The Essence of Shamatha and Vipashyana

Three : The Essence of Shamatha and Vipashyana

The third point is a concise explanation of how shamatha and vipashyana become natural. In the beginning stages of shamatha and vipashyana, our meditation is not natural. It is somewhat contrived. Meditation is only completely real when it is natural, as I explained briefly in point two.

What is meant by genuine shamatha? In the beginning of shamatha practice, the mind is directed on the object of meditation which is to keep the mind concentrated, rather than following thoughts. When meditation is natural, in true shamatha, effort is no longer required to keep the mind concentrated. At first one has to apply effort, but later it becomes completely natural.

I will give an example which illustrates the difference between contrived and genuine shamatha. There is a special kind of meditation which results in very clear recollection of the past, even to the extent of remembering previous lives. Mind never stays the same. It only exists moment to moment. The mind constantly changes. If we look at one moment, it first comes into existence, then stays, and finally disappears. It consists of past, present and future in this way. One moment arises, then it ceases in order to create space for another moment to come into existence, and so on. In this way, mind goes on as a continuous stream of moments of awareness. In this type of shamatha, the practice is to remain aware of each moment as it arises. Do not analyze, just focus and observe the moments arising, one at a time. Without missing any or mixing up their order, simply observe them passing by. Concentrate completely; stay focused on that. Again, this is how we could meditate now, in the fashion of contrived shamatha.

This becomes genuine shamatha when it becomes natural, when we no longer apply effort to keep the mind focused. There will simply be a natural awareness of the moments passing by. You become so used to it that once you focus on that awareness, it continues automatically, without the need to apply force. It just continues naturally.

When we achieve this level, a special kind of memory appears. We can remember the past and even former lives, the same extent that meditation has become natural. Memory expands in this way: first you remember everything in childhood, then the experience of being in the mother’s womb, and after that, past lives. Since you have experienced all this before, it is possible to remember it, just as you remember what you did yesterday. When shamatha has become natural, this memory arises automatically.

What then is meant by true vipashyana? To continue with the same example, where you focus on each moment, vipashyana means to analyze the nature of each moment. During shamatha you only observed the moments without analyzing them, but now you examine them analytically. Vipashyana becomes natural when the analysis stops being intellectual. You have a direct experience of the nature of each moment, an experience where names and ideas do not apply.

When you look at something, in the very first moment there is a direct experience of it and only afterward do you name it. The Buddhist teachings distinguish between different kinds of direct experience. For example, right now we also have direct experiences, but we immediately project our ideas onto things, even though these ideas are not real. For example, in seeing a white piece, of paper, we mix up that direct experience with our concept of whiteness. The concept white is a general one that applies to many other things such as white cloth, white flowers, etc. The direct experience is much more complete than this. In real vipashyana, you have direct experience, of the world, you see the true nature of things. This is also called yogic direct experience.

To put it very simply, true shamatha and vipashyana are related to the removal of the meditation obstacles discussed in point two. Shamatha becomes genuine when heaviness, dullness and sleep have completely disappeared from meditation. Real vipashyana develops when agitation, regret and doubt have been completely neutralized. They then never arise during meditation. In post-meditation they still may occur, since you are not yet enlightened, and there still is a difference between meditating and not meditating. But when you experience the mature fruition of shamatha and vipashyana, meditation is free from these obstacles. This concludes the third point, the essence of shamatha and vipashyana.