The practice of meditation is central to certain Buddhist traditions, e.g. Vajrayana, Dzogchen, Zen, important for recognizing Buddha nature.

Furthermore, Vajrayana and Theravada traditions assert that the meditation serves as a basis for realizing selflessness:

the purpose of meditative stabilization is to serve as a basis for achieving supramundane special insight realizing selflessness, the emptiness of inherent existence, through which afflictive emotions can be removed completely and forever

-- Dalai Lama

So what is the purpose of satipaṭṭhāna? The purpose is to see anattā, that there is no self, no me, nor anything that belongs to a self.

-- Ajahn Brahm

But dhyana and samadhi are not unique to Buddhism, also found in schools such as Hinduism which do not lead to realization of no self.

And even highly accomplished Buddhist meditators have found that with a radiant mind in meditation, the sense of self can still fail to be uprooted.

At that stage the mind was so radiant that I came to marvel at its radiance...

“If there is a point or a center of the knower anywhere, that is an agent of birth.”

-- Ajahn Maha Boowa

How exactly does Buddhist meditation practice lead to realizing selflessness, versus other forms other forms of meditation which do not? What exactly makes Buddhist meditation different?

What made the Buddha's meditation technique differ from others' (e.g. Alara Kalama and Uddaka Ramaputta) which did not lead to enlightenment? (Please be more specific than "Middle Way").


Very good question.

Buddhist meditation is based on the understanding of the mechanism of arising and cessation of suffering. Suffering arises whenever there is a conflict between "is" and "should". Craving for any "should" because of attachment to that (usually to a concept within a framework) is the generator of suffering. Letting go of the "should", or even better, transcending the boundaries of a framework that served as the foundation for the concept, leads to cessation of suffering.

Buddhist meditation involves methodically applying the above principle from coarse to progressively finer "shoulds".

As you thus let go of these attachments, preconceptions, prejudices, and overgeneralizations - the notion of self dissolves as the hidden counterpart of these overgeneralizations.

However, I think you got the relationship wrong way. It's not that the peace of no-attachment (no-should, no-overgeneralization) is a step that leads to selflessness which then leads to Enlightenment. It is the other way: freedom from attachments, preconceptions, prejudices, and overgeneralizations -- including the overgeneralization known as "Self" - leads to Enlightenment and Peace.

Non-Buddhist meditation is either trial and error, or something trivial like gazing at the candle or running water, or it is brute-force stopping the thoughts, or it is visualization of some images that has useful side effects, or working directly with psychosomatic energies. The last two types were later repurposed by Tibetan Buddhists and integrated into Buddhist framework of progressive attainment of suchness.

  • the story I've heard sounds like the Buddha spontaneously found a superior meditation that led to his enlightenment. But, what was the key difference from where his teachers had failed? They both seem like highly concentrated meditative states of absorption. What did he do differently? – avatar Korra Jun 13 '18 at 2:47
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    He spontaneously discovered letting go and then worked through all the ramifications. – Andrei Volkov Jun 13 '18 at 2:52
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    "Letting go" -- this is what the non-Buddhist meditations did not have. Now I see. To "let be" is a recurring part of Dzogchen instruction, so I've read. – avatar Korra Jun 13 '18 at 2:57
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    "You got it, Kaundinya!" ;)) – Andrei Volkov Jun 13 '18 at 3:01

Buddhist meditation is the abandonment of craving (SN 48.10) and every type of self-conceit (I making & my making) without exception.


You have already answered this question yourself ---> "such as Hinduism which do not lead to realization of no self."

To be specific, Satipatthana is the key difference.

The whole technique of Satipatthana, along with observing the three marks of existence (Impermanence, Suffering, and no-self), is the key difference between Buddhism meditation with Tirthika that practices meditation.

  • The question asks why does Buddhist meditation lead to realization of no self, whereas others e.g. Hinduism do not. How does the quote already answer the question? – avatar Korra Jun 13 '18 at 2:28
  • Perhaps you may focus on the latter part of my answer, too. – Krizalid_13190 Jun 13 '18 at 3:46

Buddhist meditation practice leads to realizing selflessness since that is one of the targets of meditation. The purpose of meditating on another object, such as the breath, is to train the mind to focus on the object of meditation. Once the practitioner has the ability to pick and hold an object of meditation, the practitioner is able to choose selflessness or emptiness as the object, and eventually have a direct realization.

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