Calm Abiding And Special Insight
Within Buddhist meditation practices for eliminating suffering and achieving enlightenment, generally speaking there are two main categories of training: mindfulness and special insight. shamatha and vipassana are the Sanskrit terms for these two categories of meditation. Having success in either will bring great benefit in eliminating mental and emotional suffering and also help reveal the true nature of yourself and the world. The union of the two is the path to complete enlightenment.
Firstly, ‘Calm-Abiding,’ or ‘mindfulness’ meditation, is predominantly learning the skill to ‘let go’ of clinging to things and to stabilize attention – let go of the last thought, and be present; ‘let go’ of hate and blame and ‘let go’ of physical tension so you can be fully in the here and now with a clear mind and an open heart. Calm-abiding keeps you mentally flexible and helps prevent being bullied around by negative thoughts, disturbing emotions or a tense body.
Letting go and ‘alertly relaxing‘ are meditation skills that can be learnt and developed by anyone.
The second category of meditation is ‘Special Insight’ meditation. This is a type of direct knowledge gained from or seen in mindfulness meditation. It is special because it has the power to eliminate disturbing emotions and ignorance of your real nature. Once your mind is stable and calm through mindfulness practise realization and insight arise naturally. Initially you start with general realizations and proceed to the most subtle and difficult to contact truths of ourselves and the world.
I often tell people the first realisation of meditation training is that our minds are crazy, constantly following any old thought and constantly getting distracted without any power to focus. This is when people often give up but this is an important realization, this is the start of meditation training and the start of recovering from our untamed minds, this understanding of how crazy our minds are will eventually lead to the deepest wisdom.
The first wisdom insight along the path to enlightenment is the wisdom of knowing intimately that everything changes. Mindful of the constantly changing thoughts, emotions and bodily sensations we directly understand completely that no thing stays the same. This type of wisdom realizes the fleeting nature of experiences and can help you let go of thoughts, fears, and tension too. It is therefore therapeutic in its effects and also helps to smoothly flow along with life rather than cling to things.
An even subtler type of wisdom understands that things present themselves like an illusion. In other words, appearances are deceiving in their nature. For instance, we are often tricked into thinking our perspective is the only perspective, but that is not the case. There can be many ways to view a situation or event among different people, not to mention the differences in the way animals perceive their surroundings. Robert Anton Wilson says that we don’t really see anything as it is but rather as we are. We interact and navigate the world using preconceived projections and fail to see the world as it actually is. With a clear and objective view through mindfulness meditation we can see clearly that our perspectives are only relative, can change at any moment and are not ultimately important.
One of the most subtle types of wisdom is the special insight of discovering no-self. Having seen the changing nature of things and the deceptive nature of appearances we see directly there is no separate permanent ego in-charge which is able to be benefited or harmed. When we examine ourselves with a stable and clear attention we cannot find such a fictitious ego entity. Upon introspection all you can seemingly find is an ever-shifting body/mind and an ever-present unbounded clear awareness noticing all of that. There is no fixed or separate or definable ego to be found.
Buddha taught that it is the union of the Special Insight of the most subtle wisdom and the strength and stability of mindfulness has the power to be the cause of perfect enlightenment.
The ultimate way of Calm-Abiding and Special Insight meditation is to unite the two practices – a stable and clear attention with the simultaneous wisdom of recognizing appearances as shifting, illusory and with no fixed self. It is the power of this union that can eliminate the ego, destroy clinging and uncover the divine nature within.
Written by Chad Foreman
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