Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Samatha or Vipassana ?

A rare blessing
by Danai Chanchaochai, Bangkok Post, Aug 18, 2005

As humans, we have the chance to practice all four foundations of

Bangkok, Thailand -- This week we have yet another important
question for Phra Acharn Manop Upasamo, with an answer that reminds us
why Vipassana meditation is so important in the practice of Buddhism.

Question: You said there are two main types of meditation: deep
concentration (Samatha) and mindfulness (Vipassana). Why did Lord
Buddha say that Vipassana is "the only way" to escape the endless
cycle of suffering?

Answer: Because deep concentration meditation will not lead you to
any wisdom or insight. More worrisome though, is the fact that people
who achieve an advanced level of deep concentration meditation lessen
their chances of developing real insight that leads to enlightenment.

First, advanced deep concentration meditation means your mind will
reach the state of jhana or a simple, non-questing, tranquil state of
mind. When Samatha practitioners reach this stage in their meditation,
they feel completely detached and unaffected by sensations and
feelings of the ordinary world, and they remain in that state for a
long time. When your mind is in this dormant mode, naturally you are
not likely to learn anything.

On the other hand, Vipassana, mindfulness meditation, is just that.
Your mind is totally awake and you are being continuously mindful of
what happens to your body and your mind. In other words, you are
learning something about your body and your mind with every
observation you make, in every little moment of your life.

Now, what's next? If you were to continue to practise Samatha
meditation throughout your life and reached the advanced level of the
simple, non-questing, quiet state of mind, you would be reborn as an
Arupa Brahmin or Asanyata Brahmin, both a type of higher being. These
two types of Brahmin have two distinct characters: they represent the
tranquil state of mind with no physical body and have a very, very
long life.
The state of being: having no substantial body form like that of humans
beings means that they would be unable to practice Vipassana. This is
because to practice mindfulness, we need to be able to practice all four
foundations: body, feelings, mind and mind objects. So the life of a Brahmin
is nothing more than mere existence. Just as when they practiced Samatha,
they can learn nothing.
Lord Buddha foresaw that his doctrine would survive no more than 5,000 years.
But a Brahmin's life is much longer than that.
This also translates into their missing out on the opportunity to learn how
to practise Vipassana meditation and permanently escape from the cycle of birth,
and in so doing, from rebirth and all suffering.
A good example is that of Lord Buddha's former teachers, Arara Dabos and
Utaka Dabos. After Prince Sidhartha was ordained and went in search of
how to end all suffering, he went to study in many schools, the last being
that of these two teachers who were prescribing deep concentration meditation
as "the way." Because of his strong determination, Prince Sidhartha was able
to reach the highest level of jhana but felt something was still missing.
He found that he could not completely rid himself of the kilesas,
or mental defilements, by simply practicing deep concentration meditation.
He could only suppress them by this form of meditation. But once out of that
trance state of mind, all the suffering of life remained the same.
Therefore, he set out on his own and, by trial and error, concluded that
mindfulness meditation was the answer and eventually, by this method,
achieved enlightenment.

Once enlightened, Lord Buddha thought of his two
teachers. He wanted to go back and teach them - to help them escape all
suffering. However, he discovered that they had already died and were reborn
as Brahmin. It was then that Lord Buddha expressed his sorrow for both of them,
for they could not be reached or taught. By the time their life cycles as Brahmin
ended and they were ready to be reborn again, Lord Buddha's religion would
already cease to exist.

Therefore, all of us should be happy that we were
born as human beings in this life, and having discovered the truth of Buddhism,
been given the opportunity to learn and practice Vipassana. Lord Buddha said
these are the world's rarest blessings. Why? Because as a human being, we have
the chance to practice all four foundations of mindfulness. In this respect we
are better off than those who are born in the same state as Lord Buddha's two

So use your four foundations of mindfulness well. The path to
dhamma made possible by Vipassana arises out of the accurate observation of
how we see, smell, hear, taste, touch and feel. From right observation comes
right understanding of cause and effect. Our ears hear a voice and the mind
determines what it is, generating an emotional response that results in a
physical reaction. If we can step back with a "detached" attitude and observe
what's going on in a non-judgmental fashion, then we are practicing Vipassana.
That is a knowing state of mind, and our first step to eventual enlightenment.
So please, maintain your meditation. You have the rest of your life to practice.
The teachings of Phra Acharn Manop Upasamo are transcribed and
translated for Dhamma Moments by Nashara Siamwalla

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