Samatha and Vipassana question

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.

Re: Samatha and Vipassana question

Postby santa100 » Mon Jul 09, 2012 4:15 pm

Another analogy is the burning candle. The light is fickle when the candle is shaky. When the candle sits perfectly still, you'll get much better brightness. Stillness stands for samatha(concentration, one-pointedness) and brightness stands for vipassana(insight into the impermanent, non-self, and unsatisfatory nature of all conditioned phenomena)..
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Re: Samatha and Vipassana question

Postby daverupa » Mon Jul 09, 2012 5:39 pm

A Sutta metaphor is of vipassana and samatha as hands which wash each other. Note that at the same instant, one hand is washing the other depending on how you want to frame it, but both hands are active.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Samatha and Vipassana question

Postby Spiny Norman » Tue Jul 10, 2012 8:38 am

So is the distinction actually about the method we use - the direction from which we approach?
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Re: Samatha and Vipassana question

Postby eternityinmind » Tue Jul 10, 2012 9:24 am

santa100 wrote:Another analogy is the burning candle. The light is fickle when the candle is shaky. When the candle sits perfectly still, you'll get much better brightness. Stillness stands for samatha(concentration, one-pointedness) and brightness stands for vipassana(insight into the impermanent, non-self, and unsatisfatory nature of all conditioned phenomena)..

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Re: Samatha and Vipassana question

Postby daverupa » Tue Jul 10, 2012 11:32 am

porpoise wrote:So is the distinction actually about the method we use - the direction from which we approach?


I don't think it's very useful to parse whether one is "doing" one or the other; correct bhavana is both at once. For example, anapanasati is not described as either one or the other method - it develops both in tandem.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Samatha and Vipassana question

Postby Spiny Norman » Tue Jul 10, 2012 1:33 pm

daverupa wrote:
porpoise wrote:So is the distinction actually about the method we use - the direction from which we approach?


I don't think it's very useful to parse whether one is "doing" one or the other; correct bhavana is both at once. For example, anapanasati is not described as either one or the other method - it develops both in tandem.


The commentaries I've read on anapanasati suggest it's insight preceded by tranquillity, rather than both in tandem. Though it seems that a variety of approaches is recognised in the suttas:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
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Re: Samatha and Vipassana question

Postby daverupa » Tue Jul 10, 2012 1:52 pm

porpoise wrote:The commentaries I've read on anapanasati suggest it's insight preceded by tranquillity, rather than both in tandem. Though it seems that a variety of approaches is recognised in the suttas:
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html


Yes, that's an interesting Sutta in this respect. It is helpfully paired with AN 4.94:

"There is the case of the individual who has attained internal tranquillity of awareness, but not insight into phenomena through heightened discernment. Then there is the case of the individual who has attained insight into phenomena through heightened discernment, but not internal tranquillity of awareness. Then there is the case of the individual who has attained neither internal tranquillity of awareness nor insight into phenomena through heightened discernment. And then there is the case of the individual who has attained both internal tranquillity of awareness & insight into phenomena through heightened discernment."

"The individual who has attained internal tranquillity of awareness, but not insight into phenomena through heightened discernment, should approach an individual who has attained insight into phenomena through heightened discernment and ask him...


Also of note is AN 2.29:

"These two qualities have a share in clear knowing. Which two? samatha & vipassana.

"When samatha is developed, what purpose does it serve? The mind is developed. And when the mind is developed, what purpose does it serve? Passion is abandoned.

"When vipassana is developed, what purpose does it serve? Discernment is developed. And when discernment is developed, what purpose does it serve? Ignorance is abandoned."


I think it's possible for one person to incline one way and another person to incline another way given the same particular bhavana, but anyone who notices one or another getting more attention in their practice ought to correct that - separate samatha & vipassana practices are foreign to the Sutta milieu; they are a swift pair of messengers running together, not playing leapfrog. When washing ones hands, it isn't that the right hand gets clean first and then the left hand.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: Samatha and Vipassana question

Postby black hole » Tue Jul 10, 2012 3:40 pm

To be honest, I do not think that meditation is samatha or vipassana. It is both, in varying proportions throughout the session. Now, you can only choose the path of jhanas that passes through the development of concentration but it seems risky to engage immediately in vipassana. Let me explain.
After a few tens of minutes of let's say samatha to simplify things - you can see the thoughts rising, as if they were separated from the mind, without repeling them or attaching to it. This is a very traditional experience. The thoughts arise and it is natural, it results in different consciousness but what is new is that they do not bother us. Because of the mental calm that has settled we don't identify them: the clouds pass across the sky without interfering in the least. Ajahn Chah spoke of still waters and the water flowing to talk about this state. It is from there, when a certain equanimity is installed, that we can "see" and understand without being affected, little by little, slowly but evrey time more deeply, the reality of phenomena.
However, if one starts directly vipassana without this indispensable preliminary step of calm and equanimity, we continue to stick to the thought and fall into an exercise of discourse analysis that has not much to do with insight. In other words, we try to restore some rightness of view by using this ordinary mind that his is not right.
For my part, I think it is beter to begin by practicing samatha. And as I said above, vipassana just comes and we realize it easily because at some point, falling into the trap of attachment, we tend to push away the thoughts that inevitably rise. This indicatites we got a new faculty of discrimination and a potential energy is available. Unfortunately we use this energy to push the thoughts when we could use it to see the true nature of phenomena. Now consider well this last point. On the basis of equanimity and energy we get vipassana and you will notice that these are also the conditions that must meet to obtain the concentration!
Therefore, we can say that somehow, well led vipassana strengthens concentration
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Re: Samatha and Vipassana question

Postby Aleksandra » Tue Jul 10, 2012 7:18 pm

Hello eternityinmind,
Here are couple of links which you mind helpful:
https://www.facebook.com/notes/sotāpanna/pemasiri-thera-about-meditation-what-why-how/406318106059242
https://www.facebook.com/notes/sotāpanna/in-this-fathom-long-body/445109635513422

These are couple of Dhamma talks by Ven. Pemasiri Thera, Sri Lankan meditation teacher.
There are several other texts on the "Sotapanna" page which you may find interesting and helpful. Ven. Pemasiri is very skilled and reliable teacher.
https://www.facebook.com/pages/Sotāpanna/403694482988271?ref=tn_tnmn


We may all give you different advice and different points of view. I think it is important that you try to find your own way, the way you are comfortable with.
When I was trying to learn to meditate on my own, I also started reading couple of books about meditation, including the book of Ajahn Brahm, but I didn't find them helpful. Even if I went to read them now, I would still not find them helpful. The book that in my opinion is most reliable out of those kind of books is "The Heart of Buddhist Meditation" by Ven. Nyanaponika.

The problem with reading the books is that a beginner can follow them to a degree, but then reading the pages about something that one has not yet experienced is useless. One only reads all those terms and experiences, and when they don't happen in one's meditation, one may start to think that something is going wrong, that meditation is not successful and so on.

There are many meditators out there who are sitting and thinking "is what I am experiencing now is samatha, or vipassana, or jhana or this or that..." and this then ends up not being meditation but sitting and thinking.

From my personal experience - don't worry about 'samatha', 'vipassana' or any names, just sit down, do what you do, watch your breath the best you can(or whatever object you are using.) Don't worry about jhanas and things like that either. If your practice is good from the start, it will gradually and automatically develop. Try not to have any expectations, not even about the length of time you are sitting. Keep it simple.

Also, keep the sila the best you can, study and try to adhere to Eightfold Noble Path. Those things are fundamentals for the meditative development.
Read the original scriptures. Although you may come across some you don't understand, don't worry, you will still gain confidence, faith or inspiration from them and in time, as your meditation develops, your understanding of it all will develop as well.
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Re: Samatha and Vipassana question

Postby Spiny Norman » Wed Jul 11, 2012 9:19 am

santa100 wrote:Another analogy is the burning candle. The light is fickle when the candle is shaky. When the candle sits perfectly still, you'll get much better brightness. Stillness stands for samatha(concentration, one-pointedness) and brightness stands for vipassana(insight into the impermanent, non-self, and unsatisfatory nature of all conditioned phenomena)..


The image that often comes to my mind is being at sea in a small boat. When the sea is rough there is the sense of being tossed about and not being able to see much above the waves. Then the sea begins to calm and you can see above the waves, and eventually the horizon becomes visible.
Well, something like that.... ;)
"I ride tandem with the random, Things don't run the way I planned them, In the humdrum."
Peter Gabriel lyric
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Re: Samatha and Vipassana question

Postby black hole » Wed Jul 11, 2012 10:06 am

Yes, it's a nice and good analogy :clap:
Having spent several years as a professional diver, I remember that in the depth we do not realize the state of the sea, all is quiet. This is when approaching the surface that we realize there are large waves and that we begin to be shaken!
More generally, the comparison of mental states in relation to the water surface is a yogic model that Buddha did not refute.
So lace up your swimsuits!
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Re: Samatha and Vipassana question

Postby eternityinmind » Thu Jul 12, 2012 8:10 am

Aleksandra wrote:Hello eternityinmind

Hey Aleksandra,thanks for the links.I'll read them when I have the time. As for meditation I just wanted to do it the "right" way and that brought me alot of worries about my meditation practice.Maybe I should do as you said:Keep it simple.
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Re: Samatha and Vipassana question

Postby Spiny Norman » Thu Jul 12, 2012 9:04 am

eternityinmind wrote:Keep it simple.


I find that to be a helpful approach. And as somebody said elsewhere, regarding the sutta accounts as descriptions rather than prescriptions.
"I ride tandem with the random, Things don't run the way I planned them, In the humdrum."
Peter Gabriel lyric
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Re: Samatha and Vipassana question

Postby David2 » Mon Aug 20, 2012 4:48 pm

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Re: Samatha and Vipassana question

Postby eternityinmind » Tue Aug 28, 2012 11:41 am

:namaste: That's a great video. The positivity,which radiates from Venerable Ashin Ottama,is amazing.Thanks,David2!
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Re: Samatha and Vipassana question

Postby hermitwin » Mon Sep 10, 2012 4:18 pm

Once again, the term 'vipassana' comes up.
Beginners have a hard time separating the unique significance
of this word in the burmese tradition vs others eg thai tradition.
In the burmese tradition (mahasi sayadaw/goenka) tradition, 'vipassana' is THE method taught by Buddha to reach enlightenment.
In other traditions, "vipassana" means insight. It is not a type of meditation.
I think it would be extremely helpful if the followers of mahasi sayadaw, goenka will acknowledge this. Otherwise, many people will remain confused, as I was for a long time.
I am not trying to debate whether the mahasi sayadaw method is good or not. But hoping to clear up a very common confusion faced by many beginners.
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Re: Samatha and Vipassana question

Postby hermitwin » Mon Sep 10, 2012 4:21 pm

I believe the Theravada view is that samadhi leads ultimately to 4 stages of enlightenment. This is in the sutta.
Under the Burmese Mahasi Sayadaw and Ledi sayadaw, the emphasis
is that vipassana is more important than samadhi.
Why the emphasis on vipassana, I dont understand.
Ajahn chah said ' samadhi and vipassana are like the 2 sides of your hand,
you cant really separate them'
Ayya Khema said' vipassana is not a meditation method, it is the result of meditation. I repeat, vipassana is not a meditation method, it is the result of meditation. '
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Re: Samatha and Vipassana question

Postby hermitwin » Tue Sep 11, 2012 6:30 am

My conclusion.
Teachers from the Mahasi tradition teaches a meditation method(aka vipassana) different from the method taught by teachers who teaches jhanas eg Ajahn Chah, Ayya Khema, Pa Auk Sayadaw.
As a beginner, you need to be aware that they are different.
You can choose one and see which one suits you better.
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Re: Samatha and Vipassana question

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Sep 11, 2012 7:01 am

Ajahn Chah seems to have taught to suit the particular students, and his Western students teach quite a variety of approaches. Some (such as Ajahn Brahm) teach deep Jhanas. Others (such as Ajahn Tiradhammo) teach in a style closer to Mahasi-based teachers.

http://www.ajahnchah.org/book/On_Meditation1.php
Ajahn Chah wrote: Some people find it hard to enter samādhi because they don't have the right tendencies. There is samādhi, but it's not strong or firm. However, one can attain peace through the use of wisdom, through contemplating and seeing the truth of things, solving problems that way. This is using wisdom rather than the power of samādhi. To attain calm in practice, it's not necessary to be sitting in meditation, for instance. Just ask yourself, ''Eh, what is that?... '' and solve your problem right there! A person with wisdom is like this. Perhaps he can't really attain high levels of samādhi, although there must be some, just enough to cultivate wisdom. It's like the difference between farming rice and farming corn. One can depend on rice more than corn for one's livelihood. Our practice can be like this, we depend more on wisdom to solve problems. When we see the truth, peace arises.

The two ways are not the same. Some people have insight and are strong in wisdom but do not have much samādhi. When they sit in meditation they aren't very peaceful. They tend to think a lot, contemplating this and that, until eventually they contemplate happiness and suffering and see the truth of them. Some incline more towards this than samādhi. Whether standing, walking, sitting or lying, enlightenment of the Dhamma can take place. Through seeing, through relinquishing, they attain peace. They attain peace through knowing the truth, through going beyond doubt, because they have seen it for themselves.

Other people have only little wisdom but their samādhi is very strong. They can enter very deep samādhi quickly, but not having much wisdom, they cannot catch their defilements, they don't know them. They can't solve their problems.

But regardless of whichever approach we use, we must do away with wrong thinking, leaving only right view. We must get rid of confusion, leaving only peace.

Either way we end up at the same place. There are these two sides to practice, but these two things, calm and insight, go together. We can't do away with either of them. They must go together.


I don't think that it is correct to claim that Mahasi-style teachers reject samadhi. As in the Ajahn Chah quotation above, they certainly encourage the development of both samadhi and sati. Without sufficient samadhi insight is not possible.
http://www.aimwell.org/Books/Mahasi/Sal ... ffort.html
Mahasi Sayadaw wrote:Concentration that is powerful enough to exclude hindrances is called access concentration (upacārasamādhi). The concentration that a meditator has on the attainment of absorption is called attainment concentration (appanāsamādhi).
...
From the time that concentration is developed enough to exclude the five hindrances, the concentration that arises at every moment of mindfulness is momentary concentration for insight that is like access concentration. It is called access concentration because it resembles the latter in respect of its ability to free the meditator from hindrances. The meditator then has purity of mind because the mindful investigating consciousness is pure. ...

:anjali:
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Re: Samatha and Vipassana question

Postby hermitwin » Tue Sep 11, 2012 7:27 am

I did not say that Mahasi rejects samadhi.
But, I have been there, you are certainly not encouraged to dwell in samadhi.
Ultimately, which tradition is better?
That is up to the individual.
What is the best way to explain to a newbie the difference?
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