We might be able to boil meditation down into inner meditation which would be esoteric and outer meditation which is exoteric; which is also the kind of meditation we see taught in Zen centers.
An example of inner meditation would be to treat the physical act of meditation as symbolic. To sit down on the cushion means the wish to realize our true, fundamental nature which is luminous Mind. Sitting up straight means to have a mind free of attachment. To sit cross-legged means the intention to realize the unmoved nature of mind. Concentration would be to conquer unskilled states of mind. Right samadhi or contemplation would be to see the truth as it is for itself, not as we have heretofore imagined it to be. All this, I need to add, has to be supplemented by deep study of the Buddha’s discourses since he points out the true Way.
Inner meditation is meant to reflect, if not match, the awakened Mind of the sages and Buddhas. We are able to accomplish inner meditation only because we are intrinsically the awakened Buddha Mind although we can’t remember this Mind right now. We suffer from a kind of spiritual amnesia, in other words. If at once we recognize it, it is like a drop of water falling into the mighty ocean. We cannot be deceived anymore. We are one and awakened.
If, on the other hand, we don’t become directly acquainted with the Mind, fully recognizing it, how can we become enlightened? Even though we wear robes and live apart from the mundane world we remain clueless prithagjanas (worldly people).
This brings us to outer meditation the kind of meditation we see practiced in Zen centers and in training monasteries in Japan by monks hoping to become Zen Abbots so they can inherent their father’s temple and its wealth.
Another name for outer meditation is ritual meditation. This meditation rests on the Five Aggregates of physical shape, feeling, perception, habitual tendencies and consciousness. This, by the way, is Mara the demon whom the Bodhisattva battled with before he became Buddha, the awakened one. Outer meditation is only aware of the aggregates. It does not believe there is anything beyond them. In this condition, the first-person is a passive witness to the outer forms, in addition to his thoughts that continually arise and disappear like the waves upon the ocean. This meditation is for people who are immersed in worldly obstructions; who lack spiritual wisdom (prajñâ); who are skeptical of the Buddha’s esoteric teachings. In other words, this is prithagjana meditation.
We cannot get to first base by relying on outer meditation. To believe so is to be a fool on a fool’s errand.