Samatha and Vipassana are meditation techniques introduced in the Pali canon, transmitted by the Buddha and his disciples through scriptures, elaborated in detail by Buddhaghosa in “Visuddhi Magga”. While refraining from negative behaviors such as killing or stealing is a significant accomplishment, it is not enough for spiritual development. Even though we may keep the precepts pure, our minds can still be polluted.
Therefore, to cultivate the mind, we need to take the next step and practice Samatha meditation. The Buddha taught that when mind is developed through practice, it brings happiness and joy:
“Bhikkhus, there is nothing that brings more happiness and joy than a mind that has been developed and cultivated continuously. Bhikkhus, when the mind is developed and cultivated, it is happy and joyful.” – The Buddha.
This means that if we want to be happy and joyful, we need to control and develop the mind continuously through meditation. The Buddha encouraged the monks to develop concentration and insight, saying, “A monk with a concentrated and tranquil mind will see the true nature of things.”
It’s mean see things as they really are means that the monk perceives and knows form as impermanent, perceives and knows consciousness as impermanent. The monk knows that the contact between the eye and form is also impermanent (sense-contact). The monk knows that the arising of feelings also depends on sense-contact, which is also impermanent.
Why did the Buddha advise his disciples to practice Samatha meditation? In this article, LotusBuddhas will explain to you the reasons, as well as the history, benefits and how to practice Samatha meditation!
What is Samatha meditation?
Samatha meditation is a Buddhist practice that focuses on calming and concentrating the mind. The term “samatha” is derived from Pali language and can be translated as “tranquility” or “calmness“.
This form of meditation aims to develop mental stability, concentration and inner peace by training the mind to focus on a single object or thought. This was compared by Thich Tri Hue to tying a buffalo calf to the roots of a tree so that it doesn’t wander off and become uncontrollable.
Practitioners often choose a meditation object, such as the breath, a mantra, or a visual object like a colored disk (called a kasina), to serve as the anchor of their focus. By continuously directing their attention to this object, meditators can develop deeper levels of concentration, ultimately leading to a state of mental tranquility and one-pointedness.
Samatha meditation is often practiced alongside Vipassana (insight) meditation in the Theravada Buddhist tradition. While Samatha helps to calm and focus the mind, Vipassana fosters insight into the true nature of reality, leading to wisdom and spiritual awakening.
History of Samatha meditation
The origin of “Samatha” can be found in the Pali language, a sacred dialect of the Buddhist scriptures. Derived from the term “samādhi“, which translates to “concentration” or “one-pointedness of mind,” Samatha meditation lays the foundation for inner calm and mental stability. It is the practice of cultivating a single-pointed, unwavering focus that paves the way for heightened states of consciousness and spiritual insight.
The inception of Samatha meditation can be traced back to the teachings of Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, who lived around the 5th century BCE in ancient India. Recognizing the propensity of the human mind to wander and become entangled in unwholesome thoughts, the Buddha expounded the noble path of Samatha as a means to cultivate tranquility, mental clarity and spiritual awakening.
As Buddhism began to take root and flourish in various regions of Asia, Samatha meditation found its way into the spiritual practices of diverse communities. In the Theravada tradition, which is prevalent in countries such as Sri Lanka, Thailand and Burma, Samatha meditation is highly regarded as an essential component of the path to enlightenment. The Visuddhimagga, an influential 5th-century Theravada commentary authored by the Indian scholar Buddhaghosa, offers a comprehensive exploration of Samatha meditation techniques, outlining forty distinct objects of meditation or “kammatthana“.
In the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, Samatha meditation is integrated with Vipassana, as part of a unified practice known as “Shamatha-Vipashyana.” This holistic approach to meditation, which emphasizes the interdependence of calm abiding and penetrating insight, has been elucidated by renowned Tibetan teachers such as the 14th Dalai Lama and Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche.
Samatha meditation has also found a place in the Mahayana tradition of Zen Buddhism, which emerged in China and later spread to Japan, Korea and Vietnam. Zen masters have adapted Samatha techniques into their practice, often emphasizing the importance of zazen or seated meditation, as the primary means of attaining mental clarity and spiritual illumination.
Benefits of Samatha meditation
After many meditation sessions, LotusBuddhas has realized that Samatha meditation is necessary if one wants to develop a deep insight through Vipassana meditation. As the Buddha taught, we must concentrate the mind before we can develop it – just as a still lake reflects the full moon without distortion. Here are some great benefits that Samatha meditation will bring you if you diligently practice it. Trust us, you won’t waste a single second!
1. Cultivating inner peace
As the mind learns to rest in the serene embrace of Samatha meditation, the chaos of everyday life begins to subside, giving way to a profound sense of inner peace. The practitioner becomes a sanctuary of stillness amidst the ever-changing currents of existence.
2. Enhancing concentration and focus
By honing the skill of one-pointed concentration, Samatha meditation enables individuals to develop an unwavering focus that permeates all aspects of life. From professional pursuits to personal relationships, the power of sustained attention brings clarity, efficiency and depth to every endeavor.
3. Reducing stress and anxiety
The soothing balm of Samatha meditation offers respite from the ceaseless parade of worries, fears, and anxieties that plague the modern mind. By cultivating a calm and centered awareness, the practitioner is better equipped to navigate the stormy seas of stress with grace and resilience.
4. Fostering Emotional Equilibrium
With the practice of Samatha meditation, emotional turbulence gradually gives way to a state of balance and equanimity. The practitioner learns to observe the ebb and flow of emotions without becoming entangled in their grip, fostering a sense of inner harmony that radiates outward.
5. Cultivating mindfulness and self-Awareness
As the mind becomes increasingly attuned to the present moment through Samatha meditation, a heightened sense of self-awareness emerges. This newfound mindfulness allows the practitioner to recognize and release unwholesome patterns of thought and behavior, paving the way for personal growth and transformation.
6. Facilitating spiritual insight
The ultimate boon of Samatha meditation lies in its capacity to prepare the mind for deeper spiritual insights. By laying the groundwork of mental stability and clarity, the practitioner becomes ripe for the blossoming of Vipassana, or insight meditation, which leads to transformative realizations and, ultimately is spiritual awakening.
The seven-point posture
The seven-point posture also known as seven-point Vairocana posture, is a set of physical instructions for proper body alignment during meditation. It is commonly used in Samatha (calm abiding) meditation, a Buddhist practice that aims to develop concentration and tranquility. The posture is named after Vairocana, a celestial buddha representing the embodiment of emptiness and the cosmic order.
- Legs: Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position, with your legs either in the full-lotus position (Padmasana), half-lotus position, or a simple cross-legged position. The key is to ensure your legs are comfortably positioned, stable, and relaxed.
- Hands: Place your hands in the meditation mudra (symbolic gesture), resting them in your lap. The right hand should be placed palm up on top of the left hand, with the tips of the thumbs lightly touching, forming an oval shape.
- Spine: Keep your back straight and erect, as if a string is pulling you up from the crown of your head. This helps maintain alertness and prevents drowsiness. Proper spinal alignment also facilitates the smooth flow of subtle energy through the central channel.
- Shoulders: Keep your shoulders relaxed and slightly back, as if holding an egg between your shoulder blades. This helps open up the chest and allows for natural breathing.
- Chin: Tuck your chin slightly in towards your chest to lengthen the back of your neck. This creates a natural curve in the cervical spine and helps prevent neck strain.
- Eyes: Keep your eyes slightly open and looking down at a comfortable angle, around 45 degrees, focusing on the space a few feet in front of you. This can help to prevent drowsiness and maintain a balance between relaxation and alertness. However, some meditation traditions recommend closing the eyes or looking straight ahead.
- Tongue: Place the tip of your tongue gently against the upper palate, just behind your upper front teeth. This position reduces swallowing and salivating, making it easier to breathe and maintain focus during meditation.
Seven-point posture is designed to help create a stable, comfortable, and alert meditation position. By following these instructions, you can establish a strong foundation for your Samatha meditation practice, leading to greater concentration and tranquility.
How to practice Samatha meditation
Sitting down and practicing Samatha meditation is easy, but the issues that arise during meditation are what matters most. These may include feelings of itching or discomfort that make it difficult to sit still, or a wandering mind with a constant stream of thoughts from the past to the future that make it hard to focus on the object of meditation. However, the following instructions along with seven-point posture will help you address these issues and have a perfect meditation session.
1. Choose a conducive environment
Begin by selecting a quiet, peaceful space in which to practice your Samatha meditation. This sanctuary, free from external distractions, will serve as a sacred refuge for your journey within.
2. Establish a comfortable posture
Take a seat upon a cushion, chair, or meditation bench, ensuring that your spine is straight and your body is relaxed yet alert. Adopt the traditional cross-legged posture or any other position that allows you to maintain a comfortable and stable posture for an extended period.
3. Settle the body and mind
Close your eyes gently and take a few deep, cleansing breaths. As you exhale, release any tension from your body and allow your mind to settle into the present moment.
4. Select a meditation object
Choose an object of focus for your Samatha meditation. This may be your breath, a mantra, a visualized image, or any other focal point that resonates with you. The object should be neutral or wholesome in nature, helping to anchor the mind in a calm and concentrated state.
5. Focus on the meditation object
Gently direct your attention to your chosen meditation object, allowing your awareness to rest upon it with gentle, unwavering focus. If your mind begins to wander, acknowledge the distraction without judgment and gently return your attention to the object.
6. Cultivate single-pointed concentration
As you continue to focus on your meditation object, strive to maintain a state of single-pointed concentration, free from distractions and mental fluctuations. With practice, you will find that your mind becomes increasingly calm, stable and clear.
7. Embrace moments of stillness
Throughout your Samatha meditation practice, you may experience moments of profound stillness and tranquility. Embrace these moments, allowing them to deepen your sense of inner peace and one-pointed concentration.
8. Maintain consistency and dedication
To fully reap the benefits of Samatha meditation, it is essential to maintain a consistent and dedicated practice. Set aside a specific time each day for meditation and be patient with yourself as you progress along this transformative path.
The difference between Samatha and Vipassana meditation
As LotusBuddhas shared, though distinct in their approach and objectives, Samatha and Vipassana meditation practices are often intertwined and complementary, forming a synergistic union on the path to spiritual awakening. In many Buddhist traditions, Samatha is considered a foundational practice that prepares the mind for the deep insights offered by Vipassana. The tranquility and concentration cultivated through Samatha meditation create the optimal conditions for the development of penetrative insight into the true nature of reality.
Conversely, Vipassana meditation can serve to deepen and refine the practice of Samatha, as the insights gained through contemplation of impermanence, suffering, and non-self help to release unwholesome mental states and distractions. This harmonious interplay between Samatha and Vipassana ultimately fosters a balanced and holistic path towards spiritual awakening, as the calm abiding of mind and illuminating light of insight work in tandem to guide the practitioner towards the ultimate goal of enlightenment.