What is Meditation?

A Vajrayana Institute Fact Sheet

Meditation is a tool or technique for spiritual change. Meditation techniques of various kinds are used in all spiritual traditions as a means to develop positive inner qualifies and to transform negative ones. (In Tibetan, the word for mediation is gom which literally means ‘to become familiar with virtue’).

Meditation is an inner activity. It can take many forms, including concentrating singlepointedly on an (internal) object, contemplation upon a personal problem, generating love and compassion for others, prayer and so forth. Its ultimate aim however, is to bring us to the fully developed state of spiritual consciousness called ‘Enlightenment’ or ‘Buddhahood.’

Why Meditate?

Transforming the mind is a slow and gradual process. For many of us, the practice of meditation is a life-long journey. When approaching meditation for the first time it is best to begin with the simple but very efficient techniques known as stabilising or concentration meditation.

In general, this type of meditation is used to develop single-pointed concentration, which is essential if we are to gain full benefit from meditation. The aim here is to concentrate upon one object such as our breath, the nature of our mind, a concept or a visualised image, without becoming distracted. This is the exact opposite to our usual state of mind which frantically jumps from one thought or image to another without even a moment’s rest.

Stabilising meditation is not easy, but it is essential if we are to bring our minds under control. Some meditators spend years in isolated retreat in order to perfect it fully. Even without retreat, however, we can experience the benefit of this kind of meditation and develop good concentration with as little as ten to fifteen minutes daily practice. It brings an immediate sense of spaciousness and allows us to see the workings of our minds more clearly, both during the meditation and throughout the rest of the day.

How to Meditate

The simplest form of meditation is to develop concentration by focusing on our breathing.

Choose a comfortable, clean and quiet place where you will not be disturbed. sit comfortably on a cushion. Traditionally, the ‘seven-point posture’ (described below) is recommended by experienced meditators as an aid to developing a calm, clear state of mind.

Sit with legs crossed (those who are supple may want to try the half or full-lotus posture in which one or both feet are placed soles upward on the thigh of the opposite leg). If you are unable to sit on the floor then you can sit normally in a chair.

Place both hands in your lap, right hand above the left, palms upward and with thumbs touching. The back should be kept straight but with the head tilted forward slightly. Your eyes may either be completely closed or left a fraction open. The mouth should be loosely closed with the tongue resting on the palate behind the upper teeth.

Turn your attention inwards and focus on the sensation of the breath as it enters your nostrils, flows down into your ungs and then flows out again. Keep your attention on this subtle sensation without distraction and observe the full process of each inhalation and exhalation. If you like, you can count in cycles of ten breaths, starting again at whenever you lose count or you mind wanders.

Breathe normally and gently. Thoughts will appear, but you should maintain a neutral attitude towards them, being neither attracted nor repulsed. Try not to react with dislike, agitation or excitement to any thought, image or feeling that arises. Merely notice its existence and then return your attention to the breathing. At first, you may have to do this fifty times a minute but do not get frustrated. Be patient and persistent and eventually your thoughts will subside. Allow yourself to feel content and relaxed.

(Adapted from How to Meditate, by Kathleen McDonald, Wisdom Publications, 1984)