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In the Yuganaddha Sutta (AN 4.170), there is described the four paths stated below. Insight refers to vipassana and tranquility refers to samatha.

  1. Development of tranquility before development of insight
  2. Development of insight before development of tranquility
  3. Tranquility developed in tandem with insight
  4. Mind's restlessness concerning the Dhamma well under control (I guess this is "dry insight")

Of these four paths, which is the easiest, smoothest and most pleasant to a novice lay practitioner? And why?

Or is this question invalid, because meditation, insight and jhana is not suited to the lay practitioner?

Please provide quotes to support your answer from the Buddha's words, if possible.

I personally suspect that it is tranquility (at least the first jhana) before insight.


In this essay, Henepola Gunaratana promoted tranquility before insight:

The Buddha is constantly seen in the suttas encouraging his disciples to develop jhana. The four jhanas are invariably included in the complete course of training laid down for disciples. ... Though a vehicle of dry insight can be found, indications are that this path is not an easy one, lacking the aid of the powerful serenity available to the practitioner of jhana. The way of the jhana attainer seems by comparison smoother and more pleasurable (A.ii,150-52).

However, Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu has a different view in this video from timestamp 9m 34s, where he said:

Samatha meditation - these meditations exists. There's no question that there are meditations out there that will not lead you to enlightenment. They can't, because they are not focused on reality. They are creating an illusion in the mind. The only way that they could lead to enlightenment, is as I said, if you use that to gain insight. ... and because of the strength of the mind, you can see it clearer than you would have, otherwise. It's kind of taking a shortcut, but having to do a lot of preparation. So, not gaining anything (during this preparation phase), except for these nice states of peace and calm, and maybe some magical powers along the way, which is probably best suited for someone living in the forest. So, which should be first? It's totally up to you ... if you want to start with just vipassana, it was very clear that ... the Buddha gave this (vipassana) as the quickest way. A monk came up to the Buddha and said, "I'm old and I don't have a lot of time and my memory is not good, I don't want to learn a lot, give me the basics of the path" .....

So, there's obviously two camps out there. On one side, those who promote tranquility first like Ven. Henepola Gunaratana and Ajahn Brahm. But on the other side, you have those who promote insight alone or insight first like Ven. Yuttadhammo or S.N. Goenka.

And then there's the interesting opinion in this answer by Dhammadhatu and this answer by Andrei Volkov, which imply that attainment of Jhana through meditation is not for lay people, which is echoed by Ven. Yuttadhammo's statement that samatha meditation is "probably best suited for someone living in the forest".

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  • Samādhi based vipassanā, so practitioner who has not enough samādhi must try the 1st step only. It is a step that can't not be cross. It is not a choice for choose. Practitioner who has not any skill must do from 1st step. He has not any way to cross the step. buddhism.stackexchange.com/a/22512/10100
    – Bonn
    Oct 9 '17 at 7:41
  • I don't know. Maybe Chenrezig 600,000 mantra accumulation or Ngondro if you have it? May 4 at 15:30
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The sutta was spoken by Ananda. It is not the words of the Buddha. The Buddha taught samatha & vipassana are developed in tandem (MN 149; Dhp 372); as demonstrated in MN 118 (when it is properly understood). In short, given the path is the Eightfold Path with Three Trainings, how can there be a path that separates wisdom from the development of the path?

Any view belonging to one who has come to be like this is his right view. Any resolve, his right resolve. Any effort, his right effort. Any mindfulness, his right mindfulness. Any concentration, his right concentration: just as earlier his actions, speech, & livelihood were already well-purified. Thus for him, having thus developed the noble eightfold path, the four frames of reference go to the culmination of their development. The four right exertions... the four bases of power... the five faculties... the five strengths... the seven factors for Awakening go to the culmination of their development. [And] for him these two qualities occur in tandem: tranquillity & insight. MN 149

Also, insight cannot occur without tranquility because true insight, as described in many suttas, results in dispassion (viraga). A mind with dispassion will naturally have tranquility. Wrong concentration can lead to developing some degree of tranquility, but genuine insight cannot exclude tranquility. The fact the Goenka & Mahasi (Yutadhammo) paths rarely discuss tranquility shows the "insight" ("vipassana") they preach is not genuine vipassana but just a form of indoctrination.


As for the idea of "novice lay practitioner", this is contrary to the teachings of the Buddha. For example, Sariputta & Moggallana were novices yet the Buddha immediately knew they would be his chief disciples. Also, the Buddha rarely taught meditation to lay people. Most lay people do not have the conditions to develop jhana. Therefore, the questions here are not realistic. Lay people should develop morality so to avoid unnecessary problems with their lives.

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I believe that many/most people understand the meaning of jhana incorrectly. Bhikkhu Kumara has written a book recently to address this. He is waiting on more feedback before allowing people to post the link publicly, but his arguments are extremely persuasive that Jhana in pali just means meditation. The psychedelic hindu/visuddhimagga "jhanic states" are not what are being referred to, and the jhanas that Buddha taught are not about concentrating the mind but rather collecting the mind. It is only because of the mistranslations that people promote the idea that samatha isn't necessary for insight.

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  • It's astonishing the degree of over-emphasis that has been off-loaded onto the term jhana and thus made into something reserved only for special people performing very particular types of specialized meditations - it's really astonishing. I guess its human nature to feel like they are obtaining something special. Theravadins are notorious for this.
    – Max
    Apr 28 at 16:56
  • Please also see this question: Sutta jhana vs. Visuddhimagga jhana
    – ruben2020
    Apr 29 at 7:18
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  1. Mind's restlessness concerning the Dhamma well under control (I guess this is "dry insight").

Yes "dry insight". BUT it would just work if the kammic conditions (paramis) are there, at certain occation. So generally the message given in Dhammadhatus answer is right (in regard of layman-novice, a modern overestimation of those not really having taken refuge, served by monks living with improper livelihood, making wordily gain as well on the cost of the sublime gems)

"One way is that in the world, and another the way beyound", to mix these two things up does neither support a good way in the world not keep the way beyond possible visible.

It's good to practice firm generosity (Dana), virtue (Sila) and reflect and develope Vision (Bhavana) and having done ones duties well, seek for seclusion from time to time, rightouse earned and therefore possible benefical.

What ever one traces on meditation centers and other lay mans or missguided monastics livelihood undertakings, this is not really destinated for any gain beyond, so it's better to take refuge and serve and follow those who are in front, doing ones own task and gain things in proper and rightous ways.

Useful talks:

There are lots of techniques for dealing with all different kinds of problems in the mind. When teachers give you just one technique, it’s sort of one-size-fits-all, or Henry Ford’s old maxim: People can have whatever color car they want as long as it’s black. Given the complexity of the mind, there’s no way that one single technique is going to work in all cases, or that one particular person will have to stick to one technique all the time. You have to realize that the Buddha offers a whole toolbox here, lots of different methods, lots of different approaches.

What ever approach might fit to one, if it has deep respect, confidence and patient as it's leading attitude, will be well. No matter if at home, in the forest, monastic or lay person. People who just trade stick and sell things as if they would be the only truth. Why? Because custumer seek for easy gainable security, inpatiently, yet would happily pay...

It might be that many words in the right direction do not easy make people at large a favor and are not that "business-increasing", enlarging the cemeteries.

[Note: This is a gift of Dhamma, not meant for commercial purpose and other low wordily gains by means of trade and exchange]

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I suppose it depends on the needs of the individual. If you were attracted to Buddhism in order to find inner peace, then tranquility before insight, all the way; and run away fast from dry insight.

If you were already peaceful, and studied Buddhism out of intellectual curiosity, then you are ready for insight before, or in tandem with, tranquility.

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I think generally people should

  1. read the techer's message
  2. memorize the message
  3. investigate & analyze the message
  4. come to agreement with the message
  5. contemplate the message
  6. become willing to pursue the goal

Serious samadhi development requires monastic level asceticsm & cotemplation, it won't be enough to force sit even 2 hours a day if one is bent on worldliness.

Insight requires contemplation & investigation but it is also like a like light which makes clear. A light is made brighter by adding energy and Insight is likewise supported by effort in development of samadhi & other spiritual faculties.

There is obviously a lot of value in reading the earliest texts in SN, MN, AN, DN, Dhp, Snp, Iti, there is no need to read commentary but one should learn 10-15 pali words well and investigate all uses of those words in the Sutta expression.

Insight may or may not mature to modicum discernment at this point of being well familiarized & having entertained the teacher's message. These are people who kind of get it but you probably won't be able to pin it down because their expression isn't sharp and they might confuse nonessential things.

This level of modicum understanding is what one should get to first i think.

First here one should identify and get rid of pernicious wrong views and if right view is obscure one should be established in foremost wrong view (maybe it's true maybe it's not true) for the time being. One can research Sutta for listing of wrong views.

Knowing the Sutta expression is crucial for one developing for modicum understanding. Sometimes one might think 'maybe it is like this!' but then merely knowing the sutta expression will eliminate the wrong option.

If one doesn't yet have a modicum understanding of the techer's message one will be able to tell as the texts dealing with noble samadhi attainments don't make much sense until you do.

At this point one is either an outsider if one has wrong views; or one is a faith follower if one is inclined to believe the right things even if not understanding.

As for samadhi. Imo it's actually very difficult to arrange good let alone optimal circumstances for deep samadhi development.

If one chooses samadhi then one should generally uphold decent asceticism and go through as many jhana as necessary for insight to mature.

Many people could study the texts, observe the uposatha and do meditation retreats. These would gain a lot.

Others might be able to not work and meditate more than uposatha. Of these some might try to do hardcore asceticism.

To do samadhi succesfully & fast one needs very good environment, having few duties, moderation in eating, guarding the senses and be devoted to wakefulness.

Guarding of the senses should go as far as not seeing womenfolk for men and as far as not seeing menfolk for female yogis, one should not tolerate even the thought a sign associated with objects of sense desire.

Furthermore one needs to learn how to direct the mind to develop the proper perceptions necessary for stilling of gross perceptions such as those associated with sensuality.

Furthermore one needs to learn how to stir up energy and eliminating all hindrances.

Furthermore he should have little to no doubt about doing things correctly.

Behavior must be personal best and recovery from offenses efficient.

Effectively one would spend the whole day directing the mind by thinking good & appropriate things or stilling thoughts altogether.

Another person might quickly attain understanding but not attain fruition before death due to not doing the samadhi much.

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