March 6-8, 1987

Beginner's Retreat

Importance of Meditation & Two Kinds of Meditation

Tape 4


At the end of a stanza consisting of four lines a person became enlightened. They didn't seem to have practiced any meditation at all. But in fact even though they may have not practiced meditation for a long period of time still they had to go through Vipassana meditation before they became enlightened. In the book when the stories were related this practice of meditation was not mentioned. Without the practice of Vipassana meditation there can be no realization of truth. So they also went through the different stages of Vipassana meditation very swiftly, maybe in a matter of minutes or maybe in one or two hours. Still they had to go through all these stages of Vipassana meditation in order to become enlightened. So without the practice of Vipassana meditation there can be no realization of truth. There can be no enlightenment.

The practice of Vipassana meditation consists of the practice of the four foundations of mindfulness. These four foundations of mindfulness were taught by the Buddha in the famous Mahasatipatthana Sutta. Buddha taught these four foundations of mindfulness on many occasions. They are recorded in many other Suttas, but this Mahasatipatthana Sutta is the Sutta where the detailed instructions for Satipatthana meditation were given. Mahasatipatthana Sutta came to be a handbook for meditators or meditation teachers. The instructions given at Vipassana or insight meditation retreats are all based on the teachings found in this Sutta. The kind of meditation people practice as Vipassana is Satipatthana or the four foundations of mindfulness.

There are four foundations of mindfulness - mindfulness of the body, mindfulness of feelings, mindfulness of consciousness and mindfulness of other objects or we should say Dhamma objects. Dhamma objects are things like five aggregates, the constituents of attainment and so on.

Only Vipassana meditation can lead you to the destruction of mental defilements and to the attainment of sainthood, or to Arahantship, or attainment of the total destruction of suffering. So there are these two kinds of meditation - Samatha meditation and Vipassana meditation.

What should you practice - Samatha or Vipassana meditation? It is up to you. You can choose any meditation because you are not forced to this thing alone or that thing alone. There are ways of practicing meditation in order to gain enlightenment. Normally we should say that you ought to practice Vipassana meditation in order to gain enlightenment. But there are ways to practice to gain enlightenment which include both Samatha and Vipassana. So there are different ways of practice.

The first one is Vipassana preceded by Samatha. That means you practice Samatha first and then you practice Vipassana. A Yogi practices Samatha meditation until he gets proximate concentration or absorption concentration. That means a Yogi practices Samatha meditation until he gets strong concentration which is close to Jhana concentration or is Jhana concentration. This is Samatha meditation. After he gets proximate concentration or absorption concentration, he contemplates on that concentration which he has gained - on that concentration as impermanent, as unsatisfactory, as insubstantial. This person practices Samatha meditation first. Then he practices Vipassana meditation on the concentration he gained through Samatha meditation. Then he may become enlightened. So his path, his way is Vipassana preceded by Samatha. In many of the Suttas this way is described. Buddha would describe a person or a monk practicing Samatha meditation and experiencing Jhanas. Then he would describe him practicing Vipassana meditation and gaining enlightenment. According to this method a person takes up Samatha Meditation first and tries to get proximate concentration or even absorption concentration. Then he contemplates on that proximate concentration or absorption concentration. That means he tries to see the impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and insubstantiality of these concentrations, so that he may gain insight into the nature of things which will lead him to the realization of truth in the end. This is one way of practice to enlightenment. This is Samatha first and Vipassana later. In this method you may get strong concentration and change to Vipassana or you may get absorption (Jhana) and change to Vipassana. This is Vipassana preceded by Samatha.

There is another way. That is Samatha preceded by Vipassana. According to this method you practice Vipassana first. You do not practice Samatha to develop proximate concentration or absorption (Jhana) concentration. You go directly to Vipassana and practice it. A yogi without developing Samatha contemplates on the five aggregates of clinging by way of impermanence etc. This is Vipassana. In this method a person just practices Vipassana meditation on the five aggregates of clinging.

Do you know the five aggregates of clinging? Everything in the world belongs to the five aggregates of clinging. You yourselves are five aggregates of clinging. When you practice Vipassana on the five aggregates of clinging, you contemplate on anything or you contemplate on everything. Everything that becomes clear, that becomes evident when you see, hear, smell, taste, touch or think. So in brief everything in the world almost belongs to the aggregates of clinging. When you practice Vipassana meditation, you contemplate on the breath, on the movement of the abdomen, on your thoughts, on your feelings, on emotions, on everything. You practice Vipassana that way, contemplating on the five aggregates of clinging by way of impermanence and so on. You contemplate on these things in order to see that they are impermanent, that they are unsatisfactory and that they are insubstantial. They have no substance. They are egoless. They are soulless and you cannot have any authority over them. These are called the common characteristics of all phenomena - impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and insubstantiality or soullessness.

It is only through Vipassana that these three characteristics can really be seen. You may read books. You may listen to talks. You may think of these characteristics. But you see for yourself only when you practice Vipassana meditation. You don't have to take on faith that things are impermanent, things are unsatisfactory and things are insubstantial when you practice Vipassana meditation. So you try to concentrate or contemplate on the five aggregates of clinging as impermanent, as suffering, an insubstantial or soulless.

I am a Buddhist monk. So whenever I talk about Vipassana, I talk about the three characteristics - impermanency, unsatisfactoriness and soullessness or insubstantiality. One day at my last retreat in Florida I talked about soullessness or Anatta. I told them, as the Buddha taught, there is nothing that we can call a permanent entity, or a soul, or an ego, or a person. That you will see for yourself through the practice of Vipassana meditation. The next day at an interview a woman told me she was very angry with me and she said she could not meditate the previous day because she was so angry. She was a Hindu Yogi. So she had practiced Yoga for a long time. Hinduism accepts ego or soul, or the existence of ego or soul, or self. Buddhism teaches that there is no ego, no self, no soul. So there is a great difference. Here Hinduism and Buddhism are diametrically opposed. When I tell you about the three characteristics, I am just telling you what the Buddha taught about these characteristics. I cannot avoid talking about them because they are central in the teachings of the Buddha, especially Anatta or soulless doctrine. I don't mean that you must accept whatever I told you. But just have an open mind and try to see for yourself. Find out for yourself if there is a soul or a permanent entity or not. Vipassana teaches us that there is nothing which is permanent, which is satisfactory, or which has no beginning and no end other than Nibbana, and which is soul, or which is self, or which is a person. Vipassana leads you to see these three characteristics in everything that you observe at the moment.

When you concentrate on your thoughts, there are thoughts and you concentrate on them and you watch them. Thoughts come and then they go away. At the time of these thoughts, there are thoughts and there are the objects of these thoughts. You can find only these two things, nothing which we can call a permanent entity. At the moment of seeing there is only what is seen and that which sees. At the moment of hearing there is only what is heard and that which hears. Actually there is only seeing and no person who sees. There is only hearing and no person that hears and so on. This you come to realize when you practice meditation and watch things carefully. That is Vipassana meditation.

After practicing Vipassana meditation or when Vipassana meditation reaches maturity, there arises in the Yogi one-pointedness of mind or Samadhi due to mind and its concomitants entering into the object of Vipassana only. This is Samatha. When we say Samatha first and Vipassana later, we mean proximate concentration and absorption by Samatha. But here when we say first Vipassana and later Samatha, we do not mean by Samatha proximate concentration or absorption concentration. We just mean one-pointedness of mind, a strong one-pointedness of mind in the Vipassana meditation. So you practice Vipassana meditation and your meditation improves. There will come a time when your mind is really still, really one-pointed and really concentrated. Everything you observe, you observe thoroughly, you observe fully. That one-pointedness of mind is what is meant here as Samatha.

Therefore a person who practices Vipassana first and then Samatha later does not practice Vipassana first and get Jhana later. He just gets one-pointedness of mind during Vipassana meditation. Why is there so strong a one-pointedness of mind and its concomitants entering into the objects of Vipassana? Your concentration is so good, so strong that the mind seems to go into whatever is observed. Whatever object is observed your meditative mind seems to go into that object. When it goes deeply into the object, it is very strong one-pointedness. That strong one-pointedness is what is called Samatha here. So first there is Vipassana and then there is Samatha. These are explained in the Commentary.

Now we have two ways. The first one is the practice of Samatha meditation until one gets proximate concentration or absorption concentration. Then one practices Vipassana on these concentrations and gains enlightenment. That is one thing. The second method is to just practice Vipassana meditation. You don't develop any Samatha. When your Vipassana matures, your mind becomes very still. Your mind becomes very concentrated. That concentration of mind is what is called Samatha here. You go on practicing until you gain enlightenment.

The person who follows the first way is called a person who has Samatha as a vehicle to realization. The person who follows the second method is called a person who has Vipassana as a vehicle to enlightenment.

There is a third way. That way is when Samatha and Vipassana are joined in pairs. In this case a person practices Samatha meditation and let us say he has gained Jhanas and even Abhibbas. There are both form-sphere Jhanas and immaterial Jhanas. After getting these Jhanas, he practices Vipassana meditation. When he practices Vipassana meditation, he contemplates on the Jhanas themselves or on the formations. Formations means conditioned phenomena. That is everything in the world. So he first enters into first Jhana. Then he gets out or emerges from that Jhana. Next he practices Vipassana on that Jhana or on some other object. Next he goes back to Samatha and enters into second Jhana. Getting out of second Jhana he practices Vipassana on that Jhana or on other formations. Then he goes into third Jhana and then back to Vipassana. In this way he goes on and on until he reaches the highest Jhana, neither perception nor non-perception. He emerges from that Jhana and practices Jhana on the formations. Thus this Yogi is said to practice Samatha and Vipassana gained in pairs. In this case Vipassana and Samatha are coupled - Samatha and Vipassana for first Jhana, Samatha and Vipassana for second Jhana, Samatha and Vipassana for third Jhana and so on until he reaches enlightenment.

This kind of meditation can be practiced only by those who have gained the different Jhanas. Those who have not gained Jhanas cannot practice this method because here Jhanas and Vipassana have to go in pairs one Jhana after the other. This is called Samatha and Vipassana joined in pairs.

There are at least three kinds of practice. The first one is Samatha and Vipassana. The second one is Vipassana and then Samatha. The third one is Samatha and Vipassana going in pairs. There are three ways of practice to gain enlightenment.

Nowadays what people practice is the second one, direct to Vipassana. There may be Samatha at some point because here Samatha means just one-pointedness of mind. But if you want to practice the first method or the first way, then you may practice Samatha meditation until you get proximate concentration or absorption concentration or until you get Jhanas. Then you change to Vipassana

To attain Jhanas in these days is not an easy task. So people don't bother to practice Samatha for a long time to get Jhana. They just go direct to Vipassana and practice it. Without the practice of formal Samatha meditation enlightenment can be gained. So Samatha meditation does not necessarily lead to enlightenment, but Vipassana does.

I think when the Buddha taught Samatha meditation, he wanted people to practice Samatha meditation so it would become a basis for Vipassana meditation. Samatha for Samatha's sake is not recommended by the Buddha. Whenever Buddha talked about enlightenment he first described Samatha meditation, Jhanas and then Vipassana. So even though you practice Samatha meditation, you should make Samatha meditation or the objects of Samatha meditation into the objects of Vipassana meditation. So Samatha should be directed towards Vipassana meditation. Samatha for Samatha's sake is not recommended because people may get Jhanas and Abhibbas (supernormal powers) through Samatha meditation. Unless they become enlightened persons their attainment of Jhanas and supernormal powers can disappear. So they are dangerous. They cannot last. If people are not careful with these powers, they may lead to more pride or more attachment. To get rid of attachment, to get rid of mental defilements altogether Samatha is not enough. Even though you practice Samatha, you have to go to Vipassana in order to achieve destruction of all mental defilements.

Now we have these three ways open to us. There is Samatha and then Vipassana. Next there is Vipassana and then Samatha. And then there is Samatha and Vipassana combined. The third one is only for those who have attained Jhanas. Practically speaking there are two ways open to us. We may practice Samatha first and then go to Vipassana or we may practice Vipassana.

Samatha will take the form of loving-kindness and breathing meditation. Breathing meditation can be Vipassana meditation or Samatha meditation depending on how you practice it. Previously we have been practicing breathing meditation as Vipassana meditation. When you practice breathing meditation as Vipassana, you contemplate on the breathing and also on other objects - distractions, thoughts, emotions and so on. But when you practice breathing as Samatha meditation, you do not pay attention to any other thing. You pay attention to the breathing only. That is the difference between Samatha and Vipassana meditation on breathing. We will practice both methods during this retreat.

Next we will study the forty subjects of Samatha meditation. It is open to you. You can choose any one of the forty to practice. Samatha meditation. Let us see what these are when we meet again.

I hope now you know that you can practice Samatha meditation first and then go to Vipassana meditation. We may also practice Vipassana directly. Both are mentioned in the texts and in the Commentaries. Both are in accordance with them.

Now we come to the forty subjects of Samatha meditation. If you want to practice Samatha meditation, you can choose any one of them and practice it.

The first of the forty subjects ~are the ten Kasinas. Kasina means all or maybe total. Here all or total means you put your mind all on the object, on the whole object. Mostly these Kasinas are made in the shape of a disk. There are ten Kasinas. The first is the earth Kasina. If you have accumulation of practice in past lives, you may not need to make any Kasina device. You may just look at the earth and get concentration. But if you have no previous experience, then you will have to make a device for the practice of Kasina meditation.

For example if you want to practice earth Kasina meditation, you make a disk. First you get a piece of cloth and put it on a frame. Then you find clay, preferably clay of dawn-color. That means it is somewhat red. You put the clay on a cloth and make it into the shape of a circle.

After you have made it, you take it to a place where you can have solitude and quietness. You put the disk or device at a suitable distance - not too close to you, not too far, not too low and not too high. That is after purifying your moral conduct and other things.

So you take the disk and put it in a proper place. You look at the disk. You keep your mind on the whole of the disk. Don't let your mind go outside or let other thoughts come in. You look at the disk and say to yourself, "earth, earth, earth." Maybe you will say it millions of times.

First you look at the disk and say "earth, earth, earth." Then you close your eyes and try to visualize it. If you cannot yet visualize it, you open your eyes again and look at the disk and say, "earth, earth, earth." Then you practice this closing your eyes and opening your eyes until you can get the image in your mind, until you can see the image of the disk even though you close your eyes. When you can visualize the disk with your eyes closed, when you can see it in your mind, you are said to have obtained the abstract image, the image taken in the mind. After you get that image or sign, you may discard the device. You will not need the device anymore. So you can go anywhere and practice again calling to your mind the image or the sign, visualizing it saying, "earth, earth, earth." When your meditation develops, you will reach a level where that image or sign becomes polished, becomes bright, becomes free from blemishes.

During the time of the abstract image, the image appears as it is. If there are some blemishes on the disk, like the impressions of your fingers and so on, you will see that. But when you reach the higher stage (It is called conceptualized image.), that sign will appear polished. There will be no blemishes. It is described as a full moon without any clouds. When you get to that stage, you are said to have gained proximate concentration. After you get that image in your mind, you dwell upon it again saying, "earth, earth, earth" until absorption concentration comes or until you get Jhana. That is how you practice earth Kasina and get Jhana. After you get first Jhana, you may go on to second, third, fourth and fifth.

The second one is water Kasina. Again if you have experience in the past, you may not need to do anything. If you do not have experience then you must have a vessel or a cup of water and look at it and say, "water, water, water." It is the same thing.

The third one is air. You cannot see the air, but you can see the trees moving. You look at such things and say, "air, air, air".

Next is the fire Kasina. You build a fire and you look through. a hole, a circle at the fire. You say, "fire, fire, fire". These are the four element Kasinas. We call them elements - earth, water, air and fire.

The fifth one is the blue Kasina. Now come the color Kasinas. You make a blue Kasina on cardboard perhaps. You paint a blue colored circle on the cardboard and say, "blue, blue, blue" again and again.

There are also yellow, red and white Kasinas. If you have past experience, you may not need to make the devices. You can look at something yellow, something red, something white or something blue and you get the image.

The Pali word for the fifth one, the blue Kasina, is Nila-N I L A, Nila Kasina. That word is translated as blue here or blue by all Western scholars. But in Burma it is translated as brown, not blue. Nila may mean blue or brown or dark brown. I think it is any color between brown and blue. Sometimes the hair is said to have this color, Nila - not the hair of Western people. The hair of Eastern people is black, not pitch-black, but something like black and brown mixed. So it can be blue or it can be brown. According to Burmese translation it can be brown color.

There is a lotus called blue lotus. In Pali that is Niluppala. That is really blue. The color is really blue and some shade of white. It is strange that in Burmese we call it brown lotus. Actually it is not brown. So Nila can be blue or it can be brown.

The ninth one is space Kasina. That is any space. If there is a hole in the wall, you can look at that hole and dwell on that space. You say, "space, space, space".

The tenth one is light. Nowadays it is very easy. There are electric lights or whatever light there is. You look at the light and say, "light, light, light".

These are the ten Kasinas. Some people call them hypnotic disks, something like hypnotizing yourself. These are ten subjects of Samatha meditation which deal with ten Kasina objects. You can practice any one of them or maybe one or two of them. You can get to Jhana concentration with them. If you want to practice Vipassana, you may dwell on the Jhana or the concentration you have attained and practice Vipassana on it. So there are ten Kasinas.

The next are the ten unlovelies. It may not appeal to modern people. This is the practice of looking at corpses and trying to apply the nature of the corpse to your living body. Just as this corpse is bloated, so also will my body become bloated. Just as this corpse is unlovely, so is my body still living unlovely and so on. These ten are just the corpse in different stages of decay.

The first one is the bloated corpse. About two or three days after death the body becomes bloated or swollen. The second one is the discolored corpse. After some days it becomes discolored. The third one is the festering corpse. The fourth one is the disjointed corpse. The fifth one is the eaten corpse. That means it has been eaten by birds, jackals, dogs and so on. The sixth one is the mangled corpse. The seventh is the mutilated corpse. The eighth one is the block corpse. The ninth one is the worm-infested corpse. These nine are the corpse in different stages of decay. The tenth - one is just a skeleton.

Even in Buddhist countries it is now difficult to practice this kind of meditation. You cannot have corpses. During the time of the Buddha when people died, they were either cremated or just left at the cemetery to be eaten by dogs and birds. Since there were such corpses in the days of the Buddha, these types of meditation could be practiced.

If you want to practice one of these meditations, you have to be very careful. You have to study the cemetery, the road to the cemetery and what trees and shrubs are on the road. This is so you won't get frightened when you see them in the dark. If you see something in the dark, you might think it was a ghost. Then you have to inform the senior monk at the monastery and also the village headman or someone that you are going there and back. Also you must go alone. So you are alone with the corpse there.

I don't know whether you believe in ghosts or all these things. People in the East generally believe in ghosts. When one sees a corpse, the idea of ghosts may come. So one may become frightened. You look at the corpse and just say, "bloated, bloated, bloated" until you get this sense of loathsomeness of the body.

When you practice as Satipatthana meditation (These can also be practiced as Satipatthana meditation. They are mentioned in the Mahasatipatthana Sutta.), then you don't have to have a corpse in front of you. You just imagine a corpse, visualize it. Then you apply its nature to your own body. These are the ten unlovelies, or ten impurities, or ten loathsomenesses.

When a person has long practiced this meditation, then he can get this sense or perception of bloatedness for example even though he sees a living body, a living person. This meditation is designed to eradicate attachment to one's own body and to the bodies of others. If you have practiced it for a long time you can get this sense of unloveliness or the sign of the corpses the moment you see someone.

There was a monk in the olden days. He practiced the last of these meditations on a skeleton, looking at a skeleton and practicing it. One day he went for alms. On the way he saw a woman. The woman had quarreled with her husband. So she was going back to her parents' house. She decked herself beautifully. When she saw the monk, she laughed aloud to attract the attention of the monk. So the monk looked at her and saw her teeth. When the monk saw her teeth, he got this perception of a skeleton, of bones. On that spot it is said he practiced the skeleton meditation again and he gained enlightenment on the road.

The woman passed him and went to her parents' house. The husband followed her. When he saw the monk, he asked whether a woman had come this way. The monk said, "I do not know whether the one who went this way was a man or a woman. What I do know is that a skeleton went this way." So he saw her as a skeleton.

These perceptions of different stages of corpses can come to you easily when you practice this meditation. This is to get rid of attachment to one's body or to other people's bodies.

Next are the ten reflections. The first one is the reflection on the qualities of the Buddha. Traditionally there are nine or ten qualities of the Buddha to reflect upon. When you practice this meditation, you may reflect upon all nine or ten qualities of the Buddha or you may choose one that you like best and concentrate on that one quality only. You may do any way you like. Traditionally in our countries we use a rosary when we practice this kind of meditation. The rosary has 108 beads. When we say one quality, we take one bead down - like Araham, Sammasambuddho, Vijja Carana Sampanno, Sugato and so on. Actually rosary is a timing device. When you have done one round of rosary, you can say, "I have said it 108 times." So when you have ten rounds you can say, "I have said this 1080 times. "So the first one is reflection on the qualities of the Buddha.

The second one is reflection on the qualities of the Dhamma. There are six qualities of the Dhamma.

The third reflection is on the qualities of the Savgha. There are nine qualities of the Savgha.

The fourth is reflection on the purity of one's moral conduct. When your moral conduct or Sila is pure like untorn, unrent, unblotched, unmottled and so on, when you look back on such Sila, then you get joy and happiness. Here you reflect on the purity of your moral conduct - "My conduct is pure, unrent, untorn. This is also a kind of meditation.

The fifth one is the reflection on generosity. You give to some charity. You donate something. You reflect on that generosity. All Noble people have generosity and I have this generosity. It is like that

The sixth is reflection on the deities. Just as the deities have some good qualities which enable them to be reborn as deities, I too have these qualities. So you compare yourself to deities and dwell upon the good qualities of yourself.

The seventh reflection is on peace or Nibbana, that is Nibbana is peace, Nibbana is peaceful. It is something like that.

The eighth one is the reflection on death. This also may not be popular with people. When we talk about death, people are scared. But in fact we cannot avoid, we cannot escape death. It is certain that one day it will come to us. It is better to be acquainted with it or to be prepared rather than to be scared of death. So this reflection on death is also very powerful meditation. It helps you get rid of attachment to your life, to your body and also pride. When you know you are going to die, no pride can come to you, no attachment, nothing. You may have been sick at one time, so sick that you thought you would die. At such a time how was your mind? There could not be any pride in yourself because you are going to die today or tomorrow. There is no attachment then. Reflection on death is a very powerful kind of meditation. When you reflect on death, you say, "Death will come to me some day" or "death, death, death".

The ninth one is mindfulness of the body. Mindfulness of the body here means mindfulness on the different parts of the body. Traditionally we have 32 parts of the body such as head hair, body hair, nails, teeth, skin and other parts of the body. You recite the names of these parts again and again. You try to see the repulsiveness of these parts in different aspects. By shape, by form, by color, by odor they are disgusting. This is also to get rid of attachment to one's body.

The tenth one is mindfulness of breathing. That is the one we are practicing. Mindfulness of breathing is here shown as Samatha meditation. But in the Mahasatipatthana it is given as Satipatthana meditation. So breathing meditation can be practiced as either Samatha or Vipassana meditation.

These ten are called ten reflections. Altogether we have thirty now.

Next are the four boundless ones or some people call them illimitables. They are also called four sublime abodes.

The first one is loving-kindness. We practice it every day in the morning. The second is compassion. The third is sympathetic joy. The fourth is equanimity.

Loving-kindness is practiced to get rid of its opposite ill-feeling, grudge, hatred, anger. Here loving-kindness means a kind of love not connected with or not mixed with attachment, not mixed with craving, not mixed with lust. It is a genuine desire for the well-being of beings. When we say "May they be well, happy and peaceful",

we wish them happiness, we wish them peacefulness, we wish them health. With pure heart we make these wishes, not with attachment. We do not do this because a person is dear to you, or is your relative, or your child, or your husband, or your wife, but just because that person is a being. You just wish beings happiness and peacefulness.

Sadhu! Sadhu! Sadhu!