Slash Your Spiritual Training Curve Through These 10 Great Roads of Meditation practice
Shakyamuni Buddha said that religions commonly employed ten great roads of spiritual practice that can be used to help you progress towards the spiritual heights. These paths include the following:
(1) Mindfulness of the Buddha practice, which like bhakti yoga, involves concentrating on a divine form such as Jesus, Buddha, Krishna or some other great virtuous deity, and then so identifying with the contemplation on a moment-by-moment basis that one enters into samadhi. "Mindfulness of the Buddha" is not a method restricted to Buddhism, but simply the name of the technique of mindfulness which uses the example of Buddha-focus as a means of spurring practice to one-pointed concentration. It is a method of mentally honoring and imitating an enlightened being, and seeking what he achieved from mind-moment to mind-moment, until one finally achieves that ultimate attainment himself.
(2) Mindfulness of the Dharma (Teaching) practice, which like jnana yoga, involves arriving at samadhi through the road of logical analysis and mental investigation. Success in Dharma practice involves realizing that all teachings are but expedient means, and uses the road of understanding spiritual teachings to help you arrive at samadhi. When you can fathom the true nature of some spiritual teaching through insight analysis, and combine the results of your contemplation with your stage of meditative realization, this is Dharma practice, or Dharma mindfulness. It is to be aware of the dharma at every moment in time, such as to always recognize the inherent selflessness of phenomena, the emptiness of the ego, and the illusive nature of reality. This recognition will lead to detachment, and detachment leads to realization. Putting oneself in line with the Tao is Dharma practice, and eventually leads to self-realization.
(3) Mindfulness of the Sangha practice, which involves relying upon an individual with spiritual attainment, as done in guru yoga, for cultivation instruction and guidance to reach an initial state of spiritual attainment. One derivative of Sangha mindfulness is to model oneself on an enlightened individual's behavior in order to try and match their stage of attainment. The ancient Indian story of the man who learned archery by imagining that he was one with his teacher illustrates this technique, as does the modern practice of neuro-linguistic programming (NLP). Neither can be correctly considered mindfulness of the Sangha practice, but since they involve changing or perfecting outward behavior through intense imitation of a powerful model, this merging of mind with a visualized model can be considered a form of regular person's samadhi. Mindfulness of the Sangha not only entails asking someone to help you achieve the Tao, but to imitate their stage of mental realization in hopes of achieving what they have achieved.
(4) Mindfulness of Discipline and Virtue practice, such as that emphasized by the Confucian school and the early Greeks. This involves a constant introspection of one's mind and motivations so as to cut off mental faults and thereby attain samadhi. This spiritual road can also be called the Mindfulness of Morality practice. The practice of cessation and contemplation is also a form of morality mindfulness, and the Confucian practice of self-correction (so as to avoid moral mistakes and hurting others) falls within this category as well.
(5) Mindfulness of Giving and Generosity practice, which like karma yoga and action yoga, entails the performance of good deeds and acts of charity in order to attain samadhi. You can attain the samadhi of mental peacefulness by giving everything away--especially your thoughts--and through this route you can reach the stage of selfless charity that exhibits the Tao. This road of practice is particularly championed in Christianity, though it must also be accompanied by determined meditation efforts if an individual truly wishes to reach samadhi and the spiritual realms through this road. The practice of constant selflessness and renunciation through charity and giving is definitely a genuine spiritual path, but you must remember that it applies to the realm of the mind otherwise its application in the physical realm will only produce material rewards.
(6) Mindfulness of Heaven (also known as Mindfulness of Deities) practice, as seen in Hinduism and Christian mysticism, which entails the use of good conduct and personal purification to rise to higher states of being. Once an individual becomes an inhabitant of the higher heavenly worlds, he or she then uses this more fortuitous stage of spiritual attainment to make upward progress in their cultivation. To reach this stage a person must cultivate purity of mind and outer virtue, so mindfulness of heaven is to some extent a samadhi practice.
(7) Mindfulness of Breathing practice, such as anapana and pranayama, which involves entering the state of samadhi through breath control and breathing exercises. The most important aspect of this practice is to cultivate the state where your breathing naturally stops, and to then maintain this state for as long as possible to prepare the body for kundalini arousal. This is when your mind and breath will dissolve into one. This practice relies on the scientifically confirmed, physiological relationship between your breath and thoughts, which means that your chi and consciousness are linked (at least at the lowest stages of the path). Countless masters have achieved samadhi and superpowers through this road of practice because it is so quick and powerful. The Tibetan practice of tumo heat is one type of breathing practice that cultivates the wind element of the body. In fact, nearly all the esoteric techniques have breathing practices as their basis.
(8) Mindfulness of Peacefulness or Relaxation practice, which basically involves resting yourself into the state of samadhi by perfectly relaxing both body and mind. You attain samadhi through this practice by imitating the peaceful nature of Nirvana enlightenment. To perform this sort of exercise, a person who makes himself comfortable watching television, and then forgets both mind and body, can even use this as a cultivation vehicle. This is not actually mindfulness of peace practice, but simply an example that demonstrates it is possible to make use of any available time for making cultivation progress.
(9) Mindfulness of the Body practice, which involves meditating on the unattractiveness or uncleanness of the body in order to attain the state of detachment that can lead to samadhi. This particular route is the basis of Hinayana Buddhism, and includes the famous shining white skeleton method of contemplation wherein you internally visualize that you are just a collection of shiny white bones. After this white bone visualization becomes stable, you must imagine that the bones become dust that blows away so that only emptiness remains. When you reach this stage of emptiness after attaining the one-pointedness, that is a true stage of spiritual attainment.
Finally, there is (10) Mindfulness of Death practice, which involves abandoning absolutely everything you cling to and thereby entering samadhi. Being mindful of the inevitability of death (as a spur to the practice maintaining awareness and letting go of everything) is an adjunct form of this type of cultivation. The after death bardo practices of Tibet are also a related form of this practice to be used by those who are passing away.
Whether you adopt this particular scheme for classifying meditation practices, or whether you belong to this or that particular religion or school of spiritual practice, is not the important point. It is useless to argue about any of these matters unless you practice meditation and achieve some stage of samadhi realization and some degree of prajna wisdom.
To achieve this, the first thing you must do is cultivate spiritual practice, and here are ten great roads of practice to choose from which you can adapt to nearly any tradition. These practice roads all entail some form of meditation because meditation is the core method behind all spiritual achievement. If you are not practicing meditation, it is unfortunate but true that you will not be able to climb to any of the genuine ranks of spiritual attainment.
No matter what people or religions may claim as spiritual truth, the real, actual, genuine, authentic truth of spiritual matters will become personally known to you after you progress on the road of cultivation practice. You will not need a priest, rabbi, monk, guru or whatever as an intercessor or interpreter of the spiritual realms because you will discover the truth or falsity of dogma yourself through direct spiritual experience. This is what all the religious holy scriptures want you to accomplish. While some people may claim that direct experience of spiritual attainment is not necessary, they cannot honestly say that this final outcome is somehow wrong.
When you personally experience spiritual states of attainment, no one will be able to cheat you anymore for you will have developed the personal experiential perception that accompanies accomplishment on the ranks of cultivation. As you make progress in spiritual cultivation by mastering samadhi and transcendental insight, you will become able to discern which religious dogmas or injunctions are actually cultural relics, "skillful" or "expedient" teachings, non-denominational truths, errors of interpretation, or just plain nonsense. This knowledge and capability will paint you as a very dangerous person to the orthodoxy. However, you will shine as a beacon and spiritual light to those seeking sure guidance on the road to spiritual advancement.