Learn What The Buddha Taught
Dhamma Articles And Talks By Subject >>
Shamatha-Vipassana And Metta Meditation
Below are recordings of guided Shamatha-Vipassana meditation sessions of varying lengths, and two recordings of Metta Meditation. Below the instructions for Shamatha-Vipassana meditation are the words of the Karaniya Metta Sutta – the Buddha’s words on Metta.
It is most effective for beginning meditators to start with shorter meditation sessions and gradually extend the meditation sessions. There is nothing to gain from uncomfortably long meditation sessions as the purpose of meditation is to deepen concentration. What is most important is consistency and the right method. Short periods of meditation practiced consistently within the framework of the Eightfold Path will bring a calm and peaceful mind.
Long meditation sessions engaged in only occasionally and without the proper framework will have little ongoing usefulness and can often continue conditioned views rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths,
Incorporating Metta Intentional Meditation into a meditation practice can help end distracting negative thoughts towards oneself or others, or towards worldly conditions.
The Buddha taught only one meditation method – Shamatha-Vipassana meditation. He taught meditation as one factor of eight. All eight factors together are the Buddha’s teachings of the Eightfold Path. He taught the Eightfold Path to recognize and abandon individual contributions to confusion, deluded thinking and ongoing disappointing and unsatisfactory life experiences known as Dukkha.
The Buddha taught meditation for developing samadhi, a non-distracted well-concentrated mind. It is a well-concentrated mind that is not distracted by craving for and clinging to self-referential views rooted ignorance of Four Noble Truths that has the potential and clarity to awaken.
The guided Shamatha-Vipassana meditation recordings below follow the Buddha’s instruction on the purpose of meditation found in the Samadhi Sutta and the levels of meditative absorption described as Jhanas. The importance of developing Shamatha – tranquility – and Vipassana – insight – as the focus of meditation is taught in many suttas including the Kimsuka Sutta and the Yuganaddha Sutta.
The Buddha taught the Four Foundations of Mindfulness to stabilize the mind by avoiding ordinary distractions and how to apply the refined mindfulness that is supported by the concentration developed in Samatha-Vipassana meditation in the Satipatthana Sutta and the Anapanasati Sutta.
Shamatha-Vipassana mediation instructions are below. Meditation is best practiced with a sangha well-focused on the Buddha’s teachings. If you are not in the Hunterdon County, New Jersey or Bucks County, Pennsylvania area, or you do not have a well-focused sangha in your area, you can join my classes and our sangha online Streamed Live.
If you are new to meditation or the direct teachings of the Buddha you may find benefit from the page for New Visitors.
Here are additional articles and talks on meditation: Meditation Article and Talks
A comprehensive presentation of the Buddha’s teachings is available in my book Becoming Buddha – Becoming Awakened.
Please feel free to contact me with any questions. Above all, be gentle with yourself and enjoy the Buddha’s Dhamma!
Shamatha-Vipassana Meditation Instruction
The Following is an excerpt from The Truth Of Happiness book. Information on The Truth Of Happiness book and ten-week Dhamma study is here.
The Buddha taught only Shamatha-Vipassana meditation throughout his teaching career. Shamatha-Vipassana meditation is a remarkably simple technique. Shamatha-Vipassana meditation is the foundation of the Eightfold Path and the initial establishment of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.
Shamatha-Vipassana Meditation is a simple technique with profound and transformative results. It is a technique that anyone can integrate into their lives. Shamatha-Vipassana meditation only requires being mindful of the pure sensation of the breath in the body.
It is in its simplicity that Shamatha-Vipassana meditation will focus a distracted mind and end the feedback loop of self-referential views. Within the framework of the Eightfold Path, Shamatha-Vipassana meditation will develop the insight necessary to abandon confused and discursive thinking.
Developing trance-like states, distracting imagery, or visualizations is not the purpose of meditation.
The purpose of Shamatha-Vipassana meditation is to develop gentle and unwavering concentration. From a well-concentrated mind insight into the arising and passing away of all objects, events, views, and ideas will develop. Distracting thoughts originating in clinging, craving, desire, and aversion, will fall away.
The initial difficulty for many beginning meditators is boredom. Boredom is the conditioned need for continual distraction. As the practical benefits of meditation develop joyful enthusiasm overcomes boredom.
Maintaining mindfulness of the breath brings a gentle focus to meditation, developing concentration. Chasing mystical experiences or ego-driven achievements is avoided.
Initially, short periods of meditation are effective in establishing a meditation practice. Long meditation sessions will often further condition thinking rooted in ignorance. Unrealistic methods and expectations will often develop without the guidance of the Eightfold Path.
There is no need to struggle with long periods of meditation. A few minutes of well-intentioned gentle practice is enough to begin to incline the mind towards samadhi.
Samadhi is the quality of mind of non-distraction, or deep and profound concentration.
Deepening concentration is the “goal” of meditation, not length of time. As gentle concentration deepens, the length of meditation sessions will naturally increase.
Shamatha means tranquil or quiet. Using the breath as a point of focus interrupts following one thought immediately with the next. As the mind quiets and concentration increases.
The insight that develops through the Eightfold Path is not a distracting craving-insight into all mundane phenomena. A well-concentrated mind supports skillful insight into the core themes of the Buddha’s Dhamma – Three Marks of Existence, Five Clinging-Aggregates, and Four Noble Truths.
Skillful insight may occur during Shamatha-Vipassana meditation. The Satipatthana Sutta shows that skillful insight more commonly occurs outside of formal meditation through mindfulness of the Eightfold Path supported by the concentration developed during meditation.
Rather than an aspect of direct inquiry into ordinary phenomena during Shamatha-Vipassana meditation, skillful insight is more a product of a quiet and well-concentrated mind framed by the entire Eightfold Path.
As seen in the Yuganaddha Sutta, developing tranquility and insight in tandem is for “developing the Eightfold Path so that the shackles of self-referential views are abandoned and self-obsessions destroyed.”
The Buddha taught that what is held in mind determines experience. This is why quieting the mind and gaining insight into the nature of stress and clinging is so effective in developing awakening.
The purpose of the Buddha’s teachings is to recognize and abandon craving and clinging rooted in ignorance of Four Noble Truths. It is craving and clinging rooted in ignorance that creates the feedback loop described in the Nagara Sutta.
Skillful insight into craving and clinging develops the refined mindfulness necessary to recognize and abandon all wrong views. Within the framework of the Eightfold Path, Right view develops as wrong views are recognized and abandoned.
Shamatha-Vipassana meditation returns the mind to a tranquil state not subject to reaction caused by conditioned thinking. Conditioned thinking causes continued wrong view which causes continued unskillful reaction. This reaction creates further conditioned thinking. This is another way of describing the feedback loop the Buddha describes in the Nagara Sutta. The insight developed into this process makes it possible to interrupt the cycle of discursive thinking.
This simple technique avoids the distraction of compulsively analyzing impermanent mental objects. This would only continue ignorant views. The Buddha describes these views and what these views support as “like foam on the water.”
It is foolish and unskillful to use meditation to further ignorance in this manner. Simply recognize distraction and return mindfulness to the breath. No further analysis of reactive thoughts or feelings is necessary or effective in interrupting this feedback loop.
Analysis of conditioned thinking during meditation will only strengthen conditioned thinking. What is held in mind will determine experience. A meditation practice alone, without the guidance and framework of the Eightfold Path, will strengthen conditioned thinking while substituting more “acceptable” but still ignorant views. This again is another example of being stuck in a feedback loop of self-referential views.
Having the intention to engage in a meditation practice to fix a broken or flawed self is not skillful use of meditation. Using meditation to realize a hidden Buddha-Nature is not skillful use of meditation. Using meditation to seek pleasant mind states or mystical experiences is not skillful use of meditation. Using meditation in this way will create more self-referential conditioned thinking.
One can spend eternity in these distracting pursuits. Concentration supports the refined mindfulness necessary for recognizing and abandoning all wrong views. Concentration supports the refined mindfulness necessary for integrating the Eightfold Path as the framework for developing profound Right View
Shamatha-Vipassana meditation will develop a non-distracted quality of mind. This brings the ability to recognize and abandon all conditioned mind states. Ineffective “meditation” practices are abandoned. As stated in the introduction, the Buddha practiced and mastered the most “advanced” meditation techniques of his time – both still practiced today – and rejected them as “not leading to the goal” and “not supporting unbinding.”
The Buddha likened establishing a meditation practice to taming a wild elephant. In order for a young elephant to be useful, it must be able to focus and follow direction. To tame a young elephant, a strong rope would be tied around the elephant’s neck and to a strong post or tree. The elephant would immediately begin thrashing around, flapping its ears, stomping the ground, and making loud grunts and bellows, very unhappy to not be able to wander around, aimlessly engaging in any distraction that arose.
The more resistant the young elephant became, the stronger the rope held. Eventually the elephant would put aside its desire for continual distraction and sensual fulfillment and it would settle down.
In this metaphor, an untrained mind is the young elephant, the rope is mindfulness of the breath, and the strong post or tree is the breath.
As one begins to establish a meditation practice, the mind is often thrashing about, resistant to settling down. Thoughts insist on wandering aimlessly with strong desire to continue distraction by following one thought with another, continually describing their own self-created reality.
As mindful awareness of the breath develops the mind calms and concentration deepens. By utilizing the simple technique of Shamatha-Vipassana meditation it becomes possible to quiet a constantly distracted mind. With sustained gentle practice guided by the Eightfold Path, clinging, compulsive thinking settles down.
Returning to the metaphor, once the elephant has learned to remain mindful of the post, the rope is loosened and the elephant is finally free. Once tranquility and concentration deepens, the need to describe reality based on desirous thoughts driven by attachment and aversion is interrupted, and useful and skillful insight arises.
As concentration increases, integrating The Eightfold Path begins to clear “fetters” or “hindrances.” Fetters are agitated mind states which can make quieting the mind much more difficult if not impossible. As practical insight into Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, and Right Mindfulness develops, fetters subside and Right Meditation becomes increasingly more effective.
In this way it is quickly seen that Shamatha-Vipassana meditation is one aspect of a complete path that develops profound wisdom, pure virtue, and unwavering concentration necessary for ending ignorance and for Becoming Buddha.
There is nothing magical or mystical about a meditation posture. The typical meditation posture of seated on the floor with legs folded against the torso is simply a way to sit comfortably during meditation. The meditation posture should be stable, relaxing and support a quiet and alert mind. It should provide a reasonable amount of comfort, avoiding physical distraction for the meditation period. At first, any posture may prove uncomfortable, and the posture described below will become more comfortable with time. It is preferable to sit on the floor supported by a zafu (pillow made for meditation) placed over a zabuton (a larger, flatter mat to support the legs). The zafu should be from 6 to 8 inches thick and is often filled with cotton, buckwheat, or kapok.
When sitting on the zafu place your sit bones on the front third of the zafu and allow your hips to drop in front of you. With your legs straight in front of you, bend your right leg at the knee and place your right foot under your left thigh and near your left buttock. Bend your left leg at the knee and place your left foot approximately in the crease formed by your right thigh and calf, resting on your calf. For more support you can place yoga blocks or a rolled towel under your knees. This posture may be uncomfortable at first, but with time and patience this will prove to be a stable base with which to build a meditation practice on. This is known as the half-lotus or Burmese posture.
If you are particularly nimble, you may want to sit in the full-lotus position. The full-lotus is the same as the half-lotus except for placing the right foot on top of the left thigh and the left foot on the right thigh. Again, there is nothing advantageous about the full-lotus over the half-lotus unless it affords you more stability and comfort.
From this stable base, keep your back straight but not stiff, not leaning forward or back. Align your ears with your shoulders and your nose with your navel. Place your left hand on top of your right palm with the thumbs tips lightly touching forming an approximate egg-shape with the thumbs and forefingers. Again, there is nothing magical or mystical about this hand placement. When done consistently it leads to quicker relaxation and lessens physical distraction.
An alternative to sitting on a zafu is to use a low bench called a seiza in a sitting-kneeling position usually over a blanket or zabuton.
If sitting on the floor proves too uncomfortable, it is acceptable to sit in a chair with your feet flat on the floor, your back straight but not stiff, ears aligned with your shoulders and nose aligned with your navel. Lying down is the least effective regular meditation posture as it will usually lead to drowsiness. If lying on your back is the only choice due to injury or illness, make the best of it and avoid drowsiness. If drowsiness ensues, stop meditation and begin again when refreshed.
Shamatha-Vipassana Meditation Technique
To begin your meditation, take a few slow, deep breaths, exhaling fully. Remind yourself that now is the time for meditation. Gently close your eyes and gently close your mouth leaving a soft smile.
Breathing through your nose, notice your breath entering your body at the tip of your nose. Being mindful of the sensation of breathing in your body you may notice that the air is slightly cooler on the inhale and slightly warmer on the exhale. If you don’t notice this temperature difference simply notice the flow of your breath.
Be mindful of your inhalation and your exhalation. Do not attempt to regulate your breathing in any way. However, your body wants to breathe, place your mindfulness on the pure sensation of breathing.
Take a few minutes to sit with mindfulness of the breath. Notice that thoughts are flowing. Return your awareness to your breath. As thoughts continue to arise, gently put your thoughts aside, not following one thought with another thought, and place your mindful awareness on your breathing. As thoughts arise, gently put your thoughts aside and remain mindful of your breathing. This is being mindful of the breath, holding in mind your breathing.
This is the basic practice – being mindful of the breath in the body. Remember that a trance-like state or the forced elimination of all thoughts is not a goal of meditation. We are conscious beings – thoughts should be flowing. The purpose of meditation is to not be distracted by thoughts. When you find that you are caught up in your thoughts, return mindfulness to the sensation of breathing.
As thought constructs or physical feelings arise, dispassionately remain mindful of them for a few moments. Acknowledge the thought or feeling as impermanent and return your mindfulness to your breathing. You are now engaging in the “vipassana” part of shamatha-vipassana meditation of gaining useful insight.
What is this insight? Simply that all thoughts, all experiences, are impermanent and empty of any lasting effect except for the effect caused by holding on to thoughts and thought constructs, which is distraction arising from clinging.
You are developing concentration and spaciousness between thoughts. By experiencing your thoughts while remaining tranquil, you are directly interrupting conditioned thinking. By remaining tranquil as thoughts arise, you are training your mind to accept the people and events, including yourself, as they are. Dispassionate acceptance of thoughts as they are interrupts conditioned thinking.
It is the reaction caused by conditioned thinking that creates perception of any event. Understanding now reveals the means for freedom and liberation from suffering. Let everything that arises go and return your mindfulness to the pure sensation of breathing.
As Shamatha-Vipassana meditation practice develops, the insight and spaciousness realized in sitting practice will become more and more apparent in your life off of your cushion. You will find that you are more peaceful and less reactive. You will find you are more present and mindful of who you are in the present moment. You will find ever-deepening concentration.
Remember that you are not seeking a trance-like or blank mental state. No insight can arise in a trance. Shamatha-Vipassana meditation interrupts compulsively following one thought with another thought by being mindful of the sensation of breathing in our body.
Insight into The Three Marks of Existence through profound concentration is what distinguishes meditation taught by the Buddha from every other meditation technique.
Unless insight is developed, no freedom from conditioned thinking is possible. Until conditioned thinking is recognized and put aside, it will prove impossible to escape the suffering caused conditioned thinking. Once conditioned thinking is recognized and abandoned the mind’s natural spaciousness is realized free of clinging one thought immediately to the next.
If unpleasant thoughts arise, put them aside and return to the sensation of breathing in your body. If pleasant thoughts arise, put them aside and return to the sensation of breathing in your body. If visions arise, pleasant or unpleasant, grand or mundane, dispassionately put them aside and return to the sensation of breathing in your body.
Whatever arises during meditation practice is simply part of what is to be recognized as impermanent and put aside and return awareness to your breath.
Establishing a Meditation Practice
The second and sixth factors of The Eightfold Path, Right Intention and Right Effort, greatly support meditation practice. The strong resolve of Right Intention is to recognize and abandon craving and clinging. Being mindful of Right Effort will provide the framework needed to develop and maintain a meditation practice.
Perhaps the most difficult challenge when beginning a meditation practice, and often as practice develops, is organizing life for practice. The busy-ness and nearly constant distractions of life are always creating the illusion that we are just too busy to practice. The irony is that we often find that we have more time for the most important aspects of our lives when we do make the time for meditation practice.
Being mindful of Right Intention and Right Effort, make a commitment to practice. Put aside set times, preferably twice a day, for meditation practice. It is most skillful to sit as soon as possible after waking before becoming distracted or sidetracked by a daily routine. Simply doing this begins to diminish conditioned mind’s desire to avoid quieting down.
Right Effort is keeping in fit physical, mental and spiritual condition as well. Getting enough rest, eating healthy, and physical exercise are all a part of Right Effort.
Any exercise is a support for meditation practice. Walking “meditation” is a very skillful way to combine exercise and meditation. Walking “meditation” is not a substitute for sitting meditation.
Nothing will bring the mind to a state of quiet receptivity necessary for insight to arise as will an effective sitting practice.
When doing walking meditation, walk slowly with hands folded in front of your abdomen or behind you. Avoid extremely slow walking – this is a modern form of asceticism. Maintain mindfulness of your breath and your walking, being aware of each step as your foot touches the earth.
Qigong is a very effective exercise that combines slow movements and mindful breath awareness. Qigong increases peaceful energy and builds flexibility, strength and well being. Some forms of yoga (asanas) can also build flexibility, strength and overall well-being though the underlying philosophy often contradicts the Buddha’s teachings.
Once a decision to begin a meditation practice has been made, organizing Ife for practice is the first step in establishing an ongoing practice. Committing to meditation twice a day and, within reason, keeping to this schedule is itself part of practice. The most skillful time to practice is when aversion to sitting arises. Meditating, when aversion to meditation arises, diminishes the effects of conditioned thinking, including the conditioned thinking of aversion to practice.
As stated previously, meditating upon arising in the morning is usually the most effective time to schedule a first sitting session. If possible, meditating approximately 12 hours later in the day will provide a skillful balance to practice. If the only other time for practice is just before bed, be mindful of drowsiness. If it is at times difficult to maintain alertness, try to adjust your schedule to earlier in the day.
If it is possible to set aside a room solely for meditation, keep the room clean and clutter free. The room should also be well ventilated and seasonally not too hot or cold. A candle to light during meditation and perhaps a small statue of the Buddha as a mindful reminder of awakening can be an initial point of focus, but are not necessary. If it is not possible to designate an entire room to your practice, a corner of a room that can be maintained as above will work just as well.
Developing a routine of place, time, posture and technique will greatly enhance commitment to practice and help subdue conditioned mind’s desire to avoid the peaceful refuge of practice.
It is best to begin a meditation practice with just a few minutes of sitting at a time. By initially sitting for two or three minutes at a time you will not become disappointed or conclude that meditation is too difficult. As you become comfortable with two or three minutes of practice, gradually add a minute or two to your meditation time. Stay at this length of meditation practice until you are comfortable and feel it is time to lengthen your meditation practice again.
It is most skillful not to push yourself too hard and too fast, and also not to avoid increasing your practice time when appropriate. If you have a teacher or someone who has some experience in establishing a meditation practice, seek their counsel as well.
Establishing a mediation practice will be much more effective if done daily for short periods of time rather than long periods of meditation only occasionally.
Meditation practice is not an endurance test and should not create more stress by having too high expectations of your self and your practice. The strongest impediment to establishing a meditation practice will prove to be your own judgments of your practice.
Joining a regular meditation group that stays focused within the framework of The Eightfold Path is a great support to meditation practice.
If you are following the instructions, putting aside thoughts as they arise, not following a thought with a thought as best as you can, and returning your awareness to the sensation of breathing in your body, you are establishing a meditation practice.
Avoid judging yourself or your practice harshly. Always be loving and gentle with yourself and enjoy your practice.
Karaniya Metta Sutta
The Karaniya Metta Sutta is the Buddha’s words on Good Will and Loving-kindness. This is a translation from the Amaravati Sangha and describes both the moral and ethical aspirations of one engaged with the Buddha’s Dhamma and the refined mindfulness developed through the Eightfold Path.
Note the concluding stanza:
“Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.”
This means that Metta, true goodwill and loving-kindness, is an expression of one who has developed the Buddha’s teachings and has freed themselves of the world’s entanglements. Having recognized and abandoned the defilements of greed, aversion, and deluded thinking, through the framework of the Eightfold Path, there is nothing to give rise to a confused and deluded ego-personality.
In accordance with the Buddha’s description of emptiness, one has emptied themselves of clinging and emptied the world of their ego-self. There is nothing clinging to the phenomenal world, anatta is no longer born again in the world.
The Karaniya Metta sutta shows that the most loving and compassionate action that anyone can take is to engage wholeheartedly with the direct teachings of the Buddha and awaken.
The Karaniya Metta Sutta
This is what should be done
By one who is skilled in goodness,
And who knows the path of peace:
Let them be able and upright,
Straightforward and gentle in speech,
Humble and not conceited,
Contented and easily satisfied,
Unburdened with duties and frugal in their ways.
Peaceful and calm and wise and skillful,
Not proud or demanding in nature.
Let them not do the slightest thing
That the wise would later reprove.
Wishing: In gladness and in safety,
May all beings be at ease.
Whatever living beings there may be;
Whether they are weak or strong, omitting none,
The great or the mighty, medium, short or small,
The seen and the unseen,
Those living near and far away,
Those born and to-be-born —
May all beings be at ease!
Let none deceive another,
Or despise any being in any state.
Let none through anger or ill-will
Wish harm upon another.
Even as a mother protects with her life
Her child, her only child,
So with a boundless heart
Should one cherish all living beings;
Radiating kindness over the entire world:
Spreading upwards to the skies,
And downwards to the depths;
Outwards and unbounded,
Freed from hatred and ill-will.
Whether standing or walking, seated or lying down
Free from drowsiness,
One should sustain this recollection.
This is said to be the sublime abiding.
By not holding to fixed views,
The pure-hearted one, having clarity of vision,
Being freed from all sense desires,
Is not born again into this world.
From the Samyutta Nikaya 1.8