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How is Mahasi not a samatha practice?

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How is Mahasi not a samatha practice?
Answer
6/12/18 4:58 PM
I feel like I well understand the difference between the concepts of samatha and vipassana but I often fail to see the practical differences. For instance, take Mahasi's instructions - Follow the breath, but when you falter, note what happens then return to the breath. I don't see how this is any different than a meditation for samatha, save perhaps for the additional instruction to note what happens. If one is "good" at Mahasi's methods then presumably they'd be following the breath without ever losing focus and therefore have little opportunity to note and thus gain insight. How is this not a samatha practice? Many people say that not only is Mahasi a vipassana practice, but that it is a particularly dry one. How is this given the fact that the primary task is to focus on the breath? Thanks!

RE: How is Mahasi not a samatha practice?
Answer
6/12/18 7:16 PM as a reply to Mike.
I think how one focuses the mind, along with intention, are better determinants of whether one is more into samatha or vipassana than the particular technique you do. If you focus on the breath (or other objects) with the intention to relax deeply, tranquilize the body-mind, without paying much attention to investigating the sensations that compose the breath, you are more into samatha territory. If you focus on the breath with the intention of clearly seeing its composite changing sensations, you are more into vipassana territory. And both samatha and vipassana can work in tandem. 

I've known one person who, using Mahasi noting, always seemed to end up deep in samatha jhanas. It seemed hard for her to understand how to investigate the 3cs in the observed objects, even though she was showm a "dry vipassana" technique. 

Mahasi style is dry in the sense that right from the start we are instructed in disecting experiences, such as the breath, into its various sensations (pressure, tingling, stifness, etc). But still, while doing this samatha will follow behind even though the emphasis is on straight vipassana.

RE: How is Mahasi not a samatha practice?
Answer
6/12/18 10:40 PM as a reply to Mike.
I don't believe I've ever seen Mahasi Sayadaw's instructions presented in the way you suggest (vis a vis following the breath and returning to it when lost). You may want to pick up his "Practical Insight Meditation" and review the three basic sets of instructions presented therein.

RE: How is Mahasi not a samatha practice?
Answer
6/13/18 11:03 PM as a reply to Mike.
I like to think of it like musical theater.

Samatha:

The focus is solely on the lead actor (the breath), lit by a spot light. All other lights are off and we become so engaged with the singing performer that we become the performer. Perhaps we hear a cough or a cell phone notification in the audience, but we return to enjoying the breath immediately and exclusively.

Vipassana :

The lead actor is still on stage under the spot light but there are changing scenes of lights and other actors performing separate activities in the background. When the scene turns color, we take note. When someone interacts breifly with the lead, we take note. Perhaps now that the stage is lit with more lights, we begin to notice more details about the lead's costume or facial expressions. We allow oursleves to be distracted (knowingly) by other action on stage, but we return focus to the star performer as they carry the scene.

...

In my amateur opinion, with insight practice, attention to the breath is a bit overstated. Make it a point to watch the breath when not observing other phenomena but as long as you are aware of when your focus shifts and what you are focusing on, progress can be made.

Three Characteristics.Six Sense Doors. 

RE: How is Mahasi not a samatha practice?
Answer
6/14/18 1:12 AM as a reply to Mike.
My experience is so narrow, take this with a grain of salt, but I do have an opinion:

Samatha is about ignoring most of what is going on and getting absorbed (entrained, effortless focused) in something, generally something that is a fabrication and desirable.

Vipassana is about investigating whatever happens.