Buddhism provides a plethora of different meditation techniques that we can use to achieve anything we desire: from developing peace, letting go of anger, and cultivating compassion, to meditations that will lead us to ultimate, everlasting happiness and wisdom (also known as achieving Enlightenment in Buddhism).
I've listed the most common meditation techniques found in a variety of Buddhist schools and traditions below. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully, it can serve as a framework to help you understand how these various meditations can be used and may help you decide which ones to try and explore further.
I believe that deciding which meditation technique is best for you to practice comes down to personal preference. Depending on my current mental state, I frequently employ a variety of techniques. For example, if my mind is racing with ideas, I usually prefer counting my breath to help calm it down. In addition, if I want to cultivate a specific spiritual quality, I will focus on a meditation designed specifically for that.
One thing is certain: all of these meditations will provide far more benefits than the outcomes listed below. For example, the loving-kindness meditation is likely to increase not only your feelings of love for others and decrease your feelings of enmity and aversion, but it will also lead to increased happiness, contentment, and peace. Basically, there are too many wonderful benefits to list for each of the different meditations, so I've limited my descriptions to just detailing their intended purpose and primary goal.
1. Calm Abiding Meditation
The object of meditation in this practice is usually our breath. This meditation is specifically designed to calm and focus our minds so that we can improve our concentration abilities. We can also use counting our breaths to help increase our concentration and reduce our mind's general distractibility.
This type of meditation can also be done with an external object. You could meditate on a Buddha statue by focusing all of your visual and mental attention on one aspect of it. Rather than attempting to focus on the entire statue, it is usually best to choose a specific part of it to meditate on. You could also use a photograph of the Buddha or your teacher to inspire faith and devotion. Alternatively, you can simply focus your attention on a small portion of any object in front of you. I frequently concentrate on a small plastic blue flower, putting all of my attention on the center of it.
Practicing this meditation on a weekly or (even better!) daily basis will bring you more peace, happiness, and clarity in the short term. However, its primary goal is to assist you in developing a focused and stable mind so that you can progress to the final goal of developing insight.
2. Walking Meditation
Not everyone is good at sitting for long periods of time. We can break up our sessions with walking meditation. It is common at full-day retreats to alternate sitting and walking meditations so that one hour of sitting meditation is followed by 30 minutes of walking meditation. Walking meditation is generally intended to supplement our sitting meditations by allowing us to maintain our concentration between seated sessions. This meditation course focuses on the movement of our feet as we walk back and forth in a small, defined area.
3. Vipassana Meditation
This meditation entails paying attention to the arising and passing away of sensations in each of your body's various parts. This is the pinnacle of meditation practices in Theravada Buddhist schools, serving as the primary method for developing insight into our true nature. Notably, before moving on to Vipassana meditation, most Theravada schools will always incorporate some form of Samatha practice.
Other Buddhist schools practice Vipassana as well, though it may take a more analytical approach to questions, such as 'where is the Self?', and through examination, one becomes free from self-grasping.
4. Shikantaza (Sitting) Meditation
This is an objectless meditation in which the goal is to remain focused on the act of sitting while being aware of what arises in your mind. Different schools of thought may take different approaches, but if insight isn't gained through koan practice, then the powerful concentration developed first through breathing meditation or koans can generally allow insight to arise in Shikantaza, where one can see the arising and passing away of all phenomena in every moment.
5. Metta Meditation for Kindness
This meditation is intended to increase our feeling of loving-kindness towards everyone. We begin by practicing generating metta (wishing others happiness) by meditating on objects that elicit the most loving-kindness. Then we progress to more difficult metta objects, such as our enemies. This technique is effective for removing our hatred and anger towards others.
The Final Words
There are hundreds of different deity meditation practices, and each school has favorites, so listing them all is impossible. However, I've listed some of the more common deity practices found in most Vajrayana Buddhist schools and some of their specific purposes.