In this guide, we’ll discuss how to do Samatha meditation technique, and look at its many benefits.
You may have heard about this method from teachers like Pema Chodron and Jack Kornfield. It’s one of the most important of all Buddhist practices alongside Vipassana. It’s a “single-pointed meditation” that is one of the best meditations for concentration.
But more than that, it is also great for peacefulness and concentration, and it reduces reactivity to thoughts and emotions.
Let’s look at how to do Samatha meditation.
How To Do Samatha Meditation Technique (Script)
- [Optional] The best position for this exercise is the “Seven Point Posture of Vairochana”. To do this: Sit comfortably on the floor. Open your hip flexors gently and enter a cross-legged position. (If you find this position uncomfortable simply sit on a chair).
- I personally like to use Gyan mudra for Samatha. To do this, place your hands on your thighs with your palms facing upwards. Now place the tip of your thumbs lightly against the tip of your index finger. Allow the remaining fingers to be gently extended.
- Sit with a straight back so that your spine is elongated but relaxed. Tuck your chin down a little to elongate your neck. Gently open your mouth and rest your tongue on the roof of your mouth. Make sure your facial muscles are relaxed.
- Choose a length of time that you will for.
- Take a few deep breaths in through your nose. Watch as your breath moves through your nostrils, through your throat, and down into your diaphragm. This will help to stimulate your parasympathetic nervous system, reduce amygdala activity, reduce sympathetic nervous system activity, and balance cortisol. In turn, this will reduce stress and relax your mind.
- Now focus on your breath moving between your nostrils. This is the “one pointed focus” we talked about above.
- You will notice that while you focus on your breath, thoughts and feelings come to mind. You might experience mental chatter or “Monkey Mind”. Maybe you see certain images in your mind or feel certain emotions. This is normal. Allow these thoughts to flow freely through your mind. Do not attach to them.
- Some teachers recommend reciting “Om” while meditating. This is fine. But you should choose to focus on one thing. If you meditate on the breath, do not meditate on OM. If you meditate on OM, do not meditate on the breath. Remember, the purpose is “one pointed focus”.
- Always remember that the key is to observe the meditation object calmly.
Traditional Samatha meditation objects
Traditionally, Buddhists would practice Shamatha meditating on different objects. Many of these you will most definitely not want to meditate on. You’ll see what I mean!
I have included the list below simply for educational purposes. You might be surprised by some of the objects used in Samatha meditation!
The kasina are physical objects that you can directly meditate on. These are:
Ten kinds of Foulness:
These are ten meditations that involve meditating on decomposing corpses.
In the time of the Buddha, it was common for corpses to be disposed of in carnal grounds, which meant it was easy to find a corpse and meditate on it.
Today in Thailand, teachers advocate meditating on visions of your own body in various states of decay. Only advanced meditators should attempt this as it can be quite disturbing.
Ten kinds of Recollection (Anussati):
Anussati means “recollection,” “contemplation,” “remembrance,” “meditation” and “mindfulness.” These meditations involve devotional practices. For instance, recollecting the sublime qualities of the Buddha, and meditative attainment, such as the ability to recollect past lives.
- Recollection of the Buddha (the Enlightened One),
- Recollection of the Dhamma (the Law),
- Mindfulness occupied with the body,
- Recollection of the Sangha (the Community),
- Recollection of Virtue,
- Mindfulness of Breathing,
- Recollection of Generosity,
- Recollection of Deities,
Four Divine Abidings:
- Loving Kindness,
Four Immaterial States:
- The base consisting of boundless space,
- Base consisting of boundless consciousness,
- The base consisting of nothingness
- Base consisting of neither perception nor non-perception.
- The One Perception: The Perception of Repulsiveness in Nutriment.
- The One Defining: the defining of the Four Elements.
Modern Shamatha Meditation Technique
We can also practice Samatha in a modern way by focusing on a positive object.
- Focus on the breath for calming and centering.
- Meditate on running water for freedom and flow.
- Meditate on blue skies for liberation.
Basically, focus on a positive object. When we do this, we develop concentration. Plus, we absorb the positive quality of that object. That is the basis of this meditation.
You can choose to focus on any positive object you like.
Some of my personal favourite objects to meditate on are:
- the sky,
- my cats,
- my breath,
- positive mental qualities (like love and kindness)
- and nature.
Benefits of Samatha Meditation
1: Peacefulness & Focus
Samatha is all about cultivating a peaceful kind of concentration. Indeed, the word Samatha (Tibetan “shyiné”) is Pali for “Peaceful Abiding”.
“Peaceful abiding” is the Buddhist term used to describe a calm and clear mind. And this is essential.
Indeed, Buddhist monk Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche states that developing peaceful abiding is “the most important thing we can do… Peacefully abiding describes the mind as it naturally is. [The mind is] by nature joyous, calm, and clear.”  And Tibetan Buddhist scholar Jamgon Kongtrul says it’s about peace and pacification.
Good news. There is a reason Buddhists consider this technique so important. Because there are lots of benefits of Samatha meditation.
Like these benefits:
- Calms the mind
- Increases concentration
- Stops monkey mind
- Promotes joy
- Increases inner peace
- Helps to balance emotions
- Makes you more productive
- Helps you to see reality outside of mental delusions
- Reduces prejudices
- Reduces stress
- Boosts immune system
- Promotes positive feelings
- Helps with ADHD according to research from Nirbhay N. Singh et. al. [Department of Psychiatry and Health Behavior, Medical College of Georgia]
- Samatha meditation reduces amygdala activity and balances cortisol, which reduces stress. Plus, it activates the parasympathetic nervous system to produce feelings of relaxation.
- Promotes the release of serotonin and balances dopamine
- Exercises the pre-frontal cortex, hippocampus, anterior insula, and limbic system. The result is a stronger brain, improved cognitive function, and better emotional processing.
Samatha meditation is part of the process of nibanna (nirvana/liberation). We use this method with Vipassana (Insight) on the path to enlightenment. According to Robert Buswell Jr [Buddhist and Asian studies scholar], these two are the most referred to meditations in the Pali Canon.
Many people wonder what the difference between Samatha and Vipassana is.
The difference between Samatha and Vipassana is that in Samatha we focus on a concept (such as “the breath”), which is a concept of mind. Contrastingly, in Vipassana we focus on reality (the actual sensations we are experiencing).
Samatha and Vipassana were originally part of the same practice.
In the Pali Canon, Buddha explains that Samatha and Vipassana are two “qualities of mind”. We cultivate these qualities by meditating.
Samatha meditation technique is part of a process based on the Kimsuka Tree Sutta, in which Buddha says that serenity and insight lead to nibbana.
In traditional Buddhism, Samatha empowers the mind to concentrate (which in Pali is “Samadhi”).
Buddha said, “‘Bhikkhus, you should cultivate concentration. Bhikkhus, if you have enough concentration, you can understand phenomena as they really are.” [Khandha Vagga Samyutta and Sacca Samyutta]
When we focus on an object, we improve our concentration (“Samadhi). When we achieve high states of concentration, we become one with the meditation object. This is called Dhyana. (Read: Dhyana meditation instructions).
5: Concentration leads to insight (“Vipassana”)
We can improve our concentration with Samatha. And we can gain insight with Vipassana. Next, we come to Panna, which means “Liberating wisdom”.
In The Four Ways to Arahantship Sutta, Ven. Ānanda states that the above process (the dharma wheel) leads to Arahantship.
We have to follow this process to achieve enlightenment. We cannot get to Dhyana, Vipassana, or Panna without Samatha.
6: Peaceful abiding
As we practise Samatha, three things happen:
- You experience fewer mental phenomena (like thoughts and feelings)
- You have greater concentration
- Your mind is more still and peaceful.
Then the essential thing. Eventually, your focus becomes so strong that when you concentrate on an object you feel as though you are one with it.
When this happens, you are not aware of the difference between the meditation object and yourself because your mind is so keenly focused. This is what Buddhists call Jhana, or “fixed mind”.
7: Samatha and Jhana
The Jhana are meditative states of stillness defined in Buddhism. They are Vitakka, Vicara, Piti, Sukha and Ekaggata.
At the highest state of Jhana, when the mind is fixed on external reality, we are freed from desire, lust, hatred, and other mental impurities. The result is complete happiness and serenity. We achieve enlightenment.
Gets deeper too.
In ancient times some practitioners used Samatha meditation technique for supernormal powers. For instance, clairaudience. They believed that when the mind is absolutely attuned to an object, it receives messages from that object. For instance, when focusing absolutely on another person, the meditator would hear their thoughts.
At the highest level of Jhana the mediator has two choices. Firstly, to use their power for the good of others. Secondly, to use their power for selfish ends. Only by using their power for the good of others can the meditator truly defeat Dukkha (suffering).
8: Stops Suffering
In Buddhism, suffering is called Dukkha.
Eliminating Dukkha is the ultimate benefit of Samatha meditation.
Through continual Samatha practise, we learn to accept and to perceive the reality of physical, mental, and spiritual pain. This acceptance ends suffering.
“Dukkha” and “Suffering” are Buddhist vernacular. Today we are more likely to say that meditation allows us to overcome negative thinking, depression, anxiety, stress, and all other mental pain. Plus, we alleviate the symptoms of wounds and illnesses.
We can all benefit from Samatha.
With a calm mind, we can enjoy the moments of our lives. Samatha provides mental stillness that lets us focus. In turn, this increases productivity. But the best thing is “Peaceful abiding”.
If you would like to experience this peacefulness for yourself, book an online meditation lesson with me today.
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