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Qualities of the Dharma
The Four Noble Truths
The Noble Eightfold Path
The True Nature of Existence
  The Five Aggregates of Clinging
  Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta
  Dependent Arising
  Kamma, Nibbana and Rebirth


The Sangha
The Buddhist Sangha



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.

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 and precise.

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 mind. 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.

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.

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.

Moral discipline (sila)
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.

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.

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 meditation.

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 mind.

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 for insight

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 serenitysamata yana  
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 yana
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 of insight.

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.