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  • Government Services Buddhist Association
  • Government Services Buddhist Association

Relative Merits of Samatha and Vipassana Techniques of Meditation

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Relative Merits of Samatha and Vipassana Techniques of Meditation.

- Bogoda Premaratne -

Dhamma stipulates seven requisites of meditative practice designated as Satta Bojjhanga that will lead to the attain- ment of Enlightenment.

The first requirement is Sati Bhãvanã and the Second is Dhamma-vicaya.

It is these two requirements that are being fulfilled under (I) Sati, Samatha, Samadhi or jhãna - the concentration category of meditation practice and (II). Dhamma-vicaya, Investigation of the Dhamma, the actual nature of life as it is experienced, in the light of the Dhamma that has been revealed by the Buddha.

Since this investigation is not meant to be a mere intellectu- al exercise, but a direct meditative observation of one’s own bodily and mental processes leading to experiential understand- ing, it goes as vipassanã or vidarshanã bhãvanã - Insight medi tation.

It should now be clear that these two branches of Buddhist meditation are equally important, and in fact each is complemen- tary to the other.

One deals with the physiological foundation of the mind, the other deals with the psychological behavior of the mind.

There are two very important benefits of sati concentration practice.

One is re-orienting our mind’s attention towards what actually matters (Yõnisõ manasikãra).

Our mind’s attention is habitually captured by external objects of sense-perception, to the total neglect of what actually happens inside of us.

Sati, mindful awareness trains the attention - manasikãra to turn towards yõni, the centre wherein mental life is conceived and developed.

Without this training, it is not possible to discipline the mind’s behavior.

The Second benefit is the conditioning of the nerve cells to abandon their attachment, which training gets transferred to the mind that depends upon the brain cells.

One who practises breath-meditation may remember that the progress of the meditation depends upon, letting go, detaching, abandoning, discarding, throwing out any and every thing that gets noted by the mind, other than the breath sensation, until one day, the mind comes to a stand-still, one-pointed-ness of mind, cittekaggatã. This is concentration, or Samatha tranquillity med- itation.

Why is it that the Samãdhi or Tranquillity Meditation cannot account for total liberation?

As long as one is in that state of Samãdhi there is perfect peace. Even after one comes out of Samãdhi and engages in daily life, the effect of that training appears to persist. There is a con- siderable change of attitude towards value of sense-objects including society in general. Particularly the Dhamma, the teach- ings of the Buddha will be more clearly understood and better appreciated.

The Buddha calls this achievement “purification of citta - the mind,” that occurs as a result of the brain-cells being rehabil- itated. It is of extreme value as an essential ingredient for dissolving the false ditthi or views that the mind has fabricated on its own.

That is what is called “Purification of ditthi or Ditthi Visuddhi for which vipassanã meditation has been designed.

That makes it clear that concentration meditation, even if it reaches its climax of Samãdhi or jhãna doesn’t dissolve the ‘self’ or personality - view, that harbors all of the defilements.

Sati meditation can be successful as far as helping the mind to divest itself from attachment to sense-objects; but it leaves the meditator, the one who intends, the one who wills, the one who meditates, the Self, the person un-touched.

The task for Vippassanã is just that dissolving of Sakkãya ditti-asmi-mãna, the View and the Conceit of Self.

“The mind is very difficult to see, very delicate and subtle, it moves and lands wherever it pleases. The wise one should gurard his mind, for a guarded mind brings happiness”.


How does Vipassanã Meditation attend to this very special task?

The task is to make the “Self”, the “Subject” - “I” vanish from whatever that is being experienced.

The Task seems impossible as the notion of “self happens to be inseparably identified with whatever that is being experi- enced.

Whatever being experienced doesn’t mean only the objects ̄ of sense-experience, the rupa, but the totality of everything involved in any experience,

The Five Aggregates interacting as nãma-rupa-viññãna - ̄ consciousness of mentality and materiality of experience.

Before one engages in the meditative contemplation of vipassanã, 

It is essential that one gains a thorough understanding of the nature of this ‘Self’ which calls itself ‘I’ and ‘Mine’, operat- ing as the ‘Subject’ of every mental activity.

‘Self’ is an ‘Entity’ that is ‘Absolute’

We have already defined this concept of ‘self’ as an ‘entity’ that has arisen on its own, by itself, and actually existing by itself without depending on anything else with no relation to anything else, and therefore it never changes and never dies. That is what ‘Absolute entity’ means.

Whenever the words self, soul, person, ego, I, me, mine come to mind, in any context, it must invariably be viewed in the light of this definition. It must be cultivated as a mental habit.

One must cultivate the mental habit of using this definition as a measure of judgement, separately and collectively, against the experiencing of Five Aggregates - the analysis made by the Buddha of the way we experience our personality.

That, in brief, is the way we are expected to practise the Vipassanã mode of contemplation.

What is the purpose of doing that?

The purpose

The Buddha’s discourse on Dependent Origination (Paticca Samuppãda) clarifies the casual process in which existential suf- fering comes into being, and in doing so, demonstrates the need for dismantling that casual structure.

Suffering is brought about by the mind’s craving to derive emotional satisfaction out of physical sensations.

There is no provision for such a thing in the physiological structure of the organism.

Therefore craving gives birth to a concept of an ‘Attavãda’, a so-called ãtma or Self and gets it to cling to, and identify itself with, each and every element of experiencing life.

Thus the Five-Groups of existence - Pancakkhanda come under the grasping, clinging, identification (upãdãna) of this mentally conceived absolute entity of ego, self or personality view, that has unlimited capacity for emotional enjoyment.

But the nature that is responsible for creation and mainte- nance of this human organism cannot agree to this un-natural demand of a mental conception.

It is for no reason other than the mind’s concoction of a con- cept in total contradiction to the nature and functioning of the organism, and then identifying itself with each of the Five groups of existence, expecting, hoping and desiring it to respond in the same permanent, unchanging, independent, absolute fashion like unto the character of its own Self-view.

The Five Elements of existence, Ru pa, Vedanã, Saññã, ̄ Sankãrã, viññãna - Materiality, Feeling, Perception and Conception and the over - all consciousness that reveals their presence, are one and all processes of arising due to causes other than themselves and existing and made to function by conditions other than themselves, and then ceasing with the cessation of the conditions.

Under such circumstances, can there be harmony between expectations and their fulfilment?

Can there be anything other than conflict, frustration, disap- pointment, anxiety, depression, pain of mind, dissatisfaction, in short-suffering and misery?

When this reality, when this actuality dawns in the mind as Knowledge together with Seeing, Dhamma calls it N ̄ãna-dhar- shana - or Insight, the actual experiencing of Dhamma, experi- encing the actuality of what happens.

When every bit of experience, in terms of Consciousness of Materiality and Mentality is contemplated meditatively, the incompatibility of a permanent, independent, absolute notion of 31 self, with the impermanent, casually conditioned life as experi- ence becomes evident.

The result is that identification of the concept of ‘self that clinging to a view, that upãdãna, that grasping of experience as possession, and action of a ‘self’ begins to wear out, begins to dis- solve and finally cease altogether, liberating the individual from the fetter of sakkãyaditti, Personality view, and permitting the individual to enjoy the bliss of a self-less life, in accordance with unhampered nature.

This would be the culmination of Vipassanã - Insight Meditation backed by concentration practice as laid down in the Fourth Noble Truth - Eightfold way to liberation.

** ** **

May you be guided by that wisdom to be humble enough to have every sense-experience of yours, with its feelings, emotions and thought constructions submitted for self-inspection, to test- check to see to what extent it is behaving under the influence of that intoxicating Self-View! I-me & mine!

Bogoda Premaratne 296/2 C,
Shanthi Mawatha, Highlevel Road, Colombo 6.
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