four cognitive approaches to the world, four ways of apprehending
reality". Huayan meditation is meant to progressively ascend through these four "increasingly more
holographic perspectives on a single phenomenological manifold."

These four ways of seeing or knowing reality are:[116]

1. All dharmas are seen as particular separate events or phenomena (shi 事). This is the
mundane way of seeing.
2. All events are an expression of li (理, the absolute, principle or noumenon), which is
associated with the concepts of shunyata, “One Mind” (yi xin 一心) and Buddha nature. This
level of understanding or perspective on reality is associated with the meditation on "true
emptiness".
3. Shi and Li interpenetrate (lishi wuai 理事無礙), this is illuminated by the meditation on the "non-
obstruction of principle and phenomena."
4. All events interpenetrate (shishi wuai 事事無礙), "all distinct phenomenal dharmas interfuse
and penetrate in all ways" (Zongmi). This is seen through the meditation on “universal
pervasion and complete accommodation.”

According to Paul Williams, the reading and recitation of the Avatamsaka sutra was also a central practice
for the tradition, for monks and laity.[117]

Pure land Buddhism

In Pure Land Buddhism, repeating the name of Amitābha is


traditionally a form of mindfulness of the Buddha (Skt.
buddhānusmṛti). This term was translated into Chinese as
nianfo (Chinese: 念 佛 ), by which it is popularly known in
English. The practice is described as calling the buddha to
mind by repeating his name, to enable the practitioner to bring
all his or her attention upon that Buddha (samādhi).[118] This
may be done vocally or mentally, and with or without the use
of Buddhist prayer beads. Those who practice this method
often commit to a fixed set of repetitions per day, often from
50,000 to over 500,000.[118]
Engraving of a Sanskrit dhāraṇī for
Repeating the Pure Land Rebirth dhāraṇī is another method in Amitābha written in the Siddhaṃ script.
Pure Land Buddhism. Similar to the mindfulness practice of Mogao Caves, Dunhuang, China
repeating the name of Amitābha Buddha, this dhāraṇī is
another method of meditation and recitation in Pure Land
Buddhism. The repetition of this dhāraṇī is said to be very popular among traditional Chinese
Buddhists.[119]

Another practice found in Pure Land Buddhism is meditative contemplation and visualization of Amitābha,
his attendant bodhisattvas, and the Pure Land. The basis of this is found in the Amitāyurdhyāna Sūtra
("Amitābha Meditation Sūtra").[120]

Chán

During sitting meditation ( 坐 禅 , Ch. zuòchán, Jp. zazen, Ko. jwaseon), practitioners usually assume a
position such as the lotus position, half-lotus, Burmese, or seiza, often using the dhyāna mudrā. Often, a
square or round cushion placed on a padded mat is used to sit on; in some other cases, a chair may be used.
Various techniques and meditation forms are used in the different Zen traditions. Mindfulness of breathing is
a common practice, used to develop mental focus and concentration.[121]

Another common form of sitting meditation is called "Silent illumination" (Ch. mòzhào, Jp. mokushō). This
practice was traditionally promoted by the Caodong school of Chinese Chan and is associated with Hongzhi
Zhengjue (1091—1157).[122] In Hongzhi's practice of "nondual objectless meditation" the mediator strives
to be aware of the totality of phenomena instead of focusing on a single object, without any interference,
conceptualizing, grasping, goal seeking, or subject-object
duality.[123] This practice is also popular in the major schools of
Japanese Zen, but especially Sōtō, where it is more widely known
as Shikantaza (Ch. zhǐguǎn dǎzuò, "Just sitting").

During the Sòng dynasty, a new meditation method was


popularized by figures such as Dahui, which was called kanhua
chan ("observing the phrase" meditation) which referred to
contemplation on a single word or phrase (called the huatou,
"critical phrase") of a gōng'àn (Koan).[124] In Chinese Chan and
Korean Seon, this practice of "observing the huatou" (hwadu in
Korean) is a widely practiced method.[125]

In the Japanese Rinzai school, kōan introspection developed its


own formalized style, with a standardized curriculum of kōans
which must be studies and "passed" in sequence. This process
includes standardized questions and answers during a private
interview with one's Zen teacher.[126] Kōan-inquiry may be
practiced during zazen (sitting meditation), kinhin (walking Kōdō Sawaki practicing Zazen
meditation), and throughout all the activities of daily life. The
goal of the practice is often termed kensho (seeing one's true
nature). Kōan practice is particularly emphasized in Rinzai, but it also occurs in other schools or branches of
Zen depending on the teaching line.[127]

Tantric Buddhism
Tantric Buddhism (Esoteric Buddhism or Mantrayana) refers to
various traditions which developed in India from the fifth century
onwards and then spread to the Himalayan regions and East Asia. In
the Tibetan tradition, it is also known as Vajrayāna, while in China it
is known as Zhenyan (Ch: 真言, "true word", "mantra"), as well as
Mìjiao (Esoteric Teaching), Mìzōng ("Esoteric Tradition") or Tángmì
("Tang Esoterica"). Tantric Buddhism generally includes all of the
traditional forms of Mahayana meditation, but its focus is on several
unique and special forms of "tantric" or "esoteric" meditation
practices, which are seen as faster and more efficacious. These
Tantric Buddhist forms are derived from texts called the Buddhist
Tantras. To practice these advanced techniques, one is generally
required to be initiated into the practice by an esoteric master
(Sanskrit: acarya) or guru (Tib. lama) in a ritual consecration called
abhiseka (Tib. wang).
Meditation through the use of
In Tibetan Buddhism, the central defining form of Vajrayana complex guided imagery based on
meditation is Deity Yoga (devatayoga).[128] This involves the Buddhist deities like Tara is a key
practice in Vajrayana. Visual aids
recitation of mantras, prayers and visualization of the yidam or deity
such as this thangka are often used.
(usually the form of a Buddha or a bodhisattva) along with the
associated mandala of the deity's Pure Land.[129] Advanced Deity
Yoga involves imagining yourself as the deity and developing
"divine pride", the understanding that oneself and the deity are not separate.
Other forms of meditation in Tibetan Buddhism include the
Mahamudra and Dzogchen teachings, each taught by the Kagyu and
Nyingma lineages of Tibetan Buddhism respectively. The goal of
these is to familiarize oneself with the ultimate nature of mind which
underlies all existence, the Dharmakāya. There are also other
practices such as Dream Yoga, Tummo, the yoga of the intermediate
state (at death) or bardo, sexual yoga and chöd. The shared
preliminary practices of Tibetan Buddhism are called ngöndro,
which involves visualization, mantra recitation, and many
prostrations.

Chinese esoteric Buddhism focused on a separate set of tantras than


Tibetan Buddhism (such as the Mahavairocana Tantra and
Vajrasekhara Sutra), and thus their practices are drawn from these
different sources, though they revolve around similar techniques Diamond Realm (Kongokai) Mandala
such as visualization of mandalas, mantra recitation and use of of the Shingon school
mudras. This also applies for the Japanese Shingon school and the
Tendai school (which, though derived from the Tiantai school, also
adopted esoteric practices). In the East Asian tradition of esoteric praxis, the use of mudra, mantra and
mandala are regarded as the "three modes of action" associated with the "Three Mysteries" (sanmi 三密) are
seen as the hallmarks of esoteric Buddhism.[130]

Therapeutic uses of meditation


Meditation based on Buddhist meditation principles has been practiced by people for a long time for the
purposes of effecting mundane and worldly benefit.[131] Mindfulness and other Buddhist meditation
techniques have been advocated in the West by psychologists and expert Buddhist meditation teachers such
as Thích Nhất Hạnh, Pema Chödrön, Clive Sherlock, Mya Thwin, S. N. Goenka, Jon Kabat-Zinn, Jack
Kornfield, Joseph Goldstein, Tara Brach, Alan Clements, and Sharon Salzberg, who have been widely
attributed with playing a significant role in integrating the healing aspects of Buddhist meditation practices
with the concept of psychological awareness, healing, and well-being. Although mindfulness meditation[132]
has received the most research attention, loving kindness[133] (metta) and equanimity (upekkha) meditation
are beginning to be used in a wide array of research in the fields of psychology and neuroscience.

The accounts of meditative states in the Buddhist texts are in some regards free of dogma, so much so that
the Buddhist scheme has been adopted by Western psychologists attempting to describe the phenomenon of
meditation in general.[note 18] However, it is exceedingly common to encounter the Buddha describing
meditative states involving the attainment of such magical powers (Sanskrit ṛddhi, Pali iddhi) as the ability
to multiply one's body into many and into one again, appear and vanish at will, pass through solid objects as
if space, rise and sink in the ground as if in water, walking on water as if land, fly through the skies,
touching anything at any distance (even the moon or sun), and travel to other worlds (like the world of
Brahma) with or without the body, among other things,[134][135][136] and for this reason the whole of the
Buddhist tradition may not be adaptable to a secular context, unless these magical powers are seen as
metaphorical representations of powerful internal states that conceptual descriptions could not do justice to.

Key terms
English Pali Sanskrit Chinese Tibetan

mindfulness/awareness sati smṛti 念 (niàn) trenpa (wylie: dran pa)

正知力 (zhèng
clear comprehension sampajañña samprajaña shezhin (shes bzhin)
zhī lì)

不放逸座 (bù
vigilance/heedfulness appamada apramāda bakyö (bag yod)
fàng yì zuò)

勇猛 (yǒng
ardency atappa ātapaḥ nyima (nyi ma)
měng)

如理作意 (rú lǐ
attention/engagement manasikara manaskāraḥ yila jepa (yid la byed pa)
zuò yì)
foundation of trenpa neybar zhagpa (dran pa
satipaṭṭhāna smṛtyupasthāna 念住 (niànzhù)
mindfulness nye bar gzhag pa)

mindfulness of 安那般那
ānāpānasati ānāpānasmṛti wūk trenpa (dbugs dran pa)
breathing (ānnàbānnà)

calm abiding/cessation samatha śamatha 止 (zhǐ) shiney (zhi gnas)

insight/contemplation vipassanā vipaśyanā 観 (guān) lhagthong (lhag mthong)

meditative
samādhi samādhi 三昧 (sānmèi) ting-nge-dzin (ting nge dzin)
concentration

meditative absorption jhāna dhyāna 禪 (chán) samten (bsam gtan)

cultivation bhāvanā bhāvanā 修行 (xiūxíng) gompa (sgom pa)

Vitakka and 尋伺察 (xún sì


cultivation of analysis *vicāra-bhāvanā chegom (dpyad sgom)
Vicāra chá)
*sthāpya-
cultivation of settling — — jokgom ('jog sgom)
bhāvanā

See also
General Buddhist practices

Mindfulness – awareness in the present moment


Satipatthana
chanting and mantra
Theravada Buddhist meditation practices

Anapanasati – focusing on the breath


Satipatthana – Mindfulness of body, sensations, mind and mental phenomena
The Four Immeasurables – including compassion karuna and loving-kindness Metta
Kammaṭṭhāna
Buddhānusmṛti – devotional meditation
Samatha – calm abiding
Vipassana – insight
Mahasati Meditation
Dhammakaya Meditation
Zen Buddhist meditation practices
Shikantaza – just sitting
Kinhin
Zazen
Koan
Hua Tou
Suizen (historically practiced by the Fuke sect)
Vajrayana and Tibetan Buddhist meditation practices

Deity yoga
Ngondro – preliminary practices
Tonglen – giving and receiving
Phowa – transference of consciousness at the time of death
Chöd – cutting through fear by confronting it
Mahamudra – the Kagyu version of 'entering the all-pervading Dharmadatu', the 'nondual
state', or the 'absorption state'
Dzogchen – the natural state, the Nyingma version of Mahamudra
The Four Immeasurables, Metta
Tantra techniques
Proper floor-sitting postures and supports while meditating

Floor sitting: cross-legged (full lotus, half lotus, Burmese) or seiza


Cushions: zafu, zabuton
Traditional Buddhist texts on meditation

Anapanasati Sutta (in the Pali Nikayas) and parallels in the Āgamas (Ānāpānasmṛti Sūtra)
Satipatthana Sutta (in the Pali Nikayas) and its parallel in the Āgamas (Smṛtyupasthāna Sūtra)
Yogācārabhūmi-Śāstra (Treatise on the Stages of Yoga), a classic north Indian compendium
on meditation used by the Indian Yogācāra school, remains influential in East Asian Buddhism
and Tibetan Buddhism
Buddhaghosa's Visuddhimagga ('The path of Purification'), used in Theravada Buddhism
Kamalashila's Bhāvanākrama ('Stages of meditation'), A late Indian Madhyamaka work, used
in Tibetan Buddhism
Zhiyi's Great Concentration and Insight (Mohe Zhiguan) – used in the Chinese Tiantai school
Seventeen tantras – Major Tibetan Dzogchen texts.
The Wangchuk Dorje's "Ocean of Definitive Meaning", major text on Tibetan Mahamudra
meditation in the Kagyu school.
Dakpo Tashi Namgyal's "Mahamudra: The Moonlight – Quintessence of Mind and Meditation"
Fukan-zazengi (Advice on Zazen) – By Dogen, used in the Japanese Soto Zen school.
Traditional preliminary practices to Buddhist meditation

prostrations (also see Ngondro)


refuge in the Triple Gem
Five Precepts
Western mindfulness

Mindfulness (psychology) – Western applications of Buddhist ideas


Analog in Vedas

Dhyana in Hinduism
Ksirodakasayi Vishnu
Paramatma
Analog in Taoism

Daoist meditation
Internal alchemy

Notes
1. The Pali and Sanskrit word bhāvanā literally means "development" as in "mental
development." For the association of this term with "meditation," see Epstein (1995), p. 105;
and, Fischer-Schreiber et al. (1991), p. 20. As an example from a well-known discourse of the
Pāli Canon, in "The Greater Exhortation to Rahula" (Maha-Rahulovada Sutta, MN 62),
Sariputta tells Rahula (in Pali, based on VRI, n.d.) (http://www.tipitaka.org/romn/cscd/s0202m.
mul1.xml): ānāp ānassatiṃ, rāhula, bhāvanaṃ bhāvehi. Thanissaro (2006) (http://www.access
toinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.062.than.html) translates this as: "Rahula, develop the meditation
[bhāvana] of mindfulness of in-&-out breathing." (Square-bracketed Pali word included based
on Thanissaro, 2006, end note.)
2. See, for example, Rhys Davids & Stede (1921-25), entry for "jhāna1" (http://dsal.uchicago.edu/
cgi-bin/philologic/getobject.pl?c.1:1:2005.pali); Thanissaro (1997) (http://www.accesstoinsight.
org/lib/authors/thanissaro/onetool.html); as well as, Kapleau (1989), p. 385, for the derivation
of the word "zen" from Sanskrit "dhyāna." PTS Secretary Dr. Rupert Gethin, in describing the
activities of wandering ascetics contemporaneous with the Buddha, wrote:

[T]here is the cultivation of meditative and contemplative techniques aimed at


producing what might, for the lack of a suitable technical term in English, be
referred to as 'altered states of consciousness'. In the technical vocabulary of
Indian religious texts, such states come to be termed 'meditations' (Sanskrit:
dhyāna, Pali: jhāna) or 'concentrations' (samādhi); the attainment of such states of
consciousness was generally regarded as bringing the practitioner to deeper
knowledge and experience of the nature of the world." (Gethin, 1998, p. 10.)

3. * Kamalashila (2003), p. 4, states that Buddhist meditation "includes any method of meditation
that has awakening as its ultimate aim."
* Bodhi (1999): "To arrive at the experiential realization of the truths it is necessary to take up
the practice of meditation [...] At the climax of such contemplation the mental eye [...] shifts its
focus to the unconditioned state, Nibbana."
* Fischer-Schreiber et al. (1991), p. 142: "Meditation – general term for a multitude of religious
practices, often quite different in method, but all having the same goal: to bring the
consciousness of the practitioner to a state in which he can come to an experience of
'awakening,' 'liberation,' 'enlightenment.'"
* Kamalashila (2003) further allows that some Buddhist meditations are "of a more preparatory
nature" (p. 4).
4. Goldstein (2003) writes that, in regard to the Satipatthana Sutta, "there are more than fifty
different practices outlined in this Sutta. The meditations that derive from these foundations of
mindfulness are called vipassana [...] and in one form or another – and by whatever name –
are found in all the major Buddhist traditions." (p. 92)

The forty concentrative meditation subjects refer to Visuddhimagga's oft-referenced


enumeration.
5. Regarding Tibetan visualizations, Kamalashila (2003), writes: "The Tara meditation [...] is one
example out of thousands of subjects for visualization meditation, each one arising out of
some meditator's visionary experience of enlightened qualities, seen in the form of Buddhas
and Bodhisattvas." (p. 227)
6. Polak refers to Vetter, who noted that in the suttas right effort leads to a calm state of mind.
When this calm and self-restraint had been reached, the Buddha is described as sitting down
and attaining the first jhana, in an almost natural way.[16]
7. See also Samadhanga Sutta: The Factors of Concentration (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipi
taka/an/an05/an05.028.than.html)
8. While the commentarial tradition explains vitarka and vicara as the concentration on an object
of meditation, the terms may simply refer to "the normal process of discursive thought."[30]
Bucknell refers to:
* Martin Stuart-Fox, "Jhana and Buddhist Scholasticism," Journal of the International
Association of Buddhist Studies 12.2 (1989): 79-110
* Paul Griffiths, "Buddhist Jhana: A form-critical study," Religion 13 (1983): 55-68

According to Fox, referring to Rhys Davids and Stede, when vitarka-vicara are mentioned in
tandem, they are one expression, "to cover all' varieties of thinking, including sustained and
focused thought. It is thinking in this inclusive sense that the meditator suppresses through
concentration when he attains one-ness of mind and thus moves from first to second
jhana."[31]

See also Sujato, (https://sujato.wordpress.com/2012/12/06/why-vitakka-doesnt-mean-thinking-i


n-jhana/)Why vitakka doesn’t mean ‘thinking’ in jhana (https://sujato.wordpress.com/2012/12/0
6/why-vitakka-doesnt-mean-thinking-in-jhana/)
9. The common translation, based on the commentarial interpretation of dhyana as expanding
states of absorption, translates sampasadana as "internal assurance." Yet, as Bucknell
explains, it also means "tranquilizing," which is more apt in this context.[33]
10. Upekkhā is one of the Brahmaviharas.
11. Gombrich: "I know this is controversial, but it seems to me that the third and fourth jhanas are
thus quite unlike the second."[34]
12. Wynne: "Thus the expression sato sampajāno in the third jhāna must denote a state of
awareness different from the meditative absorption of the second jhāna (cetaso ekodibhāva). It
suggests that the subject is doing something different from remaining in a meditative state, i.e.,
that he has come out of his absorption and is now once again aware of objects. The same is
true of the word upek(k)hā: it does not denote an abstract 'equanimity', [but] it means to be
aware of something and indifferent to it [...] The third and fourth jhāna-s, as it seems to me,
describe the process of directing states of meditative absorption towards the mindful
awareness of objects.[37]
13. According to Gombrich, "the later tradition has falsified the jhana by classifying them as the
quintessence of the concentrated, calming kind of meditation, ignoring the other - and indeed
higher - element.[34]
14. These definitions of samatha and vipassana are based on the "Four Kinds of Persons Sutta"
(AN 4.94). This article's text is primarily based on Bodhi (2005), pp. 269-70, 440 n. 13. See
also Thanissaro (1998d) (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an04/an04.094.than.html).
15. See Thanissaro (1997) (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/onetool.html)
where for instance he underlines: "When [the Pali discourses] depict the Buddha telling his
disciples to go meditate, they never quote him as saying 'go do vipassana,' but always 'go do
jhana.' And they never equate the word vipassana with any mindfulness techniques. In the few
instances where they do mention vipassana, they almost always pair it with samatha – not as
two alternative methods, but as two qualities of mind that a person may 'gain' or 'be endowed
with,' and that should be developed together."
Similarly, referencing MN 151, vv. 13–19, and AN IV, 125-27, Ajahn Brahm (who, like Bhikkhu
Thanissaro, is of the Thai Forest Tradition) writes: "Some traditions speak of two types of
meditation, insight meditation (vipassana) and calm meditation (samatha). In fact, the two are
indivisible facets of the same process. Calm is the peaceful happiness born of meditation;
insight is the clear understanding born of the same meditation. Calm leads to insight and
insight leads to calm." (Brahm, 2006, p. 25.)
16. Bodhi (2000), pp. 1251-53. See also Thanissaro (1998c) (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitak
a/sn/sn35/sn35.204.than.html) (where this sutta is identified as SN 35.204). See also, for
instance, a discourse (Pali: sutta) entitled, "Serenity and Insight" (SN 43.2), where the Buddha
states: "And what, bhikkhus, is the path leading to the unconditioned? Serenity and insight...."
(Bodhi, 2000, pp. 1372-73).
17. To be distinguished from the Mahayana Yogacara school, though they may have been a
precursor.[1]
18. Michael Carrithers, The Buddha, 1983, pages 33-34. Found in Founders of Faith, Oxford
University Press, 1986. The author is referring to Pali literature. See however B. Alan Wallace,
The bridge of quiescence: experiencing Tibetan Buddhist meditation. Carus Publishing
Company, 1998, where the author demonstrates similar approaches to analyzing meditation
within the Indo-Tibetan and Theravada traditions.

References
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18. Luk, Charles. The Secrets of Chinese Meditation. 1964. p. 83
19. Luk, Charles. The Secrets of Chinese Meditation. 1964. p. 84
20. Luk, Charles. The Secrets of Chinese Meditation. 1964. p. 85
21. Katsuki Sekida, Zen Training: Methods and Philosophy, Shambhala Publications, 2005, p. 60.
22. Taigen Dan Leighton. Cultivating the Empty Field: The Silent Illumination of Zen Master
Hongzhi, Tuttle, 2000, p. 17
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Hongzhi, Tuttle, 2000, pp. 1-2
24. Blyth 1966.
25. Buswell, Robert E. (1991). Tracing Back the Radiance: Chinul's Korean Way of Zen (Classics
in East Asian Buddhism). University of Hawaii Press. pp. 68–69. ISBN 0824814274.
26. Bodiford, William M. (2006). Koan practice. In: "Sitting with Koans". Ed. John Daido Loori.
Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, p. 94.
27. Loori 2006.
28. Power, John; Introduction to Tibetan Buddhism, page 271
29. Garson, Nathaniel DeWitt; Penetrating the Secret Essence Tantra: Context and Philosophy in
the Mahayoga System of rNying-ma Tantra, 2004, p. 37
30. Orzech, Charles D. (general editor) (2011). Esoteric Buddhism and the Tantras in East Asia.
Brill, p. 85.
31. See, for instance, Zongmi's description of bonpu and gedō zen, described further below.
32. "MARC UCLA" (http://marc.ucla.edu/workfiles/pdfs/marc-mindfulness-research-summary.pdf)
(PDF).
33. Hutcherson, Cendri (2008-05-19). "Loving-Kindness Meditation Increases Social
Connectedness" (http://www.emmaseppala.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/research-Hutche
rson_08_2-1.pdf) (PDF). Emotion. 8 (5): 720–724. CiteSeerX 10.1.1.378.4164 (https://citeseer
x.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/summary?doi=10.1.1.378.4164). doi:10.1037/a0013237 (https://doi.org/1
0.1037%2Fa0013237). PMID 18837623 (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18837623).
34. "Iddhipada-vibhanga Sutta: Analysis of the Bases of Power" (https://www.accesstoinsight.org/ti
pitaka/sn/sn51/sn51.020.than.html). www.accesstoinsight.org.
35. "Samaññaphala Sutta: The Fruits of the Contemplative Life" (https://www.accesstoinsight.org/ti
pitaka/dn/dn.02.0.than.html). www.accesstoinsight.org.
36. "Kevatta (Kevaddha) Sutta: To Kevatta" (https://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.11.0.th
an.html). www.accesstoinsight.org.

Sources

Printed sources
Arbel, Keren (2017), Early Buddhist Meditation: The Four Jhanas as the Actualization of
Insight (https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/9781317383994), Taylor & Francis
Bronkhorst, Johannes (1993), The Two Traditions Of Meditation In Ancient India, Motilal
Banarsidass Publ.
Bronkhorst, Johannes (2012), Early Buddhist Meditation. (paper presented at the conference
"Buddhist Meditation from Ancient India to Modern Asia", Jogye Order International
Conference Hall, Seoul, 29 November 2012
Fischer-Schreiber, Ingrid; Ehrhard, Franz-Karl; Diener, Michael S. (2008), Lexicon
Boeddhisme. Wijsbegeerte, religie, psychologie, mystiek, cultuur en literatuur, Asoka
Gombrich, Richard F. (1997), How Buddhism Began, Munshiram Manoharlal
Lachs, Stuart (2006), The Zen Master in America: Dressing the Donkey with Bells and Scarves
(http://www.thezensite.com/ZenEssays/CriticalZen/Zen_Master_in_America.html)
Schmithausen, Lambert (1981), On some Aspects of Descriptions or Theories of 'Liberating
Insight' and 'Enlightenment' in Early Buddhism". In: Studien zum Jainismus und Buddhismus
(Gedenkschrift für Ludwig Alsdorf), hrsg. von Klaus Bruhn und Albrecht Wezler, Wiesbaden
1981, 199–250
Shankman, Richard (2008), The Experience of Samadhi: An In-depth Exploration of Buddhist
Meditation, Shambhala
Vetter, Tilmann (1988), The Ideas and Meditative Practices of Early Buddhism, BRILL
Wynne, Alexander (2007), The Origin of Buddhist Meditation, Routledge

Web-sources

Further reading
Scholarly (general overview)

Gethin, Rupert (1998). The Foundations of Buddhism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
ISBN 0-19-289223-1
Scholarly (origins)

Stuart-Fox, Martin (1989), "Jhana and Buddhist Scholasticism", Journal of the International
Association of Buddhist Studies, Volume 12, 1988, Number 2
Bucknell, Robert S. (1993), "Reinterpreting the Jhanas", Journal of the International
Association of Buddhist Studies: Volume 16, Number 2, Winter 1993
Vetter, Tilmann (1988), The Ideas and Meditative Practices of Early Buddhism, BRILL
Bronkhorst, Johannes (1993), The Two Traditions Of Meditation In Ancient India, Motilal
Banarsidass Publ.

Traditional Theravada

Gunaratana, Henepola (1988), The Jhanas in Theravada Buddhist Meditation (http://www.acce


sstoinsight.org/lib/authors/gunaratana/wheel351.html) (Wheel No. 351/353). Kandy, Sri Lanka:
Buddhist Publication Society. ISBN 955-24-0035-X.

Burmese Vipassana Movement

Nyanaponika Thera (1996), The Heart of Buddhist Meditation. York Beach, ME: Samuel
Weiser, Inc. ISBN 0-87728-073-8.
Hart, William (1987), The Art of Living: Vipassana Meditation: As Taught by S.N. Goenka.
HarperOne. ISBN 0-06-063724-2

Thai Forest Tradition

Brahm, Ajahn (2006), Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond: A Meditator's Handbook. Somerville,
MA: Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0-86171-275-7
Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Wings to Awakening, a study of the factors taught by Gautama Buddha
as being essential for awakening

Other Thai traditions

Buddhadasa, Heartwood of the Bodhi Tree

Re-assessing jhana

Quli, Natalie (2008), "Multiple Buddhist Modernisms: Jhana in Convert Theravada" (http://www.
leighb.com/Jhana_in_Theravada_Quli.pdf) (PDF), Pacific World 10:225–249
Shankman, Richard (2008), The Experience of Samadhi: An In-depth Exploration of Buddhist
Meditation, Shambhala
Arbel, Keren (2017), Early Buddhist Meditation: The Four Jhanas as the Actualization of
Insight (https://www.taylorfrancis.com/books/9781317383994), Taylor & Francis

Zen

Hakuin, Hakuin on Kensho. The Four Ways of Knowing. Shambhala


Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind
Kapleau, Phillip (1989), The Three Pillars of Zen: Teaching, Practice and Enlightenment. NY:
Anchor Books. ISBN 0-385-26093-8

Tibetan Buddhism
Mipham, Sakyong (2003). Turning the Mind into an Ally. NY: Riverhead Books. ISBN 1-57322-
206-2.

Buddhist modernism

Jack Kornfield, A Path With Heart


Goldstein, Joseph (2003). One Dharma: The Emerging Western Buddhism. NY: HarperCollins
Publishers. ISBN 0-06-251701-5

Mindfulness

Kabat-Zinn, Jon (2001). Full Catastrophe Living. NY: Dell Publishing. ISBN 0-385-30312-2

External links
Guided Meditations on the Lamrim – The Gradual Path to Enlightenment (http://thubtenchodro
n.org/GradualPathToEnlightenment/MeditationOutline.pdf) by Bhikshuni Thubten Chodron
(PDF file)

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