• What is Meditation?

What is Meditation?

Meditation is not just about blanking the mind. It is an action of mind whose nature is single pointed concentration and whose function is to make the mind calm and peaceful.

Although we can start with a simple breathing meditation to gain some ability to control distractions, to gain the full benefits of meditation practice we should focus on meaningful objects- objects of mind that will bring great meaning to our life. These include subjects such as impermanence, loving kindness and compassion. Kadampa Meditation Centre London offers a wide range of classes to suit every level of interest. See our class types for more information.

The Benefits of Meditation

The purpose of meditation is to make our mind calm and peaceful.

If our mind is peaceful, we will be free from worries and mental discomfort, and so we will experience true happiness; but if our mind is not peaceful, we will find it very difficult to be happy, even if we are living in the very best conditions.

If we train in meditation, our mind will gradually become more and more peaceful, and we will experience a purer and purer form of happiness. Eventually, we will be able to stay happy all the time, even in the most difficult circumstances.

Usually we find it difficult to control our mind. It seems as if our mind is like a balloon in the wind – blown here and there by external circumstances. If things go well, our mind is happy, but if they go badly, it immediately becomes unhappy. For example, if we get what we want, such as a new possession or a new partner, we become excited and cling to them tightly.

However, since we cannot have everything we want, and since we will inevitably be separated from the friends and possessions we currently enjoy, this mental stickiness, or attachment, serves only to cause us pain. On the other hand, if we do not get what we want, or if we lose something that we like, we become despondent or irritated.

For example, if we are forced to work with a colleague whom we dislike, we will probably become irritated and feel aggrieved, with the result that we will be unable to work with him or her efficiently and our time at work will become stressful and unrewarding.

Such fluctuations of mood arise because we are too closely involved in the external situation. We are like a child making a sand castle who is excited when it is first made, but who becomes upset when it is destroyed by the incoming tide.

By training in meditation, we create an inner space and clarity that enables us to control our mind regardless of the external circumstances. Gradually we develop mental equilibrium, a balanced mind that is happy all the time, rather than an unbalanced mind that oscillates between the extremes of excitement and despondency.

If we train in meditation systematically, eventually we will be able to eradicate from our mind the delusions that are the causes of all our problems and suffering. In this way, we will come to experience a permanent inner peace, known as “liberation” or “nirvana”. Then, day and night in life after life, we will experience only peace and happiness.

To read more on this subject, see The New Meditation Handbook, Transform Your Life, and Eight Steps to Happiness.

  • Training in Meditation

    According to its authentic source within Buddhism

If we wish to elevate our mind we must merge it with the practice of virtue by steadily applying the power of mindfulness. This is the very heart of meditation.

Venerable Geshe Kelsang Gyatso Rinpoche

Training in mindfulness is not just watching our mind, but actively improving our mind by keeping it focused on a positive object. This practice involves three main mental factors: mindfulness, alertness and conscientiousness.


Mindfulness is a mental factor that functions both to keep the mind on an object that has not been forgotten and to bring the mind back to an object that has been forgotten.

We can understand what mindfulness is by considering its object, nature and function:

  • Object: Mindfulness focuses on an object with which the mind has previously become acquainted
  • Nature: The nature of mindfulness is not to forget the object but to hold onto it
  • Function: The function of mindfulness is to prevent the mind from being distracted  – from wandering away from the object it is holding


The mental factor alertness is a type of wisdom that knows what is a fault and what is not a fault.

When we place our mind on an object with mindfulness, alertness checks occasionally to see if our meditation is progressing well or if interruptions and obstacles have arisen. This spy-like function of the mind is alertness. If it discovers that the mind has become distracted or has fallen under the influence of mental sinking or excitement we can grasp onto the object once again with mindfulness and continue our meditation.

Alertness is the fruit of mindfulness and has a very close connection with it. While mindfulness holds onto its object, alertness observes if there is any wandering from that object or not.


Conscientiousness is a mental factor that cherishes what is virtuous and guards the mind from delusion and non-virtue.

There is no practice more important than keeping our mind free from negativity. Normally we take great care to protect our body from injury, but it is much more important to protect the mind.

Conscientiousness should be practised in conjunction with mindfulness and alertness. With mindfulness we tie our mind to a virtuous object. A virtuous object is any object that has a positive effect on our mind. We should try to keep our mind on virtuous objects all the time. If through alertness we discover that a delusion is about to arise we should immediately prevent it by recalling the faults of delusions. This is the practice of conscientiousness.

Where do the terms come from?
The terms ‘mindfulness’, ‘alertness’ and ‘conscientiousness’ were used by Buddha when he taught how to understand and control the mind. Later great scholars such as Vasubandhu and Asanga in India and Je Tsongkhapa in Tibet wrote commentaries to Buddha’s teachings, clarifying the precise meaning of these terms.

The term ‘mindfulness’ is a translation of the Tibetan word ‘drenpa’ (དྲན་པ) which can also be translated as ‘remembering’ or ‘recollecting’

The term ‘alertness’ is a translation of the Tibetan word ‘she shin’ (ཤེས་བཞིན)

Conscientiousness is a translation of the Tibetan word ‘pag yod’ (བག་ཡོད), which can also be translated as ‘concern’ or ‘caution’ or ‘carefulness’.

For more information please see How to Understand the Mind, Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life and Meaningful to Behold

Gen-la Kelsang Dekyong explaining how to train in mindfulness using four stages of meditation.