I have been studying and practicing meditation for over a decade, mainly following Kamalashila's stages of meditation as a guide. I learned that Shamata is defined as the single-mindedness which is imbued with the exceptional bliss of practiced ease due to single pointed meditation on its object.

I have just started Alan Wallace's Fall 2013 Shamatha and the Bodhisattva Way of Life (https://media.sbinstitute.com/courses/fall2013/) where he is giving instruction in "Shamatha practice".

I believe he means a meditation practice with the goal of achieving shamata. However, when I hear "shamata practice", I automatically think that someone is already able to rest in the state of Shamata and is meditating at that level. This would be like, for instance, someone running having a "running practice" by running. In contrast, someone aspiring to be a runner, might first begin with walking as they get in shape. They might say, "I am walking, with the goal of running." Do you think they would call their walking a "running practice"?

Given the definition of shamata I know, it seems many different meditation practices could potentially lead to shamata, if that was one's intention for their practice.

My first question is: Is there something distinctive about "shamata practice"?

My second question, is where did the custom of labeling meditation "shamata practice" originate?


The custom of labeling meditation "shamata practice" probably originates from wrong or faulty practise, where excess or faulty suppression concentration causes calmness to predominate.

As for the original teachings attributed to the Buddha, 'samatha' is merely one of two results (the other being 'vipassana') of developing right concentration.

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

MN 149

If we are not clear about what right & wrong concentration are, Bhikkhu Buddhadasa offered his opinion:

As for samadhi, an empty mind is the supreme samadhi, the supremely focused firmness of mind. The straining and striving sort of samadhi isn't the real thing and the samadhi which aims at anything other than non-clinging to the five khandas is micchasamadhi (wrong or perverted samadhi). You should be aware that there is both micchasamadhi and sammasamadhi (right or correct samadhi). Only the mind that is empty of grasping at and clinging to 'I' and 'mine' can have the true and perfect stability of sammasamadhi. One who has an empty mind has correct samadhi.

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