Introduction to Right Samādhi and Right Insight

Translation by Bhikkhu Uttamo

STILL, Flowing Water

A Noble Search

What is the right samādhi in the Noble Eightfold Path? There are two answers to this important question. The first is from the Buddha himself, the others are from commentaries, including scholars and practicing Buddhists. The Buddha's right samādhi is the four rūpa-jhānas. The right samādhi of commentaries are khaṇika samādhi, upacāra samādhi with the four rūpa jhānas. The scholars and practising monks’ (including teachers and students) right samādhi are with their interpretations, views and together with the suttas and commentaries.

Doubts and confusion come from the interpretations and views of some scholars and practising monks (including lay teachers with students). One of the dangers of the decline of paṭipatti (practice) is that if one claims to be a teacher without enlightenment; and any of the “Paths and Fruits” and their teachings are only for the sake of fame and fortune, and become like a business. Sayadaw U Candima mentioned these things in some of his teachings. This is evident if we observe the famous Thai forest tradition, especially that of Ajahn Mun, where no one among his disciples ever opened a meditation center for money or fame. These money and competition syndromes facing humanity today can bring destruction and suffering to both humans and nature.

The Buddha did not mention khaṇika samādhi and upacāra samādhi in the suttas. This is the commentaries view and does not mean that it could be wrong. It can come from the experience of some yogis in the past. We can see these in the teachings of some Thai forest monks. Some scholars can misinterpret some of the commentary teaching (some are self-styled scholars). In his book "The way to Stream Entry", Sayadaw U Candima mentioned the following regarding the misunderstanding of scholars regarding the mention of khaṇika samādhi in the commentaries.

The attainment of khaṇika samādhi was mentioned in Mahānidessa aṭṭhakathā, Paṭisambhidāmagga aṭṭhakathā and Dhammasaṅgaṇi aṭṭhakathā. When completed with rapture (pīti, one of the five elements of the first jhāna), it will also become the completion of the tranquility of body and mind (kāya and citta passaddhi). And with the two tranquilities, it’ll become bodily and mental happiness (kāyika and cetasika sukha). Then, completing with these two happinesses, it’ll become khaṇika, upacāra and appanā samādhi respectively."

Therefore, the kind of khaṇika samādhi means according to the aṭṭhakathā and ṭīkā, it has completed with rapture, tranquility and happiness. It means the kind of samādhi which has the five jhanic factors. There can be a wide range of them from upacāra to rūpa and arūpa jhānas. So khaṇika samādhi has many levels. We should not look down on daily mindfulness or awareness (sati) in our lives as insignificance. If we look at the noble eightfold path of the samādhi factors, it includes sati, viriya and samādhi which are together. Without the establishment of mindfulness we can’t protect ourselves and others (see the Sedaka Sutta, Saṃyutta Nikāya). Sati practice is purifying the mind-it leads to sīla, samādhi and paññā (this is the practice of Mahasi System). Restraining our sense faculties needs sati. We can only solve all human problems with suffering with the Buddha Dhamma—a noble education. Without it, we, all of us, become CRAZY HUMAN BEINGS, greedy and selfish.

We depend on this kind of khaṇika samādhi to develop insight (with five jhanic factors).

To become insight right view (vipassanā sammā-diṭṭhi), we must have the purification of mind (citta-visuddhi) or upekkhā ekaggatā samādhi (one-pointed samādhi with equanimity). The dry insight (suddha-vipassanā) as only vipassanā practice without samatha (i.e. jhāna practice) is true, but the yogi must have one-pointed samādhi with equanimity. Most of us forget or miss this important point (this refers to vipassanā practices before him). Before the mind becomes citta-visuddhi or sammā-samādhi or upekkhā ekaggatā samādhi the mind cannot incline toward the objects of paramatā mind and form, which are the objects (arom, ārammaṇa) of strong insight (balavantu-vipassanā). Dry insight does not have the jhanic factors.

For the purification of mind, you have to contemplate or observe the cessation of the object sign (nimitta—here is insight objects or the four satipaṭṭhāna objects) by suppressing greed and distress (abhijjhā and domanassa) and attain upekkhā ekaggatā samādhi. Here suppression is temporary suppression (vikkhambhana) which is the same as by the samatha jhanic factors. The samatha signs and vipassanā signs are different types. Samatha stabilizes the object signs and vipassanā observes the nature of the signs, which have the three universal characteristics. Therefore, samatha practice without vipassanā develops concepts and self views (see the Baka Brahma, MN 49 Brahmanimantanika Sutta).

Samatha yānika is the development of wisdom by samadhi, while vipassanā yānika is the development of samadhi by wisdom. These are mentioned in the Yuganaddha Sutta—In Conjunction (Aṅguttara Nikāya). Samatha yānika way is relying on the samādhi signs and developing the five jhanic factors of pīti, sukha, etc. that the practice is more comfortable than vipassanā yānika way. It takes more time to develop jhānas. Vipassanā yānika is without the samatha signs that it is dry and tough. But it can realize paths and fruits quicker than samatha yānika way. (e.g., Soon Loon Sayadaw, The-inn Gu Sayadaw, etc.). Some vipassanā yānikas are based on some samatha practices but not to jhanic states (e.g., upacāra samādhi in U Ba Khin's teaching).

Therefore, vipassanā yānika way is called suddha vipassanā practice or animitta cetto samādhi practice. I think we can find the Pāli usage in the suttas. Even though we differentiate between samatha and vipassanā yānika ways, the main point is attaining of upekkhā ekaggatā samādhi or samādhi-indriya.

There are also other Pāli words for samādhi—such as vipassanā jhāna or lakkhaṇa-rūpa jhāna, supramundane jhāna by scholars. This has confused people, if possible, to use only the Pali words mentioned in the suttas.

The problem of what is right samādhi makes Buddhist practicers confusion, and there are a lot of arguments going on in the West with different views and opinions. There are some western Buddhists reject the validity of khaṇika samādhi on the ground that it was not mentioned in the suttas. They don't trust the commentaries and even some go to extreme, rejecting the whole Abhidhamma Piṭaka. Some years ago, three Sri Lanka monks, Ven. Soma, Ven. Kheminda and Ven. Kassapa; and the German lama Anagarika Govinda criticized khaṇika samādhi in the Mahasi System. Some of Mahasi Sayadaw's senior disciples replied for them. It can be found on the internet.

There was an interesting experiment done by the late Prime Minister U Nu of Burma with a Mahasi monk on the fruition state (phala sammāpaṭipatti). This research was described in his booklet on the Tipiṭakas. U Nu invited a Mahasi monk to his place and requested him for entering into fruition state. U Nu did not mention his name and he was not from Rangoon, because after the research he was flown back to his monastery by plane. It seems to me this research was arranged by Mahasi Sayadaw himself. This monk was in the fruition state for six days and six nights. Therefore, U Nu arranged for some people to observe him by replacing the observers.

An American meditation teacher interviewed Pha-auk Sayadaw about the disagreements of western Buddhists regarding what is jhāna and right samādhi. Sayadaw said that people did not understand the Pāli Texts well. He also said that jhāna practices were explained clearly in the Visuddhimagga. He advised him they should trace it back to the original suttas, the original commentaries and sub-commentaries (i.e., old commentaries). After that, for Visuddhimagga, they will understand the meaning. This important point is also mentioned by Dr. Nandamalarbhivamsa Sayadaw and his many Dhamma talks enriched my knowledge and profundity of the Dhamma. He made this remark as how many of them really studied the commentaries and made the bold criticism. (He says this because of how many of them have actually studied the commentaries and made bold criticisms.)

Even I heard a story that a well-known western monk who had never studied Abhidhamma Piṭaka declared it as not authentic (including the commentaries) and he rejected all of them, and also encouraged others the same way. He also admitted that he had never studied the issue before and had only gained second-hand knowledge from others.

There are many Buddhists whose understanding of the Dhamma is like the monkey's understanding of Dukkha in this story below. An old Brahmin became nervous every day because his old wife was talkative and aggressive. She scolded him every day and found faults. As a result, he went to a large tree nearby every day to moan and release his stress. “Oh! It's dukkha. It's dukkha.” A monkey stayed in this tree and often heard the word Dukkha and became curious about it. So he came down from the tree and asked the Brahman, “What is this dukkha you keep mentioning?” The Brahmin was already in distress and wanted to teach the monkey a lesson. So he replied to him, “You must wait for me here tomorrow, and I'll bring dukkha for you.” Next day, the Brahmin put a ferocious dog in a gunny bag and closed the opening with a rope. And then he took it under the tree and called out to the monkey to come down and look for himself what dukkha was. The brahman stayed away from a distance and observed the monkey. The monkey came down from the tree and opened the gunny bag slowly. As soon as it was opened, the distressed dog came out angrily with growls and tried to bite the monkey.

The monkey jumped up the tree instantly with a fright and sat on a branch looking down at the dog which was still barking at him. The monkey made this exclamation; "Oh! My God, I know! I know! Dukkha means aggressive eyes with frightening sharp teeth." Some Western philosophies of Dukkha are not so different from this monkey (see hedonism, imperialism, capitalism, competition syndrome, money syndrome, etc.). They don't see the dangers and even fall in love with Dukkha!

Khaṇika samādhi has many levels on the way when it reaches the level of upekkhā ekaggatā samādhi. It was like the still flowing water. Ajan Cha gave the still flowing water simile or analogy to this samādhi as follows.

STILL, Flowing Water

“Have you ever seen flowing water? Have you ever seen still water? If your mind is peaceful, it's like still, flowing water. Have you ever seen still, flowing water? There! You've only seen flowing water and still water (i.e., separately). You have never seen still, flowing water (i.e., together). Right there, right where your thinking can't take you: where the mind is still but can develop discernment. When you look at your mind, it'll be like flowing water, and yet still. It looks like it's still, it looks like it's flowing, so it's called still, flowing water. That's what it's like. That's where discernment can arise.”

In training yogis to develop samadhi, U Candima teaches the three stages of samadhi, or what he calls the three bhavaṅgas. The first "bhavaṅga samadhi" has the power of the first jhāna, the 2nd "bhavaṅga" corresponds to the 2nd plus the 3rd jhāna, and the 3rd "bhavaṅga" corresponds to the fourth jhāna.

These three bhavaṅgas have their own qualities and functions. Only arriving at the level of the 3rd bhavaṅga, one can discern the viññāṇa, with this samādhi power, he can develop great insight (mahā-vipassanā).

There are three important suttas in his teaching—those are: Āsīvisopama Sutta—the Simile of the Vipers (SN 35. 238, Saḷāyatanavagga, Saṃyutta Nikāya), Vammika Sutta—the Ant-hill (Sutta no. 23, Majjhima Nikāya), Chachakka Sutta—the Six Sets of Six (Sutta no. 148, Majjhima Nikāya). Of the three sutras, the two, āsīvisopama Sutta and Chachakka Sutta, are more relevant to his instruction in practice.

I have a purpose for writing this long article. The most recent books (“Two Sides of a Coin” and “A Noble Search”) are life stories told by The-inn Gu Sayadaw and Sayadaw U Candima themselves to inspire readers. There I have translated only some of his talks (i.e. U Candima's Dhamma) on the practice of samadhi and some controversies with Buddhists about the nature of right samadhi and true insight. I relied on some of his instructional talks in his nine days retreat for yogis. These recorded talks were not complete and mixed up with some of his Dhamma talks to lay people. I don't even have a clear understanding of them myself (all of them are compiler errors). Now, I base this essay on his book—“The Way to Stream Entry”.

The reader should use this article to read the autobiographical and Dhamma talk of U Candima, which has the practice of samādhi. I have included only important excerpts from his book so that readers can get a general idea of his life and teaching. I hope that the life and teaching of U Candima will address some of the issues of samādhi and insight faced by the practitioner.

據英譯者—鄔達摩比丘交待,此譯文僅能免費與大眾結緣,作為法的禮物(Dhamma Dāna)。你可以在任何媒體上重新編製、重印、翻譯和重新發布這部作品。