The Buddha’s Teaching of Meditation

Spectacular sunsriseThe Buddha’s teaching of meditation aims a producing a state of perfect mental health, equilibrium, and tranquillity. In reality, the word ‘meditation’ is a poor substitute for the original term bhavana, which means ‘culture’ or ‘development’, that is, mental culture or mental development.

It aims at cleansing the mind of impurities and disturbances, such as lustful desires, hatred, ill-will, indolence, worries, restlessness, and sceptical doubts.

It aims at cultivating such qualities as concentration, awareness, intelligence, will, energy, confidence, joy, tranquillity, and the analytical faculty – leading finally to the attainment of highest wisdom which sees the nature of things as they are, and realizes the Ultimate Truth, Nirvana (Rahula, 67-68).

There are two basic types of meditation:

Samatha (tranquility meditation)

Samatha or samadhi is the development of mental concentration, of one-pointedness of mind, by various methods prescribed in the texts (Rahula, 68).

Vipassana (insight meditation)

Vipassana – insight into the nature of things – leads to the complete liberation of the mind, to the realization of the ultimate truth, Nirvana. This is essentially Buddhist ‘meditation’. It is an analytical method based on mindfulness, awareness, vigilance, and observation (Rahula, 68-69). It means developing a complete understanding of anicca, dukkha and anattā (impermanence, suffering, not-self).

Source: Rahula, Walpola. What the Buddha Taught. With a foreword by Paul Demiéville. Revised edition. New York: Grove Press, 1974.

What Is Buddhist Meditation?

Sunset“The world is now facing serious problems threatening mankind. It is just the right time for everyone to take to Vipassana meditation and learn how to find a deep pool of quiet in the midst of all that is happening today.” (Sayagyi U Ba Khin)

Buddhist meditation consists of two steps: (1) calmness of mind and (2) insight (Vipassana).

The student is helped to develop calmness and concentration by encouraging them to focus their attention on a spot at the base of the nose. In this way, they can be aware of the in-breath and the out-breath. When the mind is given only one object it gradually becomes calm and steady. Respiration mindfulness (anapana or anapanasati) has several advantages:

(1) The breath is natural and common to all human beings.

(2) The breath is available at all times to focus the attention on.

(3) Mindfulness of the breath is a technique that can be practised by members of any religion, or a person of no religion.

There is no reason why a good student in meditation should not be able to secure a concentrated mind in a few days of training. Little by little all conscious awareness of breathing stops. The student becomes mindful only of a small point of light and warmth. At this stage the mind becomes one pointed, clear, and unwavering.

It is a common belief that a person whose power of concentration is good can achieve better results. There are definitely advantages that accrue to a person who undergoes a successful meditation retreat. It doesn’t matter whether this person is a religious person, a business person, a politician, a worker or a student.

Vipassana, insight, involves an examination of the inherent tendencies of all that exists within one’s own self. With a calm and concentrated mind, the student focuses their attention into themselves. They become aware of and observe:

(1) The mental and bodily components in the process of change (impermanence).

(2) The process of change as unsatisfactory (suffering).

(3) The illusory nature of a permanent self (non-self).

This awareness will very gradually lead to detachment from the physical and mental elements that are experienced as changing. It will little by little free the meditator from reactions such as anger and desire. It will give that peace within which will show that one is getting beyond the day to day troubles of life. It will take a person, slowly but surely, beyond the limitation of life, suffering and death.

A ten-day course in Vipassana meditation is the practice of the Eightfold Noble Path, as taught by the Buddha. The Path can be divided into three parts, namely: (1) higher training in morality, (2) higher training in concentration and (3) higher training in wisdom.

Morality is the common denominator of all religions. In the Buddhist context, a person observes the five precepts of refraining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying, and the use of drugs or intoxicants. By diligently observing this morality, one develops purity of physical and verbal actions.

Concentration: Beginning with the base of morality, training in concentration is taught using Anapana meditation (mindfulness of breathing). Through learning to calm and control the mind during the first five days, the student quickly appreciates the advantages of a steady and balanced mind.

Wisdom: The third training is wisdom (or insight). This is introduced through Vipassana meditation, which is practised throughout the remainder of the period.

Vipassana is a process that enables the student to develop awareness of the natural characteristics of impermanence, suffering, and non-self through personal experience. Practised with diligence, the gradual process of mental purification will lead to the end of suffering and to full Enlightenment or Nibbana.

Noble Silence (no unnecessary talk) provides a conducive atmosphere. Discourses given in the morning and evening by a teacher help to clarify the practice.

The teaching is through experience. If what a person experiences is for their well-being, they can accept it; if it is not for their well-being, they need not accept it.

Source: Based on and adapted from

The International Meditation Centre was founded to promote the practice of Buddhist Vipassana meditation as taught by the late Sayagyi U Ba Khin. The practice is aimed at developing a calm mind leading to the realisation of Nibbana. From the time of the Buddha, over 2500 years ago, Buddhist meditation had mainly been practised within the monastic order.

Sayagyi U Ba Khin encountered the teachings as a layman and realised the importance of Buddhist meditation to modern man. He had a unique ability to teach lay people meditation. Sayagyi U Ba Khin became a highly respected meditation teacher in Burma (Myanmar). He taught students from all over the world until his death in 1971. Since then, his leading disciple Mother Sayamagyi has carried on the tradition. She has taught meditation for more than fifty years and has established further International Meditation Centres worldwide.