One way to describe meditation is as prayer without an object. (ie, without praying to anything.) This wouldn't describe all types of meditation, but it's a good introduction. Prayer and meditation can have similar effects.

The best description of meditation is a practical one. Try this:

Sit or lie in a comfortable position other than one you would sleep in. It is important that this position be one that is good for you. (ie, don't sit hunched over in a chair -- sit up straight, but not rigid.) The lotus position is commonly associated with meditation, but it tends to make many people too rigid, and most of us aren't flexible to do that thing with our legs. I meditate lying down on my back, with a pillow under my knees.

Now focus on something. Something that is, for lack of a better term, boring. You can't meditate while watching TV. The thing you are focusing on must have less input than you normally find stimulating. You are trying to quiet your mind, remember. Music can be good. (I like drum and bass) One of the best techniques is to focus on your breathing. Count each breath. Don't force or control your breath, just allow yourself to be calm, and observe as your breathing becomes deeper and more rhythmic. Do this until there is nothing else in your mind except the thing you are focusing on. This may take a while.

Do this for half an hour per day, and after a while, all kinds of stuff will start surfacing. Memories, fantasies, daydreams. You may even have visions. This is normal. (This phase is often called being "at the movies") Eventually, you will learn to gently bring your mind back into focus. Don't block the memories -- just let them go. Visualize "exhaling" them if you want. There's a lot of stuff that you need to let go of, and it will take time to vent all the garbage.

Eventually, you'll have a lot of clarity in your meditation. This is when you can move to the second stage. Stop focusing, stop thinking, stop stopping. Just....

...

If you're ready, you'll know what I mean. :)

Though it generally carries the connotation of the above mentioned trance-like introspection, meditation can also simply refer to thought. For instance, look at the term "pre-meditated murder" - here we don't mean that the perpetrator has spent time pondering his act in a buddhist monastery in the lotus position; we mean that he thought of it in advance. When used in this way, meditation generally means deep consideration and deliberation, not a passing idea.

In Buddhism, there are two main kinds of meditation: metta, also known as loving-kindness meditation, and insight meditation.

Metta meditation is used for the purpose of developing a kind of goodwill and respect towards yourself and all other creatures in the universe.

Insight meditation is used for the purpose of developing greater insight (thus, the name) into the true nature of reality and thought. It is the primary tool in Buddhism used to understand the Four Noble Truths.

Please see my entries at Metta and Insight Meditation for information on how to meditate in either of these two fashions.

There are many, many forms of meditation taught by the various schools of Buddhism that have developed in the 2500 years since the Buddha first taught. The main forms that are practised are described here.

Shamatha
Meaning “calm abiding”. Calming meditation, that allows the mind to settle and become clear. The effect is like muddy water left to settle, and the various ‘contaminants’ of the mind dwindle and disappear. This meditation is probably the most basic, and is usually the first taught. The beginner is trained to focus on an object, most often the breath, and simply pay attention to it. This involves counting the breath to begin with - from 1 to 10 and then starting again. The emotions calm down and ‘mental chatter’ gradually eases. Eventually thought dies off during deep stages of shamatha meditation, and the states known ad Dhyana (Sanskrit) or Jhanna (Pali) are experienced. Although this form is first taught with an object such as the breath as its focus, the aim is for the practitioner to be able to eventually be free off the need for an object and simply dwell in a calm and concentrated state.

Other forms of Shamatha may focus on developing loving kindness (metta) or compassion (karuna). These are very powerful indeed.

Vipashyana (Sanskrit) / Vipassana (Pali)
This term is means “insightmeditation, and is a form of meditation that aims to give the practitioner a direct insight into the nature of things, and so gradually dispel ignorance, which is seen as the cause of all suffering by Buddhist Dharma (teachings). By observing the true nature of the world, noting the fact that it phenomena are impermanent, dependent upon causes and conditions for their arising and that phenomena are capable of causing pain if grasped at with ignorance, the meditator can begin to realise - not just intellectually understand - what the Dharma is teaching. This form of meditation also is very successful when turned on the mind. By building an awareness of the arising and falling away of mental states, the practitioner can see how their psychological makeup behaves, and can begin to become a more integrated individual.

Mantras
Mantra meditations are predominantly used by Mahayana and Vajrayana Buddhism, although Theravada Buddhism also uses meditation based upon key sounds, words or phrases. A mantra is repeated during this form of meditation, usually silently, and works by calming the mind as it becomes a focus for concentration. Mantras do not usually have an explicit meaning to them, but rather have a psychological effect when recited. A fixed number of recitations may be required by certain practices, often multiples or divisions of the number 108. A Mala is used to count them if required by the practice.

The repetitions of mantras have gained extra prominence on the Pure Land schools, the Jodo Shu and Jodo Shin Shu, where the practice of reciting the Buddha Amitabha’s name - a practice called the Nembutsu in Japanese - is the primary practice. By recitation of the mantra Namu Amida Butsu, the person reciting the mantra becomes reborn in the Pure Land of Amitabha, seen as a paradise that is also a staging ground for full enlightenment.

Another Japanese school that uses a similar method is the Nichiren school, that repeats the phrase Namu Myoho Renge Kyo - “Glory to the Lotus Sutra” - as a means to enlightenment. The repetition of the title of the Lotus Sutra (which is Saddharmapundarika Sutra in Sanskrit) is deemed to be enough to enable the practitioner to gain enlightenment, since the Sutra is seen as containing the ultimate truth of the Dharma. This school is one of the most evangelical, and has gained ground in the US where it has spread from ‘ethnic Buddhists’ (Japanese and Chinese immigrants who arrived, usually staying on the West coast, since the late 1800's), to Western converts.

These schools are very popular, and they at odds with the typical western view of Buddhism being nothing but a logical and rather dry philosophy.

Vajrayana uses mantras left, right and centre, and is sometimes called Mantrayana (spell vehicle) because of this. These are usually parts of devotional rituals to various deities, each of which have mantras associated with them.

Visualisation
Visualisations are used primarily in Vajrayana Buddhism. The object visualised are either refuge trees - a special arrangement of figures, like a family tree, consisting of spiritual teachers of a lineage, Buddhas, Bodhisattvas and other deities such as Daikinis and wrathful forms of Bodhisattvas etc.

Visualisations may also be based upon a Mandala, which is a pictorial representation of the cosmos, the most common being the Five Buddha mandala, which features the Buddhas Amoghasiddhi, Amitabha, Ratnasambhava and Akshobhya encircling the eternally enlightened Buddha, Vairochana, who represents the eternal nature of the Dharma. Each of these Buddhas has their own Pure Land, represents different virtues and has different Bodhisattvas representing them, among other aspects that are focussed on during the visualisation.

Zazen and Koans
This form of meditation is used by the Zen schools of China, Japan and Vietnam. The meditation is very basic, and when taught is similar to the Shamatha meditation techniques. It is even more simpler than Shamatha, however, and so is actually more complicated to get to grips with. The term Zen comes from the Chinese term Ch’an, which is derived from the Sanskrit term Dhyana. It consists of sitting in an upright position, ideally in the lotus position, and simply becoming absorbed in the act of sitting. The mind becomes empty, but no deliberate avoiding of thought is made. It is simply being still and aware. This method is usually taught after the practitioner has got to grips with Shamatha techniques. It is essentially Shamatha with no intention apart from the immediate. If thoughts arise, they are seen, but not held or repressed.

This form of meditation came to China with the famous monk Bodhidharma. The methods of Zen are famous for their unique idiosyncrasies, and it has often been thought by critics that they aren’t actually Buddhist. While they’ve borrowed at times from Taoist ideas, the notion that Zen isn’t Buddhism is nonsense. The aim of Zen is to unlock the innate Buddha nature that Mahayana philosophy says that all beings possess.

Soto Zen focusses almost exclusively on the practice of Zazen, which is seated meditation. When the meditating in this manner, Zen philosophy claims that the meditator is no different from a Buddha. The mind is during practise is identical to that of a Buddha, and so transcendental wisdom is manifest by practice. The connection between wisdom and meditation is strongly emphasised in Zen - Dhyana and Prajna are said to be simply different aspects of the same thing. Soto Buddhists meditate facing a wall, as Bodhidharma did for nine years.

The second most popular school of Zen in Japan is Rinzai. They too use Zazen, but compliment it with koans, which are seemingly nonsensical riddles. They’re nothing of the sort, however. They simply make no rational sense. However, concentrating on them allows the student to come to a mental breaking point where rational thought grinds to a halt, and the inner meaning of the koan becomes apparent as the non-rational, intuitive Buddha Nature manifests itself. The two most famous books of these koans are The Blue Cliff Records and The Gateless Gate.

Bows and Prostrations

Bows and prostrations make their way into all schools of Buddhism. Large numbers of prostrations, numbering at least 111,111, make up part of the preliminaries (called ngondro) of Vajrayana practices. These are done while visualising, and consist of touching the hands to the head, throat and heart, then dropping to the floor and then laying the entire body out flat. This is then reversed, and the practitioner gets to their feet. The process is hypnotically rhythmical, and is used in purification practices. A fixed number (about 3,000 in a retreat setting) are done per day until the specifically required total is reached. Once the ngondro is completed, more advanced practices, such as dzogchen and mahamudra can be learnt.

Often during pilgrimages to holy sites, the pilgrim will prostrate themselves the entire journey. Now that’s devotion.

Zen Buddhist bow frequently. This is done with the palms together at the sternum and the arms horizontal, and is called a gassho. This is in recognition of the Buddha nature of all things. < /p>

Walking Meditation
Walking meditation is just what is sounds like. Slowly walking, often circunambulating a Stupa clockwise, the meditator places the feet slowly on the floor. All the sensations of the feet touching he floor and the movements of the legs are used as a concentration object. This form of meditation is used in all the three divisions of Buddhism, and is mainly found in Theravada and Zen schools. It’s also a personal favourite of mine.


I seriously recommend that people learn to meditate. Although intrinsic to Buddhism, most forms can be, and are, practised in a secular setting. It has been proven, by both personal accounts and scientifically, that they cause major positive changes to the meditator over time, improving their mental and physical health, and altering the way the person thinks, producing a calmer and happier state. Meditation is taught in more and more places, and a quick search via Google will provide information about classes and courses in your area. (See http://psyphz.psych.wisc.edu/~topolovich/Web%20Page/lab%20articles/Finding%20Happiness%20NYT%20article.htm)

The last thing I see before I close my wrecked eyes is a flame dancing in the crosscurrents of my room, and then nothing. A tired hand seems to slowly pull my eyelids down. The wick glows like dying embers in a campfire forgotten, illuminating my figure sitting cross-legged on the ground, and slowly it fades. The flame is converted into a sea of black that sets my soul free. Zero replaces my every thought; firing synapses morph into void beyond all voids. I am looking into infinity: a black passage that goes on as far as the eye can see. Entering a meditative state is like pressing the reset button on a gaming console. I'm on level three- not quite a boss, but getting closer. I've had enough excitement for one day so I press the button down until that smooth gray rectangle stops. I can feel an itch in the back of my mind, urging me to let it go and continue with the game, but I resist, forcing the thought to dwindle to nothing.

A tick, gears of a machine grind to a stop. Cogs of a contraption that ran for ages finally experience some rest.

~~~

I'm in a forest. Haggard and twisted hardwoods twine their branches around each other. The shimmering star above casts down gaunt streaks of light. Wisps of silver moss hang down from the limbs, flowing to and fro in the wind, streaks of milk in water. The blades of grass beneath my naked feet are soft to the touch yet the color of scorched earth like knitted blankets, shades of yellow and orange. I notice as I walk my feet seem to sink into the ground, yet it leaves no trace on my skin. My meandering takes me on handful of heterogeneous paths, all trodden from thousands of feet making their way down and back the grooves in the earth. Time passes slowly as I walk from one road to the next, never knowing where I'll end up. I attempt to look at my watch on my wrist, but my gaze cannot turn away from the beautiful scenery long enough to glance the time. Random ambulations bring me to a circular clearing. In the center of this expanse is a small stone well with bantam tufts of grass grown around the base and vibrant jade moss trailing down the sides. I look downwards into the circular opening and I see an obsidian liquid along with my bust staring back at me. I feel by my feet to find something to drop in and my hand touches a smooth pebble, appearing to be worn down by years and years in a turbulent sea. I steady my elbows on the sides of the well and drop the pebble in, waiting only a second to hear its response. I'm fixated with my reflection now distorted by the waves in the pool. My face and shoulders roll up and down with the man made tide. Eventually I pull my gaze away from my distorted figure and notice a small wooden ladle on the opposite side of the well. Reaching over to it I dip it under the water and pull it up to my lips. The water is cold, yet the atmosphere around me the opposite. My mouth opens just wide enough to let some of the liquid drizzle in. It flows through my teeth, slipping over my tongue and finally makes it's way to my throat. I imagine this is what drinking menthol is like for I feel its freezing chill slink down my throat little by little until it finally reaches my stomach and mixes with bile. I set the ladle back down on the rim, and some water flows out of it onto the dry yet cool rocks.

My body does a 180, slowly dragging my head along with it as I stare at the statuesque trees and orange grass. I become intrigued by a large pine, towering above the rest like a skyscraper above a house. Some moss falls off the tree and floats in the breeze until it finally disintegrates into a thousand feathers that drift towards the ground. At the base of the trunk there's a little spot cleared out for sitting. The grass has been moved away and there's nothing there except for brown dirt that's been patted down from many previous seats that have been taken. I slowly make my way over to this spot, and begin to sit down. My back finds its way to the trunk of the tree which aids in sitting. I feel refreshed, relieved, safe. The ground is cool against my figure; the tree's bark is pressed into my back, but it doesn't inflict any pain or discomfort. It holds me, like a mother and her newborn, wrapped in blankets and clutched tight to a bosom. I let my eyes wander and soon they come to rest upon a bright star in the sky. I look into the sun, and am enveloped in white.

    _______
   | Reset |
   |_______|


I take my finger off the reset button, allowing myself to return to reality. My eyes slowly open and are greeted by the dancing light of my candle. I feel a sense of lightness, like a great weight has been lifted off of my shoulders. A part of me longs to be back there, in that enchanted forest, touching, feeling, tasting. I pick up my mug that used to be full of tea and I finish off the small drop that was still sliding around the bottom. Placing the cup down on my dresser, I crawl into bed. The cumulative cold of the covers shock my tired feet as they slide in. The candle still burns as I let my head fall back to hit my pillow. As I fall time seems to be in slow motion. I watch as all the figures around me, illuminated by the small flame, streak by, blurred by the apparent time rift. After falling for what seems like forever, my head finally lands softly on its destination. I sink back into it and it embraces my weary crown. Just before I close my eyes, in the far corner of my peripheral vision I notice something in the air. I turn to look at it and there floats a feather from my pillow, now slowly making its way to the orange and red carpet.

Meditation in a nutshell
Meditation heals your inner psyche, lessens your need for sleep, makes you smarter, facilitates happiness and health. Within 10 minutes and with experience, your need for oxygen drops by 16 to 18 percent as compared to deep sleep which takes around four hours and the need for oxygens drops to only 8 percent. In time, meditation becomes a pleasurable euphoric experience. Low but powerful braiwaves such as Alpha, Delta and Theta manifest and give you superpowers!. This is because trained conditioning optimizes your body's and brain's metabolism. You will need less sleep yet feel and actually be more refreshed and invigorated. Subconsciously you affect your surroundings. People around you will feel more relaxed, calm and their stress will lessen.

Working Principles: Stillness. Straight back. Abstinence from stimulants.
Zen method: Still the mind. Don't resist thoughts but neither give energy to it. Let them fade out on their own. Observe them, act like a third party to the thoughts and do not identify with then.
Yoga : Focus on a chakra (Energy center). The most popular and recommended are the center of the forehead and the heart. If it helps, imagine a ball of light at the chakras.
Mantra : Perform the Yoga method but with a mantra (sound). It is said that the universe resonates with a sound of OM. Silently or vocalizing this sound is said to harmonize the psyche with the universe.
I meditate 30 minutes twice (total of one hour)a day.

Med`i*ta"tion (?), n. [OE. meditacioun, F. m'editation, fr. L. meditatio.]

1.

The act of meditating; close or continued thought; the turning or revolving of a subject in the mind; serious contemplation; reflection; musing.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in thy sight. Ps. xix. 14.

2.

Thought; -- without regard to kind.

[Obs.]

With wings as swift As meditation or the thoughts of love. Shak.

 

© Webster 1913.

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