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Union of Shamatha and Vipashyana

Union of Shamatha and Vipashyana

Meditation is the science of training the mind. It is a vehicle for recognizing our true nature and understanding the nature of reality. What we often call meditation can be categorized as two types of meditation: shamatha and vipashyana. Shamatha, or calm abiding, is the practice of bringing the mind to rest. Vipashyana, or clear seeing, is the practice of exploring the nature of the mind.

When we start our own practice, we need to start with shamatha, or bringing the mind to rest. Shamatha involves choosing an intentional focus, whether it be the breath, an object, or even resting in the nature of mind. By working with intention, attention, mindfulness, and meta-awareness, we can cultivate an effortless, joyful, and peaceful equanimity that is accompanied by mindful awareness.

The practice of shamatha leads to the development of a mind that is calm, clear and luminous. Our mind is naturally settled in a state of clear knowing that is free from the proliferation of thoughts. The mind at rest is like an unstirred candle–  steady and calm, yet radiant and clear.

What do we do with this newly discovered awareness? We turn that clear knowing back on the mind itself and simply look at the nature of our experience.

The practice of shamatha or calm abiding leads to the practice of vipashyana, or clear seeing. In the practice of vipashyana, we direct our steady, mindful awareness to look at the nature of the self and our own mind. This awareness is like a sharp weapon that we can use to dissect and cut through layer after layer of confused perception and bias. We can peel back layers of habitual grasping and fixation, layers of imputation and exaggeration.

The practice of insight is a continual process of digging deeper, moving from gross to subtle, substantial to insubstantial. It is a practice of learning to ask better questions, not being content with the answers that you have before you.

Combinging these practices of shamatha and vipashyana can give rise to very clear and profound insights. When the mind is at rest in a state of clear knowing, we can employ the clear seeing of vipashyana to insight into our own nature and the nature of the world in which we live.

We are all familiar with brief flashes of insight. We may be moving throughout our day and suddenly, catch a moment of clarity. These moments come and go, and they can fuel our well-being, joy and creativity. While we may have these insights frequently, they are often not transformative. The transformational power of the higher insights into the true nature of the mind and the nature of reality only occur when the mind is resting in shamatha.

The union of shamatha and vipashyana give rise to moments of awakening, as well as the final awakening of recognizing our true nature. These moments of awakening and higher perception are unpredictable and depend on certain conditions and the depth of your practice. The way that you can impact your chances of gaining these higher insights is to practice more.

The uniqueness of the Buddha's tradition lies in the practice of vipashyana. There are many forms of shamatha meditation, and many similarities among the various traditions as to how to calm the mind and rest in a peaceful state. The wisdom of the Buddha's teachings are what distinguishes it from the other forms of meditation. It is the Buddha's insight into the nature of the self, how all things are interconnected, and how we can use this wisdom to benefit ourselves and others that makes it truly transformative.

Sit. Train your mind. Develop familiarity with bringing the mind to rest.

Familiarize yourself with the stages of bringing the mind to rest, so that you can continuously and regularly rest in shamatha- a calm, clear awareness. With the mind at rest, we can gain insight into questions that explore the nature of the mind, our experience and the world around us.

The union of shamatha and vipashyana gives us the training and experience necessary to practice Dzogchen and recognize the timeless freedom and innate dignity of our natural condition.