As Buddhist meditation and philosophy spread throughout the East many hundreds of years ago, they acquired the flavors of the lands where they took root. Today, when you look at some of the Buddhist meditation techniques of Japan, Indochina, Sri Lanka and Tibet, for example, there are certainly similarities, but there are also some notable differences.
Many of the Tibetan Buddhist meditation techniques include visualization practices. In these practices meditators look to develop positive qualities such as compassion and goodwill by re-imagining themselves and/or others as fully benevolent beings and the environment as a pure, heavenly realm. Usually a mantra will be associated with the visualization as an expression of pure sound or speech.
When compared with, say, the quietude of mindfulness practice or the straightforward rigors of Zen, the colorful and somewhat elaborate Tibetan Buddhist meditation exercises may seem like another spiritual path entirely. But if the means are indeed quite distinctive, the end goal is the same. The objective, in Buddhism and certain other spiritual disciplines, is to attain lasting well-being by stabilizing and training the mind rather than by putting all one’s of energy into securing a situation (job, health, relationships, things) that is subject to change and difficult to control. This end goal is where the philosophy of Buddhism and the practice of meditation meet, whatever form the meditation may take.
A quick and simple Tibetan Buddhist meditation
For a taste of Tibetan Buddhist practice, this simple Tibetan Buddhist meditation focuses on the wise and loving presence of the Buddha himself. It is adapted from a meditation presented in the book The Path to Awakening by the late Tibetan meditation master Shamar Rinpoche.
It’s helpful to use the figure of the Buddha—an image or a statue—to support your meditation.
- First, sit in a comfortable and proper meditation posture, either on a cushion or a chair.
- Spend a few minutes settling and tuning in to what it feels like to be present in your body and your space.
- As clearly as possible, imagine that the Buddha is sitting in front of and above you on a precious golden throne or seat. Behind him is a Tree of Awakening: a bodhi tree.
- Imagine that his body is golden and radiant. He gazes upon you with boundless love and compassion.
- Try to visualize the Buddha in detail: the throne, seated posture, robes, hands, torso, head and so on. Imagine his kindly smile, his beautiful eyes and loving gaze. It’s as if his love were substantial, as if it poured out of him in the form of a golden light that touches you and all beings with kindness and grace.
- If you can sustain the visualization, you might include as many living beings as you can imagine in your practice. But if that’s too difficult, you can also simply focus on receiving the golden light yourself.
- As the light fills your body and heart, you experience a sense of perfect plenitude and well-being. This gives you confidence in the Buddha’s qualities and goodness.
- Towards the end of your meditation, the Buddha dissolves into light and this light dissolves into you.
At this point you can either continue to meditate with basic mindfulness practice, without a specific meditation object, or end your session.
As you can see, this kind of meditation, even super simplified, is distinctly more elaborate than mindfulness or awareness practice. The idea is to harness the mind’s creativity to imagine the qualities of a Buddha as if they were up close and personal. By doing this, maybe some of those qualities—infinite love, kindness and wisdom—will rub off!