Ultimate Guide To Buddhist Meditation Techniques For Beginners

buddhist meditation for beginners

There are lots of different Buddhist meditation techniques for beginners. And each has its own benefits. When you use these meditations, you will learn to understand and control your mind. 

The purpose of meditation in Buddhism, according to Kamalashila [12th Abbot of Nalanda University], is to create a calm, luminous mind and to reach enlightenment. [READ: How To Become Enlightened]

But most of us aren’t concerned with reaching enlightenment. We just want health and happiness. And indeed, that’s why today most people stick to basic Buddhist meditations. Beginners, for instance, can quite quickly start doing a method like Anapanasati Meditation. 

Simple methods are helpful for relaxation. And you don’t need much training to get started. However, the philosophy behind these techniques is quite astonishing. So, let’s take a look.   

Buddhist Meditation For Beginners VIDEO

Buddhist Meditations for Beginners: Techniques You Need To Know

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Best Buddhist Meditation Techniques For Beginners  

In this list of Buddhist meditation techniques, beginners can find everything from breathing techniques to mantras and mudras. I suggest trying all these methods to find the best ones for you.

Note that I have shared the general descriptions of the following Buddhist meditation techniques. As Indologist Johannes Bronkhorst states, the early teachings of the Buddha were full of contradictions. Because of this, various schools of Buddhism teach meditation differently. Hence, you might have read slightly different instructions for some of these techniques. 

1: Mindful Breathing (simple Buddhist meditation for beginners)

If you want to learn how to meditate like a Buddhist, start with mindful breathing. It is one of the most basic Buddhist meditation practices. And it cultivates mental control.  

One of the essential skills in Buddhist meditation for beginners to learn is to maintain control of your conscious awareness. In other words, be mindful of what you are focusing on.  

Therefore, the best type of Buddhist meditation for beginners is mindful breathing.

The purpose of breathing meditations (in Buddhism at least) is to create what Buddha called “equanimity”. In other words, mental calmness. With breathing meditations, beginners can stay in control and maintain focus. This will help you to relax.

In Buddhist meditation, breathing acts as an anchor. We focus on the breath to stop the mind from wandering. 

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh said,

“Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”

When we feel our focus slipping away, we draw attention back to the breath. This keeps our consciousness anchored so our minds stay in place.

In mindful breathing we observe the breath moving through the body. In the Anapanasati Sutta [1], Buddha said, “He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to the entire body. ‘ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to the entire body.” So, when you practise breathing meditations, be conscious of your entire body. 

From science, we know that there are significant benefits of Buddhist breathing meditation. According to research from Harvard Medical School, mindful breathing reduces amygdala activity, balances cortisol, reduces sympathetic nervous system activity, and promotes the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system. All of this produces calmness. 

Instructions

  1. Sit cross-legged on the floor if you can do so comfortably. Otherwise, kneel or use a chair. Sit with a straight but relaxed spine. Slightly lower your chin to elongate your neck. Place the tip of your tongue lightly against your hard palate.  
  2. Begin to focus on your breathing. Observe the passage of your breath in through your nose, down to your diaphragm, and out through your mouth or nose.
  3. When you reach the end of an exhale, allow the next breath to come naturally without being forced.
  4.  Inevitably you will experience thoughts and feelings. Simply observe these thoughts and feelings coming and going. You may like to label them, “Thought” and “Feeling”.
  5. Continue for twenty minutes. 

2. Anapanasati 

One of the best Buddhist meditations for beginners is “Anapanasati”. This is a technical form of mindful breathing mostly used in Theravada, Tiantai and Chan Buddhism. When we practice this technique, we focus the mind on the breath. We then notice when the mind wanders. Finally, we meditate on the feeling of calmness. According to the Ānāpānasati Sutta, this creates inner peace.

When I meditate just on my breath, my mind becomes still, and I experience inner eace

3: Buddhist mindfulness for beginners

Losing your mind is not funny unless Jim Carrey is doing it. Buddhists use mindfulness to maintain a conscious awareness of the processes of the mind. [READ: Getting Started With Mindfulness]

One of the most important meditation techniques for beginners is Buddhist mindfulness meditation. This helps the mind to stay in the moment. And it will help you focus. Plus, it’s an excellent way of removing stress and relaxing.

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When we practice mindfulness, we observe the present moment in a non-judgmental fashion. In the book “Mindfulness For Dummies”, Shamash Alidina says, “In mindfulness, acceptance always comes first, change comes after.”

Acceptance always comes first. Change comes after.

At its core, mindfulness is about accepting the present moment. It is about living in the now. 

According to the Buddhist tradition, the two core components of mindfulness are Sati (mindfulness itself) and Satipatthana (Establishment of Mindfulness). Buddha explains in the Pali Satipatthana Sutta that the four foundations of mindfulness are:

  • mindfulness of body
  • being mindful of feelings (vedana)
  • mindfulness of mind (citta)
  • being mindful of phenomena (dhammas).

Read the link at the top of this section to learn more about Buddhist mindfulness.

4: Zazen—Buddhist meditation in the Zen tradition

Zen is a Japanese school of Mahayana Buddhism. It is closely related to Taoism. There are many excellent Zen Buddhist meditations for beginners to learn. They range from traditional seated meditation (Zazen) to Zen walking (“kinhin”). 

According to Brad Warner, the author of How To Sit Zazen, the aim of Zazen is to just sit in a non-judgmental fashion. We should be mindful of the present moment. And we should let thoughts and feelings come and go without judgment, and without attachment.  

If you would like to try this, read my Zen meditation techniques tutorial.

When sitting, sit

5: Zen Walking (Kinhin)

You love walking, right? I know I do. But, grasshopper, do you know what is better than plain old walking? Zen Walking.

This is one of the most relaxing types of Buddhist meditations for beginners. With Zen Walking, you focus your mind on the process of walking.

Now, you might be thinking, “Why would I want to do that”. Actually, there are lots of reasons.

Research by Michigan State University shows that Zen walking makes us more conscious of the body and of movement. It heightens your awareness of your actions, which leads to increased self-control. Plus, it is a gentle form of exercise, particularly for the elderly and for people with minor mobility problems.

Also, consider the amount of time you spend walking. Probably a lot, right? Now imagine if you were mindful every time you walked. That would be a major boost to your overall levels of mindfulness, wouldn’t it? That’s why walking meditation is such a good choice. 

Research by Gotink et al. (2016) shows that mindful walking reduces stress and regulates mood. It is best when combined with Forest Bathing (Japanese Shinrin Yoku). 

6: Vipassana

Buddhist meditation techniques cultivate insight into the workings of the mind. And one of the most insightful techniques is Vipassana. This is the practice of observing and labelling what goes through the mind. For instance, if we hear something, we label it “sound”. Or if we feel something we label it “sensation”. Labelling in this way helps us to understand the nature of existence. Plus, it makes us less reactive to thoughts and feelings.

Buddhist website LionsRoar defines Vipassana as “the practice of continued close attention to sensation, through which one ultimately sees the true nature of things.” And Robert Buswell [a scholar of Korean Buddhism and Chinese Buddhism] states that Vipassana helps us to perceive the three marks of existence in the Theravada tradition. They are:

  • Anicca “impermanence”
  • Dukkha “suffering, unsatisfactoriness”
  • Anattā “non-self”. 

Ultimately, this is the best method for insight and non-reactivity.

7: Loving Kindness

In An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices by Cambridge University Press, Peter Harvey states that this is one of the most popular Buddhist meditation techniques for beginners.  

You may have heard about loving kindness (Metta). Many meditation teachers like Sharon Salzberg teach this method. It is one of the best Buddhist meditation techniques for beginners. Why? Because it cultivates love and compassion.

Kindness is one of the Brahma-viharas (sublime attitudes), along with Karuna (Compassion). And it is one of the “ten perfections” or “Paramis”, which are the ideal character traits that Buddhists develop via meditation. 

Research by Barbara Frederickson (Fredrickson, Cohn, Coffey, Pek, & Finkel, 2008) shows that just seven weeks of Loving Kindness Meditation increases love, joy, contentment, gratitude, pride, hope, interest, amusement, and awe. Plus, a study by Kok et al (2013) showed that Metta increases positive emotions and reduces negative emotions. Overall, this improves vagal tone – a physiological marker of well-being.

Nothing on this Earth is more important, or more valuable, than human compassion

 

8: Samatha

Samatha is concentration meditation. It is usually performed after Anapanasati.

The difference with Samatha is that it involves focusing the mind absolutely on one thing. In contrast, most other forms of Buddhist meditation involve generally focusing on one thing while also being aware of thoughts and feelings or using visualizations.

When we do Samatha we focus absolutely on one object. In turn, this develops our concentration. 

 

Daily Buddhist Meditation For Beginners 

We are now familiar with the different types of Buddhist meditation techniques. Beginners might like to put all that knowledge into practice with a daily Buddhist meditation plan.

Here is the plan that I recommend.  

WEEK 1: 

Commitment is the most important part of Buddhist meditation for beginners. Commit to daily practice.

In the first week, only do the simplest technique. That is, breathing meditation. This is the easiest Buddhist meditation for beginners. Take twenty minutes each day to sit and focus your mind on your breathing. This will quieten your mind and enhance your focus.

Choose a time each day when you can focus on your breath for twenty minutes. Do not focus on results during this time. Simply aim to do twenty minutes of mindful breathing each day.

WEEK 2:               

In the second week, continue your breathing practice. Meanwhile, also do slightly more advanced Buddhist meditation techniques. For instance, Zen Walking.

Obviously, more meditation demands more time. And you might be busy. For this reason, I recommend practising Zen walking while on your way somewhere. If you are going to work, for instance, choose a safe path to walk and leave a little earlier than usual. This will give you time to practice zen walking while you are on your way to work (which saves time).

You may practice Zen walking anywhere safe. On your next walk, go a safe route and meditate while you walk. If you do it in a relaxing natural environment, you also get some Shinrin-Yoku (Forest Bathing). 

 

WEEK 3:

 In the third week, begin to use meditation in everyday life. Mindfulness is key. We can practice mindfulness while doing anything. Say, for instance, you are doing the dishes. You can meditate on the process of cleaning, thus practising while you work.

You can equally practice while exercising, showering, and doing other simple tasks. By practising mindfulness meditation while you work, you are learning to adopt a meditative style of living, rather than simply practising at specific times. Plus, it saves time.

WEEK 4:

 In this final week, add Anapanasati, Samatha, and Vipassana. Do one of these methods each day for twenty minutes. 

By week four, your schedule will look like this:

  1. Practice 20 minutes of mindful breathing per day
  2. Practise mindfulness in everyday life. 
  3. Do Zen Walking while en route somewhere.
  4. 20 minutes of formal meditation per day doing either Anapanasati, Samatha, or Vipassana. 
  5. And there you are, the complete Buddhist meditation plan for beginners. Follow this path, and you will soon know the meaning of Om Mani Padme Hum.

 

The Purpose of Buddhist Meditation Techniques

 

If you’re interested in following the true Buddhist path and not just meditation, you should know that according to the tradition of Buddhism, meditation techniques should be preceded by certain training. 

Tibetologist Tilmann Vetter says that before meditating monks would learn the Noble Eightfold Path. That is, right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right samadhi (absorption).

In Buddhism, meditation is called Bhavana or Jnana. Buddhists use Jhana to cultivate qualities of mind:

  • equanimity and sati (mindfulness),
  • samadhi (concentration),
  • samatha (tranquillity),
  • vipassanā (insight),
  • abhijñā (supramundane powers). 

They achieve this principally through four categories of meditation: 

  • asubha bhavana (“reflections on repulsiveness”),
  • reflection on pratityasamutpada (dependent origination),
  • sati (mindfulness),
  • anussati (recollections). 

Buddha said,

“Meditation brings wisdom; lack of meditation leaves ignorance.” Hence, by practising Buddhist meditation, beginners can learn about the processes of the mind. And once you understand how your mind works, you will be able to live a happy life with less stress and less anxiety.   

Ultimately, Buddhist meditation techniques are used to develop the Seven Factors of Enlightenment:

  • sati (mindfulness)
  • dhamma vicaya (analysis)
  • viriya (persistence)
  • pīti (rapture)
  • passaddhi (serenity),
  • samadhi (concentration),
  • and release from suffering (dukkha).

That said, even within Buddhism, masters describe the benefits of Buddhist meditation differently. 

  •  The 17th Karmapa said that by meditating we awaken a mind of wisdom and compassion.  
  • Ajahn Chah (Meditation master) described the mind as a pool. Meditation quietens the mind. “Many wonderful and rare animals will come to drink at the pool, but you will be still,” he said.   
  • Pema Chodron says that meditation leads to attention, clarity, courage, and steadfastness.
  • And Buddha taught meditation for enlightenment.  

As you try the methods below, notice how they teach you about your mind and about yourself. 

As well as these Buddhist meditations, beginners might like to read my guide to 31 different meditation styles and traditions. 

Benefits of Buddhist Meditation Techniques

Scientific research (including that from Biomed Research International) is increasingly finding benefits of Buddhist meditation techniques.

Likely the most well-known benefit of Buddhist meditation techniques is relaxation. Relaxation is vital because it helps with stress, anxiety, and depression.

Buddhist meditation techniques stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system. This leads to feelings of wellness. Plus, they balance noradrenaline, a hormone released by the adrenal medulla and sympathetic nerves that acts as a neurotransmitter and causes rises in blood pressure. Hence why Buddhist meditation balances blood pressure.

Daily Buddhist meditation provides insight. We learn about thoughts, feelings, and mental phenomena. As has been noted by Vipassana master S. N. Goenka, “, “If you learn the art of observing the reality within yourself it will become so clear at the experiential level that the real reason for anger [and other emotions] lies within and not outside”. 

When we are educated about the mind, we gain control. In turn, this leads to less anger and less stress.

Different types of Buddhist meditation benefit us in different ways.

Each Buddhist meditation technique has unique benefits. Indeed, Buddha created each method for a reason.

For instance, Metta (Loving Kindness) and Karuna (Compassion) lead to positive feelings about other people, trust, and social connection. Meanwhile, methods like Samatha and Vipassana increase our focus and concentration. Plus, they make us less reactive to distractions.

Non-reactivity is a large part of Buddhism. Meditation techniques make us less reactive to internal and external stimuli. This cultivates inner peace.

In Practicing The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle said that all suffering is reaction. It is seeing what is and then reacting to it with emotions like desire, anger, or hate. That is what causes suffering. Meditation reduces reactions.

Beginners Buddhist Meditation techniques increase mindfulness, which is the non-judgmental acceptance of present-moment reality. In other words, they make us non-reactive. 

Ultimately, meditation reduces suffering.

Indeed, Buddha himself said, “I teach one thing and one thing only, suffering and the end of suffering”. (Note that although this quote, supposedly from the Pali canon, is believed by experts such as Bodhisattva (WildMind) to be a misreading. Either way, I believe it adequately summarizes the purpose of Buddhist meditation techniques).

Summary

With the plan above, you can use all the best types of beginners Buddhist meditation techniques effectively. Naturally, feel free to add to the plan if you like.

Who knows, eventually you might become such an advanced meditator that you return as an enlightened Buddhist, having lived to 200 in Tukdam state with a Rainbow body.

And just in case you’re wondering how popular Buddhist meditation techniques are, take a look at this list of famous Buddhist celebrities!

Got a question? Want more advice? Book an online meditation lesson with me today.

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By Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a qualified meditation teacher and writer with more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University. Paul has helped thousands of people to discover their true potential through mindfulness, yoga and meditation.

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