Rev. Ray Innen Parchelo is a novice Tendai priest and founder of the Red Maple Sangha, the first lay Buddhist community in Eastern Ontario.
Meditation practices are so integral to Buddhism that people often think of the two together, and nothing more than that. This is largely untrue.
If we recall the most basic teaching of the Budhha Shakyamuni, we are reminded that his teaching is The Eight Steps to Happiness. Two steps are Complete Attention (sometimes called mindfulness, meditation as open awareness) and Complete Concentration (sometimes called one-pointed meditation). Thus, these two constitute only one quarter of the core teaching.
We should recognize that the Buddha's teaching provided Eight Steps combined as a Path, an integrated whole. A Buddhist is not free to pick and chose, to do certain steps and ignore the other.
Unfortunately, the majority of secular versions of meditation in the West ignore this point and claim that a person can do "Buddhist" meditation with no consideration of the other six or seven steps, most of which have to do with moral behaviour.
It would be as ridiculous as someone reducing Christianity to one or two Commandments, ignoring the rest and still claiming to be Christian. Sadly, this noble religious practice is being trivialized as merely a way to relax or as an adjunct to exercise.
Some traditions consider mindfulness as a the main meditative practice, some consider concentrative practices as superior. In my tradition the two are referred to as shi-kan, and considered two sides of the same coin - each has its value. Again, there is a false impression that the only acceptable Buddhist meditation is sitting cross-legged, staring at a wall for extended periods, such as is associated with the Zen tradition.
The terms attention and concentration are rather broad, and so, there are many variations on each which are fully accepted forms of Buddhist practice. There are forms of meditation that look like prayer, plain-song chanting, linear walking, calligraphy, sword practice and more.
I would agree with a recent view that meditation, mindfulness and more are actually branches of a larger tree called "contemplative practices" (for more, search that term on the Web). This view allows us to see many spiritual practices as contemplative, and all as being interrelated in purpose.
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