Shamatha & Vipassana

James Tatham, modified 3 Years ago at 4/19/19 11:31 AM
Created 3 Years ago at 4/19/19 11:24 AM

Shamatha & Vipassana

Post: 1 Join Date: 4/19/19 Recent Posts


Hope everyone is well.

My question comes from two angles and a wish for some clarification if possible please. The first comes from reading Daniel's work and the second from my experience at a retreat in Thailand (which follows the Mahasi technique, albeit slightly adapted).

Reading through Daniel's work it seems implicit that before one engages in the practise of insight meditation, one should have at least gained access concentration.

"Until you gain access concentration, you ain't got squat. Thus, pick an object, practice well and often, attain access concentration ..." (MCTB, pg. 15)

"Having gained ... enough concentration to steady the mind, turn your attention to the bare truth of the sensation of this moment. This is called insight meditation ..." (MCTB, pg.19)

Whilst on retreat in Thaialnd at the initial interview I was asked if I had any previous meditation experience. I mentioned that I have a regular practice of concentration meditation. Much of what I've learnt in terms of Shamatha practice has come from listening to and reading the works of Trungpa and incorporating them into a daily practice. I was quickly informed that there method was not that of concentration practises, as it is "repressive" in nature. I was fully aware beforehand that there emphasis was solely on vipassana. It was mentioned that concentration was built up during the mindful prostration and walking meditations, and therefore all one needed to practise was Vipassana.

So my question really centres around the above:

1) is it necessary to have a separate concentration practise before engaging in insight meditation.

2) is it common that some teachers combine these two into one practice?

3) and lastly, when one does achieve access concentration and proceed to insight meditation, would one still balance the two, say for example practising concentration in the morning and insight in the evening?



Daniel M Ingram, modified 3 Years ago at 4/19/19 3:12 PM
Created 3 Years ago at 4/19/19 3:12 PM

RE: Shamatha & Vipassana

Posts: 3231 Join Date: 4/20/09 Recent Posts
Yeah, if you read farther in the book, and hopefully are reading the second edition (MCTB2,, you will notice that it talks about both vipassana-first and samatha-first approaches being reasonable, that they have some overlap, that one might develop the other sometimes, that access concentration needs to be carefully defined, and does.

Yes, some teachers are loathe to teach anything samatha-esque, and others are very into samatha, but definitions of samatha vary widely.

Access concentration: a ton of ways to define it, but specifically, what MCTB(2) means by it is that you can stay with your objects object after object but before interesting states have arisen. Say you can note second after second for some significant period of time without hindrances derailing your practice: count that as access concentration (and watch some people who put the bar much higher for "access concentration" roll their eyes in disgust), but that's really all you need for insight, sort of, and that sort of involves the topic of the stages of insight and how they correlate with the vipassana jhanas (watch some traditional sutta-head roll their eyes in disgust at that one also, but ignore them, as this stuff works, and you can note "eyes rolling", "eyes rolling", and have it all work out).

Practice well,