Abbot of Waktungtaphao meditating at Tat Hong waterfall in Thailand

Meditation is very important in Buddhism. It is thought of as a mental exercise that helps one tap into the infinite force of the universe, explore the true nature of existence, gain insights into true reality, see the insufficiency and unreality of sensory experience, and develop correct thoughts and actions. Meditation is usually taught by a meditation master and the methods vary from sect to sect and person to person. Some methods of meditation are based on discourses in the Pali language.

The Dalai Lama said, "The very purpose of meditation is to disciple the mind and reduce afflictive emotions." For centuries Buddhists and Hindus have used meditation as a tool to focus their energy inward to explore the mental state of joy, get rid of negative emotions and develop wisdom, compassion and improve well being on a individual and societal level. Buddhists sometimes say the key to happiness lies in controlling something sometimes called the “monkey mind”—“the undisciplined consciousness that scrambles from thought to thought, impelled by negative emotions and impulsive desires."

According to the BBC: “In Buddhism the person meditating is not trying to get into a hypnotic state or contact angels or any other supernatural entity. Meditation involves the body and the mind. For Buddhists this is particularly important as they want to avoid what they call 'duality' and so their way of meditating must involve the body and the mind as a single entity. In the most general definition, meditation is a way of taking control of the mind so that it becomes peaceful and focused, and the meditator becomes more aware. The purpose of meditation is to stop the mind rushing about in an aimless (or even a purposeful) stream of thoughts. People often say that the aim of meditation is to still the mind. [Source: BBC |::|]

For Buddhists, meditation can be like prayer in other religious traditions. It focuses the mind and prepares it to understand or receive higher forms of knowledge or insight. Meditating on the qualities of enlightened bodhisattvas is one way of showing respect to them. In what is sometimes called stabilizing meditation, a person attempts to develop his or her powers of concentration. This often begin with focusing on one's breathing and clearing one’s mind of all thought. Once the mind is clear, the person can focus on a Buddhist concept, for instance, the idea that life is impermanent. This can lead to insights or sudden understandings. Psychologists say such thoughts emerge from the unconscious. Buddhist believe they can lead to enlightenment. [Source: Encyclopedia.com]

Websites and Resources on Meditation and Tantrism: Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Encyclopædia Britannica article britannica.com ; Erowid Meditation Vault erowid.org ; Learn to Meditate learn-to-meditate.com ; Yoga Journal: Meditation yogajournal.com/meditation ; National Institutes of Health, US government, National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) nccih.nih.gov/health/meditation ; How to do Zazen (Zen Buddhist Meditation) global.sotozen-net.or.jp ; George Feuerstein, Yoga and Meditation (Dhyana) santosha.com/moksha/meditation ; Tibetan Buddhist Meditation tricycle.org/magazine/tibetan-buddhist-meditation ; Vipassanā (Theravada Buddhist Meditation) Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; Gray, David B. (Apr 2016). "Tantra and the Tantric Traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism". Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Religion. oxfordre.com/religion ; Tantra: An Analysis (in Hinduism), Damien McDonald (2007) digitalcommons.unf.edu

Meditation and Buddhist Philosophy

Buddhist meditation is closely linked with Buddhist philosophy. It is assumed that the idea of meditation originated with Hinduism and was passed on to Buddhism as the Buddha was himself a Hindu who studied meditation with Hindu holymen. In Buddhism meditation is considered part of the path towards nirvana. The Buddha has said that two essential mental qualities arise from practicing meditation: 1) serenity or tranquility that calms and concentrates the mind; and 2) insight which enables the meditator to explore the five aspects of living beings: matter, sensation, perception, mental formation, and consciousness. [Source: differencebetween.net]

According to the BBC: Lines from the ancient Buddhist scripture the Dhammapada suggest that the mental states we experience are the key to everything in our lives. If we are consumed by craving or aversion, we will experience the world very differently from the way we will experience it if we are overflowing with generosity and kindness. Buddhist meditation is an invitation to turn one's awareness away from the world of activity that usually preoccupies us to the inner experience of thoughts, feelings and perceptions. For Buddhists, the realm of meditation comprises mental states such as calm, concentration and one-pointedness (which comprises the six forces: hearing, pondering, mindfulness, awareness, effort and intimacy). The practice of meditation is consciously employing particular techniques that encourage these states to arise.” [Source: BBC]

In its highest stages, Buddhist meditation combines the discipline of progressively increased introversion with the insight brought about by wisdom. Meditation. though important in all schools of Buddhism, has developed characteristic variations within different traditions. [Source: Myanmar Travel Information]

Types of Buddhist Meditation

According to the BBC: “A useful way of understanding the diversity of meditation practices is to think of the different types of meditation. These practices are known as: 1) Concentrative, 2) Generative, 3) Receptive, and 4) Reflective. This isn't a traditional list - it comes from modern meditation teachers who draw on more than one Asian Buddhist tradition. Neither are there hard and fast distinctions. A particular meditation practice usually includes elements of all four approaches but with the emphasis on one particular aspect. Connected with meditation, but not quite the same as it, is the practice of mindfulness. This, too, is an essential part of Buddhist practice and means becoming more fully aware of what one is experiencing in all aspects of one's life. Mindfulness always plays a part in meditation, but meditation, in the sense of setting out to become more and more concentrated, is not necessarily a part of mindfulness. [Source: BBC |::|]

Zazen: Zen meditation

“1) Concentrative: If you focus your attention on an object it gradually becomes calmer and more concentrated. In principle, any object will do - a sound, a visual image such as a candle flame, or a physical sensation. In the tantric Buddhism of Tibet and elsewhere, meditators visualise complex images of Buddha forms and recite sacred sounds or mantras (in fact these images and sounds have significance beyond simply being objects of concentration). But the most common and basic object of concentrative meditation is to focus on the naturally calming physical process of the breath. In the 'mindfulness of breathing', one settles the mind through attending to the sensations of breathing. |::|

“There are many variations on how this is done. Here is a common version of the practice: A) In the first stage of the practice you follow the breath as it enters and leaves the body and count after the out-breath. After the first breath you count 'two', and so on up to ten and then start again from one. B) In the second stage the count comes before the in-breath. C) In the third stage you stop counting and attend to the sensations of the breath entering and leaving the body. D) In the fourth stage you focus your attention on the tip of your nose where the breath first comes into contact with the skin. Concentrative meditation practices can lead you into deeper and deeper states of absorption known as dhyana in Buddhism. |::|

“2) Generative: “An example of a 'generative' practice is the 'development of loving kindness' meditation (metta bhavana). This helps the person meditating to develop an attitude of loving kindness using memory, imagination and awareness of bodily sensations. A) In the first stage you feel metta for yourself with the help of an image like golden light or phrases such as 'may I be well and happy, may I progress.' B) In the second stage you think of a good friend and, using an image, a phrase, or simply the feeling of love, you develop metta towards them. C) In the third stage metta is directed towards someone you do not particularly like or dislike. D) In the fourth stage it is directed towards someone you actually dislike. E) In the last stage, you feel metta for all four people at once - yourself, the friend, the neutral person and the enemy.

“Then you extend the feeling of love from your heart to everyone in the world, to all beings everywhere. Scripture on this practice says: 'As a mother would risk her life to protect her child, her only child, even so should one cultivate a limitless heart with regard to all beings. With goodwill for the entire cosmos cultivate a limitless heart.' (Metta Sutta) Other generative practices in Buddhism include tonglen - the Tibetan practice of breathing in the suffering of others and breathing out a purifying white light. This practice is aimed at cultivating compassion. |::|

children meditating

“3) Receptive: In the mindfulness of breathing or the metta bhavana meditation practice, a balance needs to be struck between consciously guiding attention and being receptive to whatever experience is arising. This attitude of open receptive attention is the emphasis of the receptive type of meditation practice. Sometimes such practices are simply concerned with being mindful. In zazen or 'just sitting' practice from the Japanese Zen tradition, one sits calmly, aware of what is happening in one's experience without judging, fantasising or trying to change things. A similar practice in Tibetan tradition is dzogchen. In both cases, the meditator sits with their eyes open. (Usually people close their eyes to meditate). Zazen and dzogchen practices gain depth from the underlying belief in the significance of being in the present moment. |::|

“4) Reflective meditation involves repeatedly turning your attention to a theme but being open to whatever arises from the experience. Reflective practices in Buddhism include meditations on impermanence and interconnectedness as well as faith enhancing practices such as meditation on the qualities of the Buddha.” |::|

Buddhist Meditation Techniques

For some Buddhists, meditation is like the mental equivalent of sports. The goal of some is to become “vividly aware of being aware of not much at all” and “leave the body behind as of it is a dream.” Buddhist monks often meditate for hours at a stretch. They often begin their session by lighting candles or incense, sit on the floors, often in the lotus position, and focused their attention inward, seeking an inner self free of desire. They often focus their attention on an image of Buddha. Meditating Buddhists can hold a given image in their mind for hours, which has caused some psychologists to question their assumption about the limits of attention. Monks usually make sure to go to bathroom and eat before they meditate and try not to fall asleep.

Buddhanet offers the following advise on practicing meditation: “You would follows these easy steps: the four Ps place, posture, practice and problems. First, find a suitable place, perhaps a room that is not too noisy and where you are not likely to do disturbed. Second, sit in a comfortable posture. A good posture is to sit with your legs folded, a pillow under your buttocks, your back straight, the hands nestled in the lap and the eyes closed. Alternatively, you can sit in a chair as long as you keep your back straight. Next comes the actual practice itself. As you sit quietly with your eyes closed you focus your attention on the in and out movement of the breath. This can be done by counting the breaths or watching the rise and fall of the abdomen. When this is done, certain problems and difficulties will arise. You might experience irritating itches on the body or discomfort in the knees. If this happens, try to keep the body relaxed without moving and keep focusing on the breath. You will probably have many intruding thoughts coming into your mind and distracting your attention from the breath. The only way you can deal with this problem is to patiently keep returning your attention to the breath. If you keep doing this, eventually thoughts will weaken, your concentration will become stronger and you will have moments of deep mental calm and inner peace. [Source: buddhanet.net]

A Buddhist wrote in the interfaith.org bulletin board: “ In Buddhist Tantra mantra recitation and controlling the breath are used in advanced meditation practices to do with the subtle body (prana) so there is that in common. Chogyam Trungpa says with Buddhist meditation there is no object of meditation. Any support which we start off with is just for calming the mind, and then any object we may be aware of, after the mind is calmed, is just for developing insight. Of course, according to Buddhist ontology, nothing really exists inherently, so it's gets tricky trying to define what an object of meditation is. And then one might ask how ultimate gnosis can come from meditating on a fabrication. Would be great if we could just jump to meditation without an object, but this is very difficult for beginners...Zazen is like this. No object. They jump in straight away, and no trying, but keep trying without doing anything and no expectations. That is all...Personally I prefer peeling a banana before consuming it. My fickle mind likes to see progress.”

The Buddha on the Mindfulness of Breathing

In his sermon on Mindfulness of Breathing, the Buddha outlined sixteen ways of approaching meditation. He begins: “There is the case where a monk, having gone to the wilderness, to the shade of a tree, or to an empty building, sits down folding his legs crosswise, holding his body erect, and setting mindfulness to the fore. Always mindful, he breathes in; mindful he breathes out.” [Source: wildmind.org]

5th century sculpture of Buddha teaching from Sarnath, where Buddha delivered the First Sermon

First Tetrad: Breathing in long, he discerns that he is breathing in long; or breathing out long, he discerns that he is breathing out long.
Or breathing in short, he discerns that he is breathing in short; or breathing out short, he discerns that he is breathing out short.
He trains himself to breathe in sensitive to the entire body, and to breathe out sensitive to the entire body.
He trains himself to breathe in calming the body, and to breathe out calming the body.

Second Tetrad: He trains himself to breathe in sensitive to rapture, and to breathe out sensitive to rapture.
He trains himself to breathe in sensitive to pleasure, and to breathe out sensitive to pleasure.
He trains himself to breathe in sensitive to mental processes, and to breathe out sensitive to mental processes.
He trains himself to breathe in calming mental fabrication, and to breathe out calming mental fabrication.

Third Tetrad: He trains himself to breathe in sensitive to the mind, and to breathe out sensitive to the mind.
He trains himself to breathe in satisfying the mind, and to breathe out satisfying the mind.
He trains himself to breathe in steadying the mind, and to breathe out steadying the mind.
He trains himself to breathe in releasing the mind, and to breathe out releasing the mind.

Fourth Tetrad: He trains himself to breathe in focusing on impermanence, and to breathe out focusing on impermanence.
He trains himself to breathe in focusing on fading and to breathe out focusing on fading.
He trains himself to breathe in focusing on cessation, and to breathe out focusing on cessation.
He trains himself to breathe in focusing on relinquishment, and to breathe out focusing on relinquishment.

Hinduism, Buddhism and Yoga

Meditation is a central part of Hinduism, Buddhism and yoga. Jayaram V, a leading author of Indian religions, wrote: “Yoga is essentially a Hindu tradition with its roots in the Vedic ritual symbolism and its internalization. Yoga is mentioned and explained in several ancient Upanishads, long before the emergence of Buddhism. [Source: Jayaram V, Hinduwebsite.com |*|]

Hindu sadhu (holy man) meditating

"Prior to the Buddha, yoga was practiced in many forms by the ascetics and ascetic traditions of ancient India, including Jainism. The rudiments of yoga practice are found in the Katha and Svetasvatara Upanishads, while a more advanced version in the Maitri Upanishad. The epic Mahabharata makes many references to yoga. According to Edwin F. Bryant, the terms yoga and yogi occur about 900 times in the epic.

“By all accounts, Patanjali did not invent the wheel of yoga. He codified it and standardized its teaching. During his wanderings as an ascetic monk, the Buddha practiced various forms of austerities and yoga. His enlightenment was a direct result of dhyana, an ancient form of meditation. The ascetic practices of both Buddhism and Hinduism draw heavily from ancient Yoga traditions in their respective ways to practice self-transformation. Both rely upon Yoga to restrain human nature and overcome desires and attachments. They use many common terms to explain the practices of yoga or stages in self-absorption. However, yoga has a much wider connotation in Hinduism than in Buddhism. |*|

“Hindu yoga aims to achieve liberation through union with the inner Self and in some yogas through union with the Supreme Self, whereas in Buddhism it is meant to suppress the modification and disperse the formation of ego. In Buddhism self-absorption denotes the end of all desires and modifications and an experience with emptiness. In Hinduism also it denotes the end of all desires and modifications but an experience with transcendence or union with the transcendental Self.” |*|

Hindu and Buddhist Meditative Practices

Jayaram V wrote: “Apart from some similarities, there is a main difference between Hindu and Buddhist meditative practices, although they share a common history and geographical influence. In Buddhist meditation and contemplative practices, the focus or the emphasis is mainly upon the Not-self, which in Buddhist parlance means anything other than the Self. It includes the mind, the body, the world and all the objects in them such as thoughts, feelings, emotions, images, objects, etc., which we experience through our mind and senses. According to Buddhism, the not-Self is just a temporary formation. It exists both externally and internally. By knowing it and dissolving it from within, one can reach Nirvana. [Source: Jayaram V, Hinduwebsite.com |*|]

“By practising mindfulness upon the Not-self (objective reality), the monks realize the impermanence of things and the important aspects of Dharma such as the Four Noble Truths. Thus, the Buddhist contemplative practices are outward. They keep the mind engaged with things through mindfulness practice, until peace and happiness are attained through equanimity, discernment and enlightenment. |*|

“In contrast, the Hindu meditative practices are inward oriented. They are meant to know the subjective reality, or the reality which is self-existent and free from objective reality. Therefore, they focus the mind upon the Self rather than the Not-self and aim to disengage the mind and senses from the Not-self or the world within and without. By withdrawing the mind and senses from worldly things (the Not-Self) and silencing them, a yogi concentrates his mind upon the thoughts of the Self or God to experience peace and equanimity. Thus, in Hinduism Samadhi is achieved by silencing the mind and senses, rather than keeping them mindful and actively engage with the objective reality. |*|

“It is true that over the centuries, both the religions influenced each other in many ways. Hence, presently you may see similarities between them in their contemplative techniques and spiritual practices and the use of both passive and active meditation techniques. However, their primary emphasis upon the Self and not-self can still be discerned in them.” |*|

Practicing Buddhist Meditation

Perry Garfinkel wrote in National Geographic: “One of the key practices of the Eightfold Path is meditation. Though the technique may differ from sect to sect---alone or in groups, facing a wall or fellow meditators, eyes closed or slightly open, in silence or chanting phrases---many types begin by paying close attention to your own breathing. There is nothing mystical or otherworldly about it, no levitation, no out-of-body experience. With each in and out breath, your awareness becomes more refined, more focused. [Source: Perry Garfinkel, National Geographic, December 2005]

meditation in Myanmar

Breathing in . . . you become aware of the sensations of your body, and of your most distracting organ, your mind. Breathing out . . . you experience a release of body tension, and you struggle to bring your wandering mind back to your breath. In . . . the air tickles the tip of your nose. Out . . . the pain in your knee subsides, the mind still meanders. In . . . Shouldn't I be doing something more useful with this time? Out . . . Who's the "I" in that last thought? With ever more subtlety, eventually you come to understand, sometimes painfully, sometimes joyfully, what the Buddha realized. "We are what we think," he said.

According to the BBC: “In Buddhist tradition, meditation is the second part of the 'threefold path'. There are many formulations of the Buddhist path to spiritual awakening but the threefold path is generally seen as the most basic one. The first training, and the indispensable basis for spiritual development, according to the Buddha, is ethics (shila). Buddhism does not have laws or commandments but its five ethical precepts are guidelines for how to live in a way that avoids harming others or oneself. Meditation (samadhi) is the second training. Acting ethically gives rise to a simpler life and a clear conscience, which are a sound basis for meditation practice. Meditation clarifies and concentrates the mind in preparation for the third training: developing wisdom (prajna). The real aim of all Buddhist practice is to understand the true nature of our lives and experience.” [Source: BBC]

Buddhist Mantras, Chants and Questions

Chants and mantras are a fixture of meditation, rituals and other religious activity. Technically they are not prayers but are reminders of the beneficence of The Buddha, Dharma and the monk community. Buddhists appeared to have borrowed the practice from Hindus who used mantras to call their gods before prayers. Repeating chants is said to relax the body and refreshes the mind. Monks often chant in low moaning voices to the rhythm of sticks striking an instrument that looks like a wooden cowbell.

Mantras are often in the ancient Sanskrit language and are believed to be words used by a Buddha in deep meditation. The most commonly used mantra, especially in Tibetan Buddhism, is om mani padme hum, which is usually translated as "Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus. The jewel represents the teachings of the Buddha, while the lotus is the symbol of wisdom. According to the BBC: “A mantra is a word, a syllable, a phrase or a short prayer that is spoken once or repeated over and over again (either aloud or in a person's head) and that is thought to have a profound spiritual effect on the person." Often the phrases used aren't really translatable because of the richness of meaning and symbolism they contain. [Source: BBC Encyclopedia.com]

eight auspicious signs in Tibetan Buddhism

“It's common to use prayer beads to mark the number of repetitions of a mantra. Mantras may also be displayed on a prayer wheel and repeated by spinning the wheel, or written on a prayer flag - in which case the prayer is repeated each time the flag moves in the wind. Prayer wheels can be tiny things that a Buddhist carries with them or enormous objects up to nine feet high found in monasteries. These physical prayer devices are very common in Tibetan Buddhist communities.” |::|

Koans are questions or statements, often paradoxes, used in meditation or in discussions or debates that provoke spiritual understanding. The BBC says: “They are often used by masters as a way of teaching pupils, and also to test enlightenment. Don't think that the koan and its solution are themselves wisdom and truth. They may be, but their particular importance here is their use as tools to help you understand the true nature of yourself and of everything, and to increase your awareness of what is. A well known koan is "In clapping both hands a sound is heard; what is the sound of one hand?" Koans can't be solved by study and analytical thought. In order to solve a koan, the pupil must leave behind all thoughts and ideas in order to respond intuitively. Koans don't have a right answer. Western pupils often find this very frustrating, since most westerners are used to trying to get the right (and only) answer to a problem. For the same reason, the truths of Zen can't be learned just by reading a scripture or getting a solution from a a teacher or a text book. The best way to work with koans is with a teacher. Without a teacher it can be too easy to fool yourself into thinking that you've solved a koan. The first collection of koans was made in the 11th century CE. They are a favourite teaching tool of the Rinzai school of Buddhism.” [Source: BBC |::|]

Different Buddhist Mantras and Chants

Most chants are in Sanskrit and Pali, the languages used in Buddha's lifetime. Many Buddhist mantras incorporate the word “om,” the most powerful and mystical word in Buddhism. It is "a combination of three Sanskrit sounds that sum up the three-in-one nature of the universe. These chants are so sacred that just writing them or carving them in stone...is regarded as much more pious than putting up statues."

“Om mani padme hum ("Hail to the Jewel in the Lotus") can be translated to mean "I invoke this path to experience the universality, so the jewel-like luminosity of my immortal mind will be unfolded within the depths of the lotus-center of awakened consciousness and I be wafted by ecstacy of breaking through all bonds and horizons."

Another common chant goes: “He is indeed the Lord, perfected, whole self-awakened, endowed with knowledge and right conduct, well-farer, knower of the worlds, incomparable charioteer of men to be tamed, teacher of devas and mankind. Dharma is well taught by the Lord, it is self realized, it is timeless, a come-and-see thing, leading inward (to Nirvana) to be understood by the wise each for himself. The Lord's Order of Disciples is of good conduct, of dutiful conduct...This Order of the Lord's Disciples is worthy of alms, hospitality, offerings and reverence, it is a matchless field of merit for the world."

Differences Between Buddhist And Hindu Meditation

Hindu yanta

Buddhism and Hinduism employ similar methods of meditation but the aims are different. Hindus meditate to get in touch with Brahman, the ultimate, Hindu god. Some Buddhists use meditation to realize the Wisdom of selflessness. Some argue that their ultimate goals are the same — enlightened bliss —Moksha to the Hindu, Nirvana to the Buddhists. [Source: interfaith.org, December, 2005 =]

Buddhist meditation techniques are generally much simpler than those prescribed in Hindu texts. In addition, The range of purposes and techniques of meditation found Hinduism is much larger that found in Buddhism. In Hinduism, the ideology behind meditation is more spiritual than religion. The purposes of meditation in Hinduism are varied, like physical, mental, and spiritual enhancement, and also control of mind. In the extreme sense Meditation is the way of getting in union with the creator or Paramatma. Buddhists on the other hand do not believe in God, but considers meditation as an integral part of their religion. The main purpose of meditation in Buddhism is self realization or Nirvana. [Source: differencebetween.net]

A Buddhist wrote in the interfaith.org bulliten board: “In my own case, when I begin the meditation, I focus on the sensation of breathing until I am able to calm my mind which I then turn to analyze certain aspects of the teachings, such as the lack of an inherent self nature...In the Pali canon, Buddha Shakyamuni extols the virtues of breathing meditation, i.e. taking the breath as the focus until one is able to achieve an "unwavering concentration" at which point we can shift our focus to examine other aspects of the teachings.” =

Another Buddhist wrote: “You must keep the mind empty, the intent must be focused correctly. Emptying the mind is most important to meditative state of mind in Buddhism. It is easy for thoughts to flow through the mind, the best method is to not ignore them but accept them and flow with them until they no longer manifest in your practice. After you have emptied your mind of all thoughts all that remains is awareness, when you can build on your understanding of awareness many things become clear. This is the mind set needed for shaolin gung fu practice, not only because of the intertwined philosophy of Chan Buddhism but the self introspection and awareness of the environment, the bodies physiological processes and the task at hand are a basic requirement for advancement in the said art. In the end, the buddhist focus on becoming void, understanding this state and how it relates to the manifestation of the reality we are presently living in.” =

lotus buds at Theravada Buddhist wat

A Hindu wrote: “ In Sanatana Dharma, we employ two basic methods for calming the mind and concentration: japa and pranayama. The japa method involves slow repetitive chanting of a short mantra (vocally or mentally) using a rosary of 108 beads. The simplest of mantras is AUM. AUM is the seed mantra that forms the first part of most other mantras. Pranayama is slow rhythmic diaphragmatic breathing which is a very important technique, and is given a lot of emphasis in Hindu meditation. Focus on the in-breath and out-breath helps cessation of transient thoughts and gives the mind the concentration necessary for deeper meditation. The in-breath and out-breath itself is considered a mantra, more specifically an unchanted (ajapa) mantra. Hindu texts speak highly of this unchanted mantra that we are unknowing reciting 21600 times a day. =

“There is an esoteric meaning in Hinduism about the unchanted mantra. When we breathe, the sound produced by inhalation is “sooooo”, and that by exhalation is “hammmm”. Alternatively, one can also say inhalation sounds like “hammmm” and exhalation “saaaaa.” When we join these two syllables, we get so-ham or ham-sa. The Sanskrit meaning of so-ham is “That I am” and of ham-sa is “Am I That”. So, it is taught that with every breath we take, we silently recite the ham-sa or so-ham mantra asking, then acknowledging that we indeed are That which we seek. The principle of ‘you are That which you seek’ is an important Upanishadic edict. In pranayama, therefore, one may mentally concentrate on the inspiration and expiration using the sounds so-ham or ham-sa as a guide.” =

Differences between Theravada and Mahayana Meditation

Theravada Buddhist meditation is mainly silent-mind, mindfulness meditation. There are two main types of Theravada meditation: 1) Samatha: Calming meditation; and 2) Vipassana: Insight meditation. Mahayana Buddhism places greater emphasis on mantras and chanting. This is especially true with in Tibetan Buddhism. Though Tibetan Buddhism is based on Mahayana, it often viewed as its own strand — Vajrayana — as it is based on Tantric disciplines, which play an important part in meditation and . [Source: .biographyonline.net]

In the Theravada context, insight meditation refers to insight into the three marks of existence: impermanence, suffering and the non-self. Mahayana contexts, it entails insight into what is variously described as sunyata (the inseparability of appearance) and dharmata (emptiness, clarity and emptiness, or bliss and emptiness). [Source: Wikipedia]

Theravada monk meditating

One person posted on reddit.com: “There are too many schools of meditation within Theravada and Mahayana with widely divergent practices...Painting with very broad strokes, Mahayana generally has greater emphasis on compassion and emptiness. Whereas Theravada tends to be more focused on ending personal suffering.” [Source: reddit.com ]

Another said: “There are many different views, traditions and techniques on meditation within both Theravada and Mahayana, that you can't even speak of 'Theravada meditation' or 'Mahayana meditation'. I also think there's a lot of overlap. Typically, I would say vipassana/insight techniques are part of the Theravada tradition, with masters like Mahasi Sayadaw and Ajahn Chah. The same goes for Anapanasati (mindfulness of breathing) and other practices that aim towards the Jhana states, with teachers like Pa Auk Sayadaw and Ajahn Brahm. I always assume mantra/yantra techniques are part of Mahayana, but I could be wrong. "Om mani padme hum" means something like "Praise to the jewel in the lotus", which I think is a reference to Buddha Nature, a Mahayana concept.”

Another said: “Tonglen is really big in Tibetan Buddhism which is Mahayana. Koan practice and choiceless awareness (which goes by a few names) are big in Zen which is Mahayana. The "direct path" of the satipatthana sutta and the "path of serenity" by using the breath, kasina, divine abidings, etc. to develop access concentration/jhana then practicing satipatthana are Theravadin approaches. One general trend you could say is Mahayana tends to emphasize metta/compassion meditation on equal footing with insight meditation due to the Bodhisattva ideal. In practice devotional meditations are more popular in Mahayana.”

Difference Between Zen and Tibetan Meditation

On the difference Between Zen and Tibetan meditation, the Tattooed Buddha wrote: “Zen really emerged as a distinct sect when Buddhism entered China and Buddhist ideas merged with some of the Taoist philosophy that was already there. Tibetan Buddhism emerged when Buddhism entered Tibet and Buddhist ideas merged with the religion that was already present—a shamanic religion called Bon—that included a lot of things like nature spirits and ancestor worship. [Source: thetattooedbuddha.com =|=]

“Because that’s what Buddhism does. It mingles with whatever cultures are there already. Buddhism adapts to local conditions in a way that other religions don’t always. It’s a very versatile spiritual path. Zen Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism both have several different lineages that emphasize different things, so I can only really write about this in broad strokes right now...The really short answer is this: Zen Buddhism is minimalist and Tibetan Buddhism is much more elaborate.=|=


“Zen meditation is mainly about following the breath as well as emptying the mind. It also includes a few deeper things like meditative inquiry and riddles. Tibetan meditation often includes things like mantras and visualizations and concentrating on really complex thoughts. Tibetan Buddhism is more what we would think of as religious. There are a number of divine beings and Bodhisattvas that are talked about, visualized, and even prayed to. There are also very complex rituals and prayers. Zen Buddhism has rituals too. Practitioners are expected to bow a certain way and enter the temple a certain way, but things are just a less complicated. =|=

“And how are they similar? They both talk about lineage. Who your teacher was matters a great deal. They both emphasize Buddha nature—the teaching that we are Enlightened already—we just have to realize it. I don’t think one is better than the other. They are both authentic forms of Buddhism. If you like elaborate ritual, then Tibetan style is probably right for you. If you don’t, then Zen might be a better choice.” =|=

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: East Asia History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu , “Topics in Japanese Cultural History” by Gregory Smits, Penn State University figal-sensei.org, Asia for Educators, Columbia University; Asia Society Museum “The Essence of Buddhism” Edited by E. Haldeman-Julius, 1922, Project Gutenberg, Virtual Library Sri Lanka; “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “Encyclopedia of the World's Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Encyclopedia of the World Cultures: Volume 5 East and Southeast Asia” edited by Paul Hockings (G.K. Hall & Company, New York, 1993); BBC, Wikipedia, National Geographic, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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