Shamatha means “peaceful abiding” or “tranquility.” Also called mindfulness or concentration meditation, shamatha is an important introductory practice that leads to the practice of vipashyana, or insight meditation.
The purpose of shamatha meditation is to stabilize the mind by cultivating a steady awareness of the object of meditation. The traditional practice of shamatha uses different kinds of supports or anchors for our practice. Eventually, this leads to practicing without supports and meditating on emptiness itself in an open awareness. For this particular practice, the instructions will be for shamatha meditation using the breath as the focus of our practice.
Shamatha meditation allows us to experience our mind as it is. When we practice shamatha, we are able to see that our mind is full of thoughts, some conducive to our happiness and further realization, and others not. It is not extraordinary that our minds are full of thoughts, and it is important to understand that it is natural to have so much happening in the mind.
Over time, practicing shamatha meditation calms our thoughts and emotions. We experience tranquility of mind and calmly abide with our thoughts as they are. Eventually, this leads to a decrease in unhelpful thoughts.
When we experience stable awareness, we are then ready to practice vipashyana, in which we develop insight into what “mind” is by investigating the nature of thoughts themselves. In the Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism, the ultimate goal is to practice calm abiding and insight in union, which opens the door to realizing the true nature of mind.
Traditionally, shamatha practice is taught through instructions on the physical body and then looking at the meditation instructions themselves.
The Seven-Point Posture
The seven-point posture of Vairochana is an ancient set of posture points that are said to align the physical body with our energetic body. The posture has been practiced for thousands of years by Hindu and Buddhist yogis. The seven points are:
Everyone meditates for their own reason. The Tibetan Buddhist teacher the 17th Karmapa says meditation awakens a trust that we are full of wisdom and compassion. Meditation can simply calm an excited mind and relax the body. Meditation master Ajahn Chah said,“As you meditate, your mind will get quieter and quieter, like a still forest pool. Many wonderful and rare animals will come to drink at the pool, but you will be still. This is the happiness of the Buddha.”
On the other hand, meditation fosters a wider awareness and can provoke profound realization. This process can help cut through unhelpful misconceptions and encourage a more open, compassionate relationship with yourself.
Additionally, we might meditate to specifically cultivate certain positive traits. Pema Chödrön lists five key qualities that emerge through meditation practice: steadfastness, clear seeing, courage, attention, and a sense of “no big deal.” Scientists have found that meditation can improve your attention, resilience, compassion, and relationships.
Ultimately, the Buddha taught meditation as an essential tool to achieve liberation from suffering.