What are the key aspects of Vipassana that are not present in Samatha?

What is the main difference in the method from a meditator's perspective?

Labeling emotions and feelings are part of samatha or vipassana? Does Vipassana allows emotions to rise more freely to check it for what it is while Samatha tries to avoid paying attention to it by returning to the breath process?

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    from a meditator's perspective, the first question might be whether the Buddha taught that there are two meditations to differentiate. In Zen meditation for example, you won't find such labeling. – user8619 Sep 17 '16 at 20:36
  • @avatarKorra Quite so. I'm not even sure such labeling is helpful. Perhaps it is at certain stages. – user14119 Mar 19 '20 at 15:26
  • Culadasa delves into this at the start of his most enlightening "The Mind Illuminated". In brief: vipassanā is a series of insights that challenge your perception of reality. Insights into impermanence, emptiness, suffering and interdependence can be achieved with effortless stable attention (samādhi) and powerful mindfulness (sati). The insight into no-Self produces Awakening, and it requires your mind to be in the state of śamatha, which encompasses samādhi, sati, joy, tranquillity, and equanimity. Awakening is an accident: it can happen at any time. Practice makes you accident-prone. – Chema Jul 9 '20 at 8:43
  • Both tradition and translators have made a meaningless mess of words, but Culadasa manages to disentangle most. Samādhi and sati are confusingly referred as śamatha and vipassanā, even tho they are all interdependent. Two wings of a bird, needlessly split apart by many: Practising samādhi by itself leads to blissful dullness, and sati to mind-wandering and frustration. – Chema Jul 9 '20 at 9:03
  • Culadasa says the Buddha described all three śamatha/vipassanā combos. He favours a "mixed-old-school" śamatha-first approach: first develop a powerful lens of attention, but maintaining peripheral awareness ("mindfulness") all the time (this was a game changer for me). Later turn it towards vipassanā, and watch the insights rain. Focusing on insight before tranquillity is recommended only if you already have good focus and can do long retreats. Working both insight and tranquillity works well if you have good "natural concentration", but requires better guidance. – Chema Jul 9 '20 at 9:27

13 Answers 13


What are the key aspects of Vipassana that are not present in Samatha?

samatha means tranquility - it is a necessary aspect of any wholesome meditative practice.

vipassana means seeing clearly or in a special way - it is a quality specific to Buddhist meditative practice.

Meditation for the purpose of seeing clearly requires one to focus on ultimate reality; the only way to understand reality is to observe it. Any meditation practice that does not take ultimate reality as an object is called "samatha meditation", because it leads only to tranquility, not insight.

Besides the difference in meditation object, meditation for insight will also obviously have different results; it will be less tranquil on the whole, as one is forced to experience all the inherent problems with ultimate reality, specifically that it is impermanent, unsatisfying, and uncontrollable.

What is the main difference in the method from a meditator's perspective?

There is no difference in the method, necessarily; the only difference is in the object. As the Visuddhimagga says:

But one whose vehicle is pure insight, or that same aforesaid one whose vehicle is serenity, discerns the four elements in brief or in detail in one of the various ways given in the chapter on the definition of the four elements (XI.27ff.).

Vism XVIII.5 (Nyanamoli, trans)

Meaning the methodology is the same, but one's focus shifts to ultimate reality.

Labeling emotions and feelings are part of samatha or vipassana?

Since emotions and feelings are a part of ultimate reality, this would be considered vipassana meditation. Many people say otherwise; I can't help but argue that they are wrong. The difference isn't the technique, it is the object.

Does Vipassana allows emotions to rise more freely to check it for what it is while Samatha tries to avoid paying attention to it by returning to the breath process?

samatha meditation has the potential to lead to avoidance, since it generally seeks out heightened states of concentration that are impossible when the focus is ultimate reality. The point is that one can only understand reality if one takes it as a focus; if you are unable to come to terms with reality, you will instead incline towards avoiding it because it is uncomfortable, preferring a single, stable, satisfying, controllable illusion to the harsh reality of the universe. This is a potential difference between the two types of meditation.

It is not that samatha meditation is bad or useless, just limited and posessing a potential danger, as the Buddha taught:

“And what, bhikkhus, is the gratification in the case of feelings? Here, bhikkhus, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the first jhāna, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion. On such an occasion he does not choose for his own affliction, or for another’s affliction, or for the affliction of both. On that occasion he feels only feeling that is free from affliction. The highest gratification in the case of feelings is freedom from affliction, I say.

[same with 2nd - 4th jhanas]

“And what, bhikkhus, is the danger in the case of feelings? Feelings are impermanent, suffering, and subject to change. This is the danger in the case of feelings.

-- MN 13 (Bodhi, Trans)

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    Thank you Bhante, I have read your book and I have seen your 5 videos on meditation, you always point out to the fact that we should see things for what they are, label them if they are calling our attention and return to the rising/falling of the chest, would that be Vipassana for beginners? – konrad01 Sep 15 '14 at 17:51
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    I suspect when two of us say "labeling" we mean two different referents. – Andrei Volkov Sep 16 '14 at 1:50
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    This answer would improve with an explanation of how focusing on feelings is vipassana only and not samatha. This seems to be at odds with the anapanasati sutta insofar as it says that who practices anapanasati is focused on feelings in and of themselves, as well as combining the perception of impermanence with anapanasati. MN 13 also seems to imply that without jhana, one cannot fully understand feelings, since one would have to experience jhana to fully understand the gratification of feelings and would have to understand the gratification of feelings in order to fully understand feelings. – Adamokkha May 19 '15 at 2:15
  • (The Four Jhanas) DN2,etc... "Quite withdrawn from sensuality, from unskillful mental qualities, he enters and remains in the first jhana: rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation. He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal....even so, the monk permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal. "This is a fruit of the contemplative life, visible here and now, more excellent than the previous ones and more sublime. – Samadhi May 20 '15 at 17:14
  • You say "as one is forced to experience all the inherent problems with ultimate reality, specifically that it is impermanent, unsatisfying, and uncontrollable." Did you really mean to say this? – user14119 Mar 19 '20 at 15:23

A simple explanation is, the goal of Shamatha is to calm down, while the goal of Vipassana is to see.

So in Samatha there is more effort, more conflict. Especially in the beginning, you are fighting with yourself, wrestling with your mind, training the monkey, taming the elephant and so on. Those brief intervals when the mind is exhausted from fighting itself and temporarily gives up, so there is a natural unforced pause -- this is the Samatha proper.

While Vipassana, which is done after the mind is somewhat tamed and is now pliable -- is more subtle, more refined. There is still some effort required to keep the lights on, but the way the experience is framed no longer implies a sense of inner conflict.

  • Labeling emotions and feelings is part of samatha or vipassana? – konrad01 Sep 14 '14 at 19:16
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    (EDITED) Labeling thoughts and feelings with hard interruption and forced return to breathing is a part of samatha. Noting them gently, as they come and go, is vipassana. – Andrei Volkov Sep 14 '14 at 19:16
  • Thanks, a final one: Does Vipassana allow emotions to rise more freely to check it for what it is while Samatha tries to avoid paying attention to it by returning to the breath process? – konrad01 Sep 14 '14 at 19:20
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    Yes, in vipassana you want to see how thoughts and emotions arise, take shape, and how they dissolve. So you allow them to happen, but not to the point of getting carried away. – Andrei Volkov Sep 14 '14 at 19:23
  • So can we say that the simple difference is that of labelling vs passive watching? – user13135 Aug 31 '18 at 7:00

I second Andrei's Answer, but would like to expand, because the mechanics of both samatha or vipassana seem to differ as well.

With samatha you can use conceptual meditation objects like colours, the amount and length of breaths, the qualities of a Buddha etc. These objects tend to be stable and therefore calm the mind and develop concentration. As I understand, the meditation forms which can lead to jhana are all forms of samatha meditation. Not all samatha meditation objects can lead to jhana though.

With vipassana one can only use meditation objects that occur in that moment. For example the sensation of the breath, rising and falling of emotion, thoughts, pains ect. These objects tent to be subject to change, impermanent and not necessarily calming. This form of meditation shows quit directly impermanence, suffering and non-self. Thus, gaining insight.

  • Thanks, but thinking about the method of meditation they seem very familiar, right? So what a meditator should do to switch from Samatha to Vipassana is just letting the body and mind produce all sorts of emotions to acknwoledge it? There is no special method for Vipassana? – konrad01 Sep 14 '14 at 22:04
  • There are, but as with most things there is no consensus of what they are. Yuttadhammo's booklet: "How to meditate: a beginners guide to peace" introduces a method for Vipassana for example. – DirkM Sep 14 '14 at 23:01
  • Great book, I read it – konrad01 Sep 14 '14 at 23:04

Samatha is for calm, vipassana is for insight. But please don't get obsessed with separating the two. One is not better than the other. Right Mindfulness (for insight) and Right Concentration (for firmness of mind) both share the same objects and both fall under the path factor of Samadhi. In accordance with the Dhammawheel symbol, both lead to Right View and Right intention. Therefore we shouldn't look down on either.

Jhana meditation is used as a way to guide us out of unwholesome states of mind, so we can see things clearly. In order to reach Jhana, we must abandon the 5 hindrances, which are the "unwholesome qualities" the Buddha refers to when describing one who has entered Jhana: "There is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful qualities — enters and remains in the first jhana". In one sutta (AN 5.51) the Buddha describes the 5 hindrances as a hindrance to both (calm) awareness and insight: "These five are obstacles, hindrances that overwhelm awareness and weaken discernment" So in this way you can see that both Jhana and Insight are tied together. Jhana simply refers to the wholesome state of mind in which we can see things clearly because like previously said, the 5 hindrances are both a hindrance to Jhana and insight — when there are the hindrances, there is no Jhana and also no suitable ground for the development of insight.

However, the only way to uproot the hindrances is to understand them, and the only way to understand them is if they're present in the first place. This is why it is necessary for some to develop insight first. But as one weakens the hindrances, the dividing line between samatha and vipassana fades away and we're left with both insight and serenity at the same time.

So Jhana refers to the concentrated mind free from the coarse unwholesome qualities of the 5 hindrances. Samatha refers to the technique of collecting the mind (as a way to reach Jhana), and Samatha refers to the technique using awareness (collected or not) to understand phenomena. To do so efficiently (and correctly), your mind cannot have the 5 hindrances present, which is why samatha practice is vital. You cannot pick one over the other. When samatha and vipassana are referred to as "paths", this simply refers to the practitioners inclination. Some incline towards samatha, some towards vipassana, but both types of practitioners must use both "paths". And eventually, like previously said, both practitioners will come to use both like you would use your two arms.

It has been said here that samatha and vipassana are not different techniques but differ in their objects. With all due respect to Venerable Yuttadhammo, I'll say on my own accord that is (mostly) false. Please forgive me if this is proven otherwise. Like I said, samatha is used to collect the mind and vipassana is used to develop insight. In samatha, namely anapanasati, we use the breath as our object. We can use the same object in the same way in vipassana. But, like I also said, these 2 things eventually merge. Also, in Jhana, there is the form (breath), the feeling, the perception, the volitional formation, and the consciousness. In Jhana our object is form, in vipassana it can also be form. This is where vipassana differs: the objects of the mind can be vipassana's object, but Jhana we can't (however, the formless states are mental objects). However, without seclusion from the hindrances, using mental dhammas as an object can be very difficult. Any way, any object we choose for our meditation is an object of the 5 aggregates. What does "ultimate reality" refer to? If it refers to things in terms of the elements (which is the form khanda) then that would imply that ultimate reality exists within the khandhas. And like I said, we can use the elements to reach Jhana. If "ultimate reality" refers to nirvana, then in order to practice vipassana we must be enlightened beings who have destroyed ignorance and delusion, which would make vipassana impossible for us to practice as long as we aren't enlightened.

I hope this is helpful to whoever reads it and does not cause harm or confusion.

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    It is true that Samatha and Vipassana are complementary qualities, but it is also true that they are clearly distinct from one another. Although one must join the two together during attainment, it is not true that you need to develop them simultaneously. You can develop one then the other. This is explicitly taught in the AN. 4.170, the Yuganaddha sutta. They also serve different functions. According to AN. 2.30, the Vijja-bhagiya sutta, Samatha destroys passion, and Vipassana destroys ignorance. They fit together, but they are indeed separate. – Bakmoon Sep 16 '14 at 15:05
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    Also, the term ultimate reality refers to objects of direct experience as opposed to concepts which are formed by abstraction. It's not talking necessarily about Nirvana, because in Classical Theravada, there are four categories of ultimate reality. They are Rupa, Citta, Cetasika, and Nibbana. The first three on this list are ordinary realities, but they are ultimate in the sense that they are known directly by the mind. – Bakmoon Sep 16 '14 at 15:10
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    Also bear in mind that in the Suttas, the terms Samatha and Vipassana are always used to describe qualities, not practices. Samatha and Vipassana practices aren't given any particular name in the Suttas. Later on, they were called Samatha and Vipassana Bhavana, meaning the developlent of Samatha and Vipassana respectively. When we say Samatha meditation, we don't mean 'a kind of meditation called Samatha' but 'a kind of meditation which develops Samatha'. As qualities, it is necessary to have both, but as methods, it is not necessary. This is clearly shown in AN 4.169 – Bakmoon Sep 16 '14 at 15:16
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    Indeed, they are separate qualities. But that doesn't mean we choose one over the other. It's a mistake to say "I'm going to develop vipassana for a year and then samatha". You use vipassana when you lack understanding, samatha when your mind is under the sway of unwholesome qualities (as you said). If Ultimate Reality refers to direct experience, then samatha meditation and vipassana meditation still share the same objects. You don't reach jhana via abstraction. Your explanation in the last comment confuses me, because samatha aids insight and insight aids samatha. So both develop each other. – Tony Sep 16 '14 at 23:17
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    i.e. "When I practice vipassana, this is developing both vipassana and samatha". You cannot prevent vipassana from developing samatha. If you do, it means you're still falling under the sway of unwholesome qualities, and that therefore means you're ignorant (so you're failing in both developments). Perhaps the only difference lies in the practitioners main intention ("I only want to develop insight"), but if that is so then he is misinformed in practice. (Please forgive me if I seem like I'm in the debating mindset) – Tony Sep 16 '14 at 23:19

I would humbly like to mention one thing which we are missing in this discussion - which is eradication of accumulated sanskaras/sankharas. The difference between Samatha and Vipassana is that when we are practicing Samatha meditation, we are concentrating/balancing our mind, and the main effort is not on eradication of accumulated sanskaras (even though it stops formation of new sanskaras). But when we are doing Vipassana, we are actively eradicating sanskaras, as well as preventing new ones to form. So, both are essential in reaching the ultimate goal of eradicating sanskaras to witness the ultimate truth or the true nature of everything.

An analogy would be Samatha is like the sharpness of an axe, while Vipassana is like cutting the wood with that axe, and wood is like the accumulated sanskaras ... both have significance in cutting all the wood (i.e. attaining Nirvana) ... both have to be done turn by turn, depending on the hardness/softness of the wood and the required sharpness to cut through the woods ...

Actually the sanskaras are accumulated in layers - deep deep layers - so, the process of sharpening and cutting has to be done repeatedly several times to get through these layers of sanskaras/ignorance/moha ...

Please feel free to add anything that I may have missed ....


The Origins of Insights written by someone whom professor Richard Gombrich once described as the leading authority in the West in the field of abhidhamma, has pointed out through his extensive research of the whole tipitaka that the Buddha only teaches insight after the jhana.

So samatha is required first before vipassana and not samatha or vipassana. I won't go into the differences as they have already been pointed in several posts.

I quote a tiny excerpt from the paper:

In the Canon the development of insight after the jhānas is certainly the normative pattern, where a full process is described at all. I exclude from consideration those cases where the dhamma eye, etc. are said to arise at the end of a discourse, apparently spontaneously. There is no indication, or at least not much indication, of the prior background in most such cases and hence no way of telling if it is envisaged that jhāna had already been developed.

LATER EDIT:~~ And finally I quote from the paper:

Most recently, both Johannes Bronkhorst and Tilman Vetter have for different reasons taken up the view that the jhānas are likely to be the original core of Buddhist meditative practice. It is interesting to note the contrast here with the view of many modern interpreters of Buddhism, for whom it is precisely the insight approach which is the innovative creation of Buddhism — the thing the Buddha added to what was known before. Of course, it does not necessarily follow that adding a rung or two to the top of the ladder means you can dispense with the ladder!


Samantha is more externally or conceptually focused with some level of active though or involvement process or practice, done with a view to develop the Jhanas only; while Vipassana is more internally and reality focused with no active though or involvement in the process or practice, done with a view to get the right kind of concentration and right type of awareness.

E.g. if you are doing the breath meditation as Samatha, you most likely look at the body of air going in and out and perhaps also conceptual process of it. In vipassana you look at the actual process, actual touch of air and sensation due to breathing.

Also any labeling or verbalisation is not pure Vipassana as you are introducing something conceptual. As your mind get more penetrating and starts understanding subtler truths, this will be a hindrance to see things as they are since you are introducing something conceptual or active though. This might help as a very early beginner but if you choose of do it but should be abandoned later on.


To me, it seems a bit odd to seperate the two. Samatha already include Vipassana. When an object arise, we analyze it, understand it and settle we it, to remove an obstacle. Emotions and feelings should also be understood in Samatha, since they can be large hindrances for progress.

When I mention "anger" at Vipassana retreats, I have not heard anything else than "put it aside" after describing the anger. The third basic desire is Vibhava Tanha, which is basically the desire to get rid of things we don't like. if something exist, then there is a reason for it to exist - this includes "bad" emotions such as anger and hatred. What we should do is find out the role they have, since they exist. My take on anger is that it is a natural self-defense mechanism as a response to a hostile(or potentially hostile) environment or object. Anger can save our life in some situations. That turns anger in to becoming a constructive tool in certain situations. Then it is just a matter of be able to apply it, when it is needed in the right situation. Suppressing anger leads to suffering too...

It is much about understanding and learning to control the emotions we have available and turn them in to constructive tools, instead of "getting rid of them"...

When Samatha is started, analysis, acceptance, acknowledgement, etc. is automatically implied to be able to progress. I believe the Buddha said "Go Jhana" - not "Go vipassana"...


The Vissuddhimagga provides the most precise explanation of the difference between Vipassana and Samadhi (Samatha):

  • Vipassana is practiced in a state of upacara-samadhi or neighborhood-samadhi or neighborhood-jhana.
  • Samadhi is practiced in a state of full samadhi or jhana.

The key difference is that jhana has “one-pointedness of mind” or citt’ekaggata, while upacara-samadhi does not. The difference is profound and essential to the purpose of each practice. One-pointedness of mind has a very specific meaning in the Vissuddhimagga. As strange as it may sound, one-pointedness of mind consists of having only one object of awareness, such as a kasina. This makes full samadhi a very unusual and very rare state of mind. As explained in the Vissuddhimagga, this fact renders full samadhi incapable of supporting knowledge of any kind because knowledge requires putting an object in a context (which is what a concept does, for example). The healing value of full samadhi is the fact that its bliss can calm the agitated mind. But full samadhi cannot be a source of psychological insight that is so essential for substantial progress on the path to Enlightenment. Without psychological insight (panna, vipassana) into one’s own unwholesome karma (sankhara), one cannot undo, unlearn, or be liberated from that karma.

  1. Question #1: What are the key aspects of Vipassana that are not present in Samatha?

    Answer #1: Vipassana (upacara-samadhi, mindfulness meditation) can generate wisdom, while full samadhi cannot.

  2. Question #2: What is the main difference in the method from a meditator's perspective?

    Answer #2: The method of Vipassana is the Satipatthana Sutta, which requires an objective and alert state of mind. Samadhi practice generally involves focusing on an object of awareness conducive to full samadhi, such as the Earth Kasina. Just for the record, whether or not the meditator enters into upacara-samadhi or full samadhi depends upon the deepest needs of the individual. One cannot choose between the two.

  3. Question #3: Labeling emotions and feelings are part of samatha or vipassana?

    Answer #3: Labeling emotions and feelings is part of vipassana. The purpose of labeling is to maintain an objective state of mind as well as maintaining a focus on causality. This is important for dealing with unwholesome sankhara because insight into an arising unwholesome thought, emotion, or feeling is the key to liberation from the sankhara that causes it.

  4. Question #4: Does Vipassana allows emotions to rise more freely to check it for what it is while Samatha tries to avoid paying attention to it by returning to the breath process?

    Answer #4: Yes. But “checking it” is not enough. The key to liberation from a sankhara (karmic-formation) is the recollection (sati) of the psychological history of the sankhara. Unlike a functional (kiriya) sankhara or a wholesome (kusala) sankhara, an unwholesome (akusala) sankhara is generally caused by an error in judgment (mental action or karma) made in response to a difficult situation that was not understood at the time. This judgment cannot be revised or corrected unless the original situation is recalled in sufficient detail to recognize the nature of the error.


See the Origins of Insight meditation written by one of the best academic on abhidhamma where vipassana meditation originates. Link to Origins of Insight

  • Welcome to the site. The name of the author you were referring to is Lance Cousins. – ChrisW May 17 '15 at 19:33
  • This isn't really an answer to the question... please read Robin's post for helpful tips for new members. – yuttadhammo May 18 '15 at 20:29

In direct simplicity, respectfully, all meditation is either concentrative or contemplative. Shamatha is concentrative. Vipashyana is contemplative.


He asked "key aspects", don't answer him too much.

What are the key aspects of Vipassana that are not present in Samatha?

Comprehending 3 characteristics of whole clinging-aggregates.

What is the main difference in the method from a meditator's perspective?

Comprehending 3 characteristics of whole clinging-aggregates.

Labeling emotions and feelings are part of samatha or vipassana?

It is suttamayañāṇa. So, when you labeling emotions and feelings for samatha, it is samatha, such as in visuddhimagga kammaṭṭhānaggahananiddesa. But when you labeling emotions and feelings for vipassanā, it is vipassanā, such as in visuddhimagga khandhaniddesa.

Does Vipassana allows emotions to rise more freely to check it for what it is while Samatha tries to avoid paying attention to it by returning to the breath process?

No any meditation allows unwholesome arise. Because buddha taught samatha to the practitioner to clear unwholesome of the practitioner, before he wil meditate vipassanā:

You should develop concentration, bhikkhus. Concentrated, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu understands as it actually is.


The footnote to p.175 of the 'Fundamentals of Tibetan Mysticism' by Lama Govinda(pdf), refers to an Inner Relationship of Heaven, Earth and Man, to the I Ching and the Upanishads. The Gospel of Thomas verse 106, The Yin and Yang, the Hindu and Buddhist Kundalini Shakthi, the Star of David also appear to refer to this same relationship. which according to the Mundaka Upanishad has the potential, when properly developed, to 'Give up all other talk, this is the bridge to Immortality.' The Visuddhimagga (pdf) XXII.46 refers to the "Coupling of Powers" in the context of Serenity and Insight as Powers. Lama Govinda's book brings out the unique Vajrayana method of Coupling i.e. The polarity of the male principle (macro cosmos) with the female principle (micro cosmos) in the symbolic language of Vajrayana (p.99). The Moment of Enlightenment of the Buddha, is said to have generated Energy that shook the Universe. Developing sufficient Energy to break free from bondage is therefore a key factor in Enlightenment. If samatha is the basis for harnessing atomic energy and vipassana for harnessing cosmic energy and the yogi masters the art of coupling these two (yuganaddha), where neither power exceeds the other, as explained in the Visuddhimagga and in Vajrayana, it is not difficult to understand why it is necessary to Couple/Merge/Unite these Powerful Energies to attain Perfect Buddhahood. It may be prudent to undergo proper guidance in this area of Vajrayana study to reach that illusive goal that has bedeviled many a good yogi, for decades on end.

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