Shamatha means “peaceful abiding” or “tranquility.” Also called mindfulness or concentration meditation, shamatha is an important introductory practice that leads to the practice of vipashyana, or insight meditation.
The purpose of shamatha meditation is to stabilize the mind by cultivating a steady awareness of the object of meditation. The traditional practice of shamatha uses different kinds of supports or anchors for our practice. Eventually, this leads to practicing without supports and meditating on emptiness itself in an open awareness. For this particular practice, the instructions will be for shamatha meditation using the breath as the focus of our practice.
Shamatha meditation allows us to experience our mind as it is. When we practice shamatha, we can see that our mind is full of thoughts, some conducive to our happiness and further realization, and others not. It is not extraordinary that our minds are full of thoughts, and it is important to understand that it is natural to have so much happening in the mind.
Over time, practicing shamatha meditation calms our thoughts and emotions. We experience tranquility of mind and calmly abide with our thoughts as they are. Eventually, this leads to a decrease in unhelpful thoughts.
When we experience stable awareness, we are then ready to practice Vipassana, in which we develop insight into what “mind” is by investigating the nature of thoughts themselves. In the Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism, the ultimate goal is to practice calm abiding and insight in the union, which opens the door to realizing the true nature of mind.
Traditionally, shamatha practice is taught through instructions on the physical body and then looking at the meditation instructions themselves.
Guided Shamatha Meditation of Vajrayana Buddhism:
Adjust the body into a comfortable position, and start the practice by becoming aware of your breath. Notice the inhalation and exhalation.
As you notice the breath, continue to let go of thoughts as they arise. Each time you are distracted by clinging to a thought, return to the breath. Keep doing this over and over again.
Eventually, as you exhale, become aware of your breath escaping and dissolving into space. Experience the same thing with inhalation.
Slowing down, begin to allow your awareness to mix into open space with the breath on both the inhale and exhale.
To deepen the practice, begin to hold the breath after the inhalation for a few seconds before exhaling. By doing this, you are splitting the breath into three parts: inhalation, holding, and exhalation. Keep doing this.
As you inhale, begin to chant om to yourself. As you hold, chant ah. As you exhale, chant hung. Chanting these sacred syllables helps to further support awareness and is believed to purify our minds.
As you continue with the exhalation, relax more. Continue awareness practice, letting go of thoughts and returning to the breath. Do this for as long as you can.
Om Ah Hung
See the Vipassana Guided Meditation - Click Here
Comparing Two Types of Meditation – Samatha, and Vipassana
People who start to delve a little more deeply into mindfulness will discover that different terms are used for different kinds of meditation. In this article, we will focus specifically on Samatha and Vipassana meditations. What are these meditations, what is the difference between them, and which one should a person ideally practice?
In short, Samatha meditation is focused on calming the mind, whilst Vipassana meditation is focused on insight or clearing the mind.
Both meditations have their uses but which one you should practice depends on what your goal is. For most people seeking to get into meditation, we consider Vipassana to be the meditation of choice that is going to deliver them the results they want. Let’s look at why in more detail below.
If tranquility rather than clearing the mind or letting go is the main focus of meditation then this is the method for you. It can serve to quickly quieten an overactive mind.
Should I Practice Samatha or Vipassana?
Based on the differences we explained, you choose which meditation based on what you want the outcome or goal of the meditation to be. If calmness or tranquility alone is your main goal, then choose Samatha; if insight is your goal then choose Vipassana meditation. By insight, we also mean seeing clearly or clearing the mind.
Vipassana meditation is specifically designed for seeing clearly and therefore letting go. Solely using meditation for calmness will not resolve underlying problems in the mind or unresolved issues from the past.
On a philosophical level, Vipassana meditation allows for this letting go as it is focused on observing actual reality.
As Buddhism teaches us, once you use meditation to observe reality, you begin to see reality more clearly in the sense of non-permanence. Focusing on the breath or other phenomena as they become a means by which we begin to understand reality and life in a wider sense. We see the flow of things more clearly.
We start to see that emotions, thoughts, sensations are never permanent and arise and cease.
Practicing meditation will lead us to cling less to negative things like depression as we realize that it is just a temporary experience that will come and go like anything else. We loosen our attachment to things that used to bother us.
By meditating we develop an equanimity where we become less affected and ruffled by things that might have stressed us out before.
This non-judgemental observance of reality also leads to to a level of acceptance, where we come to terms and make peace with what has happened in the past. Through practice observing reality through meditation, we come to accept it as it is and not seek so much to change it, either in the present or in an “if only” sense of constantly going over the past. We gradually learn to let go.
From drawing out these differences we can see that for most people Vipassana is the meditation that is going to get them where they want to go more effectively.
As a side product of Vipassana meditation, we do also develop an increased calmness; it is just differentiated from Samantha meditation as calmness is not its main focus or goal.