samatha or vipassana


Dear Group,
This is an old letter I wrote to a friend:

For myself although I sound like I give vipassana priority – and, at least in theory, do – I can’t avoid having samatha. I find maranasati(mindfulness of death) can go hand in hand with vipassana . It is not an essential but it leans the mind in the direction of impermanence and gives urgency, it has been like my best friend over many years.

Also all vipassana afficionados must develop Dhammanusati to some degree as this IS an essential prequisite. Khun Sujin has written a book about Metta- (a type of samatha and also a perfection). There are others that we can do too.

What seems to be the most common object peolple choose these days is anapanasati, the most difficult of all objects, according to the texts. This object does need special conditions – erect back, fixed posture, quiet, much application etc.; thus when on dsg we talk about vipassana in daily life it perhaps seems so different from what people are used to thinking of as bhavana(meditation). Yet many other types of samatha can be developed in daily life in any posture- (true though that more strigent conditions are needed if one wants to take them to the most advanced levels)

Knowing that akusala- that desire or aversion etc are objects for awareness, that they are simply paramattha dhamma – if that understanding is firm – means that one can’t be frightened by any of them. How can one feel bad – knowing that bad feeling is an object for vipassaan (of course I feel bad sometimes but these are times that I try to cherish as opportunities to understand that feeling or dosa or the conditions for dosa) In Buddhism “even the bad times feel good”. They, unpleasant feelings etc., appear more as they really are.

Knowing that- as the texts say- dhammas are changing so fast, one knows that even if one is in great fear, for example, that fear is simply a conditioned dhamma and can’t last even for an instant. It is because of nicca vippalasa- the perversion of permanence, that thinks it(the hindrance ) lasts, and so one is distracted by it and believes it has to be got rid of before insight can arise. Yet it has already gone even before one knows it is there – and then one is attached to a perception of it. Not realising that new conditions are creating new fear. This is what avijja(ignorance) does – clouds seeing these things. And one knows too that there are different processes such as seeing occuring that can’t come with unpleasant feeling. These things can be seen for oneself – and so the teachings are being gradually tested and their truths seen.

In fact, if understanding grows there are less opportunities for some types of akusala – because if there is insight into the hindrances then the conditions that create the hindrances are also being understood – at different levels. And this leads gradually to a turning away from those conditions (by panna, wisdom, not by self effort). Especially, though, insight is eliminating the idea of permanance and self and control. This is the first stage – that of the sotapanna. It is in later stages that craving for sense pleasures is eradicated. The sotapanna has all the hindrances except for doubt. This makes us realise that it is wrongview that is the real danger. I think we can spend much energy trying to stop the hindrances – and they will always come back . Understanding them is another way.

However, we can’t just expect this type of understanding to pop up out of the blue. There does have to be much consideration of the khandas and ayatanas and dhatus and other sublime teachings- and this is contemplation is all classified under Dhammanusati, one of the forty objects. It can be done at any time and so may not look like samatha but it is (with the proviso that one in this case is not aiming for high levels of samadhi but rather looking for understanding).

Khun sujin is very helpful on explaining about seeing the present moment. She said that one can have subtle craving for kusala and that shifts one away from the present:
“If one thinks that one should rather have objects other than the present one, since these appear to be more wholesome, one will never study the object which appears now. And how can one know their true nature when there is no study, no awareness of them? So it must be the present object, only what appears now. This is more difficult because it is not the object of desire. If desire can move one away to another object, that object satisfies one’s desire. Desire is there all the time. If there is no understanding of lobha as lobha, how can it be eradicated? One has to understand different degrees of realities, also lobha which is more subtle, otherwise one does not know when there is lobha. Seeing things as they are. Lobha is lobha. Usually one does not see the subtle lobha which moves one away from developing right understanding of the present object.”

Nevertheless Khun Sujin does admit that satipatthana is not always going to occur. She often speaks about other ways of kusala. She writes in Deeds of merit:
“This is another level of kusala besides the levels of daana, generosity, and siila, morality.

S. : The monks are accustomed to practise continuously, for a long time, four meditation subjects of samatha, in order to have calm of citta and to subdue defilements which can disturb them. Laypeople can also practise these four meditation subjects. The Dhamma and the Vinaya which the monks practise can also be applied by layfollowers in their own situation, as a means of subduing defilements.

W. : What are these four meditation subjects?

S. : Recollection of the excellent qualities of the Buddha, the development of mettaa (loving kindness), perception of repulsiveness and mindfulness of death.

S. : The recitation we do every night before going to sleep is the paying of respect to the Buddha. This is a meritorious action of the level of siila, because it is kusala performed through body and speech. But for kusala citta with calm of the level of samatha it is not sufficient to merely recite words, but it is also necessary to recollect, to ponder over the excellent qualities of the Buddha.”

She then explains a little more about Buddhanusati.

I heard on a tape recently someone asking her why she places most stress on satipatthana and anatta. Basically she said that for those who have the accumulations to understand these that this is the rarest teaching.

When I heard and knew that any paramattha dhamma can be an object for insight I was elated (not discouraged). It took alot of stress away. Before that I had to be so careful to arrange my life in certain ways so as not to upset calm. Had to avoid confrontations and many other things (and still could never get things quite right.) I couldn’t see how much clinging there was to what I took to be ‘practice’, it was actually increasing the spin of dependent origination even though I hoped and believed it to be doing the opposite. I still like to get away to quiet places and have more time to study and consider Dhamma; but now there is not the pressure of thinking I must be in such situations. It seems more natural now – a more relaxed life. That is a side effect only: what is more important is that now there are countless opportunities for awareness during each day. Instead of trying to avoid being ‘distracted’, the ‘distraction’ is the object .

MN 44
Culavedalla Sutta

“Now what is concentration, lady, what qualities are its themes, what qualities are its requisites, and what is its development?”

“Singleness of mind is concentration, friend Visakha; the four frames of reference are its themes; the four right exertions are its requisites; and any cultivation, development, & pursuit of these qualities is its development.”

The two types are explained in detail in the Useful Posts file. For
example, in post #83394, Sarah quotes from Atthasalini, ‘Fourfold
Jhana’, PTS transl.

Sarah: > Now here’s the paragraph on the two kinds of jhana with the
Pali below.
(Quoted by Scott before):

“Jhaana is twofold: that which (views or) examines closely the object
and that which examines closely the characteristic marks
[aaramma.nupanijjhaana~n ca lakkha.nupanijjhaana.m]. Of these
two, ‘object-scrutinising’ jhaana examines closely those devices [for
self-hypnosis]* as mental objects. Insight, the Path and Fruition are
called ‘characteristics-examining jhaana.’ Of these three, insight is
so called from its examining closely the characteristics of
impermanence, etc. Because the work to be done by insight is
accomplished through the Path, the Path is so called. And because
Fruition examines closely the Truth of cessation, and possesses the
characteristic of truth, it also is called ‘characteristic-examining

“Of these two kinds of jhaana, the ‘object-examining’ mode is
here intended. Hence, from its examining the object and extinguishing
the opposing Hindrances, jhaana is to be thus understood.”


“Duvidha.m jhaana.m aaramma.nupanijjhaana~n ca lakkha.nupanijjhaana~n
Tattha a.t.thasamaapatti-pa.thaviikasi.naadiaaramma.nam upanijjhaayatii
aaramman.nupanijjhaanan ti sa”nkha”gataa vipassanaa. Maggaphalaani pana
lakkha.nupanijjhaana.m naama.

Tattha vipassanaa aniccadilakkha.nassa upanijjhaayanato
lakkha.nupanijjhaana.m , vipassanaaya katakiccassa magge ijjhanato maggo
lakkha.nupanijjhaana.m phala.m pana nirodha-sacca.m. Tattha lakkha.nam
upanijjhaayatii ti lakkha.nupanijjhaana.m.

Tesu imasmi.m atthe aaramma.nupanijjhaanam adhippeta.m. Kasmaa?
Aaramma.nupanijjhaanato pacaniikajjhaapanato vaa jhaanan ti veditabba.m”

Ken H

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