Samatha meditation, practiced by Buddhist monks is a renowned technique of meditation. It is often considered equivalent to ‘peace of mind.’ Buddhism consists of various traditions, spiritual practices, and beliefs in order to reduce the sufferings of their lives. It uses techniques like meditation to preach the same and help people to calm and feel the peace within. According to Buddhism, continuous practice of meditation develops two distinct mental qualities – Samatha and Vipassana, where Samatha leads to ‘calmness’ and Vipassana to ‘insight.’
In this blog, we would deeply dig into the concept of calmness, i.e., Samatha meditation, its technique, and how to practice Samatha meditation.
What is Samatha Meditation?
Samatha meditation is one of the techniques to train the mind to develop a state of peace and better focus and hence mindfulness. Samatha is derived from ‘Shama’ meaning ‘peace’ and ‘tha’ meaning ‘to remain’. Hence, Samatha sums up to remain at peace. It relaxes the mind and body by bringing clarity of thoughts. It is also called ‘Zhi’ in Chinese and ‘Shyine’ in Tibet meaning the same.
Origin Of Samatha
The origin of Samatha meditation lies in ancient India near about 6th and 4th century BC known as Sramana tradition. The followers of Buddhism played an important role in spreading it in most parts of Asia. It was introduced in England in 1962 by a Thai meditation teacher – Nai Boonman. Although all Buddhism schools practice it, the Theravada Buddhist tradition favors it more as compared to others. Theravada Buddhism comprises various traditions and many theories leading to awakening.
Samatha Meditation vs Vipassana Meditation
The sole purpose of Samatha meditation is to stabilize the mind by bringing awareness. In other words, it can be said that Samatha brings the distracted mind into being more concentrated. It makes one more aware and sensible towards the situations that are encountered in the journey of life. It opens the doors to wisdom. Samatha is also popular as Jhana meditation. There are two ways to practice Samatha meditation – one with an object and second without an object and implies the concept of single – point meditation.
Talking about Vipassana, the crux of the meditation aims to achieve ‘insight.’ This meditation technique is a practice that helps one to see things in its actual form or the real form. It aims at clearing all the mental impurities present in oneself and resulting in ultimate happiness. It can be considered as a self-exploratory technique resulting in a balanced mind. According to many Buddhist traditions, in order to reach Vipassana, one must first practice Samatha. Precisely, Samatha can be considered as a precursor for Vipassana.
Samatha Meditation – The Technique
There are many traditional ways to practice Samatha like – the seven-point position, the body sensitive position, and breathing meditations.
The Seven-Point Position
- This practice brings our energetic body and physical body into alignment.
- Sit on the floor and cross your legs.
- Rest your hands on your knees
- Try to keep your back straight and relax your shoulders.
- Slightly lower your head.
- Rest your tongue on the roof of your mouth, open your mouth a bit.
- Keep your eyes open and focus on the distance equivalent to four fingers from the nose tip.
A Body Sensitive position
- Sit on a chair. You can even lie down or stand, and there is no boundation.
- Relax your hands in the most comfortable position.
- Keep your back straight.
- Relax your shoulders and chest open.
- Rest your head at the most comfortable level
- You can either keep your eyes open or closed
- Try to be in this position for as long as you can
The Breathing Meditation
The most common way to practice is taught by Gautam Buddha. The process starts with ‘concentrated breathing’ also known as ‘Anapanasati.’ The following steps direct on how to perform breathing meditation:
- Sit in a comfortable position or your normal position (be it on floor, chair or bed)
- Straighten your back and try to keep your spinal cord upright.
- Relax your body starting from your shoulders to your face and then hands and legs.
- Slightly bend your head and chin a bit towards inside.
- Focus your mind on the rhythm of breathing that is inhaling and exhaling.
If the mind is lost and is unable to concentrate, then slowly bring it back to focus on the flow of breath. Feel the flow of your breathing.
There is also another way of breathing meditation that involves Buddha. Here, Buddha means to enlighten and to awake, so by reciting the word ‘Buddho’ the said characteristics are aimed to be achieved. The technique is simple. While inhaling, recite ‘Bud’ and while exhaling, recite ‘dho.’
The Stages of Samatha
According to Theravada Buddhism, Samatha process involves five stages of joy which depict renunciation of five obstacles that helps in the attainment of complete focus. These fives stages are described as follows:
- Slight Joy – The first stage that raises the hair of the body.
- Momentary Joy – It arises fleetingly for repeated times flashes of lightning.
- Showering Joy – It washes over your body like waves for repeatedly some time and then subsides.
- Uplifting Joy – During this stage, one feels sensations of lifting one’s body into the air.
- Suffusing Joy – As the name suggests, it permeates through the whole body touching every part which signals ‘access concentration’.
Samatha slowly leads to an increase in concentration and calmness of mind. For first-timers, the mind will wander, and the practitioner would find difficulty in concentration. However, by keeping up the regularity, the obstacle could be conquered. It is said that once Samatha is achieved, then the next step towards Vipassana becomes easy.
In ancient times, the only way to learn and practice this technique was by going to monasteries and temples. But in today’s era, there are multiple means to learn Samatha meditation. The easiest one is online learning. You can either join an online course by professionals or go through the videos available on websites like YouTube. Another way is to visit a place, particularly a Buddhist school, monastery or a temple if you are keen to learn face to face.
Samatha Meditation is the first stage to reach enlightenment. It can be adopted in your daily routine to overcome anxiety and help you relax.