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The problem: I've encountered some confusion about the differences between samadhi and vipassana, as would seem to be a frequent problem amongst beginners. This confusion was only worsened by my having a Zen master tell me that my practice was vipassana, and that I should just continuously count my breaths up to ten and then back down instead. I don't think she realized that I was striving for samadhi, and I don't think she really knew what she was talking about. I find Theravada to be the path for me, and have stopped visiting that zen center, but am still confused nonetheless.

So, in the absence of a formal teacher, I figured I could ask here to see if someone can provide me with some guidance.

My meditation practice: Concentrate on the sensation of the breath and nothing else, no numbers, thoughts, or words for as long as I can or unless I feel like they would help me.

Some thoughts I use, for example, are, "Let go of it", "Become one with the breath in the present moment", "I am looking for my thoughts; I should be looking for my breath", and other thoughts of a similar nature.

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So basically, does this kind of practice generate samadhi, or vipassana? I'm not looking for insight while meditating. Just looking for the breath and focusing on it.

Thanks in advance.

  • Clarification regarding Zen master and center: I've been interested in Theravada from the get go, but figured I would check out the Zen center as a form of sangha. It didn't go very well. – Eben Mar 24 '17 at 5:46
  • suttacentral.net/en/mn10 for the classical method! – Ilya Grushevskiy Mar 24 '17 at 8:59
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Yes, concentrate on the sensation of the breath and nothing else.

This will develop samadhi & but also vipassana because the breath is impermanent.

While samadhi is developed, seeing clearly the impermanence (appearance, disappearance, appearance, disappearance) of each breath is vipassana.

Thus the primary goal is to develop samadhi but a side effect can be vipassana.

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There's nothing wrong with what that Zen teacher told you. She was starting you out small. Just as you wouldn't walk into the gym and start squatting 500 lbs. immediately, likewise you have to grow into your practice gradually. Counting the breath is effective for a number of reasons. For one, it gives you an anchor - your breath - for your attention to focus on. Second and less widely discussed is that your are using that voice inside your head for single, limited purpose. Rather than watching your breath and saying things like "let go" or "become one with the breath", your interior dialogue is limited to "one", "two", "three". That's it. Any more than that is superfluous. Over time, your concentration will strengthen. Eventually, you will be able to drop the counting and just work with the breath itself.

And like Dhammadhatu suggested - samadhi practice is the basis for vipassana practice. You can't have one without the other. Moreover, Buddhism itself IS an insight tradition. It IS vipassana. Concentration is only a means. Some traditions really push the envelope and develop that means - concentration - to the point of the immaterial attainments while others only touch on the border of jhana. Different practices work for different people. But it all begins with "one", "two", "three"...

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The 1st Jhana is achieved due to the efforts you put into keeping your breath on the object, essentially the effort on keeping the object in focus is Vitakka & Vicara (initial and sustained application).

There are times your mind may stick to the object of focus. Even then periodically check and bring back re affirm your focus.

Also when it comes to what you focus keep it on one subject of either the 4 Foundations of Mindfulness of 4 Brahmavihara and also note everything is conditioned hence subjected to the 3 characteristics. [Saṅkhitta Dhamma Sutta]

When you let go of distraction, you have to do it properly. A distraction becomes a distraction because the sensation if gives if it is bodily. Even memories and through that pop up has a sensation associated with it. If there is a notable sensation have a look at it, and wait a little while with it - about 3 breaths maximum, and then come back to your meditation object. This may have a damping effect on subsequent distractions.

So you seem to be applying the effort hence you seem to be doing the right thing.

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You should refer to the Satipattana sutta. While it contains advice on breath meditation, it also guides you about the objective of meditation.

Falling short, you may encounter but a momentary bliss, which, since is something that is arisen, will perish.

If you do chose to comment on this answer, I'll dig out more material for you from the original sutta versions.

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