How your samatha-practice affects your vipassana-practice

Martin Mai, modified 15 Years ago at 9/18/08 1:02 AM
Created 15 Years ago at 9/18/08 1:02 AM

How your samatha-practice affects your vipassana-practice

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Forum: Dharma Overground Discussion Forum

Hi everybody,
I want to start this threat because I have been dealing with this topic recently. The first 6 months or so of my practice I have been following the dry insight path. I have been practicing samatha for some time now, too and found out that I had not even developed proper access concentration. I fixed this and found my insight practice improved tenfold. During my one-hour sits I now practice samatha until access concentration is quite solid or the first Jhana arises and then switch to vipassana. Following this method I made faster progress than ever before. The transition from samatha to vipassana happens quite naturally as well as soon as some level of samadhi is achieved.
That being said I want to ask all of you to post you experiences with this. Did an improved samadhi help your vipassana, too? Did you find it hard to switch from pure concentration into vibrations? Interesting to me is that I had a much harder time tuning into the vibratory quality of sensations before I had established my concentration. I have been avoiding samatha-practice beause I feared it would be the other way round.
Another point is how to distinguish between a lack of concentration-skill in general and effects of insight stages that actucally are progress (dark night).
Love to read your opinions,
Nathan I S, modified 15 Years ago at 9/18/08 6:10 AM
Created 15 Years ago at 9/18/08 6:10 AM

RE: How your samatha-practice affects your vipassana-practice

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/26/09 Recent Posts
At times I have to question the extent to which we consider shamatha practice separate from insight. "There's no wisdom without concentration, no concentration without widsom; one who has both wisdom and concentration is close to peace." Many people seem to have stumbled into A&P/Dark Night territory by virtue of "pure" if unintentional concentration practices. My teacher has said that it's possible to over-develop certain factors of concentration, or to attempt to seek a false refuge in states (or its dumber cousin, to cultivate "the equanimity of a cow"), but his teacher says it's never possible to have too much concentration, and does not believe in the divide between shamatha and vipassana. And looking at the original texts, Sid says, "practice jhana." His own teachers both taught the formless realms.

Just practically speaking, I find that having concentration and samadhi (as Wallace explains it, by various degrees) helps to foster insight. In my experience, again, concentration seems to have caused this mess. Likewise I've found that getting enraptured (literally) in jhana begins to lose its appeal if you follow the canonical instructions to enter jhana, let it extinguish itself, then enter and leave jhana of your own accord, then repeat the whole process over and over. That, and developing tranquility lets me deal with more potentially difficult content in a dispassionate way, chopping it into the aggregates, examining each one, etc., or just making it easier to keep the object under examination.
Martin Mai, modified 15 Years ago at 9/18/08 7:19 AM
Created 15 Years ago at 9/18/08 7:19 AM

RE: How your samatha-practice affects your vipassana-practice

Posts: 0 Join Date: 8/22/09 Recent Posts
Great! Thanks for this, Nathan. I am a fan of Webu Sayadaw´s approach which is very simple. Anapanasati for samadhi and insight. He also sais that if you develop good concentration you will develop insight because it´s so easy then. I find it so easy to turn from samatha to vipassana that it almost happens on its own. The other way round is way more difficult for me. Maybe it´s just more natural for me to do vipassana than samatha. Have you found some inclination like this, too? If yes do you think inclinations really exist or is it just a lack in experience?
Florian, modified 15 Years ago at 9/18/08 7:42 AM
Created 15 Years ago at 9/18/08 7:42 AM

RE: How your samatha-practice affects your vipassana-practice

Posts: 1028 Join Date: 4/28/09 Recent Posts
Hi Martin,

The most useful understanding to me of the samatha/vipassana divide is that it describes the far ends of an entire spectrum of states and processes.

When I began to meditate, I didn't make the distinction, and just followed the instructinons of the anapanasati sutta. Later on, I found it useful to distinguish the two for conceptual reasons. Recently, I've noticed how both occur to some extent in any meditation state - note for example how to get to know a jhana well enough to proceed to the next one, quite a bit of investigation into the jhana is necessary, so even in the highly solidified samatha jhanas, there is investigation, though usually not into impermanence but into dukkha, I think.

Back to the Anapanasati Sutta (or any meditation modelled after the satipattana/four foundations of mindfulness): the first three tetrades seem to be concentration-heavy, the last one begins with "investigate impermanence" - insight-heavy. One crude way of looking at Anapanasati as a formula is: "3/4 concentration, 1/4 insight".

My own practice is more like "first tetrade, then investigate impermanence (which translates to "labelling" for me) - very similar to yours.

Lack of skill vs. dark night effects - I like to think of it in terms of walking in hilly country: when climbing the slope up to the A&P summit, I got really skilled in walking up-hill, which is a different skill from walking down-hill (after the A&P). The first bits of Dissolution certainly feel a lot like stumblig down a steep slope. The trick is to make one step after another - i.e. keep investigating.

It was helpful to me to read up on the seven factors, and their sequence.