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Buddhist meditation encompasses a variety of meditation techniques that develop mindfulness, concentration, tranquility and insight. Core meditation techniques are preserved in ancient Buddhist texts and have proliferated and diversified through the millennia of teacher-student transmissions.Non-Buddhists use these techniques for the pursuit of physical and mental health as well as for non-Buddhist spiritual aims. Buddhists pursue meditation as part of the path toward Enlightenment and Nirvana. There are many types and forms of meditation used in the various schools of Buddhism. Here we will look at Kamalashila's "Five Basic Methods" and Kuei-feng's "Five Types of Zen."
Kamalashila's "Five Basic Methods"

Western Buddhist Order meditation teacher Kamalashila identifies "Five Basic Methods" as "a traditional set of meditations, each one an antidote to one of the five principal obstructions to Enlightenment." Kamalashila's Five Basic Methods are:
  1. Mindfulness of Breathing
  2. Metta Bhavana (including all four Brahma-viharas)
  3. Contemplation of Impermanence, including:
    • contemplation of a decomposing corpse
    • reflection on death (see, for example, Upajjhatthana Sutta)
    • reflection on the Tibetan Book of the Dead's "Root Verses"
    • contemplations of mental states and external objects
  4. Six Element Practice (earth, water, fire, air, space, "consciousness")
  5. Contemplation of Conditionality
In addition, he discusses three other meditations as "among the most important" not identified above:
  1. Visualization, including:
    • visualizations of Bodhisattvas (see, for instance, Tara)
    • kasina meditations
    • recollection of the Buddha
    • visualization of the Six-Element Stupa
  2. Just Sitting
  3. Walking Meditation
Kuei-feng's "Five Types of Zen"

In the early ninth century, Kuei-feng grouped Zen practices into five categories. While this typology is best known to Zen practitioners, it is applicable to all Buddhist meditation practices and is thus used here. According to this typology, the outward appearance of all meditation practitioners is the same, but their substance and purpose differ. For instance, most who practice mindfulness of breath would have a similar posture, meditative subject and level of concentration. But while some use the practice for mental quietude others use it to transcend all suffering. More specifically, Kuei-feng's five categories of meditative practices are:
  • Ordinary – meditation pursued for mental and physical well-being without any spiritual goal.
  • Outside way – meditation pursued for non-Buddhist purposes, such as in tandem with Hindu yoga or Christian contemplation or for the pursuit of supernatural powers.
  • Small vehicle – the pursuit of self-liberation, nirvana.
  • Great vehicle – the pursuit of self-realization to experience the unity of all things and working for the benefit for all beings (see kensho).
  • Supreme vehicle – the realization of buddha-nature as imminent in all beings (see shikantaza).
While the relative merits of the last three categories is open for discussion among various branches of Buddhism, it is useful to see that the same Buddhist meditation practices have been used for many centuries by Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike, for different ends.
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