Buddhist meditation consists of two meditation techniques known as samatha and vipassana. The techniques differ and they produce different results. However, they are both valuable tools that will help to purify the mind.
Indeed, it is prudent for practitioners of Buddhist meditation to be familiar with both methods. This is because the two methods are mutually inclusive and can support each other by strengthening concentration.
The Object of Samatha Meditation
Samatha meditation requires using a single point of concentration. Three common points of focus include:
- Anapanasati – focus on respiration
- Buddhanussati bhavana – recollection of the Buddha’s attributes
- Metta bhavana – Loving kindness meditation
Samatha is synonymous with “tranquility” meditation. This is because maintaining a deep state of concentration results in peace of mind. Therefore, successful samatha meditation requires the practitioner to block out all arising phenomenon other than their single focus point.
If so, practitioners of Samatha meditation can experience the two primary levels of concentration:
Upacara Samadhi – it is a state of concentration that is near the level of absorption. Uninterrupted focus on the object results in a “sleep like state”.
Appana Samadhi – practitioners that remain completely immersed in their solitary point of focus experience absorption level concentration. The sensation transcends deep sleep and the mind has entered a state of tranquility.
The Object of Vipassana Meditation
In contrast with samatha, vipassana meditation takes multiple points of concentration. As a result, it is only possible to achieve upacara concentration levels. Therefore, the mind does not become immersed in the temporary state of tranquility associated with appana samadhi.
However, the benefits of vipassana are long lasting and potentially eternal. This is because vipassana meditation seeks to extinguish the mental defilements Buddhists believe lead to suffering (dukkha).
Vipassana refers to realization and achieving the right understanding of existence. This means that the meditator seeks to realize the impermanent, unsatisfactory and selfless nature of all mental and physical phenomenon.
The practitioner takes a primary concentration point which is usually the rising and falling of the stomach during regular breathing. However, when mental or physical phenomenon arises such as a sound or a thought, the practitioner does not block it out. Instead, vipassana meditation practice requires that the practitioner observe all mental and physical phenomenon as they arise.
The objective is to note the phenomenon immediately, then observe it until it fades away. By seeing the phenomenon in its true nature (impermanent, unsatisfactory, selfless) it conditions the practitioner to react in a wholesome manner when objects arise in real world situations. As a result, it is possible to permanently delete the defilements (kilesas) that plague human existence.
The Buddha Identified 10 defilements:
- Lobha – all forms of lust, greed, craving, desire, attachment or grasping
- Dosa – anger, hatred, ill-will and aversion
- Moha – ignorance or delusion
- Mana – conceit
- Ditthi – wrong view
- Vicikiccha – skeptical doubt about the triple gem (Buddha, Sangha, Dharma)
- Thina-middha – sloth and torpor or mental sluggishness
- Uddhacca-kukkucca – restlessness or distraction and remorse
- Ahirika – moral shamelessness
- Anottappa – moral fearlessness
Inclusive Nature of Buddhist Meditation
Indeed, sometimes Buddhist meditation teachers encourage including samatha techniques with vipassana practice. Especially at the outset of vipassana practice, samatha techniques such as buddhanussati will hone concentration. This is in addition to walking meditation prior to the start of sitting meditation.
The objective is to prepare the meditator for complete immersion in vipassana meditation practice. The venerable meditation master Chanmyay Sayadaw compared beginning vipassana practice without preparation to starting a car with a weak battery. It is very difficult to get going when you start cold!
Additionally, as you are immersed in vipassana meditation it is quite possible to slip into the deep state of concentration known as appana samadhi. This situation is possible when there is no arising phenomenon other than the primary focus point and the practitioner can become acutely focused on the abdomen.
As a result, the practitioner will experience the impermanent sensation of appana samadhi. However, eventually new phenomenon will arise. The vipassana practitioner will then follow the new object and return to the primary focus point after it fades away. Additionally, recognizing the different stages of concentration known as jhanas can further enhance your Buddhist meditation practice.
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