In this guide to how to do Samatha meditation technique you’ll learn one of the most important of all Buddhist meditation techniques.
Traditional Buddhist meditation focuses on two core mental disciplines that the Buddha taught. The first is Samatha, which means calmness. The second is Vipassana, which means insight.
The best understanding of the term Samatha comes from direct translation.
Samatha is Pali for “calm”, and can also be expressed through the Tibetan term Shyine, which means “peace” and “purification”.
If you put together those three terms together (calm, peace and purification) and you get the gist of what Samatha meditation is all about.
Samatha meditation techniqueis about calming the mind to produce inner peace which leads to purification.
In traditional Buddhism, Samatha meditation technique empowers the mind to concentrate (which in Pali is “Samadhi”). This leads the mind to being absorbed by the object of concentration (which is called Dhyana). This in turn leads to insight (“Vipassana”) and finally what Buddhsits call “Liberating Wisdom” (Panna).
We cannot get to Dhyana, Vipassana, or Panna without Samatha.
We need to practice Samatha meditation technique in order to develop calmness, because calmness leads to focus, which leads to insight and wisdom.
Calmness is first, and calmness is Samatha.
Samatha: Buddha taught that morality and mental calmness are the first steps on the path to enlightenment. Without calmness and morality we cannot achieve insight, wisdom, or enlightenment.
Why Is Samatha (calmness) So Important?
I imagine every single person on Earth can immediately grasp the truth of what the Buddha taught.
Without calmness we are hugely ineffective.
I know that I myself, in my younger years, was about as calm as a Great White in a bloodbath. I’d explode over practically anything. I’d get angry over the slightest of grievances. I was head-banging rock lover with a pension for cigarettes and alcohol—funny how time changes you.
If only I had known how to do Samatha meditation back then, things would have been different.
When I was younger I could never focus. And that lack of focus led to me wasting hours and hours of time and getting noting done fast.
Through dedicated meditation practice I gradually ironed out the creases in my mind and gradually became calmer (developing Samatha). That calmness led me to concentration (Dhyana) which led to insight (Vipassana) which finally led to wisdom (Panna). But it all started with calmness, with Samatha.
Understanding what “Samatha” means
Samatha meditation technique is best considered “Concentration” meditation.
It’s meditation that involves focusing on one specific object.
There are forty meditation objects used in Samatha meditation technique (you can find a list of them all below. )
When you focus your mind on this one object you build your concentration levels, like a muscle becoming stronger.
At first when you begin to focus your mind on an object your mind will wander. Most people are not used to focusing so completely on one thing. So the mind brings up thoughts and distractions and focus is lost. And if that sounds familiar to you, I highly recommend you read my guide to the basics of meditation.
Through regular practice the mind grows stronger.
After several months of practice your mind will have become significantly stronger. Eventually, your focus becomes so strong than when you concentrate on an object you feel as though you are one with it; 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, “fixed mind”.
The Buddha taught that there were five stages of Jhana that the meditator progresses through. (You can read more about the stages of Jhana on Buddhanet).
At the highest state of Jhana, when the mind is completely fixed on external reality, the practitioner is said to be freed from desire, lust, hatred and other mental impurities. The result is complete happiness and serenity.
In the ancient times there were some practitioners who used Samatha meditation techinque as a means to gain supernormal powers like clairaudience. They believed that when the mind is so absolutely attuned to an object it is able to receive 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 is left two choices: use their power for their own good or for the good of others. Only by using their power for the good of others can the meditator truly defeat Dukkha, suffering, from their mind.
Eliminating Dukkha is the ultimate aim of Samatha meditation technique.
Through continual practice we learn to accept and to perceive the reality of physical, mental and spiritual pain.
This sense of acceptance then allows us to overcome the pain. Of course “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, as well as helping to alleviate the symptoms of wounds and illnesses.
It is worth noting that Samatha meditation technique should be practiced in a relaxed way.
Most of us aren’t used to focusing our minds so absolutely on one thing. If you ask your mind for too much too soon you could cause harm. Demanding yourself to focus on one object for an hour is like demanding your legs to run a marathon the first time you put your running shoes on. Injury will occur. That’s why it’s imperative to train your mind gradually. I’ve personally made the mistake of trying to focus too hard too soon before and I know from first hand experience that you’re only setting yourself up for migraine. You should always bear in mind that there are some health risks of meditation.
When learning how to do Samatha meditation technique, go slow. Meditation should be practiced gradually.
Try to focus on your object for around five minutes the first time. Then after a week you can try ten minutes and so on. But don’t start by demanding yourself to focus for such a long period of time that you strain your brain. Be wise. Your mind is your best friend and most important ally. Treat it as such.
Traditional Samatha meditation technique includes the following forty meditation objects. Many of these you will most definitely not want to actually meditate on (you’ll see what I mean!). This list is simply for educational purposes to show how to do Samatha meditation technique as was originally taught all those years ago.
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 carnel-grounds, which meant it was relatively easy to find a corpse and meditate upon it. Today in Thailand teachers advocated meditating on visions of your own body in these various states, those this should only be attempted by advanced meditators as this can be quite disturbing.
Ten kinds of Recollection (Anussati):
Anussati means “recollection,” “contemplation,” “remembrance,” “meditation” and “mindfulness.” These meditations involve devotional practices, like 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),
Recollection of the Sangha (the Community),
Recollection of Virtue,
Recollection of Generosity,
Recollection of Deities,
Recollection of Death,
Mindfulness occupied with the body,
Mindfulness of Breathing,
Recollection of Peace.
Four Divine Abidings:
Four Immaterial States:
The base consisting of boundless space,
The base consisting of boundless consciousness,
The base consisting of nothingness
The 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.
The modern way how to do Samatha meditation technique
Naturally, not all of the 40 objects of meditation are objects you would like to meditate on. Decomposing corpses? No thank you. Let’s contemporise and get real.
Essentially Samatha meditation technique involves focusing on a positive object that elicits a positive response.
If you want a very quick answer to how to do Samatha meditation technique, it’s this: focus on an object that creates positive mental states.
For instance, breathing is calm and centring. When you meditate on your breath you calm and centre your mind.
- Running water is free and flowing. When you meditate on running water you free your mind and create flow.
- Blue skies signify liberation. When you meditate on a clear sky you liberate your mind.
- Focus on an object with a clear positive trait and you will a) develop your concentration, and b) mentally absorb the positive quality of that object. That is the basis of Samatha meditation.
- 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, my body, positive mental qualities (like love and kindness) and nature
Candles are one of the best objects to meditate on
Feel free to choose your positive objects. But I will strongly recommend that among your meditations you include meditations on your body, your breath, physical movement, a calming sound, and positive mental images. The body and the breath are particularly important as they anchor your mind and enhance your mind body connection.
Once you’ve chosen your object to meditate on, sit comfortably and with good posture, give yourself a few minutes to relax, then begin to focus your mind on the object. Observe the object through your sense. Hear it. See it. Smell it. Taste it (if applicable). Touch it. Be one with it.
Meditate on your object for no less than 5 minutes and preferably for 20 minutes. This will calm your mind and allow you to absorb the positive qualities of the object.
Your mind is infinitely adaptable. Nourish your mind with positivity and it will grow like the branches of the Bodhi tree.
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Once you have practiced Samatha, move on to the next stage of meditation: Dhyana.