I've been a spiritual seeker for many years, and although everything I tried made a difference, it is Vedic meditation that caused the most profound shift in my life- at all levels and in a very short amount of time.
Dejana, Life Coach, London
What is Buddhist meditation?
Buddhist meditation can mean a lot of things, depending on context.
Buddhism originated with the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama Shakyamuni (the Buddha), who existed around 2,500 years ago. By this time, India had lost touch with the essence of its ancient teachings and a culture of Brahmanism had taken hold, where a priestly caste were attempting to act as gatekeepers to spiritual knowledge.
In reaction to this, Siddhartha and a great sage by the name of Mahavira, decided to tread their own paths and find enlightenment. They were eventually persuaded to begin teaching from these elevated states of consciousness. The Buddha’s teaching later became known as Buddhism, and Mahavira’s teachings helped enliven the ancient system of jinas (known as Jainism in the modern day).
After the Buddha’s death, these teachings spread North to Tibet, South to Sri Lanka, West to Afghanistan, and East to China, and in each case the teachings were modified along the way (into what we now know as Tibetan, Theravada, Greco and Mahayana Buddhism respectively).
From the plethora of schools and methodologies that sprang from these movements, a multitude of Buddhist meditative practices evolved.
I tried mindfulness meditation on and off for around 15 years but could never clear my mind of thoughts. I always felt like I was failing. Vedic meditation turned out to be exactly what I was looking for: a practical, easy way of meditating based on the simple repetition of a mantra.
Dan, DJ and Journalist, Brighton
How is it practised?
There are so many different Buddhist meditation practises that exist within Buddhism!
In Theravada Buddhism, there are over fifty different methods for developing mindfulness and another forty aimed at developing concentration, while in the Tibetan tradition there are thousands of visualization meditations. There are no surviving Greco-Buddhist techniques that we know of, and in Mahayana is a different practise for each of the different schools.
Almost all classical and contemporary Buddhist meditation guides are school specific, and so if you are interested in exploring Buddhist meditation, you are probably best venturing out and seeing which ones you encounter and if they resonate.
However, there are certain themes that seem to come up time and again, and they are the following:
observing the mind
observing mind objects
cultivation of attitude
You’ve also got the forty meditation subjects, which is a comprehensive list of things one can place ones attention on.
I've been reading all these spiritual books and I cannot believe it, I have just experienced what I have been reading about all this time.
Mathilda, Publisher, Tunbridge Wells
How does Vedic meditation compare with Buddhist methodologies?
The Buddha’s teachings borrow very heavily from Vedic knowledge. Siddhartha Gautama Shakya (The Buddha) studied a text called the Rg Veda, which was an expression of much Vedic knowledge. Indeed, the first five Nikayas of the Twelve Nikayas (more commonly known as the Doctrine of Dependent Origination) correspond to the first five steps of the Rg Veda. There are many other examples where they dovetail and overlap beautifully.
How is knowledge passed on?
Where they tend to differ is that the nuances of the Buddha’s teachings were not always so well understood by his followers and these teachings were filtered through the states of consciousness of his followers, causing key insights to be lost.
The Buddha was only in his enlightened state for a few decades, and wasn’t able to institute processes to pass on everything that he had learned in a way that was well understood by his followers. Vedic knowledge on the other hand, was an accumulation of many dozens of people in a Buddha-like state, many of whom taught for more years than Siddhartha, and it seems that as a result, more of the essential tools and teachings were preserved.
That said, there has still been significant dilution and distortion of Vedic knowledge during the 5,000 years since this wonderfully advanced civilisation ended, and as a result, modern day understanding of Vedic knowledge is also quite poor.
Fortunately, we have been able to tap into the source of the purest forms of this knowledge, and are in a position to teach it in its original essence.
A requirement of almost all Buddhist meditation practises is to sit perfectly still, in an upright position with legs crossed. That is one way to pacify your nervous system into settling down.
In Vedic meditation however, it is considered far more preferable to be comfortable. If you are comfortable and have a personalised mantra, then your nervous system will spontaneously settle down and you will find yourself effortlessly entering into a profound meditative state.
Because the mantras take you into a deep meditative state quickly, it means you can be much more efficient with the amount of time you spend in meditation.
With the Vedic method, you only need spend 20 minutes in meditation in order to gain full benefit. With Buddhist meditation, you are often expected to sit for an hour, which is fine when you have lots of time on your hands, but less so when things are tight.
The reason for this is that its origins are monastic and although ascetics do many good things, they generally don’t face the same level of demand as everyday people do, and so carving out two hours a day is no problem.
Most Buddhist practises require a certain level of quiet in order to do them successfully.
When you’re trying to focus your mind, any sort of distraction can be a real problem. if you’re on a mountain top or in an ashram, it’s easy. But if you’re living a busy life in the West, it’s much less so.
It’s worth taking note of this important factor as it can be quite limiting having to meditate in a quiet space. With Vedic meditation, the resonance of the mantras helps you enjoy a productive meditation even when you’re on a busy commuter train or tube journey.
It’s so easy
It is fair to say that the Vedic method is way, way easier than Buddhist methodologies. We have taught many hundreds of people who have done vipassana, mindfulness, zen, etc, and every single one of them has reported that this is considerably easier.
They have also universally reported that they find it considerably more effective than the other practises they have done, and also more enjoyable. Much of this can be explained by the quality of the technique and the fact that it is customised to each individual.
Vedic meditation has a considerably more powerful impact on our physiology and our neurology than Buddhist meditation, which may well explain it.
It may also be due to the fact that with Vedic meditation, you only need to employ one technique for all situations, which makes life so much simpler.
Norah is a therapist from Devon who learned Vedic meditation with us, She told us:
“I’m really loving having the meditation practice. I’ve realised now why what I was doing before wasn’t working so well because every time I sat to meditate I had to make a choice about what I was doing which kept me in my conscious mind whereas now there is no choice to be made. I sit down and just practice the technique and I don’t have to think about it.”
Some of it may also be due to the fact that Vedic meditation is personally taught and that there is extensive follow up support for those who wish it.
This follow-up guidance, which can be done remotely or face-to-face, makes all the difference to how quickly you can integrate the technique and master it. And of course, moving towards ever-more accomplished practise is what is going to give you the optimal effects you seek.
Self-sufficiency is the name of the game if you want to make this work for you in the most powerful way, and so this is an important consideration when researching the various different forms of Buddhist meditation and other styles that may be out there.
When assessing which methodology to try, ask yourself ‘will it enable me to a be self-sufficient meditator, or will it require me to go along to the Buddhist centre every week.’
Another good question to ask yourself, is how far do you wish to go?
One of the less well understood aspects of Buddhist meditation (with the possible exception of Zen), is that the Buddha’s teachings were interpreted through the state of consciousness of his followers, which wasn’t nearly as high as his own. Therefore there is actually a glass ceiling in how far you can take your practise if you seek the most glorious and abundant states of consciousness.
This point won’t be relevant to everyone, only those who sense there is something more than what they’re experiencing or would like to experience.
Desire and attachments
It is essential that you, as the interested reader and seeker, give healthy consideration to how much you wish to enjoy family, friends, relationships, children, career etc. The logical conclusion of Buddhist philosophy is that all these things belong to maya (interpreted within Buddhist circles as ‘illusion’). Therefore any attachment to any aspects of illusion is considered unbecoming of an avid Buddhist practitioner.
The Vedic worldview is very different. It sees all these things as part of the lila (the play of life) and these things need to be honoured if we are to enjoy the full richness of a human life. In the Vedic worldview, one doesn’t have to be exclusively spiritual or exclusively into the material trip, there is in fact a happy co-existence of the two and in fact it is considered optimal to embrace both.
An interesting point of difference here is the role of desire. In Buddhism, desire is seen as being poison, which is an interesting view because that’s not actually what the Buddha taught.
In the Vedic understanding, desire can be a useful mechanism for engaging in worldly life, it is simply a case of being tuned in to who you really are and following pure desire as opposed to the desire born of need, want and ego. It’s a subtle difference, but therein lays a world of difference.
Some people who have trodden a dedicated path of Buddhism find themselves at a particularly uncomfortable crossroads when it comes to children. The Buddha himself abandoned his wife and child for a long time in pursuit of his enlightenment, and many within Buddhism consider him to be a hero for giving up such attachments.
It can actually be the cause of much celebration when avid followers of Buddhism to abandon their attachment to spouses and kids. If you’re cool with that, because you don’t feel those things belong in your life, then it’s absolutely great and it means you can follow this path as far as you like without any sense of compromise. If you’re not so down with that, then caveat emptor.
The final area that may be worth your consideration is how much you wish to follow a particular creed.
Some Buddhist meditation practises are quite passive, almost secular. Many others are considerably more prescriptive and you are expected to follow the guidelines with great diligence, otherwise you may be looked down upon.
The Vedic approach is to give you the techniques that allow you to tread your own path in your own unique way, and simply be available for guidance as and when it is required. It’s very laissez-faire, and very empowering.
Find out more
These are a good summary of our findings on Buddhist meditation. We hope you’ve found this useful. Only you can assess which pathway feels right for you, and that is going to vary from person to person, and the fact that there are all these different routes is definitely something we should all celebrate.