Theravada Buddhism is the active great look inward. It is from this form that “Vipashyana” the meditation on the breath becomes the method by which the buddhist actively looks inside. Within Theravada alone there are more than 100 forms of meditation coming from Vipashyana focusing on mindfulness and concentration. Later with the emergence of the Mahayana forms of Buddhism many more types of meditation grew from the examples created from the Buddha’s Vipashyana.
The trouble most people had with Theravada Buddhism and Vipashyana was that the practice was developed and used solely within monasteries and with monks. There was no way for lay people to participate in Buddhism and the example of the tolerant and humble monks lead many people wanting to participate on some level short of three saffron robes and a beggar’s bowl.
Mediation and Buddhism are always near each other. Whether we are talking about monks attempting to find the ultimate truth from within or laymen trying to improve themselves, meditation is the act of looking for monk and layman alike. The goal remains the same whether we are concentrating on our ability to concentrate on the breath (Vipashyana, Anapansati); our ability to concentrate and contemplate the essence of love and kindness (Metta); our concentration on the place in the mind where the work of meditation takes place (Kammatthana); or our ablity to cultivate a deeper and automatic method for entering and sustaining effortlessly the act of meditation (Samatha). The goal of perfecting self and learning truth by looking inward are the heart and soul of Buddhist meditation.
The forms mentioned so far are all from the Theravada tradition. The Mahayana meditation masters are the practitioners of Zen Buddhism. The word Zen means right now! Literally this very moment as each moment comes and goes it must be fully lived and mindfully experienced. The meditation of simply sitting and only sitting focused on the act of sitting created by Zen buddhists is called Shikantaza. The Varjrayana tradition is Tantric Buddhism or the Buddhism of Tibet and the Dali Lama it was also the last form of Buddhism practiced in India. Mandala is the word for the act of meditating while creating a sand mandala. Perhaps the most widely seen aspect of tantric Buddhism, this practice parallels the Mahayana concept of inclusion of laypeople, By creating a mandala through practicing the mandala meditation the Tantric Buddhist creates a beautiful object that will be swept up and poured into a river. These two acts, the mandala meditation and the example of pouring the remains into a river reminds both monk and layperson that all life is temporal.
No matter the school (Theravada, Mahayana or Varjrayana) No matter the practice (Vipashyana, Anapansati, Metta, Kammatthana, Samatha, Shikantaza or Mandala) the goal is Mindfulness and the search for truth by looking inside is practiced and encouraged.