Buddhist Meditation In Plain English

Tibetan Buddha


A useful reminder of what constitutes meditation and its place within the grand scheme of canonical Buddhist teachings…



The following summary descriptions are a useful reminder of what constitutes meditation and its place within the grand scheme of canonical Buddhist teachings…

“Meditation… should not be taken as a ritual (unlike physical exercise, for example), but it is a process where we learn to be truly at peace with ourselves. With that peace, we gain greater insight into our own selves and even directly experience true reality. Buddhist training is not like some simplistic belief system which reduces the religious life to a single belief or ritual.

“Buddhist spiritual training is a gradual training where we basically cultivate our body and speech to be wholesome so that they are a support (anuggahita) for intellectual growth (knowledge of the suttas and the Dharma) and mental cultivation. We then train to still the mind so that it clears itself to be able to gain right view and liberation. Hence, the Mahā Vedalla Sutta (M 43), says that right view has to be supported by moral virtue, by learning, by discussion, by calm (samathânuggahita) and by insight (vipassanā‘nuggahita) – Piya Tan [1]

“Although mindfulness is helpful in fostering vipassana [- the ability to see events clearly in the present moment -] it’s not enough for developing vipassana to the point of total release. Other techniques and approaches are needed as well. In particular, vipassana needs to be teamed with samatha – the ability to settle the mind comfortably in the present – so as to master the attainment of strong states of absorption, or jhana. Based on this mastery, samatha and vipassana are then applied to a skillful program of questioning, called appropriate attention, directed at all experience: exploring events not in terms of me/not me, or being/not being, but in terms of the four noble truths. The meditator pursues this program until it leads to a fivefold understanding of all events: in terms of their arising, their passing away, their drawbacks, their allure, and the escape from them. Only then can the mind taste release.

“This program for developing vipassana and samatha, in turn, needs the support of many other attitudes, mental qualities, and techniques of practice. This was why the Buddha taught it as part of a still larger program, including respect for the noble ones, mastery of all seven approaches for abandoning the mental fermentations, and all eight factors of the noble path. To take a reductionist approach to the practice can produce only reduced results, for meditation is a skill like carpentry, requiring a mastery of many tools in response to many different needs. To limit oneself to only one approach in meditation would be like trying to build a house when one’s motivation is uncertain and one’s tool box contains nothing but hammers.” – Thanissaro Bhikkhu [2]

“There is no concentration for those lacking wisdom, there is no wisdom for those lacking concentration. In whom there is both concentration and wisdom, he indeed is in the presence of nirvana.” – Dhammapada 372 [3]

[1] ] “Samatha and Vipassana: An introductory essay” by Piya Tan, The Dharmafarers, 2013.
[2] “One Tool Among Many: The Place of Vipassana in Buddhist Practice”, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 8 March 2011.
[3] “Bhikkhuvagga: The Monk” (Dhp XXV), translated from the Pali by Acharya Buddharakkhita. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013.
[4] Image:  ‘Tibetan Buddha’, exhibited in Liverpool World Museum and photographed by PJL 2014
[5] This blog entry was originally published in “Buddhism & Meditation” on Google Plus, 19 October 2017. 


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