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Jamgön Kongtrül on Samatha/Vipasanna: Mapping the Tibetan Paths

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I've been reading bits of Jamgön Kongtrül's Treasury of Knowledge (19th century) and opened to this section on the differences between samatha and vipasanna and how to integrate them.  In the Tibetan these are usually translated into "calm (tranquil) abiding" and "superior (profound) seeing".  Interestingly, the recommendation here is to start with cultivating samatha first.

"Calm abiding is simply a one-pointed state of mind; profound insight is discernment."

It's really interesting for me as I follow the Tibetan teachings and I've been curious about exactly how the paths correspond to the Theravada paths, but I felt this is so appropriate to the DhO I just wanted to share it.  Edited for length but here is a link to the text which is free online.  

Quotes are from: Foundations of Buddhist Study and Practice
Book 8, Part 1: Foundations of Meditative Absorption

http://promienie.net/images/dharma/books/kongtrul_tok-07_foundations-of-buddhist-study-and-practice.pdf

Identifying Meditative Absorption

The source verses state:

Seek for certainty about the themes for the vast range of meditative absorption— in the Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna approaches—in the two aspects of calm abiding and profound insight. I\

Whatever presentations there are concerning the many expressions of meditative absorption for śrāvakas, for bodhisattvas, and for tathāgatas, one should know that all of these are subsumed within calm abiding and profound insight. Thus, for those who are motivated to develop meditative absorption, but who cannot thoroughly investigate its endless categories, the universal themes for the vast range of states of meditative absorption are twofold—those of calm abiding and profound insight. Therefore, one begins by seeking to gain certainty concerning these two aspects.
...
As this source states: O Maitreya, you should know that all virtuous factors, both mundane and transcendent—whether they pertain to śrāvakas, or to bodhisattvas, or to tathāgatas—are the results of calm abiding and profound insight.631

Essence of Meditative Absorption

The source verses state: In essence, these are a one-pointed state of attention and the discernment that thoroughly analyzes phenomena. As to what these aspects constitute in essence, calm abiding is essentially a one-pointed state of attention that is focused within an authentic framework, while profound insight is essentially the discerning and sublime intelligence that thoroughly analyzes phenomena and comprehensively investigates suchness itself. As we read in the Cloud of the Rare and Excellent: Calm abiding is simply a one-pointed state of mind; profound insight is discernment. ...

As for the etymology and meaning of the Sanskrit terms, in the word śamatha, the component śama means “calm” [Tib. zhi ba], while tha637 means “abiding” [Tib. gnas pa]. Thus, “calm abiding” means that once the mind distracted by forms and other sense objects has become calm, it abides onepointedly in any given state of meditative stability that one is cultivating. In the word viśeṣapaśya, the component viśeṣa639 means “special quality” [Tib. khyad par] or “profound quality” [Tib. lhag pa], while paśya640 means “having insight” [Tib. mthong ba] or “seeing” [Tib. lta ba]. Thus, “profound insight” means that there is insight due to the perspective of sublime intelligence that sees the profoundly special quality of things—that is, their true nature.

Necessity of Both Aspects

The source verses state: Similar to a lamp’s being unstirred by wind and burning brightly, when both aspects come together, the true way of abiding itself is realized. One might wonder why both aspects are needed, with neither calm abiding nor profound insight being sufficient on its own. To give an analogy, if a lamp is both unstirred by wind and burning brightly, one can see things clearly, whereas one cannot see if the lamp is, for example, stirred by wind, even though it is bright. Similarly, if one is endowed with both sublime intelligence that ascertains the meaning of suchness itself in an unmistaken manner and meditative stability in which the mind can abide at will on its focus, one will perceive that suchness clearly. However, even though one has meditative stability (which ensures that the mind abides without wavering), without the sublime intelligence for understanding the way things actually are, one could not possibly realize the way in which they truly abide. And even though one has the view of realizing the absence of any identity,without meditative absorption in which the mind abides one-pointedly, one could not possibly perceive the way things actually are with any clarity. Therefore, all the sūtras and tantras advise the way of integrating these aspects, for the underlying intention is that one will realize suchness itself when both aspects—those of calm abiding and profound insight—come together.

Developmental Process

The source verses state:

The developmental process involves a relationship of support and supported. The developmental process of calm abiding and profound insight involves a relationship between them of, respectively, a support and what is supported, similar to that between oil and the lamp it fuels. [3.168b]

According to Engaging in the Conduct of a Bodhisattva: Having understood that profound insight utterly imbued with calm abiding will completely overcome afflictive mental states, one first seeks calm abiding. . . .Therefore, one begins by establishing calm abiding and, based on that, cultivates profound insight. There is a reason for this order: it is because profound insight consists of using discerning and sublime intelligence to perceive, just as it is, the true way in which mind abides; and in order for such perception to take place, it must certainly be the case that the mind being perceived is pliable and has been brought under control, which depends on there being calm abiding to begin with.

RE: Jamgön Kongtrül on Samatha/Vipasanna: Mapping the Tibetan Paths
Answer
5/25/20 3:46 PM as a reply to John W.
Thanks for this.  

I feel like in contemporary society we've been groomed to cultivate effort.  So it's nice to be able to turn effort into joy or bliss or equanimity using jhanas, because we aren't taught to cultivate those.  I think this is something people are looking for.

I also spent a lot of time doing concentration practices at the beginning of my sit and insight practices afterwards and this has worked great because the states cultivated in the concentration practice lead to productive insight practice.  

RE: Jamgön Kongtrül on Samatha/Vipasanna: Mapping the Tibetan Paths
Answer
5/25/20 5:33 PM as a reply to John W.
John W:
I've been reading bits of Jamgön Kongtrül's Treasury of Knowledge (19th century) and opened to this section on the differences between samatha and vipasanna and how to integrate them.  In the Tibetan these are usually translated into "calm (tranquil) abiding" and "superior (profound) seeing".  Interestingly, the recommendation here is to start with cultivating samatha first.

"Calm abiding is simply a one-pointed state of mind; profound insight is discernment."

It's really interesting for me as I follow the Tibetan teachings and I've been curious about exactly how the paths correspond to the Theravada paths, but I felt this is so appropriate to the DhO I just wanted to share it.  Edited for length but here is a link to the text which is free online.  

Quotes are from: Foundations of Buddhist Study and Practice
Book 8, Part 1: Foundations of Meditative Absorption

http://promienie.net/images/dharma/books/kongtrul_tok-07_foundations-of-buddhist-study-and-practice.pdf

Identifying Meditative Absorption

The source verses state:

Seek for certainty about the themes for the vast range of meditative absorption— in the Hīnayāna and Mahāyāna approaches—in the two aspects of calm abiding and profound insight. I\

Whatever presentations there are concerning the many expressions of meditative absorption for śrāvakas, for bodhisattvas, and for tathāgatas, one should know that all of these are subsumed within calm abiding and profound insight. Thus, for those who are motivated to develop meditative absorption, but who cannot thoroughly investigate its endless categories, the universal themes for the vast range of states of meditative absorption are twofold—those of calm abiding and profound insight. Therefore, one begins by seeking to gain certainty concerning these two aspects.
...
As this source states: O Maitreya, you should know that all virtuous factors, both mundane and transcendent—whether they pertain to śrāvakas, or to bodhisattvas, or to tathāgatas—are the results of calm abiding and profound insight.631

Essence of Meditative Absorption

The source verses state: In essence, these are a one-pointed state of attention and the discernment that thoroughly analyzes phenomena. As to what these aspects constitute in essence, calm abiding is essentially a one-pointed state of attention that is focused within an authentic framework, while profound insight is essentially the discerning and sublime intelligence that thoroughly analyzes phenomena and comprehensively investigates suchness itself. As we read in the Cloud of the Rare and Excellent: Calm abiding is simply a one-pointed state of mind; profound insight is discernment. ...

As for the etymology and meaning of the Sanskrit terms, in the word śamatha, the component śama means “calm” [Tib. zhi ba], while tha637 means “abiding” [Tib. gnas pa]. Thus, “calm abiding” means that once the mind distracted by forms and other sense objects has become calm, it abides onepointedly in any given state of meditative stability that one is cultivating. In the word viśeṣapaśya, the component viśeṣa639 means “special quality” [Tib. khyad par] or “profound quality” [Tib. lhag pa], while paśya640 means “having insight” [Tib. mthong ba] or “seeing” [Tib. lta ba]. Thus, “profound insight” means that there is insight due to the perspective of sublime intelligence that sees the profoundly special quality of things—that is, their true nature.

Necessity of Both Aspects

The source verses state: Similar to a lamp’s being unstirred by wind and burning brightly, when both aspects come together, the true way of abiding itself is realized. One might wonder why both aspects are needed, with neither calm abiding nor profound insight being sufficient on its own. To give an analogy, if a lamp is both unstirred by wind and burning brightly, one can see things clearly, whereas one cannot see if the lamp is, for example, stirred by wind, even though it is bright. Similarly, if one is endowed with both sublime intelligence that ascertains the meaning of suchness itself in an unmistaken manner and meditative stability in which the mind can abide at will on its focus, one will perceive that suchness clearly. However, even though one has meditative stability (which ensures that the mind abides without wavering), without the sublime intelligence for understanding the way things actually are, one could not possibly realize the way in which they truly abide. And even though one has the view of realizing the absence of any identity,without meditative absorption in which the mind abides one-pointedly, one could not possibly perceive the way things actually are with any clarity. Therefore, all the sūtras and tantras advise the way of integrating these aspects, for the underlying intention is that one will realize suchness itself when both aspects—those of calm abiding and profound insight—come together.

Developmental Process

The source verses state:

The developmental process involves a relationship of support and supported. The developmental process of calm abiding and profound insight involves a relationship between them of, respectively, a support and what is supported, similar to that between oil and the lamp it fuels. [3.168b]

According to Engaging in the Conduct of a Bodhisattva: Having understood that profound insight utterly imbued with calm abiding will completely overcome afflictive mental states, one first seeks calm abiding. . . .Therefore, one begins by establishing calm abiding and, based on that, cultivates profound insight. There is a reason for this order: it is because profound insight consists of using discerning and sublime intelligence to perceive, just as it is, the true way in which mind abides; and in order for such perception to take place, it must certainly be the case that the mind being perceived is pliable and has been brought under control, which depends on there being calm abiding to begin with.

Hi John W, you scholarly saddhu, you sage-in-training, you lover of cross-mappings between traditions,

I remember being dismayed by the notion of shamatha as a lesser path in comparison with the all-conquering vipassana, when i read the first edition of MCTB in 2011. I practiced more or less the same fairly simply body-breath-word meditation then that i do now, i am a one-trick pony, and that trick looked a lot like concentration, although i was also a void guy, but its there's no real contradiction there. I was and am also dark night prone to the max. At this point, I don't care about whether the one i don't like to do is "better" or even, in some sense, the only path to whatever that carrot on the end of that stick out there Really Is. I'm sick of chasing, and i can handle this shit where i am.

I'm not saying it's not fascinating, and i love reading the conversations about all this stuff, and jhanas and nanas, and all that. But the strict john of the cross tradition cares only for love of God, in the last analysis. An then, by the grace of God and partici[ation in the divine will, love of neighhbor, the two commandments Jesus highlighted as most important, when asked (both, incidentally, direct quotes from Torah sources, one more reason that what i really am as a Catholic withholding judment on who Jesus actually was until more evidence is in, is a sectarian Jew).

RE: Jamgön Kongtrül on Samatha/Vipasanna: Mapping the Tibetan Paths
Answer
5/25/20 6:21 PM as a reply to Ben Sulsky.
Ben Sulsky:
Thanks for this.  

I feel like in contemporary society we've been groomed to cultivate effort.  So it's nice to be able to turn effort into joy or bliss or equanimity using jhanas, because we aren't taught to cultivate those.  I think this is something people are looking for.

I also spent a lot of time doing concentration practices at the beginning of my sit and insight practices afterwards and this has worked great because the states cultivated in the concentration practice lead to productive insight practice.  
i think it's human nature, in many ways, to lean toward effort, in order to achieve results. This is excellence, and survival, and all things good. And we can get better every day, with effort, in things and activities in which effort is all (plus luck, oops). But the Tao is about losing not gaining, at heart: effort builds, but the further reaches of the path dissolve, deconstruct. Because it is not the self that accomplishes the path. And not i, but Christ in me, or the Tao, or God, or the web of Indra, or co-dependent origination, or the emptines itself, does the work, spontaneously and perfectly. The lazy man's enlightenment. No A for effort.

RE: Jamgön Kongtrül on Samatha/Vipasanna: Mapping the Tibetan Paths
Answer
5/25/20 6:44 PM as a reply to Tim Farrington.
Tim Farrington:

I remember being dismayed by the notion of shamatha as a lesser path in comparison with the all-conquering vipassana, when i read the first edition of MCTB in 2011. I practiced more or less the same fairly simply body-breath-word meditation then that i do now, i am a one-trick pony, and that trick looked a lot like concentration, although i was also a void guy, but its there's no real contradiction there. I was and am also dark night prone to the max. At this point, I don't care about whether the one i don't like to do is "better" or even, in some sense, the only path to whatever that carrot on the end of that stick out there Really Is. I'm sick of chasing, and i can handle this shit where i am.

Hey Tim, good to hear from you my friend. I've got the 1st edition of MCTB, haven't picked up the new one yet, but to me I wouldn't say it describes samatha as a 'lesser' path, at least that's not what I got from it. Concentration and insight are pretty intertwined as described by MCTB (see the chapter 'Concentration vs. Insight' for example), and it's generally taught that way here on DhO.  Here the Tibetan paths are also described as very intertwined which I thought was cool.

RE: Jamgön Kongtrül on Samatha/Vipasanna: Mapping the Tibetan Paths
Answer
5/25/20 7:29 PM as a reply to John W.
John W:
Tim Farrington:

I remember being dismayed by the notion of shamatha as a lesser path in comparison with the all-conquering vipassana, when i read the first edition of MCTB in 2011. I practiced more or less the same fairly simply body-breath-word meditation then that i do now, i am a one-trick pony, and that trick looked a lot like concentration, although i was also a void guy, but its there's no real contradiction there. I was and am also dark night prone to the max. At this point, I don't care about whether the one i don't like to do is "better" or even, in some sense, the only path to whatever that carrot on the end of that stick out there Really Is. I'm sick of chasing, and i can handle this shit where i am.

Hey Tim, good to hear from you my friend. I've got the 1st edition of MCTB, haven't picked up the new one yet, but to me I wouldn't say it describes samatha as a 'lesser' path, at least that's not what I got from it. Concentration and insight are pretty intertwined as described by MCTB (see the chapter 'Concentration vs. Insight' for example), and it's generally taught that way here on DhO.  Here the Tibetan paths are also described as very intertwined which I thought was cool.

Hey john dub,

i think i was sort of defensive at that point, lol. Christian contemplation has been so lamed by dogma wars and inquisitions and heretic hunters that the tradition is much more impoverished in many ways than the astonishly rich and vibrant and luxuriously varied range of Buddhist schools. And like i say, i loved my little kinda concentrative prayer, it had kept me alive through some pretty dak nights, and even when it gave out, something kept at the table and on the mat (i actually sit in a chair, lol).

Yes, intertwined, like the helixes of DNA strands.

this thread will be interesting, i think. Thanks so much for planting the seed with your scholarship and passion.

love, tim