Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

The cultivation of calm or tranquility and the development of concentration
Nyana
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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Post by Nyana » Fri Jul 08, 2011 4:31 pm

manjusri wrote:One thing I do want to take issue with: Geoff wrote:
According to Je Tsongkhapa, actual vipaśyanā can only occur within the first meditative stabilization (dhyāna) at a minimum. Your reference to Gen Lamrimpa and Alan Wallace in the OP leads me to think that you are familiar with this Gelugpa interpretation.
This is absolutely incorrect. What one attains with shamatha is what is referred to as the first proximate stabilization which is just "shy of" the first basic stabilization (dhyana). "Tsongkhapa insists that the first proximate stabilization provides sufficient attentional stability and freedom from the hindrances to proceed on to the successful cultivation of insight." B. Alan Wallace, The Bridge of Quiescence, p. 128. So, "at a minimum" actual vipassana can occur within the first proximate stabilization.
Yes, I should have been more precise. However, my point was that the first proximate meditative stabilization is not a desire plane mind. Je Tsongkhapa, The Small Exposition of the Stages of the Path to Enlightenment:
  • Well then, what plane incorporates the samadhi in which pliancy has not yet arisen? That samadhi is included in the plane of the desire realm. Although such single-pointed attention is present there, it is a plane of non-equipoise; it is not established as a plane of meditative equipoise. The Bhumivastu says that this is due to the fact that it is not accomplished by means of lack of remorse, by supreme pleasure and joy, and pliancy.

    Thus, without having achieved pliancy, even when mindfulnes is not applied continually, the mind may naturally become non-conceptual; and this samadhi, which seems as if it can be integrated with all activities of moving, walking, lying down and sitting, is called single-pointed attention of the desire realm. But it is not genuine Quiescence....

    The Sravakabhumi says that ... due to the attainment of mental engagement and quiescence that are included in the first proximate meditative stabilization, one achieves the small level of mental engagement on the plane of meditative equipoise.
In the Gelug lamrim system the ninth mental abiding -- setting in equipoise (samādhāna) -- is still a desire plane mind, and not an actual śamatha. According to this system an actual śamatha is a form plane mind. Geshe Gedun Lodro, Calm Abiding and Special Insight:
  • When one cultivates the nine mental abidings that precede calm abiding, these nine are all minds included within the desire realm. When, however, after achieving these nine, one attains calm abiding, one has attained a mind that is included within an upper realm. The upper realms are the form realm and the formless realm.
Cf. Lati Rinpoche & Denma Locho Rinpoche. Meditative States In Tibetan Buddhism, p. 69. And this attainment of an actual śamatha -- a form plane meditative equipoise -- is considered a necessary prerequisite prior to engaging in actual vipaśyanā. One attains this śamatha on the path of accumulation, then progresses by alternating between stabilizing meditation and analytical meditation on the path of application until a union of śamatha and vipaśyanā is achieved at the time of entering the path of seeing, and along with this the first direct perception of emptiness. Cf. Ibid, p. 125.
manjusri wrote:There is a very good reason why they don't emphasize achieving higher states of stabilization (or even the first stabilization). Most Tibetan Buddhists practitioners are oriented to achieving enlightenment by means of Tantric practice, specifically Anuttarayogatantra. As Geoff and some of you will know, I'm sure, a defining feature of Tantra is the sublimation of the mental afflictions, especially sensual desire, so that they empower one towards enlightenment. In other words, passion must manifest in one's consciousness. However, when one accomplishes the first basic stabilization, sensual desire is effectively inhibited, which obviously precludes the possibility of it's sublimation. Achieving the first proximate stabilization does yield a tenuous control over the five hindrances, but the passions may still be aroused and sublimated by the practitioner.
Well, sūtrayāna lamrim and anuttarayogatantra kyerim & dzogrim are different paths with different methods.

All the best,

Geoff

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tiltbillings
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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Post by tiltbillings » Fri Jul 08, 2011 7:43 pm

manjusri wrote:There is a lot to respond to on this thread! Please be patient. I have a reading knowledge of Tibetan, and am pretty familiar with most Sanskrit equivalents to English and Tibetan, but am not at all familiar with Pali (aside from the most obvious Buddhist terms), so when some of you reply using Pali terms, I'm left grasping at straws until I can locate them online.
Also keep in mind that while the Sanskrit and Pali words may be cognate they are not being used with the exact same definition. The differences between, for example, the Mahayana usage or arhat and the Pali Arahant are vast, worlds apart, and the same could be said for how vipashyana and vipassana are used by the various traditions. I would recommend, as has already been done, that you get a copy of Ven Analayo's book and spend some time with it to get some idea of the Theravada, Pali Canon approach.
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

manjusri
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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Post by manjusri » Fri Jul 08, 2011 8:01 pm

Freawaru wrote: I have been wondering about this practice. It seems similar to some Zen versions of meditation in which one uses logic and reasoning until the mind locks itself into a corner by reaching a paradox. Then the Goedel's theorem does the rest and catapults one to realization. At least this is how I understand the technique.
I'm assuming that you are referencing Rinzai Zen in which koan practice is central? Having some past experience with Zen (and Rinzai Zen, in particular) prior to my current involvement with Tibetan Buddhism, I can tell you that these are two very different techniques, not at all similar. The analytical meditations on the nature of the self and phenomena are very methodical and precise, in which, yes, reason and logic are employed. Koan practice is a different animal altogether. There is no logical or reasonable answer to these koans; the discursive mind is of absolutely no use. The answers to these koans are only arrived at when the discursive mind is stilled and the practitioner and the koan "become one," so to speak.

manjusri
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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Post by manjusri » Fri Jul 08, 2011 8:07 pm

tiltbillings wrote:Also keep in mind that while the Sanskrit and Pali words may be cognate they are not being used with the exact same definition. The differences between, for example, the Mahayana usage or arhat and the Pali Arahant are vast, worlds apart, and the same could be said for how vipashyana and vipassana are used by the various traditions. I would recommend, as has already been done, that you get a copy of Ven Analayo's book and spend some time with it to get some idea of the Theravada, Pali Canon approach.
Thank you tiltbillings! I very much appreciate the recommendation and will pick it up via Amazon.

Nyana
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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Post by Nyana » Sat Jul 09, 2011 1:13 am

manjusri wrote:I very much appreciate the recommendation and will pick it up via Amazon.
If you're interested in the classical Theravāda system of samathabhāvanā & jhāna according to Ācariya Buddhaghosa, et al, the best English language sources are Ven. Ñāṇamoli's translation of the Visuddhimagga, The Path of Purification, and Ven. Gunaratana's PhD dissertation, A Critical Analysis of the Jhānas in Theravāda Buddhist Meditation. (I would recommend reading the latter before tackling the Visuddhimagga.)

All the best,

Geoff

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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Post by manjusri » Sat Jul 09, 2011 4:20 pm

Ñāṇa wrote: Yes, I should have been more precise. However, my point was that the first proximate meditative stabilization is not a desire plane mind.


Yes, this is correct and thanks to my exchange with you, I've been disabused of the mistaken notion I've carried with me for years now that the proximate meditative stabilization must still be in the desire realm because one can still arouse passion for tantric practice.

manjusri
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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Post by manjusri » Sat Jul 09, 2011 4:46 pm

Ñāṇa wrote: If you're interested in the classical Theravāda system of samathabhāvanā & jhāna according to Ācariya Buddhaghosa, et al, the best English language sources are Ven. Ñāṇamoli's translation of the Visuddhimagga, The Path of Purification, and Ven. Gunaratana's PhD dissertation, A Critical Analysis of the Jhānas in Theravāda Buddhist Meditation. (I would recommend reading the latter before tackling the Visuddhimagga.)
Thank you for the recommendations! I am nominally familiar with Buddhaghosa, specifically his Visuddhimagga. I note that Alan Wallace in his Bridge of Quiescence also cites Nanamoli's translation.

Does anyone still use emblems or kasinas for developing shamatha? Also essential for me (given that I took the breath as my object for shamatha) was the three kinds of signs, specifically the nimitta and the counterpart signs. As Alan Wallace correctly points out, "This threefold division of signs relating to the stages in the development of quiescence does not appear to be prevalent in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition." p. 257.

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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Post by Freawaru » Sat Jul 09, 2011 8:50 pm

manjusri wrote:
Freawaru wrote: I have been wondering about this practice. It seems similar to some Zen versions of meditation in which one uses logic and reasoning until the mind locks itself into a corner by reaching a paradox. Then the Goedel's theorem does the rest and catapults one to realization. At least this is how I understand the technique.
I'm assuming that you are referencing Rinzai Zen in which koan practice is central?
Not really. I think the path described in Piersig's "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" might work for some.
Having some past experience with Zen (and Rinzai Zen, in particular) prior to my current involvement with Tibetan Buddhism, I can tell you that these are two very different techniques, not at all similar. The analytical meditations on the nature of the self and phenomena are very methodical and precise, in which, yes, reason and logic are employed. Koan practice is a different animal altogether. There is no logical or reasonable answer to these koans; the discursive mind is of absolutely no use. The answers to these koans are only arrived at when the discursive mind is stilled and the practitioner and the koan "become one," so to speak.
Thank you for the information. But frankly, I was not impressed by Tibetan reason and logic. I recall Aryadeva's 400 Verses and encountered the same problem I have with the majority of Philosophers: they are not methodical and precise regarding their definitions. The definition of "self" Aryadeva gives is thoroughly alien to me. Why first define something so illogical and then spend time on discussing why it should not exist? Maybe it is a cultural thing. But then again it might be a philosphocal thing. Kant, too, states something like that time and space cannot be thought different than absolute and - looking a the equations of special relativity theory on one's desk - one cannot seriously buy it or anything that follows from these definitions.

That is why I prefer meditation - though I admit I find it confusing that there are so many different phenomenological theories describing it. I am glad you initiated this thread that compares two of them. Thank you for it, and thanks to those who contribute to it. :smile:

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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Post by Freawaru » Sat Jul 09, 2011 9:03 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:
  • When one cultivates the nine mental abidings that precede calm abiding, these nine are all minds included within the desire realm. When, however, after achieving these nine, one attains calm abiding, one has attained a mind that is included within an upper realm. The upper realms are the form realm and the formless realm.
Does, in this tradition, "included within a form realm" mean that one looses perception of the physical body and the external senses? I am just trying to understand this in the light of the endless "jhana debate" (is one or is one not perceptive of the physical body and the external senses when in jhana ?).

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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Post by Nyana » Sat Jul 09, 2011 10:56 pm

manjusri wrote:
Ñāṇa wrote:Yes, I should have been more precise. However, my point was that the first proximate meditative stabilization is not a desire plane mind.

Yes, this is correct and thanks to my exchange with you, I've been disabused of the mistaken notion I've carried with me for years now that the proximate meditative stabilization must still be in the desire realm because one can still arouse passion for tantric practice.
Yes, Kyabje Lati Rinpoche is very explicit on this point regarding nyer bsdogs mi lcogs med. Meditative States in Tibetan Buddhism p. 70:
  • It is called calm abiding because the meditator has calmed the distraction of the mind to external objects and the mind abides stably on an internal object of observation. At the same time, the meditator attains the preparation (nyer bsdogs, sāmantaka) called the not-unable (mi lcog med, anāgamya), which is a mind not of the desire realm, but of the form realm.
manjusri wrote:Does anyone still use emblems or kasinas for developing shamatha?
It's not a very common practice, but some people do. I've used kasiṇa maṇḍalas in the past. It's a very effective method for inducing deeper samatha.

All the best,

Geoff

Nyana
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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Post by Nyana » Sun Jul 10, 2011 12:15 am

Freawaru wrote:Does, in this tradition, "included within a form realm" mean that one looses perception of the physical body and the external senses?
Yes. The Tibetan traditions rely on the Yogācārabhūmiśāstra and the Abhidharmakośa, which were composed during the same classical period of Indian Buddhist commentary as the Visuddhimagga, when abhidhamma terms and models had already become fairly standardized. Thus, the phenomenological descriptions of jhāna are similar. According to the Tibetan schools, one still experiences the physical and mental pliancy and bliss of the form realm in jhāna. Geshe Gedun Lodro, Calm Abiding and Special Insight:
  • The yogic practitioner's body, to begin with, is an obstructive body, produced from past contaminated actions and afflictive emotions. Through the power of having cultivated meditative stabilization, the practitioner has made a form that is equal to the space of, and occupies the same area as, her or his obstructive body. Not only does the shadow-like pliancy pervade the entire body; it becomes of an undifferentiable entity with that body. Whatever potencies physical pliancy has arise for the body.
In Theravāda commentarial terms, the form portion of the "whole body" (sabbakāya) experienced in jhāna is mind-produced form which pervades the physical body. The Dīghanikāyaṭīkā:
  • Mind-produced form (cittajarūpa) suffuses every area where there is kamma-produced form (kammajarūpa).
The Vimuttimagga:
  • Just as the bath-powder when inside and outside saturated with moisture, adheres and does not scatter, so the body of the meditator in the first jhāna is permeated with joy and pleasure from top to bottom, from the skullcap to the feet and from the feet to the skullcap, skin and hair, inside and outside. And he dwells without falling back. Thus he dwells like a Brahma god.

    [Q.] Joy (pīti) and pleasure (sukha) are said to be formless phenomena (arūpa-dhamma). How then can they stay permeating the body?

    [A.] Name (nāma) depends on form (rūpa). Form depends on name. Therefore, if name has joy, form also has joy. If name has pleasure, form also has pleasure.

    Again, form born from joy causes tranquility of body, and when the entire body is tranquillized there is pleasure due to the tranquility of form. Therefore there is no contradiction.
Freawaru wrote:I am just trying to understand this in the light of the endless "jhana debate" (is one or is one not perceptive of the physical body and the external senses when in jhana ?).
It's a very ancient debate. One version of it is recorded right in the Abhidharmakośabhāsya. There were, and still are, sautrāntikas who maintain that the internal felt-sense of pleasure (sukha) experienced in jhāna is produced by internal winds within the body. The Abhidharmakośabhāsya:
  • In the state of absorption, the body is penetrated by a wind born of excellent mental samādhi; this wind is tangible which is agreeably felt (sukhavedanīya) and is called well-being. Hence there is produced a tactile consciousness.
IMO this is just another way of trying to describe the same experience as described in the above quotations.

All the best,

Geoff

Nyana
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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Post by Nyana » Sun Jul 10, 2011 2:18 pm

Ñāṇa wrote:
manjusri wrote:
Ñāṇa wrote:Yes, I should have been more precise. However, my point was that the first proximate meditative stabilization is not a desire plane mind.

Yes, this is correct and thanks to my exchange with you, I've been disabused of the mistaken notion I've carried with me for years now that the proximate meditative stabilization must still be in the desire realm because one can still arouse passion for tantric practice.
Yes, Kyabje Lati Rinpoche is very explicit on this point regarding nyer bsdogs mi lcogs med. Meditative States in Tibetan Buddhism p. 70:
  • It is called calm abiding because the meditator has calmed the distraction of the mind to external objects and the mind abides stably on an internal object of observation. At the same time, the meditator attains the preparation (nyer bsdogs, sāmantaka) called the not-unable (mi lcog med, anāgamya), which is a mind not of the desire realm, but of the form realm.
It's worth noting that according to this understanding where the proximate meditative stabilization is a form realm mind, the proximate meditative stabilization cannot be equivalent to the Theravāda access samādhi (upacārasamādhi) as Alan Wallace has asserted. According to Ledi Sayādaw's Ānāpāna Dīpani, access samādhi is still a sense-sphere meditation (kāmāvacarabhāvanā), i.e. included within the desire realm plane. This means that a better equivalent for access samādhi is the ninth mental abiding, setting in equipoise (samādhāna, mnyam par 'jog pa), which is also a desire realm mind.

All the best,

Geoff

Freawaru
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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Post by Freawaru » Sun Jul 10, 2011 6:46 pm

Hi Geoff,

thank you for all the information :smile:

Could you please answer Manjushri's question, too:
Manjushri wrote: I can't imagine, personally, how one would be capable of advancing up through the nine stages of shamatha while, at the same time, engaging in insight practice? I would imagine that anything that takes your mind off your object (mine was the breath) would be considered a distraction?
If I understand it correctly now sati (mindfulness) is present from stage 3 onwards, which is way before access concentration of the Visuddhimagga mode (that is identical to stage 9). This means one can refrain from entering stronger concentration at any time and analyse the stage present. To move to a next stage one has to stop the analysis and reinforce concentration which is a matter of strength. Sati stays present at all times but one cannot "lean back" and simply observe if one wants to increase the concentration.

The question about insight remains, though. What exactly is the difference between sati (mindfulness), uppekha (looking on), and vipassana (insight)? They all refer to some kind of "sight". Also, it seems to me that when Theravadans speak of vipassana they often mean sati, coupled with analysis, so I am not really sure what vipassana is in contrast to sati and also how it relates to uppekha.

Nyana
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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Post by Nyana » Sun Jul 10, 2011 8:16 pm

Freawaru wrote:
Manjushri wrote: I can't imagine, personally, how one would be capable of advancing up through the nine stages of shamatha while, at the same time, engaging in insight practice? I would imagine that anything that takes your mind off your object (mine was the breath) would be considered a distraction?
If I understand it correctly now sati (mindfulness) is present from stage 3 onwards, which is way before access concentration of the Visuddhimagga mode (that is identical to stage 9). This means one can refrain from entering stronger concentration at any time and analyse the stage present. To move to a next stage one has to stop the analysis and reinforce concentration which is a matter of strength. Sati stays present at all times but one cannot "lean back" and simply observe if one wants to increase the concentration.
Well, this is where the comparisons between traditions can create confusion. (And why one should learn one tradition!) In brief, mindfulness and full awareness are to be employed during all nine stages in the Indo-Tibetan system. But in the Indo-Tibetan system there are subjects listed under samatha meditation, such as observation of the five aggregates, twelve sensory spheres, and eighteen elements, which are considered as subjects for developing vipassanā in the Theravāda system. (For example, I know of one Tibetan lama who's lived in the West for many years, who considers Theravāda vipassanā meditation to be samatha meditation according to his tradition.)

In the Theravāda system, instead of the progression of nine mental abidings leading to dhyāna, there is the progression of momentary samādhi (khaṇikasamādhi), access samādhi (upacārasamādhi), and fixed samādhi (appaṇāsamādhi) which is jhāna. If one is practicing vipassanā, then one is developing momentary samādhi. And when momentary samādhi is fully developed it has the same strength as access samādhi -- meaning that the hindrances will be abandoned and won't impede one's practice as long as this level of samādhi is maintained.
Freawaru wrote:The question about insight remains, though. What exactly is the difference between sati (mindfulness), uppekha (looking on), and vipassana (insight)?
Sati includes the quality of remembrance ("bringing to mind"). Upekkhā includes the affective quality of equanimity ("mental evenness"). Vipassanā includes the cognitive qualities of recognition and discernment ("understanding"). With vipassanā one begins by primarily recognizing the impermanent characteristic -- the change or "becoming otherwise" -- of observed phenomena. This recognition becomes more subtle and pervasive as practice deepens.

All the best,

Geoff

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Re: Shamatha In The Theravada Tradition

Post by manjusri » Mon Jul 11, 2011 12:52 am

[/quote]
Yes, Kyabje Lati Rinpoche is very explicit on this point regarding nyer bsdogs mi lcogs med. Meditative States in Tibetan Buddhism p. 70:
  • It is called calm abiding because the meditator has calmed the distraction of the mind to external objects and the mind abides stably on an internal object of observation. At the same time, the meditator attains the preparation (nyer bsdogs, sāmantaka) called the not-unable (mi lcog med, anāgamya), which is a mind not of the desire realm, but of the form realm.
Thanks for this reference. I'm impressed with your understanding of both the Theravada and Mahayana traditions!

[/quote]
It's worth noting that according to this understanding where the proximate meditative stabilization is a form realm mind, the proximate meditative stabilization cannot be equivalent to the Theravāda access samādhi (upacārasamādhi) as Alan Wallace has asserted. According to Ledi Sayādaw's Ānāpāna Dīpani, access samādhi is still a sense-sphere meditation (kāmāvacarabhāvanā), i.e. included within the desire realm plane. This means that a better equivalent for access samādhi is the ninth mental abiding, setting in equipoise (samādhāna, mnyam par 'jog pa), which is also a desire realm mind.[/quote]

I'll have to get back to you on this. I sent Alan off an email with this quote of yours. He admitted he could be wrong, but wasn't willing quite yet to concede just because someone named Ledi Sayadaw says so, as he put it. :0) Perhaps I'll get more of a reply later. He's usually pretty good at following through.

All the best,

Bill

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