Patheos answers the question:

What is Buddhist Meditation?

Buddhist meditation

Buddhist meditation is the practice by which Buddhists achieve their highest spiritual goals. It is a rich and varied devotional discipline with many different styles and methodologies depending on the tradition. The Buddha taught certain basics of meditation, and over the centuries his followers have developed many more principles and practices. They all share a common goal: to achieve enlightenment. With enlightenment comes freedom from disruptive emotions and an understanding of reality.

Buddhist meditation involves an integrative approach to the mind and body. The posture and breathing rhythms of meditation are critical. Different schools prescribe different postures and aim at different effects, but they all work toward mindfulness and awareness of the harmony of the universe. Buddhist meditation can involve the cultivation of a lovingkindness toward all creatures; it can focus on a particular theme or idea, like the connectedness of all things; or it can focus on a simple mindfulness through counting each breath. Some Buddhists encourage visualization of the Buddha achieving enlightenment so that they can emulate his attainment. Others chant mantras or select sacred texts during meditation as a way to focus the mind and heart. Mala—strings of prayer beads—can help practitioners to keep track of breaths or mantras. Painting mandalas—geometric designs made from colored sand—also serves as a meditative activity; when they are finished, they are destroyed, reminding practitioners of the impermanence of life.

According to the Buddha, meditation can be performed sitting, walking, standing, or lying down, but sitting is the most common Buddhist practice. Zazen is the Zen form of seated meditation and has become popularized in the West. A person practicing zazen sits on the floor with legs crossed, back erect, hands loosely held in the lap with thumbs touching, and eyes half-closed. During meditation, the practitioner focuses on the act of breathing, gently taking the mind off the many distractions of thought and feeling. In focusing on breath, the practitioner learns to concentrate the mind, ignoring the many wandering thoughts, disciplining the spiritual power within, and detaching the self from entanglements.

Despite the simplicity of the practice, Buddhist meditation is not an easily mastered discipline. It requires a willingness to persevere in focused concentration even though “results” may not be immediately obvious. As the practitioner becomes accustomed to the discipline, he or she may find greater clarity and tranquility in the rest of life. The stillness that can come with a long habit of meditation can spill over into career, family, and friendships.

Some have called meditation the Buddhist’s form of worship. While Buddhists do not recognize a unique deity, they believe that Buddha and others who have attained Buddhahood have fully realized their divine nature, which is the goal of every Buddhist. Thus, when a Buddhist sits in meditation before a statue of Buddha, he or she is not worshiping in a Judeo-Christian sense, but is concentrating on the work of freedom and vision represented by the Buddha.

Read more about Buddhist Practices here.

11/15/2023 12:17:30 AM
Dr. Kathleen A. Mulhern
About About Kathleen Mulhern, Ph.D
Kathleen Mulhern is a writer, editor, historian, speaker, and professor. She teaches courses in world history, European history, and history of Christianity. She has taught at Colorado School of Mines and Regis University, and is currently an adjunct professor at Denver Seminary in the areas of Church History and Spiritual Formation. Kathleen graduated with a B.A. from Wheaton College, earned an M.A. in French Literature from the University of Denver, an M.A. degree in Church History from Denver Seminary, and a Ph.D. in History from the University of Colorado.