Teaching about samatha, the mental tranquility gotten by a continuous training.
There are fundamentally two categories of training which we can follow. There are training belonging to the category called samatha and training belonging to the category called vipassanā.
samatha is a Pali word that means quiet, peaceful. All that which is quiet and peaceful is samatha. For example, about a lake whose surface of water is not ridged by the wind, we can say that it bears the characteristic of samatha. When the mind is relatively calm, relatively composed, it is samatha at this very moment. samatha is all that which is peaceful, calmed and quiet.
All that which occurs within our consciousness is constituted by phenomena, about which we have given some more less complete, more less long lists, which all have these three characteristics in common. Conscious of the fact that the world is unsteady, that it undergoes ceaseless mutations and it is impossible to back up with something steady, something certain, many are those who commit themselves to a spiritual path, to a spiritual step, to a practise, to a yoga, to a meditation.
Those ones will then compel themselves into certain exercises whose aim is to develop mental tranquillity, samatha. In order to develop tranquillity, samatha, it is merely sufficient to turn our attention to something that is relatively motionless. It is about regularly turning our attention to the same thing as there is in fact nothing that is really motionless. Simply, we turn our attention again and again to the same thing in order to stabilise the mind and to gradually bring it to a state of relative peace, relative tranquillity, relative serenity. Such a step is named samatha bhāvanā. bhāvanā means "training".
For instance, training oneself in a room of body building, this is also bhāvanā. To train into learning how to read, this is also bhāvanā. Here, bhāvanā is the training into developing tranquillity, serenity. We will achieve this training into experiencing some particularly crystal clear states of mind, particularly clear, transparent, entirely opened, a kind of all sided consciousness, a consciousness which is all embracive. We have the feeling to have reached or touched a kind of divine state. That is quite normal, those are symptoms that are significant of any samatha step.
samatha lies in turning our attention to an idea, to a conception. We will for instance turn our attention to a geometrical figure, a blue circle. We will focus our attention to this blue circle and ceaselessly, tirelessly, confine it to the vision of this blue circle. We deal here with an exercise of attention that is taking place in continuity, a bit as if finally, the blue circle was self-existing, was something continuous.
samatha is a step that takes place in the continuity of phenomena and which does not perceive the reality of the later but only this continuity. It is an exercise that in no wise can lead to the development of wisdom.
satipaṭṭhāna, that is totally different: It merely involves turning our attention to that which appears to consciousness, as such, as it is. That is to say, turning our attention to reality alone. In the fact to focus concentration on a blue circle, we turn our attention to the blue colour, we contemplate the blue colour, we get concentrated on blueness. We can help ourselves at the beginning, for that sake, by mentally uttering the word "blue" or loudly even.
In satipaṭṭhāna, that which interests us, it is the mere fact to see, sight consciousness, sight, the vision, not the blue circle, neither blueness, nor the blue colour. If we always turn our attention, for prolonged periods, to a blue circle, we will not succeed in being aware of this faculty of seeing. We will remain in a state of observation and attention turned to the blue colour. It is impossible to develop the presence of mind, satipaṭṭhāna, while turning our attention to a continuous phenomenon, or to one appearing as continuous instead.
Then, there is that which the monk Gotama, the one who reached perfect awakening, has discovered, which is vipassanā. vipassanā is something about which a comparison with samatha cannot be drawn at all. We cannot compare the two, samatha, it simply is the development and the practice of tranquillity, of serenity. vipassanā is not a development, neither a practice, nor a meditation. It is a mere fact, it is a mere mental activity, a conscious activity whose particularity lies in knowing reality. vipassanā is therefore not something that could be considered as a meditation object, an exercise, investigation or reflection. It is something that can be developed, but for that, we ought to do something else.
Origin: Teaching given in France
Author: Monk Sāsana
Translator: Thierry Lambrou
Date of translation: 2003
Update: 2005, June the 14th