Below is a selection of texts from the Nikāyas (ancient Buddhist scriptures) on samatha (calmness) and vipassanā (insight) chosen by Bhikkhu Bodhi as an introduction to these two variations of Buddhist meditation, with here and there his own commentary.

1. The Three Stages (Dīgha Nikāya 16)

And the Blessed One often taught the bhikkhus thus:

“Such and such is virtuous conduct; suchand such is concentration; and such and such is wisdom. Great is the fruit, great is the gain ofconcentration, when it is based upon virtuous conduct; great is the fruit, great is the gain ofwisdom when it is based upon concentration; the mind fully developed in wisdom is utterly freedfrom the taints of sensual desire, craving for existence, and ignorance.”

2. The Three Trainings (Aṅguttara Nikāya 3:89)

The three trainings: the training in the higher virtuous behavior, the training in the higher mind, and the training in the higher wisdom.

“And what is the training in the higher virtuous behavior? Here, a bhikkhu is virtuous, restrained by the monastic rules. Having undertaken the training rules, he trains in them. This is the training in the higher virtuous behavior.

“And what, bhikkhus, is the training in the higher mind? Here, secluded from sensual pleasures and unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters and dwells in the first jhāna … the second jhāna … the third jhāna … the fourth jhāna …. This is the training in the higher mind.

“And what, bhikkhus, is the training in the higher wisdom? Here, a bhikkhu understands as it really is: ‘This is suffering. This is the origin of suffering. This is the cessation of suffering. This is the way leading to the cessation of suffering.’ This is the training in the higher wisdom.”

3. Two Constituents of Clear Knowledge (Aṅguttara Nikāya 2:31)

“Bhikkhus, these two things pertain to clear knowledge. What two? Serenity and insight.

“When serenity is developed, what benefit does one experience? The mind is developed. When the mind is developed, what benefit does one experience? Lust is abandoned.

“When insight is developed, what benefit does one experience? Wisdom is developed. When wisdom is developed, what benefit does one experience? Ignorance is abandoned.

“A mind defiled by lust is not liberated; and wisdom defiled by ignorance is not developed. Thus, through the fading away of lust there is liberation of mind; and through the fading away of ignorance there is liberation by wisdom.”

The development of the mind through samatha and of wisdom through vipassanā culminate in the fruit of arahantship, which is described as the “taintless liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom” (anāsavā cetovimutti paññāvimutti). Here, samatha is the condition for liberation of mind and vipassanā for liberation by wisdom.

4. The Task of Serenity and Insight (Aṅguttara Nikāya Twos: Final Repetition Series)

Two things—serenity and insight—are to be developed for the destruction of seventeendefilements: lust, hatred, delusion, anger, hostility, denigration, insolence, envy, miserliness,deceitfulness, craftiness, obstinacy, rivalry, conceit, arrogance, intoxication, heedlessness.

5. Four Ways to Arahantship (Aṅguttara Nikāya 4:170)

The Venerable Ānanda said this: “Friends, whatever bhikkhu or bhikkhunī has declared theattainment of arahantship in my presence has done so in one or another of these four ways.

(1) “Here, a bhikkhu develops serenity first and insight afterward. As he is developingserenity first and insight afterward, the path is generated. He pursues this path, develops it, and cultivates it. As he is pursuing, developing, and cultivating this path, the fetters are abandoned and the underlying tendencies are uprooted.

(2) “Again, a bhikkhu develops insight first and serenity afterward. As he is developinginsight first and serenity afterward, the path is generated. He pursues this path, develops it, and cultivates it. As he is pursuing, developing, and cultivating this path, the fetters are abandoned and the underlying tendencies are uprooted.

What is meant by “serenity” here? It would not make sense to take this as the concentration of the supramundane path, for this serenity is to be developed in order to reach the path. Hence it can be taken to mean either jhāna developed subsequent to insight, or access concentration, or (according to Mahasi Sayadaw) it can mean “the momentary concentration associated with insight” (Manual of Insight, p. 52).

(3) “Again, a bhikkhu develops serenity and insight in conjunction. As he is developingserenity and insight in conjunction, the path is generated. He pursues this path, develops it, and cultivates it. As he is pursuing, developing, and cultivating this path, the fetters are abandoned and the underlying tendencies are uprooted.

Yuganaddhaṃ bhāveti. Commentary  says  that  each  time  he  attains  a  meditative  attainment  (samāpatti),  he emerges  and explores it by way of its conditioned phenomena. And having explored its conditioned phenomena, he enters the next attainment.

Thus, having attained the first jhāna, he emerges and explores its conditioned phenomena as impermanent, etc. Then he enters the second jhāna, emerges, and explores its conditioned phenomena, and so on up to the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception. Since, however, yuganaddha means literally “yoked together,” some interpret the term to mean that in this mode of practice serenity and insight occur simultaneously. The commentarial system does not acknowledge this possibility but several suttas might be interpreted as suggesting that insight can occur within the jhāna and does not require the meditator to withdraw before beginning contemplation. See in particular Majjhima Nikāya 52 and 64 and Aṅguttara 9:36.

(4) “Again, a bhikkhu’s mind is seized by restlessness about the Dhamma. But therecomes an occasion when his mind becomes internally steady, composed, unified, and concentrated. Then the path is generated in him. He pursues this path, develops it, and cultivates it. As he is pursuing, developing, and cultivating this path, the fetters are abandoned and the underlying tendencies are uprooted.”

Dhammuddhaccaviggahitaṃ mānasaṃ.  Commentary  explains  that  the  mind  is  seized  by the “ten  corruptions  of  insight.”

Nothing in the text suggests the corruptions of insight are involved. I understand the person being described here as a practitioner who reflects deeply on the Dhamma, acquires a sense of urgency, and then finally settles down and gains insight when meeting with favorable supporting conditions.

6. Both Serenity and Insight Are Needed (Aṅguttara Nikāya 4:94)

“Bhikkhus, there are these four kinds of persons found existing in the world. What four? (1) Here, bhikkhus, some person gains internal serenity of mind (ajjhattaṃ cetosamatha) but not thehigher wisdom of insight into phenomena (adhipaññādhammavipassanā). (2) Some other person gains the higher wisdom of insight into phenomena but not internal serenity of mind. (3) Still another gains neither internal serenity of mind nor the higher wisdom of insight into phenomena. (4) And still another gains both internal serenity of mind and the higher wisdom of insight into phenomena.

(1) “Bhikkhus, the person among these who gainsinternal serenity of mind but not the higher wisdom of insight into phenomena should approach one who gains the higher wisdom of insight into phenomena and inquire of him: ‘How, friend, should conditioned phenomena be seen (daṭṭhabba)? How should conditioned phenomena be explored (sammasitabba)? How should conditioned phenomena be discerned by insight (vipassitabba)?’ The other then answers him as he has seen and understood the matter thus: ‘Conditioned phenomena should be seen in such a way, explored in such a way, discerned by insight in such a way.’ Then, some time later, he gains both internal serenity of mind and the higher wisdom of insight into phenomena.

(2) “The person who gains the higher wisdom of insight into phenomena but not internal serenity of mind should approach one who gains internal serenity of mind and inquire of him: ‘How, friend, should the mind be set up (saṇṭhapetabba)? How should the mind be composed (sannisādetabba)? How should the mind be unified (ekodi kātabba)? How should the mind be concentrated (samādahātabba)?’ The other then answers him as he has seen and understood the matter thus: ‘The mind should be set up in such a way, composed in such a way, unified in such a way, concentrated in such a way.’ Then, some time later, he gains both the higher wisdom of insight into phenomena and internal serenity of mind.

(3) “The person who gains neither internal serenity of mind nor the higher wisdom of insight into phenomena should approach one who gains both and [ask both sets of questions]. The other should then answer in both ways. Then, some time later, he gains both internal serenity of mind and the higher wisdom of insight into phenomena.

(4) “The person who gains both internal serenity of mind and the higher wisdom of insight into phenomena should base himself on those same wholesome qualities and make a further effort for the destruction of the taints.”

7. Stages in Calming the Mind (Aṅguttara Nikāya 3:101, The Soil Remover)

“Bhikkhus, there are gross defilements of gold: soil, grit, and gravel. Now the soil remover or his apprentice first pours the gold into a trough and washes, rinses, and cleans it. When that has been removed and eliminated, there still remain middle-size defilements in the gold: fine grit and coarse sand. The soil remover or his apprentice washes, rinses, and cleans it again. When that has been removed and eliminated, there still remain subtle defilements in the gold: fine sand and black dust. So the soil remover or his apprentice washes, rinses, and cleans it again. When that has been removed and eliminated, only grains of gold remain.

“The goldsmith or his apprentice now pours the gold into a melting pot, and fans it, melts it, and smelts it. But even when this has been done, the gold is not yet settled and the dross has not yet been entirely removed. The gold is not yet malleable, wieldy, and luminous, but still brittle and not properly fit for work. But as the goldsmith or his apprentice continues to fan, melt and smelt the gold, a time comes when the gold is settled and the dross has been entirely removed, so that the gold becomes malleable, wieldy, and luminous, pliant and properly fit for work. Then whatever kind of ornament the goldsmith wishes to make from it—whether a bracelet, earrings, a necklace, or a golden garland—he can achieve his purpose.

“So too, bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu is devoted to the higher mind, (1) there are in him gross defilements: bodily, verbal, and mental misconduct. An earnest, capable bhikkhu abandons, dispels, terminates, and obliterates them. When this has been done, (2) there remain in him middling defilements: sensual thoughts, thoughts of ill will, and thoughts of harming. An earnest, capable bhikkhu abandons, dispels, terminates, and obliterates them. When this has been done, (3) there remain in him subtle defilements: thoughts about his relatives, his country, and his reputation. An earnest, capable bhikkhu abandons, dispels, terminates, and obliterates them. When this has been done, then there remain thoughts connected with the Dhamma. That concentration is not peaceful and sublime, not gained by full tranquilization, not attained to unification, but is reined in and checked by forcefully suppressing [the defilements].

“But, bhikkhus, there comes a time when his mind becomes internally steady, composed, unified, and concentrated. That concentration is peaceful and sublime, gained by full tranquilization, and attained to unification; it is not reined in and checked by forcefully suppressing [the defilements]. Then, there being a suitable basis, he is capable of realizing any state realizable by direct knowledge towards which he might incline his mind.”

8. Four Kinds of Samādhi (Aṅguttara Nikāya 4:41)

“Bhikkhus, there are these four developments of concentration. What four? (1) There is a development of concentration that leads to dwelling happily in this very life. (2) There is a development of concentration that leads to obtaining knowledge and vision. (3) There is a development of concentration that leads to mindfulness and clear comprehension. (4) There is a development of concentration that leads to the destruction of the taints.

(1) “And what, bhikkhus, is the development of concentration that leads to dwelling happily in this very life? The four jhānas.

(2) “And what is the development of concentration that leads to obtaining knowledge and vision (the divine eye)? Here, a bhikkhu attends to the perception of light … he develops a mind imbued with light.

(3) “And what is the development of concentration that leads to mindfulness and clear comprehension? Here, a bhikkhu knows feelings as they arise, as they remain present, as they disappear; he knows perceptions as they arise, as they remain present, as they disappear; he knows thoughts as they arise, as they remain present, as they disappear.

(4) “And what is the development of concentration that leads to the destruction of the taints? Here, a bhikkhu dwells contemplating arising and vanishing in the five aggregates subject to clinging: ‘Such is form, feeling, perception, volitional formations, consciousness, such their origin, such their passing away.’ These are the four developments of concentration.”

9. How to Contemplate with Insight (Saṃyutta Nikāya, chap. 22)

(12) “Bhikkhus, form is impermanent, feeling is impermanent, perception is impermanent, volitional formations are impermanent, consciousness is impermanent. Seeing thus, bhikkhus, the instructed noble disciple becomes disenchanted with form, feeling, perception, volitional formations and consciousness. Disenchanted, he becomes dispassionate. Through dispassion [his mind] is liberated. When it is liberated there comes the knowledge: ‘It’s liberated.’ He understands: ‘Destroyed is birth, the holy life has been lived, what had to be done has been done, there is no more for this state of being.’”

(13) “Form is dukkha, feeling is dukkha, perception is dukkha, volitional formations are dukkha, consciousness is dukkha. Seeing thus … his mind is liberated ….

(14) “Form is nonself, feeling is nonself, perception is nonself, volitional formations are nonself, consciousness is nonself. Seeing thus … his mind is liberated ….

(15) “Form is impermanent. What is impermanent is dukkha. What is dukkha is nonself. What is nonself should be seen as it really is with correct wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ Feeling is impermanent…. Perception is impermanent…. Volitional formations are impermanent…. Consciousness is impermanent. What is impermanent is dukkha. What is dukkha is nonself. What is nonself should be seen as it really is with correct wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’ Seeing thus … his mind is liberated…. He understands: ‘… there is no more for this state of being.’”

10. Insight Based on the Jhānas (Aṅguttara Nikāya 9:36)

“Bhikkhus, I say that the destruction of the taints occurs in dependence on the first jhāna. (2) I say that the destruction of the taints also occurs in dependence on the second jhāna … the third jhāna … the fourth jhāna … the base of the infinity of space … the base of the infinity of consciousness … the base of nothingness … the base of neither-perception-nor-non-perception … the cessation of perception and feeling.

“When it was said: ‘Bhikkhus, I say that the destruction of the taints occurs in dependence on the first jhāna,’ for what reason was this said? Here, secluded from sensual pleasures and unwholesome states of mind, a bhikkhu enters and dwells in the first jhāna. He then contemplates anything there pertaining to form, feeling, perception, volitional activities, and consciousness as impermanent, suffering, an illness, a boil, a dart, misery, affliction, alien, disintegrating, empty, and non-self. He turns his mind away from those phenomena and directs it to the deathless element thus: ‘This is peaceful, this is sublime, that is, the stilling of all activities, the relinquishing of all acquisitions, the destruction of craving, dispassion, cessation, nibbāna.’ If he is firm in this, he attains the destruction of the taints. But if he does not attain the destruction of the taints because of that lust for the Dhamma, because of that delight in the Dhamma, then, with the utter destruction of the five lower fetters, he becomes one of spontaneous birth, due to attain final nibbāna there without ever returning from that world.”

[Similar statements are made about the second jhāna, etc., as a basis. There are some differences with the last two attainments, but we need not be concerned about them here.]

Commentary: “He directs the mind of insight (vipassanācitta) to the unconditioned deathless element by way of hearing, by way of praise, by way of learning, and by way of concepts thus: ‘Nibbāna is peaceful.’ He directs the mind of the path (maggacitta) to nibbāna simply by making it an object, not by saying, ‘This is peaceful, this is sublime.’ The meaning is that he directs his mind there, penetrating it in this mode.”

11. Insight as the Way to Arahantship (Aṅguttara Nikāya 7:95 foll.)

“Here, bhikkhus, some person dwells contemplating impermanence in the eye … mind, perceiving impermanence, experiencing impermanence, constantly, continuously, and uninterruptedly focusing on it with the mind, fathoming it with wisdom. With the destruction of the taints, he has realized for himself with direct knowledge, in this very life, the taintless liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom; and having entered upon it, he dwells in it.

“Here, bhikkhus, some person dwells contemplating dukkha in the eye … dwells contemplating non-self in the eye … dwells contemplating destruction in the eye … dwells contemplating vanishing in the eye … dwells contemplating fading away in the eye … dwells contemplating cessation in the eye … dwells contemplating relinquishment in the eye … mind, continuously, and uninterruptedly focusing on it with the mind, fathoming it with wisdom. With the destruction of the taints, he has realized for himself with direct knowledge, in this very life, the taintless liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom; and having entered upon it, he dwells in it.”

12. Insight in the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta

(The Five Aggregates)

“Again, a monk dwells contemplating phenomena as phenomena in terms of the five aggregates. How so? Here a monk understands: ‘Such is material form, such its origin, such its disappearance; such is feeling, such its origin, such its disappearance; such is perception, such its origin, such its disappearance; such are the mental formations, such their origin, such their disappearance; such is consciousness, such its origin, such its disappearance.’

“In this way he abides contemplating phenomena as phenomena internally, externally, and both internally and externally…And he abides independent, not clinging to anything in the world. That  is  how  a  bhikkhu  abides  contemplating phenomena as phenomena in  terms  of  the  five aggregates affected by clinging.

(The Six Sense Bases)

“Again, a monk dwells contemplating phenomena as phenomena in terms of the six internal and external sense bases. How so? Here a monk understands the eye, he understands forms, and he understands the fetter that arises dependent on both; and he also understands how there comes to be the arising of the unarisen fetter, and how there comes to be the abandoning of the arisen fetter, and how there comes to be the future non-arising of the abandoned fetter.

“He understands the ear, he understands sounds… the ear and sounds … the nose and odors …  the  tongue  and  tastes  …  the  body  and  textures  …  the  mind  and  mental  objects,  and  he understands the fetter that arises dependent on both; and he also understands how there comes to be the arising of the unarisen fetter, and how there comes to be the abandoning of the arisen fetter, and how there comes to be the future non-arising of the abandoned fetter.

“In this way he dwells contemplating phenomena as phenomena internally, externally, and both internally and externally…And he dwells independent, not clinging to anything in the world. That is how a bhikkhu abides contemplating phenomena as phenomena in terms of the six internal and external bases.

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About Bhikkhu Bodhi

Bhikkhu Bodhi is a Buddhist monk of American nationality, born in New York City in 1944. After obtaining a PhD in philosophy from the Claremont Graduate School, he came to Sri Lanka to enter the Sangha. He received the novice ordination in 1972 and the higher ordination in 1973, both under the eminent scholar monk, Ven. Balangoda Ananda Maitreya, with whom he studied Pali and Dhamma. He is the author of several works on Theravāda Buddhism, including four translations of great Pali-suttas, together with their comments. He was editor and president of the Buddhist Publication Society for many years. Bhikkhu Bodhi is founder and president of Buddhist Global Relief.

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