Dhamma Letter No. 5



All of us would like to be happy and we are using our human birth to practice. The Pali word for practice is bhāvanā, which literally means cultivation. Bhāvanā-mayā-paññā, is the third stage of wisdom the Buddha described and discussed in Dhamma Letter No. 3. Cultivation of this sort of wisdom involves two kinds of meditation, samatha and vipassana meditation.

Samatha and Vipassana

Tranquility can be developed by concentration (samatha) and insight (vipassana). There are many traditions which offer various approaches to calming the mind. When the mind is calm, we can more easily observe it. By observing the actions of the body, mind, and speech, we can determine which of our actions are leading to happiness and which are leading to continued suffering. This is the foundation for developing wisdom. As we noted in the previous Dhamma Letters, without bhāvanā (practice), we cannot reach our goal of ultimate, unconditioned happiness.

Samatha (concentration) serves to create a base of tranquility for vipassana (insight) in order cultivate wisdom. Without calmness of mind, you cannot see the mind clearly, which is why insight is based upon concentration.

Just as samatha meditation is a support for vipassana meditation, vipassana meditation is a support for samatha meditation. However, this two-way relationship is often misunderstood. Oftentimes meditators stop upon achieving a state of calmness and do not progress to the wisdom stage. We should not be satisfied by the calm state because the mind will be inevitably shaken once again when present conditions change. Our practice must continue to progress toward a complete understand of the three lakkhana, the characteristics inherent in all conditioned phenomena:

  • Aniccca (Impermanence, 無常)

  • Dukkha (Dissatisfaction, stress, 苦)

  • Anattā (Not-self, 無我)

This must be achieved at the experientially, not just at the level of knowledge or intellectual comprehension. If one understands the three lakkhana at an experiential level, one's life will be changed. It is important to observe oneself with the Right View (Samma-ditthi) and not to observe others judgmentally.

May you all be experienced in tranquility with your practice!

Buddha Sāsanaṁ Ciraṁ Tiṭṭhatu!
May the Buddha’s teachings last a long time!

​Bhavatu Sabba Sotiṁ ca Maṅgalaṁ ca!!
May everyone be led on the path of peace and blessing!

Sādhu Sādhu Sādhu !

If you have any dhamma-related questions, please feel free to ask at hi@dhammaletter.com. We will include your questions with the answers in future Dhamma Letters.