Samatha Meditation Technique: What You Need To Know

samatha meditation technique

 In this guide, we’ll discuss how to do Samatha meditation technique and its benefits.

You may have heard about this method from teachers like Pema Chodron and Jack Kornfield. So, what is it about? 

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.” [1] And Tibetan Buddhist scholar Jamgon Kongtrul says it’s about peace and pacification.

Hence why Samatha meditation technique is one of the most important of all Buddhist practices alongside Vipassana [tutorial]

When we practice Samatha meditation we are doing a “single-pointed meditation” as we do in most meditations for concentration.

As well as developing concentration and producing inner peace, it reduces reactivity to mental stimuli like thoughts and emotions. 

Let’s look at how to do Samatha meditation technique. 

VIDEO VERSION

How To Do Samatha Meditation And The Benefits You'll Get

 

How To Do Samatha Meditation Technique (Script)

A few notes first:  

1: Samatha meditation technique should always be relaxed.  The very word “Samatha” literally means “calm”.  

2: Go gently: Most of us are unfamiliar with focusing our minds absolutely on one thing. If you ask your mind for too much too soon, you could cause harm. 

3: Follow the Samatha meditation script slowly: Slowly…? Yeah, I know, it’s a lot more fun to dive in at the deep end. However, it is wiser to go slowly. Meditate for around ten minutes the first time. Then after a week, you can try fifteen minutes and so on. 

Samatha Meditation Script

  1. The best position for Samatha meditation 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).
  2.  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.
  3. 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. 
  4. Choose a length of time that you will practise Samatha meditation technique for. 
  5. 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.  
  6. Now focus on your breath moving between your nostrils. This is the “one pointed focus” of this method.  
  7. 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 the mind or feel certain emotions. This is normal. Allow these thoughts to flow freely through your mind. Do not attach to them. 
  8. 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 point focus”. 
  9. Always remember that the key is to observe the meditation object calmly. This is different to other meditations like Bhakti [tutorial].

And that is how to do Samatha meditation technique.

 

Traditional Samatha meditation objects

Traditionally, Buddhists would practice Shamatha with different meditation 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 is simply for educational purposes. You might be surprised by some of the objects used in Samatha meditation technique!  

 Ten Kasinas:

The kasina are physical objects that you can directly meditate on. These are:

  • Earth,
  • Water,
  • Fire,
  • Air,
  • Blue,
  • Yellow,
  • Red,
  • White,
  • Light,
  • Enclosed-space.

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 on 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.

  • Bloated,
  • Livid,
  • Festering,
  • Cut-up,
  • Gnawed,
  • Scattered,
  • Hacked,
  • Bleeding,
  • Worm-infested
  • Skeleton

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,
  • Peace,
  • Death.

Four Divine Abidings:

  • Loving Kindness,
  • Compassion,
  • Gladness,
  • Equanimity.

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 meditation technique in a modern way. When we do this, we focus on a positive object.

For instance:

  • Focus on the breath for calming and centring. 
  • 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 Samatha meditation technique.

You can choose to focus on any positive object you like.

Some of my personal favourite objects to meditate on are:

  • stars,
  • the sky,
  • candles,
  • water,
  • my cats,
  • my breath,
  • body,
  • positive mental qualities (like love and kindness)
  • and nature.  

Benefits of Samatha Meditation Technique

 

1: Scientific Health Benefits of Samatha Meditation

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] 

How do we explain these benefits of Samatha mediation technique?

For starters, Samatha meditation reduces amygdala activity and balances cortisol, which reduces stress. Plus, it activates the parasympathetic nervous system to produce feelings of relaxation.

Meanwhile, happy neurochemicals like serotonin are released, and dopamine is balanced.

Plus, when we focus on one thing we exercise the pre-frontal cortex, hippocampus, anterior insula, and limbic system. The result is a stronger brain, improved cognitive function, and better emotional processing. 

2: Nibanna

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.

Interestingly, Vipassana is not referred to in the Pali suttas as a form of meditation. Rather, it is a quality developed through mindfulness.   

Take a look at the dharma wheel below. You’ll see how Samatha meditation technique is part of a process. This is based on the Kimsuka Tree Sutta, in which Buddha says that serenity and insight lead to nibbana.

samatha meditation dharma wheel

This image shows the Dharma wheel and the Buddhist path to Nibbana (Nirvana).

In traditional Buddhism, Samatha meditation technique 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 method instructions).

Samatha leads to concentration. In turn, this leads to insight (“Vipassana”)

We improve our concentration with Samatha. And we gain insight with Vipassana. Next, we come to Panna. Panna 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. 

Overall, we practice Samatha meditation technique to develop calmness. Calmness leads to focus. In turn, this leads to insight and wisdom. Calm abiding (Samatha) comes first.

Peaceful abiding

As we practise Samatha meditation technique, three things happen:

  1. You experience fewer mental phenomena
  2. You have greater concentration
  3. 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”.

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 their own good or for the good of others. Alternatively, to use their power for selfish ends. Only by using their power for the good of others can the meditator truly defeat Dukkha (suffering).

Stop Suffering

In Buddhism, suffering is called Dukkha.

Eliminating Dukkha is the ultimate benefit of Samatha meditation technique.

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. 

 

Conclusion

We can all benefit from Samatha meditation technique.

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”.  

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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.

2 comments

  1. wow……I deffinately want what Samantha meditation has to offer. Oh dear now im craving.lol. I shall practise Samantha without predjudice or expectation……but with infinite patience.Thank you

  2. Thank you for sharing! I am very happy to read that you recommend samatha as a foundation for vipassana! This is very much what my own teacher always recommends. Morality is a foundation for concentration and concentration is a foundation for wisdom. If you have samadhi then vipassana is easy. It is often forgotten or ignored nowadays… People seem to want quick results and forget that the dhamma can not be rushed. You just need to keep trying with lot of patience and metta (loving-kindness).

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