The couplet 'Samatha - Vipassana' is a definition
for what is generally called meditation. Each is discussed separately
but it must be remembered that they are like two
sides of a coin and both are picked up together. One side
may be specifically examined but the other side is always there.
Vipassana is usually translated as 'insight'. Insight
is the ability to perceive clearly or deeply; a penetrating and often
sudden understanding, say of a complex situation or problem. It is
the immediate understanding of the significance, the Truth of an event
Insight - What is?
One image I often
bring to mind is the cartoon archetype of having an idea - the light
bulb over the head. The mind has lit up - Ah ha! I see (what I hadn't
previously seen). This is a sign of enlightenment. Another way to
understand insight is with jokes: someone tells the joke, they get
to the punchline - and you either get it or you don't. If you don't
get it there is not a lot can be done - you either had the insight
or you didn't. The process of getting a joke is not logical and it
is the same with Truth. You can read everything on this web site -
and all the other zillion Buddhist sites - and all the books - and
you still won't necessarily get it. Can you remember your mathematics
teacher explaining some concept - and you couldn't get it - and then
- all of a sudden - you got it. This is insight. Do you get it?
Insight - How to?
Unlike samatha there are no 'in a word' simple exercises.
Insight arises through a direct meditative observation of one's own
bodily and mental processes, it can't be achieved through just intellectually
understanding all the words or concepts. So, what to do? How to get
the light lit?
If we start with
the word: In-sight = seeing-in. Like if someone is telling a tall
story and it is not very convincing we can say we 'saw through
the whole thing.' We weren't fooled. We had insight into the truth
of that situation; we just knew. With the world that we live in there
is much that fools us - a lot that we don't see or properly understand.
Take money as an example. It is
ink printed on paper - that is the truth of money. As a society we
agree that it is worth something but it is just ink printed on paper.
When you see a £100 note what do you see? Some new books? New
clothes? In the conditioned world we say 'This is worth £100'
but the truth is it is just ink printed on paper. You are able to
see the truth of money and still use money but you are not tricked
into believing it is something that it is not. You have had insight
into the truth of this. Think about hair
- we are with our partner and their hair looks beautiful and attractive,
clean and bouncy - we say it is true 'This is beautiful and attractive,
I want to touch it'. Then we find a piece of their hair in our soup.
It is the same hair. What is the Truth of this 'hair.' It is neither
beautiful nor repulsive - it is just hair. And what about hair on
other parts of the body? It is just hair.
Over the years,
as we grow up, we develop lots of different perceptions and ideas
about things. We get bits of information through the senses and put
it all together as a conclusion - these conclusions become our beliefs.
We are often tricked - by the glossy magazines, the slick advertising
on television. What is the Truth of Coca-Cola? Is it better than Pepsi?
Worse? The same? These companies spend a lot of money trying
to make you believe their one is 'The Real Thing.' The Truth
is that these are liquids - for drinking. Buy whatever you like but
don't get tricked by the hype. See the Truth of liquids.
One of the main
forces that leads us to choose this one and not that one, is desire
- we want something. We want sensual pleasure, happiness, friends,
etc. and we have this collection of ideas about what will make that
happen. Before you choose, ask yourself; 'What is the Truth of this
thing I am choosing?'
my will be done
Underlying the first Truth (of the Four Noble Truths)
is the first condition of all existence - IMPERMANENCE
- written in caps as it is the major field of investigation as regards
Insight is more about asking questions than seeking answers - and
the big question here is: 'Is any-thing permanent?' If we are seeking
Truth - Ultimate Reality - Nibbana - Freedom - then surely whatever
it is, it must be permanent. Otherwise why bother with all
this religious stuff? It does seem though as if there is no-thing
that is permanent - at least nothing I can think of or experience
through the senses. But there is all this stuff about nibbana and
heaven and freedom. So, it can't be a thing. But it is here - and
in direct relationship to this being (that's you). But where is it?
What is it? And what can I do to get me some?
I sometimes think
of nibbana as a rare creature in nature - shy and timid, not easy
to see. I have some idea of its habitat (my mind) so I can sit quietly,
silently and watch. Don't move - even a little bit or it will be frightened
away. And then we get a glimpse of that peace or calm or some insight
and we want to rush in with our camera and take a picture - catch
it in a bag and put the creature in a cage so we can keep it - because
it's mine. No, no, no. Just sit quietly, silently and watch.
Don't be tricked by what you think it looks like - this creature
you have never seen - just wait - and it will come. But we get impatient
and go off and feed the ducks instead - that's a nice thing to do
Having said earlier that there are none doesn't mean that there is
nothing one can do. Insight is not something that we get, it
is something we prepare the ground for. Like growing flowers in the
garden: we can prepare the soil, plant the seeds,
care for the plants - but we can't force the flowers to bloom.
If we think of the Buddhist path of practice as the Eightfold Path
[see: TEACHINGS] and give thought to the popular
summary of this - sila, samadhi, pañña - morality, concentration
and wisdom. Morality is the basis of any spiritual lifestyle - you
won't get far without putting some energy into this. Concentration
= samatha = preparing the mind = getting the 'garden' sorted and planting
the seeds. Wisdom arises.
There is a nice story exemplifying this about three
boys going to visit a temple. On the way they pass a flowering tree
and think how nice it would be to offer some of the flowers at the
temple shrine. The blooms are too high on the branches for even the
tallest of the boys to reach so they agree to work together. Sila
kneels down on the ground to form a strong base - morality is always
the foundation of any activity. Pañña stands on his
back as he is the tallest but still has to stretch to the limit of
his reach and feels a bit unsteady. Samadhi is very strong and holds
Pañña firmly. With the combined efforts of the three
it is finally wisdom that reaches out
to pick the beautiful flowers.
The Buddha's answers are in orange:
What is the result of
developing calmness? (samatha)
The mind is developed.
What is the result of
developing the mind?
All lust is abandoned.
What is the result of
developing insight? (vipassana)
Wisdom is developed.
What is the result of
All ignorance is abandoned. [A.I: 60f]
Ignorance is the problem - we don't see the Truth
of the way things really are.
"And how is ignorance a yoke, a bondage, a fetter?"
"Where a person does not see, as it actually is, that is: the
origination, the passing away, the allure, the drawbacks, and the
escape from the six senses. When he does not discern these things,
then - with regard to ignorance concerning the six senses - he is
overwhelmed with not-knowing. This is the yoke of sensuality, the
yoke of becoming, the yoke of views, and the yoke of ignorance."
Trust, intuition, investigation, patience, morality,
concentration, mindfulness - these are qualities that lead to the
arising of insight, the ending of all delusions. We come to see that
all conditioned things are impermanent - and because they are impermanent
they are not worthy of grasping or attaching to - and what is not
worthy can not truely be me, or mine or myself.