What exactly differentiates Vipassana from Samatha meditation?

  • What are the key aspects of Vipassana that are not present in Samatha?



    What is the main difference in the method from a meditator's perspective?



    Labeling emotions and feelings are part of samatha or vipassana? Does Vipassana allows emotions to rise more freely to check it for what it is while Samatha tries to avoid paying attention to it by returning to the breath process?


    from a meditator's perspective, the first question might be whether the Buddha taught that there are two meditations to differentiate. In Zen meditation for example, you won't find such labeling.

    @avatarKorra Quite so. I'm not even sure such labeling is helpful. Perhaps it is at certain stages.

    Culadasa delves into this at the start of his most enlightening "The Mind Illuminated". In brief: vipassanā is a series of insights that challenge your perception of reality. Insights into impermanence, emptiness, suffering and interdependence can be achieved with effortless stable attention (samādhi) and powerful mindfulness (sati). The insight into no-Self produces Awakening, and it requires your mind to be in the state of śamatha, which encompasses samādhi, sati, joy, tranquillity, and equanimity. Awakening is an accident: it can happen at any time. Practice makes you accident-prone.

    Both tradition and translators have made a meaningless mess of words, but Culadasa manages to disentangle most. Samādhi and sati are confusingly referred as śamatha and vipassanā, even tho they are all interdependent. Two wings of a bird, needlessly split apart by many: Practising samādhi by itself leads to blissful dullness, and sati to mind-wandering and frustration.

    Culadasa says the Buddha described all three śamatha/vipassanā combos. He favours a "mixed-old-school" śamatha-first approach: first develop a powerful lens of attention, but maintaining peripheral awareness ("mindfulness") all the time (this was a game changer for me). Later turn it towards vipassanā, and watch the insights rain. Focusing on insight before tranquillity is recommended only if you already have good focus and can do long retreats. Working both insight and tranquillity works well if you have good "natural concentration", but requires better guidance.

  • yuttadhammo

    yuttadhammo Correct answer

    7 years ago

    What are the key aspects of Vipassana that are not present in Samatha?



    samatha means tranquility - it is a necessary aspect of any wholesome meditative practice.



    vipassana means seeing clearly or in a special way - it is a quality specific to Buddhist meditative practice.



    Meditation for the purpose of seeing clearly requires one to focus on ultimate reality; the only way to understand reality is to observe it. Any meditation practice that does not take ultimate reality as an object is called "samatha meditation", because it leads only to tranquility, not insight.



    Besides the difference in meditation object, meditation for insight will also obviously have different results; it will be less tranquil on the whole, as one is forced to experience all the inherent problems with ultimate reality, specifically that it is impermanent, unsatisfying, and uncontrollable.



    What is the main difference in the method from a meditator's perspective?



    There is no difference in the method, necessarily; the only difference is in the object. As the Visuddhimagga says:




    But one whose vehicle is pure insight, or that same aforesaid one whose vehicle
    is serenity, discerns the four elements in brief or in detail in one of the various ways given in the chapter on the definition of the four elements (XI.27ff.).



    Vism XVIII.5 (Nyanamoli, trans)




    Meaning the methodology is the same, but one's focus shifts to ultimate reality.



    Labeling emotions and feelings are part of samatha or vipassana?



    Since emotions and feelings are a part of ultimate reality, this would be considered vipassana meditation. Many people say otherwise; I can't help but argue that they are wrong. The difference isn't the technique, it is the object.



    Does Vipassana allows emotions to rise more freely to check it for what it is while Samatha tries to avoid paying attention to it by returning to the breath process?



    samatha meditation has the potential to lead to avoidance, since it generally seeks out heightened states of concentration that are impossible when the focus is ultimate reality. The point is that one can only understand reality if one takes it as a focus; if you are unable to come to terms with reality, you will instead incline towards avoiding it because it is uncomfortable, preferring a single, stable, satisfying, controllable illusion to the harsh reality of the universe. This is a potential difference between the two types of meditation.



    It is not that samatha meditation is bad or useless, just limited and posessing a potential danger, as the Buddha taught:




    “And what, bhikkhus, is the gratification in the case of feelings? Here, bhikkhus, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters upon and abides in the first jhāna, which is accompanied by applied and sustained thought, with rapture and pleasure born of seclusion. On such an occasion he does not choose for his own affliction, or for another’s affliction, or for the affliction of both. On that occasion he feels only feeling that is free from affliction. The highest gratification in the case of feelings is freedom from affliction, I say.



    [same with 2nd - 4th jhanas]



    “And what, bhikkhus, is the danger in the case of feelings? Feelings are impermanent, suffering, and subject to change. This is the danger in the case of feelings.



    -- MN 13 (Bodhi, Trans)



    Thank you Bhante, I have read your book and I have seen your 5 videos on meditation, you always point out to the fact that we should see things for what they are, label them if they are calling our attention and return to the rising/falling of the chest, would that be Vipassana for beginners?

    I suspect when two of us say "labeling" we mean two different referents.

    This answer would improve with an explanation of how focusing on feelings is vipassana only and not samatha. This seems to be at odds with the anapanasati sutta insofar as it says that who practices anapanasati is focused on feelings in and of themselves, as well as combining the perception of impermanence with anapanasati. MN 13 also seems to imply that without jhana, one cannot fully understand feelings, since one would have to experience jhana to fully understand the gratification of feelings and would have to understand the gratification of feelings in order to fully understand feelings.

    (The Four Jhanas) DN2,etc... "Quite withdrawn from sensuality, from unskillful mental qualities, he enters and remains in the first jhana: rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation. He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal....even so, the monk permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal. "This is a fruit of the contemplative life, visible here and now, more excellent than the previous ones and more sublime.

    You say "as one is forced to experience all the inherent problems with ultimate reality, specifically that it is impermanent, unsatisfying, and uncontrollable." Did you really mean to say this?

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