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Meditation is very difficult to describe and can only truly be explained once experienced. It is the practice of mental concentration leading ultimately through a sequence of stages to the final goal of spiritual freedom, nirvana. The purpose of Buddhist meditation is to free ourselves from the delusion and thereby put an end to both ignorance and craving. The Buddhists describe the culminating trance-like state as transient; final Nirvana requires the insight of wisdom. The exercises that are meant to develop wisdom involve meditation on the true nature of reality or the conditioned and unconditioned elements that make up all phenomena. The goal of meditation is to develop a concept in the mind.
Learning to meditate properly, however, is very difficult and must be done under the supervision of teachers. A person who has not practised meditation before, finding it difficult to understand the nature of his mind, may think he is meditating while his mind runs disorderly. Counting is an easy method to control the wandering mind. If a person fixes his mind well on his meditation, he can maintain this counting correctly. New beginners, attempting to meditate without a teacher can take a number of ‘wrong paths’. For example, one can focus and concentrate on the ‘wrong thing’ and he would become sleepy and could become obsessed on the object, this being “wrong concentration”. Mindfulness is crucial to the process of meditation, as without its careful observation, one cannot see things “as they really are”.
The Buddha recommended places such as a forest, hut etc because in order to practise, silence is an essential factor. There are four postures that can be adopted for meditation: standing, sitting, reclining and walking. Of these, the most suitable posture to practise at the beginning is the seated posture.
Meditation is popular in western culture today as it helps us ‘chill’ and calm, as we are easily stressed in our hectic lives. As well as helping the Buddhist to relax and unwind, it allows them to concentrate on their inner selves and to show them how perfect Buddhist should behave. Meditation helps Buddhists to understand that the Buddha should be treated as their example, and the attachment on things and how to cope with the feelings of unselfishness and desiring. It helps Buddhists to develop genuine emotions, rejoice in the happiness of others, and do everything they can to free others from suffering. It can help you become a more loving person in daily life.
Meditating on love creates loving feelings to beings; meditating on loving-kindness is to embrace the whole universe with love and help you become a more loving person. Meditating on compassion helps wish to free beings from suffering and doing everything you can to help them. Meditating on sympathetic joy is rejoicing in the happiness of others, developing a genuine gladness. Meditating on even-mindedness develops an even love for all beings and controlling one’s emotions, having a clear and genuine goodwill to all. It helps focus on others and detach from the world, which is key to attain Nibbana. Meditation is also important as in the mental training of our mind to reach the real goal.
In addition, meditation helps one understand various concepts of Buddhism. For instance, meditating on impermanence, such as decomposing bodies, helps dislodge attachment of worldly pleasures and show how everything is impermanent. The two types, “Vipassana” and “Samatha”, both teach the Buddhist how they should behave and in what state of mind. For example, Samatha teaches the Buddhist to detach from everyday concerns and concentrate on being impermanent. Vipassana teaches that everything is attached and interconnected in the world.
Samatha meditation is the development of mental tranquillity with concentration, and is accompanied by three benefits; it gives happiness in the present life, a favourable rebirth, and the freedom from mental defilement, which is essential for attainment of insight. The mind becomes completely free from disturbance and agitation, and ready to show the nature of things as they really are, the aspect of them which is hidden from ordinary knowledge by the restlessness of craving.
Vipassana means insight. Vipassana is the realisation of the three signs of being, Anicca, Dukkha, and Anatta, by direct insight. Until these are seen to be true in one’s own experience - one can then be said to have gained Vipassana, or greater insight, into oneself and the world, and to have increased in wisdom and have rid the mind of egoism and craving.
In a whole, I think meditation is central to Buddhism in the sense that it generates a lot of feelings that helps the Buddhist detach themselves and accept concepts such as ‘no self’, and to focus on other people rather than themselves. Thus the idea of a ‘self’ ceases. They realise the process of change is constant and eternal. As you read these words, you body is ageing.
Through meditation, we slowly become aware of what we really are below the ego image. We wake up to what life really is. It is not just a parade of difficulties, lollipops and smacks on the wrist. That is an illusion. Life has a much deeper texture than that if we bother to look, and if we look in the right way. Through the power of meditation may we achieve these insights and attain the blissful peace of Nibbana.