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From the wide range of meditation subjects found in the Buddha’s discourses, the ancient teachers of the Theravada tradition have selected four subjects and grouped them into a set known as “the four protective meditations”: recollection of the Buddha, the meditation on loving-kindness, contemplating the unattractive nature of the body, and mindfulness of death. The four are called “protective meditations” because each offers protection from a particular unwholesome tendency and reinforces a beneficial quality essential to the path. The four can be developed either as a preparation for a more intensive type of meditation or as independent subjects.
Recollection of the Buddha protects against dissatisfaction and generates faith and devotion, which in turn give rise to joy. Loving-kindness is the antidote to ill will and generates feelings of friendliness and altruistic concern. Contemplating the unattractive nature of the body debilitates sensual lust and inclines the mind toward disenchantment and dispassion. Mindfulness of death is a potent remedy for heedlessness, reminding us of the transience of everything we cherish.
Over the next four weeks Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi will explain each of these meditation subjects in turn and conduct each as a guided meditation.
Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi lives and teaches at Chuang Yen Monastery in Carmel, New York. He is currently preparing a complete translation of the Anguttara Nikaya, the numerical discourses of the Buddha.