Tantric meditation and Buddhist meditation are quite similar, in fact the latter is simply the evolution of genuine Tantra. Buddhist meditation (also meditation within Tibetan Buddhism) is not a religion but it is inspired by the spiritual tenets of Buddhism.
Over the last few decades, Tibetan Buddhist Meditation has become more accessible to the modern world. Somehow the esoteric charm of a Buddhist monk is more attractive to some than say a movie star. But the core of this spirituality is The Dhamma (another term for Dharma or the righteous path). It is also the most misunderstood concept in many religions and that's because Dharma is not a religion at all! The righteous path is just that - righteous. It has its own internal logic and mechanism that does not require a god to enforce it.
Four Noble Truths
To sit and contemplate an idea or an object is the act of meditation. If no peace is possible in the world, then at least let's try and find inner peace. This is the basic premise of the 4 noble truths of Buddhism:
1. Dukkha (pain) arises from physical trauma, emotional problems, and grief.
2. This dukkha is the consequence of desire and obsessions.
3. Dukkha can be resolved.
4. Ways and techniques to resolve dukkha.
Pain is in our genes! We seem to have inherited it from the Neanderthals. However, while we can't get it out of our genes, we can at least deal with the symptoms - especially the psychological symptoms. The fourth noble truth is closely linked to meditation and meditation was transformed into a method or discipline to release people from the bondage of negative feelings. If the major cause of everyone's agony is psychological, then logic would tell us that the cure would be psychological as well. Thus, Buddhism designed mind exercises aimed to alleviate these psychological problems.
Some people view meditation as a higher state of the pious life and as a step towards sainthood or being a holy person. Meditation is not an act of converting a sinner to having a deeper commitment to his religion, it is a means to achieving serenity. On its own, meditation is a Tantra - merely a technique; but when used within the context of Dharma, it leads to higher consciousness. The goals of this meditation technique do not differ much from the other methods: they all strive to get rid of the dukkha and attain Samadhi.
Meditation is a method through which an individual gains insight into cosmic knowledge and realizes that bliss is attainable. Meditation plays a part in practically all faiths although some do not use the word 'meditation' to describe their specific contemplative practice. Additionally, meditation does not constantly have a spiritual component. It is a natural part of the human experience and is progressively utilized as a treatment for promoting health and improving the body immune system.
In Buddhism, the individual meditating is not always trying to get into a hypnotic state nor is he/she trying to become a saint! Actually, the goal of all meditation is to become 'chaitanya' or 'the enlightened.'
When Siddharth attained Chaitanya, he became Buddha!
Meditation involves the body and the mind and - more importantly - the inner workings of the mind. All guided meditation has the supreme goal of putting an end to duality. This is also the goal of Non-Dual Shaiva Tantra. It's not surprising to see how Buddhism took the principles of Tantra and further refined them. That's the primary reason why Buddhism and Tantra continue to be so closely associated and studied even after 2500 years. Meditating in a group - maybe at a retreat or among fellow enthusiasts - has the benefit of demonstrating to individuals that they are part of a larger community and also a part of the larger ecosystem involving all creatures.
Dealing with the Mind
We are an accumulation of our thoughts that are either consciously cultivated or unconsciously imbibed. In this context, we perceive the world from our own dreary or happy disposition. Buddhist Meditation attempts to turn one's awareness away from the world of activity that generally preoccupies us to the inner experience of ideas, sensations, and thoughts. In the Buddhist Tradition, meditation involves achieving balance - balance between all the tattvas that one is experiencing. These may be the Physical Tattvas or the Occult Tattvas and the idea is to create a harmony between the tattvas.
Methods of Meditation
Some classical meditation techniques use the meditator's own breathing. This is the practice of Pranayama within meditation. There are hundreds of methods wherein you concentrate on the breath, its flow, its sensation in different parts of the respiratory system and even imagining its effects on different parts of the body, and on different thoughts within your mind. A multitude of combinations arise when you mix these factors.
It is important to think of the breathing, of the person doing the breathing, and also of the observer who is observing all this. This is the essence of tantric meditation: all these entities are the same person - yourself - but fractionation of the personality is necessary before we start putting them together as The Supreme Non-Dual personality or Shiva (The Blessed One). In Buddhism, the world Shiva has been replaced by Buddha.
Light: Wisdom and Enlightenment
The novice will need to use many techniques for meditation: count breaths, focus on a candle, gaze upon a flower, and so on...S/he may also want to sit still, in a quiet place, play some music, telling beads, whirling prayer wheels, etc. But advanced meditation is meditation in motion (walking meditation): going for a walk, swimming, cleaning the house or garden, serving people in a soup kitchen, walking the dog...
"Serving other Creatures" is an important motto of Buddhist practice. Less advanced religions interpret this in a narrow fashion changing the phrase to, "Serving other humans!"
The Trinity of Buddhist Meditation Practice
When a Zen Buddhist (one school of Buddhism) practices meditation, three important factors come into play:
1. Motives and Principles: Are your motives righteous (Dharma) and are they beneficial to all?
2. Meditation (Samadhi): Techniques to turn your gaze inwards and ponder on whether the disturbance and dukkha you see in the world is actually a projection of your inner self. Is existential emptiness a modern age phenomenon? Or is it an aspect of what Howard Gardner calls Philosophical Intelligence? Such are the ideas that you ponder over in advanced meditation.
3. Penance: This is not about torturing yourself but involving yourself in the acquisition of knowledge and pursuit of Truth. While engaged in deep study, one has to sacrifice superficial things - that's why it's termed penance.
Types of Meditation
There are as many types of meditation as the number of creatures that have lived - historically and pre-historically. However, for convenience, we classify them into 5 types as follows:
1. Concentration: Continuous focus on one object, thought, or emotion. In the tantric Buddhism meditation involves visualization of complex images of Buddha. This form of meditation can lead you into deeper and deeper states of absorption known as Dhyana.
2. Creation: Creation/Recreation of thoughts, ideas, images, emotions, feeling, memories... Creating happiness through fantasies is a great way to meditate and is used in Vama Marga (Left Hand Path of Tantra) and Tantric Sex.
3. Sensitization: Recreating memories from the perspective of senses: taste, smell, touch, feeling. On a higher level, one sits calmly, aware of what is happening in the environment or in the world without judging, fantasizing, or trying to change things. Compassion meditation or developing loving kindness are some examples.
4. Introspection: Analyses of higher-order thoughts, ideas, and concepts. Reflective This also attention to a theme and being open to whatever arises from the experience.
5. Reflection: Thinking of how you analyze and react to your thoughts from the perspective of your own sub-personalities. Example: When you watch an interesting movie or read an engrossing book, do you identify with the protagonist at one point and the antagonist at another?
Meditation is not restricted to idle postures - it also involves mindfulness practice in daily life. Anyone who has practiced yoga asanas and some meditation will realize how mindfulness practice within mundane activities gives one the "sensation of eternity" - one become immortal!
Preparation and Posture
The classical posture is padmasana. If you can't do the padmasana, then you can try the ardha padmanasa or vajrasana. If that too is not possible, then you can meditate in any posture so long as you are comfortable, your spine is straight, and you're not likely to fall asleep. It is useful to take time before and after you meditate to settle into and emerge from the practice. It is always a good idea to warm up, do some yoga asanas, and some breathing exercises (pranayama) before you meditate.
Modern medicine is increasingly using meditation and mindfulness in healthcare especially in chronic illnesses and depression. In its Buddhist context, meditation is a vital component of the path to spiritual awakening. But learning to meditate is not about following a recipe - several systems must be practiced before you start:
Warm up before you start your yoga
Do your yoga asanas before doing pranayama
Do your paranayama before meditation
You can see from the above, that each is a complex system that must be practiced before attempting any meditation. The general advice from Buddhists is that it helps to meditate with others and to have a teacher who can help you with issues that arise along the way.
Zen Meditation (Mindfulness Meditation)
This form is all about mindfulness because Zen is about living in the present with complete awareness. It's almost like asking, "What am I doing? And why am I doing it?" for each and every activity - however insignificant - in daily life.
One practices being aware of everything we see, hear, feel, taste, and smell. So when you eat, eat! Don't talk, or read, or watch TV. Zen practice is to realize that thoughts are a natural faculty of mind and should not be stopped, ignored, or rejected. It also provides liberation from the anxieties and fears of the 'morrow that destroy the present!
In Zen Buddhism, the purpose of meditation is to stop the mind rushing about in an aimless - or even obsessively purposeful - stream of thoughts. The aim is "to still the mind."