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I'm a spiritual aspirant who likes to practice meditation to attain the ultimate goal of nirvana or moksha. The trouble is I've read too many differing doctrines and theories regarding epistemology of the soul and spiritual science.

Firstly, the Hindu doctrine advocates the existence of soul as defined by the scriptures/vedas. So, any meditation along these lines (such as Patanjali yoga sutras, Ramakrishna society, etc.) will mostly involve concentration on at least an object. I've practiced patanjali style of dharana-dhyana-samadhi meditation briefly in the past.

On the other hand, I've also read about the Vipassana and Buddhist doctrines, having already done a 10 day vipassana course in the past. This view is diemetrically opposite to the former, as it clearly denies the existence of a permanent self. More importantly, it also says there is no absolute Brahman or God, so meditation along these lines will involve NOT having any mental objects including a brahman.

Now, as a spiritual aspirant, I'm TOTALLY CONFUSED! I just don't know what kind of meditation to perform. As far as faith is concerned, I have faith in both - I have read the vedas and found them to be full of truth. And at the same time I don't find anything wrong with Buddha's teachings either. But as regards meditation, this has caused me a dilemma! Request advanced practitioners with experience here to suggest me what to do.

NOTE: I'd practiced Anapanasati during my Vipassana course which was very helpful and tranquil experience. However, the patanjali style of meditation was also equally beneficial.

  • I suggest you read further about both doctrines and chose your path. You can find english translations of the 4 main collections of buddhist suttas (Dhiga, Majjjima, Samyutta, Anguttara) in english here – Thiago Feb 16 '15 at 18:03
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    I suggest you not read further. Disregard everything you have read, and do what seems best to you right now. You have, by your own admission, already read too much. My Guru cautions against "spiritual indigestion" from too many views, and especially from changing practices, or God forbid: mixing them. You are already on your path. You cannot not be. Walk On! – user2341 Mar 23 '15 at 11:47
  • I find it ok to be of two minds on subjects that are ultimately unknowable. – Yoda Bytes Apr 27 '15 at 14:19
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A concrete, substantial self implies inherent existence. Inherent existence is the lens of delusion through which we naturally view the world. Buddhism teaches dependent origination, which helps free you from this root delusion.

To believe in the Hindu scriptures, you have to rely on faith. Buddhism's principles become self-evident through honest introspection, not faith.

The purpose of meditation is to free beings from suffering, at least from a Mahayana Buddhist perspective. If you are still clinging to cyclical existence, this ultimate end seems impossible as you are still heavily under the spell of the root delusion.

  • +1 for not relying on faith. It gets you started, then it is not very helpful after that. Experience is helpful, because it is undeniable. Anything that comes from outside yourself is a cause for confusion. "All knowledge begins and ends with the self." – user2341 Mar 23 '15 at 11:49
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The root evil in these types of view points / perceptions / notions is the view point / perception / notion itself (See: Skandha). This perception off Sanna creates fabrication by reacting.

When you put aside perception about self / karma relate views, then by this you are liberated from this fabrication (karmic formation) related to these view. Developing a perception off no self can be conducive to dissolve ego but also can be a hindrance as this can lead to clinging to the view. So you have to let go of this also.

Hindu techniques can take you upto the lever that there is neither perception nor perception and with some residual sensations (called Passadhi in Buddhism). Buddhism deals even eradicating the last residual bit off perception and sensations and to there you can have very mild for of clinging.

As with both Hindu and Buddhism the breath is the body conditioner. In the Pranayama you control the breath to created desired effects on the body and life. These could be extreme pleasantness of even very tranquil feelings. In the Buddhism version of Breath meditation there are 16 stages out off which the 1st 4 deals with calming the bodily fabrication as opposed to creating new bodily fabrications. By calming the bodily fabrication also you get tranquillity but this is born out of the process of calming as well as dissolving unwholesome fabrication than creating fabrications. In Buddhism there are 3 evil roots or poisons: loba, dosa and moha. Dosa generally creates uneasy feeling but based on loba and moha (action based on perception) can create Piti and Passadhi respectively. (See: 7 factors of enlightenment). So the road the Patanjali / Vedic system and Buddhism is taking are different roads.

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According to Advaita Vedanta, there is no multiplicity of things. Ultimately, only one thing exists, that is permanent, that is eternal, that is the base or core of all phenomena, like the projection of ever-changing movies on a permanent and eternal white wall. That is also the thing that was never born and will never die. This being or entity or reality is called Brahman. Moksha is becoming one with the only thing that is permanent. In Bhagavad Gita 12.3, "... the imperishable, the undefinable, the unmanifest, the omnipresent, the unthinkable, the unchanging, the immovable, and the eternal Brahman;". In addition, other texts use "neti neti" (not this, not this) to say that Brahman is indescribable or all that is not impermanent.

On the other hand, according to Buddhism, all conditioned things are impermanent. In other words, nothing is permanent. Nirvana is becoming detached and liberated from everything that isn't permanent.

In the next part, I quote another question of mine which describes Nirvana which is not an entity or being or thing:

Nirvana is described in Samyutta Nikaya 43 as "the unfabricated (unborn?), the uninclined, the truth, the far shore, the subtle, the very difficult to see, the unaging (eternal?), the stable, the unintegrating, the unmanifest, the unproliferated (nippapancan), the peaceful, the deathless, the sublime, the auspicious, the secure, the destruction of craving, the wonderful, the amazing, the unailing, the unailing state, Nibbana, the unafflicted, dispassion, purity, freedom, the unadhesive, the island, the shelter, the asylum, the refuge, the destination."

Also from another source in Buddhism Stack Exchange, I see Samyutta Nikaya 43 as quoting Buddha as saying "There is, monks, that base where there is neither earth, nor water, nor heat, nor air; neither the base of the infinity of space, nor the base of the infinity of consciousness, nor the base of nothingness, nor the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception; neither this world nor another world; neither sun nor moon. Here, monks, I say there is no coming, no going, no standing still; no passing away and no being reborn. It is not established, not moving, without support. Just this is the end of suffering."

So, here you can see that both Advaita Vedanta and Buddhism have got something in common - both say that there is something that is permanent. It's just that in Buddhism, that something is nothing. While in Advaita you aim to reach Brahman, in Buddhism, you aim to reach Nirvana. And the description of both Brahman and Nirvana appear similar.

But are they different? Well, according to Buddhism, there is no base or core for all phenomena. Moksha was defined as becoming one with "the only thing that is permanent." Buddhism says that there is no such thing as "the only thing that is permanent."

But as said before, both say that there is something permanent for you to reach. So, keeping that in mind, you should not need to have a dilemma. In Buddhist meditation, in order to reach that which is permanent (Nirvana), vipassana eliminates all that is not permanent. Or at least, that is my understanding. I am not an experienced practitioner.

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There are two types of meditations.

  • Samantha - tranquility meditation
  • Vipassana - insight meditation

Samatha leads to concentration, mental absorptions, bliss and calmness whereas Vipassana leads to insight, wisdom and ultimately liberation from suffering. Samatha techniques can be found in Hinduism as well. What is special about Buddhist meditation is Vipassana. Anapanasati usually means a Samatha meditation. You have to turn it into Vipassana to notice a significant difference from meditations taught in Hinduism.

If you are not comfortable with letting go of hindu concepts like god, brahma, atman etc. don't bother too much about them. Focus on yourself and do meditation that is authentic to Buddhism and find out for yourself.

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Buddhist doctrine is somewhat confusing and a little bit self-contradictory in nature. Possibly Buddha wanted to show a way to atheists so he omitted any gods from his doctrine but even Buddha talked about karma and reincarnation. What seems like self-contradictory to me in Buddhist teachings is on one hand it says there is no permanent self and on the other hand Buddha talks of ending human suffering. So the question arises is who benefits from end of suffering if there is no permanenet self? Obviously there has to be something permanenet which has to end its suffering. And that permanenet self is the soul. Other than that I can say that Buddhist teachings make sense and Buddhist practices of meditation will help.

  • Asking "who benefits from the end of suffering?" is quite amusing. The very thought should bring people up short. Unfortunately, it does not. – user2341 Mar 23 '15 at 11:43

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