The Path of Purification? No, my friend. Ratha-vinita Sutta (Chariot Relay Sutra) teaches us not to confuse the seven purifications, with the destination, Nirvana
Atisha’s Great Praise: 11th century wisdom.
Why do Buddhas and Enlightened Beings need offerings? The simple answer: they don’t. The better answer is…
Book Review: Tara in the Palm of Your Hand: a guide to the practice of the twenty-one Taras in the Surya Gupta lineage
Amitabha Sutra: cutting delusions with one-pointed blissful contemplation of Amitabha Buddha and the Pure Land
Reviving the genuine Dharma ritual art traditions: an interview with Vajra artisan and craftsman Rigdzin Pema Tuthob
Great Compassion Mantra: Purification, healing and protection, the Maha Karuna Dharani Sutra — benefiting all beings
Video: Why is Mantra important to daily practice? For protection: “We are human beings. We have many problems.”
A Sutra for Troubled Times: Usnisa Vijaya Dharani Sutra and Mantra— Purify Karma, Eliminate Illness and Prevent calamities
Naked wisdom for degenerate times: Vajrayogini, enlightened wisdom queen, leads us to bliss, clear light and emptiness, despite modern obstacles
Headed for darkness or light? Of world’s 7.5 billion people, Tamonata Sutta says there are four types of people, two headed to darkness
Interview Lama Dr. Shannon Young: Dzogchen teacher focuses on bringing Dharma practice into daily life and bridging heritage with modern life
H.H. 17th Karmapa Ogyen Trinley Dorje in Canada for one month, arrived in Toronto for teachings
What’s so special about Hayagriva? This wrathful Heruka emanation of Amitabha, with horse head erupting from fiery hair, literally neighs with the Hrih scream of Wisdom
Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta: The Great Discourse on the Establishing of Awareness; mindfulness of body, feelings, mind, mental qualities
Difficult lesson of karma: even “mass murderer” turned Arhat, Angulimala, had to bear the consequences of 999 murders
Video: Why a teacher-coach is important and how to practice Guru Yoga;  the “inconvenient” subject many teachers avoid
“Mahamudra is ultimately about trying to experience absolute truth” — and Helping Your Mind Get to Know Your Mind: Teaching Retreat Notes, Zasep Tulku Rinpoche
A Better Way to Catch a Snake Sutra: Buddha explains the danger of misinterpreting the Dharma
Happy Wesak Day! On this most sacred day, celebrating the birth, Enlightenment and Paranirvana of Gautama Buddha, we wish all sentient beings health, happiness, and ultimate Enlightenment.
Finding the Good in Any Situation and “Turn the other cheek”? The Sutra with Advice to Venerable Punna from the Buddha
Healing and Foundation Practices Video: Learning from the Teachers Video Series with Venerable Zasep Tulku Rinpoche
Buddha’s Teachings on Anger Management: Five Ways to Put an End to Anger, or to Use it Constructively and 3 Sutras on Anger
Overcoming Fear: Three Remedies for Fear; What Buddha had to Say About Fearlessness in Abhaya Sutta
The many faces of Avalokiteshvara’s compassion: sometimes we need a father or mother, sometimes a friend, sometimes a warrior
Mokugyo: Drumming for a Wakeful Mind with the Wooden Fish Drum’s Unique Sound
Pith Instructions on Mahamudra from Mahasiddha Tilopa: The Ganges Mahamudra Upadesha
Learning from the Teachers Video 1: Four students ask Zasep Rinpoche meditation questions — resting the mind in a natural way in Mahamudra; foundation practices; being your own Guru, and meditative “realizations.”
Four Questions the Buddha Would NOT Answer and Why: Is the Cosmos Finite in Space?; Is the Universe Finite in Time?; Is the Self Different From Body?; Does the Buddha Exist After Death?
Advice from the Teachers Video 10: Struggling with Visualizing Your Heart Bond Yidam. How to Choose One, How to Improve Clarity and Concentration.
BW Interview with Geshe Thubten Sherab: Skillfully Teaching Traditional Tibetan Buddhism for Western Students
Video Buddhist Advice 9: How Can Advanced Vajrayana Students Simplify and Manage Commitments and Practice? Answered by Venerable Zasep Tulku Rinpoche
Thich Nhat Hanh’s Translation: The Sutra on the Eight Realizations of the Great Beings “Torches That Help Light My Path”
Movie: Walk With Me — Thich Nhat Hanh and Plum Village on the Big Screen: “Mindfulness is to always arrive in the here and now.”
Inspired by H.E. Garchen Rinpoche, Galgamani Art Project Aims Personalize the Tibetan Prayer Wheel: Interview with Micha Strauss
Prayer Wheels Growing in Popularity; Benefiting Sentient Beings and Practicing Right Livelihood: Interview with Shea Witsett of The Prayer Wheel Shop
Meditation Techniques for People With Unsettled Monkey Minds

Meditation Techniques for People With Unsettled Monkey Minds

Coping with the Monkey Mind — a meditation term indicating an “unsettled; restless; capricious; whimsical; fanciful; inconstant; confused; indecisive; uncontrollable” mind — is one of the biggest obstacles to meditation and mindfulness practice in Buddhism.

Active Quigong (Chi Gong) and also Tai Chi are excellent meditations for monkey minds.

The monkey mind disturbs peaceful reflection and creates endless obstacles to mindfulness practice, and, although it sounds contradictory, mindfulness can be said to be the “cure” for the monkey mind. Coping with the monkey mind can be helped with different techniques:

  • active meditation: Tai chi, Chi Gong, walking
  • static meditations: standing, sitting, lying
  • sensory meditations: focus on just hearing or feeling
  • analytical meditation: analyze your anger or other feelings; or examine your body to find that which is “you”
  • visualization meditations: really incorrigible monkey minds can best be settled with active visualization methods
  • compassion meditation: meditating on metta and loving kindness
  • voice meditations: if you’re really unsettled, combine visualization with a mantra, a repetitive toneless sound.


Numerous peer-reviewed studies of mindfulness meditation have proven the real benefits to health and mind. Here is a classical seated meditation posture while focusing on breath.


Meditation has numerous proven health benefits as well as mental and spiritual benefits. (There are at least ten health benefits to meditation, as proven in clinical studies. Refer to this article>>) To achieve any gains, regardless of goal, the mind must be able to focus, to settle. Meditation is one of the best options to help control the accumulated stress and other related problems, normally associated with this fast paced world. Spiritually, meditation is critical to mindfulness practice and reflections on the Dharma. Psychiatry has also long recognized the benefits of stillness meditation. But, what to do if you have the monkey mind, if you simply can’t still the mind or the body?

Some well-tried and lesser known methods, which we’ve covered in detail before, also include:


The known benefits of meditation.


Concentration Versus Clarity

One key to overcoming the monkey mind is to focus on clarity, not concentration. Don’t concentrate on the breath, simply experience it with clarity. Don’t concentrate on sounds, let yourself go and experience them, closing your eyes to remove visual distraction. Don’t try so hard to visualize the Buddha or Merit Field — let your mind go and simply trigger the visualization with a clear mind.

In Mahayana Buddhist practice, Shunyata meditation, meditation on Emptiness, is an advanced method. Ultimately the goal is to find clear light, emptiness, the bliss of no-thinking. The clarity of any meditation, Shunyatta or Tai Chi, really comes from Clarity, not concentration.

Analytical Method Destroys the Monkey Mind

If you can’t settle on breath or sound or observation, the great teachers normally suggest Analytical Meditation. For example, in a previous feature (“Much More than Six Words of Advice”>>) Venerable Zasep Tulku Rinpoche explained it this way:

Venerable Zasep Rinpoche teaches many methods to settle monkey minds, among them Analytical Meditation, Scanning and Mindfulness of Feelings.

In explaining relative versus absolute truth, Rinpoche invited us to use analytical meditation. “I look at my body, and ask myself the question, what is my body? … You do a scanning meditation and try to find your body. When you scan your skin, you ask, is that my body? No, it’s skin, not body. Then you look at your bones, and likewise every part of your body.” If you scrutinize the body this way you’ll find body parts, but not body. Even those body parts have components if you scan those body parts. “To be body, it has to be the ‘whole’ body, all the parts. If you really look, you can’t find one thing that is your body. What we call body is just a ‘label’. A name. Imputing a label.” Therefore, “yes it’s a body” in relative truth, “but when you search for the absolute body, you can’t find it. We can call this the emptiness of our body.” It only exists by virtue of it’s label.

“A good example is your car. If you take that car apart, and everything is just parts, there is no car. Just car parts. You put it back together, and then label it Hyundai, you have a Hyundai. But if you switch the labels [to Honda] is it now a Honda? It’s all labels. There is no independent existence. That’s only one way to look at emptiness.”

“Emptiness and form co-exist,” he explained. The car relatively exists, but is, in absolute terms, only a label. It is made up of parts, and defined only by a relative label.


Being able to meditate in a busy place can help train the monkey mind.


Effort and Non-Effort

No matter how unsettled your mind, experts consistently recommend continuing your effort for at least 15 minutes regardless of results. However, the word “effort” is wrong here. You really want to continue the “non-effort” for 15 minutes or longer. Don’t try hard. That makes you tense up. The mind becomes distracted. It’s downhill from there. Focus on non-focus. Try non-effort. True, it sounds a little silly Zen 1960s to put it that way, but ultimately that’s the goal: non-effort, non focus. (So down below, where we say “focus on…” we really mean “non focus on”)

Mindfulness of Anything

The more typical benefits of Mindfulness meditation include stress reduction and relaxation. Lesser known benefits include immunity boost, cognitive enhancement, and reduction in pain.

Normally, the first step in meditation is to achieve mindfulness. This can be mindfulness of “anything” — not necessarily mindfulness of breath. Mindfulness of breath is certainly the most common method, but it rarely works well for monkey minds. Instead, focus on your body parts. Try “scanning” meditation, scanning your body mentally (with your eyes closed) from your toes to your crown, moving upwards inch by inch. Simply be mindful. Don’t pause on your pot belly and start thinking of diets. Scan mindfully, observe, don’t judge.

Mindfulness of Sounds

If this is too difficult, try being mindful of sounds. Even if you are inside the house, try really “listening” to the house. You might hear the wind on the window. The muffled bark of the neighbours dog.  If you are outside, all the better. Listen to the movement of branches, rustling in the wind. The birds singing. In the winter, sounds are even more magnified by cold air. Hear the cars on the highway. Hear the neighbors arguing. Simply hear, don’t think. Don’t start analyzing the neighbor’s fight — just experience. Mindfulness of sound, especially with eyes closed, is one of the most profound techniques. You will be surprised, after five minutes of mindful practice, what you can hear. You can even hear your children two floors down in the basement playing video games. You can hear the dog’s breathing.


Buddhist Vajrayana meditation often includes sounds, actions, repetitive mantras — all very powerful ways to “empty” the mind and “non focus” the monkey mind. Here Chod meditators play the Chod double-headed drum and chant.


Active People Who Cannot Sit Still

Most people make all types preparations for practicing meditation with increased determination and they sit down and close their eyes to get into a deep state of relaxation and focus. Whenever they attempt to practice a seated meditation, they will become restless and a jittery feeling will start creeping in. Due to different feelings like discomfort, distress, embarrassment and strain, you will start twisting and turning your body like a worm or snake. What happens next? Often, an abrupt end to your meditation session. How to overcome this situation?

Varying your meditation, using the four postures can be helpful; they include sitting, lying down, standing and walking. Here are some guidelines:

  • If you sit for meditation but feel jittery, try standing meditation.
  • If you can’t settle peacefully while standing for several minutes, try very slow walking meditation.
  • If neither of these work, try prone meditation (lie down), but remain aware, and if you become sleepy, return to sitting.
  • Take up Tai Chi or other “slow” meditative actions, such as some forms of Chi Gong (Qigong) — the slower the better.
Getting outside and meditating on the sounds of nature can still the mind. Or, in the city, concentrate on the sounds of traffic and dogs barking.

Walking Meditation

If you are a person who cannot sit still at the best of times, you might find walking meditation is best until you settle your mind. However, it’s important to understand this is “mindfulness” walking, which means you must be conscious of everything: the pressure on the ball of your foot, your breathing, the sound of the birds, the wind on your skin — every little detail. If you are doing this properly, you’ll find a clarity of vision and hearing you never imagined before.  But start with one foot very slightly in front of the other. Very close, not long strides. Very smooth, so that it appears your shoulders are not bobbing — level and without swaying. You should be walking slowly enough that you can feel the play of your muscles. You should be so deliberately focused that your movements become tortoise-like.


Woman standing in meditation with hands held in prayer
Standing meditation is a helpful technique for those who can’t “sit still”—people with the “monkey mind.”


While walking, you still watch the breath. If your breath is rising and falling too quickly — slow down even more. You should be able to even feel your heartbeat. Walking meditation is actually one of the most powerful mindfulness practices, because you can experience it outside, and genuinely start to notice literally everything around you. You start to feel your body. You even start to feel your body in tune with everything around you.

Standing Meditation

If walking meditation doesn’t calm the mind, if you still have monkey mind, then try standing for awhile. You can practice this inside or outside. Outside, you can combine it with walking meditation. Ten minutes walking, ten minutes standing. Always mindful. Always clear. If you focus on your muscles, breathing, the sounds around you, you will find your mind settle.


Any intense activity can be meditative and spiritual
A previous Buddha Weekly contributor, Sonic Mike, described skateboarding as his form of Buddhist meditation. He achieves mindful concentration and peace, even moments of enlightenment, from repeated skilled activities, in the same way Shaolin monks use martial arts. Feature “Skateboarding to Enlightenment” here>>


It is important to bend your knees slightly. If you are a martial artist, you can use a static kata — like the horse-riding stance, which bends the knees and keeps your centre of gravity very centred. If you are untrained in martial arts, simply try to sink down over your ankles, with your knees slightly bent. Feel your centre of gravity sink lower and lower. 

Vajrayana Meditations


Research proves that Vajrayana meditation techniques improve cognitive performance. Feature here>>

One reason Vajrayana Buddhism is considered an advanced path, aside from many other factors, is the extensive focus on advanced methods to settle the monkey mind:

  • visualization of a merit field: idealized imagery that really allows your “beta” mind to beat down that active alpha mind
  • mantras, either alone or with visualizations, to really release the mind: repeating sonerous, other-wordly sounds triggers an empty mind-space
  • complex sadhanas: combining a series of visualizations with mantras with actions — such as offerings, prostrations and music — to totally occupy the mind.

The goal of complex Vajrayana meditations, combining visualization, mantra and action, is to take the mind where it normally can’t consciously go. Emptiness resides in the subconscious, rather than the conscious mind.

Mantra Mindfulness

If you are a Buddhist, particularly a Vajrayana Buddhist, you likely have a favourite mantra. Usually we focus on the mantra to achieve a goal. Another way to think of mantras is to sink into the repetitions as a “non-focus” of the meditation. Just let the repeating sound wash over you. You can chant it yourself, or play mantras on a soundbox, but either way sink into the vibrations. Combine “listening” meditation with sacred mantra.

If you are not a Buddhist, you can still create a sound focus. Something like, “I am Empty, I am Empty, I am Empty….” over and over. Or just use the generic “OM” so popular in Yoga studios.

If you don’t have a mantra in your daily practice, the compassionate mantra of the Buddha of Compassion is a wonderful focus:

Om Mani Padme Hum

Pronounced “Ohm mah nee pad me hum”

Being Comfortable

Regardless of meditation style, it is a good idea to remove distractions. Turn off the phone. Wear comfortable clothes. Seek out quiet (unless you’re pursuing listening mindfulness). The next step is to identify an object for focus — focus, not concentration — it can be anything: your breath, your hearbeat, a painting on the wall in front of you, the texture of a piece of paper, a candle flame or any other object.

If you can’t just absorb yourself mindfully in the focal point, try visualizing. Stare at the candle, painting or apple for a few minutes, settling, observing every detail, every minute texture and shading. Then close your eyes and continue to see it. Open, refresh. Close, visualize. Don’t try too hard. Concentration and over-trying makes it harder.

This is why, in Vajrayana meditation, mantras are so powerful. Aside from their sacred meaning, the allow the mind to disengage. Repeating a mantra 10,000 times definitely brings the mind to an empty space.

10 Benefits of meditation

It is definitely worthwhile. There are ten medical and mental health benefits to meditation — recognized by doctors and psychologists — and proven with peer reviewed studies.

See this feature:

Science of Meditation: Peer-reviewed studies prove there are at least 10 reasons to meditate daily, from boosting your immune system to increasing cognitive function to reduction of inflammation at the cellular level.


One Response to Meditation Techniques for People With Unsettled Monkey Minds

Leave a reply

Are you a Sentient Being? *

Copyright Buddha Weekly 2007-2017. All Rights Reserved. Please feel free to excerpt stories with full credit and a link to Budddha Weekly. Please do not use more than an excerpt. Subject to terms of use and privacy statement. All information on this site, including but not limited to, text, graphics, images and other material contained on this website are for informational purposes only. The purpose of this website is to promote  understanding and knowledge. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, including medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition or treatment and before undertaking a new health care regimen, and never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Buddha Weekly does not recommend or endorse any information that may be mentioned on this website. Reliance on any information appearing on this website is solely at your own risk.

Send this to a friend