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Shamatha and Vipashyana Support Each Other

shamatha and vipashyana

Nondual guided meditation by Michael Taft

Shamatha (i.e. calming and focusing) and Vipashyana (special insight) are two different practices that can be used in combination to increase the effectiveness of both. In shamatha practice we are staying with a calm and focused mind. However, this is often interrupted by intrusive thoughts, emotions, and so forth. In order to help ourselves to go deeper, we can then switch to vipasyana on whatever content was interrupting the shamatha.

Let’s take intrusive thoughts, for example. We switch to vipashyana, taking the thinking as its object. That is, we do vipashyana on the thinking, noticing its emptiness. This is the “special insight” that we access in vipashyana: to see the emptiness of some apparent object. Once the emptiness of the thoughts is clear, we can then switch back to doing shamatha, and the thoughts will now be much less of a problem. We can do this for any material that is causing unsteadiness in our shamatha. Thus vipashyana supports shamatha.

How does shamatha support vipashyana? As our mind becomes calm and steady, it increases the insight capacity of the vipashyana apace. The more clarity and stability we have in the shamatha, the more penetrating and powerful the vipashyana becomes.

The productive interplay between these two techniques suggests a structure of practice in which we go back and forth between doing shamatha for a while, then vipashyana for a while, then back to shamatha again. Over and over. With each round of this back-and-forth, the depth of the shamatha increases as does the power of the vipashyana. We can think of this as kind of refinement process, which can leads us into the depths of true emptiness and awakening.

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note: I (Michael Taft) took this photo of a peacock I saw in a park in Vallejo, Ca.

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