Dhamma Letter No. 49

Understanding Samatha and Vipassana (I)

There are two types of meditation offered by early Buddhism. (See Dhamma Letter No. 5)

  1. Samatha (止, concentration) meditation which seeks stillness by concentrating on an object.

  2. Vipassanā (觀, insight) meditation where one can gain insight and wisdom by observing phenomena that arise, maintain, and disappear in matter (the body) and spirit (the mind).

First, let’s look at the etymology of samatha. The Pali word ‘samatha’ is a masculine noun derived from ‘√śam (to be quiet)’. Its meaning is ‘quiet’ or ‘clear’, and it is expressed in words such as ‘calm’, ‘tranquility’, ‘peace’ or ‘serenity’.

In samatha meditation, the meditator’s attempt to reach this calmness of mind in a concentrated state is produced with great effort rather than comfortable ease. Samatha meditation means 'concentration meditation' which focuses only on one object. It seems ‘to cease’. Any unwholesome (不善法) or harmful conditions can be gone by Samatha meditation temporarily. It’s important to know that even though these conditions have stopped, they are still there, but dormant.
Therefore, in Chinese characters, the letter '止 (stop)' is used.

In the early scriptures, 'samatha' has a very close relationship with 'samadhi' and 'jhāna' and is used almost as a synonym. The scriptures do not clearly distinguish between them, but if you look at their usage, you can see the difference between them. In particular, ‘Samadhi’ is used specifically in vipassana meditation ( See Dhamma Letter No. 6), and the contents will be discussed in the next Dhamma Letter.

To be continued…

With Metta,

Ayyā Kosallā & Mahāpajāpatī Bhikkhunī Sangha
Edited by Euna Bonovich 


If you have any questions related to dhamma & meditation, please feel free to ask. You can reach Ayya Kosalla directly at Bhikkhuni.Kosalla@gmail.com . 

법에 대한 질문이 있으신 분은 위의 이메일 주소로 질문을 남겨주세요.

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The Korean Dhamma Letter is here 담마레터.


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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 !