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.

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.
Kenshou
 
Posts: 1029
Joined: Sun Nov 15, 2009 12:03 am
Location: Minneapolis, MN

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
User avatar
mikenz66
 
Posts: 10092
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:37 am
Location: New Zealand

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.
Kenshou
 
Posts: 1029
Joined: Sun Nov 15, 2009 12:03 am
Location: Minneapolis, MN

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

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

mikenz66 wrote:If you want to pursue a Samatha approach then I think that Ajahn Brahm's book, Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond is useful.


Its worth noting though, what Ajahn Brahm says in this book:

The Great Vipassanā versus Samatha Debate

Some traditions speak of two types of meditation, insight meditation (vipassanā) and calm meditation (samatha). In fact the two are indivisible facets of the same process. Calm is the peaceful happiness born of meditation; insight is the clear understanding born of the same meditation.Calm leads to insight and insight leads to calm

For those who are misled to concieve of all the instructions offered here as "just samatha practice" (calming) without regard to vipassanā (insight), please know that this is neither vipassanā nor samatha. It is called bhāvanā (mental development). This method was taught by the Buddha (AN IV, 125 - 27; MN 151, 13 - 19) and repeated in the forest tradition of Northeast Thailand, with which my teacher, Ven.Ajahn Chah, was associated. Ajahn Chah often said that samatha and vipassanā cannot be seperated, nor can the pair be developed apart from right view, right thought, right moral conduct, and so forth. Samatha and vipassanā, Ajahn Chah said, are like two sides of one hand...
"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
User avatar
Laurens
 
Posts: 388
Joined: Sun Nov 22, 2009 5:56 pm
Location: Norfolk, England

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
User avatar
mikenz66
 
Posts: 10092
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:37 am
Location: New Zealand

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

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

mikenz66 wrote: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


Agreed, I was just posting that passage so that the OP can see that if one practices one, they aren't missing out on the other. Which some people may be lead to believe by certain teachers.
"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
User avatar
Laurens
 
Posts: 388
Joined: Sun Nov 22, 2009 5:56 pm
Location: Norfolk, England

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.
Kenshou
 
Posts: 1029
Joined: Sun Nov 15, 2009 12:03 am
Location: Minneapolis, MN

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
User avatar
mikenz66
 
Posts: 10092
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:37 am
Location: New Zealand

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.
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
With Metta
Upāsaka Cittasanto
Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
User avatar
Cittasanto
 
Posts: 5686
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 10:31 pm
Location: Ellan Vannin

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.
seanpdx
 
Posts: 281
Joined: Thu Dec 03, 2009 12:56 am

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.
The heart of the path is SO simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice. Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing. Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this - just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle. - Ajahn Chah
User avatar
bodom
 
Posts: 4578
Joined: Fri Jan 09, 2009 6:18 pm
Location: San Antonio, Texas

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-
Kenshou
 
Posts: 1029
Joined: Sun Nov 15, 2009 12:03 am
Location: Minneapolis, MN

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

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

Kenshou wrote:-seanpdx

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


No.
seanpdx
 
Posts: 281
Joined: Thu Dec 03, 2009 12:56 am

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

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

do you care to explain?
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
With Metta
Upāsaka Cittasanto
Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
User avatar
Cittasanto
 
Posts: 5686
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 10:31 pm
Location: Ellan Vannin

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. http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=2986, 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 (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/nyanaponika/wheel026.html), and how to balance the faculties http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn48/sn48.010.than.html, 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: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an04/an04.094.than.html http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an04/an04.170.than.html, and of course expanded greatly in the classical commentaries and "modern" teachings.

Metta
Mike
User avatar
mikenz66
 
Posts: 10092
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:37 am
Location: New Zealand

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

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

Manapa wrote:do you care to explain?


I can try, but no guarantees. ;)

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


First, I take issue with the word "meditations" (plural). This implies that there are two (or more) types of meditation that the Buddha taught. I am, of course, working from the assumption that we're speaking of buddhist meditation specifically, and not including non-buddhist meditation. I don't believe he taught more than one type of meditation. And I certainly don't think they could be called "vipassana" or "samatha" if he ever did such a thing.

Secondly, and just as importantly, neither vipassana nor samatha, as qualities, are the results for which buddhist meditation aims. The result for which buddhist meditation aims is nibbana (or whichever synonym or metaphor you prefer). Vipassana and samatha are qualities (and indispensable qualities at that) which arise from buddhist meditation (singular), but they are not the goal.

It may seem like nit-picking, but you _did_ ask me to explain my answer. =) In the end, I think that many people either intentionally or unintentionally find a good blend of sati and samadhi, resulting in the sort of meditation the Buddha was probably trying to teach. More or less. I think the biggest problem with the artificial separation of buddhist meditation into two branches is that it ends up confusing people. Heck, just look at how often the topic comes up on buddhist forums. And using pali words that most people don't even understand just seems to exacerbate the problem.
seanpdx
 
Posts: 281
Joined: Thu Dec 03, 2009 12:56 am

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:
Kenshou
 
Posts: 1029
Joined: Sun Nov 15, 2009 12:03 am
Location: Minneapolis, MN

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

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

Kenshou wrote: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:


You pretty much nailed why I no longer refer to "vipassana" or "samatha" meditation at all. You aren't the only one who has been under that impression. Words are funny, though. I remember being horribly, horribly confused about all the talk of "vipassana meditation", "insight meditation", "samatha meditation", "jhanic meditation", et cetera. I always felt very uncomfortable with it all, but could never quite put my finger on it. So these days I try to refrain from using such words as qualifiers to "meditation", in the hope that I won't confuse others the way I was confused. I prefer just talking about "buddhist meditation". =)

Folks like Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Brahm, quoted previously, do an excellent job of explaining things. =D
seanpdx
 
Posts: 281
Joined: Thu Dec 03, 2009 12:56 am

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

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

Hi Sean,

We will obviously have to agree to disagree. As I read it there are approaches with different emphases in the Suttas, Commentaries, and the instructions of modern teachers. Without some general understanding of this I think that it's very easy to get confused about the instructions.
seanpdx wrote:Folks like Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Brahm, quoted previously, do an excellent job of explaining things. =D

I like Ajahn Brahm, he's a talented teacher, but personally I ignore some of his statements about other approaches as overenthusiasm... His opinions are not always shared by the other Ajahn Chah students I've had teachings from, such as Ajahn Tiradhammo.

Metta
Mike
User avatar
mikenz66
 
Posts: 10092
Joined: Sat Jan 10, 2009 7:37 am
Location: New Zealand

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

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

Hi Sean
seanpdx wrote:First, I take issue with the word "meditations" (plural). This implies that there are two (or more) types of meditation that the Buddha taught. I am, of course, working from the assumption that we're speaking of buddhist meditation specifically, and not including non-buddhist meditation. I don't believe he taught more than one type of meditation. And I certainly don't think they could be called "vipassana" or "samatha" if he ever did such a thing.


Well There is Buddhist meditation and then there are the techneques in developing the different sides, that is what meditations refers too, these are stages along the path, rather than the end goal or results. but after saying that meditation isn't a word found in pali, the closest is Bhavana which means cultivation, so when buddhist meditation/s is used it is really referring to the cultivation of a certain aspect.

seanpdx wrote:Secondly, and just as importantly, neither vipassana nor samatha, as qualities, are the results for which buddhist meditation aims. The result for which buddhist meditation aims is nibbana (or whichever synonym or metaphor you prefer). Vipassana and samatha are qualities (and indispensable qualities at that) which arise from buddhist meditation (singular), but they are not the goal.


they are the result of the meditative techniques aims which bare the names, not the end result of the path itself, if someone knew they needed to develop samatha more they would ask about that, they wouldn't ask about buddhist meditation generally.

seanpdx wrote:It may seem like nit-picking, but you _did_ ask me to explain my answer. =) In the end, I think that many people either intentionally or unintentionally find a good blend of sati and samadhi, resulting in the sort of meditation the Buddha was probably trying to teach. More or less. I think the biggest problem with the artificial separation of buddhist meditation into two branches is that it ends up confusing people. Heck, just look at how often the topic comes up on buddhist forums. And using pali words that most people don't even understand just seems to exacerbate the problem.


using english has the same problem, as Pali words can mean something slightly or grossly different to the English being used. look at satipatthana as an example, it can be split in two different ways which give it different meanings to one extent or another, both in pali and translation, and the context could potentially change which is being meant, plus it removes confusion as to what is being meant, take sampajanna as an example one person says alert, another says comprehension so someone who doesn't know the alternative translation is still in the dark, but using a dictionary they are familiar with can find the meaning they are familiar with, and any confusion in the explanation stemming from a post can then be addressed.
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
With Metta
Upāsaka Cittasanto
Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
User avatar
Cittasanto
 
Posts: 5686
Joined: Tue Dec 30, 2008 10:31 pm
Location: Ellan Vannin

Next

Return to Theravada Meditation

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: hermitwin and 8 guests