Building a practice based on Buddhist monk meditation techniques requires great patience and discipline. For many, engaging in this style of meditation is a salve to both the body and mind. For others, it's just one small step along higher spiritual path.
What is Buddhism?
Considered both a philosophy and a religion, Buddhism, by basic definition, is an "awakening." Siddhartha Gotama, also referred to as Siddhattha, is the man called Buddha who achieved enlightenment 2,500 years ago. Born into wealth as a prince, Buddha realized at a young age that material trappings did not bring joy. He spent his formative years studying the major religions of his time for a greater meaning to humanity's existence.
Buddha spent the rest of his life helping others attain a level of dhamma, or truth. He established the foundation of Buddhism, which is to lead a moral life, mindful of thought and action, and in constant pursuit of wisdom.
There are two foundations of Buddhism: Theravada and Mahayaha. From these, numerous other sects flow. Sects are devised based on geography, culture, the needs of that culture, and intent of purpose.
While most common in Asian countries, Buddhism is practiced throughout the world. Many people are most familiar with Japanese Zen Buddhism and Tibetan Buddhism.
The underlying tenants of Buddhism are the Four Noble Truths.
The Four Noble Truths
- Life includes suffering, and to accept this is to be realistic. Once accepted, true joy can be found.
- Unfounded wants or cravings compound suffering. Instead of struggling, change what is wanted, and contentment will be easier to have.
- Living in the present, instead of laboring over the past or imagining the future, will enhance happiness.
- Following a noble path in its purest form will bring an end to the ills of the world.
What is a Buddhist Monk?
A bhikkhu is a fully ordained male Buddhist monk. In Sanskrit, the term is modified slightly: Bhiksu. Women are also monks, additionally referred to as nuns, but are called bhikkhunis. To follow a monastic path is to devote a life to spiritual pursuits instead of material acquisitions. Monks take a series of vows, called individual liberation, in four steps, and the vows last for a lifetime.
However, if someone chooses to leave the monkhood for a time, he or she can temporarily "give back" the vows, rather than break them. This enables the individual to return the order at some point in the future.
The Role of Meditation
Many people perform meditation as a form of relaxation. Buddhist monk meditation techniques are designed specifically to rid an individual's mind of negative thoughts in order to advance along a path of enlightenment.
Practicing this form of meditation is a conscious effort by the individual for not only tranquility, but also to attain the same awakening as the Buddha in order to be of service to others.
These techniques are not learned in a day. Frankly, the accomplishing the method is not the goal. Meditation is always a journey, not a destination.
There are many schools of Buddhist meditation and all are very specific. Some methods intensify concentration, while others enhance mindfulness. Still others help individuals visualize intent and purpose with greater clarity. Each method follows the tenants of the individual's Buddhism practice.
Consequently, there isn't just one Buddhist monk meditation technique to learn. Many orders have meditation leaders that specialize in certain techniques. But to introduce you to the practice, the following may be of help.
Basic Buddhist Monk Meditation Techniques
There are five basic stages of Buddhist monk meditation techniques, as popularized by Kamalashila, a Western Order Buddhist meditation teacher.
As it is with yoga, pranayama, or breathing the lifeforce, is an integral part of Buddhist meditation methods. Anapanasati is the practice of following a rhythm of breath to note the condition of your body, then focus the mind to be clear, and finally, move through the many contemplations associated with this stage.
Cultivation of Metta Bhavana
This meditation stage radiates loving kindness within the practitioner and then toward others. Through the practice, you'll first grant a love for yourself as to not harbor ill-will or negativity. Then your intent moves through gifting loving kindness onto others in various stages.
Contemplation of Impermanence
This is a reflection on death, the suffering that accompanies life, and the realism of acknowledgment that both are part of our life cycle. Depending on the Buddhist sect you want to be involved with, there are many variations of this stage in order to reflect individual teachings.
Acknowledging the Elements
In order to know where you are going, you have to know from where you originated. In this stage, a practitioner gives credence to the six primary elements: water, fire, earth, air, space, and consciousness.
Contemplation of the Twelve Nidanas
Buddhist teachings stress the importance of understanding the cause and effect of suffering in order to end it. This is an integral component of enlightenment, and is the stage that separates monk meditation from all other forms.
Centers of Instruction
While it's easy and advisable to sit in a quiet space and clear your mind for a few minutes each day, Buddhist meditation is best learned from experienced teachers.
In your community, check into Buddhist centers first. These organizations often feature meditation classes. For example, the Dharmachakra Buddhist Center in Maplewood, New Jersey, features many variations of meditation, from "Learning to Meditate" to "The Four Noble Truths."
Also search for meditation societies. A one-stop resource is BuddhaNet, featuring links to Buddhist organizations around the world. You might also try the International Meditation Centre, which offers intensive meditation training in Austria, England, Australia, and the U.S.
Ask around your local yoga centers, too. Not only do many yoga instructors teach meditation, but your fellow classmates may also know of something.
Here are a few other resources: