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Samatha vs. Vipassana, am I thinking of this correctly? - Dhamma Wheel

Samatha vs. Vipassana, am I thinking of this correctly?

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.
Kenshou
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Samatha vs. Vipassana, am I thinking of this correctly?

Postby Kenshou » Sat Dec 19, 2009 1:10 am

Hello there, first time poster, long time lurker.

I don't intend to start a thread about the benefit of one of these sorts of meditation as opposed to the other, I think that sort of thing gets discussed plenty anyway, but I what I am wondering is if my personal impression of them as I now understand it is correct. I've read over the materials commonly posted here and a variety of others, and I'd appreciate a little feedback if my subjective understanding is up to par or not.

So my general understanding, in short, is that Samatha, meditation with the aim of tranquility or practice of the Jhanas, requires you to concentrate the mind on a single object of meditation (the breath, ect) for the purpose of absorption in it, and thereby the temporary release of the mind from the senses and extraneous thought, during which deeper states of absorption are possible. At a certain point when there is deep absorption into the initial object of meditation accompanied by a pleasant sensation of peacefulness (and the Nimmitta), the attention from the object of meditation is dropped, and all that remains is the absorption in that bliss, at which point you have the 1st Jhana. Of course there would be more beyond that, but as a beginner I'm only worried with the first steps at this point. To summarize the practice even further, it is simply letting go, letting go of more and more and going into further and more subtle states of absorption.

Then Vipassana, or insight meditation, also tends to begin with the concentration on a single object (often again the breath, as nearly always) and a restriction of unnecessary thought, balanced with an unbiased and unreacting mindful awareness which stays open to whatever facet of experience happens to come into focus at a given moment so that the meditator can clearly watch the the process of whatever the phenomenon in question is, for the purpose of (eventually) seeing the fact of Dukkha, Anicca and Anatta in all processes of existence. When nothing in particular arises into focus the concentration is redirected onto the breath, and during the whole process mindfulness is maintained so that all experiences can be clearly observed as they arise.

So, do I have the gist of these practices correctly understood? For the last month or so I have been trying to take some initial steps into meditation, starting with Samatha practice, since the general consensus seems to be that it is the relative easier of the two to develop without the aid of an actual teacher (though of course I understand that a teacher is better in all cases) and that the concentration developed in Samatha will also be useful when and if I was to begin Vipassana. I plan to get some human instruction and attend a retreat when possible, but for the moment I want to learn what I can with what resources are available, and so the input of you guys would be appreciated.

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mikenz66
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Re: Samatha vs. Vipassana, am I thinking of this correctly?

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Dec 19, 2009 1:29 am

Hi Kenshou,

That sounds like a reasonable summary though, of course, any summary could be expanded indefinitely...

If you want to pursue a Samatha approach then I think that Ajahn Brahm's book, Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond is useful. You can download the initial instruction sections here:
http://www.bswa.org/zencart/index.php?m ... cts_id=187
and guided meditation here:
http://www.bswa.org/audio/podcast/Guide ... ns.rss.php

I think that Shaila Catherine's book "Focussed and Fealess" is also very good: http://imsb.org/teachings/ff/index.php
and gives a broader perspective.

Metta
Mike

Kenshou
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Re: Samatha vs. Vipassana, am I thinking of this correctly?

Postby Kenshou » Sat Dec 19, 2009 1:44 am

Thanks for the reply and links, Mickenz, my first post was more of a wall of text that I had thought.

As a matter of fact, stumbling onto Ajahn Brahm's talks on youtube was one of the things that first happened to lead me into Buddhism, and I'm a big fan of him in general. I plan to buy his book, and that big list of podcasts will be useful for me.

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Laurens
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Re: Samatha vs. Vipassana, am I thinking of this correctly?

Postby Laurens » Sat Dec 19, 2009 2:11 am

"For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."

Carl Sagan

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mikenz66
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Re: Samatha vs. Vipassana, am I thinking of this correctly?

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Dec 19, 2009 2:27 am

Hi Laurens,

Of course, its all a matter of stress. Perhaps I should say that Ajahn Brahm teaches an approach that puts a lot of stress on the samatha aspect in the initial stages than many other teachers. Other Ajahn Chah students, such as Ajahn Tiradhammo, put a lot less stress on attaining deep levels of concentration.

Different approaches are useful to different people at different times... In most cases apparent disagreements between teachers are just a matter of what they put stress on.

Metta
Mike

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Laurens
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Re: Samatha vs. Vipassana, am I thinking of this correctly?

Postby Laurens » Sat Dec 19, 2009 3:47 am

"For me, it is far better to grasp the Universe as it really is than to persist in delusion, however satisfying and reassuring."

Carl Sagan

Kenshou
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Re: Samatha vs. Vipassana, am I thinking of this correctly?

Postby Kenshou » Sat Dec 19, 2009 4:37 am

Mhm, I've come across that particular passage in Brahm's book, and I do understand (if only superficially) that the two practices are part of the same whole of mental development. I've come to the conclusion through messing around with both that at this point, sitting down and trying to meditate through dry Vipassana isn't so productive for me, observing the mundane occurrences of sitting calmly are too easy to get distracted from at this point. Not that there isn't insight to be found of course, but my concentration and wisdom aren't deep enough to probe all that right off the bat.

At this point in time, I've found that what seems to be most productive is to use my opportunities of quiet sitting to develop my concentration through a stress on Samatha, which doubles as being generally refreshing. And with the concentration developed while sitting, it is easier to apply the mindfulness of Vipassana to the grosser experience of everyday living where the real troubles in life show themselves. The goal being that -eventually- my abilities of mindfulness and concentration will be developed enough so that I can dive directly into Vipassana. Of course I realize that this is a long process of development.

But yeah, neither excludes the other, but 'seems to me my monkey-mind could use a little tranquility practice to aid in the work if insight, 'least right now.

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mikenz66
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Re: Samatha vs. Vipassana, am I thinking of this correctly?

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Dec 19, 2009 7:26 am

Hi Kenshou,

You sound like you are on the right track. Most "vipassana" meditation does involve building up some concentration on some object. As you say, it's hard to do anything without doing that. Personally, I mostly do Mahasi-style meditation, using the sensations/motion of the feet when walking or the abdomen when sitting as the "primary" object. If I want to do more of a concentration practise I use the breath at the nostrils or metta, and, as you say, return to the object if I get distracted, rather than investigating the distraction.

Mike

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Cittasanto
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Re: Samatha vs. Vipassana, am I thinking of this correctly?

Postby Cittasanto » Sat Dec 19, 2009 9:44 am

Hi,
sounds like a fair summary! thanissaro points out suttas in his book wings to awakening which 'merge' the two more than others (for lack of better way to describe it) but it is worth pointing out that the three fold training of the Eight Fold Path has right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration in the same training of Samadhi.


He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them.
But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion …
...
He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them … he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.

seanpdx
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Re: Samatha vs. Vipassana, am I thinking of this correctly?

Postby seanpdx » Mon Dec 21, 2009 7:28 pm

I'm pretty much convinced that there is no such thing as vipassana/insight meditation. Nor is there such a thing as samatha/tranquility meditation. Insight and tranquility are _results_ of buddhist meditation, not _types_ of buddhist meditation. I think the question itself is inherently flawed.

Focus instead on the things the Buddha actually taught: sati and samadhi (steps 7 and 8 of the 8FP). Meditate mindfully with concentration.

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bodom
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Re: Samatha vs. Vipassana, am I thinking of this correctly?

Postby bodom » Tue Dec 22, 2009 12:16 am

Ajahn Chah

Q:You have said that samatha and vipassana or concentration and insight are the same. Could you explain this further?

Answer: It is quite simple. Concentration (samatha)and wisdom (vipassana)work together. First the mind becomes still by holding on to a meditation object. It is quiet only while you are sitting with your eyes closed. This is samatha and eventually this samadhi-base is the cause for wisdom or vipassana to arise. Then the mind is still whether you sit with your eyes closed or walk around in a busy city. It's like this. Once you were a child. Now you are an adult. Are the child and the adult the same person? You can say that they are, or looking at it another way, you can say that they are different. In this way samatha and vipassana could also be looked at as separate. Or it is like food and feces. Food and feces could be called the same and they can be called different. Don't just believe what I say, do your practice and see for yourself. Nothing special is needed.
To study is to know the texts,
To practice is to know your defilements,
To attain the goal is to know and let go.

- Ajahn Lee Dhammadharo


With mindfulness immersed in the body
well established, restrained
with regard to the six media of contact,
always centered, the monk
can know Unbinding for himself.

- Ud 3.5


https://www.dhammatalks.org/index.html
http://www.ajahnchah.org/

Kenshou
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Re: Samatha vs. Vipassana, am I thinking of this correctly?

Postby Kenshou » Tue Dec 22, 2009 9:53 pm

-seanpdx

Well, the meditations are named after what results they are aiming for, no?

But yes, as quoted Ajahn Chah there and as a few have said in this thread and others, the two aren't really separate. Just so many words describing different aspects for the benefit of people trying to learn about it, but all part of the same path of mental development. In my own practice I've come to understand that fact.

So, may we all have fruitful meditation! -smileyface-

seanpdx
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Re: Samatha vs. Vipassana, am I thinking of this correctly?

Postby seanpdx » Tue Dec 22, 2009 10:44 pm


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Cittasanto
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Re: Samatha vs. Vipassana, am I thinking of this correctly?

Postby Cittasanto » Tue Dec 22, 2009 11:28 pm

do you care to explain?


He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them.
But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion …
...
He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them … he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.

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mikenz66
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Re: Samatha vs. Vipassana, am I thinking of this correctly?

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Dec 22, 2009 11:56 pm

Hi Sean,

From my understanding what we've been discussing in this thread and some other threads, e.g. , is useful in so far as it helps us to understand and put into practise the instructions of various teachers, the classical commentaries, and the Buddha himself. Personally, I wouldn't have got very far with meditation just using the Suttas. With some skills that I've gained from my teachers I now have some idea of what the Buddha was referring to.

Kenshou's original question was about clarifying the understanding of which approaches will give more emphasis to samatha, and which to vipassana. This is useful to know about, since it allows one to "tune" one's practise somewhat depending on the circumstances. It's also useful to have some clue about how to recognise the hindrances (), and how to balance the faculties , and use them to overcome the hindrances.

I believe that it is also useful to understand the various approaches to the development of samatha and vipassana, briefly pointed to in these Suttas: , and of course expanded greatly in the classical commentaries and "modern" teachings.

Metta
Mike

seanpdx
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Re: Samatha vs. Vipassana, am I thinking of this correctly?

Postby seanpdx » Wed Dec 23, 2009 12:32 am


Kenshou
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Re: Samatha vs. Vipassana, am I thinking of this correctly?

Postby Kenshou » Wed Dec 23, 2009 5:16 am

I'm not in disagreement with you. There is meditation, there is the practice. Release from suffering is the goal of course, not "vipassana" or "samatha" themselves. I did not intend to imply that there are two distinct methods of meditation. I was under an impression like that before this thread was posted, but I do not see things in that particular way at this point, thanks to the clarifications of people on this forum and the materials they've given. And those names applied to different aspects of meditation are not the final goal and if I implied that it was due to a fault in my own phrasing/ a brain-fart moment.

But I understand that from your side what I said could appear to have certain connotations that would imply misunderstanding on my part, and you pointing those out is understandable and obviously comes from a place of good intention. So yeah, :tongue:

seanpdx
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Re: Samatha vs. Vipassana, am I thinking of this correctly?

Postby seanpdx » Wed Dec 23, 2009 7:09 am


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Re: Samatha vs. Vipassana, am I thinking of this correctly?

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Dec 23, 2009 8:17 am


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Cittasanto
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Re: Samatha vs. Vipassana, am I thinking of this correctly?

Postby Cittasanto » Wed Dec 23, 2009 10:26 am



He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them.
But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion …
...
He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them … he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.


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