Prince Siddhartha Gautama, commonly referred to as the Buddha or “one who is awake,” is said to have lived approximately 2,500 years ago. At the age of 29, the young Siddhartha ventured out beyond the palace walls for the very first time and witnessed a whole new world—one of suffering, aging, illness, birth, and death. This led him to choose a path of poverty, withdrawal from all worldly desires, self-denial of earthly pleasures, and self-starvation. He then dedicated himself to a life of austerity, asceticism, and meditation. Of course this only created a very thin and austere meditator.
One day when he was close to the point of death through self-starvation, a young girl offered him a bowl of rice, and he accepted it. At that moment, he realized that severe austerity would not lead to enlightenment. From then on, Siddhartha encouraged people to follow a path he called “the middle way”—devotion to moderation between the extremes of self-indulgence and self-mortification. His followers became disengaged, believing he had lost his focus and lost his mind. So they left him.
That night he sat under a pipal tree, meditating in the north Indian town of Bodhgaya, vowing not to stop until he had attained Truth. He practiced anapanasati, a meditation practice in which you focus your awareness on breathing in and out. After meditating for 49 days, he experienced enlightenment at the age of 35. From that point on, he was known as the Buddha, which means “One who is awake.”
Much has been written about Siddhartha by authors ranging from Hermann Hesse to Deepak Chopra, and you don’t have to be a Buddhist to practice Buddhist meditations. At no point during a Buddhist meditation is it required or requested that you pray to the Buddha or believe in the teachings of the Buddha. In fact, all Buddhist meditations are about attention and mindfulness, not a person or a deity. Buddha can even help you get closer to Jesus Christ.
The primary purpose of Buddhist meditation is to train the mind to be still. You can learn about the steps to train the mind and find stillness in my book “Secrets of Meditation.”