Buddhism distinguishes basically between concentration and insight meditation. Another very useful form of mental development is loving kindness meditation. These three techniques are very useful in every day life and help to live a more peaceful and content life.
It is recommended to take part in a meditation course, best in form of a seven or ten day retreat, to learn a technique properly and to get in contact with an experienced meditation teacher who is able to answer questions, to solve problems and to dispel doubt.
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It is very important to take your time for your meditation session. Do not hurry, thinking of what to do after the session is over before you have actually started. Relax body and mind. Forget about your work, your family, your commitments and responsibilities, your childhood... Do not look ahead, do not worry about the future, not even about the near future. In this way you carry no burden, you become open to the present moment. Thus you get rid of stresses and experience more relaxed, calm and peaceful states of mind.
Then it is best to not expect anything. Just sit back and see what happens. Do not become the “doer” of the practice, do not get obsessive about it, and do not force anything. Take your time and be patient. Anything really valuable takes time to develop. Do not cling to any pleasurable experience
and do not reject any disturbing ones. Do not fight with what you experience, just observe it.
The right attitude towards the practice is to observe, to get to know all your states of mind. Your desires, your hopes and fears, your ambitions, your anger, your boredom, your doubts, your self-righteousness... Try to understand and experience how and why they arise, see all of them cease. And once you really know and understand them, you can let go of them. Letting go means to allow things to go, not to get rid of them, not to suppress, deny, reject or run away from them. You can allow them to go because you start to understand their nature, you know that they have arisen, and you will see them fading away of their own accord. Nothing stays in the mind forever, not the things we like, not the things we dislike.
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When we think of meditation in the west, we usually think of somebody sitting in the lotus posture. The lotus or diamond posture may be the final goal for some meditators, but most of us have to choose some other cross-legged or non cross-legged sitting posture due to stiffness and inflexibility in our hips and groins. [...]
Very important with any sitting or standing meditation posture is to keep the spine straight in order to allow an easy and unrestricted flow of air in and out of the lungs. Much of the rest is of secondary interest, especially for people with bodily problems. A few sitting meditation posture examples are given below.
- Taylor's squat
- Burmese style (lower legs one in front, not on top of each other)
- ¼ Lotus (one foot is resting on the opposite lower leg)
- ½ Lotus (one foot is resting on the opposite thigh)
- Full Lotus (both feet are resting on opposite thighs)
- Japanese sitting (on or between the heels)
- Kneeling bench (meditation chair)
- Mermaid posture (both legs to one side of the body)
- Chair (without leaning against the backrest)
||Burmese style||Half Lotus||Kneeling bench|
Pay attention to:
- Legs and feet
- Buttocks (use cushion, sit at the front edge, tilt the cushions forward towards the feet)
- Knees (below the hips and on the mat if possible)
- Back (straight, vertebrae like a staple of coins)
- Shoulders (relaxed and slightly rolled back)
- Arms and hands (hands rest on the knees or in the lap about two inches underneath the navel, palms
facing up, wrists touching the thighs. Arms not too close to the body. Allow some space between elbows and body, this is more relaxed and cooler as well. There are no mudras in Theravada Buddhism). Experiment a little.
- Neck (straight and relaxed)
- Head (may slightly drop forward)
- Mouth closed, lips are gently touching each other, tongue slightly pressed against the upper
palate and the tip against the back side of the front teeth
- Eyes (closed or slightly open, when open gazing along the nose at the floor)
- Breathing (abdomen and chest, long, deep and forced at the beginning but not too long at a time)
- Clothes (comfortable, not tight, no thick material, no restriction of blood flow or pressure
on nerves, loosen belt)
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2.0 Meditation techniques
2.1 Concentration meditation
Buddhism acknowledges 40 different meditation objects like colored disks or different parts of the body which includes the breath.
The aim of concentration meditation is to keep the attention on this meditation object only (or as much as possible).
I’m familiar with the breathing process as meditation object and describe the basic technique here.
The breath is just one possible meditation object. It has several advantages, the main one may be its availability; we can use it any time anywhere without the need for extra preparations and this is why it is used frequently.
We want to be aware of the sensations the breath causes along its way in our body. At first we let the breathing go comfortably and naturally without influencing it. When we inhale the air enters the nose. We can be aware of this at some point at the inner skin of the nose, the nostrils or the upper lip. If you have difficulties to find the point of touch, you may breathe forcefully for a couple of breaths. Then the air travels along the upper palate and the throat into our lungs (which is difficult to be aware of) and we will notice that our chest widens and the belly rises. Then there is a gap between in- and exhalation and when we start exhaling, we are aware of the abdomen sinking back, the chest deflating and then we will notice the sensation the airflow causes at our nose. Again there is a gap between ex- and inhalation and then the next inhalation will begin and so on and so on. If you are not familiar with abdominal breathing or your belly will not move at all, be aware of the movement of your chest instead. This technique is called ‘following’ the breath.
Of course it is possible to stay at the nose or at the abdomen (chest) all the time during each in- and exhalation, actually staying at the nose all the time is a recommended technique for more experienced meditators, but by initially ‘following’ the breath, it is easier to stay with the breathing without the mind drifting away frequently.
That’s it for the start – this is the basic technique, nothing more to do. We concentrate on our breathing, want to be mindful of it continually, breath after breath; the breath is our meditation object.
We start with being mindful of one breath, one in breath and then one out breath, and then of the next in breath and so on. In due course your concentration will grow and we may be able to increase the time we can focus on the breath. If the mind wanders away, we gently, without judging or condemning ourselves, without regarding us as hopeless meditators, will bring it back to the breath, again and again. Our aim is to notice quicker and quicker when we’ve lost our meditation object and then gently bring the mind back to the breath as soon as we notice that we’ve gone astray. [...]
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2.2 Insight or vipassana meditation
A certain amount of concentration is necessary in order to start with insight meditation.
During concentration meditation we’ve tried to focus on one object only, on our breathing, have tried to exclude everything else that we’ve become aware of, have treated everything else as distractions. In vipassana or insight meditation we now open up to everything that attracts our attention, that is happening in our body and mind. We don’t try to exclude other experiences anymore.
The idea is to open up to everything and see the three characteristics of life:
in everything (except Nibbana). Our main focus should be on seeing, better experiencing, impermanence everywhere, because that is the easiest to see of these three characteristics and realizing the other two characteristics will follow naturally out of realizing impermanence.
Why are we looking for impermanence, and where exactly should we look for it? We are looking for impermanence to allow the mind to let go of all the things it is chasing after because this constantly chasing after things, clinging to them, is what causes our problems. Intellectually this concept of impermanence isn’t difficult to understand, we know it already, but the mind is unable to take the necessary steps out of misery unless it really has experienced impermanence.
What we are looking for is to experience impermanence and we don’t have to go far to do so. We will look for impermanence in our body, feelings, perceptions, in our thinking and consciousness. [...]
So in vipassana meditation we stay with everything that attracts our attention for as long as this experience lasts
(e.g. the noise of a passing car on the street) or until another experience becomes stronger (draws our attention towards it) than the previous one. We don’t regard other experiences than the breath as distractions; we don’t go back to the breath as in concentration meditation. [...]
Wherever we pay attention to, we will see and experience impermanence and by doing this we will recognize the inherent unsatisfactory nature of everything we know. How can something be genuine fulfilling if it does not last, if we experience it only temporary before leaving us with a sense of lack or loss? Finally the mind will realize: Wherever I pay attention to, nothing stays, everything fades away. So why run after things, why put so much effort into chasing after pleasurable experiences or run away from disagreeable ones? They are impermanent anyway. Nothing is really worth chasing after, it makes no sense to cling to things or events because they will not last, they will fade away. The pleasure I get from them already carries its disintegration - our attachments begin to fade away, our problems will diminish accordingly.
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2.3 Loving kindness meditation
The purpose of doing loving kindness meditation is to develop friendliness and wishes of wellbeing towards all sentient beings, including yourself. It is the method of choice to lessen animosity and anger; the sense of self, selfishness will decrease. It promotes tolerance, patience, gratitude and a forgiving heart. Usually it goes together with developing compassion and sympathetic joy. Loving kindness meditation has nothing to do with that sentimental “I love you all and everybody is just wonderful”, but it sees very clearly the positive and negative aspects of oneself and others. It brings about positive attitudinal changes as it systematically develops the quality of loving acceptance.
Loving kindness meditation is done by focusing on a person or a group of persons, reflecting on their qualities and sending good will, sympathy and friendliness to them. In the
Buddhist scriptures there is an order of persons given one may follow when practicing this kind of meditation: [...]
The favorite person to start with is you yourself because only when you are at peace with yourself will you be able to develop friendliness and loving kindness towards others. Then systematically sending loving kindness from one type of person to the other in the above given order will have the effect of breaking down barriers between yourself and the other four types of people.
There are countless variations of doing loving kindness meditation, no fixed forms or phrases, and of course, there are the traditional ways of practicing it as well. So what will be introduced here is just one way of doing it. For those with keen interest in this kind of meditation I recommend the already mentioned book by Sharon Salzberg: Loving Kindness. The revolutionary art of happiness. Shambala, Boston & London 1997.
We start with finding a comfortable meditative posture. We’ll close our eyes and focus our attention on the breath for some time to become calm and concentrated. [60sec.]
In the beginning of this practice some people might have difficulties in developing the feeling of loving kindness, to experience the actual emotion of loving kindness. As a preliminary exercise try to imagine a young pet, a little dog or cat as it is playing in its clumsy ways or try to imagine a baby or little child as it is smiling back at you. Nobody would do any harm to these little beings, there is only care and well-wishing. The emotion that normally now arises in your mind is the feeling of loving kindness we are looking for.
Now imagine the kindly shining sun that radiates its energy, both rays of light and warmth towards all things, living or nonliving, to all human beings of all races and religions in all parts of the world without preference or prejudice. [30 to 60sec.]
Now imagine yourself as this lovely shining sun with all loving kindness as its energy and start radiating the loving kindness as the sun does with its rays of light and warmth. [30 to 60sec.]
(not easy for some)
Now bring up an image of yourself that you can recall best.
Try to see yourself smiling back at you. [30 to 60 sec.]
Now slowly repeat these words in your mind:
- May I be happy and well.
- May I be far away from troubles and dangers.
- May I live happily in peace.
Before you repeat the loving kindness phrases (May I be ...) you can reflect on your life in order for loving kindness to arise more easily: [...]
Some common phrases used in loving kindness meditation: Choose whichever you find appropriate, invent your own phrases. Three or four phrases are enough, no need to use all of them any time.
To a respected person
- May ... be happy and well. ( ... = I or you or, he, she, they, we)
- May ... be safe and warm.
- May ... be far away from troubles and dangers.
- May ... not be parted from the good fortune ... have attained.
- May ... live (exist) happily in peace.
- May ... have mental happiness.
- May ... have bodily well-being.
- May ... be able to let go of anger, fear, worry and ignorance.
- May ... be open to life.
- May ... be free from all suffering.
Now bring up an image of one of your teachers or of a person you’ve learned from or of somebody who is or was benevolent to you. [30 to 60 sec.]
To our parents
(can be difficult for some)
To somebody who is dear to us
To people who gave us some difficulties
(best not to start with your greatest enemy)
- This person is struggling for life as I do. (You will call the person by his/her name of course).
- This person makes mistakes as I do.
- He/she has to deal with his/her anger, fear uncertainties, wrong views as I have to.
- He/she tries to overcome greed, hatred, delusion as I try.
- By following his/her way of life as I’m following my way of life, he/she has given me another perspective of life to learn.
- He/she has shown me some of my weak points so that I can improve myself.
I will forgive him/her as other people have forgiven me and radiate my loving kindness to him/ her.
To all beings
Bring your attention back to yourself. Feel your heart filled with loving kindness, compassion and sympathetic joy.
Now extend your loving kindness to all human beings of all races and religions without prejudice.
Extend your loving kindness further to all animals, plants,...
Then slowly repeat these words in your mind:
Other possible receivers of our loving kindness may be people with difficulties and/or suffering like victims of natural catastrophes or wars, people in jail or with diseases...
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