8 Best 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. 

I have witnessed firsthand how Buddhist meditation can change lives. And in this guide, I will teach you everything you need to know.

I personally teach all the main Buddhist meditations in my online meditation lessons. So let me show you the very best Buddhist meditations for beginners. 

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8 Best Buddhist Meditation Techniques For Beginners  

1: Mindful Breathing 

  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. Notice as your mind gradually becomes calmer. This is important. Indeed, the purpose of breathing meditations (in Buddhism at least) is to create what Buddha called “equanimity”. In other words, mental calmness. 
  3. When you reach the end of an exhale, allow the next breath to come naturally without being forced.
  4. Observe the entirety of your breath. 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. 
  5.  Inevitably you will experience thoughts and feelings. Simply observe these thoughts and feelings coming and going. You might like to label them, “Thought” and “Feeling”. Then return your mind to the breath.
  6. Continue for twenty minutes. 

This meditation has many benefits.

In Buddhist meditation, breathing acts as an anchor. We focus on the breath to stop the mind from wandering.  As Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh said, “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”  

It’s also good for mental health.

According to research from Harvard Medical School, mindful breathing exercises like this reduce amygdala activity, balance cortisol, reduce sympathetic nervous system activity, and promote the activity of the parasympathetic nervous system. All of this makes you feel calm.  Note that ww teach this method in our corporate meditation classes.

 

2. Anapanasati 

One of the best Buddhist meditation techniques 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. 

3: Buddhist mindfulness for beginners

Losing your mind is not funny unless Jim Carrey is doing it. But how can you keep control of your mind? By practising mindfulness. 

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

Mindfulness is based on two main concepts. The first is Sati, which is mindfulness itself. And the second is Satipatthana, which is the establishment of mindfulness. 

To establish mindfulness, we must be aware of the Four Foundations, which Buddha explained in the Pali Satipatthana Sutta.

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness are:

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

So, try to be mindful of those four things. And to learn more about mindfulness, visit the link at the top of this section. 

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 guide to Zen meditation techniques.

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. 

Plus, research by Gotink et al. (2016) shows that mindful walking reduces stress and regulates mood. And for even better results, you can combine it with Forest Bathing (Japanese Shinrin Yoku). 

6: Vipassana

One of the main benefits of Buddhist meditation for beginners is insight. You get to learn how your mind works. This is especially true of Vipassana. 

Vipassana is the practice of observing and labeling what goes through the mind. For instance, if we hear something, we label it “sound”. Or if we feel something we label it “sensation”. Labeling 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

This is one of the most popular Buddhist meditations for beginners according to Peter Harvey [1]. It also goes by the name Metta. It’s the type of meditation taught by famous teachers like Sharon Salzberg.   

You probably already guessed that we use this method to cultivate love and kindness. But why?

In Buddhism, 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.

Beyond this, loving kindness is really good for mental health.

Research by Barbara Frederickson [2] 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. 

8: Samatha

Samatha is a concentration meditation that is usually performed after Anapanasati.

In Samatha, we focus the mind absolutely on one thing. This is different to other Buddhist meditations, in which we loosely focus on one thing while also being aware of thoughts and feelings. 

 Note that you might have read slightly different versions of these 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.  

 

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: 

Start by committing to the practice.  

In the first week, only do the simplest technique. That is, breathing meditation. This is the easiest Buddhist meditation for beginners. Just take twenty minutes each day to sit and focus your mind on your breathing. You will find that this makes you feel more peaceful and also improves your concentration. 

WEEK 2:               

In the second week, continue your breathing practice. But also do a slightly more advanced Buddhist meditation technique.  

I recommend 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, start practising general mindfulness. 

We can practice mindfulness while doing anything. Say, for instance, you are doing the dishes. You can meditate on the process of cleaning, thus practicing while you work.

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

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 need to know the philosophy. According to traditional Buddhism, meditation techniques should be combined with other training.

Especially important is the Noble Eightfold Path, according to Tibetologist Tilmann Vetter. That is, right view, right resolve, right speech, right conduct, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right samadhi (absorption). 

You should also aim to create positive qualities of mind. Those are:  

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

To do this, you would practice the four different categories of meditation: 

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

And finally, you should use Buddhist meditation techniques to develop the Seven Factors of Enlightenment:

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

Benefits of Buddhist Meditation Techniques for Beginners

Scientific research continues to find more and more benefits of Buddhist meditation techniques.

For starters, there’s relaxation. 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 also leads to 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. 

Metta (Loving Kindness) and Karuna (Compassion) improve social connections. They make us feel more positively about other people and also help with trust.   

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 general, meditation reduces suffering. In the book 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. Therefore, it reduces suffering. Indeed, Buddha himself said, “I teach one thing and one thing only, suffering and the end of suffering”. 

And of course, Beginners’ Buddhist Meditation techniques increase mindfulness. They make us more aware, less judgmental, and more in the moment. 

Spiritual Benefits

Different masters have explained the benefits of meditation in these ways: 

  •  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. 

Summary

There are so many benefits of Buddhist meditation. You can use it to train your mind to be happier and healthier. And I am here to help. 

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

 

SOURCES

1: An Introduction to Buddhism: Teachings, History and Practices by Cambridge University Press, Peter Harvey

2: Barbara Frederickson, Fredrickson, Cohn, Coffey, Pek, & Finkel, 2008

By Paul Harrison

Paul Harrison is a passionate meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in meditation and mindfulness. He studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University. "My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation" - Paul Harrison

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