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Updated on:

March 23, 2023

People practice meditation to feel better. The benefits of meditation may include reduced stress and anxiety, improved clarity and focus, and a greater sense of happiness and well-being. Buddhists practice meditation with these intentions and more. For a Buddhist, meditation is the process of training the mind to bring about the end of suffering, revealing heaven on earth, or nirvana

Buddhist meditation is just one part of a three-part training that includes ethics, meditation, and wisdom. Wisdom arises in a calm, stable and loving mind. We awaken to the truth that our own thoughts and actions are at the root of all our suffering. This same three-fold training is also the path to freedom from this suffering. When we live with greater kindness, and a more tranquil, less reactive mind, we perceive ourselves, others and everything in our world much differently. We live with greater peace and happiness, having awakened, or become enlightened, to the true nature of all things.

buddhist meditation, The Power of Buddhist Meditation: A Guide to Inner Peace and Happiness

What Is Buddhist Meditation?

There are several different schools of Buddhism. Each has developed over thousands of years, influenced by the culture and great philosophers and practitioners of their time. Different Buddhist traditions may emphasize different types of Buddhist meditation. At their core, however, every Buddhist meditation technique serves to train the mind in the development of wisdom and compassion.

Most Buddhist meditation training begins with concentration practice. We learn to place the mind on a single object and hold it there. With practice, this style of meditation develops a calm and steady mind that’s more capable of focusing. A focused mind is necessary for more advanced Buddhist meditation techniques, which include contemplative and analytical practices.

The following are just a few of the most common styles of Buddhist meditation. Many will be familiar to non-Buddhists, as there’s no requirement to identify as a Buddhist to practice or benefit from these techniques.

Shamatha Meditation

The foundational practice of shamatha meditation settles and stabilizes the mind. Sometimes called Calm Abiding, shamata typically involves resting the mind on an anchor such as the breath, to develop the skill of concentration. Buddhists often choose an image of a Buddha or another holy object as their meditation anchor.

Vipassana Meditation

Vipassana meditation (known as vipashyana in Sanskrit) is a more advanced practice that involves discernment or insight. It is considered advanced because one must first attain shamata to experience vipassana. In this special state of concentration, one is aware of the increasingly subtle details of an object. This higher level of perception may include insight into an object’s true nature.

Analytical Meditation

Vipassana meditation involves a certain type of contemplative focus. Using both body and mind, we’re invited to get increasingly curious about our experience. Other types of meditation are more directly analytical. Buddhists will typically contemplate philosophical questions or logical problems during meditation, including the following:

  • Leisure and Fortune: A meditation on the preciousness of this human birth and the rare and unique opportunity we have to develop wisdom, compassion and spiritual health. How could we possibly squander this?
  • The Mother Meditation: A meditation on the possibility that if we’ve lived infinite lives, all beings everywhere have at one point been our mother. As our mothers, they showed us great kindness. Shouldn’t we do our best to repay them?
  • Death Awareness Meditation: A contemplation that although our death is certain, the time of our death is not. If the only thing that can help us at the moment of death is our spiritual health, we must do all that we can, in this moment, to develop greater wisdom and compassion.

Compassion Meditation

There is considerable overlap between wisdom and compassion-based practices. Buddhist meditation is a holistic experience that involves not just the mind, but the heart and body. Compassion practices in particular serve to soften our hearts, inviting us to practice generosity, kindness and care. Practices to help us develop compassion include the following:

  • Exchanging Self for Others: This equanimity practice helps us overcome the greatest source of our suffering, the habit we have of cherishing ourselves more than others. This analytical meditation helps us realize that all beings everywhere are just like us, in that they only want to be happy and free from their pain.
  • Loving-Kindness Meditation: Known as metta in Pali, or maitri in Sanskrit, loving-kindness meditation is among Buddhism’s most well-known heart opening meditation practices. Maitri meditation encourages us to extend care and compassion to all beings everywhere, regardless of our feelings about them.
  • Tonglen Meditation: Tonglen is a powerful compassion meditation in which we take responsibility for eliminating the suffering of another. During the practice, we visualize another’s pain as dark smoke. As we breathe it into our hearts of infinite love and light, this darkness becomes obliterated.
buddhist meditation, The Power of Buddhist Meditation: A Guide to Inner Peace and Happiness

How to Practice Buddhist Meditation?

Many people who are new to Buddhist meditation begin with anapanasati, or mindfulness of breath. This practice, however, is not just for beginners. It offers an opportunity to develop deep levels of concentration and awareness that can give rise to profound insight.

  • Place: Begin by placing the body in a safe, quiet space where you can be relatively free from distractions. 
  • Posture: Choose a posture that balances comfort with alertness. A good posture supports a calm focused mind by offering a stable foundation, an upright spine, soft shoulders, still hands, and either eyes closed or a low, soft gaze.
  • Practice: Place your attention on the sensation of your breath, with a sense of caring curiosity. Observe breath as it moves in and out through the nose, via the rise and fall of the belly, or as a whole body movement.
  • Problems: When you notice the mind is no longer present with the breath, simply return to breath awareness. Do this again and again, as often as you need to.

Practicing consistently over time offers us an opportunity to observe the habitual movement of the mind, and to cultivate new, more beneficial patterns. Those new to meditation may benefit from a guide. More advanced Buddhist meditations may require the guidance of a Buddhist teacher.

Benefits of Buddhist Meditation

Although mindfulness meditation is the most-researched form of meditation, many of its benefits extend to Buddhist meditation too. Buddhist meditation may benefit the body and mind uniquely, especially when practiced as part of a greater spiritual path toward awakening.

Concentration and Attention

Buddhist meditation develops focus and concentration, and does so differently depending on the meditation type and the level of the practitioner. While those new to meditation may fatigue with intense efforts, experienced meditators benefit from increased wakefulness after meditation. Some types of Buddhist meditation activate the sympathetic nervous system, while others induce parasympathetic activity for greater calm and relaxation.

Sense of Self

Buddhist meditations guide us toward a new perception of the self. Ultimately, we become identified with the Buddha within. Meditation reveals no self that exists the way we have habitually imagined it to, as separate and unchanging. This realization of ‘no-self’ can be freeing or terrifying. While softening our self-centered focus is typically considered a benefit of Buddhist meditation, the negative experience of some offers insight into the challenges of isolating Buddhist meditation from a more comprehensive path of Buddhist teachings.

Understanding Compassion

Studies connect Buddhist compassion practices to increased empathy, happiness and reduced reactivity to stress. Compassion meditation reduces fear response even outside of meditation, suggesting the changes that take place during meditation are long-lasting.

Spiritual Growth

We may not yet be able to scan one’s brain for signs of enlightenment, but there are marked differences in the brains of lifelong meditators. The real reward of Buddhist meditation is unshakable happiness. But this is not exclusive to Buddhism. Spirituality, as defined by a connection to something greater than oneself, is a significant predictor of happiness and wellbeing.

buddhist meditation, The Power of Buddhist Meditation: A Guide to Inner Peace and Happiness

The Role of Mindfulness in Buddhist Meditation

Mindfulness is not exclusive to Buddhist practice, but for Buddhists, mindfulness is both the path and the goal. Buddhist meditations use ever-deepening mindfulness to cultivate both wisdom and compassion. At the pinnacle of the two is total freedom from our suffering.

The Buddha taught the four foundations of mindfulness as instruction on where to place our focus during meditation. They are also a preview of the insights available to practitioners.

  • Mindfulness of The Body: We begin by familiarizing ourselves with sensation, as perceived through the body. What’s actually happening, in this one moment?
  • Mindfulness of Feelings: We notice the vedic tones of pleasant, unpleasant and neutral that we apply to our experience. Do these labels trigger craving, aversion, or indifference?
  • Mindfulness of the Mind: Based on the experience of the body and the label we’ve given it, how does the mind react? What emotions or states of mind are present, and is it beneficial?
  • Mindfulness of the Dharma: At the deepest levels of mindfulness, we become aware of how our perceptions color our world. Thus to change our world, we only need to change our minds. This transformative experience of mindfulness is not exclusive to Buddhists. Although for Buddhists, it represents the entirety of the Buddha’s teachings.

Tips to Beginners For Effective Buddhist Meditation

Buddhist meditation techniques for beginners include shamata, mindfulness of breath, mindfulness of the body, compassion practices, and even some analytical practices such as leisure and fortune. Beginners should keep the following tips in mind when practicing Buddhist meditation:

  • Follow a Guide: Guided meditation is helpful for beginners, but so too is finding the right teacher. If you’re interested in meditation as part of a spiritual path, it helps to find a skilled teacher you can go to with questions or for support when problems arise.
  • Practice Balance: Those new to meditation should practice with patience, balancing effort with ease. Begin by meditating for 5-15 minutes daily, then see if you can’t expand your sessions slowly every few weeks. Consistency is more beneficial than duration.
  • Find a Community: Sangha, or a community of fellow practitioners, is a critical means of support along the Buddhist path. Meditating in a community group, either online or in person, is especially helpful for beginners.
  • Set an Intention and Close with a Dedication: Many Buddhists will begin each meditation practice by bringing to mind their reasons for meditating, to free themselves (and others) of pain and suffering. They will close their practice by dedicating their efforts to the benefit of all beings.

Buddhist Meditation FAQs

Is meditation Buddhist?

Not every style of meditation is Buddhist. Some types of meditation have Buddhist origins, while others don’t.

Which types of meditation are Buddhist?

What makes a meditation Buddhist is whether or not it is practiced by Buddhists. There are several different schools of Buddhism. Within each school, many styles of meditation are practiced. These include mindfulness meditations, concentration practices, analytical meditations, and heart-opening compassion practices.

Do you have to be Buddhist to meditate?

You don’t have to be Buddhist to meditate. It’s possible to practice a meditation of Buddhist origin (such as metta meditation) without being a Buddhist, just as it’s possible to pray without having any religious affiliation.

Is mindfulness Buddhist?

Mindfulness is not Buddhist, although the Buddha did talk about mindfulness. More specifically, the Buddha talked about sati, which is often translated as mindfulness, but also can mean ‘to remember.’

Is Buddhist meditation safe?

Buddhist meditation is safest when taught by a skilled, compassionate teacher. Any and all forms of meditation can lead to adverse experiences if, when we turn our attention inward, we find unresolved trauma, or if we practice too intensely or without the proper guidance.

How do you practice Buddhist meditation?

To begin practicing Buddhist meditation, find a trusted resource for guided meditation. You can find a Buddhist meditation teacher online or within your local Buddhist community.


Meditation is an important part of the Buddhist path, as it sets the foundation for a mind that’s capable of experiencing deep wisdom and compassion. When we live with greater clarity and care, we experience more peace and happiness. 

There’s no need to be Buddhist to meditate and enjoy these benefits. Anyone can practice deepening mindfulness and opening their hearts for a life that’s full of joy and ease.

About the author 

Sara-Mai Conway

Sara-Mai Conway is a writer, yoga and meditation instructor living and working in Baja Sur, Mexico. In addition to online offerings, she teaches donation-based community classes in her tiny, off-grid hometown on the Pacific coast. She is a certified 500-hour Remedial Yoga and Applied Mindfulness Advanced teacher with Bodhi Yoga Spain under the Independent Yoga Network (UK).