From the discussion of the eightfold noble path
you learned that the heart of the Buddha’s way to liberation
lies in the practice of meditation. It was by meditation
that the Buddha reached enlightenment himself, and it is by
meditation that those who follow his teachings can generate
in their own minds the wisdom needed to reach enlightenment.
This lesson offers a view of meditation.
While we offer a few brief how-to instructions,
this is not a meditation course. This study of
the view of meditation in the practice of eightfold
path is, however, an essential prerequisite to
your meditation practice.
Serenity meditation and insight meditation
The two main types of meditation taught by the Buddha are
serenity meditation (samatha bhavana) and the
insight meditation (vipassana bhavana).
Bhavana, which we translate as meditation, literally
means bringing into being — development or cultivation.
So the practice of serenity meditation is the development of
serenity and the practice of vipassana is the
development of insight.
Serenity meditation — the foundation for wisdom
The development of serenity aims specifically at developing
samadhi, a deep concentrated of mind in which the
mind is unified and free from discursive thoughts.
As you have learned, the eightfold noble path is divided into
three stages: moral discipline, concentration and wisdom.
can’t arise in a mind that is scattered and disturbed
by stray thoughts, distractions and desires.
The root of all bondage and suffering is ignorance,
lack of understanding things as they really are. The one factor
that can cut off and issue directly in liberation is wisdom
or panna. But for wisdom to arrive, the right conditions are
needed. Wisdom can’t arise in a mind that is scattered
and disturbed by stray thoughts, distractions and desires. Wisdom
can only arise only in the concentrated mind, the mind that’s
been cleansed of all thought disturbing thoughts, the mind
that’s been brought to a sharp point of focus – clear
Thus the practice of serenity meditation, samatha bhavana,
aims at developing concentration as a foundation or basis for
arousing wisdom — the wisdom which can cut of off ignorance.
Serenity meditation is common to both Buddhist and non-Buddhist
systems of practice. It was practiced in India long before
the Buddha appeared in the world and, as you'll remember from
the story of the Buddha's life, was practiced by him before
his own enlightenment. But although he reached the highest
attainments of serenity, he found them inadequate.
This states of samahdi or concentration are not the ultimate
goal of meditation in the Buddhist path. They can, however,
serve as supports for developing wisdom, and so they act as
a basis for developing wisdom.
Insight meditation — the development of wisdom
The actual development of wisdom takes place through insight
meditation, the development of insight. Insight meditation,
the unique discovery of the Buddha, aims at gaining direct
insight into the real nature of things. This insight is the
essential key to liberation on the Buddha’s path. It
is this form of meditation that wipes away all the illusions,
wrong mental conception which are created by ignorance and
keep us in bondage
It’s the insight meditation which illuminates phenomena
for us, just as they are, free from all distortions and projections.
Purifying the mind from defilements
Both serenity meditation and insight meditation are concerned
with purifying the mind from defilements — from
greed, hatred and delusion and the other unwholesome states
that arise from them. But the two types of meditation purify
the mind in different ways. They clear up the defilements at
different levels, and they’re directed also to
principally to different types of defilements
Three layers of defilements
The defilements operate at three levels and we must deal them
in different ways at these different levels.
Latent tendencies At the subtlest level the defilements lie dormant
below the surface of consciousness; they don’t
appear in active forms as volatile forces at work in the
When we encounter experiences that strike as either or agreeable
or disagreeable, or when we evaluate things and relate then
to ourselves, the defilements can be aroused from this condition
of latency and rise to the next level, where they appear
in active form.
Manifestation At the level of the active forms of defilements,
they become a formative influence on the thought process.
They motivate our thoughts, our attitudes and our emotions.
Transgression If the defilement gains still more power and reaches
the level where we can no longer control it, it spills
out in the form of unwholesome action – some
unwholesome deed of body or speech.
Here we can see all three levels of defilements at work.
Counteracting the defilements
The three steps of the Buddha’s eightfold path — moral
discipline, concentration and wisdom — are designed to
counteract the defilements of these three different levels.
Sila prevents the defilements from reaching the stage of
transgression. The precepts (next
page) put a check
on our actions of body and speech, keeping them from falling
into the grip of defilements, so they don’t
become a means of expressing greed, hatred, delusion
and their offshoots.
Concentration Even when we’re following the precepts carefully,
the mind can still be overrun by the defilements occurring
in a purely mental form, operating at the stage of manifestation,
governing our thoughts, our emotions and attitudes.
To overcome the defilements at this level, we develop concentration,
samadhi. When the mind becomes focused and concentrated
in a wholesome way, then the active form of the defilements
is checked, the defilements subside from the surface of the
mind, pushed out by the force of pure concentration.
Wisdom Even though the defilements don’t appear,
they still remain at the level of latency, as potentialities.
Because they are able to spring up again in the future if
they meet suitable conditions, the effort of concentration
is not sufficient. What is necessary
is to eliminate the defilements entirely, right down to the
roots, right down to the level of latency. This is the work
of wisdom, panna, developed by the practice of insight
When insight is developed, when it reaches its highest point,
then it issues in the wisdom of enlightenment, and this wisdom
of enlightenment cuts off the defilements right at their
source, right at the bottom of the mind.
The difference between serenity meditation and insight meditation
can thus be understood in terms of the way they purify the
Serenity meditation purifies the mind from the defilements
in their active forms, It removes them from the level of manifestation,
and it does this by suppressing the defilements.
So in serenity meditation we suppress the
defilements, we remove from the surface of the consciousness.
In contrast insight meditation aims at purifying the mind by
removing the latent tendencies, and it does this by cutting
them off at the level of the root by the means of wisdom
Approaching the different types of defilements
Serenity meditation and insight meditation address two different
the types of defilements.
Serenity meditation is concerned principally with removing
the courser defilements such as greed, hatred and certain
of the courses deluded states.
Insight meditation is directed principally to the subtlest
defilements, that is to ignorance. It is intended to remove
even the subtlest
and finest roots of ignorance.
Two approaches to utilizing concentration as the basis
There are two basic approaches to the systematic development
of meditation. While the practice of insight meditation has
the essential place in both, they differ in the ways they utilize
concentration as the basis for insight.
The vehicle to serenity – samata
In this approach we develop serenity to a very deep level,
to a level of deep concentration, until the mind enters samadhi
on a single object. Then by means of that concentration we
stabilize the mind on that object. We make the mind
firm and steady and clear away the active form of defilements.
Then, after developing that concentration, we use that concentration
as a basis and turn the mind to develop insight. Then we
go through the levels of insight meditation.
The vehicle of insight — vipassana
This is the the method of dry insight. Instead of aiming
to develop a deep concentration by fixing the mind on a single
object, we start off directly with the practice of mindfulness,
with concentrating on the four foundations of mindfulness,
contemplating the changing processes of the body, feelings,
states of mind and mind objects. Rather than reaching
the full depth and stillness of the concentration developed
in vehicle of serenity, this concentration is a fluid mobile
kind of concentration. which runs along side the development
It’s called momentary concentration,
not because it lasts only one moment and then disappears
but because it flows along from moment by moment in the changing
process of awareness. As it is cultivated moment by moment,
it picks up momentum until it is strong enough to keep the
defilements away and to allow insight wisdom to arise.
Which approach you choose may depend on your personal temperament — some
people feel a need to develop a strong level of concentration
first, others feel capable of going directly into insight practice — as
well as on the method advised by your teacher.