This article follows on from Meditation – Method, Effects and Purpose within Buddhism

The idea behind sitting motionless with our eyes closed is that the mind is analogous to a cup of muddy water. The longer the muddy water is kept still the more mud settles down and the water can then be seen clearly. By keeping quiet, holding the body motionless and undivided attention placed upon the subject of our meditation our mind settles down and becomes clear. However in order to focus the mind the mind needs a mental object upon which to focus. The most fundamental object of concentration recommended by Theravada literature is our own breathing.

The breath does not take a great deal of effort for the mind to find and is available to be concentrated on every single moment. So as we sit breathing normally, letting the breath flow in and out freely we place our attention at rim of the nostrils. The feeling of breath going in and out is noticed. When one inhalation is complete and before the exhalation begins there is a brief pause. This to is noticed, as is the pause between the end of exhalation and the following inhalation. These two pauses are momentarily brief and we may have not been aware of their momentary existence until we were sufficiently mindful.

A key here is to not sub-vocalize or conceptualize anything. Some methods may include sub-vocally saying such things as “worrying” or “planning” when these things occur and cause distraction from the object of concentration. However, to begin with, the attention should be focused wholly on the breath and nothing else. Ignore any thought, memory, sound, smell or otherwise.

This narrowing down of attention develops a deep state of mental calm in which one is simply aware. In this way a calm abiding mind is developed. It is a state where one’s mind abides on the object of one’s choosing and is not distracted but rather is stable, focused upon the object and free from laxity and excitement. At least some degree of mental calming is considered necessary to the development of insight. The general view of the Buddhist tradition is that some considerable ability in calming meditation is necessary in order to develop very effective insight meditation.

In the next article in this series on Buddhist meditation we will consider what the results of a Buddhist meditation practice are.

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