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.