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Meditation Part 1: Overview and Benefits

Meditation, Part 1

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A Reader recently Wrote:
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I have a quick question. It seems that meditation is at least one of the main hearts of Buddhism. I hear that there are a number of different types of meditation and styles. I am really not sure what this means, but would be very interested. If you ever have time to put that in, I would be very interested in learning more.

Thank you again for putting your knowledge out there. I know there are many of us that truly appreciate it.

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And yet another asks:
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I practice Zen Buddhism but have listened to many pod-casts because there is no zen center near me. In these pod-casts they often refer to other forms of meditation. Some of these are love and kindness or stress a certain aspect of Buddhism. Would you please be so kind as to go over the different types of meditation that you know or are aware off? Great show!!

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My Response:
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Meditation has been defined as: “self regulation of attention, in the service of self-inquiry, in the here and now.‚Äù [Wikipedia]. I found dozens of definitions of meditation to post here, some involved self-healing, some with philosophy, others dealt with spirituality, but the fact is that it’s different things to different people.

There are so many types of meditation and names for styles of practice that it’s hard to keep trackTime Magazine Cover about Meditation. There are literally hundreds of ‚Äúphrases‚Äù that describe various kinds and styles of meditations, but over the next week or so, I am going to focus on a half dozen or so broad categories. Today I want to give a brief overview of meditation in general. We’ve talked about all of this before, but a quick refresher won’t hurt before starting such a big topic.

When you hear the word ‚Äúmeditation‚Äù you probably have a mental picture of someone sitting in the lotus position, hands clasped and eyes closed. That, or something close, is not too far from the truth, but it is an overgeneralized stereotype. Not all forms of meditation involve sitting, but many do. We’ve briefly mentioned walking and working meditations in the past, and those are quite common and easy to perform. If you’re one of the many people who have written in stating that they can’t sit lotus-style, have no fear; I can’t do it either.

All forms of meditation can help you reduce stress and anxiety. Reduced stress is obviously a good thing, both physically and psychologically, and many doctors prescribe meditation to their patients. It’s been proven effective over thousands of years, it’s not some goofy new age thing. It’s safe and its simple, and absolutely everyone can do it, starting with only 10 or 15 minutes a day. It won’t cure cancer or help you lose weight, but it can help reduce physical suffering and give you the mental clarity and fortitude to make big changes in your life. The physical ‚Äúwork‚Äù of meditation can be done with no spiritual or religious trappings, and is a good idea for anyone, of any belief system or any age. Buddhism, of course, adds its own dimension to meditation, but meditation was around long before Buddhism; it goes back at least as far as Hinduism, maybe even further than that.

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3 comments to Meditation Part 1: Overview and Benefits

  • Hi, read that meditative states can produce depressive symptoms. Clearly, the contrary is well-known: it may lift one out of depression and combat stress and anxiety.

    I know from my own experience, long periods of meditation can be followed with a strained introspection, which remains until sleep or the next day.

    Other times, it may be peaceful and light, soothing and calming. In passing, is it true that some monks suffer from depresion and, if so, though not necessarily so, is that related to meditative states of long duration?

    I do not want to scare-monger. But we are dealing with the emotions and mind and this is an important issue to address.

  • I had not heard of that before, but it wouldn’t surprise me. When talking about depression, do you mean monks or laypeople? I could certainly see some monks suffering from depression; they try so hard to reach Nirvana that it might be rough seeing themselves failing day in and day out. Of course, that’s still a form of attachment or grasping, but if they recognize it as sucj, they could try to work through it. Also, a monk in a monastery faces an entirely different lifestyle than a layperson. They are bound to become depressed when they think of the things they have given up. It’s better for them in the long run, but I’m sure from time to time they miss having a “normal life.”

    If you mean laypeople become depressed after meditation, I’m not sure why that would be the case. Anyone?

  • Thanks,

    I read about Monks. And of course you are right: each person must begin somewhere and Monks are on a path, with thorns and itches on the way.

    A monk must improve unless improvement itself is a form of attachment.

    As to lay persons, in traditions other than buddhism, an awareness of inner states and inner dangers is attached to meditation. Hence the need for a guide. Meditation maybe defined many ways but it is, in the end, a skill.

    To be unskillful perhaps is to invite states of depression.