Tibetan Buddhist Meditation

A lot of people know of the Dalai Lama.  He has become a spokesperson around the world, for peace and harmony.  He has written many books on the subjects relating to humanity and the ability to find enlightenment in the modern age.
Tibetan Buddhism is a form of Mahayana Buddhism (there are two primary forms of Buddhism: Theravadin and Mahayana.)   What I was taught in my school of Buddhism (Mahayana) was that Theravadin schools believe that one must be perfected over many lifetimes to become the Buddha.  One is generally celibate for their life that reaches enlightenment.  However, in Mahayana teachings, one does not need to be celibate, and enlightenment can reach anyone at any time through spiritual practice.  Keep in mind that was told to me from a Mahayana perspective, so it may not reflect accurately the Theravadin perspective. 
Mahayana Buddhism has many sects within it.  Including the list below (a more complete list can be found at Wikiepedia) :

  • Pure Land
  • Shingon
  • Tibetan
  • Vinaya
  • Vipassana
  • Zen

Each of breaks down further into more schools of Buddhism. For example, there are many forms of Zen Buddhism.  In Tibetan Buddhism, we have many schools as well.
I spent years studying the Mahayana Tibetan style of meditation that was taught to me, which I will go over below.  Zen meditation was recently introduced to me and I’ll give what I know about it near the bottom of this page.

Tibetan Meditation

What I’ve come to realize years later, is that this form of meditation is very ceremonial.  Unlike the Guru, Zen and Western Mystical meditation styles, this one has a very lengthy preliminary (taking 20-30min) before the meditation begins.  If you follow the physical prostrations, it may also extend that.
This style is also utilizing the mental factors.  Unlike Zen or Vipassana meditation (which seek the quiet the mind to silence), this will stimulate the mind with a focused and guided visualization.

Reasons to Meditate

We were told in ACI (by Lama Marut) that the main goal of Meditation (from the Tibetan perspective) was GomGom is a Tibetan word meaning habituation.  We are using meditation to re-habituate our minds, so they are non reactive to stimuli.  By doing this, we change our karma (see articles on Karma and Emptiness.)  It is through the change of Karma and the realization of Emptiness, that we would reach Enlightenment.
So let me break this down a bit.  Let’s get practical.  This style of meditation is a poison and cure style.  By poison, I mean a problem.  By cure, a specific meditation to overcome said problem.
Say you have a problem with ANGER.  In Buddhism anger is the greatest of sins.  But lets say you’re not religious (Buddhist or otherwise), you just want to get over your anger issues. You find anger has gotten you into a load of trouble recently.
Just like a Chinese Medical Tradition practitioner would pull down a recipe to help you with a specific ailment – So to would you find the correct Meditation for your specific problem.  With regards to Anger, you might be prescribed a meditation on patience or mother recognition.
As you use this specific meditation, it will rehabituate your responses.  You would find you no longer react in anger. But are aware and in the NOW of your situation.  This clears the negative karmic response of reacting in anger.  It would change your current world to be more at peace, and you would be a step closer to the goal of total Freedom (Enlightenment.)


To give an example of just how visual Tibetan Meditation can be… let’s consider Mandala art.
It was explained to us by our Lama, that the Mandala’s are like 2-Dimensional representations of 3D space.  Like looking at a maze, from the vantage point of a bird.  There are some meditations within Buddhism that make use of the Mandala (such as Lam Rim meditation) that you are walking through (visualizing) the mandala maze – each section representing a specific spiritual element/concept.

Example Tibetan Buddhist Meditation

Set Up

The meditation space needs to be clean.  You would normally have an altar space, with images upon it representing the Buddha, Christ, or Guru.  These images are not idols, but represent qualities you wish to take hold of.


You would make 3 prostrations to the refuge object (the image of the Buddha or saint upon your altar.)


We start with sitting. You first find a posture you can handle. This could be Full Lotus, Half Lotus, etc. Some with back issues would sit in a chair, but traditionally it was either Full or Half Lotus.
When you sit on the floor, or a hard surface, you sit on a cushion in such a way that your back is straight, your but is towards the front half of the cushion. Shoulders relaxed, head straight, mouth relaxed and eyes closed.
Your hands can be placed in a variety of mudras. The classic ones we see on TV are someone with both hands on their knees – hands upraised and thumb and index finger touching.
I find that one puts stress on my wrists and I prefer having the left hand down (hand facing up) in my lap and my right hand on top of it (also facing up.)
You can of course google  “mudras” and see what position works best for you.


This is basically a form of Pranyama.  You will watch your breath. You will count each breath in a specific way.  During this time, you should not have a surface thought interrupt your count. If it does, you start over. The goal is to get to the count of 10, without interruption in your mental space.  At ACI that meant any thought. If you were breathing and at a count of 9, but then had the passing thought of a juicy hamburger – you would start over again.  If you had the thought of worried you might have a conscious thought – you start over again.
The breathing that ACI – LA taught was like this:
Exhale, Inhale – that’s count 1; Exhale, Inhale – that’s count 2… and so forth.


Taking refuge means to recall to your conscious awareness, your highest ideals.  This could be: To reach Enlightenment, To be One with God, Overcome all Negative Karma, etc.

Visualizing the Holy Being

You will now mentally visualize a Holy Being in front of you. This will be someone like The Buddha, a Guru, a Spiritual Teacher, Jesus…
You will think about a quality they have that you would like to cultivate. In general all Holy Beings are loving, compassionate and wise. Find something they have that you would like to have in your own life.
Mentally offer a gift to the Holy Being – the gift could be the practice itself (your meditation) or it could be a mental image, etc


Now you will reflect upon any bad deeds you have done. You recall your highest ideals, and then clearly remember a recent event of body, speech or mind where you failed to meet this criteria. Make an oath you won’t do this again for the rest of the day/night. Promise yourself that you will make amends. Make this very
specific… “I will give my time tomorrow to help [someone]”
Make the make up activity clear and specific to the problem you caused.
Rejoice in your good deeds. Recall the good things you have done and be happy.

Visualize the Holy Being is happy with your good deeds.

Meditation with the Holy Being

Request now that the Holy Being meditate with you. That they teach you to be a better person. Realize that their teachings may be in a way that is direct, or through conduits. You may get teachings on patience (from the Holy Being) with people that frustrate you – to help you grow.
Offer a prayer to the Holy Being and invite them to enter into your heart and become part of you

Now the Meditation

As you can see the above was a lot of set up to get to the meditation.  But it works well for it’s paradigm.
At this point you would begin the meditation. This could be a meditation on:
  • Compassion
  • Exchanging Self With Others
  • Lam Rim
  • Mother Recognition
  • Patience

For Mother Recognition (which is one of my favorites for overcoming the idea that “others” that “frustrate” us are “out there”):

Example Meditation: Mother Recognition
  • Visualize three people before you
  • The first person is someone you love dearly (mother, father, child) – traditionally this would be your mother. If however, you do not feel close to your mother, substitute someone you do feel close with.
  • The second person is someone you are neutral to.  Perhaps a store clerk.  Someone you barely know at work.
  • The third person is someone you don’t like.  This could be an “enemy” or “the guy who cut you off in traffic,” etc.
  • Clearly see and feel your feelings to each of these. Be honest with yourself on how you feel towards them.
  • Consider now, how that if you behaved different to the person you loved, could they become someone neutral to you?  Is it possible that if you treated them with indifference they might become indifferent to you?  Neutral to you?
  • Consider now, the person who is neutral to you… would it be possible for them to become someone you don’t care for (or frustrates you)?  Could they do something that you would dislike that would change your feelings towards them?
  • Finally, consider that the person you dislike (or that frustrates you), could they become someone that is neutral, or someone you love?  Perhaps someone you could forgive… or what if they did something really nice to you or someone else?
  • Recognize the transitory nature here.  Each of these figures is really a product of your perception.
  • At this point, visualize the countless people standing behind each of these.  All the people you like, all the people you are neutral too, all the people you dislike… and see how based on your perception of action, you could see each differently.
  • Look at the Mother Figure (the person you love), see that they are not happy.  They go through problems, like you do.  They get what they don’t want and desire what they do not have.  They have not yet found spiritual freedom and they are suffering.  Feel your compassion for that person.
  • Reincarnation:  Consider the possibility that we have all lived countless times.  We have been each others children, parents, lovers, killers… But for the moment, consider that each of the people standing before you, has at one time been your mother.  They loved you.  They nursed you and raised you.  They taught you the best they could.  Feel your compassion for each of them.
  • Extend that compassion to the countless millions standing behind each of the three figures.

For More Information (As well as Recorded Guided Meditations)

Please see these links for more information, and even guided meditations in the Tibetan style of meditation…
ACI Document on Tibetan Meditation
About the Preliminaries to Meditation
Guided Meditation

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