is an ancient practice, which has been widely taken up in the West in recent years. Samatha and Vipassana, Serenity and Insight, Mindfulness, and other current meditation practices are all based on the practice as taught by the Buddha some 2,500 years ago.
The Buddha’s teaching is set out in detail in the Pali texts used by the Theravada tradition, which are the basis of all Buddhist traditions. Three steps of the Noble Eightfold Path together comprise the training of the heart and mind:-
Right Effort: the effort to let go of harmful states of mind and to develop beneficial ones, above all loving-kindness (towards all beings including ourselves), compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity,
Right Mindfulness: clear awareness of the body, the feelings, the mind, and objects of the mind,
Right Concentration: unifying the mind and holding the attention on to one object.
Meditation practice means setting aside time to focus exclusively on this training of the heart and mind. These three aspects develop together, to change our attitudes and our thinking throughout our daily life. The principal teachings on meditation in the Pali texts are the Mindfulness of Breathing and the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. In outline, it follows four stages:-
Contemplating the body, starting with following the breath, and leading to calming the body,
Contemplating the feelings, leading to calming the feelings,
Contemplating the mind, letting go of stray thoughts, leading to serenity and unification of the mind, and
Contemplating phenomena (objects of the mind, things as we experience them), leading to insight or greater understanding of reality.
We discover how changeable the mind is, and how often it is distracted. Through patiently returning to the present moment, experienced in following the breath, we begin to develop the internal serenity that leads to deeper contemplation. The actual experience of meditation is very well described by Ajahn Amaro, the current abbot of Amaravati, in his book “Finding the Missing Peace”.