Do you think it would be silabbata paramasa for a Bhikkhu to devote time to formal meditation? How about for a lay person to meditate, but not "vipassana", say - Brahmavihara meditation or recollection of the Triple Gem? How about bowing or attending puja, chanting? Where is the line between formal and non formal practice anyway?
I ask this to get a clear understanding of your opinion.
We should clarify between a "situation" (bowing, doing formal "sitting") and the actual cittas that arise in that whole process. I think it is pretty clear that many kind of cittas can arise in a given situation, say dana: there can be kusala citta rooted in alobha (non-clinging) succeded by akusala citta with conceit (mana), feeling proud for having done a wholesome deed).
So if we stick to ultimate realities to really understand life, we should bear this distinction in mind, and examine the nature of samatha and vipassana bhavana in terms of cittas and cetasikas instead of situations. Actually this can provide ground for a separate thread. However, we can briefly discuss what is the heart of samatha and vipassana bhavana here:
- samatha bhavana is the cultivation of kusala which is not dana, not sila. The ground for this bhavana is seeing the danger of attachment to sensuous objects. It is precisely panna which perform this function, panna of the degree of seeing the danger of attachment to sensuos objects, not the panna which sees realities of they are. This kind of panna knows the conditions for calmness to arise. It is then by virtue of this kind of panna that calmness which is kusala is developed, not because of wanting to have calm, or because of trying to sit hours after hours with ignorance.
- vipassana bhavana is the cultivation of understanding of realities as they are. This kind of panna is only available during a Buddha sasana. Without the words of the Buddha, no one would know about realities, and that they are not-self. The four conditions for the arising of sotapati magga (attaining the Path for the first time) are:
1. association with the wise
2. listening to the right Dhamma
3. Right consideration - yoniso manasikara
4. Direct awareness of the dhammas which appear naturally.
Apart from the moments of understanding, from intellectual level to direct level, there's no vipassana bhavana. It is the same with the example of dana above. There are countless moments of different nature: kusala and kusala, with or without understanding following each other, which clearly makes bhavana not a matter of doing, but a matter of understanding.
Therefore, if someone believes that it is the "doing" which constitutes bhavana instead of the real ground for each of 2 kinds, it can be called "clinging to rite and rituals". Sitting is not excluded, just the same way lying, or standing etc...., because they all occur naturally. It is the belief that bhavana lies in a "formal practice" which is the problem. A quiet environment is conducive to samatha bhavana, but for vipassana bhavana, it doesn't matter at all, any kind of reality can be object of understanding.
Anyway, couldn't one argue that formal sitting practice helps build concentration thus making "mindfulness" (in conventional terms) clearer?
Concentration (ekaggata cetasika) arises in all cittas. What should be cultivated is kusala, not ekaggata. However, when calmness is there and strong, the characteristic of ekaggata manifests, that why it is refered to as samadhi (concentration) and not ekaggata. However, there are micha samadhi, and samma samadhi too, they refer to the kind of samadhi with akusala and kusala respectively. It is the 2nd that needs to be cultivated, and we are back to the above.
Hope it helps,