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Does the Piti Sutta imply that it is better for lay people to start with cultivation of jhana through samatha meditation, instead of starting with vipassana meditation?

Also, the use of the term "piti" (rapture) seems to encourage lay people to enter and master the first jhana.

From the Piti Sutta (AN 5.176):

Then Anathapindika the householder, surrounded by about 500 lay followers, went to the Blessed One and, on arrival, having bowed down to him, sat to one side. As he was sitting there the Blessed One said to him, “Householder, you have provided the community of monks with robes, alms food, lodgings, & medicinal requisites for the sick, but you shouldn’t rest content with the thought, ‘We have provided the community of monks with robes, alms food, lodgings, & medicinal requisites for the sick.’ So you should train yourself, ‘Let’s periodically enter & remain in seclusion & rapture.’ That’s how you should train yourself.”

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No, it is not.

Shamatha ultimately leads to Jhana and then it is highly unlikely that lay person would still want regular, ordinary world pleasures. Most of the people after such experience immediately want to be ordained (at least according to Ajahn Brahm and his guide to Shamatha). After all, sex and all experiences are all quite unsatisfying compared to such higher bliss.

Moreover, conditions for Shamatha are more difficult to achieve, at least according to Allan Wallace's book "Stilling the Mind, Shamatha Teachings from Dudjom Lingpa's Vajra Essence", it requires many more hours and years of practise and has many smaller conditions like requires meditator to be of proper health to even start:

Shamatha requires more careful incubation than most other kinds of meditation. You can practice tonglen (taking on the suffering of others and cultivate anywhere. In fact, many other practices can be done under varying circumstances. If you wish to take shamatha all the way to its ground, however, it requires a supportive, serene environment, good diet, proper exercise, and very few preoccupations. The necessary internal conditions are minimal desires, few activities and concerns, contentment, pure ethical discipline, and freedom from obsessive, compulsive thinking. It is my feeling that the achievement of shamatha is so rare today because those circumstances are so rare. It is difficult to find a conducive environment in which to practice at length and without interference—even more so to have that and access to suitable spiritual friends for support and guidance. Therefore, if the causes are difficult to bring together, the result—shamatha—is also necessarily rare. I present a detailed guide to the general practice of shamatha in my earlier book, The Attention Revolution (Wisdom, 2006).

This is why proper Shamatha training before embarking on Vipassana is often neglected as it is difficult for lay people. Oftentimes one has to train for years to do it right and achieve proper concentration.

Vipassana is just more practical in real world. It is embracing and focusing on ever changing reality, hence Mindfulness is such a commercial success, and the fact that there is common ground between the two. Simply put, for lay people its easier to be aware of arising and falling of all phenomena, since lay person lives the life, not sitting many hours a day in the higher state of bliss that is Jhana, that makes him useless in daily life.

In the end, these days lay people mostly get (and are comfortable with), a mixture of both Mindfulness/Vipassana and calming the mind of Shamatha, so they develop Insight without neglecting concentration. It is just more practical to develop both.

  • 1
    Great answer. Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu also agrees with the notion that "Vipassana is just more practical in the real world ..." in this video. – ruben2020 May 29 '18 at 5:16
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Can't conclude a lot from the sutta but accrding to my personal experience as a lay buddhist,

  1. Vipassana needs higher levels of concentration and mindfulness.

  2. Instructions for Vipassana are little bit more complicated and difficult to follow than Samatha.

  3. Vipassana involves using the mind to sense the bodily feelings. Mind usually wanders.

  4. Learning Vipassana for first time requires a 10 day commitment to a retreat. But Samatha meditation can be learned at a days retreat.

So I will say, yes. Samatha meditation more suited to lay people than Vipassana.

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Samatha = citta-samatha = Leading to wholesome mind = seclusion of unwholesome in 5 strings, kāmaguṇa.

Vipassanā = samatha-vipassanā = Leading to sabbasaṅkhāra-samatha, nibbāna = seclusion of whole 5 clinging-aggregates.

So, samatha is for taṇhā-carita (unwholesome often arise), vipassanā is for diṭṭhi-carita (wholesome often arise).

People, who can't get the seclusion of unwholesome in 5 strings, should meditate samatha.

People who already got the seclusion of unwholesome in 5 strings, should meditate vipassanā.

It is not depend on lay or monk, it's depend on each personal ability like I explain above.

However, most lays can't get the seclusion of unwholesome in 5 strings, even the seclusion of verbal and bodily actions as well, so Buddha often teach dāna & sīla & bhavanā (samatha&vipassanā) to lay. But there are more monks who have gotten the seclusion of unwholesome in 5 strings, so the buddha often teach sīla&samatha&vipassanā to monk.

See: Netti-pakaraṇa.

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If AN 5.176 was a genuine sutta then most Buddhist laypeople would easily develop jhana and be not interested in sex. The fact that most Buddhist laypeople have not developed jhana & are unable to develop jhana shows neither jhana or vipassana are inherently suitable for most laypeople.

For example, in SN 55.53, similar situation occurs where the lay follower Dhammadinna, together with five hundred lay followers, are advised to abide in emptiness (sunnata) but they are unable to do so.

Laypeople should follow the five precepts, particularly not engage in heedless sex. Laypeople should also avoid the demerit of preaching Dhamma when they don't understand it. Laypeople should also rejoice with mudita when Noble Practitioners explain the Noble Supramundane Dhamma, thinking: "It is wonderful to see Noble Ones in this world".

In summary, the trustworthy suttas explain samatha & vipassana are developed in tandem from the one practise of the noble path.

Thus for him, having thus developed the noble eightfold path... these two qualities occur in tandem: tranquillity & insight.

MN 149

  • Interestingly SN 55.53 talks about "And we will have the ethical conduct loved by the noble ones … leading to immersion (samadhi)". – ruben2020 May 28 '18 at 15:06
  • "Leading to" but possibly not having reached the destination. Sir, we live at home with our children, using sandalwood imported from Kāsi, wearing garlands, perfumes, and makeup, and accepting gold and money. – Dhammadhatu May 28 '18 at 20:39
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Is samatha meditation more suited to lay people than vipassana?

From Pali Canon it does not seem that Buddha ever taught "samatha meditation" and "vipassana meditation" as two distinct and separate meditation techniques. This seems to be a later generalization. What Buddha taught is meditation that has two aspects of "calming down" and "understanding" - to use simple words.

Both "calming down" and "understanding" are correlates and manifestations of Liberation of Mind. Indeed, in order for the mind to calm down it has to liberate itself from emotions, obsessions, attachments and other mental activity that feeds the vicious circle of disturbed mind. The more you liberate, the better you can see into the nature of the mind and understand how it works. The more you understand how mind works, the more you liberate from its pitfalls, the more you calm down.

The unique Buddhist twist is using "feeling good" as a factor of "calming down", and using "being good" (behavior-wise) as a factor of "feeling good". So the whole thing works as a multi-threaded helix, the factors of "virtue", "skill", "joy", "calming down", "understanding", and "liberation" penetrating and supporting each other. The "piti" in Piti Sutta is a nod to factors of "being good" and "feeling good" playing an important role in this process.

Regarding lay people having to start from "calming down" or from "understanding" - it depends. Both at ancient times and now, lay people are usually pretty caught up in the drama of life. Their minds are almost completely obsessed by solving problems and pursuing goals that they think are important, due to their attachments. This makes it very hard for lay people to understand something as profound as Emptiness. In modern days though, people are expecting to start from theory and then go to practice. Modern people almost can't do it, until they understand how it works. So for modern student of Dharma, getting some basic "understanding" is critical for engaging with practice of "liberation".

Again, all of this has nothing to do with so-called "samatha" and "vipassana" as they came to be understood in modern times. In my experience, a good Buddhist teacher intuitively assesses the student, probing into both emotional and conceptual obscurations, and gives a mixture of instruction - some conceptual aimed at understanding and some behavioral aimed at liberation. It's never one or the other, it's always both. Or all four/six/twelve/etc depending how you count.

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