by Abbot George Burke (Swami Nirmalananda Giri)

The Meditation Word

breath meditationChapter 2 of The Breath of Life

The “Meditation Word”

Practitioners of Breath Meditation, whatever their tradition, have found that sometimes in meditation the mind just refuses to calm down and be absorbed in the breath. When that happens a “Meditation Word,” a single word that best symbolizes the Supreme Consciousness to the meditator, can be employed to soothe and refine the mind and the breath (since they are fundamentally the same), and lead to the silence that is the essence of Breath Meditation. This is done by mentally intoning the Meditation Word once during inhalation and once during exhalation, fitting the single intonation to the length (or shortness) of the breath, while being aware of the tip of the nose. (If the Meditation Word has two syllables, you might like to intone the first syllable during inhalation and the second syllable during exhalation.) As soon as the mind calms, the Word is dropped and the silent contemplation of the breath at the nosetip continues on its own.

If, at the beginning of meditation, you find your awareness easily becoming absorbed in awareness of the breath, then there is no need to intone the Meditation Word. But whenever you find your mind a bit restless, distracted or tending to drift from the breath–whether right at the beginning or at any time during the meditation–then intone your Meditation Word mentally in time with your breath while remaining aware of the nosetip, as already described. Then when the mind begins to calm, drop the intonations and silently remain aware of the breath at the nosetip.

Do the same when during the day, or at night before going to sleep, if you have trouble just being aware of the nosetip and the breath.

Meditation Words

Many are the possible Meditation Words, and whichever is used should be chosen by the meditator according to personal preference. A simple Meditation Word is more helpful in Breath Meditation practice than longer, formal mantras.

Some Meditation Words are: Om, Aom, So’ham (SoHum), Brahman, Vishnu, Hari, Shiva, Krishna, Rama, Kali, Durga, Tao, Buddha (Pali: Buddho), Amida, Amitabha, Kwan Yin, Guan Yin, Kannon, Jehovah, Hayah (I Am), Adonai, Elohim, El Shaddai, Jesus [In Sanskrit: Isha (Ee-shuh], Mary, Allah–according to the spiritual tradition or preference of the individual.

Next Chapter in The Breath of LifeThe Hindu Tradition of Breath Meditation