Buddhist Meditation

buddhism meditationBuddhist meditation used in the practice of Buddhism, “includes any method of meditation that has Enlightenment as its ultimate aim”. The closest word for meditation in the classical languages of Buddhism is bhavana or “mental development”. Buddhist meditation is a form of mental concentration that leads ultimately to enlightenment and spiritual freedom. Meditation occupies a central place in all forms of Buddhism, but has developed characteristic variations in different Buddhist traditions.

The main methods of Buddhist meditation are divided into samatha (tranquility meditations) and vipassana (insight meditations).

Tranquility Meditation (Samatha)

  • The basic purpose of samatha or tranquility meditation is to still the mind and train it to concentrate. The object of concentration (kammatthana) is less important than the skill of concentration itself, and varies by individual and situation.

Insight Meditation (Vipassana)

  • Many of the skills learned in tranquility meditation can be applied to insight meditation, but the end goal is different. As its name suggests, the purpose of insight meditation is the realization of important truths. Specifically, one who practices vipassana hopes to realize the truths of impermanence, suffering and “no-self.”

The samatha meditations includes anapana (mindfulness of breathing, or mindfulness of the in-breath and out-breath) and the four brahma-viras (lit. “sublime abodes”) of which mettā bhāvanā (development of loving kindness) is the most often practiced one. The vipassana meditations includes contemplation on impermanence, the six element practice, and contemplation on conditionality. Samatha meditations usually precede and prepare for vipassana meditations.

Each of the five basic methods (in bold) is an “antidote” to one of the five mental “poisons”.

Meditation type Method Counteracts Develops
(tranquility meditations)
anapana (mindfulnes of breathing) distraction concentration
metta bhavana hatred and sentimental attachment loving kindness
karuna bhavana cruelty, sentimental pity and horrified anxiety compassion
mudita bhavana resentment, envy and vicarious enjoyment sympathetic joy
upekkha bhavana fixed indifference and apathetic neutrality equanimity
(insight meditations)
contemplation on impermanence craving inner peace, freedom
six element practice conceit clarity regarding nature of self
contemplation on conditionality ignorance wisdom, compassion

See also

Further reading

  • Matthew Flickstein and Bhante Henepola Gunaratana. (1998) Journey to the Center: A Meditation Workbook. Wisdom Publications. ISBN 0861711416.


  • Kamalashila (1996), Meditation: The Buddhist Art of Tranquility and Insight, Birmingham: Windhorse Publications, ISBN 1899579052.
  • Epstein, Mark (1995), Thoughts Without a Thinker: Psychotherapy from a Buddhist Perspective, BasicBooks, ISBN 0465039316.


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