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Samatha (Pāli), (Sanskrit: शमथ, śamatha; also romanized to shamatha, Tib. ཞི་གནས་, shyiné; Wylie: zhi gnas; English: "calm" or "tranquility") refers to that dimension of Buddhist spiritual cultivation (Bhavana) concerned with the calming of the mind (Citta) and its 'formations' (Sankhara).
- The Tibetan term is shyiné; shi-ne (shi-gnas) and the Sanskrit is Shamatha. In the case of the Tibetan, the first syllable, shi, and in the case of the Sanskrit, the first two syllables, shama, refer to "peace" and "pacification".
The semantic field of shi and shama is "pacification", "the slowing or cooling down", "rest". The semantic field of né is "to abide or remain" and this is cognate or equivalent with the final syllable of the Sanskrit, thā.
However, for the mind to be unruffled, a firm basis of morality must be present in the person's Life. Morality is the foundation of all Buddhist spiritual cultivation and of samatha (calm) in particular.
inquiry into the nature of the object, such as those encountered in the Dzogchen tradition, resulting in Wisdom (P: paññā, S: prajñā). Samatha is commonly practiced as a prelude to and in conjunction with Wisdom practices.
Through the meditative development of calm abiding, one is able to suppress the obscuring five hindrances. With the suppression of these hindrances, the meditative development of insight yields liberating Wisdom.
In the Theravada tradition there are forty objects of meditation. Mindfulness (sati) of breathing (ānāpāna: ānāpānasati; S. ānāpānasmṛti) is the most common samatha practice. Samatha can include other Samādhi practices as well.
Some meditation practices such as contemplation of a Kasina object favor the development of samatha, others such as contemplation of the aggregates are conducive to the development of vipassana, while others such as Mindfulness of breathing are classically used for developing both mental qualities.
- Samatha, calm abiding, which steadies, composes, unifies and concentrates the mind;
- Vipassanā, insight, which enables one to see, explore and discern "formations" (conditioned phenomena based on the five aggregates).
For example, in the Kimsuka Tree Sutta (SN 35.245), The Buddha provides an elaborate metaphor in which serenity and insight are "the swift pair of messengers" who deliver the message of Nibbana via the Noble Eightfold Path.
- They develop calm abiding and then insight (Pāli: samatha-pubbangamam vipassanam
- They develop insight and then calm abiding (Pāli: vipassana-pubbangamam samatham)
- They develop calm abiding and insight in tandem (Pāli: samatha-vipassanam yuganaddham), for instance, obtaining the first Jhāna and then seeing in the associated aggregates the three marks of existence before proceeding to the second Jhāna.
In the Pāli Canon, The Buddha never mentions independent samatha and vipassana meditation practices; instead, samatha and vipassana are two "qualities of mind" to be developed through meditation. As Thanissaro Bhikkhu writes,
- When [the Pāli suttas depict The Buddha telling his disciples to go meditate, they never quote him as saying 'go do vipassana,' but always 'go do Jhana.' And they never equate the word "vipassana" with any Mindfulness techniques.
In the few instances where they do mention vipassana, they almost always pair it with samatha — not as two alternative methods, but as two qualities of mind that a person may 'gain' or 'be endowed with,' and that should be developed together.
- Some traditions speak of two types of meditation, insight meditation (vipassana) and calm meditation (samatha). In fact the two are indivisible facets of the same process. Calm is the peaceful Happiness born of meditation; insight is the clear understanding born of the same meditation. Calm leads to insight and insight leads to calm."
Contemporary Theravāda interpretations
In the last decade samatha in the Burmese tradition has been popularized in the west by Pa Auk Sayadaw. This tradition upholds the emphasis on samatha explicit in the commentarial tradition of the Visuddhimagga.
Pa Auk Sayadaw presented this tradition through extensive retreats around the world until his retirement in 2012. In 2005, Tina Rasmussen and Stephen Snyder completed the entire detailed samatha path under Pa Auk Sayadaw's direct supervision.
They were subsequently the first Western lay people whom he authorized to teach. Snyder and Rasmussen, in their retreats and in their book, Practicing The Jhanas: Traditional Concentration Meditation As Presented By The Venerable Pa Auk Sayadaw, present these rigorous traditional teachings in a context accessible to western lay-practitioners.
A 2008 book by Richard Shankman entitled The Experience of Samadhi: An In-depth Exploration of Buddhist Meditation comparatively surveys the treatment of samatha in the suttas, in the commentarial tradition of the Visuddhimagga, and among a number of prominent contemporary Theravāda teachers of various orientations.
One of the most prominent, the Cloud of Jewels Sutra (Ārya Ratnamegha Sutra, Tib. 'phags-pa dkon-mchog sprin-gyi mdo) divides all forms of meditation into either śamatha or vipaśyanā, defining śamatha as "single-pointed consciousness" and vipaśyanā as "seeing into the nature of things."
The Sūtra Unlocking the Mysteries (Samdhinirmocana Sūtra), a yogācāra Sūtra, is also often used as a source for teachings on śamatha. The Samādhirāja Sūtra is often cited as an important source for śamatha instructions by the Kagyu tradition,
particularly via commentary by Gampopa, although scholar Andrew Skilton, who has studied the Samādhirāja Sūtra extensively, reports that the Sūtra itself "contains no significant exposition of either meditational practices or states of mind."
Samatha furthers the Right concentration aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path. The successful result of samatha is also sometimes characterized as meditative absorption (Samādhi, ting nge ’dzin) and meditative equipoise (samāhita, mnyam-bzhag), and freedom from the five obstructions (āvaraṇa, sgrib-pa). It may also result in the Siddhis of clairvoyance (abhijñā, mgon shes) and magical emanation (nirmāna, sprul pa).
Factors in śamatha
In a formulation originating with Asaṅga (4th CE), śamatha practice is said to progress through nine "mental abidings" or Nine stages of training the mind (S. navākārā cittasthiti, Tib. sems gnas dgu), leading to śamatha proper (the equivalent of "access concentration" in the Theravāda system), and from there to a state of meditative concentration called the first Dhyāna (Pāli:
- 2. Continuous attention (S. samsthāpana, Tib. རྒྱུན་དུ་འཇོག་པ - rgyun-du ‘jog-pa) occurs when the practitioner experiences moments of continuous attention on the object before becoming distracted. According to B Alan Wallace, this is when you can maintain your attention on the meditation object for about a minute.
- 3. Repeated attention (S. avasthāpana, Tib. བླན་ཏེ་འཇོག་པ - slan-te ’jog-pa) is when the practitioner's attention is fixed on the object for most of the practice session and he is able to immediately realize when he has lost his mental hold on the object and is able to restore that attention quickly. Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche suggests that being able to maintain attention for 108 breaths is a good benchmark for when we have reached this stage.
- 4. Close attention(S. upasthāpana, Tib. ཉེ་བར་འཇོག་པ - nye-bar ’jog-pa) occurs when the practitioner is able to maintain his attention throughout the entire meditation session (an hour or more) without losing their mental hold on the meditation object at all. In this stage the practitioner achieves the Power of Mindfulness. Nevertheless, this stage still contains subtle forms of excitation and dullness or laxity.
- 5. Tamed attention (S. damana", Tib. དུལ་བར་བྱེད་པ - "dul-bar byed-pa), by this stage the practitioner achieves deep tranquility of mind, but must be watchful for subtle forms of laxity or dullness, peaceful states of mind which can be confused for calm abiding. By focusing on the future benefits of gaining Shamatha, the practitioner can uplift (gzengs-bstod) his mind and become more focused and clear.
- 6. Pacified attention (S. śamana,Tib. ཞི་བར་བྱེད་པ་ - zhi-bar byed-pa) is the stage during which subtle mental dullness or laxity is no longer a great difficulty, but now the practitioner is prone to subtle excitements which arise at the periphery of meditative attention. According to B. Alan Wallace this stage is achieved after only after thousands of hours of rigorous training.
The system of the five faults and eight antidotes originates with Maitreyanātha's Madhyānta-vibhāga. The whole system is elaborated further in the three Bhāvanā krama texts (particularly the second one) of Kamalaśīla, a later author, and by generations of Tibetan commentators. Thus the following shamatha formulation derives originally from the Yogācāra tradition.
- for Laziness:
- for forgetting the instruction:
- for laxity and excitement
- for non-application
- for overapplication
- In the practice of Mahamudra tranquility meditation ... we treat all thoughts as the same in order to gain sufficient distance and detachment from our current mental state, which will allow us to ease naturally into a state of tranquility without effort or contrivance [...]
In order for the mind to settle, we need to suspend the value judgments that we impose on our mental activities [...] it is essential that we not try to create a state of tranquility but allow the mind to enter into tranquility naturally.
This is an important notion in the Mahamudra tradition, that of nondoing. We do not do tranquility mediation, we allow tranquility to arise of its own accord, and it will do so only if we stop thinking of the meditative state as a thing that we need to do actively [...] In a manner of speaking, catching yourself in the act of distraction is the true test of tranquility meditation, for what counts is not the ability to prevent thoughts or emotions from arising but the ability to catch ourselves in a particular mental or emotional state.
This is the very essence of tranquility meditation [in the context of Mahāmudrā [...] The Mahamudra style of meditation does not encourage us toward the different levels of meditative concentration traditionally described in the exoteric mediation manuals [...] From the Mahamudra point of view, we should not desire meditative equipoise nor have an aversion to discursive thoughts and conflicting emotions but view both of these states with Equanimity.
Again, the significant point is not whether meditative equipoise is present but whether we are able to maintain awareness of our mental states. If disturbing thoughts do arise, as they certainly will, we should simply recognize these thoughts and emotions as transient phenomena.
For the Kagyupa, in the context of mahāmudrā, śamatha by means of Mindfulness of breathing is thought to be the ideal way for the meditator to transition into taking the mind itself as the object of meditation and generating vipaśyanā on that basis.
In June of 1996 Ajahn Amaro established Abhayagiri Monastery in Redwood Valley, California, where he was co-abbot with Ajahn Pasanno until July, 2010 Ajahn Amaro returned to Amaravati in July, 2010 and as a longtime student in the Thai Forest Theravādin tradition of Ajahn Chah, has also trained in the Dzogchen semde śamatha approach under Tsoknyi Rinpoche. He found similarities in the approaches of the two traditions to śamatha.
Relationship with vipaśyanā
- The ways these two aspects of meditation are practised is that one begins with the practice of shamatha; on the basis of that, it becomes possible to practice vipashyana or lhagthong. Through one's practice of vipashyana being based on and carried on in the midst of shamatha, one eventually ends up practicing a unification yuganaddha of shamatha and vipashyana. The unification leads to a very clear and direct experience of the nature of all things. This brings one very close to what is called the absolute truth.
Similar practices in other religions
Samatha in its single-pointed focus and concentration of mind is cognate with the sixth limb of aṣṭanga yoga', rāja yoga which is concentration (dhāraṇā). For further discussion, see the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali.