A reader wrote in via our newsletter today and asked a great question: What is the purpose of meditation in Buddhism and in general?
There are many different reasons why people meditate, and today meditation is a highly unique thing. It can be applied to health, happiness, work life, athletic performance, and of course spiritual development.
Without the doubt the purpose of meditation has changed since the times of Buddha. Originally, when Buddha taught meditation he taught it as a way to help monks follow the principle of dharma (the teachings of Buddha) and to achieve enlightenment (the highest point to which a person can ascend, spiritually speaking).
Recently, however, we have come to see meditation in an all new light. Every year there are numerous scientific studies into the benefits of meditation.
As we learn about meditation we begin to realise that it is a powerful tool for health and healing, as well as for general happiness. And so, the purpose of meditation has changed from its Buddhist roots into something much more holistic: a tool for health.
Today, if you ask me what is the purpose of meditation, I’d say it completely depends on the person who is using it. It can be used for health, happiness, spiritual development and many other reasons. What you get out of meditation will be dependent on who you are, what you are looking for, and the types of meditation you practise.
So instead of asking what the purpose of meditation is universally, ask what the point of meditation is for you as a unique individual.
To help you find your personal reason for meditating, here are some of the many ways in which meditation can help you, and the ways in which meditation has been used up to now.
The Purposes of Meditation, From Buddhism To Health, & Why People Meditate
The Purpose of Meditation in Buddhism
In Buddhism, as in many other religions, it is believed that the mind should be purified and made “correct” in accordance to the beliefs of that religion.
Buddhism advocates living a compassionate life in accordance with the dharma (Buddha’s teachings) and, for the advanced monk, achieving enlightenment.
Buddhist dharma (1) includes the Four Noble Truth, and the Noble Eightfold Path, which are principles for enlightened living. Practicing meditation helps us to live true to these principles.
The purpose of meditation in Buddhism is also to help the individual to understand and control the mind. Techniques like Vipassana (mindfully observing the mind) help us to understand how the mind works so that we gain more self control and discipline. This means controlling things like anger and hate and cultivating the brahmavihārās (sublime states), such as Metta (Loving Kindness) and Karuna (Compassion) among other things.
And so, the ultimate purpose of meditation in Buddhism is to train the mind to follow dharma on the path to enlightenment.
The Purpose of Meditation For Me Personally
To give you an idea of the many reasons why people meditate, I thought I would share my own reasons.
I personally meditate in order to clear my mind, to create positive emotions, and to reduce the impact of negative states of mind like stress and anxiety.
As many people do, I live a busy life that is constantly full of noise and stress. We’re talking high work hours, information overload from watching TV and being on social media, and the regular pressures a person faces. If I did not meditate, my mind would gradually become full of thoughts. Those thoughts would make it impossible for me to be clear-headed. And ultimately, I would be stressed and anxious and would not be happy nor productive.
Meditation clears my mind so I can relax, be productive, be happy, and enjoy life. And I believe that is one of the main reasons why people meditate.
Meditation in Health & Healing
Another key reason why people meditate is for health and healing. There has been significant research all around the world that proves that meditation is a powerful tool when it comes to healing both the mind and body.
As we continue to research meditation, we are learning that it can help with all manner of health problems. These range from mental health problems like anxiety and stress, to physical health problems like arthritis and headaches, even to serious illnesses like cancer and heart disease. And in almost all cases it appears that meditation does indeed offer benefit to the practitioner, regardless of the ailment they are trying to cure.
As we continue into the 2020s, you can fully expect meditation to become an integral part of healthcare. When that happens, we will likely consider the main purpose of meditation to be for healing.
The Point of Meditation For Healthy Non-Spiritualists
If you don’t need to heal and you’re not spiritual you might wonder what the point in meditation is for you. And the answer may be self-improvement.
Not only can meditation help to heal certain illness, it can also help us to live at peak condition. This applies to both physical health and mental health.
On the physical health side: Meditation has been shown to improve stamina, to help athletes to perform better, to improve reaction times, and to increase concentration. Those are some of the reasons why famous athletes like Bianca Andreescu (tennis player), Klay Thompson (NBA), and Tom Brady (NFL) meditate.
As well as improving physical health, another reason why people meditate is for mental health. To be our best, we need to keep the mind in peak condition. Some of the ways meditation helps with this are:
- It improves focus and concentration
- It boosts positivity and happiness
- It increases motivation (*If you use the correct technique)
- It increase emotional intelligence
- It even literally makes your brain bigger (2).
Yes, There Are Lots of Reasons Why People Meditate!
I hope by now I’ve illustrated just how many reasons there are to meditate. The exact reason why people meditate is a very personal thing. My reasons are likely different to your own.
And with that in mind, I’d love to ask you a question: Why do you meditate?
Let me know in a comment below, and remember to subscribe.