There are many different types of meditation practice, especially in the Buddhist tradition. You may have heard of a practice called Samatha meditation which has been practiced for many thousands of years. This is a calm practice that is designed to quiet the mind.
In this article, we are going to be looking at what Samatha meditation is and how you can practice it.
What Is The Purpose Of Samatha Meditation?
Samatha is a Buddhist meditation and a form of tranquility meditation. The word Samatha simply means ‘calm abiding’ or ‘tranquility. In the Buddhist tradition, this type of meditation is used as a foundation for another technique known as Vipassanā. But we will look at Vipassanā in a little more detail later on.
Each type of Buddhist meditation has its own purpose and in the case of Samatha this purpose is to cultivate awareness through meditation. The Samatha practice is typically done in stages; to begin with, a practitioner may use a support or object on which to place their awareness. However, over time, as you complete more meditation practices, you will find that you no longer need this object to retain your focus.
In most cases, something that is used as a point of focus is the breath, as in common in many meditations.
Many people believe that meditations like these are designed to empty the mind of all thoughts. However, we must keep in mind that as intelligent beings, our mind is filled with thoughts and associations. It is no good trying to push each thought away and pretending that it doesn’t exist. However, Samatha meditation helps you to understand that the mind will think and that the mind is an active thing.
It will also help you to discover the power of the mind; some of the things that we think are not beneficial to our future but some can help us. As your mind ticks over during your practice, the idea is not to ignore a thought but rather observe it, letting go and learning from it.
As we work with the mind, we begin to see that any irrelevant thoughts are ignored and as a result, will become less and less frequent. This helps to clear the mind of unnecessary clutter. You might think of Samatha as a way of ‘tidying up’ the mind and letting go of anything that doesn’t serve you.
What Are The Benefits Of Samatha Meditation?
The Samatha method of meditation can improve your life in several ways. As you go through the stages of developing your practice, you will begin to notice more and more of these benefits.
Perhaps the greatest thing about Samatha meditation is that we are allowing the mind to be as nature intended and not trying to force it to be any other way.
Mindfulness is a concept that is becoming more and more recognised and is in a class of its own when it comes to well being. There is enough evidence to suggest that mindfulness can be advantageous in several ways. Since much of the teaching of Buddha centres around mindfulness, when we take part in a Samatha practice this is an opportunity to develop this skill.
What’s more, since the concept of this meditation is based around calm, we are able to maintain a much more calm mind not only during the practice but afterwards and in every part of our life.
One of the main things that many of us look for in life is greater clarity about who we are as well as an understanding of others. The Samatha meditation technique allows us to gain an insight into our own mind as well as an insight into life itself. Coupled with Vipassana, Samatha can be a profound way to develop insight and wisdom into all aspects of our being.
As a direct result of this, your level of concentration is improved. Not only will you notice that you live a much more calm existence, but you will also have a greater level of focus. Your entire quality of life may be improved. The Buddhist name for this is ‘appana samadhi’ which refers to being completed absorbed in concentration.
How Can I Practice Samatha Meditation?
When practicing Samatha, it is important that you are able to keep your concentration but concentration is not something that the mind is naturally gifted with so we need to train it.
Any good meditation teacher will tell you that using a meditation object can help you to develop greater focus and concentration. In the Buddhist tradition, many messengers have claimed that focusing on the elements earth, air, fire and water can help. However, the mindfulness of breathing is one of the easiest ways to improve your concentration.
Before you get into your practice, you must make sure that the physical body is comfortable; if it is not you will find that the quality of your meditation is not quite as good.
The most common way to practice Samatha is in the seven point posture which focuses on seven points of the body and is often taught by your teacher at meditation classes. Not only is this posture conducive to getting into a meditative state but is also a good pose for those who want to follow the traditions of meditation as it is something that has been used for thousands of years around the world.
You can see how to do the seven point posture in this video.
When you are comfortable, you can begin to practice Samatha; whether you do this from home or with the help of a teacher at one of the many meditation classes available, you must start by placing your focus on the breath. Begin to notice each inhalation and exhalation; noticing how each breath feels. Do this as many times as you need until you start to feel calm.
If you notice a thought enter the mind, don’t try to interact with it just let it go through your mind while you return your focus to the breath. Once you feel comfortable, begin to hold the breath for a few seconds after each inhalation.
As well a working with the breath, you might use a chant, the most common one is Om Ah Hung but you can use whatever you like to make you feel calm and relaxed and bring the mind to a peaceful state.
Is Samatha Meditation The Same As Vipassana Meditation?
As a form of meditation, Samatha is in a league of its own; the thing about Buddhist meditation is that there is more than one kind. Each type of mindfulness meditation is designed to work in a specific way but when you practice them alongside one another, they will complement each other.
Samatha and Vipassana are not the same thing. While Samatha is a calming meditation technique, Vipassana is a form of insight meditation. It is believed that the teacher, Buddha practiced Vipassana and went on to teach this meditation technique to his followers. Today, followers of Buddha engage in Vipassana along with many other meditation techniques in order to find their way to an enlightened mind.
Samatha meditation practice is usually done as a foundation on the road to being able to practice vipassana.
Vipassana is an insight meditation that allows you to develop a deepened understanding of the mind and of yourself; you might see it as an awareness practice. The ultimate goal for most people practicing the teachings of the Buddha is to do both types of meditation practice alongside one another. Being able to practice deep calm with profound insight into the mind can lead to understanding the true nature of the mind and as a result, a more enlightened state and greater clarity. In Sanskrit, the term Samadhi is used to refer to enlightenment but it is important to keep in mind that Samadhi is the same thing.
So, while Samatha and Vipassana may not be the same thing, practicing them together can certainly be an opportunity to develop your mind and your sense of self as well as gain an insight into who you are which can lead to a vastly more satisfying life.
All around the world different types of meditation are practiced and for those in the Buddhist tradition, Samatha is a type of calm breath meditation that takes its name from the word for tranquility.
Not only will this practice lead to being able to do the insight meditation of Vipassana but it can also have an effect when used alone. By allowing the mind to focus on the breath, you will notice great improvements in your focus, clarity and overall well being.
You can engage in Samatha either in a class or from the comfort of your own home. Some like to use an object to focus on rather than using the breath but over time, you will likely not need this any more as you develop your ability to control the mind.