This paper will be a reflection on one particular aspect of Buddhism. In the following piece of writing, I will discuss the role of meditation practice in Buddhism, as explained by Esposito, Fasching & Lewis in Religions of Asia Today.
Meditation has arguably the same level of significance to the religion’s identity as its texts, institutions, and its moral foundations. The practice is even older than Buddhism itself. Although it stems from spiritual traditions of ancient pre-Buddhist India, it is nowadays one of the most visual expressions of the Buddhist spirituality. From the technical point of few, the practice had been exclusive only in the highest ranks of monks and nuns. However, eventually, meditation spread out in Buddhist circles and became highly popular.
Therefore, by providing insight into the history of meditation, the chapter allows the reader to grasp on the larger context of the practice’s development. Undoubtedly, the proper understanding of the historical context does justice to a better portrayal of the role that meditation has in Buddhism today.
As the authors of Religions of Asia Today explain, meditation included the practice of trance and mindfulness meditation. The former “is accepted, even encouraged, but this state [of trance] does not lead to nirvana realization, hence is not given highest priority.” The priority is, thus, given to vipassana meditation, that is, a becoming mindful of essential elements of the Buddhist existential reality.
Esposito, Fasching & Lewis briefly presents the technical side of meditation. They describe the pose of the meditator and the methodology of achieving awareness. Most importantly the chapter on Buddhism lays out the spiritual significance of meditation to attain nirvana. The practice reflects the pursuit of attaining certain moral virtues, such as dispelling ignorance and stilling desire. The authors explain to the reader how meditation is an integral part of cultivating the spiritual insight and creating good karma, while simultaneously eliminating bad karma. For example, one excerpt is “perfection eventually leads to the fullness of prajna [spiritual insight] in a breakthrough, transformative experience of an enlightened mind (bodhi)”.
While the description is certainly insightful and especially appropriate for the perspective of religious studies, the reader is also likely to be interested in the connection between meditation and other religious practices. Notably, it would be fascinating to understand the role that meditation played in spiritual pilgrimage.
Another suggestion might be connected to the need for a more comprehensive presentation of meditation, including concentration techniques, posture, and mental exercises. This would appeal to a wide public and let the reader picture the practice more acutely. The description as it is now is virtually limited to the following sentence: “while remaining motionless, the practitioner seeks to focus all awareness on the breath, letting go of all intervening thoughts that arise”.
The final suggestion for the explanation of meditation in Religions of Asia Today would be an assessment of how the practice transcended the strict limitation of Buddhism. The practice has not only become popular in non-Buddhist circles in Asia, but achieved a relatively recent broad recognition in the West. The popularity is now inducing Western mediators to search for the original roots of the practice and its authentic meaning. Although many secular practitioners are only focusing on meditation to calm the mind and manage their emotions, there is a growing interest in the spiritual side of the practice. Therefore, in my view, a more extensive description of the technicalities and their connection to the spiritual meaning would discover a great interest from the wide audience.
In any event, Religions of Asia Today provides an excellent encyclopedic overview of the place of meditation in Buddhism from the perspective of religious studies.
- Esposito, J., Fasching, D., & Lewis, T. (2009). Religions of Asia today. New York: Oxford University Press.