Difference between Samatha and Vipassana

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Difference between Samatha and Vipassana

There are two types of meditation in Buddhism. One is samatha meditation, the other is vipassana. The purpose of samatha meditation is to attain higher concentration of the mind. We call this jhana or appana.

Appana and Jhana
Jhana means the state of mind which is fixed to the object. It is translated by Pali scholars as fixedness of mind. Appana is another word for jhana. Her appana means absorption. When the mind is totally absorbed into the object, that state of mind is called appana. It has the same sense as jhana. When the mind is completely absorbed into the object, it does not go out. It cannot be distracted by anything. As long as the mind is absorbed into the object ( of concentration ) it is free from all kinds of hindrances such as sensual desire, anger, hatred and aversion, sloth and torpor, worries, restlesness, remorse and sceptical doubt.

Benefits of Concentration
The deeply concentrated mind is free from all kinds of mental hindrances. The meditator lives peacefully and happily as long as the mind is concentrated on the object of meditatiion. That is the result of samatha meditation.

Samatha here means concentration. So it can be translated as tranquility or calm because when the mind is concentrated on a single object, it becomes tranquil, serene and calm. So samatha can be translated as calmness meditation, tranquility meditation, serenity meditation or concentration meditation.

Samatha Meditator cannot Destroy the Defilements
But a meditator who practices samatha and attains thisstate of the concentrated mind cannot realise bodily and mental processes in their true nature. Because the Samatha meditator is not able to realise the appearance and disappearance of mental and physical phenomena, he cannot destroy any of the defilements.

The purpose of samatha meditation is to attain deep concentration and live happily and peacefully. This is so as long as the mind is concentrated well on the object of meditation. But without realisation of the three characteristics of existence or three characteristics of the body/mind process, no one can destroy any of the mental defilements of lust greed, desire, craving, hatred, anger, aversion and so on.

When one is not able to destroy these mental defilements, he will not be free from all kinds of suffering. He is still on the ocean of suffering. Only when he has realised anicca, dukkha and anatta or impermanence, suffering, no soul, no self, the nature of body/mind process, will he be able to exterminate all the defilements and live happily and peacefully.

Vipassana Meditation Preceded by Samatha
When a samatha meditator has attained deep concentration of mind, he should switch his noting mind to vipassana meditation. Any mental process or physical process will be observed with the concentration attained through samatha meditation. Such meditation is known as vipassana meditation preceded by samatha meditation.

Samatha meditation alone cannot destroy any of the defilements even though there is deep concentration. We have to practice vipassana.

Sometimes, when we find it difficult to concentrate the mind by means of vipassana meditation, we have to use samatha for some time so that we can concentrate our mind well on the object of meditation.

Having attained deep concentration of the mind, we return to vipassana and observe whatever arises in body and mind as it really occurs.

The purpose of vipassana meditation is to attain nibbana or liberation through realisation of the mind/body process and their true nature. That is why we have to practice vipassana meditation.

Vipassana may be preceded by samatha meditation or we can practice pure vipassana meditation. If we have enough time, say a year or more, we can start with samatha meditation to attain higher concentration of the mind. After that we should practice vipassana based on that powerfuly concentrated mind.

But now we have only ten days. Ten days is a very short time for a meditator to be successful, to achieve his goal. So we cannot practice samatha meditation first. We have to go straight to vipassana meditation.

The Four Protections - A Preparatory Practice
When we practice vipassana meditation or samatha meditation, the “ Visuddhimagga “, a meditation manual written by the ven. Buddhagosa mahathera, mentions the four protections as a peparatory stage to meditation. These are :

Recollection of the nine chief attributes of the Buddha ( buddhanosti in Pali )
Development of loving kindness ( metta bhavana )
Reflection upon the loathsome nature of our body
Recollection of death

(1) The Nine Attributes of Buddha
The nine attributes of the Buddha are :

araham: enlightened, free from all defilements
samasambuddho: perfectly self enlightened
vijjacarana sampano: perfect in knowledge and conduct
sugato: one who speaks well, is enlightened
lokavidu: knower of all realms
anuttaropurisadhamasarathi: tamer of men
sata devamanusanam: teacher of gods and men
buddho: the Enlightened One
bhagava: worthy of exaltation
You need not recollect all nine of them but use one of these nine as the object of protection meditation. For instance, when you use the attribute araham as the object of meditation, you have to reflect upon the meaning of the word araham. It means the buddha who has destroyed all mental defilements and is worthy of honour.

The omniscient Buddha developed the Noble Eightfold Path. That is vipassana meditation. When it was fully developed and he attained the final stage of enlightenment, thet enlightenment eradicated all defilements which are the cause of suffering. Having destroyed these defilements the omniscient Buddha lived in peace and happiness. He was purified of all kinds of mental defilements and hindrances. His mind was cleared of all impurities and so he is worthy of honour.

Why the Protection of Practice?
When you reflect on this meaning of araham your mind will be gradually concentrated on the attributes. You will have to think about how the Buddha attained this condition of araham repeatedly and your mind will become concentrated. When the mind is concentrated, you will feel peaceful, calm and serene.

Another result of this recollection of the Buddha’s attributes is that you know that you are walking on the same path as the Omniscient Buddha did : to the cessation of suffering. You will be very pleased with your practice of mindfulness meditation. It will inspire you to practice strenuously and intensively.

Another result of buddhanosti bhavana ( recollection of the Buddha’s attributes ) is that you will not be afraid of any image that comes to mind during practice. Sometimes, because the mind throws upan undesirable mental image, you may feel fearful. But when you practice the recollection of the Buddha’s attributes, you have the confidence in yourself and in your practice not to do any harm to your mind or body. You can face any mental image, good or bad, because you know that this mental image is a mind product.

The mind will sometimes produce these images which may be based on memory or conception. Whatever it may be, you know that, because you have practiced recollection of the Buddha’s attributes, you need not be afraid of it. So you make a mental note ; seeing, seeing, seeing ….. And that image will disappear.

(2) Loving Kindness (Meta Bhavana)

The second protection, reflection on loving kindness. You have to develop the feeling of loving kindness to all living beings in the world.Wish all living beings happiness and peace. When the spirit of metta is fully developed in you, you feel calm, concentrated, happy, peaceful. And you can switch your mind to vipassana meditation. It will not be difficult for you to concentrate because the mind is calm, serene and composed.

There are two kinds of metta bhavana to be cultivated. One is specified metta bhavana, the direction of loving kindness to specific living beings or groups. The other is unspecified pervasion of loving kindness to all living beings in the world. In this preparatory stage, you should direct you loving kindness to all living beings in the world.

Say :

May all living beings in the world be happy and peaceful,
Free from all kinds of suffering.
May all the living beings be happy and peaceful
Free from all kinds of suffering
Both mental and physical.

(3) Reflection upon the Loathsome Nature of the Body

We have to develop the feeling of the loathsomness of the body. Keeping this in mind makes our attachment less and less. The texts teach us to reflect upon the loathsome aspects of the body, saying :

This body is composed of head hair, bodily hair, teeth and bones and sinews,

In this way attachment to the body is lessened. When attachment has weakened you are sure to concentrate your mind on your meditation very well.

(4) Recollection of Death (Maranasti Bhavana)

By developing the awareness of mortality, you feel, because I may die any moment, in a day or a month, before I die I must practice vipassana meditation very intensively so that I may achieve some higher experience of meditation. You will be able to practice strenuously and intensively.

Say :

Though I am alive now, I may die any moment.
Death is certain; life is uncertain
The four protections should be practiced as the preparatory stage of vipassana meditation. Choice of recollection depends on the mental state of the meditator. Some may not be able to develop concentration with the loathsomness of the body or death. They should focus on the Buddha’s attributes and reflect on loving kindness to all living beings. The protections should be developed before starting meditation in the morning every day. Not for long, five or ten minutes is enough. Not longer than that.

(Excerpt from Dhamma talk during Canberra retreat - 15 Feb 1990)