When you consider specific content, there are countless meditations. The reason is simple: there are countless ways to clear obstacles and accumulate merit in different people’s minds as they move toward enlightenment.
Indeed, it is a rare and wonderful thing when you can find a meditation teacher that can prescribe the right meditation at the right time to address your current obstacles and help you deepen your wisdom.
However, broadly speaking, there are two types of meditation that every meditator must learn to wield over the course of their meditation career: both fixed and analytical meditation.
Fixed meditation involves focusing on one object so that no other object appears to the mind. Fixed meditation is used with objects that you have no doubt about.
Your meditation object could be anything: the breath, a mantra, your image of an enlightened being, or even a point within the body such as ajna chakra, more commonly known as the third eye.
The main benefits of fixed meditation are the development of concentration, the habituation of the mind to the object of meditation, and the suppression of mental afflictions.
In the highest form of fixed meditation, meditative stillness, you have the feeling that even your own body has dissolved into the object of focus and no other object at all appears to the mind. This creates an overwhelming feeling of bliss. The mind loves to sink into one thing. And after that, the mind itself disappears into the bliss.
Because your mind takes on the qualities of what you focus on, the object of fixed meditation should be chosen wisely. Many lineages advise tethering your mind to a virtuous object, so your mind increases in good qualities.
In general, the more you focus on one fixed object of meditation, the more habituated your mind will be to that object, and the faster you will reach meditative stillness.
While it’s true that the meditative stillness gained by fixed meditation temporarily suppresses mental afflictions, fixed meditation alone is not the cure for suffering.
As the Buddha states in The King of Concentration Sutra:
Sure, we can develop
This kind of concentration,
But it will not work to destroy
Our conception of a “self.”
This means our impure thoughts
Will simply re-emerge and plague us,
Just as they did to Udraka
When he had meditated this way.
Je Tsongkapa, the founder of the lineage of the Dalai Lamas, in the Great Treatise on the Steps of the Path (Lam Rim Chenmo), echoes that fixed meditation alone is not the cure for our mental afflictions:
If we do not use extraordinary vision to focus on the state of things, then no matter how long we have abided in a state of meditative stillness, it will be impossible for us to eliminate the seeds for our mental afflictions from their root, even though this might suppress our manifest afflictions.
Because meditative stillness is not enough to reach liberation, the Buddha taught that it must be accompanied by extraordinary vision (a.k.a. wisdom or insight), which is the purpose of the next type of meditation: analytical meditation.
Analytical meditation uses investigation to develop insight about something. As analytical meditation is a problem-solving meditation, it’s used when there is some uncertainty or question that needs to be resolved.
This type of meditation helps us question our assumptions about the nature of self, our lives, and reality. It helps us deconstruct our own stories and habits so we can see with new eyes—with insight.
At its highest level, analytical meditation reveals the true nature of reality. This wisdom is the direct antidote to suffering.
Without analytical meditation, enlightenment is impossible. In Commentary on the True Intent Sutra, the Buddha says,
Concentration serves to really suppress our mental afflictions; Wisdom works to actually destroy our dormant seeds.
Master Kamilashila, the great Indian Master, taught in the first book for the Tibetan people about meditation, The Steps of Meditation:
Without the wisdom of analysis, no kind of yogi could ever abide in the non-conceptual state.
In The King of Concentration Sutra, after the Buddha explains why fixed meditation isn’t enough to destroy the root of suffering, the Buddha teaches:
If you were to analyze
The lack of “self ” to things,
And if you were to meditate
Upon that analyzed,
This itself would be the cause
For achieving the result
Of traveling beyond all grief.
No other cause at all
Could bring you to that peace.
As the West continues to learn about meditation, it is vital that we increase our understanding of the importance of analytical meditation if the path to enlightenment is to be preserved.
To advance on the path using analytical meditation, it is important to learn a vital skill: How to switch back and forth between analysis and holding the wisdom that pops single-pointedly.
With analysis, we work a problem like rubbing two sticks together to create a flame. Once the flame of wisdom sparks, we need to stop rubbing and bask in that wisdom. This technique is known as switching from analysis to holding the realization single-pointedly. When the wisdom fades, we re-spark our realization with a little more analysis.
All the great transformations along the path to enlightenment come when a meditator unites fixed and analytical meditation. In its highest form, where stillness and insight unite, the mind moves seamlessly between the two without disturbing the mind, like a fish through water.
Numerous, authoritative meditation texts take as their main topic that a meditator needs to master both fixed meditation and analytical meditation.
As the Buddha says in the exalted sutra Cloud of Jewels:
Stillness is a single-pointed mind. Vision is pure analysis.
These texts also affirm that the goal is to bring both types of meditation together.
As Pabongka Rinpoche, one of the last great lamas of old Tibet, explains in Liberation in Our Hands:
Finally, through the strength of your analytic meditation, you will develop an extraordinary form of agility that is much greater than what you experienced previously when you were cultivating stillness. The point that marks the attainment of real insight practice is when your analytic meditation effortlessly changes into fixed meditation. In this instance, I have been discussing the insight practice that has emptiness as its object. This type of meditation is also known as the "union of stillness and insight."
Meditators need to master both fixed and analytical meditation and learn how to unite the two methods to achieve enlightenment.
Because analytical meditation can have a such a profound, transformative effect on our lives in very concrete, immediate ways, GoBeyond.org follows the advice of lineage masters and teaches meditators both fixed and analytical meditation from the start.