Can someone definitively explain to me the differences...?

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Can someone definitively explain to me the differences...?

Postby Ikkyu » Fri Sep 07, 2012 6:46 am

... between Samatha, Vipassana, Zazen, Anapanasati, and Shikantaza? I'm quite confused.

At my meditation group I learned Zazen, which I know incorporates Anapanasati (mindfulness of breathing). But then what is Shikantaza? I've heard it's "just sitting", and yet they say that in Rinzai groups shikantaza isn't practiced (while what they too seem to do, along with the Soto, is just sit). Then I've got people telling me that there's something called Samatha, and that it's distinct from something else called Vipassana. I've tried Googling all this and I've only come to understand that Vipassana is insight and Samatha is concentration. But then what is Samadhi? And aren't insight and concentration both used in Zazen? Is it all the same?
"Nothing can be known, not even this."
-- Arcesilaus (but I'm not sure)
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Re: Can someone definitively explain to me the differences...?

Postby Finnjames » Fri Sep 07, 2012 8:16 am

Those are good questions to satisfy your intellectual curiosity. But as a daily practice you may just want to continue using the form of meditation you have been taught. Be honest with your teacher about what you are experiencing there, and s/he will offer suggestions for how to move on if that is appropriate.

As I understand it, Rinzai Zen encourages the use of koans as meditation subjects while Soto Zen encourages shikantaza (which is indeed "just sitting", though it's both harder and easier than that definition might suggest) meditation though the teacher may take up koans in dharma talks. At least that's the way it works in the Soto group I sit with.

The terms vipassana, samatha, samadhi aren't used in the group I sit with, but they are important concepts for Theravada meditation--or at least they were used in the S.N. Goenka vipassana course/retreat I attended. It's my feeling, though, that what these refer to also plays a part in Zen meditation. So if you are doing Zen meditation you will eventually experience them even if you don't know their names.

But once again, it might be best to just continue doing the form of meditation you have been taught and checking in with your teacher.
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Re: Can someone definitively explain to me the differences...?

Postby Astus » Fri Sep 07, 2012 9:44 am

Samatha - meditation with the aim to calm the mind, usually by focusing on a single object
Vipassana - meditation with the aim to gain wisdom, usually by different methods of analysis of different subjects
Zazen - it means sitting meditation, doesn't qualify anything beyond that in and of itself
Anapanasati - it means awareness of breathing in and out, there are different forms of this practice in both Theravada and Mahayana
Shikantaza - a practice specific to Soto Zen where there is no object maintained nor analysis performed
Samadhi - it basically means the state of concentrated mind, can also mean a specific attainment within meditation depending on context

There are some glossaries you can use to look up basic words, like this one: Buddhism Glossary, and on Wikipedia that has links to further articles: Glossary of Buddhism
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Can someone definitively explain to me the differences...?

Postby Ikkyu » Fri Sep 07, 2012 1:26 pm

Astus wrote:Samatha - meditation with the aim to calm the mind, usually by focusing on a single object
Vipassana - meditation with the aim to gain wisdom, usually by different methods of analysis of different subjects
Zazen - it means sitting meditation, doesn't qualify anything beyond that in and of itself
Anapanasati - it means awareness of breathing in and out, there are different forms of this practice in both Theravada and Mahayana
Shikantaza - a practice specific to Soto Zen where there is no object maintained nor analysis performed
Samadhi - it basically means the state of concentrated mind, can also mean a specific attainment within meditation depending on context

There are some glossaries you can use to look up basic words, like this one: Buddhism Glossary, and on Wikipedia that has links to further articles: Glossary of Buddhism


Thank you for the clarification.

Now technically isn't Anapanasati the same as Samatha in that they both focus on a specific object (the breath)?
And isn't the goal of Zazen in the Rinzai tradition also just Anapanasati most of the time? I have never been given a koan (although I'm not too far along th way yet) and I assume that even when monks are given koans in the Rinzai traditions they still spend a considerable amount of time "just sitting". Considering that the ulterior motive of Anapanasati in Zazen has always been presented to me as "eventually moving on from the breath" to deeper meditations or "objectless meditations", dont some Rinzai meditations qualify as Shikantaza?
"Nothing can be known, not even this."
-- Arcesilaus (but I'm not sure)
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Re: Can someone definitively explain to me the differences...?

Postby oushi » Fri Sep 07, 2012 1:47 pm

Ikkyu wrote: I assume that even when monks are given koans in the Rinzai traditions they still spend a considerable amount of time "just sitting".

Some teachers say, that you need to enter samathi to bring the koan in, and just repeat it while in samathi. Shikantaza is different. I think this quote points directly to what it is: "Reality tells us what we need to do, otherwise we sit cross legged. It's nothing but sitting."
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Re: Can someone definitively explain to me the differences...?

Postby Matt J » Fri Sep 07, 2012 2:00 pm

John Daido Loori says that when one completes their koan practice, one returns to shikantaza. On the other hand, I've also heard from Korean and Chinese practitioners, that one may practice a koan their entire life.

Anapanasati can be an entire path in itself--- see the Anapanasati Sutta, for example. Webu Sayadaw,an old forest monk, once said that the entire path is realized when one is fully concentrated on the breath. Traditionally among Theravada practitioners, it is said that anapanasati is what led the Buddha to his enlightenment.

Personally, I would be careful about writing it off as a shallow meditation, or to be in a hurry to attend to higher practices. I've found in my practice that the same problems carry no matter what the practice (esp. boredom), so you'll have to face them sooner or later.

Ikkyu wrote:Considering that the ulterior motive of Anapanasati in Zazen has always been presented to me as "eventually moving on from the breath" to deeper meditations or "objectless meditations", dont some Rinzai meditations qualify as Shikantaza?
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If only there is no picking or choosing
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Re: Can someone definitively explain to me the differences...?

Postby Astus » Fri Sep 07, 2012 2:10 pm

Anapanasati is a Pali word, and as such, it has its own complete practice in Theravada that covers both samatha and vipassana. In East Asia mindfulness of breath is mostly used only for samatha practice, and as such, it is only for calming the mind.

Zazen means sitting meditation, literally (za - sit; zen - meditate). Meditating in the sitting position can mean any kind of mental training. You can count your breath, just watch it, or be mindful of your body, your thoughts, visualise a buddha, etc.

What people do within the Japanese Rinzai school depends on the lineage and the teacher's instructions. Breath practice is common, sure. It's a kind of preliminary to koan practice. But shikantaza is a different approach, and it's not the same as just objectless meditation. Of course, we can say that ultimately koan practice leads to shikantaza. Or we can also say that shikantaza is mistaken and koan practice is correct. It depends on who you ask.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

"Neither cultivation nor seated meditation — this is the pure Chan of Tathagata."
(Mazu Daoyi, X1321p3b23; tr. Jinhua Jia)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T2076p461b24-26)
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Re: Can someone definitively explain to me the differences...?

Postby Thus-gone » Fri Sep 07, 2012 4:24 pm

Ikkyu wrote:Thank you for the clarification.

Now technically isn't Anapanasati the same as Samatha in that they both focus on a specific object (the breath)?
And isn't the goal of Zazen in the Rinzai tradition also just Anapanasati most of the time? I have never been given a koan (although I'm not too far along th way yet) and I assume that even when monks are given koans in the Rinzai traditions they still spend a considerable amount of time "just sitting". Considering that the ulterior motive of Anapanasati in Zazen has always been presented to me as "eventually moving on from the breath" to deeper meditations or "objectless meditations", dont some Rinzai meditations qualify as Shikantaza?


When monks are given koans, they are instructed to stay with the koan 100% of the time. Working with the breath in Zen is a preliminary to full-time Shikantaza or koan practice.
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Re: Can someone definitively explain to me the differences...?

Postby Skywalker » Tue Sep 18, 2012 3:01 am

I have always heard that samadhi is total absorbtion. Like concentration, but just total relaxed one-pointed concentration with no wavering at all, total stability in concentration becomes absorbtion aka samadhi.

Others have given you answers. I am not knowledgeable in Zen, I am more of a Dzogchen kind of guy, but from what I understand Zazen is just sitting, which means not "doing" anything, not trying to "change" or "improve" anything, the mind or whatever, but just sitting letting things be the way they are.
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Re: Can someone definitively explain to me the differences...?

Postby Ikkyu » Tue Sep 18, 2012 4:48 am

OK. but what IS Shikantaza?
"Nothing can be known, not even this."
-- Arcesilaus (but I'm not sure)
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