Meditation in general means the calming of the mind, and being able to relax our physical body. Our mind is continuously wandering in thoughts.
You can do a simple experiment on yourself and see how your mind behaves. Close your eyes for one minute. At the end of the one minute, try to recall what had taken place in your mind.
Buddhist meditation or “bhavana” is more than just to relax your body.
Tame your mind and train your mind
An untrained mind is an untamed mind. The mind has taken the role of the master. The person becomes the slave of the mind. The mind dictates the person to react and behave as it likes. When this person gets what he wants he is happy, and when he gets what he doesn’t want he is unhappy.
The mind reacts according to how it feels and transmits this feeling into thoughts and actions. The purpose of Buddhist meditation is to tame this wandering mind, then to “still” it in order to train this mind. The idea is to train the mind to listen to us instead of letting the mind leading us astray.
Training the mind is like training a dog. If you walk an untrained dog with a leash, the dog will take you for a walk, pulling you along. This is like a person having an untrained mind.
Whenever the dog pulls the leash, the walker must jerk the leash to send a painful message to the dog. After repeated attempts, the dog will get the message, and will instead walk on “heel”, that is, it will walk by the side of the walker and not pulling him along.
Buddhist meditation begins with taming the wandering mind. When the meditator realizes the mind is wandering, he will note and stop the mind from wandering. In order to help the mind from wandering, it is essential for the meditator to focus on a certain single object.
In Buddhist meditation, the focus is in the breathing. After repeated practice, the mind will wander less, and the next step is to train the mind to listen to the meditator.
This is the stage where the meditator cultivates what is termed “mindfulness”. When one is more mindful, one has better control over situations, instead of instinctively reacting to them.
Approaches to Buddhist meditation
We can identify three approaches to Buddhist meditation. But the basic principle of stilling the mind is always present, otherwise the mind will wander everywhere, and there is no meditation anymore.
The first approach is to “utilize thoughts”. This is quite similar to the techniques used by commercial meditation program. This is to think about specific feelings, such as goodwill, happiness and relaxation. Buddhist meditation of this nature is focused on thinking kind thoughts.
This is called “Metta” or “loving kindness” meditation. The second approach is to “still thoughts”. This is to focus thoughts on a single object like observing the in-breath and out-breath to achieve a completely concentrated mind, without anymore wandering thoughts.
This is called “Samatha” or “tranquility” meditation. The third approach is to “observe thoughts”. This is to observe and note thoughts as they come and go, not to be associated with them but like a third person just observing and not being influenced by these thoughts. In the process, the meditator will be able to see things as they really are, and will not be unduly affected by them.
This is called “Vipassana” or “insight” meditation.