what is meditation?

Why do we meditate?

Meditation in our practice is not a simple technique of observation, but an important part of the overall aim of improving oneself and finding wisdom. Meditation alone without the rest would be like a stake planted in the earth without a tree for it to support – totally meaningless, totally useless.

The Buddha once answered to somebody that asked for a quick summary of his teaching: “I teach sila, samadhi, panna.” (Morality, concentration, wisdom.)

In this teaching, wisdom is gained through concentration in meditation (Samadhi), combined with and supported by the living of a highly moral life (Sila)

(We could also say this the other way round – that a highly moral life is supported and given strength through the practice of meditation. As the roof of a building supports and strengthens the walls, and the walls of a building support and strengthen the roof, Sila and Samadhi are the support and the strength of one another.)

With this in mind, let us now speak about what meditation actually is.

What is meditation?

In general, no matter what type of meditation one does, almost all meditation is essentially the same: it is the practice of making the mind calm by giving it one object of focus.

Why do that? Because the nature of the human mind is to run in a million different subject every day like a crazy, agitated animal. When we give it one point of focus, the mind calms down and settles, allowing us to feel happier and more peaceful as long as we stay with the object of meditation.

As many leaves as you can find in a forest, as many objects of concentration as you can imagine, there are styles of meditation; which are all basically different objects of focus one can give to the mind. The breath, a combination of words, a mantra, the sensations on the body, movement of the body, a fishing rod in one’s hand, music, an object of devotion such as a shrine to a god, a dot on the wall, a rock: all can be the object of one’s meditation, and all will serve the purpose of calming the mind and making it steady.

The difference between other meditations and what we practice

Our meditation is different to most others, because it has a different aim. We do not just want to make the mind calm, we want to become the mechanic of our own mind, hack it, and re-train it so that instead of leaving it running automatically, we become in charge of our own actions. It is as if we had a self-driving car and we want to re-wire the engine to become a manually-driven car.

Rather than having its calming effect only as long as we are concentrating on our object of meditation, this meditation is meant to be applied everywhere, in every aspect of our lives. It is not just an observation technique; it is an essential element in the work of developing wisdom, together with working on developing one’s qualities, and practicing morality.  It can therefore not work if it is learned just by itself as an observation technique.

If you would like to read more about how this meditation works and how it relates to practicing morality and developing wisdom, the following articles all talk about this in more depth: