Shakyamuni Buddha, painting by Aloka at the Nottingham Buddhist Centre
Shakyamuni Buddha, painting by Aloka at the Nottingham Buddhist Centre

What Is Meditation

Meditation has been practised within different spiritual traditions for many millennia and it certainly predates Buddhism. Today many people find Buddhist meditation a valuable tool for bringing about a greater awareness. The most immediate results are a clearer, calmer and more tranquil mind and heart.

The thoughts and emotions we are constantly generating have the space to settle down in meditation because we give ourselves something simple to concentrate on to absorb our thoughts and emotions. This can be likened to the image of a pool of water, which becomes cloudy with mud when it is stirred up and then becomes clear when left alone to let the mud settle down.

Having something simple to concentrate on has the effect of leaving out all the different stimuli that keep on stirring our thoughts and emotions. The mindfulness of breathing is a good example of this type of practice where we use the breath, as a simple and constantly available experience, to concentrate on.

We also spend time with our sense of goodwill and well wishing towards others and ourselves. This practice of cultivating universal-loving-kindness is a recognition that the mind will naturally return more and more to those thoughts and emotions that we have spent time cultivating and enjoying. The feeling of genuinely having our own and others best interests at heart is immensely satisfying and freeing, giving a sense of confidence and open heartedness.

Why Buddhists practice meditation

The Buddha taught both of the meditation practices mentioned above as part of the path towards Enlightenment. For Buddhists meditation brings about the gradual deepening of the mind. With this deeper, and indeed clearer, mind Buddhists can come to an emotional, as well as a rational, understanding of the Truth.

For example, the Buddha taught that all things are impermanent, and although we all know that things change we still behave as if we believed that things were permanent. This is because our emotions need convincing. This can happen when we bring a deeper clearer mind to bear upon our own experience. It is then, as the Buddha said “knowledge arises of the way things really are”, we are convinced deep down, in our whole being, not just intellectually.