In Buddhism, which I’m more familiar with, there is vipasanna meditation, in which you focus on your breath. This helps achieve nirvana. Now how do Hindus meditate to reach their nirvana/moksha? In the same way or differently? I read before that Hindus meditate “on the self” but how do you do that? What is “meditation on the self”?
Hindus can focus on anything that is considered as good. I have given below some examples.
विशोका वा ज्योतिष्मती ॥३६॥
- Or (by the meditation on) the Effulgent Light, which is beyond all sorrow.
This is another sort of concentration. Think of the lotus of the heart, with petals downwards, and running through it, the Sushumna; take in the breath, and while throwing the breath out imagine that the lotus is turned with the petals upwards, and inside that lotus is an effulgent light. Meditate on that.
वीतरागविषयं वा चित्तम् ॥३७॥
- Or (by meditation on) the heart that has given up all attachment to sense-objects.
Take some holy person, some great person whom you revere, some saint whom you know to be perfectly nonattached, and think of his heart. That heart has become non-attached, and meditate on that heart; it will calm the mind. If you cannot do that, there is the next way:
स्वप्ननिद्राज्ञानालम्बनं वा ॥३८॥
- Or by meditating on the knowledge that comes in sleep.
Sometimes a man dreams that he has seen angels coming to him and talking to him, that he is in an ecstatic condition, that he has heard music floating through the air. He is in a blissful condition in that dream, and when he wakes, it makes a deep impression on him. Think of that dream as real, and meditate upon it. If you cannot do that, meditate on any holy thing that pleases you.
- Or by the meditation on anything that appeals to one as good.
This does not mean any wicked subject, but anything good that you like, any place that you like best, any scenery that you like best, any idea that you like best, anything that will concentrate the mind.
The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda, Volume 1, Raja Yoga, Patanjali Yoga Sutra I.36-39
There is also a negative path. The via negativa path is the neti neti (not this, not this) path of Jnana Marga. It of course assumes that Brahman can not be described by any human model.
No one can say with finality that God is only ‘this’ and nothing else. He is formless and again He has forms. For the bhakta He assumes forms. But He is formless for the jnani, that is, for him who looks on the world as a mere dream. The bhakta feels that he is one entity and the world as another. Therefore God reveals Himself to him as a Person. But the jnani – the Vedantist, for instance – always reasons, applying the process of ‘Not this, not this’. Through this discrimination he realizes, by his inner perception, that the ego and the universe are both illusory, like a dream. Then the jnani realizes Brahman in his own consciousness. He can not describe what Brahman is. Do you know what I mean? Think of Brahman, Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, as a shoreless ocean. Through the cooling influence as it were, of the bhakta’s love, the water has frozen at places into blocks of ice. In other words, God now and then assumes various forms for His lovers and reveals Himself to them as a Person. But with the rising of the sun of knowledge, the blocks of ice melt. Then one doesn’t feel any more that God is a Person, nor does one see God’s forms. What He is can not be described. Who will describe Him? He who would do so disappears. He cannot find his ‘I’ anymore.
If one analyzes oneself, one doesn’t find any such thing as ‘I’. Take an onion, for instance. First of all peel off the red outer skin; then you find thick white skins. Peel these off one after the other, and you won’t find anything inside.
In that state a man no longer finds the existence of his ego. And who is there left to seek it? Who can describe how he feels in that state – in his own Pure Consciousness – about the real nature of Brahman? There is a sign of Perfect Knowledge. Man becomes silent when It is attained. Then the ‘I’, which may be likened to the salt doll, melts in the ocean of Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute and becomes one with It. Not the slightest distinction is left.
The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna, The Master with the Brahmo Devotees (I) [October 28, 1882]
What is meditation on the self?
The self is the Atman. The Self can be thought of as anything good as mentioned in the first half of the answer. This method is sometimes called Rupa dhyana or meditation on form. One can also think of the Self as Pure Consciousness that cannot be captured by any human model and this method is known as the 'Neti Neti' method. This method is known as Arupa dhyana or formless meditation.