It seems like these days, teachers are looking down to Samatha meditation, I would like to understand why, based on the suttas, this the meditation praised by the Buddha.

Could someone explain why Vipassana is so much more present in Theravada tradition, eventhough the Buddha practiced a lot of Samatha? I'm sure there are good reasons.

" And what kind of meditation did the Blessed One praise? Here, brahmin, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the first jhana … With the stilling of applied and sustained thought, he bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the second jhana … With the fading away as well of rapture … he bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the third jhana … With the abandoning of pleasure and pain … he bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the fourth jhana … The Blessed One praised that kind of meditation."

Majjhima Nikaya 108.27

  • Which teachers? Buddhist teachers? Oct 31 '14 at 22:55
  • Hi Bhante, generally speaking yes... both Buddhist and non-Buddhist teachers... I may be wrong but looks like Samatha is losing space, maybe it is only my perception...
    – konrad01
    Oct 31 '14 at 23:06
  • There's an alarm bell that goes off with these sort of questions prefaced by "it seems like"... this isn't the only one, but it would be nice to have more than just a feeling to base a question on, otherwise it's in danger of being flagged as opinion-based/speculative. Nov 1 '14 at 0:31
  • I understand, this question was based on a talk by Ven Dhammavuddho Thero, he said that was happining a lot in malaysia, I related to that...
    – konrad01
    Nov 1 '14 at 0:33
  • The problem is, without an example of someone who actually holds the view you vaguely ascribe to "teachers", it's unfair to expect a concrete answer. It's like saying, "It seems like these days mosquitoes are increasingly aggressive. Could someone explain why?" These sort of questions are problematic, I think, because their premises are ostensibly unsupported. Nov 1 '14 at 0:59

The Pali canon and commentaries do indeed carry considerable encouragement to practice the jhanas. The distinction between samatha and vipassanā aren't really spelled out in the original teachings and it was only much later that the doctrine of the two as separate (and separate-ableon) meditation practices arose. By the time of Buddhaghosa (5th century AD) the distinction was pretty firmly established, though some later teachers dismiss the distinction as unnecessary. Ajahn Chah of the Thai Forest tradition liked to say that samatha and vipassanā are like two ends of a stick - when you pick up the stick, both ends come along See Ajahn Chah's essay on this from his book, "Unshakable Peace".

The emphasis on vipassanā which one finds nowadays came about for very practical and pragmatic reasons, but this topic as a bit much to delve into deeply here. The brief overview is that a method was needed that could be undertaken by a lay meditator on a 30 day retreat and provide the practitioner with a reasonable shot at arriving at the first stage of enlightenment - stream entry. Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw is perhaps the main exponent of this method and it seems to work quite well for many people. In contrast to this, to properly develop "Visuddhimagga-style" jhanas is beyond the reach of most lay people (and most monastics) not least because of the time commitment necessary.

There's more to the story of course, but that's a thumbnail sketch of the situation.


What the Buddha said and encouraged may not be totally clear from reading the texts based on oral traditions that were eventually written down. Perhaps they were all recommended by the Buddha at one time or another and the ones that were most comfortable in a particular Buddhist tradition became emphasized over time.

Why not say Buddha encouraged Zen? Some Zen practitioners say Buddha was the first Zen master from the text of the Flower sermon. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flower_Sermon

the Chan tradition may have invented or written down the flower sermon. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chan_Buddhism#Kasyappa_and_The_Flower_Sermon

The Chan tradition ascribes the origins of Chan in India to the Flower Sermon, the earliest source for which comes from the 14th century.[36] It is said that Gautama Buddha gathered his disciples one day for a Dharma talk. When they gathered together, the Buddha was completely silent and some speculated that perhaps the Buddha was tired or ill. The Buddha silently held up and twirled a flower and his eyes twinkled; several of his disciples tried to interpret what this meant, though none of them were correct. One of the Buddha's disciples, Mahākāśyapa, silently gazed at the flower and broke into a broad smile. The Buddha then acknowledged Mahākāśyapa's insight by saying the following:[21]

I possess the true Dharma eye, the marvelous mind of Nirvāṇa, the true form of the formless, the subtle Dharma gate that does not rest on words or letters but is a special transmission outside of the scriptures. This I entrust to Mahākāśyapa.

The diversity of examples seems to be coincidentally an advocacy for the particular tradition that promotes a certain quality or story. It is perhaps no surprise that human consciousness would lend an interpretation that is more appealing and easier to live with. If such are the traditions, perhaps our best hope for liberation is to follow the example of the Buddha and live our lives to the greatest extent possible serving others as best we are suited.

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