Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Discussion of Samatha bhavana and Jhana bhavana.

Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Postby manjusri » Fri Jul 08, 2011 1:22 am

Well, you're missing about 1800 years of Indian commentarial development.


I'm personally missing this development? Please clarify.

Firstly, for Buddhaghosa and all subsequent Theravāda commentators who follow his system, one cannot engage in vipassanā while abiding in form sphere jhāna, because the object-basis of a form sphere jhāna is not a paramattha dhamma. Therefore, a yogi must emerge from form sphere jhāna, then engage in vipassanā prior to entering the first noble path of stream-entry. Thus, form sphere jhāna is an optional pathway, and not essential for the attainment of the path of seeing.


Who said anything about abiding in "form sphere jhana?" The attainment of shamatha is not equivalent to the attainment of the first meditative stabilization, which is why it's described as preliminary or as access to the full realization of the first meditative stabilization. And we agree, one cannot engage in vipassana while abiding in the form sphere jhana. And yes, I also agree that the form sphere jhana is not essential to the path of seeing.

And a number of Sarvāstivāda, Sautrāntika, and Yogācāra treatises also maintain that a śrāvaka can attain the path of seeing via prepatory stage samādhi (anāgamya-samādhi, which is the equivalent of access samādhi), without first developing form dhyāna (although, contrary to Buddhaghosa, et al, they all maintain that vipaśyanā can be engaged while abiding in dhyāna, if one has developed śamatha to that level).


What relevance does this have to my quote above?

Secondly, contemporary Theravāda is primarily an ordination lineage these days, with a diversity of different practice traditions. Not everyone accepts Buddhaghosa or even the entirety of the Abhidhammapiṭaka as being authoritative. And teachers from different practice traditions don't always agree with each other. This is somewhat akin to Tibetan Buddhism, where there is the common Mūlasarvāstivāda ordination lineage, and a number of different commentarial and practice traditions (Nyingma, Kagyu, Sakya, Gelug, etc.) which don't always agree.


I am realizing, thanks to comments such as yours and others, that there is a diversity of practice traditions in Theravada just as there is in Tibetan Buddhism. I'm assuming, however that these different practice traditions in Theravada all eventually lead to the same end?

Metta,
Manjusri
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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Postby Ben » Fri Jul 08, 2011 1:38 am

Greetings manjusri

You may wish to check out Ven Analayo's outstanding work "Satipatthana: the direct route to realization". In it, he does a good job at explaining why first jhana is not a pre-requisite for sotapatti-magga and sakadagamita-magga.
Within my own (sub) tradition, we practice the samatha-variant of ananapa-sati for one third of a retreat's duration. During that period, we are encouraged to develop moment to moment concentration and access concentration. When one is well established in insight practice, one is encouraged to develop jhana before returning to vipassana.
kind regards

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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Postby manjusri » Fri Jul 08, 2011 1:41 am

Kenshou wrote:It may be worth pointing out that in Theravada as I understand it, the development of insight is not an analytical matter, at it's deepest.


The approach in the sutras . . .is to develop a conceptual understanding of emptiness and gradually refine that understanding through meditation, which eventually produces a direct experience of emptiness . . . we are proceeding from a conceptual understanding produced by analysis and logical inference into a direct experience . . . this takes a great deal of time. . . we are essentially taking inferential reasoning as our method or as the path.
~ Thrangu Rinpoche
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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Postby Kenshou » Fri Jul 08, 2011 2:34 am

Okie dokie, sounds reasonable enough.
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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Postby Nyana » Fri Jul 08, 2011 7:41 am

manjusri wrote:I'm personally missing this development? Please clarify.

Well, this is a complex subject, requiring considerable understanding of various Indian texts and traditions spanning a period from approx. 500 BCE to 1200 CE. For example, the Tibetan traditions are generally rather selective in the Indian sources they rely on for their presentation of sūtrayāna lamrim meditation, and they don't reference sources prior to the Abhidharmakośabhāsya and the Yogācārabhūmiśāstra, which they consider to be early sources. But these texts, just like the Visuddhimagga, are not "early" in comparison to the Āgamas.

manjusri wrote:Who said anything about abiding in "form sphere jhana?" The attainment of shamatha is not equivalent to the attainment of the first meditative stabilization, which is why it's described as preliminary or as access to the full realization of the first meditative stabilization.

According to Je Tsongkhapa, actual vipaśyanā can only occur within the first meditative stabilization (dhyāna) at a minimum. Your reference to Gen Lamrimpa and Alan Wallace in the OP leads me to think that you are familiar with this Gelugpa interpretation.

manjusri wrote:I'm assuming, however that these different practice traditions in Theravada all eventually lead to the same end?

I think this is probably so. But there's only one sure way to know for sure....

manjusri wrote:
The approach in the sutras . . .is to develop a conceptual understanding of emptiness and gradually refine that understanding through meditation, which eventually produces a direct experience of emptiness . . . we are proceeding from a conceptual understanding produced by analysis and logical inference into a direct experience . . . this takes a great deal of time. . . we are essentially taking inferential reasoning as our method or as the path.
~ Thrangu Rinpoche

Rinpoche is referring to the gradualist sūtrayāna system of Kamalaśīla which employs mādhyamaka reasonings as vipaśyanā, which are inferrential. For Kamalaśīla, vipaśyanā is always conceptual (savilkalpa), and for him this conceptual reasoning is necessary in order to realize non-conceptual gnosis (nirvikalpajñāna). But analytical meditation employing mādhyamaka reasonings has no parallel in Theravāda, and Theravādins do not regard their type of vipassanā as being inferential or conceptual.

All the best,

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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Postby Ben » Fri Jul 08, 2011 7:50 am

Thank you Geoff for your very informative post!
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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Postby Freawaru » Fri Jul 08, 2011 8:26 am

manjusri wrote:
If yes, I would say that one can practice mindfulness from stage 3 onwards as sati (mindfulness) is stable.


The third stage is achieved only when the mind remains focused on the object most of the time in virtually all your sessions. Nevertheless, coarse excitation is still the primary problem, but you accomplish this third stage with the power of mindfulness.


Yes, the power of mindfulness. This is all you need for dry insight, if I understand it correctly. So I think vipassana - as a state - should also be possible to experience via this route. Certainly, one needs just this stage to practice sati-patthana (four foundations of mindfulness).

I am not sure but I think stage 4 might be identical to what is called access concentration in Theravada - this is the traditional state one starts with insight practice when one enters samatha first (different in pure insight practice).


There is a difference here. Access concentration is equivalent to the attainment of shamatha. The attainment of shamatha gives you access to the form realm. The initial achievement of shamatha is described as preliminary or as access to the full realization of the first meditative stabilization (dhyana).


As I said I am not sure, maybe there are more than one definition of access concentration in Theravada. So far I have been using Leigh Brasington's :

You keep putting your attention on the meditation object until you are concentrated enough that you can effortlessly leave it on the meditation object. For example, if you have chosen Anapanasati (mindfulness of breathing) as the meditation method, you keep bringing your attention to the breath until you can keep your attention on the breath. How do you know access concentration has been established? The mind is fully with the object of meditation and, if there are any thoughts, they are wispy and in the background; they do not draw you away from the meditation object.
http://www.leighb.com/jhana2a.htm


And this seems identical to 4. stage to me. Maybe someone more knowledgeable in the differences of the Theravada traditions can give a summary of the different definitions of access concentration.

Single-pointedness is, as far as I know, there from second jhana onwards. It is not there in the definition of first jhana. So second jhana should be identical to the 8. stage. For fourth jhana I am missing uppekha (equanimious looking on) in the list, though.

Could you explain what you mean by "The attainment of shamatha gives you access to the form realm." I think one can access the form realms with a concentration much below even Leigh Brasington's definition of access concentration - though one has not much control then.

BTW, again, any way to get email notifications to this or any other thread?


Sorry, I have no idea.
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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Postby Freawaru » Fri Jul 08, 2011 8:35 am

Ñāṇa wrote:Rinpoche is referring to the gradualist sūtrayāna system of Kamalaśīla which employs mādhyamaka reasonings as vipaśyanā, which are inferrential. For Kamalaśīla, vipaśyanā is always conceptual (savilkalpa), and for him this conceptual reasoning is necessary in order to realize non-conceptual gnosis (nirvikalpajñāna).
All the best,

Geoff


I have been wondering about this practice. It seems similar to some Zen versions of meditation in which one uses logic and reasoning until the mind locks itself into a corner by reaching a paradox. Then the Goedel's theorem does the rest and catapults one to realization. At least this is how I understand the technique.
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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Postby Nyana » Fri Jul 08, 2011 1:30 pm

Freawaru wrote:I have been wondering about this practice. It seems similar to some Zen versions of meditation in which one uses logic and reasoning until the mind locks itself into a corner by reaching a paradox. Then the Goedel's theorem does the rest and catapults one to realization. At least this is how I understand the technique.

There continuities and discontinuities between Indian Mādhyamaka and East Asian Chan/Zen. But it would take this topic too far afield to bring this into the present discussion (there's already more than enough to try to discuss here!).

All the best,

Geoff
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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Postby manjusri » Fri Jul 08, 2011 3:42 pm

There is a lot to respond to on this thread! Please be patient. I have a reading knowledge of Tibetan, and am pretty familiar with most Sanskrit equivalents to English and Tibetan, but am not at all familiar with Pali (aside from the most obvious Buddhist terms), so when some of you reply using Pali terms, I'm left grasping at straws until I can locate them online.

Geoff is obviously very knowledgeable and just his posts alone would keep me busy for quite awhile. :0) If I were a Lharampa Geshe I might have a cogent response to each point, but, alas, I'm just a grasshopper.

One thing I do want to take issue with: Geoff wrote:

According to Je Tsongkhapa, actual vipaśyanā can only occur within the first meditative stabilization (dhyāna) at a minimum. Your reference to Gen Lamrimpa and Alan Wallace in the OP leads me to think that you are familiar with this Gelugpa interpretation.


This is absolutely incorrect. What one attains with shamatha is what is referred to as the first proximate stabilization which is just "shy of" the first basic stabilization (dhyana). "Tsongkhapa insists that the first proximate stabilization provides sufficient attentional stability and freedom from the hindrances to proceed on to the successful cultivation of insight." B. Alan Wallace, The Bridge of Quiescence, p. 128. So, "at a minimum" actual vipassana can occur within the first proximate stabilization.

There is a very good reason why they don't emphasize achieving higher states of stabilization (or even the first stabilization). Most Tibetan Buddhists practitioners are oriented to achieving enlightenment by means of Tantric practice, specifically Anuttarayogatantra. As Geoff and some of you will know, I'm sure, a defining feature of Tantra is the sublimation of the mental afflictions, especially sensual desire, so that they empower one towards enlightenment. In other words, passion must manifest in one's consciousness. However, when one accomplishes the first basic stabilization, sensual desire is effectively inhibited, which obviously precludes the possibility of it's sublimation. Achieving the first proximate stabilization does yield a tenuous control over the five hindrances, but the passions may still be aroused and sublimated by the practitioner.

Your reference to Gen Lamrimpa and Alan Wallace in the OP leads me to think that you are familiar with this Gelugpa interpretation.


Yes, that's correct, I am familiar with the Gelugpa school and it's teachings.
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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Postby Nyana » Fri Jul 08, 2011 4:31 pm

manjusri wrote:One thing I do want to take issue with: Geoff wrote:

According to Je Tsongkhapa, actual vipaśyanā can only occur within the first meditative stabilization (dhyāna) at a minimum. Your reference to Gen Lamrimpa and Alan Wallace in the OP leads me to think that you are familiar with this Gelugpa interpretation.


This is absolutely incorrect. What one attains with shamatha is what is referred to as the first proximate stabilization which is just "shy of" the first basic stabilization (dhyana). "Tsongkhapa insists that the first proximate stabilization provides sufficient attentional stability and freedom from the hindrances to proceed on to the successful cultivation of insight." B. Alan Wallace, The Bridge of Quiescence, p. 128. So, "at a minimum" actual vipassana can occur within the first proximate stabilization.

Yes, I should have been more precise. However, my point was that the first proximate meditative stabilization is not a desire plane mind. Je Tsongkhapa, The Small Exposition of the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment:

    Well then, what plane incorporates the samadhi in which pliancy has not yet arisen? That samadhi is included in the plane of the desire realm. Although such single-pointed attention is present there, it is a plane of non-equipoise; it is not established as a plane of meditative equipoise. The Bhumivastu says that this is due to the fact that it is not accomplished by means of lack of remorse, by supreme pleasure and joy, and pliancy.

    Thus, without having achieved pliancy, even when mindfulnes is not applied continually, the mind may naturally become non-conceptual; and this samadhi, which seems as if it can be integrated with all activities of moving, walking, lying down and sitting, is called single-pointed attention of the desire realm. But it is not genuine Quiescence....

    The Sravakabhumi says that ... due to the attainment of mental engagement and quiescence that are included in the first proximate meditative stabilization, one achieves the small level of mental engagement on the plane of meditative equipoise.

In the Gelug lamrim system the ninth mental abiding -- setting in equipoise (samādhāna) -- is still a desire plane mind, and not an actual śamatha. According to this system an actual śamatha is a form plane mind. Geshe Gedun Lodro, Calm Abiding and Special Insight:

    When one cultivates the nine mental abidings that precede calm abiding, these nine are all minds included within the desire realm. When, however, after achieving these nine, one attains calm abiding, one has attained a mind that is included within an upper realm. The upper realms are the form realm and the formless realm.

Cf. Lati Rinpoche & Denma Locho Rinpoche. Meditative States In Tibetan Buddhism, p. 69. And this attainment of an actual śamatha -- a form plane meditative equipoise -- is considered a necessary prerequisite prior to engaging in actual vipaśyanā. One attains this śamatha on the path of accumulation, then progresses by alternating between stabilizing meditation and analytical meditation on the path of application until a union of śamatha and vipaśyanā is achieved at the time of entering the path of seeing, and along with this the first direct perception of emptiness. Cf. Ibid, p. 125.

manjusri wrote:There is a very good reason why they don't emphasize achieving higher states of stabilization (or even the first stabilization). Most Tibetan Buddhists practitioners are oriented to achieving enlightenment by means of Tantric practice, specifically Anuttarayogatantra. As Geoff and some of you will know, I'm sure, a defining feature of Tantra is the sublimation of the mental afflictions, especially sensual desire, so that they empower one towards enlightenment. In other words, passion must manifest in one's consciousness. However, when one accomplishes the first basic stabilization, sensual desire is effectively inhibited, which obviously precludes the possibility of it's sublimation. Achieving the first proximate stabilization does yield a tenuous control over the five hindrances, but the passions may still be aroused and sublimated by the practitioner.

Well, sūtrayāna lamrim and anuttarayogatantra kyerim & dzogrim are different paths with different methods.

All the best,

Geoff
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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Postby tiltbillings » Fri Jul 08, 2011 7:43 pm

manjusri wrote:There is a lot to respond to on this thread! Please be patient. I have a reading knowledge of Tibetan, and am pretty familiar with most Sanskrit equivalents to English and Tibetan, but am not at all familiar with Pali (aside from the most obvious Buddhist terms), so when some of you reply using Pali terms, I'm left grasping at straws until I can locate them online.
Also keep in mind that while the Sanskrit and Pali words may be cognate they are not being used with the exact same definition. The differences between, for example, the Mahayana usage or arhat and the Pali Arahant are vast, worlds apart, and the same could be said for how vipashyana and vipassana are used by the various traditions. I would recommend, as has already been done, that you get a copy of Ven Analayo's book and spend some time with it to get some idea of the Theravada, Pali Canon approach.
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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Postby manjusri » Fri Jul 08, 2011 8:01 pm

Freawaru wrote: I have been wondering about this practice. It seems similar to some Zen versions of meditation in which one uses logic and reasoning until the mind locks itself into a corner by reaching a paradox. Then the Goedel's theorem does the rest and catapults one to realization. At least this is how I understand the technique.


I'm assuming that you are referencing Rinzai Zen in which koan practice is central? Having some past experience with Zen (and Rinzai Zen, in particular) prior to my current involvement with Tibetan Buddhism, I can tell you that these are two very different techniques, not at all similar. The analytical meditations on the nature of the self and phenomena are very methodical and precise, in which, yes, reason and logic are employed. Koan practice is a different animal altogether. There is no logical or reasonable answer to these koans; the discursive mind is of absolutely no use. The answers to these koans are only arrived at when the discursive mind is stilled and the practitioner and the koan "become one," so to speak.
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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Postby manjusri » Fri Jul 08, 2011 8:07 pm

tiltbillings wrote:Also keep in mind that while the Sanskrit and Pali words may be cognate they are not being used with the exact same definition. The differences between, for example, the Mahayana usage or arhat and the Pali Arahant are vast, worlds apart, and the same could be said for how vipashyana and vipassana are used by the various traditions. I would recommend, as has already been done, that you get a copy of Ven Analayo's book and spend some time with it to get some idea of the Theravada, Pali Canon approach.


Thank you tiltbillings! I very much appreciate the recommendation and will pick it up via Amazon.
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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Postby Nyana » Sat Jul 09, 2011 1:13 am

manjusri wrote:I very much appreciate the recommendation and will pick it up via Amazon.

If you're interested in the classical Theravāda system of samathabhāvanā & jhāna according to Ācariya Buddhaghosa, et al, the best English language sources are Ven. Ñāṇamoli's translation of the Visuddhimagga, The Path of Purification, and Ven. Gunaratana's PhD dissertation, A Critical Analysis of the Jhānas in Theravāda Buddhist Meditation. (I would recommend reading the latter before tackling the Visuddhimagga.)

All the best,

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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Postby manjusri » Sat Jul 09, 2011 4:20 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:Yes, I should have been more precise. However, my point was that the first proximate meditative stabilization is not a desire plane mind.


Yes, this is correct and thanks to my exchange with you, I've been disabused of the mistaken notion I've carried with me for years now that the proximate meditative stabilization must still be in the desire realm because one can still arouse passion for tantric practice.
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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Postby manjusri » Sat Jul 09, 2011 4:46 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:If you're interested in the classical Theravāda system of samathabhāvanā & jhāna according to Ācariya Buddhaghosa, et al, the best English language sources are Ven. Ñāṇamoli's translation of the Visuddhimagga, The Path of Purification, and Ven. Gunaratana's PhD dissertation, A Critical Analysis of the Jhānas in Theravāda Buddhist Meditation. (I would recommend reading the latter before tackling the Visuddhimagga.)


Thank you for the recommendations! I am nominally familiar with Buddhaghosa, specifically his Visuddhimagga. I note that Alan Wallace in his Bridge of Quiescence also cites Nanamoli's translation.

Does anyone still use emblems or kasinas for developing shamatha? Also essential for me (given that I took the breath as my object for shamatha) was the three kinds of signs, specifically the nimitta and the counterpart signs. As Alan Wallace correctly points out, "This threefold division of signs relating to the stages in the development of quiescence does not appear to be prevalent in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition." p. 257.
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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Postby Freawaru » Sat Jul 09, 2011 8:50 pm

manjusri wrote:
Freawaru wrote: I have been wondering about this practice. It seems similar to some Zen versions of meditation in which one uses logic and reasoning until the mind locks itself into a corner by reaching a paradox. Then the Goedel's theorem does the rest and catapults one to realization. At least this is how I understand the technique.


I'm assuming that you are referencing Rinzai Zen in which koan practice is central?


Not really. I think the path described in Piersig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" might work for some.

Having some past experience with Zen (and Rinzai Zen, in particular) prior to my current involvement with Tibetan Buddhism, I can tell you that these are two very different techniques, not at all similar. The analytical meditations on the nature of the self and phenomena are very methodical and precise, in which, yes, reason and logic are employed. Koan practice is a different animal altogether. There is no logical or reasonable answer to these koans; the discursive mind is of absolutely no use. The answers to these koans are only arrived at when the discursive mind is stilled and the practitioner and the koan "become one," so to speak.


Thank you for the information. But frankly, I was not impressed by Tibetan reason and logic. I recall Aryadeva's 400 Verses and encountered the same problem I have with the majority of Philosophers: they are not methodical and precise regarding their definitions. The definition of "self" Aryadeva gives is thoroughly alien to me. Why first define something so illogical and then spend time on discussing why it should not exist? Maybe it is a cultural thing. But then again it might be a philosphocal thing. Kant, too, states something like that time and space cannot be thought different than absolute and - looking a the equations of special relativity theory on one's desk - one cannot seriously buy it or anything that follows from these definitions.

That is why I prefer meditation - though I admit I find it confusing that there are so many different phenomenological theories describing it. I am glad you initiated this thread that compares two of them. Thank you for it, and thanks to those who contribute to it. :smile:
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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Postby Freawaru » Sat Jul 09, 2011 9:03 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:
    When one cultivates the nine mental abidings that precede calm abiding, these nine are all minds included within the desire realm. When, however, after achieving these nine, one attains calm abiding, one has attained a mind that is included within an upper realm. The upper realms are the form realm and the formless realm.


Does, in this tradition, "included within a form realm" mean that one looses perception of the physical body and the external senses? I am just trying to understand this in the light of the endless "jhana debate" (is one or is one not perceptive of the physical body and the external senses when in jhana ?).
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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Postby Nyana » Sat Jul 09, 2011 10:56 pm

manjusri wrote:
Ñāṇa wrote:Yes, I should have been more precise. However, my point was that the first proximate meditative stabilization is not a desire plane mind.

Yes, this is correct and thanks to my exchange with you, I've been disabused of the mistaken notion I've carried with me for years now that the proximate meditative stabilization must still be in the desire realm because one can still arouse passion for tantric practice.

Yes, Kyabje Lati Rinpoche is very explicit on this point regarding nyer bsdogs mi lcogs med. Meditative States in Tibetan Buddhism p. 70:

    It is called calm abiding because the meditator has calmed the distraction of the mind to external objects and the mind abides stably on an internal object of observation. At the same time, the meditator attains the preparation (nyer bsdogs, sāmantaka) called the not-unable (mi lcog med, anāgamya), which is a mind not of the desire realm, but of the form realm.

manjusri wrote:Does anyone still use emblems or kasinas for developing shamatha?

It's not a very common practice, but some people do. I've used kasiṇa maṇḍalas in the past. It's a very effective method for inducing deeper samatha.

All the best,

Geoff
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