This is in response to a question I got on the Insight Timer app that I use to time my meditation practices. I wish their web app had the chat feature, I really can’t imagine writing so many words into my phone.
Anyway, J.B.’s question was:
“What is Buddhist Formless Meditation?”
I’m sure she asked me that because on the app I said that my main practice is “Buddhist Formless Meditation.”
It would be best, I think, if I tell you whence I’ve been taught. Terms like “Meditation” have different meanings in different circles.
I was taught by two very different Buddhist organizations. I consider my main, “root” teacher to be Khenpo Sonam Rinpoche in Toronto. I went to his centre in Toronto for at least 12 years.
I also was taught by the Shambhala community. That’s one that is in a great deal of toil right now, but I can’t honestly answer your question without mentioning that that community has been a big part of my life since my 20’s. (I’m 60 as I write this.)
Formless of course means without form. In the context of meditation practice it means this:
Most traditions have practitioners put their attention on their breath, or on an image, or a mantra or something. Such practices are called “formfull” because they require the practitioner to have some form in their mind: the image or mantra or whatever.
I was taught, in both traditions, to initially do a “formful” meditation, i.e. focussing on my breath. After a few years, they both taught me to do a “formless” meditation where I don’t put my attention on anything, I just let my mind rest as completely as possible.
In the Tibetan tradition, one methodology is called Dzogchen. My teacher Sonam R. taught me a bit of that.
In the Shambhala tradition, they teach pretty much the same practice in the later levels of their programs.
I hope that helps!