When people talk about meditation they’re usually talking about one kind, and that’s Shamatha, or concentration meditation.
I’m going to present another kind that’s often done alongside Shamatha. It’s called Vipassana, or Insight Meditation.
Shamatha provides ground for Vipassana and the two are equally important. I’m not going to present Vipassana as superior to Shamatha. Without a solid foundation of Shamatha practice, Vipassana isn’t really possible. Shamatha quiets the mind and Vipassana expands awareness.
Vipassana leads to insight. It plants the seed of prajna, transcendent wisdom. It is the practice that prepares us for the deepest teachings. It’s what allows us to understand emptiness intuitively.
Shamatha is great. It increases our focus. It helps us manage our emotions. It lowers our blood pressure.
Vipassana opens a door in the sky.
It’s a contemplative approach of pondering the dharma with a practice that’s dedicated to cultivating awareness. We can use it to peer into the space between thoughts. We want to see awareness without attaching to it.
Vipassana is less focused than Shamatha, but more expansive. It involves letting go, letting things be what they are. Shamatha is a literal and straightforward practice. Vipassana is a mystical and idealistic one.
Mindfulness of breathing becomes awareness of breathing. The simplest way I can explain it is this: in Vipassana practice you become aware of breathing as just breathing, not as YOUR breathing. The breath just is.
Vipassana is what makes you aware of the potential for enlightenment. It is dwelling in enlightenment, without the small self, the ego. Dwelling without the ego is important because of the way we fixate and try to put things into neat categories that don’t really match reality. The mind that makes labels is replaced by one that’s just aware, cutting through thoughts just as they arise. Vipassana develops an awakened mind that’s able to connect with fundamental goodness and understand things as they are.
Shamatha builds up our focus. Vipassana spreads it into vast awareness. Shamatha slows and calms down our thoughts. Vipassana occurs in the space between thoughts. With Vipassana we can experience the vastness of reality.
In Vipassana we are able to see the wonder that is inherent in everyday experience.
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