4. What Do All These Different Meditation Techniques Mean?

Revised April 11, 2020; September 4,2022

The top 10 posts in this section describe the fundamentals of Buddhist meditation. The rest of the posts in this section discuss meditation subjects. They clarify unresolved questions and help gain samādhi. The first 11 posts should be followed in that order, at least initially.

1. Buddha Dhamma is focused on purifying the mind of greed, hatred, and ignorance.  As the mind is purified, it gains nirāmisa sukha, which can be experienced at various levels from the beginning. If one can “stick to” this program for a couple of months, one can look back and see the change in oneself. One should have a more peaceful, calm mind that has “cooled down.”

  • A mind is impure because it attaches to “things in this world” with the misconception that things in this world (31 realms) can be maintained to one’s satisfaction, i.e., with the perception of nicca. Thus the prevailing mindset is that happiness (sukha) should be attained by employing any means. And once attained it can be maintained, and thus one is in total control of one’s affairs (atta).
  • These three misconceptions of nicca, sukha, and atta are the three culprits that keep us bound to “this world” of 31 realms, i.e., the endless rebirth process or saṃsāra. The Buddha showed that the actual reality of “this world” is described by the three characteristics of anicca, dukkha, and anatta. No matter how hard we try, we cannot maintain things to our satisfaction in the long term (anicca). Thus we get distraught (dukkha), and thus we are not in control and become helpless when born in bad realms like the animal realm (anatta).
  • More details in the first discourse at “Tilakkhana – English Discourses.”

2. I am NOT saying that one should not work hard to get a good education and job. That MUST be done. It is impossible to have peace of mind if one is hungry and homeless. But we also need to be aware of the FACT that all mundane achievements are temporary. Even if we get to live this life without a major catastrophe, we have to leave all behind when we die.

  • One acts with greed, hate, and ignorance and makes the mind impure because of the wrong perceptions of nicca, sukha, and atta. Then one is capable of immoral acts to get some temporary satisfaction because the bad consequences of such actions may not be clear. However, when one truly understands the reality (i.e., anicca, dukkha, anatta), such immoral actions become unlikely.
  • For that stage to be reached, one has to train one’s mind to “take in the good” and “reject the bad.” For that, a change in one’s habits (with Ānapānasati meditation) is necessary.

The following is a logical  sequence for meditation:

3. First, one must sort out what is good and bad and the consequences of good and bad actions. This is why the vision, Sammā Diṭṭhi, comes first in the Noble Eightfold Path.  To get to Sammā Diṭṭhi, one needs to “sort out the good from the bad.”

  • Vipassanā (vi+passa means “to see clearly” and discard. Here, where “vi” means “special” and “passa” is to “see.” Vidassanā (vi+dassana means sort out by clear vision, whereas “dassana” means the vision) means the same thing. Understanding Buddha Dhamma and acquiring the vision are needed to sort out the “good” from the “bad.”
  • I cannot emphasize enough the importance of vipassanā (vidassanā) or insight meditation. Without the “correct” vision, one could strive for the whole life and not get anywhere: one has to understand the true nature of this world (anicca, dukkha, anatta), the Four Noble Truths, and the Noble Eightfold Path. It is not memorization but understanding that counts.

4. A huge amount of defilements are removed from one’s mind with this insight meditation. The key is to understand the “anicca nature of this world.” It is the first type of meditation that is needed. One can attain the Sōtapanna stage without doing any other types of meditation discussed below. The Buddha once took a bit of soil to a fingertip and told the bhikkhus that “if the amount of defilements a Sōtapanna needs to get rid of is comparable to this amount of soil, then a normal human being has to get rid of an equivalent to the soil in the whole Earth.”

  • That is not a misprint or an exaggeration. A Sōtapanna is bound to attain Nibbāna within a maximum of seven “bhava.” A normal human being could be trapped in the rebirth process for trillions of years to come. We have been through the rebirth process for countless trillions; see “Infinity -How Big is It?”.
  • Many say, “I do like my life. Why would I not want to be reborn?”. The problem is that future rebirths may not be in the human realm. We have no idea what we have done in our past lives. Thus even if we live a perfectly moral life, there are no guarantees that we will get a good rebirth. This is why understanding kamma, rebirth, etc., via insight meditation, is important.

5. How does one do insight meditation? Listening to discourses and reading Dhamma concepts are the two main forms of getting the correct information. Then one could contemplate those concepts in sitting meditation. But reading up on Dhamma concepts during a quiet time is meditation; also see “How to Cultivate the Anicca Sanna” and the follow-up post.

  • Once some understanding is reached via vipassanā (vidassanā) bhāvanā or insight meditation, one can start the next two key steps. Mettā bhāvanā and various forms of anupassanā bhāvanā.
  • Once one understands the true status of affairs in the wider world of 31 realms, one can comprehend the amount of suffering that has been hidden. With that understanding, one can engage in the Ariya mettā bhāvanā, an excellent way to pay back our old debts to other beings. This is the second way to purify our minds too.
  • I hope I have conveyed the idea that the bulk of work can be done with just insight meditation, contemplating “anicca, dukkha, anatta.” However, doing the other two types of bhāvanā, i.e.,  mettā bhāvanā and Ānapānasati, can be helpful for insight meditation too.

6. The last and third way to purify the mind is via anupassanā. anupassanā means “discard according to the principles learned” (“anu” means according to, and “passana” means to “see.” Another meaning of “anu” is defilements, which is “to be able to see one’s defilements”). Anupassanā can take various forms.

  • Ānapānasati bhāvanā is the foundation. Once “āna” and “āpāna” are sorted out by vipassanā (vidassanā), one needs to engage in Ānapānasati all the time. This means one needs to be mindful of what one is about to do and ensure it is the “right thing to do.”
  • When one starts understanding anicca, dukkha, and anatta, one can start doing the aniccānupassanā, dukkhānupassanā, and anattānupassanā, and four more related “anupassanā.” I will elaborate on this later.
  • Satipaṭṭhāna bhāvanā (with kayānupassanā, vedanānupassanā, cittānupassanā, and dhammānupassanā) includes all the bhāvanā techniques that we have discussed so far. It is THE ultimate encompassing everything needed to attain stress relief. It can take one to Arahanthood. Ānapānasati (not breath mediation) is essentially the same as Satipaṭṭhāna, and that is the first step to attaining the Sōtapanna stage. See Elephant in the Room 3 – Ānāpānasati.“

7. Thus, one could make things simpler by just doing insight meditation, Ānapānasati, and the mettā bhāvanā. That is all one needs to do to have a “better state of mind” or even to become a Sōtapanna.

8. The problem with meditation techniques taught even in Theravada schools these days is the following. They are either breath meditation or chantings. How can one remove defilements by watching the breath? Even though it can calm the mind, there are no long-term benefits. Watching the breath, CANNOT reduce defilements from the mind.

  • Another popular technique is just to contemplate impermanence. They keep repeating, “my body is impermanent; it is subjected to decay and death.” Has anyone achieved any progress doing that for even twenty or thirty years? A Buddha does not need to tell us that. All people belonging to any religion know impermanence is a fact of life!
  • Yet another popular “chanting” is to contemplate the “foulness of the body.” That is not what the Buddha meant by the “patikūla manasikāra bhāvanā.”  Again, everyone knows that our bodies are subject to decay and death; see “Maha Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta.”

Next, “Ariya mettā bhāvanā (Loving Kindness Meditation)“, ………….

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