Why are experiences of stillness and reflection (meditation) important to Buddhism?
Meditation is a mental and physical course of action that a person uses to separate themselves from their thoughts and feelings in order to become fully aware. It plays a part in virtually all religions although some don't use the word 'meditation' to describe their particular meditative or reflective practice. Meditation does not always have a religious element. It is a natural part of the human experience and is increasingly used as a therapy for promoting good health and boosting the immune system. Anyone who has looked at a sunset or a beautiful painting and felt calm and inner joy, while their mind becomes clear and their perception sharpens, has had a taste of the realm of meditation. Successful meditation means simply being - not judging, not thinking, just being aware, at peace and living each moment as it unfolds. In Buddhism the person meditating is not trying to get into a hypnotic state or contact angels or any other supernatural entity. Meditation involves the body and the mind. For Buddhists this is particularly important as they want to avoid what they call 'duality' and so their way of meditating must involve the body and the mind as a single entity. In the most general definition, meditation is a way of taking control of the mind so that it becomes peaceful and focused, and the meditator becomes more aware. The purpose of meditation is to stop the mind rushing about in an aimless (or even a purposeful) stream of thoughts. People often say that the aim of meditation is to still the mind. There are a number of methods of meditating - methods which have been used for a long time and have been shown to work. People can meditate on their own or in groups. Meditating in a group - perhaps at a retreat called a sesshin or in a meditation room or zendo - has the benefit of reminding a person that they are both part of a larger Buddhist community, and part of the larger community of beings of every species. Meditation in Buddhism is a form of Bhavana, or self-development. The origins of Bhavana go back to ancient Indian spiritual exercises called Yoga. Hindu Yoga consists of 8 stages: 1,2 Making a conscious effort not to harm others and to establish good relations with them.
3,4 Sitting postures and control of the breath.
5 Withdrawing the mind from external things and looking inwards.
6 Fixing the mind on a single object or thought.
7,8 Meditation, allowing the mind to rise above ordinary though and be directly aware of reality.
These were taken up and developed by the Buddha. What Buddhists do when they meditate or worship may look very similar to the Hindu religion, but Buddhists do it in order to deepen the particular Buddhist view of life. There are two kinds of meditation: Samatha and Vipassana meditation. Samatha meditation is translated as ‘calm meditation’ or ‘tranquility meditation’ etc. Samatha meditation helps to control the mind and to become calm, so that the mind is focused upon a simple object or idea. For example, if we have tendencies towards greed and selfishness we might take death as the idea to focus upon for meditation. We then begin to see that everyone must die whatever they may be or do in their life. We will realise that greed is futile in the face of death and knowing this will produce feelings of calm and dispassion in us. Samatha meditation is practised to attain deep concentration of the mind only. The purpose of Samatha meditation is to concentrate the mind on this touching sensation or respiration. Whenever the mind goes out, the meditator brings it back on to the object of meditation, that is, the respiration or the touching sensation, because he wants to deeply concentrate the mind on a single object of meditation. When the mind goes out in Samatha meditation it must be brought back...
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