Matrix of Skillful Means

Author Alan Wallace discusses techniques to achieve mindfulness.

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The mind we bring to meditation needs refinement, and that is the purpose of shamatha. These extremely practical methods do not require us to retreat to a cave. They can be enormously helpful in our daily lives, personal relationships, and professional endeavors, as they transcend all barriers of religious traditions, affiliations, and beliefs. Scientific materialists, atheists, and religious fundamentalists alike will experience tangible benefits from a serviceable mind that is stable and clear. Such a mind can be applied more effectively to everything. Shamatha is also the indispensable foundation for more advanced practices, such as vipashyana.

Vipashyana: Achieving Insight through Mindfulness

Historically, the Buddha himself started with the development of samadhi, but then he moved on. Bear in mind that his world was well populated with contemplatives. Many were wandering ascetics, who were often countercultural figures, living on one meal a day and devoting themselves to the pursuit of truth. With so much competition, how did Buddha Shakyamuni distinguish himself over the others of his era? Of course there are many reasons, but from a contemplative’s perspective, he stands out because he refused to take samadhi itself as the goal.

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The Buddha’s greatest innovation was to assert that the practice of samadhi—single-pointed concentration with highly refined attention, which enables very subtle states of consciousness that transcend the physical senses and lead to states of equanimity and bliss—only temporarily suspends the mental afflictions (Skt. kleshas). Instead, the Buddha sought lasting freedom. Standing upon the shoulders of the contemplative giants of his era, the young Siddhartha Gautama developed and refined his samadhi, but then he purposefully applied this stable, clear, and highly focused instrument to an experiential investigation. By closely inspecting his own mind, his body, and the relationships among mind, body, and environment, he founded the genre of meditation for cultivating insight, or vipashyana.

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