Meditation in Buddhism

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  • Topic: Buddhism, Buddhist meditation, Zen
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Meditation in Buddhism

Buddhists pursue meditation as a means to attain their goal of escaping suffering and the cycles of rebirth: the achievement of nirvana (Pali: nibbãna). The practice of meditation has been directly derived from Buddha’s own experiences and teachings as it is generally accepted that the Buddha himself reached enlightenment through meditation. Meditation can be contextualized as part of the Noble Eightfold Path, the fourth of the Buddha’s Four Nobel Truths, specifically in regards to the final three factors: Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration (Harvey, 1990, p.68-70). While several variations of this practice have developed in different Buddhist traditions the core principles of the technique are preserved in ancient Buddhist texts. The ultimate goal of Buddhism can only be achieved through the cultivation of wisdom. Although this wisdom can be initiated through the reflection of scriptures and through spiritual teachers, meditation is required to help it mature fully (Harvey, 1990, p. 244). Meditation is the practice of mental concentration aimed at progressively increasing calmness and wisdom, or prajna. Generally the mental exercise of meditation requires personal guidance, and is typically done under the supervision of a meditation teacher (Harvey, 1990). The Buddha himself sought the knowledge two spiritual teachers on his path to enlightenment, and nibbãna (Anderson, 2010). Training in meditation can help enable the practitioner to control their mind regardless of external circumstances. Learning the practice of meditation has often been compared to gardening; as we cannot force a plant to grow, instead we can only provide them with the right conditions so they can develop naturally (Harvey, 1990, p. 245). The Buddha taught that there were five hindrances (nivarana) or negative mental states that can obstruct the meditation process, weaken wisdom and lead the practitioner away from enlightenment (Harvey, 1990, p. 249). The first of the five hindrances is sensual desire, the second ill will, sloth and torpor the third, restlessness and worry the fourth, and the final hindrance is doubt. The final of these hindrances is doubt, where the mind wavers due to a lack of conviction or trust. It is only once these hindrances are suspended that one can begin to attain the four progressive states of absorption meditation, or jhãna (Britannica, 2010). Theravada Buddhism describes four stages of jhãna that can be distinguished by the shift of attention from the outward sensory world (Britannica, 2010). The first jhãna encompasses five component factors, which oppose the five hindrances and lead the mind from ordinary consciousness to the janic level. These factors include: applied thought, examination, rapture, happiness, and one-pointedness (Harvey, 1990, p.250). As the practitioner transcends each of the level of jhãna the grosser factors are eliminated and more energy is focused into one-pointedness (Harvey, 1990, p. 250). The fourth jhãna is a state of profound stillness and peace and is thought to be the state from which the Buddha progressed to enlightenment. Beyond the four jhãnas lie four formless attainments including: Consciousness of infinity of space, consciousness of the infinity of cognition, concern with the unreality of things, and the consciousness of unreality as the object of thought (Britannica, 2010). Theravada tradition practices two basic forms of meditation: calm or tranquility meditation (samatha) and insight meditation (vipassana). Simply put, the purpose of tranquility meditation is to calm the mind and train it to concentrate. This technique often involves a kammatthana, an object of concentration, which is used as a means of entering meditation. According to the fifth century Pali text, Visuddhimagga, there are fourty kammatthanas (Britannica, 2010), which include, but not limited to: certain devices (such as color or light), objects of repulsion...
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