By now I’m sure you’ve completed Dr. Muesse’s lecture series and have the foundations of meditation down pat. But did you know that there is more than one form of meditation? The oldest documented form of meditation, as discussed in Buddhist essays, is called dhyāna in Sanskrit and jhāna in Pāḷi. It is described as the process of detaching the mind from learned, automatic responses to stimuli, thereby creating a simultaneous state of perfect composure and consciousness. From this tradition, it is believed that Vipassana and Samatha meditation evolved, and even more forms of meditation have developed as offshoots of them. For now, were going to focus on these two core traditions. In brief, Samatha meditation focuses on calming the mind, whereas Vipassana meditation focuses on clearing the mind and developing insight. Both are valuable skills to learn. However, your personal goals will determine which you choose to utilize at any given time.
Let’s look at Samatha meditation first, as it’s the form with which most Americans are familiar. In Samatha meditation, one attempts to quiet the mind by focusing on one specific concept. Most of us are introduced to Samatha meditation by being told to focus on our breath. In doing so, even for a short period of time, we can calm the mind, the body, ourselves. Samatha meditation can assist us to better focus as well. It is one of the many tools recommended to immediately calm anxiety, quiet the mind and focus. If this is your goal, then Samatha meditation is right for you. Keep in mind, while Samatha meditation can assist you to calm your mind by focusing on something else; it may not assist you to develop an inherent, ever present inner peace. That’s where Vipassana mediation comes in. We’ll discuss it next week.