Fri, 13 Apr 2007
I got asked a question in the comments section of Hardcore Zen. Blogger wouldn't let me post my reply, so I'm posting it here.
Shamatha sounds very much like zazen, but vipashyana is somewhat new to me. Is it an exclusively Tibetan practice?
No, that's the traditional way of categorizing meditation and it runs through all Buddhist traditions. In Chinese Buddhism the best known text on the subject is Chih-I's Stopping and Seeing.
There are many paths for entering the reality of Nirvana, but in essence they are all contained with two practices: stopping and seeing. Stopping is the primary gate for overcoming the bonds of compulsiveness. Seeing is the essential requisite for ending confusion. Stopping is the wholesome resource that nurtures the mind. Seeing is the marvelous art which fosters intuitive understanding. Stopping is the effective cause of attaining concentrative repose. Seeing is the very basis of enlightened wisdom.
Vipashyana is harder to explain, because it's not a beginner's practice. It would be hard to me to explain it accurately, so I'll include this long quote from my teacher.
In the general presentation, shamatha is described as ability to abide in bliss, clarity, and non-thought after all conceptual thoughts have subsided. Vipashyana is described as vividly seeing the self-cognizant mind vividly and without fabrication. When there is no discriminating thought, that is shamatha. Vipashyana is seeing the essence of the movement of thoughts. There are numerous ways to describe shamatha and vipashyana. But in short, whatever arises does not transcend shamatha and vipashyana. All the experiences of movement and stillness are not separate from vipashyana and shamatha. All external phenomena are vipashyana, as long as we do not solidify, judge, and cling or reject them. Being aware of outer phenomena is not negative. But clinging to them blocks superior seeing. As long as we are free of conceptual labeling we are within vipashyana. The experience of phenomena are like the light of the sun, which cannot be distinguished from the sun it issues from.
So the movement of mind and its stillness are not separate from the nature of mind. When you see the arising of thoughts and do not cling or follow them, or believe that they are permanent or true, this is calm abiding or shamatha. Just being aware of whatever thoughts arise, without suppressing them or blocking them, watching them without attachment or rejection is vipashyana. So we come to understand that whatever arises is not separate from shamatha and vipashyana.
When thought arises and you see its vivid nature that is shamatha. When you maintain that vivid awareness free from conceptual labelling and judgement, that is vipashyana. So they are inseparable within the awareness of thought. When a strong afflicting emotion arises, not being controlled by it but watching it is shamatha. And recognizing that there is no separation between the watcher and the watched emotion and maintaining this awareness is vipashyana. So again we see that shamatha and vipashyana are inseparable. Whatever arises in the mind, whether it is calm or disturbed, is the inseparable union of shamatha and vipashyana, as long as you recognize its nature, not clinging or following it, not accepting or rejecting it, and recognize it as the display of the mind.