Message Boards Message Boards

Dharma Diagnostic Clinic, aka "What was that?"

Samatha/Vipassana in one sitting?

Toggle
Samatha/Vipassana in one sitting?
Answer
9/17/10 11:06 AM
I recently read Mastering the Core Teachings of the Buddha. First, let me say thank you to Daniel for writing this incredible book. Thank you.

I am a little unsure how to proceed with my practice. Noting practice gives me powerful results, but I would also like to focus on samatha practice by following the breath at the nose.

One thing that I have noticed is that beginning a meditation with noting practice and ending it with samatha meditation tends to give me a good experience of both. Would you guys recommend doing two different practices in one sitting, granted that it seems to work well for me? I'm very curious. I'm thinking of doing two hour sits, on in the morning and one at night. The first hour would be noting practice, and the second breath-following at the nose.

I know that stream-entry is possible without focusing specifically on samatha and working up through the samatha jhanas.

However, it is my understanding that the jhanas and samatha practice in general are useful in and of themselves as agents for "purifying" the mind. Could anyone elaborate on this theory? If it is a sound theory I will definitely spend some time purifying my mind in this way, because it's absolutely filthy ;).

Thanks for any and all advice. Glad to be on board at the DhO. I am not exaggerating when I say that this place probably saved my life and mind. Those of you with intense dark night experiences know exactly what I mean . . .

Oh, that reminds me . . . I am interested in gaining stream entry sooner rather than later, based on a comment in MCTB where Daniel says something like, if you're in the Dark Night, hold it together and try to get stream entry as soon as you can. Obviously I'm paraphrasing here, but the message was clear. Stream entry = some relief. This is important to me. However, I could see the purifying effects of samatha meditation as useful in dealing with the dark night as well.

-Adam

RE: Samatha/Vipassana in one sitting?
Answer
9/17/10 1:56 PM as a reply to Adam F..
Hello fellow Adam!

Combining samatha and vipassana is a great idea. I would suggest that you mix up your practice so that sometimes you do samatha first and vipassana second in a sitting, and sometimes the other way around. You'll probably find that samatha first will produce a calmer, more focused vipassana session. (It's really helpful in the dark night because doing the samatha practice first will often help develop more equanimity.)

In contrast, doing vipassana first often helps people have a more awake and clear samatha session. Of course, your mileage may vary -- find what works for you.

Personally, I don't find "purification" a useful term in describing samatha's effects. I like to think of it as training. It's training for attention, because you learn how to focus in four ways: narrow laserlike focus steadied by effort, then a more spotlight-like focus that feels easy, then a diffuse and easy gaze, then panoramic with ease and astounding clarity. That isn't its only benefit -- it also does wonders for stress, and the calm and centered afterglow from concentration practice helps with things in everyday life that require concentration. So that includes reading (and understanding what you're reading), writing, anything creative, and even playing sports. So it's just a useful skill all around.

RE: Samatha/Vipassana in one sitting?
Answer
9/17/10 2:51 PM as a reply to Adam F..
Hello Adam. Welcome to the DhO.
Adam Frisoli:

I am a little unsure how to proceed with my practice. Noting practice gives me powerful results, but I would also like to focus on samatha practice by following the breath at the nose.

Nothing wrong with that in general. But, could you fill us in a bit on the background of your knowledge base of the Dhamma. What teachings do you have a bead on to focus toward realization? For example: the five aggregates, dependent arising, the three characteristics of existence, following the noble eightfold path, sila (virtue), samadhi (concentration), panna (wisdom/insight), or sati (mindfulness)? I ask this because it can be difficult to make suggestions without knowing what your knowledge base is and whether or not there are any holes in it.

Adam Frisoli:

One thing that I have noticed is that beginning a meditation with noting practice and ending it with samatha meditation tends to give me a good experience of both. Would you guys recommend doing two different practices in one sitting, granted that it seems to work well for me? I'm very curious. I'm thinking of doing two hour sits, on in the morning and one at night. The first hour would be noting practice, and the second breath-following at the nose.

That sounds like a doable game plan, Adam. Especially the "doing two hour sits" a day. If you are sincere about dedicating yourself to this practice, it can help you to make tremendous strides in your practice.

Actually, in reference to your statement "Would you guys recommend doing two different practices in one sitting," calming practice (samatha) and insight practice (noting or vipassana) are meant to go together naturally. I know, even I had a tendency to view these two as different practices in the beginning, because it was difficult to perform the latter without being able to calm the mind down enough to begin noticing (discerning) the insight that might arise. It helps, though, to realize that they go together and can be practiced together within the same sitting. This is how the Buddha originally taught it.

Adam Frisoli:

I know that stream-entry is possible without focusing specifically on samatha and working up through the samatha jhanas.

However, it is my understanding that the jhanas and samatha practice in general are useful in and of themselves as agents for "purifying" the mind. Could anyone elaborate on this theory? If it is a sound theory I will definitely spend some time purifying my mind in this way, because it's absolutely filthy ;).

First, what is your understanding about what stream entry is? Who's tradition are you relying upon for this information and definition?

Second, yes, absorption attainment (the jhanas) within the context of samatha practice can be of tremendous help. But only in that they help to provide for setting up the right condition for insight to take place. Meaning that there is still work to be done after one is able to take advantage of the increase in concentration power provided by practicing absorption.

Third, this is not a theorem. (I know, semantics. You're attempting to communicate an idea. No problem.) It is an absolute fact, as thousands — if not more — of people who have followed this path can attest to. As a matter of fact, this how the Buddha originally taught his path to awakening, was through building on the practice of absorption in order to still and calm the mind long enough for it to begin seeing (via insight) the defilements it contained so that they could be removed via awareness of their presence (the loss of ignorance about their presence). The whole process of purifying the mind (despite what some here may believe) makes up the greater part of the final three path factors on the way toward awakening. This is what satipatthana practice is all about. The practice of the four satipatthanas (or the four establishment of mindfulness) is known as the "direct path to realization."

You would do well to read the two satipatthana suttas, one of which is in the Majjhima Nikaya and the other of which is in the Digha Nikaya. (Actually, I recommend getting hold of the Wisdom Publications editions of these two Nikaya translations in order to benefit from the footnoted material contained therein. You won't regret having done so.)

In peace,
Ian

RE: Samatha/Vipassana in one sitting?
Answer
9/21/10 2:02 PM as a reply to J Adam G.
I would suggest that you mix up your practice so that sometimes you do samatha first and vipassana second in a sitting, and sometimes the other way around. You'll probably find that samatha first will produce a calmer, more focused vipassana session. (It's really helpful in the dark night because doing the samatha practice first will often help develop more equanimity.)

In contrast, doing vipassana first often helps people have a more awake and clear samatha session. Of course, your mileage may vary -- find what works for you.


Thanks, fellow Adam. I'll be sure to switch them up regularly. As for the different results from putting them in either order, my experience matches yours.

Personally, I don't find "purification" a useful term in describing samatha's effects.


I also find it a strange term. It makes me curious as to why it is used specifically.

I like to think of it as training. It's training for attention, because you learn how to focus in four ways: narrow laserlike focus steadied by effort, then a more spotlight-like focus that feels easy, then a diffuse and easy gaze, then panoramic with ease and astounding clarity.


Thank you for this. I hadn't heard these four descriptors. I will commit them to memory. Do these four ways correspond to the four jhanas, or are you speaking more broadly than that?

That isn't its only benefit -- it also does wonders for stress, and the calm and centered afterglow from concentration practice helps with things in everyday life that require concentration. So that includes reading (and understanding what you're reading), writing, anything creative, and even playing sports. So it's just a useful skill all around.


I'm a sucker for sila work. I took the meaning of "purification" to be related to the content of our minds and our personal conduct. However, now I am pretty sure if "purification" takes place at all it is on a technical level. I wonder . . . I'd really like to learn more about the use of this term. It intrigues me.

The other day I had a great samatha sit. Right afterwards I cleaned my apartment. I noticed that the process was much more pleasant than usual. No stress about starting, no resentment for the time "wasted" on the mundane, no inner complaining. The "calm and centered afterglow," as you put it, worked wonders for my productivity and peace of mind. I am curious if someone (Buddha himself? Early Theravadans?) had this effect partially in mind when they described the process as "purification."

It seems that the intelligent and useful separation of sila from meditation work is very important with the DhO crowd, and I understand why. (Getting mired in content as opposed to focusing on bare sensations and gaining absolute versus conventional wisdom.) However, I wonder if the "purifying" effects of samatha meditation and their beneficial effects on our everyday life, as well as its tendency to smooth out or calm the coarser aspects of our personalities might not be one instance where this crossover is apparent and potentially very useful in the conventional sense - especially fot people who struggle with sila issues.

I'd be curious to learn more about using samatha in this way. Does anyone know of any books that address this idea without sacrificing the sober treatment of the more technical aspects of practice (read: no new age bullshit!)?

Thanks Adam,

Adam