This article pro­vides the basics of three dif­fer­ent me­di­ta­tion tech­niques. It enables be­gin­ners to start with their me­di­ta­tion prac­tice.

[...] in the text in­di­cates that more details are given in the free pdf-version. Please find the down­load link at the bottom of this page.

1. Introduction

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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1.1 Attitude

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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1.2 Posture

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.

sitting postures

  • 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)

sitting postures

  • 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
Burmese styleHalf LotusKneeling 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. 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.

Meditator-concentration 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:
  • impermanent
  • unsatisfactory
  • not-self
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.

Meditator-insight 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

Meditator-lk 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.]

To yourself (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.
  • 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.
To a respected person
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.]
  • May you ...
To our parents (can be difficult for some)
  • May you ...
To somebody who is dear to us
  • May you ...
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.
  • May you ...
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:
  • May you ...

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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