The History of Meditation
Tibetan Buddhist meditation has a long history, but not as long as the history of meditation itself. Buddhism was a branch of Hinduism and so meditation was practiced in Hinduism before it was practiced in Buddhism. Buddhist thought is that there are three things one must accomplish before enlightenment. Virtue, Wisdom, and Meditation. Meditation is practiced in many of the eastern religions, and even in western religions. But I will focus this article on Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism meditation practices.
Hinduism is the oldest living religion that practiced meditation. Meditation in Hinduism is thought to have developed out of man's need to find Brahman (God's) true nature. Hindu practitioners would sit and think about who God really was, and by sitting for hours like this they began to have moments of clarity. These moments of clarity are what many practitioners even today are trying to achieve through meditation.
The difference in meditation in Buddhism and in Hinduism is that Buddhist practitioners did not believe that meditation is a means by which to be closer with God, but that it is instead a way for those meditating to become closer with everything on earth. It is said that Buddha (Siddhartha) found enlightenment by meditation underneath a Bodhi tree.
Meditation in yoga
In yoga, meditation is practiced after breathing exercises, or pranayama. The original philosphy of yoga was that is was important to meditate after practicing asanas, or the physical aspect of yoga, because the body would be prepared to relax and loose enough that sitting on the floor would be comfortable. Breathing before any type of meditation is a good practice, because slow breathing slows down your heart rate and calms the mind so that the body is able to move into a tranquil place.
Meditation in Tibetan Buddhism
Tibetan Buddhism was formed out of the principles of yoga and of Buddhism, which arrived in Tibet from India beginning in the eighth century. Meditation in Tibetan Buddhism is focused on tantric principles, and another name for Tibetan Buddhism is Tantrayana Buddhism. One purpose of tantra is to help turn the base human desires such as greed and envy into something good, like love and compassion. There are many steps in tantric Buddhism, these include lamrim (things that should be reflected on and meditative activities), preliminary practices, contemplation, Dzogchen (an advanced step which is the last step on the Tantrayana Buddhist practitioner's path).
Ways to Meditate
In Tibetan Buddhism many forms of meditation are comprised of thinking about certain things in order to clear your mind and help make the path to enlightenment open. Some topics to meditate on include being charitable to others, seeing yourself and those around you as equal, and developing compassion.
In yoga and Hinduism, meditation is the path and the goal. There are many different forms that yogic meditation can take. Because meditation in yoga often starts with pranayama, or breathing exercises, meditation can also start with the breath. There are also forms of meditation where you meditate on a mantra, or prayer. There is meditation through kirtan, singing. There is also meditation on sound that can occur with music or in a kirtan session. And in both Hinduism and in Tibetan Buddhism there is meditation on an object, such as a Buddhist statue or a Buddhist thangka.
Hinky Imports provides instruments for your meditative practice, including Tibetan prayer beads , (that can be used while meditating on a mantra), Tibetan thangkas, (that can be used as an object of meditation), and Tibetan singing bowls, (that can be used to meditate on sound).
There are many different forms of meditation in both Hindusim (yoga) and Tibetan Buddhism. Whichever path one chooses in meditation, it is important to first find a spiritual guide. A spiritual guide can help you understand how to meditate and help guide your meditation path in ways that we cannot do on our own. Remember, even your spiritual guide started with a spiritual guide of their own at some point.