12

On the one hand this question has been asked to death on the internet (and yuttadhammo's videos even try to handle it). On the other hand, I personally still don't feel I have a clear answer (and I don't think that's because I'm an idiot.)

From my overall reading, the commonest answer seems to be that while the primary aim in meditation is insight, it is not only useful, but advisable (and maybe even essential) that one first achieves some degree of tranquility or quiescence before moving on to insight. Specifically, it is advised that one attain at least access concentration, if not full-blown first jhana, before moving to insight work.

However, there appears to be an important exception to that rule, coming from (at least) the Mahasi tradition, wherein the idea of "bare insight" arises.

From the existence of those apparently different positions, I am confused in two ways.

First: if the bare insight thing is valid -- i.e. if it is possible to go straight to Vipassana without going via Samatha -- then why wouldn't everyone just do that? Insight is The Point, after all, (isn't it?) so why waste time with what seems to be mere training wheels?

Second: OK, suppose access concentration or first jhana is necessary, but is also sufficient a level of samadhi as preparation for vipassana. Then, again, why would anyone then continue on to "samatha" jhanas 2 through 4? My understanding is that while those jhanas may be cool and blissful, not only are they not The Point, they carry the danger of attachment. So why bother with them?

To pre-empt any "it doesn't matter" style answers, I really think it does. There are several apparently good teachers out there whose approach is, to paraphrase, "No, don't note yet. We're not doing that until we've got a bit of focus", while there are others who get you noting from day one. So overall it may not matter, but it matters to beginners (like me) as part of deciding on a teacher (and on how to meditate while I look for a teacher).

8

I will try to answer from my point of view as a Vajrayana practitioner.

I've been taught that one needs to have a relatively stable mind in order to practice insight meditation. But this doesn't mean that one has to spend years in Samatha meditation before trying Vipassana.

In Mahayana and Vajrayana tradition too much tranquility and so-called 'inert peace' is considered as an obstacle on the way since it is not a full enlightenment and it can easily prevent a practitioner from pursuing next stages of realisation. To avoid that, practitioners can take a Bodhisattva Vow to remind them that they want to pursue happiness not only for themselves but mainly for all the sentient beings.

One Vajrayana Lama was asked whether we need to calm down and bring our energy down in order to practise insight meditation. He replied that we don't have to calm down at all, we just have to transform this energy into something useful. I found it very liberating, since, personally, I found it somewhat boring to sit in peace for hours. When I got introduced to insight meditations which involved visualising Buddha forms and receiving lights from them, I liked them straight away. Then I met some more experienced practitioners and indeed, they weren't particularly calm, rather lively, very joyful and stable at the same time.

I would say that choosing the right practice and teacher is very individual. If you already think that attachment to blissful state might be an obstacle for you, maybe it is a sign that you are ready for insight meditation. It seems that you know enough theory so it is high time to put it into practice. Try not to overthink, just give it a try and when meeting a teacher or other practitioners, just ask yourself - do I want to become like them? Do I want to behave like them in 5 years time? If your answer is an honest one, soon you should find the right teacher.

3

In accordance with my understanding of the Buddha's teachings I offer the following:

First: if the bare insight thing is valid -- i.e. if it is possible to go straight to Vipassana without going via Samatha -- then why wouldn't everyone just do that? Insight is The Point, after all, (isn't it?) so why waste time with what seems to be mere training wheels?

This sutta seems to make an analogy similar to training wheels, while at the same time apparently saying that jhāna is required for enlightenment:

"I tell you, the ending of the mental fermentations depends on the first jhana... the second jhana... the third... the fourth... the dimension of the infinitude of space... the dimension of the infinitude of consciousness... the dimension of nothingness. I tell you, the ending of the mental fermentations depends on the dimension of neither perception nor non-perception... "Suppose that an archer or archer's apprentice were to practice on a straw man or mound of clay, so that after a while he would become able to shoot long distances, to fire accurate shots in rapid succession, and to pierce great masses. In the same way, there is the case where a monk... enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born of seclusion, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. He regards whatever phenomena there that are connected with form, feeling, perception, fabrications, & consciousness, as inconstant, stressful, a disease, a cancer, an arrow, painful, an affliction, alien, a disintegration, an emptiness, not-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: 'This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.' [1]

Second: OK, suppose access concentration or first jhana is necessary, but is also sufficient a level of samadhi as preparation for vipassana. Then, again, why would anyone then continue on to "samatha" jhanas 2 through 4? My understanding is that while those jhanas may be cool and blissful, not only are they not The Point, they carry the danger of attachment. So why bother with them?

According to the Pasadika Sutta, Budhhist monks are 'attached' or 'addicted' to the jhānas, which "...conduce to utter unworldliness, to passionlessness, to cessation, to peace, to insight, to enlightenment, to Nibbana."

The text continues:

"If then it happens, Cunda, that Wanderers teaching other doctrines should declare : The Sakyan recluses live addicted and devoted to these four modes of pleasure, to them ye should answer Yea, Rightly would they be speaking of you, nor would they be misrepresenting you by what is not fact, by what does not exist." [2] {note: translation/grammar mistakes were left untouched}

Other Suttas in which there are apparently good reasons to think that jhāna is important are as follows:

  • "...jhāna monks [i.e., monks who practice jhāna] are...amazing people, hard to find in the world, i.e., those who dwell touching the deathless element with the body."[3] {note: this seems to imply that jhāna is connected to the 'deathless element'.}
  • In the Cula-hatthipadopama Sutta, the four jhānas are called 'footprint[s] of the Tathagata' [4] {note: the jhānas are said to be evidence that indicates a Buddha might be around; however, in the text, the Buddha cautions the questioner about drawing a definite conclusion until the reality itself, that is, the Buddha, is seen. It seems reasonable to identify this with The Dhamma or Unbinding itself.}
  • At AN 4.123, jhāna is described as leading either to rebirth in heavenly realms or to Nibbāna. [5]
  • Jhāna is often referred to as 'a pleasant abiding here and now.' E.g., here: [6] {note: this sutta also makes the point that although jhāna is a pleasant abiding, it should not be mistaken with 'purity'}
  • The Buddha's last act before he died was to enter all of the attainments and he passed away directly after arising from the fourth jhāna. [7]
  • Jhāna is called the 'highest gratification of feelings...[which is] freedom from affliction'; when one enters jhāna, "On such an occasion he does not choose for his own affliction, or for another's affliction, or for the affliction of both." It is further stated that for one who does not fully understand the gratification of feelings, fully understanding feelings or instructing others so that they would come to fully understand feelings is impossible. [MN 13, Bodhi, In the Buddha's Words (full citation later; also look here for an alternate translation]. {note: The full understanding of feelings is threefold: (1) the gratification; (2) the danger; (3) the escape. Implicitly, even the pleasant feelings of jhāna are dangerous and an escape from them should be sought. The escape is to remove desire for feelings, including, implicitly, the desire for fine-material feelings; i.e., jhāna.
2

According to my understanding, the goal of the meditation is to see the ultimate reality of the world and understand the world as it is. So both of the techniques are required to understand the reality and they are inter related. Although the purpose and the results of Samatha(tranquility) and Vipassana(insight) meditation are different, we need both to reach our final goal. I think as a beginner we can start with any technique based on the status of our mind as at the beginning of the meditation.

For example there are some days, that our mind is so peaceful, calm, and focused. So we can directly start the "Vipassana" meditation. In the other hand if the mind is restless and unsettled, we can start the meditation with "Samatha" and continue it to "Vipassana". I think this is the answer for your question one:

To answer the second question I would like to quote the below passage from one of the article from Ven Ajan Chandako.

Jhána empowers mindfulness. Both samatha and vipassaná are based on developing continuous mindfulness in the present moment, but mindfulness alone doesn't have the ability to enlightment. Even dogs and cats have some mindfulness, an awareness of their surroundings, but it is not focused and directed in a way which will free their minds. Jhána gives the mind strength, so that when we contemplate something our understanding has the ability to deeply penetrate to its essential nature. Practicing vipassaná on it's own, the mind tends to merely skim around on the surface of reality without penetrating. Or it's like trying to shave or put on make-up in an airplane toilet while the plane is bouncing with turbulence.

Further more

There's no jhana for one with no discernment, no discernment for one with no jhana. But one with both jhana & discernment: he's on the verge of Unbinding. Dhp 372

Finally I highly encorage you to read this article which gives a very good explanation about Samatha, Vipassana and Jhána.

I hope this helps.

You could find some nice explanations from below links :
http://www.dhammatalks.net/Books3/Ajahn_Chandako_Samatha_and_Vipassana_in_Harmony.htm http://www.wisdomlib.org/buddhism/book/vipassana-meditation/d/doc1330.html https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDDY4gOexVA

2

Actually the Suttas teach that there are two routes of practice which lead to enlightenment, one of which is based on the practice of the Jhanas, and the other of which is based on the development of insight practices. The most explicit example of this is the following Sutta:

AN 4.169

“Bhikkhus, there are these four kinds of persons found existing in the world. What four? (1) “Here, some person attains nibbāna through exertion in this very life. (2) Another person attains nibbāna through exertion with the breakup of the body. 855 (3) Still another person attains nibbāna without exertion in this very life. (4) And still another person attains nibbāna without exertion with the breakup of the body. 856

(1) “And how, bhikkhus, does a person attain nibbāna through exertion in this very life? Here, a bhikkhu dwells contemplating the unattractiveness of the body, perceiving the repulsiveness of food, perceiving non-delight in the entire world, contemplating impermanence in all conditioned phenomena; and he has the perception of death [156] well established internally. He dwells depending upon these five trainee powers: the power of faith, the power of moral shame, the power of moral dread, the power of energy, and the power of wisdom. These five faculties arise in him prominently: the faculties of faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. Because these five faculties are prominent, he attains nibbāna through exertion in this very life. This is how a person attains nibbāna through exertion in this very life.

...

(3) “And how does a person attain nibbāna without exertion in this very life? Here, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters and dwells in the first jhāna … the fourth jhāna. He dwells depending upon these five trainee powers: the powers of faith … and wisdom. These five faculties arise in him prominently: the faculties of faith … and wisdom. Because these five faculties are prominent, he attains nibbāna without exertion in this very life. This is how a person attains nibbāna without exertion in this very life.

(This sutta isn't available online as far as I know. You'll have to look it up in the Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi's translation of the Anguttara Nikaya. The omitted parts just repeat the same thing but mention the example of someone who only attains Nibbana at the breakup of the body but whose practice is the same.)

Obviously you still need both Samatha and Vipassana, but the actual order in which they are developed and the practice you use to do so doesn't matter. For example, in the famous Yuganaddha Sutta the Ven. Ananda said:

Ven. Ananda said: "Friends, whoever — monk or nun — declares the attainment of arahantship in my presence, they all do it by means of one or another of four paths. Which four?

"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."

(Source: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an04/an04.170.than.html )

So Samatha can be developed first and Vipassana second, Vipassana first and Samatha second, or they can be developed simultaneously.

2

You know, I preferred one particular answer given above by rabbit:

...part quoted here:

I've been taught that one needs to have a relatively stable mind in order to practice insight meditation. But this doesn't mean that one has to spend years in Samatha meditation before trying Vipassana.

No indeed, I think one will benefit from learning to distinguish between samatha mind and vipassana aims; but imagining that one is mastered before another is attempted is contrary to what I have been taught (if it's ok, I'll explain my affiliation: I practice Hokke school as Nichiren Daishonin named it; I chant Nam-Myoho-Renge-Kyo as primary practice, mostly in solitude, sometimes in fellowship with other members in the SGI movement. And btw, I hope that the relative accessibility and widespread presence of opportunities to do this (Nichiren Buddhist) practice with experienced seniors is not snobbishly rejected by readers as, idk, a 'diluted' form of Buddhist learning?).

In Mahayana and Vajrayana tradition too much tranquility and so-called 'inert peace' is considered as an obstacle on the way since it is not a full enlightenment and it can easily prevent a practitioner from pursuing next stages of realisation.

To avoid that, practitioners can take a Bodhisattva Vow to remind them that they want to pursue happiness not only for themselves but mainly for all the sentient beings.

This term inert peace is a good one, that I have not encountered before. It is fairly descriptive of a difficult-to-describe condition. I have heard it named a "Buddha-Bubble." ...So this "pursuing [of] happiness not only for themselves" — definitely implies happiness within a dynamic of struggle— it means willingly facing or even seeking obstacles with one's own active volition as the means to growth in understanding, in life-state, in ability to manifest powerful practices of meditative discipline aimed at overcoming powerful deterrents (which do obviously vary ffrom one practitioner to another). To establish a tranquility of purpose sufficient to attempt this, a Vow is truly necessary. Yes, and the mind is endless and so for some the vow may be inconspicuous, residing not in conscious intellect but rather as something felt, something unworded. Yet it must exist.

I think that this is truly a crucial point in Mahayana Buddhism.

Anyone becomes weary at times. In my experience, this is why samatha remains relevant for the duration of one's life, no matter what. A quality of samatha state achieved through meditation, with the understanding that succeeding "again" with finding compassion for one's self can be nourished by it ...maybe is inseparable from renewing one's capacity for compassion directed towards others? (It happens that I am in such a 'place' right now).

With respect and metta.

1

First: if the bare insight thing is valid -- i.e. if it is possible to go straight to Vipassana without going via Samatha -- then why wouldn't everyone just do that? Insight is The Point, after all, (isn't it?) so why waste time with what seems to be mere training wheels?

At the heart of it, "tranquility" just means the skill of perseverance that you need to do the vipassana investigation. If your mind is agitated, you'll get distracted and won't keep up the work.

IMO, at least, the Mahasi approach develops tranquility implicitly, because if you keep noting, you're developing that capacity to practice stably and persistently.

Second: OK, suppose access concentration or first jhana is necessary, but is also sufficient a level of samadhi as preparation for vipassana. Then, again, why would anyone then continue on to "samatha" jhanas 2 through 4? My understanding is that while those jhanas may be cool and blissful, not only are they not The Point, they carry the danger of attachment. So why bother with them?

The jhana factors are suffusive qualities that emerge naturally when practice is stable: a suffusive attention/focus emerges, then a suffusive rapture dominates, then a suffusive calm dominates, and then a suffusive equanimity.

If you practice with persistence, these qualities will appear, no matter what. The 'choice' is in the degree that you want to immerse yourself in each of those qualities.

Some teachers (controversially) see tranquility and insight as two facets of the same development (example: Sayadaw U Pandita's 'vipassana jhanas', "In this Very Life", http://homepage.ntlworld.com/pesala/Pandita/).

In this view, the "jhanas" are those stages in the development of insight that are restful, pleasant, and sustainable, like islands of calm in the progress of insight.

A practitioner can choose to abide there, and deepen that abiding as a separate skill - that's samatha practice. But other parts of the path aren't stable in that way; only investigation - vipassana - gets the practitioner across the rough channel to the next island!

To beat the metaphor further, resting on those islands is a good way to prepare to cross the next rough sea, as long as you don't get hooked on the sunlight and great beaches :)

0

From my own understanding of the Maha-Assupura Sutta, after abandoning the five hindrances the practitioner enters Jhana. After having obtained Jhana the practitioner works on insight.

On abandoning the five hindrances:

Abandoning covetousness with regard to the world, he dwells with an awareness devoid of covetousness. He cleanses his mind of covetousness. Abandoning ill will and anger, he dwells with an awareness devoid of ill will, sympathetic with the welfare of all living beings. He cleanses his mind of ill will and anger. Abandoning sloth and drowsiness, he dwells with an awareness devoid of sloth and drowsiness, mindful, alert, percipient of light. He cleanses his mind of sloth and drowsiness. Abandoning restlessness and anxiety, he dwells undisturbed, his mind inwardly stilled. He cleanses his mind of restlessness and anxiety. Abandoning uncertainty, he dwells having crossed over uncertainty, with no perplexity with regard to skillful mental qualities. He cleanses his mind of uncertainty....

...Seeing that they [the five hindrances] have been abandoned within him, he becomes glad. Glad, he becomes enraptured. Enraptured, his body grows tranquil. His body tranquil, he is sensitive to pleasure. Feeling pleasure, his mind becomes concentrated...

On entering Jhana:

...quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental qualities, he enters and remains in the first jhana: rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation....

On insight:

...With his mind thus concentrated, purified, and bright, unblemished, free from defects, pliant, malleable, steady, and attained to imperturbability, the monk directs and inclines it to the knowledge of the ending of the mental fermentations. He discerns, as it has come to be, that 'This is stress... This is the origination of stress... This is the cessation of stress... This is the way leading to the cessation of stress... These are mental fermentations... This is the origination of fermentations... This is the cessation of fermentations... This is the way leading to the cessation of fermentations....

0

Here is a quote on the four ways to arahantship. The quote is from the book "In The Buddha's Words" by Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi, p. 268-269:

Four Ways to Arahantship

Thus have I heard. On one occasion the Venerable Ananda was dwelling at Kosambi in Ghosita's monastery. There the Venerable Ananda addressed the monks thus: "Friends!"

"Yes, friend," the monks replied. Thereupon the Venerable Ananda said: "Friends, whatever monks or nuns declare before me that they have attained the final knowledge of arahantship, all these do so in one of four ways. What four?

"Here, friends, a monk develops insight preceded by serenity. While he thus develops insight preceded by serenity, the path arises in him. He now pursues, develops, and cultivates that path, and while he is doing so the fetters are abandoned and the underlying tendencies eliminated.

"Or again, friends, a monk develops serenity preceded by insight. While he thus develops serenity preceded by insight, the path arises in him. He now pursues, develops, and cultivates that path, and while he is doing so the fetters are abandoned and the underlying tendencies eliminated.

"Or again, friends, a monk develops serenity and insight joined in pairs. path arises in him. He now pursues, develops, and cultivates that path, and while he is doing so the fetters are abandoned and the underlying tendencies eliminated.

"Or again, friends, a monk's mind is seized by agitation about the teaching.11 But there comes a time when his mind becomes internally steadied, composed, unified, and concentrated; then the path arises in him. He now pursues, develops, and cultivates that path, and while he is doing so the fetters are abandoned and the underlying tendencies eliminated.

"Friends, whatever monks or nuns declare before me that they have attained the final knowledge of arahantship, all these do so in one of these four ways."

(AN 4:170; II156-57)

0

I really think I have an insight to share here from a physical/science perspective.

I have a degree in behavioral psychology and have engaged in behavioral studies for decades. I offer this not as an ego thing because I am genuinely not that bright, but there are some interesting scientific additions or views towards meditation for the lay practitioner.

The human mind is a sensory interpreter that is constantly receiving information. When it's not receiving its' normal stimuli then it might change modes (to sleep) or it might fill in the loss of input with it's own randomly generated spontaneous manifestations as we have found in numerous sensory deprivation studies. It is accustomed to receiving information.

In meditative practice the idea of a still mind allows one to insert a sort of "control signal" as the sensory input for the mind. To that end we make it something very familiar and comforting that makes us secure yet not question it with surprise stimuli. Like, for instance, a well known mantra of a constant or reverberating tone. Or a singing bowl tone. This puts our mind at ease with its' mandatory input but as a sort of background noise (same concept btw) and leaving our minds free to explore other things more intently.

Many academic and other institutions have found this type of meditation useful for students and professionals alike. So for the layman it may be helpful to see meditation from a practical side as well. And that side advocates a steady rhythmic or tonal stimuli to assist with the still mind effect and then letting the mind wander or be guided.

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