What does the term Formless Meditation mean & where did it come from?

A Student asks:

You use the term ‘Formless Meditation’ I am wondering what the Tibetan is for this? Is it the same as meditation without characteristics?

Lama Shenpen Replies:

Formless Meditation seems to mean anything from basic Shamata to deepest levels of vipashyana, Mahamudra and/or Dzogchen.

Formless Meditation is a term coined by Trungpa Rinpoche which is clearly meant to include far more than simply a Shamata practice without a particular focus or object (Tibetan: dmig pa med pa) or characteristic (mstan ma med pa).

He clearly didn’t mean a practice of formlessness that led to the formless god realms.

I think he meant it to be a general term for the discipline of sitting looking directly at your experience without relying on any kind of gimmicks – just being simple.

It contrasts with the various form practices that are available in Tibetan Buddhism.

I inherited the term from Rigdzin Shikpo and am not particularly happy with it as a term even though it seems to suit people because if they are looking for simplicity – formless sounds just what they are looking for – no belief system involved!


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