Shamatha or Vipassana? That is the question

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Shamatha or Vipassana? That is the question

Postby DorjePhurba » Wed Feb 10, 2010 9:10 pm

As the subject says, I'm having trouble deciding whether to focus on shamatha or vipassana. I've read a lot lately on jhana, but I'm still confused as to whether it's necessary or not for awakening. I can't seem to get a straight answer on whether vipassana can be done while in a state of jhana. Some say yes some say no. So I don't know whether to leave jhana alone and do dry insight meditation or to go down the path of cultivating the jhanas. Could anyone offer any advice because I'm not sure how to make a good decision here?

With metta,
Chris
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Re: Shamatha or Vipassana? That is the question

Postby RayfieldNeel » Wed Feb 10, 2010 9:20 pm

My understanding is that samatha "sharpens the tool", exercises your concentration so that it will be strong enough for you to make good progress with vipassana. I have seen it recommended that you try to attain 1st Jhana prior to attempting much with vipassana...but this doesn't seem to be mandatory.

Do you feel that you have access concentration? (Can stay focused on your object of meditation pretty well for long'ish periods of time) If so, and you're interested in insight, you are probably on safe ground to go ahead with that meditation.

I know very little/nothing about attempting insight on the samatha jhana's themselves.

Good luck. I'm on a very similar path, and in a similar place. :)


edit: Disclaimer: I'm not a meditation teacher...for "real" answers you should probably seek one out.
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Re: Shamatha or Vipassana? That is the question

Postby Kenshou » Wed Feb 10, 2010 9:25 pm

Though I'm not nearly as learnéd as some of our members here, I'll offer my perspective.

From what I've gathered, samma-samadhi is generally defined in the suttas as the 4 rupa-jhanas, sometimes with the 4 aruppa jhanas included as well. "And what, monks, is right concentration? Herein, secluded from sense pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a monk enters and dwells in the first jhana, which is accompanied by initial and sustained application of mind and filled with rapture and happiness born of seclusion..... (and the other 3)" This passage occurs many, many times. Reading through the suttas and seeing how many times jhana and right concentration as jhana is mentioned, I find it hard to believe that jhana was/is not meant to be a vital aspect of the path.

The problem with the contemporary split between samatha and vipassana practices stems from the issue of the commentarial/abhidhammic jhana, which requires a depth of absorption that few can reach, though this definition is accepted in mainstream Theravada. Because of jhana being put on a pedestal above the reach of most, it makes sense that an alternative had to be developed.

But the suttic/earlier jhana most likely is not a state of complete absorption, completely secluded from the senses and thrown into a trance. It's a practical method of calming and sharpening the mind in order to utilize it for the gaining of insight, as well as helping to wean the mind off of sensual pleasures and help dull the emotional aspect of dukkha, and with this calm clear mind, work on the wisdom that will get rid of the root causes of dukkha as well, which can be done while in the jhana (Look at the Anupada Sutta for an example of Sariputta doing just that). In other words, samatha and vipassana can be practiced in tandem, no need for the split.

If you haven't read it, there is a particular article by a member of websangha that covers this subject really well, highly recommended. http://www.forum.websangha.org/viewtopi ... &sk=t&sd=a
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Re: Shamatha or Vipassana? That is the question

Postby RayfieldNeel » Wed Feb 10, 2010 9:32 pm

Wow, great response, Kenshou. That actually clarifies some things for me as well.
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Re: Shamatha or Vipassana? That is the question

Postby baratgab » Wed Feb 10, 2010 10:06 pm

DorjePhurba wrote:As the subject says, I'm having trouble deciding whether to focus on shamatha or vipassana. I've read a lot lately on jhana, but I'm still confused as to whether it's necessary or not for awakening. I can't seem to get a straight answer on whether vipassana can be done while in a state of jhana. Some say yes some say no. So I don't know whether to leave jhana alone and do dry insight meditation or to go down the path of cultivating the jhanas. Could anyone offer any advice because I'm not sure how to make a good decision here?

With metta,
Chris


If you look at the Threefold Training of sila, samadhi and panna, or the Noble Eightfold Path that culminates in samma-samadhi, and that it generally refers to jhanas... :smile: In any case, my knowledge is that nowadays most of the meditation teachers and scholars agree that one can't separate entirely the practice of vipassana and samadhi; probably other members will suggest you ample readings about this. And there are a number of writings about the highly integrated nature of this two aspects of the practice, which is the standpoint that is generally emphasized in the forest traditions, as far as I know. For example, you can read Ajahn Sujato's book called A Swift Pair of Messengers.

If you ponder about the satipatthana, a quote from the Anapanasati Sutta:
...
"Mindfulness of in-&-out breathing, when developed & pursued, is of great fruit, of great benefit. Mindfulness of in-&-out breathing, when developed & pursued, brings the four frames of reference to their culmination. The four frames of reference, when developed & pursued, bring the seven factors for awakening to their culmination. The seven factors for awakening, when developed & pursued, bring clear knowing & release to their culmination.
...

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html


See also:
Ajahn Brahmali - Satipatthāna & Samādhi

And to end with a quote from the Maha-Saccaka Sutta:
...
"I thought: 'I recall once, when my father the Sakyan was working, and I was sitting in the cool shade of a rose-apple tree, then — quite secluded from sensuality, secluded from unskillful mental qualities — I entered & remained in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. Could that be the path to Awakening?' Then following on that memory came the realization: 'That is the path to Awakening.' I thought: 'So why am I afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensuality, nothing to do with unskillful mental qualities?' I thought: 'I am no longer afraid of that pleasure that has nothing to do with sensuality, nothing to do with unskillful mental qualities, but that pleasure is not easy to achieve with a body so extremely emaciated. Suppose I were to take some solid food: some rice & porridge.' So I took some solid food: some rice & porridge. Now five monks had been attending on me, thinking, 'If Gotama, our contemplative, achieves some higher state, he will tell us.' But when they saw me taking some solid food — some rice & porridge — they were disgusted and left me, thinking, 'Gotama the contemplative is living luxuriously. He has abandoned his exertion and is backsliding into abundance.'
...
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html


(Basically, and to bring up another sacrilegious (?) view of mine, you don't have to do anything to get into the jhanas, and precisely this is the difficulty with it. If you are interested, and you don't want to suffer from your willpower possibly for years, I honestly recommend Ajahn Brahms' teachings. :smile: )

:anjali:
Last edited by baratgab on Wed Feb 10, 2010 10:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Shamatha or Vipassana? That is the question

Postby Kenshou » Wed Feb 10, 2010 10:21 pm

The one bit of bharatgab's post that to the OP I would point out, is that if you decide to start working on the jhanas, to not make Ajahn Brahm your only source. He ascribes to the extreme end of the spectrum opposite that of the pure-vipassana-wallas, advocating extremely deep trance-like jhanas akin to those of the visuddhimagga. He was the first information source I ran into about samatha meditation, and in all honesty his methods confused me more than they helped. He's a good teacher worth listening to, but as for Brahm and jhana, I would look elsewhere. Or rather and more importantly, always compare and contrast all information you get with your own experience and don't get too hung up about it you aren't experiencing what one teacher says you ought to be.
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Re: Shamatha or Vipassana? That is the question

Postby seanpdx » Wed Feb 10, 2010 10:25 pm

Kenshou wrote:The one bit of bharatgab's post that to the OP I would point out, is that you decide to start working on the jhanas, to not make Ajahn Brahm your only source. He ascribes to the extreme end of the spectrum opposite that of the pure-vipassana-wallas, advocating extremely deep trance-like jhanas akin to those of the visuddhimagga. He was the first information source I ran into about samatha meditation, and in all honesty his methods confused me more than they helped. He's a good teacher worth listening to, but as for Brahm and jhana, I would look elsewhere. Or rather and more importantly, always compare and contrast all information you get with your own experience and don't get too hung up about it you aren't experiencing what one teacher says you ought to be.


I second this. I'm a fan of Ajahn Brahm, but not a fan of his concept of jhāna.
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Re: Shamatha or Vipassana? That is the question

Postby baratgab » Wed Feb 10, 2010 10:35 pm

seanpdx wrote:I second this. I'm a fan of Ajahn Brahm, but not a fan of his concept of jhāna.


Could you provide me (either here or in PM) some sources that give detailed explanation about the concerns? I personally found his teachings the most helpful and coherent so far, but of course I would like to examine the opposing standpoints with the hope of further development. :smile:
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Re: Shamatha or Vipassana? That is the question

Postby seanpdx » Wed Feb 10, 2010 10:43 pm

baratgab wrote:
seanpdx wrote:I second this. I'm a fan of Ajahn Brahm, but not a fan of his concept of jhāna.


Could you provide me (either here or in PM) some sources that give detailed explanation about the concerns? I personally found his teachings the most helpful and coherent so far, but of course I would like to examine the opposing standpoints with the hope of further development. :smile:


One of the best comparative sources would be "The Experience of Samādhi", by Richard Shankman. A good basic intro would be http://www.leighb.com/jhanantp.htm, to give you an idea of the range of concepts people have regarding jhāna.

I do like his teachings, though. And, in fact, I do like his teachings on meditation. It's just with some of the details that I disagree (i.e., the degree of "absorption").

I have other concerns about jhāna that likely is not teacher-specific, but can't really comment on those right now.
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Re: Shamatha or Vipassana? That is the question

Postby Kenshou » Wed Feb 10, 2010 11:06 pm

I do like his teachings, though. And, in fact, I do like his teachings on meditation. It's just with some of the details that I disagree (i.e., the degree of "absorption").


I agree with all of this, and as for disagreements with Brahm's method, in addition to the degree of absorption, his focus on the necessity of orb-like light nimittas as the means for entry to jhana is something I've found odd and impractical. First of all, though these occurrences can happen (I've had a few myself when I was just starting, maybe due to the power of suggestion, though I no longer experience or need them), the designation of these as a prerequisite to jhana can be attributed to mis-literalization on the part of the author of the Visuddhimagga of what were meant to be metaphors in older texts, and/or an attempt to fit anapanasati into the mold of kasina practice. ( http://www.budsas.org/ebud/ebmed058.htm ) The article I linked to in my first post in this thread also covers this area somewhat.

I'll add that the sources that I have had good results with would be the Vimuttimagga, good ol' Anapanasati Sutta, and the works of Ajahn Dhammadharo, I could throw in Focused and Fearless too.
Last edited by Kenshou on Wed Feb 10, 2010 11:10 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Shamatha or Vipassana? That is the question

Postby seanpdx » Wed Feb 10, 2010 11:09 pm

Kenshou wrote:
I do like his teachings, though. And, in fact, I do like his teachings on meditation. It's just with some of the details that I disagree (i.e., the degree of "absorption").


I agree with all of this, and as for disagreements with Brahm's method, in addition to the degree of absorption, his focus on the necessity of orb-like light nimittas as the means for entry to jhana is something I've found odd and impractical. First of all, though these occurrences can happen (I've had a few myself when I was just starting, maybe due to the power of suggestion, though I no longer experience or need them), the designation of these as a prerequisite to jhana can be attributed to mis-literalization on the part of the author of the Visuddhimagga of what were meant to be metaphors in older texts, and/or an attempt to fit anapanasati into the mold of kasina practice. ( http://www.budsas.org/ebud/ebmed058.htm ) The article I linked to in my first post in this thread also covers this area somewhat.


Ah, yes, forgot about that. I tend to dispense with any talk of nimittas. We're likely in pretty close agreement on most counts. =)
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Re: Shamatha or Vipassana? That is the question

Postby Kenshou » Wed Feb 10, 2010 11:17 pm

I tend to dispense with any talk of nimittas


I've come to the conclusion that that's for the best, really. Certain phenomena occur as meditation deepens, but they are rather subjective, and rarely so sudden or dramatic as some sources describe. Better off just learning to develop the jhana factors in general and for the individual to learn to identify and get familiar with what phenomena occur for them as meditation unfolds, I think.
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Re: Shamatha or Vipassana? That is the question

Postby Cittasanto » Wed Feb 10, 2010 11:44 pm

Hi Chris
the Suttas link Samatha & Vipassana together, you essentially can't (possibly shouldn't) practice one without the other, either at the same time, in tandem, or one then the other
AN4.170 wrote:"There is the case where a monk has developed insight preceded by tranquillity. As he develops insight preceded by tranquillity, the path is born. He follows that path, develops it, pursues it. As he follows the path, developing it & pursuing it — his fetters are abandoned, his obsessions destroyed.

"Then there is the case where a monk has developed tranquillity preceded by insight. As he develops tranquillity preceded by insight, the path is born. He follows that path, develops it, pursues it. As he follows the path, developing it & pursuing it — his fetters are abandoned, his obsessions destroyed.

"Then there is the case where a monk has developed tranquillity in tandem with insight. As he develops tranquillity in tandem with insight, the path is born. He follows that path, develops it, pursues it. As he follows the path, developing it & pursuing it — his fetters are abandoned, his obsessions destroyed.

"Then there is the case where a monk's mind has its restlessness concerning the Dhamma [Comm: the corruptions of insight] well under control. There comes a time when his mind grows steady inwardly, settles down, and becomes unified & concentrated. In him the path is born. He follows that path, develops it, pursues it. As he follows the path, developing it & pursuing it — his fetters are abandoned, his obsessions destroyed.


According to MN111 insight can be developed in Jhana, but their are some teachers who claim it cant, and that Jhana is unimportant to enlightenment, all I'll say to that is that Samma-samadhi the 8th factor of the eightfold path is described as the Jhanas.
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
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Re: Shamatha or Vipassana? That is the question

Postby Dan74 » Wed Feb 10, 2010 11:56 pm

I recall Ajahn Chah likening shamatha and vipassana to two wings of a bird. Without either of the wings, the bird won't fly, without developing both the meditation will not take off. Both need to be developed at the same time, from what I understood.

Maybe someone has the actual text?

_/|\_
_/|\_
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Re: Shamatha or Vipassana? That is the question

Postby bodom » Thu Feb 11, 2010 12:02 am

Dan74 wrote:I recall Ajahn Chah likening shamatha and vipassana to two wings of a bird. Without either of the wings, the bird won't fly, without developing both the meditation will not take off. Both need to be developed at the same time, from what I understood.

Maybe someone has the actual text?

_/|\_


Theres quite a few teachers who use this analogy actually, im sure Chah did as well.

:anjali:
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
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Re: Shamatha or Vipassana? That is the question

Postby retrofuturist » Thu Feb 11, 2010 12:03 am

Greetings Chris,

DorjePhurba wrote:Could anyone offer any advice because I'm not sure how to make a good decision here?


Why not do anapanasati and thereby do both? Samatha and vipassana complement each other in the pursuit of samadhi.

Metta,
Retro. :)
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Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


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One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Shamatha or Vipassana? That is the question

Postby meindzai » Thu Feb 11, 2010 12:58 am

I agree with Retro. Personally I think there is a bit too much made of vipassana vs. samatha as a style of meditation. They are qualities of mind, not methods. Some techniques will emphasise one aspect more than the other - so vipassana methods are ok, but I think insight comes out of a mind that is settled, and a mind that is settled comes from sila. (And I believe that the best way to practice sila is to "sit down and shut up" but that's my opinion).

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Re: Shamatha or Vipassana? That is the question

Postby seanpdx » Thu Feb 11, 2010 8:25 am

Yeah, what retro and meindzai said... =)
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Re: Shamatha or Vipassana? That is the question

Postby PeterB » Thu Feb 11, 2010 9:16 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Chris,

DorjePhurba wrote:Could anyone offer any advice because I'm not sure how to make a good decision here?


Why not do anapanasati and thereby do both? Samatha and vipassana complement each other in the pursuit of samadhi.

Metta,
Retro. :)

Exactly. Not only did my Theravada teachers hold that view, but so did Trungpa Rinpoche.
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Re: Shamatha or Vipassana? That is the question

Postby tiltbillings » Thu Feb 11, 2010 9:19 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Chris,

DorjePhurba wrote:Could anyone offer any advice because I'm not sure how to make a good decision here?


Why not do anapanasati and thereby do both? Samatha and vipassana complement each other in the pursuit of samadhi.

Metta,
Retro

What do you mean by samadhi?
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
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