Theory of buddhist meditation

Theory of buddhist meditation

THE IMPORTANCE of meditation as a means of mental purity is emphasized by most great religions. It is found more especially in several Indian religions including Buddhism as an essential feature of religious expression. “Yoga,” the “Yoking” or joining of the mind to divinity, is the usual technical term applied to it. But in the early teachings of Buddhism this term is never found in this sense, though it has been used in later Buddhist works. It is in the Sañkhya system that the term is especially used, and this is the chief school, which developed the practice, known as Yoga. This school is earlier than the teachings of the Buddha, but there is no ground for thinking that Buddhist meditation practice was borrowed from the Yoga system. There may have been contact between the two schools but the resemblances that exist do not affect the question of the independent origin of the Buddhist system.

The Buddhist Scriptures themselves tell us that there were other schools, which practiced meditation. The Ariyapariyesana Sutta (M. 26) states that the two ascetics, Alara Kãlãma and Uddaka, the son of Rãma, practiced high forms of meditation (according to Yoga), and the stages, which they respectively attained, correspond to the third and fourth stages of Arupa (Formless) Jhãna in the Buddhist system. But the Bodhisatta who practiced these Jhãnas under those teachers before his Enlightenment rejected them, as the goal they achieved was not Nibbãna, the ultimate release that he was seeking.

In the course of a dialogue with the Jain Saccaka, the Buddha discusses a method of physical and mental training (kãyabhãvanã and cittabhãvanã), practiced by earlier ascetics, and thereafter describes the application of the terms and the manner in which He discovered the method whereby he attained Enlightenment.

Records such as these indicate that early Buddhists recognized the existence of other schools that practiced meditation; but nothing of historical value is known about these bodies. A notable exception is, however, found in the Jains, who are frequently mentioned in Buddhist books under the name of Titthiyas, the Heretics. There are several other references in the Scriptures, which show that the pursuit of meditation practices had been prevalent in India from time immemorial. At the same time there is no reason to believe that any of the actual modes of practices in the Buddhist method were borrowed from elsewhere, so that Buddhist meditation may justly be granted an independent study.

As it is expounded in the Pãli Canon, Buddhist meditation is based primarily upon the experience of the Buddha Himself and upon the method adopted by Him in the attainment of Enlightenment. Meditation has, therefore, come to occupy the central position in Buddhist teaching, and it is to be regarded as the essential factor in religious culture. Its practice has been developed into two complex systems known as Samãdhi and Vipassana.  An examination of the whole subject, considering its fundamental principles, reveals it as a process of developing a higher form of consciousness as the only means of winning the goal of Nibbãna.

The Buddhist theory of meditation aims at the practice of Right Concentration (sammã-samãdhi), the culmination of the Noble Eightfold Path which is expounded for the first time in the Buddha’s inaugural sermon, known as “Dhammacakkappavattana “, the “Turning of the Wheel of the Doctrine.” The Noble Eightfold Path as the method of self-enlightenment, which is the goal of’ Buddhist doctrine, is called “Majjhimã Patipada”, the Middle Path. It is so called because it tends to moderation, avoiding the two extremes: On the one hand, of indulgence in sensuous pleasures, and, on the other, of adherence to the practices of self-mortification.

Hence the practice of this method is a medium between the two extremes, avoiding all excess. Excess in any direction must be avoided, as it is dangerous. Buddhist meditation, therefore, cannot be practiced by the worldly man, who is unwilling to reduce his worldly desires, nor is it possible for one who is a fanatic in ascetic practices. In order to observe moderation it is necessary to have strength on the one side, and thoughtfulness on the other. So we find in the formula of the Path that Right Concentration is well supported by the two principles of Right Effort and Right Mindfulness. Of these, Right Effort promotes the ability to rise in one who is prone to sink into sensual pleasure; while Right Mindfulness becomes a safeguard against falling into extremes of asceticism.

Right Concentration is not possible without that moral purity which purges one of impure deeds, words and thoughts, and therefore it presupposes Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood. These are the three principles of Sila or moral purity, which is necessarily the preparatory ground to meditation. The training in these principles is the most fundamental aspect of Buddhism and forms the vital factor in contemplative life. Hence, first of all, one must train himself in moral purity in accordance with the rules of the Middle Path, in order to attain full and immediate results of meditation in an ascending scale of progress. The disciple who conforms himself to these ideals will acquire self-confidence, inward purity, absence of external fear, and thereby mental serenity, factors which are imperative for ultimate success in meditation.

The remaining two principles of the Middle Path, Right Views and Right Intention, form the next important stage, the acquisition of Panñã or full knowledge, which must be attained by moral purity and concentration.

Thus the scheme of Buddhist training consists of the three sections: Sila, Samãdhi and Panñã; and it is referred to in the Nikãyas as the “Threefold Training, Tividhã & Sikkhã.” This makes up the three divisions of the whole doctrine, which are also known as “The Three Groups” (Tayo Khandhã).

These three divisions in their most highly developed form constitute the Noble Eightfold Path, the inter-relation of which is discussed in the Culla-vedalla Sutta (MN 44). The three principles, Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood comprise Sila; Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration Samãdhi; and Right Views and Right Intention Panñã.

This shows that the Buddhist system of training oneself from beginning to end is consistent with the Noble Eightfold Path leading to Vimutti, final Release. This is the system which Buddha himself found out and used to achieve the Buddhahood of perfect enlightenment, and thereafter revealed to the world:

“Virtue and concentration, wisdom, supreme release, By the famous Gotama these things were understood. Thus, fully comprehending them, the Buddha, Ender of Ill, a Teacher of Insight, He Infinitely Peaceful, taught the Dhamma to the monks.” —(D.II.123 ; A.H. 2).

It is on this system that the theory of Buddhist meditation is based and its practice has been developed into two methods: Samãdhi and Vipassanã. Of these Samãdhi meditation consists in achieving the utmost onepointedness of thought upon a given subject of salutary nature, and then raising one’s conception of the subject to an abstraction. In this form of meditation consciousness is raised from a lower to a higher plane with the elimination of its inferior tendencies which are called Nivarana, Hindrances, while concentration developed to its highest form, that is to say, to the Jhana state where the mind gradually absorbs itself into the abstract concept of the subject. The practice of this system of meditation is called Samãdhi-bhãvanã.

It produces the mental purity required for full knowledge, and this purity, being the proximate cause, induces inner light, and clear vision. This vision being supported by the two principles of Right Intention and Right Views tends to produce that insight which penetrates into the reality of all phenomenal existence. The development of this insight or the awareness of the essence of things observed is called Vipassanã-bhãvanã, and leads to full knowledge, whereby the aspirant to the highest sphere of Bhãvanã becomes an Arahant, one who has won the goal. These are the two great systems of Buddhist meditation.

Dr. Paravahera Vajirañãna  Mahã Thera Padhanagara Maha Viharaya Colombo-09, Sri Lanka Mind and Life XIII: Investigating the Mind 2005 he Science and Clinical Applications of Meditation DAR Constitution Hall, Washington DC November 8 – 10, 2005 . is latest Mind and Life public meeting « Investigating the Mind 2005: The Science and Clinical Applications of Meditation » builds on the growing interest in meditation within modern medicine and biomedical science that has arisen over the past thirty years and further explores the emerging clinical opportunities. Program Overview Can medicine and science benefit  from a collaborative bi-directional dialogue with Buddhism and other contemplative traditions about attention and awareness, meditation, mindfulness, mind/body interactions, the nature of pain and suffering, the cultivation of compassion and self-compassion, and the potential for the training of human faculties for learning, growing, healing and emotion regulation across the lifespan?

Science is the dominant paradigm in modern society for understanding the nature of reality and providing a knowledge based for improving lives and conditions on this planet. Buddhism began 2,500 years ago with largely the same goals ¬ to understand the nature of reality and to use that understanding to improve lives and conditions on the planet.

Buddhism uses the human mind, refined through meditative practice, as its primary instrument of investigation into the nature of reality. While this method of investigation is based on observation, very rigorous logic and experimentation, science has traditionally viewed it as subjective and at odds with the objectivity of the scientific method.

In the past twenty five years, an extraordinary confluence has emerged, the converging of the streams of modern science and medicine on the one hand, and the venerable and long-flowing stream of meditative investigation and inquiry on the other. These streams are flowing into the greater river that is the human longing for deeper understanding of what it means to be, and to be human, to be aware, to be alive, and to be healthy and whole, to know who and what we are and how we might live in greater harmony and wisdom

One manifestation of that convergence is the integration of Buddhist meditative practices, in particular, mindfulness, into the mainstream of medicine in the form of mindfulness-based approaches for dealing with stress, pain, and chronic illness as a complement to allopathic treatment within the health care system.

Another is the growth of collaborative dialogues and experimental investigations now underway involving neuroscientists and psychologists and Buddhist contemplatives, catalyzed in large measure by the Mind and Life Institute and His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s personal interest in science and in promoting such dialogues and investigations. These collaborative studies are beginning to elucidate the extraordinary capacity of the human brain for plasticity that may underlie the development and cultivation of positive human qualities such as compassion.

Mind and Life XIII is an opportunity to review some of the work that has been unfolding in these areas over the recent past, and to map out the potential for both broadening and deepening these investigations and inquiries as a way to further our understanding of the nature of the mind itself, the mind-brain-body connection, and the potential for healing and assuaging suffering and eliminating the root causes of that suffering and its downstream consequences when possible.

Meditation is becoming Mainstream in Western Medicine and Society Applications of meditation are now common in the treatment of stress, pain, and a range of chronic diseases in both medicine and psychiatry, and some approaches are currently the subject of NIH-supported clinical trials and research studies. At the same time, the power of our non-invasive technologies have made it possible to investigate the nature of cognition and emotion in the brain as never before, and to begin to explore the interfaces between mind, brain, and body, and the implications of particular forms of meditative practices for modulating and regulating biological pathways to restore or enhance homeostatic processes and perhaps extend the reach of both mind and body in ways that might potentially promote rehabilitation and healing as well as greater overall health and well-being.

Recent studies are showing that meditation can result in stable brain patterns and changes over both short and long-term intervals that have not been seen before in human beings and that suggest the potential for the systematic driving of positive neuroplastic changes via such intentional practices cultivated over time. These investigations may offer opportunities for understanding the basic unifying mechanisms of the brain, mind and body that underlie awareness and our capacity for effective adaptation to stressful and uncertain conditions. Scientific Studies of Meditative Practices. There have been concerted efforts to scientifically study the clinical application of meditative practices as well as the physiological effects of meditation in both novice and advanced practitioners. This meeting is an opportunity for scientists who have been active in this field to present their approaches to the Dalai Lama and a panel of other scientists and contemplatives. The Dalai Lama, scientists and other contemplatives will then review the strengths and weaknesses of the current science and clinical approaches, and based on the intersection of these different but complementary epistemologies and traditions, identify new lines of research for potential clinical applications within medicine and psychiatry. These exchanges will also provide an opportunity for scientists whose research is focused on basic mind-brain-body interactions to learn more about meditation and to contribute to an ongoing dialogue about the mechanisms by which meditation may influence physical and mental health.

The assembled scholars, clinicians and contemplatives will engage in a collective inquiry about what is known within a broad range of contemplative traditions that might be relevant to a deeper understanding of mind-brain-body connections, improved clinical interventions, and future directions for research. They will also explore potential biological mechanisms through which mental training, as instantiated in brain circuits, might influence peripheral biology in ways that are beneficial for health.

Mind and Life Dialogues

Mind and Life Institute XIII is the latest in a series of dialogues between scientists, the Dalai Lama, and other Buddhist contemplatives on areas of mutual interest at the intersection of western empirical science and the contemplative traditions and their associated methodologies, psychologies, and philosophies. Prior to 2003, all of these meetings have been held in private; however books describing them have been published and are widely available. (See the complete list of Mind and Life books   :

Investigating the Mind 2005: The Science and Clinical Applications of Meditation is the second Mind and Life Dialogue that will be open to a large audience, consisting primarily of people working in the fields of medicine, clinical psychology, psychiatry neuroscience, as well as students in these fields. The first public dialogue of this kind was held at MIT in September of 2003 on the interface between Buddhism and neuroscience. As a result of that meeting, further studies of various interfaces between neuroscience and the meditative disciplines are currently underway in the laboratories of some of the presenters and participants at that gathering. In addition, an annual, week-long and Mind and Life Summer Research Institute was started to advance the field of the scientific study of meditation, and a number of studies have also been initiated by participants in that program.

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