Buddhism is a form of religion that has three major schools of thoughts including Theravada, Mahayana, and Vihrayana. Mahayana originated from India in the 5th CE under the leadership of the Gupta dynasty. The government valued the teachings of Mahayana traditions to an extent of establishing a public university referred to as Nalanda to teach people its principles. Mahayana religious values are currently practices in Singapore, Korea, Japan, parts of Russia, and Vietnam.
This article focuses on the meditation practices of Mahayana Buddhism and mainly looks at the differences between samatha and ainsighta types of meditation. Meditation is the main principle of any Buddhist teaching and it concernes with two major themes, one of them being changing an individual’s mind and utilizing the new message to transform the world.
The religion believes that Buddha instructed people to perform samatha and vipassana meditations. Meditation plays an important role in an individual’s life because it gives them a chance to concentrate on what really matters in their lives. The monks, nuns, and other serious believers practice meditation, as it is known to help solve personal problems.
Differences between acalminga (samatha) and ainsighta (vipasana) Mahayana teachings of Meditation
Samatha means full concentration whereby an individual’s mind is expected to be free of any ruinations. It is meant to calm the mind down and bring peace and tranquility to an individual. During meditation, the mind is meant to take a very powerful form of concentration that prepares the mind to attain insight and penetrate into the actual nature of truth (Cozort 38). At this point, an individual is likely to be relieved of any form of suffering.
This type of meditation is aimed at cultivating mindfulness, which plays an important role in mental concentration. Buddhism insists on exploring the nature of reality and this can only be attained through concentration. The first step towards samatha meditation is being mindful of the suggestion or object, which is later extended to the body, the brain, and the environment resulting in a state of total attentiveness and equanimity.
While meditating, the individual is supposed to sit while the legs are crossed. Alternatively, an individual may kneel, recite a poem, or walk straight. However, the commonly employed method of meditation is concentrating on the breath, which is referred to as anapanasati, even though it is also employed in the vipassana form of meditation. The aim of samatha meditation among the Buddhists is to calm the brain and make an individual focus on the most important things as far as religion is concerned.
On the other hand, vipassana meditation seeks to ascertain the functionality of the mind by first establishing how it is often disturbed when faced with various issues. Vipassana therefore helps in seeking insightful knowledge and greater understanding of issues or what is popularly referred to as jnana among the worshipers of Buddha (Shaw 98).
Continuous practice of Vipassana meditation leads to nirvana or pali nibbana, which is a condition in which an individual is free from all forms of defilements. While samatha meditation aspires to prepare the mind by ensuring maximum concentration, Vipassana seeks to suppress all forms of ruinations, but on temporary basis.
Under Vipassana meditation, the worshiper tries to understand the world around him because eradication of defilements is impossible without establishing the real problem. It is observed that vipassana is performed after undertaking samatha meditation because it needs adequate preparation of the mind to attain the concentration levels that are needed in getting rid of the defilements.
While samatha means the right levels of concentration, vipassana entails wisdom, which is reliant on the attainment of dependent instigation, four gracious realities, and three marks of life. Prajna is a form of wisdom in vipassana meditation that is in a position to snuff out all sufferings and bring about bodhi or satisfaction.
Practicing samatha purifies the mind and prepares it to absorb knowledge, while vipassana meditation is likely to result in nirvana or comfort because of its attribute to help reveal a number of personal issues, such as dukkha (dissatisfaction), anica (impermanence), and anatta (defective self-esteem).
Carrying out samatha meditation is simple because what an individual has to do is to simply concentrate while seated or standing quietly in a private place, but performing vipassana meditation would force an individual to go an extra mile, such as listening to sermons (dharma talks), reading motivation books and quotes, studying the aspects of religion, and reciting the teachings of Buddha in general. The aim of all this is for the believer to conceptualize the teachings of Buddha and apply them in life by substantiating the truth (Luk 112).
Unlike Samatha meditation, Vipassana does not call on the individual to focus on mediation only because he or she can perform other duties while listening to the sermons. The basic assumption of samatha meditation is that concentration relieves the mind from all forms of disturbances hence enabling the individual to live a happy and stress-free life. Samatha is also referred to as tranquility meditation, but it does not have the ability of free an individual from problems.
Buddhism teaches that destruction of the mental problems and bodily harms can never be attained without realizing the three major life characteristics. Therefore, an individual exercising samatha meditation is likely to suffer from rage, desires, repugnance, and ravenousness. On the other hand, vipassana helps an individual attain the major survival characteristics, which bring about liberation in life.
Although the two major forms of meditation differ in several ways, they are both practiced after fulfilling certain requirements as set out in the Buddhist religious manual. For instance, the individual has to understand the way in which the four protections work. The first step is recollecting the nine attributes of Buddha whereby an individual must understand how the fore fathers of the religion operated during the meditation time.
Buddha was free from all sorts of defilements, enlightened, knowledgeable, educated, controlling, orator and teacher. Secondly, development of kindness is mandatory because the individual has to be sympathetic to the less unfortunate in society for him or her to receive blessings (Nyanaponika 12).
Thirdly, the individual has to understand death by being aware of mortality. In other words, people should live knowing that they might die any time hence doing something important before death is a must. Finally, an individual has to establish what the body loves most and try as much as possible to keep off from such things. Samatha and vipassana meditation teach similar things, but the practices are different. They both focus on preventing the individual from committing sin, but they give different prescriptions.
Cozort, Daniel. Highest Yoga Tantra. Boston: Snow Lion Publications, 2005. Print.
Luk, Charles. The secret of Chinese meditation: Self-cultivation by mind control as taught in the Chan, Mahayana, and Taoist schools in China. York Beach: Samuel Weiser, 1964. Print.
Nyanaponika, Thera. The heart if Buddhist Meditation. A handbook of mental training based on the Buddha’s way of mindfulness. New York: Samuel Weiser, 1996. Print.
Shaw, Sarah. Introduction to Buddhist meditation. London: Routledge, 2009. Print.