Different Types Of Meditation
Meditation has been known throughout many cultures in history. Depending on how loosely you define the word, everyone does it from Africans to Eskimos.
I will briefly mention a few here to give some examples.
In the Judeo-Christian tradition we have prayer and contemplation.
Prayer comes in several forms. There are the scripted prayers like the “Lord’s Prayer”. This was a specific prayer given by Jesus when asked how we should pray.
It actually gives guidelines on the structure our prayers should take giving a higher importance to God’s will over our own. There is the hail Mary prayer done with rosaries much like Tibetan Buddhist chanting with mantras. Even Muslims use prayer beads too. Jews pray at the wailing wall in Jerusalem. This prayer is more or less where God’s followers remind him of the bargain he made with man, and pleads with him to hold up his end of the deal.
The other practice is contemplation. Contemplation is a prolonged period of conscious thought about some specific topic. They might meditate on certain passages of scripture, or a religious ideal. I have pointed out before that the Bible tells us to “be still and know that I am God”, which I personally believe is direct scriptural instruction to practice meditation in the vipassana sense.
Both prayer and contemplation are forms of mental concentration that can lead to a deep calm, a psychological slowing of the metabolism, and a sense of peace and well-being.
The Hindu tradition is where we get Yogic meditation. This is the samatha meditation that the Buddha himself trained in for about seven years before continuing to forge his own path to enlightenment. These traditions will focus the mind on a single object like a candle flame, a stone, a syllable, or whatever, and not allow it to wander. Often after developing this basic skill, the Yogi expands his practice to the more tantric meditation practices.
The tantric meditations in both the Hindu and Buddhist traditions use visualization to destroy the ego and obtain pure awareness. It follows a sort of self hypnotic path to speed up the process. Buddhist tantra is sometimes called the “lightning path” because of its ability to quicken the results.
The student meditates on a specific religious image, for example, a bodhisattva like Green Tara or Avalokiteshvara. This process of visualization attempts to unite the practitioner and the deity as one. The student takes off his or her own identity and puts on another embodying the characteristics in the process
Within The Buddhist tradition, concentration is highly valued, but the element of awareness is added. Concentration then becomes a tool to develop that awareness. There are several routes to this goal, but they all seek this same goal. One route is the tantric path that I have already mentioned.
Zen Buddhism uses the sheer force of will to develop this awareness. To do this, the practitioner will sit down and just sit. Toss out everything from your mind but the awareness of sitting. In the Rinzai school of Zen they attempt to trick the mind out of conscious thought. They put the student into a horrible training situation, and add an unsolvable riddle that the student must solve.
The idea is to overload the mind until it simply gives up and accepts the moment for what it is.
Vipassana is the favorite of the Theravada traditions and comes from the Satipatthana Sutta, a discourse attributed to the Buddha himself. This is a direct and gradual development of awareness, and typically takes years of development. It is a gentle, but thorough technique.
Thoughts are not going to go away, but with vipassana you learn how to listen to them without getting swept up by them. This is what is meant by “taming the monkey mind”.
By learning to pay attention, we become awake, or liberated from the ego image in which we tend to cling. Through self discovery you learn to recognize what is truly happening to you, around you, and within you. Everything is flowing and changing from moment to moment.
According to the Buddha, this includes the very self we identify with. If our self or “soul” constantly changes, then it to does not belong to us. This is called “anatta” or no-self in Buddhist philosophy. with the exception of a deeper reading into the original translations of the Bible, no other religious philosophy has this concept.
In this sense the Buddha referred to his teachings as going “against the current” or “against the stream”.
From the Buddhist point of view, we view impermanent things as permanent, in spite of the fact that everything around us is constantly changing. Right now your body is aging, your computer is decaying, the molecules in the walls are vibrating themselves apart.
We assume these things are permanent. If we were to leave them be and return to them in the distant future they would often be fairly unrecognizable from the way we see them now.
Science teaches us that our nervous system can only process about 137 bits out of the 2 million bits of information it receives every second. This means we tune out over 99% of reality. We literally cannot do anything else but tune it out. Our biological systems simply cannot tune it in. Of the remaining less-than-1% we do process, we solidify into mental objects.
We attach emotions to these events based on our past experiences, and our current state of mind. Our reality is really perceptual mental habits that we learn.
The truth is, even our memories change every time we recall them. Nothing is permanent. By standing back and quietly watching, we begin to realize what we are doing as we do it.
It is this backwards view that causes suffering. As soon as a perception pops up; a beautiful woman, a handsome man, a fast car, a thug with a gun, a truck bearing down on you, or anything. Whatever it is, we react to the stimulus with a feeling about it.
These are processes. For instance anxiety is not a state of existence, but a process. If we can notice these processes at the beginning before they build up momentum, then we can shortcut the whole system.
Vipassana meditation is the tool to develop that early awareness. Psychology calls this ability to be aware in the moment “observing ego”. People who have observing ego are often referred to as “cool”.
We can’t really talk about what meditation is without talking about non-attachment.
Through vipassana we learn to watch our arising thoughts and perceptions without getting caught up in the reactions themselves. Our obsessive compulsive tendencies slowly die. This escape from from our obsessive nature of thought produces a new view of reality which brings a feeling of peace.
With peace we get a new sense of inspiration for life, and a feeling of completeness to every activity. Because of these advantages, Buddhism views this as a correct view of life. It is seeing things for what they really are.
As our view of life improves we begin to stop the clinging to our flowing vortex of thought, feeling, and sensation that we lable as “me”. This is when we stop viewing ourselves as disconnected from the world, and stop feeling lonely. Our greedy nature begins to dissolve, and our compassion for others grows.
Enlightenment Doesn’t Happen Overnight
Don’t expect this to be a quick process. The “I” concept is a process. The meditator that follows this path to the end achieves perfect mental health, a pure love for all living creatures, and a complete end to suffering.
Fortunately you don’t have to go all the way to reap benefits from this process. I have seen benefits from the beginning, and they constantly reveal themselves to me every day. It is a cumulative function. The more you sit, the more you learn about your true nature. Your progress to liberation is measured in cushion-man hours, and you can stop whenever you want.
Mindfulness In Plain English
I want to remind everyone that I am not some special Buddhist teacher, but simply a student. This series on meditation is what I am learning right now from reading the book Mindfulness In Plain English by Ven. H Gunaratana Mathera. It was a gift to me from Amy who I met at Mahapajapati Monastery in Pioneertown, CA.
I am practicing what I have learned in this book daily and gaining the benefits in spades. From Feb. 14, 2013 until the end of the month I plan to visit Wat Metta where they do not have an internet connection. during this time I am going to step up my meditation practice every day. I am looking forward to further gains, and will share them with you after my stay there.
I will pre-write the rest of this series so that the valuable content keeps coming, and if you are learning from it I ask that you please share this content on Facebook or your favorite social media channels. You can further the conversation on The Kinesthetic Tiger’s Facebook page as well.
How Useful Are You Finding These Post?
Are you finding meditation to be helpful with the nomadic lifestyle? Do you feel more grounded? Does this series help you understand meditation more clearly? Have you experienced some of these benefits from your practice? Does it motivate you to practice more? Are you beginning to see what meditation is for yourself?
Leave a comment below, and share what insights you’ve gained from vipassana meditation.