There are many reasons to learn meditation techniques. For non-Buddhists, meditation can be used to achieve physical and mental health and a sense of calmness and relaxation. Within the Buddhist community, Theravada Buddhists master meditation techniques to reach enlightenment, which means that they have reached Nirvana, the “blowing out” of existence. On the other hand, Tibetan Buddhists, who belong to the Mahayana Buddhist sect, use meditation to attain Buddha-hood for the sake of all living beings.
The Tibetan Buddhists use meditation techniques which are unique to their practice of Buddhism. Some say that mastery of meditation brings gifts of magical powers. First, they focus on “unlearning” the wrong beliefs that all humans naturally hold, like the existence of a soul. Most especially, they learn to control their mind, from which all ideas stem and receive judgment. During meditation, Tibetan Buddhists reflect on important Buddhist concepts such as universal compassion, no-self, and the four noble truths. They also learn how to conquer earthly, materialistic vices such as hate, desire, and ignorance. There are also interesting techniques such as mediation on death and corpses to conquer an unhealthy attachment to existence.
The perfect posture for meditation is the lotus position, in which the legs are crossed and the back is straight. Hands with palms up are placed on the lap, with the right hand on top. Eyes are closed slightly and breaths should be evenly spaced out.
During the first few meditation sessions, the disciple works on keeping the mind free from outside distractions such as noises and smells. For a beginner, picturing the calm abiding is especially useful. The images in the mind are kept under control by focusing on a white field or a single image such as the Buddha or a Lotus Blossom. The beginner can also focus on a mantra, which is a word or phrase used in meditation to keep the mind focused.
Tibetan meditation has four concentrations, or bsam gtan (Tibetan), or Dhyana (Sanskrit). These are the four meditative stages which become progressively more difficult as the disciple learns to meditate for hours and looks deeper into the ultimate reality of the mind. If the meditation sessions are successful, the disciple learns to free the mind from the five hindrances-desire, hate, laziness, agitation, and doubt.
The First Concentration
The mind is free from the five hindrances. There is a feeling of intense bliss, but this is not the same bliss that is felt when enlightenment is reached because the disciple always has to return to the real world. There are only a few small mental fluctuations. Mostly, the disciple has reached a peaceful, relaxing place of mental bliss away from the material world’s distractions.
The Second Concentration
The few remaining mental fluctuations have completely disappeared and the disciple can remain in the meditative state for hours without being aware of the outside world. The only “thing” that remains is bliss. However, like the bliss of the first concentration, this bliss is impermanent, because the disciple has to return to the material world after all.
The Third Concentration
In this concentration, half of the bliss disappears. Since this bliss is not the true bliss of Nirvana, it has to go away in order for the mind to be truly free from the taints of the material world.
The Fourth Concentration
All traces of the remaining bliss disappear. The state which remains is subtle and there is neither joy nor suffering. This state has been called the more delicate form of happiness, because it is not tainted by any form of human care or worry. Breathing can temporarily cease and psychic powers can develop.
Beyond the Four Concentrations
There are four more concentrations after the first Four Concentrations; however, these are kept secret, and the person who wants to learn these techniques must consult a Tibetan Buddhist guru, who has already studied extensively and mastered all the concentrations. For those who wish to know, the four final concentrations are:
1) Absorption of limitless space
2) Absorption of limitless consciousness
3) Absorption of nothingness
4) The peak of cyclic existence