Observations in Samatha and Vipassana Meditation

by Sunil Vijayapala, LankaWeb, Aug 19, 2008

Colombo, Sri Lanka -- Years of distorted Buddhist teaching and guidance, thanks to our Sinhala Buddhist priests, who posses wide knowledge on Tripitaka, yet with meager 'Understanding' of Buddha's doctrine, have led our society to engage in devotional practices as Hindus such as poojas, prayers, besieging divine intervention.

Buddha denied such practices which might accumulate merit to qualify for a heavenly birth, rather than leading up to 'Nibbana here & now'.

The present Sri Lankan society is corrupt even the presence of a Samma Sambuddha, will fail to guide the so called Buddhists to salvation, who indulge themselves in rampant consumption of liquor, idle chatter, watching corrupt programs on TV, wild partying etc. etc. instead of devoting few minutes a day on meditation, the crux of Buddha's doctrine. The lame excuse being ' we hardly have time for meditation'.

When I practiced meditation under the Bodhi tree in Buddha Gaya for an extended period, I observed many Thai Buddhist monks and lay persons in meditation and no Sinhala Buddhist monks practicing bhavana were seen in the vicinity. Our priests' main theme was Armisa pooja and delivering talks at times emulating our politicians, using mega and gram phones, disturbing the tranquility and peace.

I do not pretend to be an expert on meditation nor on Buddha Damma yet I sincerely wish the content of this article will sere as an 'eye opener' for those who abuse the five precepts and label themselves Buddhists.

The word meditation has been loosely used for concentration or Samadi or Jhana or Samatha Bhavana. Meditation in real terms is Vipassana Bhavana or insight meditation. Even before someone begins concentration which is a mechanical process, even non-Buddhist can do, one must practice Mindfulness or Sati, which means to be aware or conscious of all movements and phenomena in day to day activities, a difficult practice for a beginner.

Samatha Bhavana comes next, which again our mislead Sinhala Buddhist monks, with a few exceptions, discourage laypersons to practice, which however Buddha recommended highly, mentioned in many Suttras. The presumption of ignorant, is concentration is the domain of Hindu Rishis, as the end product of Jhanas lead to gaining powers such as walking on water or flying through air etc.etc. Buddha clearly advised to refrain indulge in powers and clinging on to them, rather to utilize concentration to reach higher consciousness levels, to engage in insight, through a better understanding, to gain more ground on path to Nibbana.

A good Trainer or a book is mandatory for beginners and my source was Vissudhimagga, which our pedantic pundits criticize, instead of reading and understanding the absolute brilliant exposition of Buddhist principles on Bhavana, to elevate consciousness from Sensual sphere, Kamavacchara Citta, to Fine material sphere, Rupavacchara Citta, and beyond. To gain a superior understanding of Mind and Matter is one of the greatest challenge for an ordinary worldling, concentrating on forty Kammathanas or objects, Lord Buddha recommended.

The object of concentration when rightly grasped with much practice will produce a SIGN, an image or Nimitta.. At this stage in Samatha Bhavana, one reaches Access Concentration, but not yet Jhana or Absorption and the concentrator will quickly fall back from Fine Material consciousness which he/she reached, to Sensual Sphere consciousness. Some objects of concentration such as Buddha's qualities or a dead body will only lead up to Access Concentration. To strive for higher levels one should select a Kasina or practice Anapaana Sati. The image created by the mind comes in various shapes and sizes as one reaches Absorption or Jhana Consciousness.

Anapana Sati practice, the readily available object for concentration, should begin with counting In breath and Out breath one…one, two…two up to five. With proficiency, one might drop counting and feel Ana and Pana at the base of nostril or some point in the breath body. Once mastered one can practice the fist four bases as explained in the Anapana Suttra. This practice is the domain of Buddhas and difficult, however one can reach Nibbana, going through four Jhana, utilizing Anapana Sati Bhavana.

Mind by default wonders and attempts to keep it focused often fails. The meditator should not be frustrated and should make every endeavour to re-focus on the object of concentration. One of the easiest times for beginners to practice Bhavana is before going to bed, while in the supine position. If one awakes he/she should do Anapana Sati, until he/she falls back to sleep. Noise is one of the thorns for meditation and it is advisable to avoid such places.

Jhanas numerically are one to eight, and the first set of four Jhanas, which is confined to Fine Material sphere or consciousness, is quite adequate to contemplate on Mind and Matter (Citta and Rupa kaya) gaining insight to liberate one from Samsara, reaching the ultimate goal Nibbana.

At the Absorption or Jhana stage a person is at the fifth Impulsion of the seven Impulsions in the cognitive series, Citta Vitthi (one need to read about Cognitive Series in a separate Buddhist text) . The first four impulsions belong to Access Concentration, mentioned above, and the fifth, Absorption consciousness, which is a steady, stable stage. Both Moral and Immoral Vipake are created at a future time, through Actions or Kamma, during the seven Impulsion this stage. Briefly, a single consciousness, consists of seventeen Thought Moments and Impulsions occupy numbers from nine to fifteen.

A concentrator should at all times, keep the mind relaxed and should never begin a session expecting something to happen or aiming at going after the Sign. The Sign will appear spontaneously at the most unexpected situation. Nowadays some practice 'factory' Bhavana, the current vogue,, however Buddha recommended meditation in solitary retreat in a Kuti or room or under a tree or open space etc. etc. One needs to lead a moral existence to obtain higher consciousness and disappointments are many yet a person should strive hard as the fruits of concentration will eventually materialize with patience as the key for success.

Under Absorption of Jhana meditator will experience happiness, bliss and eventually equanimity and unification of mind. One need to COME OUT of Absorption, to review the Jhana achieved and it's shortcomings or move on to the next stage of contemplating on mind and matter, applying the three characteristics of existence Impermanence, Suffering and Anatta on five aggregates. This will lead to ponder on Dependant Origination or Patichcha Samupadaya, detailed in Mahanidhana Suttra. Understanding Dependant Origination, Buddha has proclaimed is the key to EXIT Samsara to reach Nibbana. Briefly it begins with Ignorance of four Noble Truths and end up with Death and the cause of origin is traced back to twelve stages.

When one borders on Path, earlier Sign will be replaced by SIGNLESS Nibbana,
and the person will focus on Nibbana from hereon. This practice of meditation is terms Vipassana or Insight meditation. A balance of both Samatha and Vipassana has been recommended by our Lord and liberation by both ways refers to reaching the eighth Jhana or base of neither Perception and Non-perception, emerge from it and continue on Vipassana to reach Nibbana, with final extinguishing of both Mind and Matter at Parinirvana. The unformed, opposite of Formed, is Nibbana attained at the fourth Path and Fruition on the Supra Mundane or Lokuttara Consciousness, culminates the meditation process.

As the meditator makes progress in Vipassana meditation gradually the Personality view vanishes. To achieve this the Thoughts which come to mind should be understood as Mental phenomena, flowing through CONTACT of Mind, Mental Objects and Mind Consciousness, coming together. Contact conditions FEELING and more often it's Pleasant which as the Bait and CLIGNING through CRAVING acts as the hook, which ties us all to Samsara. Instead of thinking 'I think' or 'I feel' or 'I like', think these mental and material phenomena as Dependently Originated and as a flow, rather than being Experienced by a Being. 'To thing that I don't think' is the biggest obstacle we all should overcome, with shedding of Ego.

A misconception exists as for the definition of Nama Rupa. Nama kaya or Mentality body consists only of Feeling Perception and Metal Formations, WITHOUT Consciousness. Rupa kaya or Material body consists of four primary elements and their derivatives. Consciousness gives rise to or Conditions Nama Rupa and vice versa.

One who practices Samatha and Vipassana Bhavana will reach minimally, First Jhana and if fortunate enough will reach Stream-entry or Sotapana, so that the person can rest his/her ores. It has been said momentary concentration is worth than living an Unconcentrated life for hundred years. So strive and make use of this human birth to achieve higher consciousness levels, instead of postponing it to a latter time.