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Meditation 101

What Is Meditation?

The term “meditation” can refer to a variety of practices, including techniques that promote relaxation, building of internal energy (or life force) and the development of love and compassion, patience, generosity and forgiveness. 

There are several forms of religious and spiritual meditation, including Baha’i Faith, Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, Jainism, Judaism, Pagan and Occult Religions, New Age, Sikhism, and Daoism. Two popular forms of secular meditation in the West are sound-based meditation and mindfulness. 

Buddhist meditation is an aspect of the path towards Enlightenment (also known as Nibbana and Nirvana). The words meaning meditation in the classical languages of Buddhism are bhāvanā, jhāna/dhyāna and vipassana. In the Theravāda tradition, there are over fifty methods for developing mindfulness and forty for developing concentration, while in the Tibetan tradition there are thousands of visualization meditations. 

There are two paramount mental qualities that arise from wholesome meditative practice:

  1. "serenity" or "tranquillity" (Pali: samatha) which steadies, composes, unifies and concentrates the mind;
  2. "insight" (Pali: vipassana) which enables one to see, explore and discern "formations" (conditioned phenomena based on the five aggregates).

Through the meditative development of serenity, one is able to release obscuring hindrances, and it is, with the release of the hindrances, through the meditative development of insight that one gains liberating wisdom. 

What Is Mindfulness?

The Abhidhammattha Sangaha, a key Abhidharma text from the Theravāda tradition, defines sati as follows:

The word sati derives from a root meaning 'to remember,' but as a mental factor it signifies presence of mind, attentiveness to the present, rather than the faculty of memory regarding the past. It has the characteristic of not wobbling, i.e. not floating away from the object. Its function is absence of confusion or non-forgetfulness. It is manifested as guardianship, or as the state of confronting an objective field. Its proximate cause is strong perception (thirasaññā) or the four foundations of mindfulness.

Enlightenment (bodhi) is a state of being in which greed (Pali: lobha), hatred (Pali: dhosa) and delusion (Pali: moha) have been overcome, abandoned and are absent from the mind. Mindfulness, which, among other things, is an attentive awareness of the reality of things (especially of the present moment) is an antidote to delusion and is considered as such a 'power' (Pali: bala). This faculty becomes a power in particular when it is coupled with clear comprehension of whatever is taking place.

The Buddha advocated that one should establish mindfulness (satipaṭṭhāna) in one's day-to-day life maintaining as much as possible a calm awareness of one's body, feelings, mind, and dhammas. The practice of mindfulness supports analysis resulting in the arising of wisdom (Pali: paññā). 

Mindfulness practice, inherited from the Buddhist tradition, is being employed in psychology to alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions, including obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, and in the prevention of relapse in depression and drug addiction.

What Are The Four Foundations Of Mindfulness?

The "four foundations of mindfulness" are canonically described bases for maintaining moment-by-moment mindfulness and for developing mindfulness through meditation. 

The four foundations of mindfulness are:

  1. mindfulness of the body (Pali: kāya-sati, kāyagatā-sati;)
  2. mindfulness of feelings (or sensations) (Pali vedanā-sati)
  3. mindfulness of mind (or consciousness) (Pali cotta-sati)
  4. mindfulness of mental phenomena (or mental objects) (Pali dhammā-sati)

What Is Breathing Meditation (Or Ānāpānasati)?

Anapanasati is most commonly practiced with attention centered on the breath, without any effort to change the breathing.

A traditional method given by the Buddha in the Satipatthana Sutta is to go into the forest and sit beneath a tree and then to simply watch the breath, if the breath is long, to notice that the breath is long, if the breath is short, to notice that the breath is short. (MN)

While inhaling and exhaling, the meditator practices:

  • training the mind to be sensitive to one or more of: the entire body, rapture, pleasure, the mind itself, and mental processes
  • training the mind to be focused on one or more of: inconstancy, dispassion, cessation, and relinquishment
  • steadying, satisfying, or releasing the mind.

The practice of focusing one's attention changes the brain in ways to improve that ability over time; the brain grows in response to meditation. Meditation can be thought of as mental training, similar to learning to ride a bike or play a piano. Meditators experienced in focused attention meditation ( such as anapanasati) illustrate a lessening of emotionally reactive and automatic responding behavior. It has been scientifically demonstrated that ānāpānasati slows down the natural aging process of the brain.

What Are The Four Divine Abodes?

The brahmavihāras or divine abodes are a series of four virtues and the meditation practices made to cultivate them. 

The meditator is instructed to radiate out to all beings in all directions the mental states of:

1. loving-kindness or benevolence (Pali: Metta)

2. compassion (Pali: Karuna)

3. appreciative/empathic joy (Pali: Muditha)

4. equanimity (Pali: Upekha)

What Are The Seven Factors Of Enlightenment?

The Seven Factors of Enlightenment (Pali: satta bojjhaṅgā or satta sambojjhaṅgā) are:

1. Mindfulness (sati) 

2. Investigation (dhamma vicaya) of the truth

3. Energy (viriya)

4. Joy or rapture (pīti)

5. Relaxation or tranquility (passaddhi)

6. Concentration (samādhi) a calm, one-pointed state of concentration of mind

7. Equanimity (upekkha), to be able to face life in all its vicissitudes with a calm mind and tranquility, without disturbance, unaffected.