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BUDDHIST: Perhaps the most sophisticated and organized system of meditation among the world religions is found in Buddhism. The practice of meditation is central for all schools of Buddhism, whether the aspirant seeks the calming or emptying of mental content (shamatha meditation), the conscious formation of certain states of mind through creative visualization (Pure Land meditation), or the detached awareness of all psycho-physical processes (vipassana meditation).

While many common features are found in descriptions of meditation throughout the Buddhist world, the various paths of Buddhist meditation have philosophical and practical differences. For instance, certain branches ofVajrayana,Buddhism define numerous planes and levels of the mind in the meditative journey (including several degrees of enlightenment itself), whereas other schools (such as the southern schools ofCh'an in China) deny the principle of gradual progression, teaching instead that of sudden, insightful self-awareness.

According to the Pali canon (the Tipitaka, or Three Baskets, of the Theravada tradition, supposedly written in 29 BCE), Buddhist meditation begins with the indispensable foundation of moral training (sila) and proceeds through mindfulness (sati) and concentration (samadhi) on the way to insight or knowledge (panna) and the attainment of the Buddhist ideal. Central in this process is the achieving of single-mindedness or "one-pointedness" (ekagrata; Pali ekagatta) and serenity (upekkha). Such mental calmness and harmony are necessary before one can acquire intuitive wisdom (panna) and insightful perceptiveness. In Mahayana Buddhism, this is referred to as the recovering or uncovering of the original Buddha-nature, a view similar to that of the Tathagata-garbha and Yogacara schools.

This enlightening insight purifies the mind, leading to the destruction of afflictions such as lust, hatred, and desire, and to ultimate liberation from the self and from prior conditioning in the attainment of Nirvana. As one becomes established in this non-dual state of extreme transcendence, one experiences transformative changes of mind or consciousness (citta), eventually suffusing the world with loving kindness (metta), wisdom (panna), and compassion (karuna). Progressing from liberation to reintegration and enlightened self-mastery (damathaya), the accomplished Buddhist meditator returns to the world and works for the general welfare of all sentient beings.

Text courtesy of the Museum of World Religions.

Traditions of Meditation:

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