Core meditation techniques have been preserved in ancient Buddhist texts and have proliferated and diversified through teacher-student transmissions. Buddhists pursue meditation as part of the path toward Enlightenment and Nirvana.[a] The closest words for meditation in the classical languages of Buddhism are bhāvanā[b] and jhāna/dhyāna.[c] Buddhist meditation techniques have become increasingly popular in the wider world, with many non-Buddhists taking them up for a variety of reasons.
Buddhist meditation encompasses a variety of meditation techniques that aim to develop sati (mindfulness), samadhi (concentration), abhijñā (supramundane powers), samatha (tranquility), and vipassanā (insight). Specific Buddhist meditation techniques have also been used to remove unwholesome qualities thought to be impediments to spiritual liberation, such loving kindness to remove ill-will, hate, and anger, equanimity to remove mental clinging, and patikulamanasikara (meditations on the parts of the body) and maraṇasati (meditation on death and corpses) to remove sensual lust for the body and cultivate impermanence (anicca). Given the large number and diversity of traditional Buddhist meditation practices, this article primarily identifies authoritative contextual frameworks—both contemporary and canonical—for the variety of practices. For those seeking school-specific meditation information, it may be more appropriate to simply view the articles listed in the "See also" section below.
While there are some similar meditative practices – such as breath meditation and various recollections (anussati) – that are used across Buddhist schools, there is also significant diversity. In the Theravada tradition alone, there are over fifty methods for developing mindfulness and forty for developing concentration, while in Tibetan Buddhism, there are thousands of visualization meditations.[d] Most classical and contemporary Buddhist meditation guides are school specific.[e] Only a few teachers attempt to synthesize, crystallize and categorize practices from multiple Buddhist traditions.
The two major traditions of meditative practice in pre-Buddhist India were the Jain ascetic practices and the various Vedic Brahmanical practices. There is still much debate in Buddhist studies regarding how much influence these two traditions had on the development of early Buddhist meditation. The early Buddhist texts mention that the Gautama trained under two teachers known as Āḷāra Kālāma and Uddaka Rāmaputta, both of them taught formless jhanas or mental absorptions, a key practice of proper Buddhist meditation. Alexander Wynne considers these figures historical persons associated with the doctrines of the early Upanishads. Other practices which the Buddha undertook have been associated with the Jain ascetic tradition by the Indologist Johannes Bronkhorst including extreme fasting and a forceful "meditation without breathing". According to the early texts, the Buddha rejected the more extreme Jain ascetic practices in favor of the middle way.
The earliest tradition of Buddhist practice is preserved in the nikāya/āgamas, and is adhered to by the Theravada lineage. It was also the focus of the other now-extinct early Buddhist schools, and has been incorporated to greater and lesser degrees into the Tibetan Buddhist tradition and many East Asian Mahayana traditions.
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