Good talk on kasina and samatha by ven Sarana (Czech)

In this video he talks about the kasinas and how the vipassana movement virtually “removed” most of samatha meditation from the Theravada menu.

I have such mixed feelings about the Vipassana movement. On the one hand it’s where I first learned meditation and where I first stayed long term at a center. They also have done more to reach first time meditators than (maybe) any other organization in the world.

But they’re so wrong about so much. I remember serving a retreat and reading about jhana for the first time. I brought up the topic to the assistant teacher serving the course. She didn’t even know what jhana was. She talked to the center’s head teacher and he told her that jhana was extremely bad, because people get addicted to them and addiction is against the Buddhist path. I responded that it’s like 1/3 of the suttas that the Buddha encourages jhana. Why would he encourage something if it’s bad for us? And so often at that? She said it must be a mistranslation in the sutta. I said the word was left untranslated. She cut off the conversation at this point and just said it’s not what we do here. At that moment I decided meditation is not something I do here either, because this is clearly not what the Buddha taught.

That is a common but misguided view

“The underlying tendency to greed should be given up when it comes to pleasant feeling. The underlying tendency to repulsion should be given up when it comes to painful feeling. The underlying tendency to ignorance should be given up when it comes to neutral feeling.”

“Should these underlying tendencies be given up regarding all instances of these feelings?”

“No, not in all instances. Take a mendicant who, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters and remains in the first absorption, which has the rapture and bliss born of seclusion, while placing the mind and keeping it connected. With this they give up greed, and the underlying tendency to greed does not lie within that. And take a mendicant who reflects: ‘Oh, when will I enter and remain in the same dimension that the noble ones enter and remain in today?’ Nursing such a longing for the supreme liberations gives rise to sadness due to longing. With this they give up repulsion, and the underlying tendency to repulsion does not lie within that. Take a mendicant who, giving up pleasure and pain, and ending former happiness and sadness, enters and remains in the fourth absorption, without pleasure or pain, with pure equanimity and mindfulness. With this they give up ignorance, and the underlying tendency to ignorance does not lie within that.” - MN 44

"And, Udayin, there are these five strings of sensuality. Which five? Forms cognizable via the eye — agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, fostering desire, enticing. Sounds cognizable via the ear… Aromas cognizable via the nose… Flavors cognizable via the tongue… Tactile sensations cognizable via the body — agreeable, pleasing, charming, endearing, fostering desire, enticing. These are the five strings of sensuality. Now, any pleasure & happiness that arises dependent on these five strings of sensuality is called sensual pleasure, a filthy pleasure, a run-of-the-mill pleasure, an ignoble pleasure. And of this pleasure I say that it is not to be cultivated, not to be developed, not to be pursued, that it is to be feared.
.
Now, there is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful mental qualities — enters & remains in the first jhana: rapture & pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought & evaluation. With the stilling of directed thoughts & evaluations, he enters & remains in the second jhana: rapture & pleasure born of concentration, unification of awareness free from directed thought & evaluation — internal assurance. With the fading of rapture, he remains equanimous, mindful, & alert, and senses pleasure with the body. He enters & remains in the third jhana, of which the Noble Ones declare, ‘Equanimous & mindful, he has a pleasant abiding.’ With the abandoning of pleasure & pain — as with the earlier disappearance of elation & distress — he enters & remains in the fourth jhana: purity of equanimity & mindfulness, neither pleasure nor pain. This is called renunciation-pleasure, seclusion-pleasure, calm-pleasure, self-awakening-pleasure. And of this pleasure I say that it is to be cultivated, to be developed, to be pursued, that it is not to be feared.
-MN 66

There’s so many examples of this sort of thing. The Vipassana movement is just purely wrong on this point.

I think there is another sutta where some monks come to the Buddha saying, “Some mendicants from another sect accuse us of being addicted to jhana and therefore we do not practice abandoning pleasure.” The Buddha’s response, paraphrased, was “laugh at them all the way to enlightenment.” I don’t remember what sutta that is off hand so maybe I’m wrong about that though.

1 Like

There are others who practice that method who argue that vipassana meditation does make use of Jhāna, but it’s momentary Jhāna. If I recall, that is what Ledi Sayadaw and Mahāsī Sayadaw argued too.

1 Like

They have a book with common questions and proper Goenka answers. To be an assistant teacher, that book is often memorized. That is all part of the “franchise” system they have. In short, it is not perfect, but it might be the best introduction around. I still recommend it to people today.

Around the time of satipatṭhāna course, I realized that something was not right when internally and externally was “blown off” as sensations on the skin (external) and in the flesh (internal). There were jhāna issues as well, although I was told that after some time, some advanced students were allowed to practice jhāna. “Some” is a mystery number out of millions of course students. Probably just a handful and probably at direct instruction of Goenka himself.

Yes it’s actually quite alarming some of the things the Vipassana movement teaches. I have great respect for them popularizing meditation and it’s benefits, yet some of their teachings are just strange. I had one Vipassana practitioner literally argue with me that the Buddha enlightened by using Vipassana and that his two first meditation master’s taught Samatha which is why they never enlightened the way the Buddha did. Therefore Samatha meditation was outside of Buddhism and it’s a waste of time to practice it. Which is nonsense. The suttas and commentaries clearly state you want to develop both.

1 Like