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Samatha "vs" Vipassana

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Samatha "vs" Vipassana
Answer
11/3/14 4:00 PM
There's still something about the apparent samatha/vipassana dichotomy that I can't figure out, despite having by now read a lot around the topics. Maybe someone can clarify via the following questions:
  1. If someone wants to achieve the end goal of vipassana, are there any reasons why they might first want to pursue samatha (and I mean beyond access concentration)? 
  2. If they do, is it correct to assume that they are probably going to delay their attainmants in vipassana by first pursuing samatha?
  3. Suppose someone chose the vipassana route from the word go (or at least from early on, having developed no more than access concentration or first jhana), and suppose they became very highly attained in vipassana -- maybe even becoming an arahant by following a raw insight noting practice. Is it likely such a person would then even want to achieve the higher attainments of samatha (e.g. the higher jhanas)?
Overall, the samatha "vs" vipassana question seems somewhat analogous to bodybuilding vs olympic weight lifting. If what you're after is the ability to lift very big weights then of course the activities involved in bodybuilding can certainly help. And in fact, bodybuilding can give other benefits, like looking good, developing a six pack, and so on. But ultimately, if you want to lift big weights over your head, you're going to have to focus on that precise goal (and clearly a six pack is not required for, and may even constitute a distraction from, getting an olympic gold).

And in that context, given that "getting an olympic gold" is something like "achieving liberation from suffering via insight into the true nature of reality", then why would anyone bother with anything so mundane as a sixpack?

thx

RE: Samatha "vs" Vipassana
Answer
11/3/14 8:58 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
I think this thread may be relevant to your question: http://www.dharmaoverground.org/web/guest/discussion/-/message_boards/message/5617154

The talk that Richard posted, especially, if you have the time to listen to it: http://www.dharmaseed.org/talks/audio_player/210/11135.html

My personal opinion, as of this moment (ha!), is that the pleasure of jhana is the direct result of seeing the emptiness of experience. Jhana is letting go, and letting go is insight. There is no separation between vipassana meditation and samatha meditation.

RE: Samatha "vs" Vipassana
Answer
11/3/14 11:03 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Hello Robert, 

My vote is to view this as Vipassana and Samatha.  Training in one without the other is like hopping on one foot, you can get where you are going, it just takes longer.  But using both feet, one can walk the path more effectively.  My practice stagnates without both pracices, but that's just me, I'm not preachin' or nuthin'.... To each their own

A Honed and Heavy Axe


http://www.dhammatalks.net/Books3/Ajahn_Chandako_Samatha_and_Vipassana_in_Harmony.htm



Psi



RE: Samatha "vs" Vipassana
Answer
11/4/14 10:07 AM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Hi Robert.
      Shamatha is definitely downplayed in the western insight community, perhaps due to teachers feeling it is incompatible with our modern lifestyle, though it need not be. Regarding the first question, shamatha promotes insight. Though there is certainly a basic level of shamatha needed to do insight practice, and vice versa, they are most definitely not the same thing. Shamatha is letting go of whatever is not the object of focus. There is the practice of shamatha without an object, but even that is letting go of everything that is not the immediate emptiness of experience. Insight practice however we formulate involves seeing into ways reality is being configured that cause added tension, the idea being that seeing clearly enough times reality will stop presenting that way.
       Shamatha is very useful to facilitate insight practice. My own experience of shamatha is that by focusing on shamatha the experience of insight naturally arises when the mind is calm. In adddition, shamatha training is enjoyable. It is nice to be grounded in the immediacy of one's life and shamatha done consistently aids enormously in this process. Meditation that is enjoyable is very useful as it reinforces itself so we are more likely to practice more, and if you are going to devote a chunk of your time to practice it should be a rewarding experience. I would not worry about imbalance, but you might experiment with how much time to do each. There also a lot of shamatha practices so you might want to find one you enjoy most. The breath at the nostrils is spoken about frequently, but this may not work for you. Having spent a lot of time with it, it is far from a favorite.
       Regarding the last question, I am not sure how you would define arahant, but people of high attainments do continue to practice shamatha. The process does not seem to end. It can always deepen. And the practice is enjoyable.
               
  Bill              

RE: Samatha "vs" Vipassana
Answer
11/4/14 11:40 AM as a reply to Bill F..
In adddition, shamatha training is enjoyable. It is nice to be grounded in the immediacy of one's life and shamatha done consistently aids enormously in this process. 

Thanks Bill. So on the "enjoyment" part -- you say that shamatha is enjoyable; can I then infer that vipassana is *not* enjoyable (or maybe not *as* enjoyable)?

RE: Samatha "vs" Vipassana
Answer
11/4/14 2:29 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Hi Robert: No problem. In my experience "the enjoyment" -if it can be called such- of vipassana, is the automatic release that occurs in seeing the ways that we have been adding tension to our experience through a misperception of reality. Relief is probably more accurate, but the results themselves can at times be destabilizing and not enjoyable at all as the process of reorienting perception can be a bit of blow neurologically. The way that I have trained in shamatha is to repeatedly let go of that which is not the object. Doing this a pleasurable feeling will arise, and then allowing myself to allow the immediacy of that pleasurable experience to more and more pervade my experience.

RE: Samatha "vs" Vipassana
Answer
11/5/14 1:35 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Robert,
Suppose someone chose the vipassana route from the word go (or at least from early on, having developed no more than access concentration or first jhana)
 I think you might just be downplaying how much samatha is required to reach access concentration or first jhana. Of course different people have different defitinitions of jhana or access concentration. B. Alan Wallace says that according to traditional sources that it would take a person anywhere between 3-9 months of full time practice (that is in retreat) to reach samatha, which is preliminary to access concentration and jhana, while it might take a contemporary person frazzled by the modern world more realistically about 10,000 hours.

Upusaka Culadasa says that one can reach the 10th stage of shamatha after about 1-2 years of meditation an hour or two a day. Both Wallace and Culudasa recommend reaching this state of concentration before doing vipassana.

Daniel here recommends reaching access concentration before doing vipassan, but he isn't exact on what access concentration is exactly. Perhaps he can answer it?

Others like Bhante G, recommend doing vipassana much earlier, and building them both up at the same time. I had a monk who studies under Bhante G. explain to me that because our modern lifestyles are so hectic and we are so ADHD these days that if we just did shamatha meditations that we would get bored and that is why we should dice it up and do both simultaneously after doing shamatha at least for the first few months.

RE: Samatha "vs" Vipassana
Answer
11/5/14 2:20 PM as a reply to Jinxed P.
I think it depends more on how strong the hinderances are and how willing a person is to let go.  Jhana is very easy for some people to do, and others seem to need more effort.

A good metric is how easy it is for a person to relax.  Someone who just naturally enjoys sitting by a fire or sitting on a porch and watching the sun set is probably already familiar with access concentration and can get to jhana with just a little prompting.  A high stakes Wall Street trader who works 80 hours a week is probably going to have a much harder time.

I like to look at it like this: Jhana is not proprietary to buddhism or even spirituality.  It's a natural part of the mind, like happiness, tiredness, excitement, etc.  It's not a skill to master, it's just a state to find.  It isn't going to take 10,000 hours to figure it out.  Maybe a few months with the right instruction and 15 - 20 minutes a day of good effort.

RE: Samatha "vs" Vipassana
Answer
11/5/14 3:15 PM as a reply to Jinxed P.
Jinxed P:
I think you might just be downplaying how much samatha is required to reach access concentration or first jhana. Of course different people have different defitinitions of jhana or access concentration. B. Alan Wallace says that according to traditional sources that it would take a person anywhere between 3-9 months of full time practice (that is in retreat) to reach samatha, which is preliminary to access concentration and jhana, while it might take a contemporary person frazzled by the modern world more realistically about 10,000 hours.
I might be (unintentionally) downplaying it, but I wasn't really trying to imply that access concentration (AC) was something that could be achieved quickly or easily. All I meant was that regardless of how much time and effort one puts in to attain AC, presumably it's a fraction of what would then be required to attain all the way to 4th jhana. The question then still remains: if AC is sufficient to then pursue vipassana, why persist with further shamatha past AC? It's like someone pursuing a medical degree deciding that after getting the required three years of chemistry (say), they decide to keep on doing more chemistry, even though it's not required for their primary target -- an MD degree. 

B. Alan Wallace is interesting in that he seems to encourage extensive shamatha work and only having achieved that -- he talks about going way past AC to the stage where one is able to sustain single-pointed focus for four hours or more -- moving on to vipassana. I'm not sure if he means that only as an ideal -- e.g. where people are able to devote themselves full-time to contemplative practice -- or as an essential. Either way, it's hard to align his approach with the bare insight (sukkha-vipassana) approach that Mahasi Sayadaw emphasized.

Here's one way of thinking about it. Suppose you had two meditators, Andy and Betsy. Let's say both are stream-enterers, for argument's sake. Andy reached SE via 5 years of bare insight -- a la Mahasi noting or similar. Betsy, by contrast, had developed strong concentration first -- 4th jhana say -- and only then had turned her attention to vipassana. So she took a total of 7 years (4 on shamatha then 3 on vipassana). Or something -- the details don't matter, it's the general idea that's at stake.

Was Betsy's extra time worthwhile? Would she look back and think "I'm glad I attained 4th jhana plus got SE"? Or would she be thinking, "Darn. Why'd I waste time on that shamatha stuff!? I could have got to SE faster via bar insight"
And would Andy be thinking "I'm sure glad I didn't bother with shamatha. SE is where it's at, and who cares about jhanas etc if you have seen past the three characteristics (etc, etc)". Or would he instead be thinking, "Hmmm. SE is cool, but I'd really like to get me some of that 3rd and 4th jhanic bliss."

And, crucially, for the beginner who is aware of both Andy's and Betsy's approach; how should they decide which one to take? It matters pretty quickly after getting into a practice -- the behaviours are different, depending on the choice. NOTE: I'm not asking which of Andy or Betsy made the better choice. It's perfectly possible they both made a good choice for them. Rather I'm asking, how can one go about even deciding in the first place. Seems if you ask Mahasi Sayadaw, he'd say "Do vipassana from the word go; do not start with shamatha". Whereas B Alan Wallace (or his teachers, lest relative status confuses the issue) may say "Do shamatha from the word go; do not start with vipassana".
Daniel here recommends reaching access concentration before doing vipassan, but he isn't exact on what access concentration is exactly. Perhaps he can answer it?
You're right, but I personally don't have an issue around *what* AC is. There are plenty of descriptions around that explain it, but even if they're wrong, that's not what puzzles me with Daniel's instructions. What puzzles me is that he says once you've got AC, or maybe it's 1st Jhana, I forget, then in theory you're good to go with vipassana. But then why would anyone *not* just go for it at that point? Sigh. This seems like such an obvious and fundamental question, it's hard to understand why there's not a more definitive answer.

Go back to my medical degree analogy. Let "getting the MD" be analogous with "getting Stream Entry". But instead of Chemistry, let's assume that one year of some random filler subject -- kite flying -- was the equivalent of Access Concentration. Why on earth would anyone do more than the one year's required kite flying if what they want is a Medical degree? I mean, kite flying can be fun an' all, but it's not why we're at medical school!

RE: Samatha "vs" Vipassana
Answer
11/5/14 3:01 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
A passage come across this morning in reading Analayo's second Satipatthana book (p.225), neatly expressing the relationship between samatha and vipassana hinging on equanimity and mindfulness:

"Such equanimity [7th 'Factor of Awakening'] comprises the balance needed to achieve deeper levels of concentration [e.g. 4th jhana] and the detachment [not to wallow in it] that is required at the time of emerging from any concentrative attainment and turning to the cultivation of insight… What remains as the backbone of practice throughout is the need to be firmly grounded in mindfulness and to keep aiming at the balance of equanimity. This is relevant for formal practice as well as everyday life…"

re: Robert McLune
(11/4/14 11:40 AM as a reply to William GoldenFinch.)
"…shamatha is enjoyable; can I then infer that vipassana is *not* enjoyable (or maybe not *as* enjoyable)?"

Students of Pa Auk Sayadaw have reported that his vipassana training can be very taxing. Maybe his methods are unusually rigorous – motivated along the lines 'ars longa, vita brevis' (the work – Latin 'ars' translates Greek'techne' which implies work -- is long, but life is short). Hence his insistence on co-developing solid samadhi techinque to help balance the energy.

For instance, students report that he teaches to deliberately evoke problematic, unskilfull (akusala) mental states ('defilements'), in order to deconstruct them in utmost detail (vipassana), to the point of discerning how exactly to uproot them. But this only at relatively advanced levels of training, as it can get tricky. (The exactitude of this kind of training is where Abhidhamma techniques come in handy.)

Another bit of evidence – also just ran across today in reading Analayo's 2nd Satipatthana book: (p.224):
"Successfully undertaking such satipatthana practice [i.e. 2nd 'Factor of Awakening' dhamma-vicaya as investigation, questioning experience] can at times be unpleasant, for example when one has to face one's own shortcomings, or when assumptions held for a long time are being questioned. In the long run, however, a healthy development of insight should result in joy [4th 'Factor of Awakening', piti]… Genuine practice will sooner or later lead to the joy of letting go."

This quotation also relects William's point:

re: William Golden Finch (11/4/14 2:29 PM as a reply to RobertMcLune.)
"… "the enjoyment" -if it can be called such- of vipassana, is the automatic release that occurs in seeing the ways that we have been adding tension to our experience through a misperception of reality. Relief is probably more accurate,…"

Well put. Maybe like making it through, surviving a life-crisis, or a battle – there may be exhaustion and wounds, but the way is more open, having identified and cleared obstacles."… but the results themselves can at times be destabilizing and not enjoyable at all…"

Like 'learning' or 'growing pains'? Laboring away at difficult piano exercises, or trying to 'unlearn' bad fingering habits – these take concerted concentration and effort; but with progress, gaining strength in new habits, there's an encouraging satisfaction; one wipes the sweat of exertion from the brow, and lets go a thankful sigh. And the going gets better.

"…as the process of reorienting perception can be a bit of blow neurologically."


If, as currently thought, meditative progress correlates with neurological change – new patterns of activity stimulating the addition of axon-dentrite connections, even new neurons – then there might well be a delicate phase of physiological adjustment, maybe also ambivalence. As Antonio Damasio(neuro-scientist, in his book Self Comes to Mind) has points out, newly emergent neurological features (mental capabilities), and the DNA changes that accompany them, are at first weaker and slower than older patterns. 'Fight or flight' is encoded in ancient structures and patterns, which are efficiently and rapidly activated. Newer patterns -- maybe like patience, reasoning out alternatives, cooperative behaviors, etc. – are slower and more delicate, but consolidate over time with practice. (Damasio's approach is notable in that he includes evolutionary considerations, as well as the usual methodologies of introspection (phenomenology), behavioral science, and neuro-anatomy and physiology.)

"The way that I have trained in shamatha is to repeatedly let go of that which is not the object. Doing this a pleasurable feeling will arise, and then allowing myself to allow the immediacy of that pleasurable experience to more and more pervade my experience. "

To extend the neuro-biological analogy (and evolutionary factors): If mind is a dimension of the functional behavior of the organism (life-regulation, optimization, according to Damasio), and the 'mind-body problem,' as a strict dichotomy, is an abstraction that's pertinant only in pathological situations, then in establishing relative safety (via seclusion, i.e. from environmental disturbance, physically; via sila / virtue as seclusion from qualms of bad conscience, mentally), the mind can focus to stillness and taste the pleasure, the peace of release from the incessant pressures, problems of life. Cultivation of this no doubt will re-inforce neurological conditions that strengthen clear-minded living, and beneficial physiological effects.

Think of cats. Having less highly developed frontal lobes (related to sense of smell), they are more skittish, antsy, more sensitive to sensory input, than dogs (with much large frontal lobes, and astounding sensitivity to smell), who are more rolly-polly, relaxed, less concerned with the slightest changes in what's going on around them (compared to cats).

Then again, the khanika-samadhi (momentary concentration) of a stalking cat is impressive, and likely pleasurable to them. And a lounging nap, or basking in attention (and environmental safety) with purring, might well be experiencing something close to jhana.

Are cats any good at vipassana (analyzing, figuring things out)? Perhaps, as in curiosity. Dogs, however, are notorious for their ingenuity (think coyotees), and cooperative behaviors (think working in packs, and herd-dogs). Whereas 'herding cats'?





RE: Samatha "vs" Vipassana
Answer
11/5/14 3:17 PM as a reply to CJMacie.
Chris J Macie:

Then again, the khanika-samadhi (momentary concentration) of a stalking cat is impressive, and likely pleasurable to them. And a lounging nap, or basking in attention (and environmental safety) with purring, might well be experiencing something close to jhana.


I love it when my cats relax into a purr on my lap. It's the kind of harmonized absorption I imagine I'm looking for emoticon

RE: Samatha "vs" Vipassana
Answer
11/6/14 12:16 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
if AC is sufficient to then pursue vipassana, why persist with further shamatha past AC?


I can think of a few reasons.

1. If you listen to Rick Hanson's talk that he gave at the Buddhist Geek conference he says that neurologically that for a positive experiences to change the brain in a lasting way it has to be pretty intense, as opposed to negative experiences which change the brain quite easily. Therefore reaching the super blissful states of jhana will have lasting positive effects on the brain.

2. It will make the dark night easier... Lots of people here claim to go through the dark night period during vipassana practice, having great concentration skills and being able to infuse yourself with jhana will make the dark night easier to handle, and maybe not come at all. As the Buddha said , it's good in the beginning, middle, and end. Culadasa recommends nailing concentration for this very reason. And the poster here "Omega Point" also commented that he thought people here were going through the dark night because their concentration wasn't strong enough.

3.The jhanas are inherently enjoyable. And that is good enough in itself. Suppose the jhanas are the most blissful thing you can experience as a human being, why not just experience that for it's own sake

What puzzles me is that he says once you've got AC, or maybe it's 1st Jhana, I forget, then in theory you're good to go with vipassana. But then why would anyone *not* just go for it at that point? Sigh. This seems like such an obvious and fundamental question, it's hard to understand why there's not a more definitive answer.
It's not one or the other. You can do both. In the morning vipassana. At night, jhana. That's what most people do I believe.

RE: Samatha "vs" Vipassana
Answer
11/6/14 1:13 PM as a reply to Not Tao.
Not Tao:
I think it depends more on how strong the hinderances are and how willing a person is to let go.  Jhana is very easy for some people to do, and others seem to need more effort.

A good metric is how easy it is for a person to relax.  Someone who just naturally enjoys sitting by a fire or sitting on a porch and watching the sun set is probably already familiar with access concentration and can get to jhana with just a little prompting.  A high stakes Wall Street trader who works 80 hours a week is probably going to have a much harder time.

I like to look at it like this: Jhana is not proprietary to buddhism or even spirituality.  It's a natural part of the mind, like happiness, tiredness, excitement, etc.  It's not a skill to master, it's just a state to find.  It isn't going to take 10,000 hours to figure it out.  Maybe a few months with the right instruction and 15 - 20 minutes a day of good effort.

If you think someone sitting and watching a sunset has access concentration than we have very different definitions of AC and jhana as well. I'm defining AC in the way Bhante G, Ajahn Brahm and Alan Wallace describe it. As the appearance of the counter part sign while in deep concentration. The counter part sign will appear like a bright light

Access concentration: The five senses completely disappear, inner thought completely dissapears, and the nimitta appears, a bright light in the mind that is stable

Obviously..this is a very different experience from sitting on a porch..

Jhana: no doer, no thought, no sense of the body at all. It is a state that lasts for hours.

As Ajahn Brahm says "During Jhana it is impossible to experience the body, hear a sound from outside or produce any thought, just a clear singleness of perception, an experience of nondual bliss that continues unchanging for a very long time......within jhana , all the five senses are totally shut down, one cannot see, hear, smell taste, or feel touch. One cannot hear a cow cawing or a person coughing. Even if there were a thunderclap nearby, it wouldn't be heard in jhana. If someone picked you up and dropped you , you wouldn't know this"

Ajahn Brahm tells a story of a friend who was in jhana and could not hear his wife's calls or get out of the state, so she called an ambulance, the ambulance came and picked him up, strapped those shocks to his chest and were pumping him , doing CPR, sirens everywhere and he had no idea any of this was going on because he was in blissful jhana.

That is jhana as is traditionally described. I sometimes feel as though no one on this forum has actually reached the first jhana.

RE: Samatha "vs" Vipassana
Answer
11/6/14 12:39 PM as a reply to Jinxed P.
Jinxed P:

2. It will make the dark night easier... Lots of people here claim to go through the dark night period during vipassana practice, having great concentration skills and being able to infuse yourself with jhana will make the dark night easier to handle, and maybe not come at all. As the Buddha said , it's good in the beginning, middle, and end. Culadasa recommends nailing concentration for this very reason. And the poster here "Omega Point" also commented that he thought people here were going through the dark night because their concentration wasn't strong enough.
That would make sense of why when Willoughby Britton described DN phenomenona to the Dalai Lama he reacted as if he'd never heard of them. Maybe the Tibetan approaches involve so much concentration/tranquility practice up front that it some way immunizes you from, or at least lower your chances of, a heavy-duty DN.

I wonder: if there was a survey of people who had experienced significant Dark Night discomfort, would it show a bias towards any particular tradition or practice approach. Maybe it's primarily a function of the modern day "Vipassana Movement" with your typical Americans and Western Europeans trying to run before they learn to walk. Maybe Willoughby herself has some data on that via her DN research.

RE: Samatha "vs" Vipassana
Answer
11/6/14 12:45 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Do you have a link to the Britton asking the DL about dark night convo?

RE: Samatha "vs" Vipassana
Answer
11/7/14 1:27 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
My take on this...

There are people who are naturally more samatha-esque and more vipassana-esque, more concentration vs insight, as their baseline way of being and thinking about things.

If samatha people start with samatha, they generally do better, as it makes sense to them, they have more initial successes (jhanas), and so they develop good mental skills: cocentration, peace, faith, etc.

If vipassana people start with vipassana, they generally do better, as it makes sense to them, they have more initial successes (ñanas), and so they develop good mental skills and insights.

The converse is also true: if you try to force people who are samatha people into insight, they find it harsh, unmovitating, counter to their natural inclinications, and often don't do as well.

Same for vipassana people, who initially may fail at achieving pleasant states and so be frustrated.

I personally have strong natural vipassana tendencies. I tried jhana practices at points early on and was really bad at them, but I could naturally schred reality into little flickering blips. Had I started in samatha, I think I would likely have failed. The path of insight was harsh, edgy, dysphoric most of the time, but I could do it, and luckily I have a natural tolerance for pain, so that part wasn't as bad for me as for some. Interestingly enough, after getting stream entry on my fourth retreat, I suddenly had 8 very well-developed and awesome jhanas with great ease, being able to rise through them just by gently inclining the mind that way.

However, my story is definitely not universally applicable. Some people do much better if they try jhana initially and will suck at vipassana. This is actually pretty common. They have the benefit of a much easier ride, but that easy ride is also potentially sticky, as it is much more tempting to jump into the now well-worn groove of jhana than see the true nature of phenomena, which is often unpleasant, suffering and instability being the natural characteristics of phenomena. Thus, they may fail to get insights if they can't be coaxed out of the sense of stable positive jhanic factors, as those are so attractive.

It is true that, if you can get samatha-first people to get into really strong jhana and then add in a moderate component of vipassana, they can do cool things like nearly totally bypass the harshness of the Dark Night, as they can do it in realms of light, sacred geometry, archetypical landscapes, and the like. I learned those skills much later on, as that was not my natural tendency, nor do I believe I could even have done it had I started that way.

Further, some vipassana people won't be able to have enough emotional stability to handle the Dark Night well, and, if you can't get them to add in some samatha to ease that transition, they will flounder.

So, as you can see, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. Generally, people who teach and write tend to advocate for what worked for them, as it is hard not to see the world through that lens, and thus traditions and schools of philosophy and practice are born. 

In truth, nobody can stick totally to one side of the samatha-vipassana axis, as there is always a bit of the other in there somehow, and more commonly people will oscillate between them, albeit with a general tendency towards one side or the other depending on their practice and their intrinsic wiring.

I personally think that people who master both do much better and would strongly advocate for people learning both at some point, but initially I think that people should lead through strength (a bridge concept, also found in the card game spades), meaning initially do something that they are more likely to do well at, as they are much more likely to develop that faith that comes from success and to persevere.

Helpful?

Daniel

RE: Samatha "vs" Vipassana
Answer
11/7/14 1:49 PM as a reply to Jinxed P.
Jinxed P:
Do you have a link to the Britton asking the DL about dark night convo?

http://vimeo.com/69253042

RE: Samatha "vs" Vipassana
Answer
11/7/14 1:49 PM as a reply to Jinxed P.
Hi Jinxed,

I'm familiar with that level of absorption (no sense of body, no thoughts, singleness of perception) though I didn't see a nimitta (unless you count a generally "brightening" of the dark field behind closed eyes...actually n/m I guess that is a nimmita isn't it?).  I don't think this lines up with the suttas, though, since the buddha mentions the body in the first three jhanas.  The formless realms are different from jhana.  Actually, as of recently after reading them a bit more in depth, I don't think the buddha is even describing states of concentration when he refers to "jhana" specifically, but rather states of release, or calm abiding.  There wouldn't be much reason to call them states of calm abiding if you couldn't maintain them during the day.

It's all a matter of interpretation, of course, but it doesn't really matter that much.  All of these states exist, and it's up to the practitioner to use them skillfully.

RE: Samatha "vs" Vipassana
Answer
11/7/14 2:04 PM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Daniel M. Ingram:
My take on this...

There are people who are naturally more samatha-esque and more vipassana-esque, more concentration vs insight, as their baseline way of being and thinking about things
....
Helpful?

Yes. And to be honest, I just dug back into MCTB and realized that you already deal with this whole question a lot more than I remembered. I've been through MCTB at least three times so far and each time I finish I think I've pretty much understood it. But then provided I remember to circle back to it, I realize there's more to be learned especially when I see it in the context both of my ongoing practice and, probably more to the point in my case, my broader reading and study. Your Buddhist Geeks podcasts are also useful in this respect, particularly when you talk about being open to practices from across the whole contemplative spectrum.

But do you have any practical guidelines on how one can decide if one is more naturally "samatha-esque" vs "vipassana-esque"? For example, if I had to guess for myself I'd say I'm the latter. I'm very analytical, very Western-skeptical, scientifically trained and so on. And my concentration *sucks*. I've even dabbled (with my doc) in ADHD meds to see if that can help (never did). But are those the kinds of clues one should consider?

Because of course an alternative approach is to attack at one's weak points. Precisely because I have such poor concentration/tranquility it makes me think maybe I should work on some development in that area first -- i.e. via samatha. It would certainly be a welcome break from the brain chatter if I could sit for even 15 minutes with some internal peace and quiet. Problem is, I have a perfectionist/high-achiever tendency, so my inclination is to go for the fastest route to "success", even if it's going to feel miserable. Seeking some temporary comfort in samatha and jhanas *feels* a little bit like copping out.

RE: Samatha "vs" Vipassana
Answer
11/7/14 3:07 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Robert McLune:
Jinxed P:
Do you have a link to the Britton asking the DL about dark night convo?

http://vimeo.com/69253042

"If they are experience these negatives emotions it is their own fault" -DL

Clearly the DL doesn't think the Dark night is part of the path, only part of the path if done wrong.

RE: Samatha "vs" Vipassana
Answer
11/7/14 3:36 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
But do you have any practical guidelines on how one can decide if one is more naturally "samatha-esque" vs "vipassana-esque"? For example, if I had to guess for myself I'd say I'm the latter. I'm very analytical, very Western-skeptical, scientifically trained and so on. And my concentration *sucks*. I've even dabbled (with my doc) in ADHD meds to see if that can help (never did). But are those the kinds of clues one should consider?

Because of course an alternative approach is to attack at one's weak points. Precisely because I have such poor concentration/tranquility it makes me think maybe I should work on some development in that area first -- i.e. via samatha. It would certainly be a welcome break from the brain chatter if I could sit for even 15 minutes with some internal peace and quiet. Problem is, I have a perfectionist/high-achiever tendency, so my inclination is to go for the fastest route to "success", even if it's going to feel miserable. Seeking some temporary comfort in samatha and jhanas *feels* a little bit like copping out.

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Sorry for jumping in here. There's a third way, a whole spectrum of samatha vis a vis vipassana methods. Eg: have you considered Shinzen Young's "Gone Noting"? It's vipassana as you actually note events, but it has a strong samatha flavour as what you actually note are not arisings but vanishings of things (body sensations, images, sounds, thoughts, emotions). When things vanish, a restul state (samatha) shows up, and the instruction is to dwell in it until a next vanishing occurs. 

RE: Samatha "vs" Vipassana
Answer
11/7/14 5:12 PM as a reply to Robert McLune.
Robert McLune:
... And my concentration *sucks*. I've even dabbled (with my doc) in ADHD meds to see if that can help (never did).


If I remember rightly, Tarin, one of the DhO's strongest practitioners, was in a similar position to you, but he was able to develop excellent concentration by rapid-fire noting of the kind that Dan talks about. (Edit: And IIRC he advocated playing to one's strengths).

People are different. For me, the most reliable way to shamatha is actually contemplating the nature of the background of experience (rather than the characteristics of the content of experience). Although I can concentrate pretty well, that's a different activity. I never find myself needing to concentrate when I'm doing this.

I think if you can find a durable interest (whether it be in one stable thing or many, many unstable things in quick succession) the necessary concentration should develop from that.

RE: Samatha "vs" Vipassana
Answer
11/8/14 2:49 AM as a reply to Daniel M. Ingram.
Daniel:

There are people who are naturally more samatha-esque and more vipassana-esque, more concentration vs insight, as their baseline way of being and thinking about things.

If samatha people start with samatha, they generally do better, as it makes sense to them, they have more initial successes (jhanas), and so they develop good mental skills: cocentration, peace, faith, etc.

If vipassana people start with vipassana, they generally do better, as it makes sense to them, they have more initial successes (ñanas), and so they develop good mental skills and insights.

The converse is also true: if you try to force people who are samatha people into insight, they find it harsh, unmovitating, counter to their natural inclinications, and often don't do as well.

Same for vipassana people, who initially may fail at achieving pleasant states and so be frustrated.

I personally have strong natural vipassana tendencies. I tried jhana practices at points early on and was really bad at them, but I could naturally schred reality into little flickering blips. Had I started in samatha, I think I would likely have failed. The path of insight was harsh, edgy, dysphoric most of the time, but I could do it, and luckily I have a natural tolerance for pain, so that part wasn't as bad for me as for some. Interestingly enough, after getting stream entry on my fourth retreat, I suddenly had 8 very well-developed and awesome jhanas with great ease, being able to rise through them just by gently inclining the mind that way.

However, my story is definitely not universally applicable. Some people do much better if they try jhana initially and will suck at vipassana. This is actually pretty common. They have the benefit of a much easier ride, but that easy ride is also potentially sticky, as it is much more tempting to jump into the now well-worn groove of jhana than see the true nature of phenomena, which is often unpleasant, suffering and instability being the natural characteristics of phenomena.

I'm a little puzzled over this response, Daniel. First, I'm not sure that I buy that people are inherently more one way than the other--or rather I doubt all people are. There is something possibly too either-or in this whole thread, and in the OP's original question, or perhaps. I think I personally was more naturally inclined to vipassana emphasis prepath, but as soon as SE happened, that flipped so that now jhana is extremely easy, almost too compelling, and insight practice is harder where it was pretty automatic before. So don't you need a map-stage perspective here rather than saying people are inherently "vipassana people" or "samatha people"?

Moreover, since December 2011 I've relied on Thai Forest meditation manuals, and those guys insist that samatha and vipassana not be split in two or thought of as separate practices at all. Rather, vipassana is simply an emphasis that sort of just starts happening within jhana practice at some rather natural, organic, when-you-are-ready-for-it point. In reality, I think for me the two emphases crutched each other forward, with a little advancement in one helping the other along, and then vice versa, in crisscross fashion. And after SE it became obvious, if not always easily insight mapable, how the two go on at the same time.

Secondly, not sure I buy that people who emphasize samatha early on "have the benefit of a much easier ride," although I do agree that dropping back to emphasize concentation ("calm abiding") during DN stages can be a strategy for easing the way forward when vipassana becomes unbearable. I was far from having the benefit of a relatively easy ride, even though I was in Tibetan and then Thai Forest methods that emphasized jhana. This said, it was after reading MCTB and vamping the vipassana emphasis thereby that I flipped out--and thanks for that, Daniel, by the way. emoticon

I always recommend Ajahn Lee's Keeping the Breath in Mind, Method 2, as a great beginner's (and not-so-beginner's) mainstay. Because it involves a kind of body scanning with whole-body moving breath energy, giving the meditator plenty to do during a sit, there is little room for a wandering mind during those practices. And because one is focusing sometimes in one area and sometimes on each instant of movement of the breath energy, the meditator is really learning two emphases with one object, during the same sit--although I don't know how much sense it ultimately makes to speak of the breathing as one object, which probably suggests that I'm a vipassana person, or was. emoticon

Than Geoff's With Each and Every Breath is another meditation guide in the same vein as Ajahn Lee's, but Ajahn Lee's is brief, to the point, and easy to just start up. It is a jewel. And it is free in eformats: http://www.dhammatalks.org/ebook_index.html.

One emphasis in Than Geoff's work that I love is his emphasis on the practitioner's needing to fashion his or her own path. There is a lot of questioning, experimenting, "placing temporary sticky notes" on results, revising one's assessment of one's practice and progress, adjusting, adding in a new emphasis or method, and so on. In fact, he seems to go so far as to say that, without this degree of self-reliance, one isn't really following the path because one is not blazing it.

EDITED.

RE: Samatha "vs" Vipassana
Answer
11/8/14 11:41 AM as a reply to Jenny.
I think Kenneth's perspective might clear this up
http://contemplativefitnessbook.com/book-two-theory/the-progress-of-insight-map/#Knowledge_of_Equanimity_Stage_11
As the concentration muscle gets stronger, you’ll be able to sustain it for ever longer periods of time. Since the developmental process of awakening is dynamic, it’s unavoidable that you will have to relearn concentration skills at various times along the way; every time your perceptual threshold changes, you gain the ability to notice phenomena you couldn’t see before. This is a double-edged sword; life is richer and more interesting, but there is also more potential for distraction. This potential for distraction has to be balanced by corresponding increases in your skill at concentration, which set the stage for yet another change in perceptual threshold, and so on. Think of it as an ongoing process rather than a discreet goal with a fixed end point, and be prepared to keep pushing this edge of development throughout your life.
I'm vipassana-inclined and I've had to relearn concentration several times.