The common image of Buddhist practitioners sitting in lotus position with their eyes closed is known throughout the world to be the scene of someone in meditation. Along with study and self-reflection, meditation is one of the most vital aspects of Buddhism. Although most of us are able to recognize when someone is in meditation, we have a very shallow view of meditation. At first glance, many believe that meditation is about calming the mind and easing ourselves into a more relaxed state, but meditation is about more than just that.
The purpose of meditation is to attain enlightenment, and to remove obstacles that prevent us from attaining enlightenment. This removal is achieved by quiet reflections on life, the universe, and our experience in the world. By closing our eyes, and cutting off our senses, we are able to get a better view of our experiences. We are better able to understand our place in the universe, and we can reduce our internal dialogue that accompanies us in all other waking activities in life.
In life, it is easy for us to become bogged down, and our actions are often dictated by our inaccurate views on life. We often have poor relations with others and the world around us based on our misperceptions. Calming the mind helps us to be more in control of our thoughts and perspectives. And a calm mind allows us to become more effective in our daily objectives, and on a more direct path to enlightenment.
Experts in Buddhism have taken many years to achieve optimal results from meditation. Zen meditation often involves pondering a koan or parable. The message and morals behind a Zen koan may be ambiguous, but this is there to show that there is no exact answer to the koan. Rather the goal is to develop personal insights to help us improve ourselves. Meditation on a koan also helps to quiet the mind, because it is easy to lose focus while meditating.
It is also a common practice in meditation to focus on a mantra. A mantra is a word or phrase that leads to deeper insight. Mantras can be in English, or in the language it was originally written in. Many Buddhist mantras are written in Sanskrit. A mantra functions in the same manner as a koan in that it allows the mind to focus on one thing, and prevents wandering.
In order to begin meditation, you have to start with a process to allow your mind to come into the space. It is important to set aside a quiet time and a special place to meditate. Noise and distractions make it difficult to concentrate, and so it is important to keep those to a minimum. Comfortable clothing is also important before meditation. It is important to make your body comfortable. One of the reasons yoga was first done by gurus was to allow their bodies to move into optimal alignment so they would be able to meditation comfortably without concentrating on the aches and pains of the body. It is also important to sit on a cushion so that your hips are higher than your knees, this allows your back to sit straight without effort. In order to gain ground in your goal of meditation, you must practice consistently. The more often you meditate, the better you will become.