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Vipassana and Samatha

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  • Vipassana and Samatha

    Bhanté,
    I am struggling presently with what I feel to be true but others, of more experience tell me otherwise.

    I have taken the 21 day Vipassana retreat at Wat Phra Si That Chom Tong, a course developed by Ajahn Tong who is supposedly a very revered and highly respected teacher in Thailand. I have not had a chance to meet with him in person and ask my questions and I doubt I will get the chance. The issues I am struggling with is that the people he has taught to be teachers here have degraded Samatha technique, often while openly admitting that they had never even tried it. Saying that the Buddha reached enlightenment though Vipassana and it is the way.

    In my youth I was taught martial arts and advanced to a high rank. I was taught by a Japanese master in a brief Samatha meditation technique that, until this course, had been my only formal training beyond listening to various meditations online. I realize that I myself am no master, I know virtually nothing about it except what I have experienced during my practice.

    In the first days of the Vipassana course I was gradually introduced to the techniques and told what I should put my attention on, and during this time, when the practice was simple I achieved something at the time was extremely profound. When told this privately to the Vipassana teacher, it was as it it never happened or meant nothing, more so that he didn't believe me. Saying that perhaps the mind was playing tricks and that now it was gone and not to be bothered with. I was stunned, something of that magnitude to be brushed away like dirt...
    But I continued the practice and as it progressed I could never find that, or any stillness again, when mentioned during the daily meeting it was again, swept aside, that I had to be aware of my touching points, or the 6 motions of walking and it will come.

    I hope I have set a scene at least with my short tale. I am shaken by the attitudes of these teachers and on a daily basis I question them. Samatha has at least some merit, as this is the way entire schools in Japan and China are set up with great enlightened masters. Vipassana of course has its merits as I have learned, and don't wish to reject it, I just don't feel that it is by itself, the way.

    Any insight you may have would be greatly appreciated,

    Sabbe Sātta Sukitā Hontu,
    Dan

  • #2
    Hi Daniel,

    If you were to read the Buddha's discourses as we have them now (the early suttas) you will find that the Buddha never taught vipassana and samatha as techniques. Vipassana is not a technique; samatha is not a technique - they are results. The Buddha also did not say that either of them is "the way". The way, he said, is the eightfold path.

    And for meditation (which is part of the eightfold path) he taught a lot of techniques; not just a few like focusing on your feet etc. This is not to say that specific techniques are wrong, but you have to know that they are part of a bigger whole. This bigger whole is the eightfold path, of which jhanas (samadhi) are the last step. Some call this samatha, but it is not really just samatha. You have to have some vipassana as well to attain jhanas.

    My main advice is to not focus on the specific techniques, but on the results. Whatever brings you peace and happiness, that is what leads you in the right direction. Blindly following a specific strategy (of whatever teacher) if it doesn't bring you any benefits, is only going to cost you a lot of time.

    With kindness,
    Sunyo

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    • #3
      Thank you Bhante,
      I agree whole heartedly, and I did indeed observe and practice what I needed personally (being comfortable instead of just sitting through intense, unnecessary pain for example) regardless of the teacher. I acknowledged and had compassion for myself and so adjusted to find relief.

      I haven't myself read the suttas, but I am aware that the Buddha did not specifically say Vipassana or any other way as we see today, is the only way, it is just what happens in the practice. The only doubt I have now, is whether or not my practice as I have been taught is correct, what could I change, if anything. I believe I have an idea and it's highly likely I will find the answer is the suttas, so I will begin studying.

      I believe, since posting my original post, that I have found the answer to my concerns. Simply that they have more to do with someone else's opinion and less to do with the actual teachings. It is concerning to think that it will continue to carry on this way and there is nothing I can do about it, but Buddhism has always been about independence so I will continue as best I can as will others after me.

      Thank you again,
      With Metta

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      • #4
        Yes, as it says in the Dhammapada: "You yourself must practice. The Buddha only points the way."

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