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.’
Westerners 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.
Other posts by Ajahn Sumedho.