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Entries in Theravada Buddism (11)


Cultivate Tranquility, Harvest Insight

Introduction by Bhikkhu Bodhi

In America, Theravada Buddhist meditation is often flatly identified with the practice of vipassana, even to the extent that those who practice within this tradition speak of themselves as vipassana meditators. However, the Pali suttas, the ancient records of the Buddha’s discourses, do not treat vipassana as an autonomous system of meditation but as a member of two paired meditative skills called shamatha and vipassana, tranquility and insight. Far from being opposed, in the suttas tranquility and insight are held to be complementary aspects of mental cultivation which, to yield the proper fruits of the Buddhist path, must eventually be yoked and harmonized.

According to their aptitude and disposition, meditators will develop these two qualities in different temporal sequences. One important source (Anguttara Nikaya, The Fours, sutta 170) states that some develop tranquility first and insight afterwards; others develop insight first and tranquility afterwards; and still others develop tranquility and insight in close conjunction. While most teachers of Theravada meditation in the West have leaned towards the second of these models, in the Buddha’s own discourses it is the first that predominates, and this model also forms the scaffolding for the classical Pali meditation manuals such as the Visuddhimagga (“The Path of Purification”).

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