Samatha (P?li) or ?amatha[note 1] (Sanskrit: ; Chinese: ? zh?) is the Buddhist practice (bh?van? ?) of calming the mind (citta ) and its 'formations' (sa?kh?ra ). This is done by practicing single-pointed meditation most commonly through mindfulness of breathing. Samatha is common to many Buddhist traditions. It may be accomplished by concentration on a meditation-object.
The semantic field of Tibetan shi and Sanskrit shama is "pacification", "the slowing or cooling down", "rest". The semantic field of Tibetan né is "to abide or remain" and this is cognate or equivalent with the final syllable of the Sanskrit, th?.
In modern Theravada, liberation is thought to be attained by insight into the transitory nature of phenomena. This is accomplished by establishing mindfulness, which is then used for insight (P: vipassan?; S: vipa?yana) practices, inquiry into the nature of the object, resulting in wisdom (P: paññ?, S: prajñ?). According to the Theravada tradition, samatha refers to techniques that assist in calming the mind. Samatha is thought to be developed by samadhi ("concentration"), which is thought to be the ability to rest the attention on a single object of perception. One of the principal techniques for this purpose is mindfulness of breathing (Pali: ?n?p?nasati). Although the four jhanas involve a heightened awareness, samatha meditation and jhana are often considered synonymous by the Theravada tradition. Samatha is commonly practiced as a prelude to and in conjunction with wisdom practices.
According to the Theravada tradition, mindfulness of breathing leads the practitioner into concentration (Dhy?na), the domain of experience wherein the senses are subdued and the mind abides in uninterrupted concentration upon the object (i.e., the breath), if not in meditative absorption (sam?dhi). According to the Theravada tradition, it is the condition for insight (vipassan?) and subsequently the development of liberating wisdom (paññ?). In Theravada-Buddhism morality (la) is understood to be a stable foundation upon which to attain samatha. According to the Theravada tradition, samatha and vipassan? form an integral part of the Noble Eightfold Path as described by the Buddha in his core teaching, the Four Noble Truths.
Through the meditative development of calm abiding, one is able to suppress the obscuring five hindrances: sensual desire, ill-will, tiredness and sleepiness, excitement and depression, and doubt. With the suppression of these hindrances, the meditative development of insight yields liberating wisdom.
Some meditation practices such as contemplation of a kasina object favor the development of samatha, others such as contemplation of the aggregates are conducive to the development of vipassana, while others such as mindfulness of breathing are classically used for developing both mental qualities.
In the Theravada tradition, there are forty objects of meditation. Mindfulness (sati) of breathing (?n?p?na: ?n?p?nasati; S. ?n?p?nasm?ti) is the most common samatha practice. Samatha can include other sam?dhi practices as well.
Theravada Buddhism describes the development of Samatha in terms of three successive mental images or 'signs' (nimitta) and five stages of joy (P?ti). P?ti is a feeling of joy, gladness or rapture arising from the abandonment of the five hindrances in favor of concentration on a single object. These stages are outlined by the Theravada exegete Buddhaghosa in his Visuddhimagga (also in Atthas?lin?) and the earlier Upatissa (author of the Vimuttimagga).
Five stages of joy:
The three nimittas are the preparatory sign, the acquired sign and the counterpart sign. These are certain mental images, perceptions or sensations which indicate a further refinement of the state of meditative awareness.
In the Theravada-tradition various understandings of samatha exist.[note 2]
In Sri Lanka samatha includes all the meditations directed at static objects.
In Burma, samatha comprises all concentration practices, aimed at calming the mind. In the last decade samatha in the Burmese tradition has been popularized in the west by Pa Auk Sayadaw. This tradition upholds the emphasis on samatha explicit in the commentarial tradition of the Visuddhimagga. Pa Auk Sayadaw presented this tradition through extensive retreats around the world until his retirement in 2012. The Thai Forest tradition deriving from Ajahn Mun and popularized by Ajahn Chah stresses the inseparability of samatha and vipassana, and the essential necessity of both practices.
The Buddha is said to have identified two paramount mental qualities that arise from wholesome meditative practice:
The Buddha is said to have extolled serenity and insight as conduits for attaining the unconditioned state of nibbana (P?li; Skt.: Nirvana). For example, in the Kimsuka Tree Sutta (SN 35.245), the Buddha provides an elaborate metaphor in which serenity and insight are "the swift pair of messengers" who deliver the message of nibbana via the noble eightfold path.
In the P?li canon, the Buddha never mentions independent samatha and vipassana meditation practices; instead, samatha and vipassana are two "qualities of mind" to be developed through meditation. As Thanissaro Bhikkhu writes,
When [the P?li suttas] depict the Buddha telling his disciples to go meditate, they never quote him as saying 'go do vipassana,' but always 'go do jhana.' And they never equate the word "vipassana" with any mindfulness techniques. In the few instances where they do mention vipassana, they almost always pair it with samatha -- not as two alternative methods, but as two qualities of mind that a person may 'gain' or 'be endowed with,' and that should be developed together.
Some traditions speak of two types of meditation, insight meditation (vipassana) and calm meditation (samatha). In fact the two are indivisible facets of the same process. Calm is the peaceful happiness born of meditation; insight is the clear understanding born of the same meditation. Calm leads to insight and insight leads to calm."
Tibetan writers usually define samatha practice as when one's mind remains fixed on a single object without moving. Dakpo Tashi Namgyal for example, defines samatha as:
by fixing the mind upon any object so as to maintain it without distraction . . . by focusing the mind on an object and maintaining it in that state until finally it is channeled into one stream of attention and evenness.
According to Geshe Lhundup Sopa, samatha is:
just a one-pointedness of mind (cittaikagrata) on a meditative object (alambana). Whatever the object may be . . . if the mind can remain upon its object one-pointedly, spontaneously and without effort (nabhisamskara), and for as long a period of time as the meditator likes, it is approaching the attainment of meditative stabilization (samatha).
A number of Mah?y?na s?tras address ?amatha, usually in conjunction with vipa?yan?.
One of the most prominent, the Cloud of Jewels Sutra (?rya Ratnamegha Sutra, Tib. 'phags-pa dkon-mchog sprin-gyi mdo) divides all forms of meditation into either ?amatha or vipa?yan?, defining ?amatha as "single-pointed consciousness" and vipa?yan? as "seeing into the nature of things."
The S?tra Unlocking the Mysteries (Samdhinirmocana S?tra), a yog?c?ra s?tra, is also often used as a source for teachings on ?amatha. The Sam?dhir?ja S?tra is often cited as an important source for ?amatha instructions by the Kagyu tradition, particularly via commentary by Gampopa, although scholar Andrew Skilton, who has studied the Sam?dhir?ja S?tra extensively, reports that the s?tra itself "contains no significant exposition of either meditational practices or states of mind."
?amatha furthers the right concentration aspect of the noble eightfold path. The successful result of ?amatha is also sometimes characterized as meditative absorption (sam?dhi, ting nge 'dzin) and meditative equipoise (sam?hita, mnyam-bzhag), and freedom from the five obstructions (?vara?a, sgrib-pa). It may also result in the siddhis of clairvoyance (abhijñ?, mgon shes) and magical emanation (nirm?na, sprul pa).
According to Culadasa (2015), "Samatha has five characteristics: effortlessly stable attention (sam?dhi), powerful mindfulness (sati), joy (p?ti), tranquility (passaddhi), and equanimity (upekkh?). The complete state of samatha results from working with stable attention (sam?dhi) and mindfulness (sati) until joy emerges. Joy then gradually matures into tranquility, and equanimity arises out of that tranquility. A mind in samatha is the ideal instrument for achieving Insight and Awakening" 
In a formulation originating in the ?r?vakabh?mi section of the Yog?c?rabh?mi-stra[note 3]?amatha practice is said to progress through nine "mental abidings" or Nine stages of training the mind (S. nav?k?r? cittasthiti, Tib. sems gnas dgu), leading to ?amatha proper (the equivalent of "access concentration" in the Therav?da system), and from there to a state of meditative concentration called the first dhy?na (P?li: jh?na; Tib. bsam gtan) which is often said to be a state of tranquillity or bliss. An equivalent succession of stages is described in the Ten oxherding pictures of Zen. The Nine Mental Abidings as described by Kamalala are:
The textual tradition of Tibetan Buddhism identifies five faults and eight antidotes within the practice of ?amatha meditation. The five faults identify obstacles to meditation practice, and the eight antidotes are applied to overcome the five faults. This formulation originates with Maitreyan?tha's Madhy?nta-vibh?ga and is elaborated upon in further texts, such as the Stages of Meditation (Bh?van?krama) by Kamalala.
The following eight antidodes (pratipak?a, gnyen-po) or applications (abhisamsk?ra, 'du-byed pa) can be applied to overcome the five faults:
Six powers (bala, stobs) are also needed for ?amatha:
Four modes of mental engagement (manask?ra, yid-la byed-pa) are said to be possible:
In the practice of Mahamudra tranquility meditation ... we treat all thoughts as the same in order to gain sufficient distance and detachment from our current mental state, which will allow us to ease naturally into a state of tranquility without effort or contrivance [...] In order for the mind to settle, we need to suspend the value judgments that we impose on our mental activities [...] it is essential that we not try to create a state of tranquility but allow the mind to enter into tranquility naturally. This is an important notion in the Mahamudra tradition, that of nondoing. We do not do tranquility meditation, we allow tranquility to arise of its own accord, and it will do so only if we stop thinking of the meditative state as a thing that we need to do actively [...] In a manner of speaking, catching yourself in the act of distraction is the true test of tranquility meditation, for what counts is not the ability to prevent thoughts or emotions from arising but the ability to catch ourselves in a particular mental or emotional state. This is the very essence of tranquility meditation [in the context of Mah?mudr?] [...] The Mahamudra style of meditation does not encourage us toward the different levels of meditative concentration traditionally described in the exoteric meditation manuals [...] From the Mahamudra point of view, we should not desire meditative equipoise nor have an aversion to discursive thoughts and conflicting emotions but view both of these states with equanimity. Again, the significant point is not whether meditative equipoise is present but whether we are able to maintain awareness of our mental states. If disturbing thoughts do arise, as they certainly will, we should simply recognize these thoughts and emotions as transient phenomena.
For the Kagyupa, in the context of mah?mudr?, ?amatha by means of mindfulness of breathing is thought to be the ideal way for the meditator to transition into taking the mind itself as the object of meditation and generating vipa?yan? on that basis.
Quite similar is the approach to ?amatha found in dzogchen semde (Sanskrit: mah?sandhi cittavarga). In the semde system, ?amatha is the first of the four yogas (Tib. naljor, Wylie: rnal-'byor), the others being vipa?yan? (Wylie: lhag-mthong), nonduality (advaya, Tib. nyime,Wylie: gnyis-med), and spontaneous presence (an?bogha or nir?bogha, Tib. lhundrub, Wylie: lhun-grub). These parallel the four yogas of mah?mudr?.
In June 1996 Ajahn Amaro established Abhayagiri Monastery in Redwood Valley, California, where he was co-abbot with Ajahn Pasanno until July, 2010 Ajahn Amaro returned to Amaravati in July, 2010 and as a longtime student in the Thai Forest Therav?din tradition of Ajahn Chah, has also trained in the dzogchen semde ?amatha approach under Tsoknyi Rinpoche. He found similarities in the approaches of the two traditions to ?amatha.
Dzogchen Pönlop Rinpoche clearly charts the developmental relationship of the practices of ?amatha and vipa?yan?:
The ways these two aspects of meditation are practised is that one begins with the practice of shamatha; on the basis of that, it becomes possible to practice vipashyana or lhagthong. Through one's practice of vipashyana being based on and carried on in the midst of shamatha, one eventually ends up practicing a unification [yuganaddha] of shamatha and vipashyana. The unification leads to a very clear and direct experience of the nature of all things. This brings one very close to what is called the absolute truth.
Meditations from other religious traditions may also be recognized as samatha meditation, that differ in the focus of concentration. In this sense, samatha is not a strictly Buddhist meditation. Samatha in its single-pointed focus and concentration of mind is cognate with the sixth "limb" of aanga yoga', r?ja yoga which is concentration (dh?ra). For further discussion, see the Yoga S?tras of Patañjali.
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