How to do Samatha Meditation

How to do Samatha Meditation

samatha meditation

Samatha Meditation Progression

In a previous post, I talked about Vipassana and how it is practiced.  In this article I will discuss Samatha meditation which is simply “one pointed concentration” meditation.  Both Vipassana and Samatha are like different sides of the same coin, so to speak.

Samatha, in essence is the Buddhist practice of the calming of the mind using single-pointed meditation.  One of the most common examples of this type of meditation is mindfulness of breathing.  This is a practice found in both Theravada and Mahayana traditions.

Etymology

The word “samatha” or “shamatha” is composed of two components, the first of which is “shama” which means ‘pacification’, “slowing down”, “cooling down”, and “rest”.  The second component “tha” means “to abide or remain”.  Taken together it means “slowing down the mind by abiding in single-pointed concentration”.

Samatha is also translated as “calm abiding”, “single-pointed consciousness”, and “calm meditation”.

History

In Theravadan Buddhism, samatha is the prerequisite for vipassana (insight meditation).  So in other words it is considered to be the condition for insight.

In the Mahayana sutras, samatha (or shamatha in Sanskrit) and vipassana (vipashyana in Sanskrit) are mentioned in conjunction with one another.  The general result of samatha practice is meditative absorption (samadhi) though it is said that practicing samatha meditation can result in the development of the siddhis (magic powers) or clairvoyance and magical emanation.  Though practicing samatha just for the sake of developing magical powers is not considred to be skillful practice.

In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Dzogchen Pönlop Rinpoche talks about the merging of shamatha and vipashyana:

“The ways these two aspects of meditation are practised is that one begins with the practice of shamatha; on the basis of that, it becomes possible to practice vipashyana or lhagthong. Through one’s practice of vipashyana being based on and carried on in the midst of shamatha, one eventually ends up practicing a unification [yuganaddha] of shamatha and vipashyana. The unification leads to a very clear and direct experience of the nature of all things. This brings one very close to what is called the absolute truth.”

How to Practice Samatha/Shamatha Meditation

If you are new to meditation, I would recommend doing the following for 5 minutes a day and then gradually increase it to 15 – 20 minutes a day.  I would recommend setting an alarm (though not too loud) to signal when to stop.

  1. Sit comfortably in a cross legged position (if you are unable to do this for whatever reason, then sit in a chair)
  2. Sit straight but not unnaturally straight, in a balanced position
  3. Keep your eyes half-closed, or completely closed if that is more comfortable for you
  4. Take a few deep breaths and try to relax your body
  5. Now focus your awareness on feeling your breath moving in and out of your nose
  6. Now mentally note “breathing in” and “breathing out” with every breath
  7. If you find yourself thinking, simply label it as “thinking” and re-focus on your breath. Don’t beat yourself up over it.
  8. Check your posture and you’ll probably find that your posture has slackened. Gently adjust your posture and return your attention to the breath.
  9. Keep doing the above over and over until you hear the alarm you’ve set.

 Here is a guided meditation given by meditation teacher Terry Hodgkins:

 Conclusion

This kind of practice is often taught nowadays as “mindful breathing” in the various mindfulness courses and classes that are popular throughout the world today.  The only difference is that they have been stripped of their Buddhist context, which in my opinion takes away from the practice.

Samatha and Vipassana meditation are two sides of the same coin and both practices flow into one another and both are essential practices on the Buddhist path.


Tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to How to do Samatha Meditation

  1. Sarah says:

    I guess I do this type of meditation everyday, but I didn’t know it was called Samantha. But how does one work up to 15-20 minutes. I usually set a timer for 10 minutes. But I always seem to get bored around 8 minutes or so and I’ll stop the timer and move on to stretching or geting outside to recharge for the rest of my day. I don’t beat myself up for thinking, I’ll just come bake to breathing as you indicate. But what can I do to calm down enough to keep going and trust that the timer is going to notify me. I’m not necessarily anxious, maybe a little, but just bored an I want to do more active things wih my mind, so I stop. any suggestions?

    • Ian H says:

      In your case, I would recommend starting with 5 minutes and then adding a minutes every couple of days until you get to 10 minutes. Don’t turn off the timer early and make sure the alarm isn’t too jarring. Stay with it even if it feels like you want to get up to do stuff. You can practiced Samatha meditation by concentrating on a single object such as a candle flame or an image of Buddha on the wall in front of you if you’re a visual person.

  2. Emily says:

    I’ve been thinking about getting into meditation for a long time now. I like your step by step instructions for how to begin Samatha meditation and also to begin with just 5 minutes a day. It makes me feel like it’s really something that I could do. Thanks for this post!

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Emily,
      Start small and remember it is more about the quality of the practice than the quantity. Over time you’ll be able to focus for longer and longer periods which will deepen your meditative experiences.

  3. Jeff says:

    I always thought that I would enjoy meditation. Relaxing. Mind clearing. How hard can it be? But I find it to be difficult because when I try it my mind races uncontrollably. It’s like I can’t turn it off.

    Maybe that’s why it’s suggested to start of just going 5 minutes a day. I guess it’s like anything else. Doing it makes you better at it. The better you get the longer you can go. Is that right?

    • Ian H says:

      Hi Jeff,
      I think your experience of meditation is how most people experience it when they first start. Keep going with it, and you’ll find that your mind will settle down over time. Be patient with yourself. You can do 5 minutes per day, then 6 minutes the next day, then 7 minutes the day after that, etc.

  4. Mimi-CU says:

    That was a very interesting topic. I know most people meditate to gain focus gain awareness, to relax the body and to improve the body. What does the Samantha meditation help with apart from developing magical powers (which I believe would not apply to everyone). Does it improve relaxation? Why would one want to do this type of meditation. I ask because I am new to meditation and I would like to know what one should be working towards with each type of meditation before trying it out. Great post and very informative. Thoroughly enjoyed it!

    • Ian H says:

      Samatha meditation builds up your ability to focus and concentrate and to focus one-pointedly on the breath. Yes, it does improve relaxation, lessens stress, and actually changes your brain chemistry in a way that lessens the activity of and shrinks the amygdala (this is where the stress response comes from) when you stick with it every day for at least 8 weeks.

  5. Good work says:

    I am a christian but I am open to learn about other religions. I would be open to practicing Samatha. Are you into other religions or do you stick to just this one? I think God can come in any form. Whoever a person believes in is there choice and nothing is wrong with that. I like your website a lot. Good work.

    • Ian H says:

      Thanks for your comment! I practice both Buddhism mainly, but I’m definitely open to learning about the religions of others. I think we need more interfaith dialogue on this planet.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *