Samatha and Vipassana

Quote: Some people think that samatha isn’t necessary, whilst others think it is absolutely essential. There are arguments about it.

" Some people think that samatha isn’t necessary, whilst others think it is absolutely essential. There are arguments about it."

In the Theravada teachings on samatha-vipassanà, they divide meditation ― that English word ‘meditation’ ― into tranquillity and insight (samatha and vipassanà). Now, in Thailand there are all kinds of views about samatha and vipassanà, and within the vipassanà world, there are all kinds of views about how to practise it. Some people think that samatha isn’t necessary, whilst others think it is absolutely essential.

There are arguments about it. Some say you have to get the jhànas (absorptions) before you can do vipassanà (there are certain elements that think like this), and then there are others that say, ‘Well no, don’t do samatha, just straight vipassanà, that’s all that’s necessary.’ Now, teachers speak from their own experience, so this has to be taken into account. It isn’t that all these opinions are wrong or that one is absolutely right or absolutely wrong. As Ajahn Chah used to say, ‘True but not right; right but not true.’

Buddhist Stupa in Burma. Photo © John AskeWesterners tend to pick and choose from the traditional forms of Buddhism. Some would even take Zen out of Buddhism. You hear people say, ‘We’re not Buddhists; we’re Zenists!’ And so they take that much, but don’t want the rest. This also happens in the Theravada with vipassanà practice: ‘We’re not Buddhists, but we practise vipassanà.’ It’s all right; I am not complaining about it or condemning it, but the kind of arrogance in our own cultural conditioning is that we want to take what we like and dismiss the rest.

Ajahn Sumedho




Categories: Ajahn Sumedho, Beginners, Buddhist meditation, Encyclopedia, Theravada

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3 replies

  1. I am troubled by this last paragraph. Maybe a budding Buddhist such as I ( I have to check out what Zenists stand for!) is only able to accept some aspects of Buddhism to start with. To expect a human being to accept the ‘whole cake’ hook, line and sinker with blind faith shows some degree of arrogance as well. I keep an open and receptive mind and will keep trying. Faith Hobbs

    • The point he is making Faith is that often in our cultural conditioning we take what we like and dismiss the rest. This has nothing to do with Zen or Theravada.

      In Buddhism we try to go beyond both like and dislike.

      R

  2. These are points well taken. For me, they take in my entire relationship with the Dhamma; I’ve been much influenced by atheist thought and currently take a skeptical attitude to the doctrines of karma and rebirth in the same way and for the same reasons that Steven Batchelor does.

    But when even arch rationalist Sam Harris attests to the value of vipassana as essential to happiness … I have to look twice at my own cultural assumptions and willingness to pick and choose from the Buddhist tradition.

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