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I got introduced to Buddhist meditation through the practice of meta and the cultivation of the four bramaviharas. It was going well but I decided I needed the ability to separate my ego and my will. For this, I thought vipassana would be the right tool. After doing some readings, however, it became apparent that to properly do vipassana I would have to develop my concentration with samadhi. At this time I almost solely do samadhi concentration meditation.

I am a lay person and feel I don't have time to do the different meditation sessions per day, one each for meta, samadhi, and vipassana. Yet I see benefits in them all and would like to master all three.

Do you have any guidelines on how to incorporate different styles of meditation into my practice? Is it best to stick with one for a while, then move on to another? Is it best to rotate on a daily basis? Is it best to do a combination of all three in one sitting?

Also, the question can be repeated for meditating on the four bramaviharas. Is it best to do them one by one, all at once, or something else?

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Ideally what you should be doing is a different kind of Ānāpānassati Meditation. What almost everyone will try to do is the "breath mediation” or “mindfulness of breathing”. Very few of us know that Ānāpānasati is infinitely more deeper than just focusing on one’s breath.

In many suttās it is described as assāsa/passāsa, which conventionally means taking in / putting out of something, and particularly to breathing in / breathing out. My advice to you is to take “So satōva assāsati, satōva passāsati” to mean “He maintains his mind on dhamma (what is beneficial) that should be taken in (kusala or moral) and those that should be gotten rid of (akusala or immoral)”.

“Assa” is same as “āna”, and “passa” is the same as “āpāna”. When “sati” is added for being mindful of that, it becomes ānāpānassati. So, from now on, what ever that you do, wherever that you go, from the time you wake up, and until the time that you go to bed, try to be selective in taking in “good things” and throwing away “things that are not beneficial”. That is where mindfulness comes in. That cannot be done with breath.

That means basically all the time! One just needs to be mindful of one’s actions, speech, and thoughts, and stop bad ones and cultivates good ones.

Try to be like a “rukkhamūla”. “rukkha” is “tree” and “mūla” is the “root”; even though the top of a tree sways back and forth with the wind, the tree trunk close to the root is very stable. Thus take “rukkhamūla gatō vā” to mean getting to a stable mindset. Get into a calm and stable mindset that is devoid of greed, hate, and ignorance; keep a modest attitude without any sense of superiority; be forthright and honest, and keep the mind on the main object of cooling down the mind”. That can be done anywhere, a formal seated meditation is not needed, even though that could be helpful.

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The first thing that must be said is that metta, the Brahma-vihara, samadhi, and mindfulness meditation (vipassana) are closely related and are major practices of Theravadin Buddhism. Metta, of course, in one of the four practices of the Brahma-viharas. And the practice of mindfulness meditation has the purpose of bring psychological insight into karma (sankhara), including the sankhara or origins of the Brahma-vihara deep within the unconscious mind. The proper practice of mindfulness meditation requires achieving a state of upacara samadhi. For some people, the practice of samadhi helps a person develop the state of calm needed to achieve upacara samadhi. According to traditional Theravadin Buddhism, the practice of mindfulness meditation is the only practice that facilitates progress towards Enlightenment. Of the four Brahma-viharas, only the contemplation of compassion is directly conducive to gaining insight into the karma of other people, the kind of knowledge needed to help relieve the suffering of others. This is the view of Theravadin Buddhism. Mahayana and Zen Buddhism have different views.

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Having provided a traditional reply to this question, I see a need to address the phrase “the ability to separate my ego and my will.” This phrase is probably a (mistaken) reference to the notions of anatta (no self) in Theravadin and Mahayana Buddhism. Part of the problem of understanding anatta is that the two notions are very different from one another. According to Peter Harvey, in his book, The Selfless Mind, the Self (atman in Sanskrit) was “not a personal ‘self’” and was beyond the experience of an “empirical individuality.” In fact, the experience of this atman could be achieved only through samadhi. The objective of Hindu meditation was to experience this Self. According to Theravadin Buddhism, this experience of Self was an illusion because it was experienced as having no cause. (All objects experienced in the state of samadhi appear to be without cause, an illusion created by the experience of only one object at a time, a property of samadhi.) This experience of Self is not an experience of ego, which is the experience of a personal or empirical self. In order to defeat this notion of atman, the Buddha merely needed to point out that the self experienced in ordinary life, in a state of upacara samadhi, or even through one of the siddhis, was a composite and/or product of interacting factors. In essence, the Buddha was advising people to not bother looking for this Self because it did not exist to begin with.

But this is not the view developed by Nagarjuna of Mahayana Buddhism. For Mahayana Buddhism, the personal or empirical self is a serious problem that can be overcome only by an experience of sunyata (emptiness or absolute truth) while in a state of samadhi. Hence, according to Mahayana Buddhism, the existence of an empirical self or ego is merely a relative truth and not an absolute truth. It is important to observe that the belief in an “ego” or a “will” is in the realm of relative truth and both beliefs are false in the realm of absolute truth. The belief that anyone has “the ability to separate my ego and my will” is therefore not true from the point of view of either Theravadin or Mahayana Buddhism. It is entirely possible, of course, that it may be considered to be true from the point of view of another religion or philosophy. Such a consideration is beyond my expertise.

Just for the record, the concept of ego is a reference to object causality while the concept of will is a reference to process causality. All mental and bodily actions can be viewed from the point of view of either concept of causality. In the case of object causality, we talk about a person as the cause of his or her actions. In the case of process causality, we talk about a sequence of cognitive processes starting with perception, various decision-making processes, the selection of a best action plan, and ending with the performance of a particular action. In essence, object causality (ego) is merely short-hand for process causality (will). Viewed in this way, trying to “separate” the two does not make sense.

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