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vipaśyanā and silent illumination

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vipaśyanā and silent illumination

Postby Guo Gu on Wed Dec 04, 2013 11:15 pm

i was asked by the insight journal to contribute an article on the relationship btn vipassana and silent illumination in order to draw attention to my workshop at the barre center of insight meditation society, the bcbs in massachusetts (in march). so i gave a talk and had it transcribed, then i edited it. the article will come out sometime this month.

it was interesting, the editor wanted me to find nikāya scriptural sources for silent illumination, as if to suggest that the nikāyas are the only source of authority for buddhist methods. yet, the early buddhist canon can only be dated concretely to fifth-century CE--very late! in fact, all scriptures, both early and mahāyāna, were only committed to written text no earlier than the first century bce. in other words, the so-called “early” and “later” scriptures were written down around the same time.

anyway, it gave me an opportunity to revisit the early canon again. i usually don't prepare for my talks but this talk required me to do homework! :lol2: i found ample sources for the teaching on sudden awakening, which is not discussed in the theravada commentarial tradition--this is not surprising as the theravada is only one among 18 different early schools of buddhism. also found evidence for the dual experience of śamatha and vipaśyanā, which is the precursor to silent illumination.

there's definitely a keen interest in silent illumination among vipassana practitioners and teachers--many of them used to come to my teacher's chan retreats wanting to learn this method. there's a natural resonance btn these two approaches to practice. there are differences as well. i don't know how to post a word doc attachment but if any of you are interested in reading the draft version of this article, pls pm me. i'll log back in the forum in a few days. i probably shouldn't share the article publicly until it is published in the insight journal (i'm allowed to share pdf offprints online after it is published).

does anyone here actual practice vipassana and silent illumination? would be interesting to read your experience with them.

be well,
guo gu
Founder and teacher of Tallahassee Chan Center of the Dharma Drum Lineage of Chan Buddhism
http://www.tallahasseechan.org/
Received inka from Master Sheng Yen (1930-2009) in 1995
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Re: vipaśyanā and silent illumination

Postby Caodemarte on Thu Dec 05, 2013 2:44 am

An interesting topic. I don't know about the commentarial tradition, but Theravada tradition has scattered biographies of, and references to, monks who experienced what appears to be sudden awakening.Several traditional Thai (and perhaps other?) Theravada schools teach that what is called Samantha and vipassana may be taught separately as different techniques only as an expedient training means for novices, but must be fused together for "real meditation," although some do hold that they are different techniques to be used separately.
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Re: vipaśyanā and silent illumination

Postby Kojip on Thu Dec 05, 2013 4:00 pm

There has never been a strict division between silent illumination and vipassana in how the teachings have been presented to me from the beginning. They flowed into each other. Settling and attaining concentration, then investigating anicca. dukkha, anatta, was a basic Theravadin approach, though states of absorption where never described as important. I remember hearing about a monk who was forbidden to enter jhana because he could do so easily, and it was like an addiction. The same teachers instructed in simply hearing... and in sitting in/as a basic space where agitation and an unsettled mind are “as they are”. The attitude was “Here are the Buddha's teachings, offered with an open hand. You can do it” There was never a closed hand or a proprietorial attitude. I was encouraged while being told I had to work it through myself.

Not sure if this is helpful.. Richard
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Re: vipaśyanā and silent illumination

Postby Guo Gu on Fri Dec 06, 2013 10:27 pm

Caodemarte wrote:An interesting topic. I don't know about the commentarial tradition, but Theravada tradition has scattered biographies of, and references to, monks who experienced what appears to be sudden awakening.Several traditional Thai (and perhaps other?) Theravada schools teach that what is called Samantha and vipassana may be taught separately as different techniques only as an expedient training means for novices, but must be fused together for "real meditation," although some do hold that they are different techniques to be used separately.


i've never came across writings/teachings by contemporary teachers of the theravada tradition who teach the fusion of the two approaches. do you have a reference? i wonder if these teachers are getting this idea from outside of the theravada tradition.
thanks,
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http://www.tallahasseechan.org/
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Re: vipaśyanā and silent illumination

Postby Guo Gu on Fri Dec 06, 2013 10:31 pm

Kojip wrote:There has never been a strict division between silent illumination and vipassana in how the teachings have been presented to me from the beginning. They flowed into each other. Settling and attaining concentration, then investigating anicca. dukkha, anatta, was a basic Theravadin approach


hi richard,
yes, usually śamatha and vipaśyanā are taught sequential to one another. these two do flow into one another. have you experienced or been taught cultivating these two simultaneously?
be well,
guo gu
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Received inka from Master Sheng Yen (1930-2009) in 1995
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Re: vipaśyanā and silent illumination

Postby Kojip on Sat Dec 07, 2013 12:53 am

Guo Gu wrote:
Kojip wrote:There has never been a strict division between silent illumination and vipassana in how the teachings have been presented to me from the beginning. They flowed into each other. Settling and attaining concentration, then investigating anicca. dukkha, anatta, was a basic Theravadin approach


hi richard,
yes, usually śamatha and vipaśyanā are taught sequential to one another. these two do flow into one another. have you experienced or been taught cultivating these two simultaneously?
be well,
guo gu



In the Theravadin context i was never taught pure samatha practice or pure insight practice. Our teacher warned of not “becoming a unicorn” meaning sitting and staring at your nose. There was always the factor of discernment. Also the object of awareness was never shut out from the totality of body, mind, and environment ,... discernment and stillness were treated as two sides of one coin. ... though not formally, or doctrinally. Later when I began to practice in the Son tradition our main source was Chinul. Hearing of simultaneous samadhi and prajna, essence and function, void-calm ground and alert discernment, struck me as similar to what I had been taught in the Forest Sangha tradition. At a retreat in Ottawa Ajahn Sumedho spoke of “Buddha Mind” in refrence to a still alert ground. However there was never a clear teaching of simultaneous samadhi and insight that i recall. Theravadins are touchy about reification. A sensibility I appreciate. :blush:

It's interesting, I just don't ever remember being a typical student going through a set process... and don't remember anyone else doing so either. There is no set formula. Sorry if I can't be clearer on the subject. This feels a bit like a school quiz :lol2:



Could you please describe the simulteneous practice you teach ? Thank you Richard
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Vipassanā is one end of the stick and samatha the other

Postby Caodemarte on Sat Dec 07, 2013 2:03 am

There are many Theravadas (perhaps as many as there are Theravadins). There are many interpretations, practices, and teaching methods.

It is my understanding that samatha and vipassana are taught as separate tools, complementary tools, and the same tool by different schools (or at different times by the same school). I would suspect that the last approach is not so much from the influence of non-Theravada schools and more based on scripture, passed down tradition, and the mediators' own experience. That said, I am no expert in any of this and can only pass on what others say. Here are some quick references. Both the sources below are freely available on the internet for non-profit use.

Excerpts from "A HONED AND HEAVY AXE Samatha and Vipassanā in Harmony" by Ajahn Chandako

While samatha generates energy, vipassanā puts it to work. These two were not originally intended to be different styles of Buddhist meditation with different goals, but merely two interrelated themes of one harmonious path of Dhamma practice leading to Nibbāna, enlightenment.

As far as we know the Buddha never taught a way of Dhamma practice that would correspond with what we think of today as vipassanā meditation. It seems that there was originally no path of dry-insight. In the entire collection of teachings there is hardly a single reference to vipassanā where it is not conjoined with either samatha or jhāna.

This realization of full enlightenment has two aspects: liberation of
mind, which refers to jhāna, and liberation through wisdom. So intimately intertwined are calm and insight that the peak of vipassanā, the insight into and realization of Nibbāna, is described by the Buddha in many places as:
―This is peaceful. This is sublime. That is, ‗sabbe sankhāra samatha‘, the complete ‗calming‘ of all conditioned phenomena.‖

Ajahn Chah‘s down-to-earth style of teaching was characterized by the use of numerous metaphors drawn from the natural world, including many illustrating the relationship between serenity and insight.
―Meditation is like a single stick of wood. Vipassanā is one end of the stick and samatha the other. If we pick it up, does only one end come up or do both? Insight has to develop out of peace and tranquility. The entire process will happen naturally of its own accord. We can‘t force it.‖

Ajahn Chah compared these two facets of mental cultivation to the biting and tasting of an apple. They are different, but how can we taste the apple without taking a bite? Referring to samādhi and wisdom he asks, ―Is a mango when it‘s unripe and when it‘s ripe the same or different?‖ It‘s the same mango, yet samādhi is continually ripening into wisdom.

―Samādhi forms the foundation for contemplation and vipassanā. Everything experienced with a peaceful mind confers greater understanding.‖
Ajahn Chah taught that vipassanā is like striking a match. It brings forth light, but the flame only lasts for a flash. Developing samatha is like dipping a wick in hot wax to make a candle. The more you dip it, the stronger it gets. By itself a candle doesn‘t give off any light, but it has much potential. If you then use the match to light the candle, you have a source of sustained light that dispels darkness and makes vision possible.

Excerpts from: One Tool Among Many The Place of Vipassana in Buddhist Practice by Thanissaro Bhikkhu © 1997

But if you look directly at the Pali discourses — the earliest extant sources for our knowledge of the Buddha's teachings — you'll find that although they do use the word samatha to mean tranquillity, and vipassana to mean clear-seeing, they otherwise confirm none of the received wisdom about these terms. Only rarely do they make use of the word vipassana — a sharp contrast to their frequent use of the word jhana. When they depict the Buddha telling his disciples to go meditate, they never quote him as saying "go do vipassana," but always "go do jhana." And they never equate the word vipassana with any mindfulness techniques. In the few instances where they do mention vipassana, they almost always pair it with samatha — not as two alternative methods, but as two qualities of mind that a person may "gain" or "be endowed with," and that should be developed together.

There's a passage, for instance, describing three ways in which samatha and vipassana can work together to lead to the knowledge of Awakening: either samatha precedes vipassana, vipassana precedes samatha, or they develop in tandem (AN 4.170)

Once the meditator is endowed with both samatha and vipassana, he/she should "make an effort to establish those very same skillful qualities to a higher degree for the ending of the mental fermentations (asava — sensual passion, states of being, views, and ignorance)." This corresponds to the path of samatha and vipassana developing in tandem. A passage in MN 149 describes how this can happen. One knows and sees, as they actually are, the six sense media (the five senses plus the intellect), their objects, consciousness at each medium, contact at each medium, and whatever is experienced as pleasure, pain, or neither-pleasure-nor-pain based on that contact. One maintains this awareness in such a way as to stay uninfatuated by any of these things, unattached, unconfused, focused on their drawbacks, abandoning any craving for them: this would count as vipassana. At the same time — abandoning physical and mental disturbances, torments, and distresses — one experiences ease in body and mind: this would count as samatha. This practice not only develops samatha and vipassana in tandem, but also brings the 37 Wings to Awakening — which include the attainment of jhana — to the culmination of their development.

If, for example, there is concentration and gladdening, with no letting go, the mind wouldn't be able to refine its concentration at all. The factors that have to be abandoned in raising the mind from stage x to stage y belong to the set of factors that got the mind to x in the first place (AN 9.34). Without the ability clearly to see mental events in the present, there would be no way skillfully to release the mind from precisely the right factors that tie it to a lower state of concentration and act as disturbances to a higher one. If, on the other hand, there is simply a letting go of those factors, without an appreciation of or steadiness in the stillness that remains, the mind would drop out of jhana altogether. Thus samatha and vipassana must work together to bring the mind to right concentration in a masterful way

From this description it's obvious that samatha and vipassana are not separate paths of practice, but instead are complementary ways of relating to the present moment: samatha provides a sense of ease in the present; vipassana, a clear-eyed view of events as they actually occur, in and of themselves. It's also obvious why the two qualities need to function together in mastering jhana.
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Re: vipaśyanā and silent illumination

Postby Mason on Sat Dec 07, 2013 2:53 am

I was under the impression that in classical Buddhism, and especially in the Visuddhimagga, jhana is taught as the actual material for insight meditation. One is taught to go into these states of absorption that have very specific characteristics - joy, happiness, equanimity, concentration, etc. - and then either within those states or after emerging from them to review the impermanent, unsatisfying and non-self nature of those characteristics.

So in this way of working, samatha and vipassana work together to produce wisdom. But they are not an inseparable unity as they are in the practice of silent illumination.
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Re: vipaśyanā and silent illumination

Postby Caodemarte on Sat Dec 07, 2013 3:49 am

My understanding (which may be completely off) is that at least some Theravada teachers teach vipaśyanā and samatha as necessarily united, some say separate but complementary, some teach only one, and all quote canonical Buddhist sources in support of this position. Even Mara can quote the Nikayas! I guess some teachers would say, "Simply find out by going all the way through."

Are any of the million and one Theravada meditation methods the same as silent illumination? I suspect we'd get the same answer.

I am still thinking about question of influence from "outside" schools. Theravada apparently developed after Mahayana as a movement to get back to the sources. Mahayana, especially Tantric, Buddhism was well established before being replaced by Theravada in most of SE Asia. Mahayana Buddhism remained established in SE Asia's neighbors. Did influences carry over into Theravada and Theravada into the Mahayana? It is hard to say how they could not, but equally hard (at least for me!) to identify them with any precision.
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Re: vipaśyanā and silent illumination

Postby Guo Gu on Sat Dec 07, 2013 3:57 am

Kojip wrote: In the Theravadin context i was never taught pure samatha practice or pure insight practice. Our teacher warned of not “becoming a unicorn” meaning sitting and staring at your nose. There was always the factor of discernment. Also the object of awareness was never shut out from the totality of body, mind, and environment ,... discernment and stillness were treated as two sides of one coin. ... though not formally, or doctrinally. Later when I began to practice in the Son tradition our main source was Chinul. Hearing of simultaneous samadhi and prajna, essence and function, void-calm ground and alert discernment, struck me as similar to what I had been taught in the Forest Sangha tradition. At a retreat in Ottawa Ajahn Sumedho spoke of “Buddha Mind” in refrence to a still alert ground. However there was never a clear teaching of simultaneous samadhi and insight that i recall. Theravadins are touchy about reification. A sensibility I appreciate. :blush:

It's interesting, I just don't ever remember being a typical student going through a set process... and don't remember anyone else doing so either. There is no set formula. Sorry if I can't be clearer on the subject. This feels a bit like a school quiz :lol2:

Could you please describe the simulteneous practice you teach ? Thank you Richard


hi richard,
yes, śamatha and vipaśyanā are two sides of the same coin; they're intrinsically related. ajahn sumedo and his teacher ajahn chah were familiar with the chan tradition. ajahn chah had the teachings of huangpo and the platform sutra translated into thai.
the dharma has no set formula; i resonate with that.
sorry to have you feel like a quiz :lol2:
the simultaneous practice of śamatha and vipaśyanā is a bit too much to go into here, but once the article comes out i can direct you to it. thank you.


caodemarte,
i do agree with the texts you cite. ajahn chandako is also a disciple of ajahn chah. i think what he was (and they were all) responding to was the burmese mahasi sayadaw tradition/movement, in which only vipassna is really emphasized. in doing so they sought to bring back the element of śamatha and vipaśyanā as complimentary. as for thanissaro bhikkhu, he is also responding to the recent vipassana movement begun by sayadaw through scriptural authority. the scripture he cites (above, an 4.170) is yuganaddha sutta, which also mentions the sudden simultaneous entry of the path through momentary śamatha and vipaśyanā even for an agitated person. most teachers of the theravada tradition do not address this, as far as i know. although ajahn chah has mentioned it in the past, if i recall, but his teaching has great resonance with the chan tradition to which he was familiar.
the teaching that singles out the sequential cultivation of śamatha and vipaśyanā primarily comes from visuddhimagga of 5th century (as thus-gone has pointed out). it was also around this time that the pali canon, in the form that we know it, came into being.
there's great resonance btn the personal experience of the path among these traditions, but the way the path is expressed sometimes differ.
as for different theravada traditions, i do agree. also theravada was only one among many different traditions (18 plus)... some of them, from glimpses of their recorded teaching preserved in the chinese canon, are quite different from received tradition of the buddha taught.
thanks to all those who posted thus far.
guo gu
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Re: vipaśyanā and silent illumination

Postby Guo Gu on Thu Jan 16, 2014 4:16 pm

article now posted on the insight journal website: http://www.bcbsdharma.org/insight-journal/
it will be there for a month, then it goes to the archive webpage.
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Re: vipaśyanā and silent illumination

Postby Guo Gu on Sun Jan 19, 2014 3:02 am

ani,
not sure why you're asking this but.... :lol2: anyway, my desk at home is set up next to the window. during the day i just allow light to come in--natural daylight. if i work into the night it would be a regular light bulb. soft white 60 watt. does that answer your question?
be well,
guo gu
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Re: vipaśyanā and silent illumination

Postby Guo Gu on Sun Jan 19, 2014 8:36 pm

just saw your thread about "light bulb banning"....
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Re: vipaśyanā and silent illumination

Postby littletsu on Sun Feb 16, 2014 9:59 pm

Just for the record: the teachings of Huangpo and the Platform Sutra were translated by Buddhadasa, another
outstanding figure of the Thai Forest Tradition.

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Re: vipaśyanā and silent illumination

Postby Guo Gu on Wed Mar 12, 2014 3:54 am

ah, thanks for clarifying that!
would you please point to the exact link where this is stated? or maybe it's in pdf file? i
i had a cursory glance at the link but could not find the reference.
thanks,
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Re: vipaśyanā and silent illumination

Postby littletsu on Wed Mar 12, 2014 1:53 pm

Guo Gu wrote:ah, thanks for clarifying that!
would you please point to the exact link where this is stated? or maybe it's in pdf file? i
i had a cursory glance at the link but could not find the reference.
thanks,
guo gu



Oh, well, that I only "heard" in this documentary about Buddhadasa's life:
(go to 09:49)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rp3-7nquO3U

I guess one would have to know some Thai to look into this!

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