All Buddhist traditions practice meditation, because the Buddha did so as a means to attain enlightenment. Meditation varies in different disciplines, but the rationale for doing it, in every one, is enlightenment. Enlightenment involves experiencing the true nature of mind, so it makes sense to look at mind with meditation until its nature reveals itself.
Most people, hearing of meditation, think that something is being meditated upon. This is a mistaken understanding. Meditation is a state of being, and doing anything, like meditating “on” something, interferes with that being. The best meditation is effortless. Unfortunately, beginning meditators find it difficult to reach that effortless level immediately, so crutches are employed to help them, such as following the breath, counting, or in some cases labeling thoughts as “thinking,” after they return from their fantasies. Some Buddhist meditation also utilizes visualizations.
Whatever meditation we practice should provide several specific benefits. It should be designed to keep us in the present by following the breath, counting or similar techniques. This is important because the present is where enlightenment is. It can not be accessed in our fantasies about the past and future. It should also provide a means for us to leave our preoccupations and return to the present. Finally, it should be designed to help us see mind itself, the mind that is uncluttered by thoughts and emotions. To be accurate, thoughts and emotions are also mind, but until we see the essence of mind that underlies them, that will not be evident. So, we must have a practice that at times reveals mind unencumbered by its occurrences.
When we see the true nature of mind, empty/awareness, we are enlightened. In truth, we look at that enlightened mind the first moment we meditate and see our consciousness without obscuration, but we fail to recognize its makeup. It’s like looking at water without knowing it is wet. We are looking at mind without the experience of its empty, aware, vast, restful, blissful, caring nature. We have to keep looking at mind in meditation until those things reveal themselves. Mind is really looking at us, but for now, we will think of us looking at it.
It is recommended that we receive meditation instruction from someone well versed in it, and that we check with them from time to time to make sure we are on the right track. It is worth knowing that until the point of enlightenment everything we do is the work of ego, including meditation. So, it’s important we have someone with a lot of insight to protect us from egocentric approaches.
The main failing of those seeking enlightenment is a resistance to doing meditation. If one has a sincere desire to become enlightened, there is no substitute for it. Without it one will simply become a Buddhist scholar with no insight into the meaning behind the words, like a swimming instructor who has never been in water. If we want to become enlightened, we must commit ourselves unswervingly to meditation. Only then will we have a chance to attain it.