In this article, we discuss different types of meditation, including Vipassanā meditation, transcendental meditation, and Buddhist meditation—all different streams of the Eastern meditation tradition. Our meditation bench may prove helpful to you in pursuing these practices.
Vipassanā meditation, transcendental meditation, and Buddhist meditation are part of an Eastern tradition that has long fascinated Westerners. Eastern practices became particularly visible and popular in the Western world after World War II, reaching their peak in the 1960s. The war had brought trauma, as war does—and World War II introduced the particular horror of nuclear weapons and their effects. This combined with a restlessness in Western culture that led many people to try to find peace of mind, a sense of connection with the earth and with themselves, and sometimes a sense of the divine in practices beyond those of traditional Western religious forms. The East seemed to hold answers—or at least promises.
One of the promises it has definitely kept regards the benefits of meditation. It’s the work of a lifetime to explore all the styles and forms of meditation that come from different Eastern spiritual lineages, but we’re going to try to give you a sense here of the characters and practices of Vipassana meditation, transcendental meditation, and Buddhist meditation. These three well-known and popular forms are complemented in their practice by the use of our meditation bench, which is designed to help align the body properly for meditation practice.
Vipassanā meditation is an element common to all traditions of Buddhism. Vipassanā, a word in the Pali language, translates roughly in English as “insight” or “deep-seeing.” This emphasizes the importance of clarity of mind to this sort of meditation. Like most meditation practices, Vipassanā requires mindful breathing. It also encourages the practitioner to think about impermanence—to think of how temporary and ephemeral life is. We may observe how each breath rises and falls and fades away, for example. The impermanence of life is one of the basic tenets of Buddhism. Mindful breathing and contemplation allow us to move toward a sort of peaceful, relaxed detachment from many of the things in life that stress or anger us. This practice also encourages us to be aware of the present moment and live in it. There are many online resources for those wishing to investigate this tradition; a good place to start may be this newspaper article.
Transcendental meditation refers to a style of meditation developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and introduced to Western practitioners in the 1950s. Transcendental meditation, known as TM, is a form of silent mantra meditation. It is rooted in ancient Indian Vedic traditions, and is among the most popular meditation techniques in the world. TM is often what many of us think of when we think of “meditating” It involves sitting for fifteen to 20 minutes—whether on a floor, a meditation pillow (a zafu), or a meditation bench—closing one’s eyes, and chanting a mantra. It is recommended that the practice be undertaken twice a day. TM is taught around the world, and, like all meditation practice, it is meant to deepen with time and dedication. More information about TM may be found here.
Buddhist meditation is a more general term that refers to any type of meditation within the traditions of Buddhism. Vipassanā is one type of meditation that is universal within Buddhist practice, but there are others that vary according to lineage. Along with vipassanā, meditation in Buddhism is an aid to the development of sati (usually translated as mindfulness), samadhi (concentration), abhijñā (extraordinary, almost supernatural knowledge), and samatha (tranquility). Buddhism has a long history, and many complex traditions and lineages within in. It’s the work of a lifetime to learn deeply about Buddhism and Buddhist meditation. Some basics may be found here.
Different people meditate in different ways for different reasons. Whether you connect meditation to a spiritual practice, or simply see it as a tool for centring and focusing the self, knowing a bit about the different histories and styles of meditation is always interesting, and may help you discover techniques and approaches that will be helpful to you in your practice.