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Samatha Bhāvanā

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Vipassana, commonly referred to as insight meditation, has grown in popularity in recent years in the West. The goal of this type of meditation, which is connected to the Theravada school of Buddhism, is to cultivate awareness while also gaining insight into the nature of reality. Though not the sole type of meditation, insight meditation is an effective tool for spiritual development and the direct path to liberation. Samatha bhāvanā, or the cultivation of focus, is another method that Westerners who practice insight meditation may find to be quite helpful.

Samatha bhāvanā, also known as “calm-abiding” or “tranquility meditation,” is a form of meditation that includes concentrating the mind on a single object in order to create a state of mental stillness and clarity. This can be accomplished by engaging in techniques like feeling the physical sensation of the breath, tuning into the sounds of one’s surroundings, or envisioning an object in the mind’s eye. Samatha bhāvanā aims to cultivate the capacity for sustained attention, which is helpful in honing the concentration required for Insight Meditation.

Insight Meditation is frequently referred to as a “two-fold” practice, with the first phase being the development of awareness and the second being the development of focus. The two techniques should actually be utilized together because they are interrelated. Concentration enables us to keep our attention on a single object, whereas mindfulness enables us to know what’s happening as it’s happening without becoming caught up in experience. Together, they lay the groundwork for a solid and enduring meditation practice.

For Western practitioners of insight meditation, using a method that involves samatha bhāvanā may be advantageous because it can assist in establishing some stability of mind. Western culture can be fast-paced and stressful, which can cause a persistent state of mental agitation that makes it challenging to concentrate. Samatha bhāvanā  can help to settle the mind and offer a sense of equilibrium and stability.

Samatha bhāvanā can aid in deepening the practice of Insight Meditation, which is another advantage. Longer durations of sustained attention allow a deeper understanding of the nature of reality. Additionally, the stillness and clarity achieved through samatha bhāvanā can help to reveal states of concentration that may not be accessible through mindfulness alone.

It’s also worth noting that the approach of samatha bhāvanā can be useful for those who find mindfulness practice challenging, as it can be of great support in developing the ability to focus the mind. When the mind is able to be still, it is easier to observe the arising and passing away of mind states, thoughts, and emotions, without getting caught up in them.

Finally, it’s important to note that the practice of samatha bhāvanā is not just for those who practice Insight Meditation. It is a valuable practice for anyone looking to develop a tranquility and clarity. It can be used to reduce stress and anxiety, improve focus and concentration, and even improve physical health.

Samatha bhāvanā can be incorporated into Insight Meditation to improve one’s spiritual practice and gain better harmony and clarity. Although a focus on concentration alone might cause an imbalance in one’s practice, integrating these two techniques should be done gradually and under the supervision of a skilled teacher. Ultimately, an approach that includes the practice of samatha bhāvanā can bring a new dimension to Insight Meditation for Western practitioners and can lead to a deeper understanding and connection with the nature of reality.

Johnathan Woodside blog
Johnathan Woodside

Johnathan is an Insight Meditation teacher offering Dharma instruction rooted in the Theravada tradition of ethics, concentration and wisdom.

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