SuttaCentral

The multiplicity of guided meditations and the influx after them

Thought of Guided Meditations: I have not seen in any suta that the Buddha passed “guided meditations” to monks. He simply gave the sublime instructions in great detail and wonderful clarity, and then told them - monks, go to the forest or to the house to practice for yourselves; So what is the reason for the large number of guided meditation tutorials around us? Does the so common phenomenon of meditation instruction reflect evidence of a special difficulty we have as Dharma students in Western countries, or perhaps of the kind of “performanceism” that reflects our cultural environment? Personally I do not benefit from guided meditations, and meditates in front of sutas, and from this place the question arose in me.

  • “Monks, there are footsteps of trees and empty houses. Practice meditation! Do not be lazy, lest you regret it later. This is my instruction to you. ” (Suta on both types of thought)
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I think we can find proto-guided meditations in various places. Like Kakacūpamasutta:

“In the same way, there are these five ways in which others might criticize you. Their speech may be timely or untimely, true or false, gentle or harsh, beneficial or harmful, from a heart of love or from secret hate. When others criticize you, they may do so in any of these ways. If that happens, you should train like this: ‘Our minds will remain unaffected. We will blurt out no bad words. We will remain full of compassion, with a heart of love and no secret hate. We will meditate spreading a heart of love to that person. And with them as a basis, we will meditate spreading a heart like the earth to everyone in the world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of enmity and ill will.’ That’s how you should train.

As well, the body part meditation could be seen as a guided meditation.

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I am in the same boat as you are. In fact, guided meditation is a hindrance to my meditation. But, there are lot of people who like guided meditation. I think it is because the monks themselves like to be the guides instead of giving instructions and allowing the meditators to meditate on their own.
These are just my thoughts and I do not mean to offend the monks.
With Metta

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I tend to think of suttas such as the Anattalakkhaṇasuttato the group of five: SuttaCentral, or the exposition to Pukkusāti in the Dhātuvibhaṅgasutta: SuttaCentral, as guided meditations. In fact, some years ago, one of my teachers went through the Anattalakkhaṇasutta with a group of slightly more than five (:sweat_smile:) in just that mode. And in the last few days, I’ve been using the outline of the six-element section of the Dhātuvibhaṅgasutta SuttaCentral for my meditation.

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For the beginners. It’s easy to meditate the wrong way, especially when starting out, haven’t read enough, haven’t gotten enough information to have the right attitude of make peace, be kind, be gentle. It’s easy to focus on the results too much, then think that one sucks cause one cannot be on the breath for 1 minute straight in the first sitting ever, or the 100th sitting.

There’s plenty of things not recorded in the suttas. The first and second sermon was given to the first 5 disciples. At the end of the second sermon, it seems that they all became arahants. However, there’s also mention that in between that, the Buddha had given personal guidance to them, 2 or 3 of them go for alms round to come back and feed the rest of them, while the Buddha gave personal guidance. Clearly, those guidance was not in the suttas, or else, we wouldn’t call the second sermon as that.

So it’s very likely that those personal guidance includes detailed, personalized meditation instructions, interviews, feedback, maybe even guided meditation! So a living meditation tradition is very much needed for progress in the path, not just suttas.

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Sometimes I very much understand what people mean when people say they don’t like guided meditations, but if people are really hostile towards them or have a big dislike then there’s some warning bells, because actually guided meditation can be really helpful and quite powerful. After all, guided meditations are essentially Dhamma instructions, and we know that many people became stream enters or enlightened whilst hearing the Dhamma. Guided meditation is Dhamma given at a time when it makes sense: when theory and practice come together in meditation. We can imagine the nuns, monks and lay people sitting quietly in meditation as the Buddha gave instructions - that’s a guided meditation! The importance of instruction is shown by the Buddha saying that all that is needed on the path is the voice of another and wise attention.

In the Vimuttāyatanasutta we learn about 5 opportunities to experience freedom (vimutta), which include listening to dhamma, teaching the dhamma, reciting the dhamma, pondering the dhamma and meditating on the dhamma. Guided meditations are often a good combination of some or all of these things.

Guided meditations are effective ways of outlining the process of meditation in a practical way, which can be learnt and understood by the meditator so that when they meditate alone they have some basic ideas of meditation and what to expect. Guided meditation should not replace an individual’s own practice and there may be some danger if people solely rely on always needing to listen to instruction because they are afraid of being alone with their own minds.

The suttas are full of “guided” meditation, where the Buddha or someone else gives instructions which are memorised and later employed by the meditator themselves . Today, many people have very different starting points and knowledge levels in any given group, and many people have little or no understanding or experience, so it’s great that teachers often do some guiding to help people become more familiar with meditation practice. This is necessary and useful.

Some people who are against guided meditation may have forgotten what it is like to be a beginner, or might have some conceit that they know more or better than the teacher, or an elitist attitude because they have already heard instructions and might not realise that others are at a different place and might need some help, or perhaps they over-estimate their own knowledge, thinking they know it all and that they are beyond instructions! But, again this is a warning sign; people who think that they are above learning something new, or believe their practice cant be improved are often mistaken. Who knows, maybe some guiding will open up completely new paths for us!? Certainly, the bodhisatta tried different strategies for years and approached many teachers for instruction. And in the Uppkkilesa Sutta we see that even very advanced practitioners need to seek out further instruction.

There are good examples of guided meditation in the suttas. We can imagine that teachers at the time of the Buddha taught in this way. Examples of instruction type meditations include all the anussati type meditations (Buddha, Dhamma Sangha, Sila, cāgā, deva, as listed in the Mahanama Suta) where the text gives explicit instructions and outlines the process and results which they can expect, which can be easily mapped by a meditator’s internal journey. For example cāgānussati discusses the inspirational and describes the increasing levels of joy, bliss etc which, through the power of suggestion, can be stimulated by guided practice. When offering a guided caganussati, I use the word for word the first lines below in guided meditation to help them to note the absence of greed and to help inspire joy in people’s minds based on generosity. It works! And people very quickly experience results, gaining joy and happiness at least…

Furthermore, you should recollect your own generosity: ‘I’m so fortunate, so very fortunate. Among people with hearts full of the stain of stinginess I live at home rid of stinginess, freely generous, open-handed, loving to let go, committed to charity, loving to give and to share.’ When a noble disciple recollects their own generosity their mind is not full of greed, hate, and delusion.

At that time their mind is unswerving, based on the Realized One. A noble disciple whose mind is unswerving finds joy in the meaning and the teaching, and finds joy connected with the teaching. When they’re joyful, rapture springs up. When the mind is full of rapture, the body becomes tranquil. When the body is tranquil, they feel bliss. And when they’re blissful, the mind becomes immersed in samadhi. This is called a noble disciple who lives in balance among people who are unbalanced, and lives untroubled among people who are troubled. They’ve entered the stream of the teaching and developed the recollection of generosity.

Another guided meditations include the description of radiating metta in the Simile of the Cloth Sutta, which tells us what kind of mind we should develop when practicing the bhrahma vihara type practices and is one of the ways that many teacher’s guide metta meditations.

They meditate spreading a heart full of love to one direction, and to the second, and to the third, and to the fourth. In the same way above, below, across, everywhere, all around, they spread a heart full of love to the whole world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of enmity and ill will. They meditate spreading a heart full of compassion to one direction, and to the second, and to the third, and to the fourth. In the same way above, below, across, everywhere, all around, they spread a heart full of compassion to the whole world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of enmity and ill will. They meditate spreading a heart full of rejoicing to one direction, and to the second, and to the third, and to the fourth. In the same way above, below, across, everywhere, all around, they spread a heart full of rejoicing to the whole world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of enmity and ill will. They meditate spreading a heart full of equanimity to one direction, and to the second, and to the third, and to the fourth. In the same way above, below, across, everywhere, all around, they spread a heart full of equanimity to the whole world—abundant, expansive, limitless, free of enmity and ill will.

Then there’s the instructional nature of the Satipatthana suttas, where the breath, 31 parts of the body, 4 elements and death contemplation are laid out, very much in the same way we might do a guided meditation on those themes today. When I am teaching, I start my guided meditations on the parts of the body with the image of the bag of grains and follow the order of the parts. For guide 4 elements contemplation, I use the image of the butcher as a starting point. When guiding a death meditation, There is the repeated refrain of the corpse meditation "They’d compare it with their own body: ‘This body is also of that same nature, that same kind, and cannot go beyond that.’ and I use the 9 stages given in the sutta as the journey of the meditation. For all these meditations, I also employ the repeated refrain below:

And so they meditate observing an aspect of the body internally, externally, and both internally and externally. They meditate observing the body as liable to originate, as liable to vanish, and as liable to both originate and vanish. Or mindfulness is established that the body exists, to the extent necessary for knowledge and mindfulness. They meditate independent, not grasping at anything in the world.

The following sections in the sutta on feelings and hindrances are also verses that teachers tend to draw on in guided meditation instructions.

I think these examples show how powerful guided meditation can be to get people familiar with the Dhamma, and to give them the tools, strategies and processes to use in their own practice later. They might not need instructions forever, but instructions are very important as a starting point and also good for even experienced meditators to come back to from time to time.

If we dont like guided meditations, always want to have perfectly quiet conditions or only do things our way, and we find our mind getting agitated, becoming very resentful and hating the speaker, then maybe we need more guided meditation to relearn the instructions! :rofl:

We often ask people if they want to do a guided meditation or a silent meditation. And actually, 9 times out of 10 the majority of a group asks for guided. This is actually more work for us :stuck_out_tongue: Maybe people who come to meditation classes and talks see this as an opportunity to refresh their learning with a teacher, but still enjoy quiet sessions at home? There’s a difference between attending a silent group meditation session and attending a talk where people have specifically invited a teacher who is experienced and knowledgeable to share meditation instructions with a group, yeah?

I wanted to offer some alternative viewpoints here and suggest different ways we can consider guided meditation practice. But also I understand why sometimes people are not into them.

Once, I invited a 7 year old boy to guide a group meditation session, He gave such an excellent metta meditation! It was wonderful, I loved it . Of course, he learnt that from someone else… so I guess that’s the point, right?

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Depends how you define “guided” and “meditation”. Guided meditation as in one person telling others to calm their minds and follow the breath until a bell gong rings? then no, that’s probably not in the suttas and OP is right.

Guided instructions on the 3 trainings, that’s found in the suttas

Then the elder monks taught & instructed the new monks even more intensely. Some elder monks were teaching & instructing ten monks, some were teaching & instructing twenty monks, some were teaching & instructing thirty monks, some were teaching & instructing forty monks. The new monks, being taught & instructed by the elder monks, were discerning grand, successive distinctions.

"In this community of monks there are monks who remain devoted to the development of the four frames of reference… the four right exertions… the four bases of power… the five faculties… the five strengths… the seven factors for awakening… the noble eightfold path: such are the monks in this community of monks.

"In this community of monks there are monks who remain devoted to the development of good will… compassion… appreciation… equanimity… [the perception of the] foulness [of the body]… the perception of inconstancy: such are the monks in this community of monks.

"In this community of monks there are monks who remain devoted to mindfulness of in-&-out breathing.

  • Anapanasati sutta

So it was more like you received instructions, went out on your own to test it out, came back and reviewed your experiences with elder monks, rinse and repeat until you became “independent in the dhamma”, aka a streamwinner.

And “meditation” is mostly recollecting the dhamma, which is right view, Impermanence, recollecting virtue, and overcoming the 5 Hindrances. Overcoming the 5 Hindrances is a private 24/7 practice done via sati-sampajanna.

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Welcome @Assaf to D&D!

Speaking for myself, if it weren’t for guided meditations online, I would never have started in the first place! Why? Mind running everywhere! I would just give up ( which I did when I tried meditating after reading about meditation in a yoga book as a child)

It’s akin to training a puppy( I.e newbie meditator’s mind). You need a leash ( guided instructions, advice, reminders) when taking him/her out for a walk. Otherwise it chases the squirrels, goes after the other dogs, or worse.:laughing:

Over time, the puppy grows, and one can be start to grow confident it will stay close.
After many years, hopefully their practice grows and one can have complete confidence their mind is not going to be wandering off somewhere.

That’s why I love guided meditations, I still have the puppy mind :sweat_smile:

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Governing principles for different stages- 1) beginner, 2) on developing jhana, 3) on developing insight:

“There are these three governing principles. Which three? The self as a governing principle, the cosmos as a governing principle, and the Dhamma as a governing principle.”

[…]

“And in the great community of this cosmos there are brahmans & contemplatives endowed with psychic power, clairvoyant, skilled [in reading] the minds of others. They can see even from afar. Even up close, they are invisible. With their awareness they know the minds of others. They would know this of me: “Look, my friends, at this clansman who — though he has in good faith gone forth from the home life into homelessness — remains overcome with evil, unskillful mental qualities.” There are also devas endowed with psychic power, clairvoyant, skilled [in reading] the minds of others. They can see even from afar. Even up close, they are invisible. With their awareness they know the minds of others. They would know this of me: “Look, my friends, at this clansman who — though he has in good faith gone forth from the home life into homelessness — remains overcome with evil, unskillful mental qualities.”’ So he reflects on this: ‘My persistence will be aroused & not lax; my mindfulness established & not confused; my body calm & not aroused; my mind centered & unified.’ Having made the cosmos his governing principle, he abandons what is unskillful, develops what is skillful, abandons what is blameworthy, develops what is unblameworthy, and looks after himself in a pure way. This is called the cosmos as a governing principle.”—AN 3.40

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I think you’re right. This is just the time in which we live, I guess. For instance, if I don’t know how to do something, I look for a tutorial on Youtube. It’s just how many people find stuff out these days.

As for having too many guided meditations, I think that’s also just part of the information age we’re in. I recently had a look at Headspace’s app library and it was HUGE, kind of like a meditation Netflix.

Anyway, in terms of the format, it makes sense that people want some guidance from experienced meditators, particularly when they’re starting out. Obviously, once you’ve heard a few of them, you start to get a sense of what you’re doing and can start on your practice from there. That said, as Venerable outlined, it can be really powerful to do a guided meditation in a group as well (among all the other benefits he mentioned). I go to Bhante Sujato’s Friday night talks and really appreciate everyone doing the guided meditation together. It gives that sense of community and togetherness:) Also, sometimes a guided meditation can open you up to an entirely different take on a meditation. I remember a visiting nun from the USA years ago leading a metta meditation by describing the flowers in her mother’s back garden. It was really beautiful and I would never have thought of doing that myself, but she brought us into her world, so to speak, through that meditation.

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