Buddhism teaches that all things are connected. The joy and sufferings of others is our own just as our thoughts and feelings touch everyone else. Only when our mind is peaceful and we are free from worries we can experience true happiness and reach enlightenment (Nibbana). That’s why it is so important to train our mind to stay peaceful all the time. And that is the main goal of Buddhist meditation.
Here is an explanation of two most distinct Buddhist meditation techniques.
Samatha (literally means ‘calm’ or ‘peacefulness’) is concentration or one-pointed meditation. It involves intense focusing of consciousness. You can concentrate your mind on candle flame, water, music or discs of various colors. One of the most widely practiced techniques is mindfulness of breathing (anapanasati), where both mind and body are calmed by concentrating on the breath. By keeping your mind focused we rid ourselves of five hindrances (ill-will, sensual desire, anxiety, sloth and doubt). Unfortunately it’s only temporarily. It is why Samatha meditation doesn’t take one all the way to enlightenment.
Vipashyana or ‘insight’ meditation offers quite a different approach. It teaches us to see things as they really are, unclouded by attraction or aversion. The basic technique is to note everything you are doing as you are doing it. When you are walking, know that you are walking. When you are doing laundry, note that you are doing laundry. Be aware of the sensation in one’s foot as it touches the ground, and the different sensations as it rises again. Alongside this bare attention is the insight into the three marks of existence that are most important to reach the enlightenment: suffering (dukkha); egolessness (anatta) and impermanence (anicca). Unlike samatha, vipashyana is a meditation method that can take one all the way to Nibbana.
Combining the Two
Different teachers will emphasize different approaches. It is quite usual, however, in Buddhist meditation for both techniques to be combined. If you are a beginner it’s probably better to start off with samatha meditation, moving on to vipassana when some mastery over concentration has been achieved. Sometimes your preference can depend on your lifestyle. It may be difficult for someone who leads a very hectic life to find time and a quiet place necessary for successful samatha practice. In this case vipashyana might be a better option.