how do buddhists meditate Concentrated woman praying with wooden rosary mala beads. Namaste. Close up statue of Buddha.

How do Buddhists Meditate: A Beginners Guide

Buddhism is an ancient belief practiced all over the world and founded in India. Buddhists work to develop spiritually in order to find the true nature of reality. And, the ultimate goal of followers is to achieve Nirvana or omniscient enlightenment. For most Buddhists, however, Nirvana isn’t in the cards just yet. They instead work towards improving their lives so that they will be closer to Nirvana in their next life.

Buddhists meditate while working to reach enlightenment to awaken truths in their lives and in nature. And there are as many ways to meditate as there are different types of Buddhism.

As a little background, Buddhism is practiced around the world in almost every country, which is why  there are many different teachings and symbols. Just go to your local art museum and you’ll see a stark difference in the symbols and art from Buddhism in Japan, Korea, China and more. It’s all Buddhism, but ideas changed as it spread from India. Because the belief is so varied, it is very inclusive and open to change. But, one of the constants in the belief system is the importance placed on meditation.

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How do Buddhists Meditate: A Beginners Quick Guide

As we said above, there are many different ways for Buddhists to meditate. We’ll talk about a few of them below. First, we’ll discuss how Buddhist meditation works and why Buddhists meditate. We’ll also discuss what outcomes Buddhists are striving for when meditating. And, because Nirvana is the ultimate goal of Buddhism, we will give you a brief lowdown of all things Nirvana, including what the word Nirvana actually means, who can achieve it, and what happens if you don’t achieve Nirvana in this life.

But, it’s not all about meditating. There are a number of Buddhists guidelines on how to live a moral life; we’ll go into some of those.

And then we’ll talk about Buddhists monk and nuns. We’ll learn about head-shaving practices required of monks and chosen to be undertaken by some nuns. And, lastly, we’ll talk about how much of a monk’s day is take up with meditation. Not surprisingly, it varies from country to country due to that difference in Buddhist practices we talked about above.

So, read on below and we hope this article gives you insight into Buddhism. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to walk down that path toward Nirvana yourself!

How does Buddhist meditation work?

Different people meditate in different ways. There are different techniques and different end goals. Let’s talk about a few ways Buddhists meditate and what outcomes are expected.

1. Lovingkindness Meditation

Once the mind is settled, Buddhists will direct wishes for lovingkindness and well-being to themselves. The, they’ll direct those wishes to people and pets that they love. Next, they’ll direct wishes for lovingkindness and well-being to people they feel neutral about. Lastly, Buddhists will direct those positive wishes toward people they do not get along with, or even toward their enemies. By flowing their love towards all beings, the categorizations of the self, friends and enemies dissolve, leaving them with pure benevolence and positivity. A traditional Buddhist mantra repeated during lovingkindness meditation could be: “May all beings find happiness and the cause of happiness. May they be free from suffering and the cause of suffering.” After lovingkindness meditation practice, people will rest in quiet awareness.

2. Contemplative Meditation

Buddhists are encouraged to sit and contemplate. As part of their meditation practice, there is a much-used contemplation, The Four Thoughts that Transform the Mind.

  • Precious Human Birth – Everyone is born with liberty and opportunity.
  • Impermanence – Everything changes so don’t waste time.
  • Karma – Everything has a cause and effect.
  • Suffering – Suffering is inevitable.

By sitting in quiet contemplative meditation, Buddhists will understand the world and themselves better. This hopefully leads to being able to cope better and becoming happier.

3. Insight Meditation

Insight or Vipassana meditation is said to originally have been taught by the Buddha. Practitioners work to see the true nature of existence by paying close attention to sensation. If you’re wondering how Buddhists meditate to gain insight, here are the steps:

  • Sit comfortably in a quiet place. It’s suggested that you will feel more energetic if you sit with your back straight. You’ll also avoid a backache from slouching.
  • Close your eyes and become aware of your breath; aim your attention on the rising and falling of your chest when inhaling and exhaling. Give all your attention to the sensations of your breathing.
  • If a noise breaks your concentration, make a note of it; label it in your mind, such as “horn.” Or, if a thought breaks your concentration, give it a label such as “planning.” Also note any sensations, labeling with thoughts such as, “warmth” or “motion.” By labeling, practitioners believe you can see in your mind the qualities of your experience. You’ll become aware of your mind and body, which will allow you to learn the truth about your mental and physical processes.

What is the goal of Buddhist meditation?

Buddhists meditate to develop the mind and achieve clarity. Meditation will change your mind, growing your concentration, giving you clarity, making you more positive, emotionally, and allowing you to see the true nature of the world.

By focusing your mind, Buddhists believe your mind will become more peaceful and energized. And, as you go through different stages of meditation, you may reach the final stage of nirvana or spiritual freedom and enlightenment, just like the Buddha achieved.

What is Nirvana?

Nirvana is the final goal of Buddhists. In Sanskrit, “nirvana” means “becoming extinguished” or “blowing out.” But what are we extinguishing? Buddhists believe we are extinguishing hatred, ignorance, desire, suffering, and rebirth.

What comes after Nirvana?

When a Buddhist achieves Nirvana without help, they become buddhas or “awakened ones.” And, they gain omniscience and enlightenment. But, when you achieve Nirvana with the help of a buddha, you will still achieve enlightenment, but not omniscience. And you’ll be called an “arhat,” not a buddha.

Although generally, only monks try to achieve nirvana, it can be reached by anyone. However, when lay Buddhists follow the Noble Eightfold Path, they instead try to help people and collect good Karma so that in a future life, Nirvana may be possible. So, Buddhists should never give up hope.

Steps to achieve Nirvana?

Although meditation is a huge part of Buddhism and an important step in achieving Nirvana, there are other steps you’ll need to take. For instance, Buddhists follow the Noble Eightfold Path to find Nirvana, which we’ll explain below.

The steps, which you’ll notice are pretty broad, can be open to interpretation. But, they are followed as a way to cultivate wisdom, morality and meditation. And they won’t be easy to follow. We’ve all said the wrong thing and hurt people. And, we’ve tried to do the right actions, but sometimes we make an error in judgment. Also, when money is important to us, we may not choose a moral or ethical profession. But, by focusing on the Noble Eightfold Path, be may just be able to stop our egotistical and materialistic practices.

The Noble Eightfold Path:

  • Right views
  • Right intention
  • Right speech
  • Right action
  • Right livelihood
  • Right effort
  • Right mindedness
  • Right contemplation

How many hours do Buddhist monks meditate?

When the question of how do Buddhists meditate comes up, people also are curious as to how many hours Buddhists, especially monks, meditate. You may think that Buddhist monks meditate in marathon stretches, but don’t forget, they do have other responsibilities.

Buddhists meditate frequently, and when you’re a monk, meditation make take up hours of the day. Monks meditate in hopes of getting closer to enlightenment, when they’ll reach their full potential. Buddhists believe that by achieving enlightenment, they’ll be better able to help the world.

The amount of time a monk meditates varies depending on their temple, their responsibilities, and so on. Monks still have to do “normal” things like go to the grocery store, cook dinner and so on.

In Burma and Thailand, for instance, our research found that the typical Buddhist monk meditates for an hour starting at 4 a.m. He goes about his day, teaching, learning, helping others. He then meditates and prays again for 2 hours beginning at 6 p.m. But, again, this could vary wildly. Their meditation practice varies between morning and night.

In Tibet, a monk may meditate (including tantric practice) for 6 to 8 hours a day. But again, it depends on what other duties the monk may have. He could be a teacher or have an administrative position at the monastery, which could take away from meditation time.

So, you can see that meditation is a huge part of a Buddhist monk’s day, even though the amount of time they meditate can vary.

Why do Buddhists shave their heads?

You’ll notice that the Buddha is generally depicted with hair, 108 locks of hair to be specific, so why do all male Buddhist monks and some female Buddhist nuns (it’s not a requirement) shave their head? There are a few reasons why they choose to chop their locks off:

1. Eliminating vanity

Let’s face it, everyone is vain. It’s hard not to be; you’d have to get rid of every mirror in your house to stop being vain. But, by having a shaved head, your vanity won’t be directed to your hair. You won’t be worried about getting the latest hair style.

2. Self-discovery

Just think, you and the world will finally be able to see the true you, the you that was under that trendy hair style, expensive clothes, makeup, jewelry, etc. When a monk or nun shaves their head and gets rid of all of the trappings of modern life, they’ll throw off that old life and begin again.

3. Detachment

Buddhist monks and nuns shave their head as the first step towards enlightenment. They’re becoming detached from the material world and leaving their “self” behind.

4. Celibacy

Buddhist nuns, though not always required to, sometimes choose to shave their heads to symbolize renunciation of worldly desires such as marriage and procreation. And for both nuns and monks, the shaved head symbolizes celibacy, which they believe will lead to purification and liberation.

Buddhism for life

It’s not easy to live a Buddhist life. Eschewing materials things and cutting your hair off is difficult for almost everyone. And devoting yourself to achieving enlightenment seems like it would be never-ending. But, by following the teachings of the Buddha you will find out so much about yourself and the world. You’ll be more positive, and you will be less connected to material things. Also, a lack of ego and vanity will lead to less stress in your life. With hard work, Buddhism will make your life simpler and will make you happier.

So, we hope you found useful our discussion of the ways Buddhists mediate useful to your future practice. And we also discussed how Buddhist meditation works and why Buddhists meditate, to give you further insight into this ancient system for living. Of course, no discussion about Buddhism is complete without talking about the long-term goals of Buddhist meditation. We hope you learned a lot about Buddhist mediation goals.

 And, as some of those goals will lead a Buddhist to Nirvana, we took a deep-dive into the ways one can achieve enlightenment, which is necessary information for anyone interested in Buddhism. And we didn’t forget about those Buddhists who aren’t close to enlightenment and may need to wait until their next lives before achieving Nirvana. We wanted to show you that enlightenment may not be available in this lifetime but to not give up hope!

We also offered some helpful guidelines on how to live a Buddhist life. Yes, it’s not meditation 24-7. Buddhists, including monks, have other responsibilities.

Speaking of Buddhists monks, we hope you gained insight into the way of life of monks as well as nuns. It’s good to know because it’s a drastic lifestyle change from our lavish Western world.  We discussed head-shaving rules for monks and nuns, how many hours a monk may meditate and how Buddhist practices differ from country to country. That’s important to know if you are looking for specific style of Buddhism to follow. The practices of one form of Buddhism may not be as right for you as another practiced elsewhere. 

So, we hope this article enlightened you (pardon the pun) to the world of Buddhism. It is such a peaceful belief system, that, if you are suffering from stress due to the materialism of our modern world, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea to try Buddhism. Namaste!