Arguably, meditation is the most misunderstood part of the Buddhist faith (Rahula 7; Wilson 57). For some people, the practice is an escape from daily duties and a mental journey into a mysterious universe where people are in a state of trance, or absorbed in some mystic society, cut off from the rest of the world. Others believe meditation is a posture that Buddhists adopt when praying, while in some quarters, some communities perceive it to be some form of “medicine” because specific studies have shown that it could lead to positive outcomes in the treatment and management of several ailments such as high blood pressure, anxiety, and depression (Wright 135; Olpin and Hesson 318).
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Meditation has a strong religious origin in the sense that some religious figures have often advocated for its use as a technique for improving human wellbeing (Raz and Lifshitz 423). For example, ancient Buddhist texts often encouraged their followers to adopt it as a way of increasing their mental, spiritual, and physical awareness (McMahan and Braun 87). Thus, the practice has been a commonly celebrated part of the religion’s heritage. Generations of mainstream Buddhists have also preserved the tradition through teacher-student interactions with few or no modifications to the technique. Nonetheless, these misconceptions about meditation have distorted the concept, such that some people partake in the practice as if they are engaging in a technical routine of bodily actions (Rahula 7). This paper argues that these connotations are misguided because meditation (in the Buddhist faith) strives to improve mental development and promote the development of a sound mind by cleansing it of impurities and disturbances. This view hinges on the idea that meditation helps people to pacify their minds and thoughts. One way that faith teaches its followers to do so is to relax their minds and thoughts.
Relaxation and Calmness of the Mind
One of the key roles of meditation in the Buddhist faith is the relaxation of the mind and the improvement of mental alertness (Rinpoche 17). Calmness is often a desirable outcome in certain types of meditative practices that aim to induce a relaxed mind. For example, certain types of meditation in the Buddhist faith, such as Theravada and Mahayana, help Buddhists to relax the mind by emphasizing on calmness (Ido and Kozhevnikov 4).
Several empirical studies linking calmness and meditation practices exist. Most of them were developed during the 1970s and 1980s through various investigations, such as Benson’s studies of the 1980s (Ido and Kozhevnikov 4). Since then, researchers have completed dozens of studies to explain how certain Buddhist meditation practices could induce calmness and relaxation of the mind for brief periods of 20 minutes or less (Fröding and Osika 96). Most of these studies have highlighted this benefit through “mindfulness meditation.” Additionally, other Buddhist studies have described the same phenomenon through Zen Concentration and Vipassana as well (Conze 26).
Shamatha is another concept practiced in Buddhist teachings, which shows the need for relaxation and calmness of the mind (Ido and Kozhevnikov 3). The link between the concept and peace emerges in the following text associated with Shamatha,
May the waves of coarse and subtle thoughts subside on their own, and the placid river of mind gently comes to rest, far removed from the disturbance of both laxity and dullness, may the ocean of calm abiding remain steady and unperturbed. (Ido and Kozhevnikov 3)
The text above shows a metaphoric representation of the need for calmness and relaxation using ocean waves and rivers. The ocean movements signify people’s subtle and disturbing thoughts, while the placid river represents how thoughts flow in their minds. The calmness of the ocean and the resting of the placid river are indications of peace and relaxation. Through the process, laxity and dullness disappear in a larger symbolic representation of a tranquil mind.
Other Buddhist terms and concepts that show the religion’s emphasis on relaxation and calmness (through meditation) include Zhi and Nay (Ido and Kozhevnikov 3). Zhi is a common concept in the Buddhist faith, which means peace or tranquility, while Nay means to rest well. The concepts show that peace, tranquility, and resting are key tenets of meditation (Fröding and Osika 96).
Helps Followers to Become Sentient and Enlightened Beings
Several Buddhist monks use meditation to teach their followers about the importance of being mentally aware of their surroundings and lives (Wilson 34-35). This principle often stems from the observation that most people fail to notice what is going in their lives because they operate from a robotic pattern of mindless behavior. Consequently, they become unaware of what is going on around them or in their minds. The concept of Zen meditation strives to solve this problem because it allows practitioners to “switch off” the autopilot reasoning that controls their minds to allow them to see their surroundings better (Conze 26). This way, they could experience each moment of their lives differently. Such an outcome only suffices when they dismiss their thoughts, fears, and hopes, which often prevent them from living their lives differently. This Buddhist philosophy helps practitioners to “become one” with their lives and daily actions. Consequently, they become aware of their surroundings through the five senses of touch, sight, hearing, smelling, and tasting. For example, when a Zen practitioner is eating, there should be nothing else going on in his mind besides the act of consuming the food itself (Conze 26). From this example, we see that meditative teachings are often not limited to spiritual enlightenment alone because they also advocate for gaining knowledge about life, the mind, and the body.
The issues highlighted above show that through mental enlightenment, meditation helps to unclog the mind and promote a sense of soundness (McMahan and Braun 87). The basis of this view stems from the understanding that thoughts are a natural process of the mind. Therefore, they should not be adulterated, rejected, dismissed, or ignored. Thus, thinking is a natural process that Buddhists are encouraged to embrace. Particularly, they are taught to allow discursive thoughts to thrive through mental awareness (McMahan and Braun 87). Therefore, the process happens in a way that people’s worries, anxiety, hopes, and fears do not clog thought processes, or cloud what they should be experiencing at any given moment. These practices strive to improve mental development and promote soundness of the mind by cleansing it of impurities and disturbances.
Other studies have also demonstrated that cleansing the mind of impurities also involves some level of increasing the mental insight of practitioners. Indeed, meditation in the Buddhist faith is also associated with a strong sense of mental awareness. Here, Conze clarifies that mental awareness is separate from the decision-making part of the brain; instead, it emerges within the context of mindfulness where people are more conscious and aware of their mental states and how they relate with the environment (26). Several Buddhist texts relate the concept of Citta to the mind (Wright 135; Olpin and Hesson 318). Citta often means “the mind of the heart” because it supports the emotional appeal of human actions, as opposed to the logical reasoning behind them. Generally, meditation helps people to become aware of their entrenched mental habits that could be blocking their prosperity (McMahan and Braun 87). In this regard, it strives to improve mental development and promote soundness of the mind by cleansing it of impurities and disturbances. By doing so, it helps practitioners become sentient and enlightened beings.
Inspire Focus and Promote a Detachment from Worldly Pleasures and Desires
Buddhist teachings often encourage their followers to meditate because the practice would help them to have a strong mental focus. The focus is synonymously associated with “concentration” as a virtue of the faith. Concentration pairs with four others: faith, vigor, mindfulness, and wisdom (Conze 27). The goal of promoting a strong sense of mental focus is to help practitioners to have the ability to be mindful of what they are doing without being distracted. In other words, it equips practitioners with the ability to focus on one thing and avoid the mental clutter that would prevent them from achieving the best results in their actions (Olpin and Hesson 318). Through the mental focus, the mind and the body adopt a natural sense of relaxation. In other words, the two elements of life settle to a natural balance (Olpin and Hesson 318). This homeostasis allows the practitioners to be open to new perspectives and new ways of thinking
Mental Stability is often a product of the process. It is commonly associated with concentration meditation because the stillness and calmness associated with meditation often lead to mental stability. Here, the concept of Samatha comes into sharp focus because it signifies the stillness of the mind. It also helps to prevent swinging mental thoughts, which could distract followers from what they should be doing (Wilson 34-36). Mindfulness of the body is at the center of this process.
In this analysis, the concept of the “body” signifies people’s blood and flesh (Wilson 120). Some aspects of Buddhist meditation draw attention to the weaknesses of the body. Therefore, they encourage followers to rise above their feelings through a higher quest for wisdom. Here, the concept of feelings is not a cocktail of emotions, but three environmental stimuli that affect people’s mental energy: positive feelings, neutral feelings, and negative feelings (Wright 124). Therefore, meditation helps practitioners to ignore the negative feelings and embrace the positive ones. For example, ignoring lustful emotions is common teaching in Buddhist philosophy (Wright 124). This characteristic of the faith’s teachings is an example of how it enables its followers to be mindful of their bodies.
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At the gist of this fact is the understanding that people’s outer limits are related to their inner cores. Therefore, Buddhism emphasizes the need to take care of the body and be mindful of it (Wright 124). Understanding human limitations and being cognizant of the body’s weaknesses is commonly highlighted in Buddhist texts as a step towards improving human wisdom (Wilson 120). The concept of Tampa embodies this philosophy (Wilson 120). Based on these findings, meditation strives to improve mental development and promote a sound mind by cleansing it of impurities and disturbances. Buddhist teachings help to achieve this objective using the technique to instill focus among its followers and encourage them to detach from worldly pleasures and desires.
Teaching People to be Loving and Kind
The Buddhist faith also encourages people to meditate as a way of promoting good human virtues among its followers. In other words, the practice helps believers to be loving and kind people (Wright 185). It also teaches them to be compassionate towards other people and understanding of the same. Different kinds of meditation techniques help to nurture these virtues. Metta meditation is one of them and it is among the most important types of meditation in the faith. According to Harrison (a social researcher), Buddha himself was a staunch practitioner of the “loving-kindness” meditation technique (7).
Excerpts of Harrison’s work also show that, during meditation, Buddha would first focus on his breath and later reflect on the importance of loving and kindness (7). He often looked at monks and villagers and imagined showering them with love and kindness. Lastly, he would set out to help the community (Harrison 7). Most meditation techniques in Buddhism espouse the same principles because they teach people the value of being a loving, kind, and compassionate person (Harrison 7). In fact, this aspect of meditation is one of the most notable ones in the faith because it is outward-oriented, in the sense that it teaches people how to relate to others. Four sublime states of the mind and human actions moderate such relationships: equanimity (Upekkha), friendliness (Metta), compassion (Caruna), and joy (Mudita) (Harrison 7).
Of all the four states described above, Buddhist studies encourage practitioners to learn Metta first because it is the foundation of most human relationships (Harrison 7). In other words, through Metta, people develop warm feelings towards one another. Conventional religious teachings presuppose that friendliness would lead to compassion (Karuna) (Harrison 7). The basic assumption underlying this metamorphosis is that during the process of transition, people develop heightened levels of empathy towards one another. At the same time, conventional wisdom dictates that practitioners would be happy for people’s success and compassion for their suffering as well. Harrison says the outcome of the process is appreciative of joy, which allows people to harbor feelings of kindness and love towards one another (7). Based on these insights, one of the main purposes of meditation in the Buddhist faith is to allow its followers to develop feelings of love, kindness, and compassion for all human beings.
Therefore, the findings presented in this paper show that Buddhist meditation is not involved in transporting people to a supernatural world; instead, it focuses on promoting mental development and the development of a sound mind. Faith considers the body and the mind to be one. Therefore, its principal goal is to avoid the duality of human actions because many people often consider the mind and the body to be different. Through the findings highlighted in this paper, meditation emerges as a practice in the Buddhist faith that allows practitioners to take control of their minds and promote its soundness. The goal is to make the faithful experience peace and focus on their thoughts. It is also meant to make the mediator become more aware of his body and surroundings. This way, Buddhists who mediate prevent their minds from running around aimlessly because they enjoy focused thoughts. In other words, they benefit from having a still and sound mind.
Based on the insights gathered in this study, the importance of meditation in the Buddhist faith is centered on four benefits. The first one is the power to help people become removed or detached from worldly pleasures and desires. This way, they gain a sense of tranquility and mindfulness that would allow them to accomplish clairvoyance. The second benefit of meditation is the abolition of negative emotions that would ordinarily lead to “mental clogging.” This way, practitioners can allow enough room in their minds for wisdom to prevail. The third benefit of meditation is the development of desirable human virtues such as love, patience, kindness, and compassion, which are essential for the development of peaceful human societies. Lastly, meditation helps people to become sentient and enlightened beings. These benefits are integral in the promotion of wholesome human attributes that could eventually help practitioners to cleanse their minds of impurities and disturbances. Concisely, the evidence presented in this report reinforces the view that the Buddhist faith strives to improve people’s mental state and promote the development of a sound mind by cleansing it of impurities and disturbances.
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