Vipassana v. Zazen

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  • chessie
    Member
    • Jun 2008
    • 266

    Vipassana v. Zazen

    Reading whatever I can find, and being new to meditation, I ask for clarity from the esteemed members here. Both styles seem to start with 'watch the breath' (or focus on an object of meditation--which I don't know how is determined or defined yet). Then, both seem to go to 'watch as the thoughts arise, and then don't follow them but return to the breath'. After that, where do they diverge? What is the difference between these styles? Jundo advised that I find what works for my life and stick with one or the other, but I don' t know enough to differentiate. I guess I'm looking for the practical, day to day on the cushion distinctions, and not really the historic backgrounds for now. Thanks much. Gassho (I even had to look that up! But I love the term now... Ann
  • Alberto
    Member
    • Apr 2008
    • 78

    #2
    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

    Hey Ann

    It is great that you are practicing. I don't know the first thing about Vipassana, but here is some practical stuff from Jundo regarding Shikantaza (when Soto dudes talk about zazen, it most frequently refers to Shikantaza specifically)

    I use the following to describe "Just Sitting" to beginners:

    I sometimes compare [Zazen] to a blue sky with clouds (thoughts). Clouds drift in and out, that is natural. However, we bring our attention again and again to the open, blue sky between, allowing the clouds to drift away. More clouds will come, same again. Repeat process endlessly, coming back to the clear blue sky.

    But one important point is this: Although we seek to appreciate the blue, empty sky between the clouds, some days will be very cloudy, some days very blue ... BOTH are fine. We never say "cloudy day is bad because there is no blue sky today". When the sky is blue and empty, let it be so. When the sky is cloudy, let it be so. In fact, both the blue sky and the clouds are the sky ... do not seek to break up the sky by rejecting any part of it. It is all the sky. Also, the blue sky is always there, even when hidden.
    I would like to encourage you to stick to one practice at a time, and of course I am biased in favor of Shikantaza. Regarding your mention of the breath, you will find conflicting points of view. Suzuki Roshi in "Zen Mind Beginners Mind" seems to place more emphasis on the breath than other teachers within our tradition (those chapters are delicious, but they are adaptations/versions from actual talks, and Suzuki roshi referred to them at some point as my students understanding of my teaching, rather than the teaching itself. So it is possible that he didn't actually emphasize the breath as much as it appears). Most other teachers I've read or heard recommend that you just sit (and that is an incredibly complex subject to discuss because only direct experience can make you understand it).

    Following the breath is a very good technique to get started, like training wheels. But that's not it. When the breath thing lets go of you, you will be sitting "watching the sky" that Jundo mentions (which includes the wall, the sore legs, the traffic noises) and letting go of everything you ever believed and thought (including your ongoing thoughts) just to exist, just to be there, sitting.

    Thanks for your practice

    Alberto

    Comment

    • will
      Member
      • Jun 2007
      • 2331

      #3
      Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

      Ann,

      The only thing you can really do is the actual practice, and for a while at that. The best time to start would probably be right now. Mixing and matching in the beginning probably isn't best. Best to just choose one and do it.

      When it comes to practicing Zazen, usually the more you can sit the better, I think. As a day to day practice Jundo recommends sit twice daily or small sittings throughout the day. It's important that you keep in contact with a teacher and sit consistently. From my experience, one can really wander off course without any guidance.

      Zazen is really a lifetime practice for most, so getting an idea of what it's really about is a little difficult unless you do it.

      Watching the breath is really only a preliminary to Shikantaza to gain concentration and awareness. Shikantaza itself is Just sitting. Hard to explain.

      As for Vipassana I couldn't say. I believe it is somewhat more analytical than Shikantaza.

      Perhaps someone else could give you some input.

      Gassho Will
      [size=85:z6oilzbt]
      To save all sentient beings, though beings are numberless.
      To penetrate reality, though reality is boundless.
      To transform all delusion, though delusions are immeasurable.
      To attain the enlightened way, a way non-attainable.
      [/size:z6oilzbt]

      Comment

      • will
        Member
        • Jun 2007
        • 2331

        #4
        Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

        FWIW Jundo teaches Soto Zen (Zazen/Shikantaza) around here.

        Gassho
        [size=85:z6oilzbt]
        To save all sentient beings, though beings are numberless.
        To penetrate reality, though reality is boundless.
        To transform all delusion, though delusions are immeasurable.
        To attain the enlightened way, a way non-attainable.
        [/size:z6oilzbt]

        Comment

        • TracyF
          Member
          • Nov 2007
          • 188

          #5
          Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

          Hi Chessie.

          A few months ago, Jundo posted a scientific study on shamatha vs. vipassana-type meditations and ability to concentrate on a task. Anyway, I was getting confused. Jundo helped clear me up but I also asked one of my sangha members the same question because they follow the Thich Nhat Hanh (Vietnameses-style) Zen. Many of these folks do vipassana. The guy told me that vipassana beginners will start off with counting breaths or feeling the breath (even to the point of feeling it moving across the tip of your nose). They also practice body scanning where you stay aware of your breathing while focusing on parts of your body one at a time. Then typically they may concentrate on an object. Analyzing it while breathing until you sort of fuse with it and realize its "emptiness". TNH also has quite a few meditation practices like this where you analyze your original self, decomposing body, etc.

          Then there's the awareness/mindfulness. In this, a beginner uses simple noting techniques to learn how to become aware of sensory input, emotions, thoughts, etc. As thoughts, feelings, etc. arise you just note: thinking, hearing, emoting, etc. No judgment. Just a reminder to yourself that you're aware of stuff. Eventually, you don't need the labeling technique and you just sit. I told the guy that the advanced part sounds like Shikantaza. So, I may be wrong, but it seems like vipassana just has a wider variety of techniques for beginners or for people who need to revisit something whereas Jundo teaches that you start with breath awareness and, when you're ready, move straight into just sitting.

          Does that sound right to others around here? Too bad Jun doesn't hang around here anymore because I think he would be very helpful answering this question.

          Comment

          • Jundo
            Treeleaf Founder and Priest
            • Apr 2006
            • 39456

            #6
            Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

            Hi,

            The following will be unavoidably one sided. That is because I have never practiced Vipassana in any significant way. In fact, over half my life has been just "Shikantaza"! Obviously, that is because I think that "Just Sitting" is "Just Great"! but it also might mean that my description of Vipassana will be in error. So, perhaps some of our folks who have practiced Vipassana can correct any misunderstanding by me.

            Traditionally, Vipassana Practice ... just like our Soto Zen Practice ... was meant to enable the student to realize and live the Buddhist teachings of "no self" "impermanence", "non-attachment" "dropping thoughts and views" etc. etc. So, for example, all Buddhists, in all schools, believe that having this hard sense of your own "self" that you are constantly trying to defend and protect (and which is filled with all kinds of judgments and ideas and disappointments about the world) is a problem because it is constantly bumping into all the rest of the world that doesn't go the way the "self" wants ... thus the suffering and disappointment. But when we "drop the self", and just flow along with the world and become "one" with the world (for want of a better way to express it), all the resistance and friction and separation is dropped too. Even sickness, old age and death (while not "fun fun" usually) are not "suffering" if we embrace, accept, do not resist and "go with the flow" ... "Suffering" comes from resistance to the conditions of life. For example, if one accepts and unites with the fact that "all things in life are impermanent", and one does not cling to things trying to make them last forever ... well, it is a very harmonious way to be. The "resistance" to change vanishes.

            Also, greed, lust and excess desires get us in trouble ... especially when we get hooked on them, they are in excess or we can't keep them moderated.

            That's basic Buddhist theory in a very, very small (too small) nutshell!

            Now, Vipassana Practice, traditionally, would try to bring the student to realize these things by various mental exercises during meditation, basically a form of mental analysis. Focusing on the "breathing" is just for starters, and the exercises go far far beyond that. For example, to truly realize and master the "impermanence of the body" ... and also to realize the foolishness of sexual and other desires ... there is this:

            After that you have to reflect upon the loathsome nature of the body, thinking about its repulsiveness such as blood, pus, phlegm, intestines, and so on. This body is full of these impurities and repulsiveness. The result is you are detached from this body to a certain extent because you find it loathsome or repulsive. This also must be done about two minutes.

            Then after that you should reflect upon the nature of death. Life is uncertain, death is certain. Life is precarious and death is sure. Everyone who is born is subject to death. So all men are mortal. In this way you have to think about the surety of death for every living being. You can arouse strenuous effort in your practice by thinking, 'I'll have to practice this meditation strenuously before I die, or before I am dead.

            http://www.buddhanet.net/imol/vipcours.htm
            http://www.buddhanet.net/vmed_1.htm
            ... and the irreality of the "self", and the manner in which a sense of "self" arises ... plus understanding and mastery of how our thoughts and emotions arise ... are taught through exercises like this:

            So when you see something you must be aware of it as seeing, seeing, seeing. As long as you see it you must be aware of it, you must note it. When you note the consciousness of seeing, it means you note the eye and visible object too, because when there is no eye and when there is no visible object the consciousness for seeing doesn't arise. Consciousness of seeing arises dependent on both eye and visible object.

            So if you observe the consciousness of seeing then it means you observe eyes and visible object too. So whenever you see something you must not watch the thing which is seen. You must not watch the thing with which you see. What you need to observe is seeing, the consciousness for seeing - because when you observe the visible object which is seen then you have to note seeing, seeing, not object, object. When you note seeing, seeing, seeing it's the consciousness for seeing, not the visible object.

            Only when you note the consciousness for seeing, the noting mind disturbs the process of seeing. So the process of seeing becomes weak and it doesn't see the object very well. It cannot judge about the object, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant, bad or good. Then you won't have any defilement arising dependent on the consciousness for seeing or the visible object.

            So whatever you see you must be aware of by making the mental note seeing, seeing, seeing. Whatever you hear you must be aware of by making the mental note hearing, hearing. Whatever you smell you must observe the consciousness of smelling, making the mental note smelling, smelling. Whatever you taste you must be aware of it, make a mental note tasting, tasting. Whatever you touch you must observe it as touching, touching, touching. Whatever you think about you must be aware of it, make a mental note of it as thinking, thinking, and so on.

            http://www.buddhanet.net/vmed_7.htm
            It is said that all meditation can be divided into two types: Samatha (calming, pacifying, focusing meditation) and Vipassana (insight on the nature of reality). However, actually, it is not so simple and the two "kinds of meditation" overlap. Thus, for example, mind "calming" meditation brings great insights, and "insight meditation" is very calming.

            Now, our Zen Practice and Zazen also contains and manifests the very same elements of Samatha and Vipassana, and in fact, we are trying to teach pretty much the same lessons about "non-self" "non-attachment" "impermanence" etc. as the Vipassana folks. Same Buddhism!

            But our approach is a bit different.

            In Soto Practice, we "just sit", letting thoughts drift out of mind, dropping "likes" and "dislikes" and other judgments, even allowing the hard sense of "self" to soften, or fully fade away. We combine this with study of the same Buddhist philosophy as the Vipassana folks, but just NOT DURING ZAZEN. In fact, my talks on the HEART SUTRA are a good example, because the Heart Sutra is about that philosophy of how the "sense of Self" develops, how our attachments, desires and aversions develop ... same philosophy and theory.

            We believe that our "Shikantaza" Practice brings one to same same insights as "Vipassana" Practice. We also think (although it could be pure bias on our part) that it does so more effectively, because there is something really nifty about our discovering truths by "non seeking" for them.

            But, also, we are not so "analytical" about it. So, instead of saying something like "note seeing seeing seeing", and what it feels like and from where the sensation arises ... in Soto Practice, we might say "just see, don't think" or "be aware of seeing without judging or categorizing".

            Finally, there are some other differences between Soto Practice and Vipassana Practice worth mentioning. First, traditionally, Southeast Asian Buddhism (from which Vipassana arises) has been centrally focused on ending the cycle of future rebirth and "extinquishing" desires. Our Soto Zen Practice has always been more focused on living this life here and now with balance (not paying so much attention to what happens, if anything, after death), and of maintaining our desires in balance, in a moderate and healthy way. In fact, what has happened is that, after Vipassana Practice came to America (I am not sure the situation in Europe and other places), it got very "Zenny" ... and so-called "Insight Meditation Centers" have become much more focused on a balanced, present life and such. In fact, "Insight Meditation" may now have more in common with Western "Zen" than with its Thai and Burmese roots!

            Second, most Buddhist schools are seeking for "Nirvana" or "Enlightenment" or some such goal. Vipassana Practice, in its traditional form, was like this. However, the Mahayana philosophy of Buddhism added some things to this philosophy, such as viewing the philosophy through the eyes of "emptiness" and (in our Soto Zen way of Mahayana) non-seeking for any goal of enlightenment.

            Those take some explaining, and are also largely the topic of my Heart Sutra talks this week on the "Sit-a-Long with Jundo" netcast, so I hope you will sit with those.

            Gassho, Jundo

            PS - Yes, it is okay to bounce around for awhile and try various things, but soon ... to truly get the fruits of either practice ... you need to pick one or the other and stick with it.

            PPS - Many folks just want to do Buddhism to "relax" a little. Then, those folks are missing the point and the real heart of the Practice, whether it is Soto or Vipassana.
            ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

            Comment

            • chessie
              Member
              • Jun 2008
              • 266

              #7
              Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

              Thank you all very much. I think I understand better now. Ann

              Comment

              • chessie
                Member
                • Jun 2008
                • 266

                #8
                Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

                Actually, Jundo's descrition made the decision easy to stick with Zazen. I'd much rather 'just sit' than think about my intestines (especially after having them surgeried twice in the past two years)! I think he picked the most abhorent examples he could come up with--maybe on purpose :wink: Thanks again, I feel more at home than ever now. Ann

                Comment

                • Jundo
                  Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                  • Apr 2006
                  • 39456

                  #9
                  Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

                  Hi Chessie,

                  But do go find out more about Vipassana, and what its practitioners have to say.

                  Gassho, Jundo
                  ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                  Comment

                  • shikantaza

                    #10
                    Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

                    An interesting talk on Zazen and Samatha / Vipassana (Vipasyana): http://www.wwzc.org/dharmaTalks/tinyBook.htm

                    Comment

                    • Jundo
                      Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                      • Apr 2006
                      • 39456

                      #11
                      Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

                      Originally posted by shikantaza
                      An interesting talk on Zazen and Samatha / Vipassana (Vipasyana): http://www.wwzc.org/dharmaTalks/tinyBook.htm
                      Hi,

                      Thanks for posting that.

                      One thing I might mention (because it may be a little confusing to Chessie and others), it that it is important to keep in mind the two uses of Vipassana (Vipasyana). On the one hand, is just "insight" into Reality, Buddhist philosophy, etc. This is true to all schools of Buddhism, including our Soto Practice as I discussed. The other meaning, which I think Chessie was asking about, concerns that school of Buddhism that teaches "Vipassana" style meditation. The essay said that in the middle:

                      Now, by vipasyana, I am not referring to a practice commonly referred to as vipassana. These are different. Vipassana is a Burmese revival of Buddhist meditation that really only has a history stretching back around 150 years. While, in many ways, vipassana is similar to foundational elements of our practice of zazen, in particular the emphasis on mindfulness, it is not the same. Vipassana is concerned with attending to details of experience.
                      Gassho, Jundo
                      ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                      Comment

                      • Marina S
                        Member
                        • Nov 2007
                        • 17

                        #12
                        Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

                        Hi Ann,
                        I don't consider myself an "esteemed" member but would like to comment since insight meditation (also referred to as vipassana or mindfulness) is my primary practice. I also sit at Treeleaf. I read the article that Jundo posted but in my opinion the writer is not giving the correct definition of vipasyana/vipassana (there are two different spellings for the same word; "vipassana" is the Pali spelling and vipasyana is the Sanskrit spelling of the same word). The writer states that "Vipasyana is observing or analyzing experiences." Vipassana (clear seeing) is not about analyzing anything. Samatha and vipassana flow like a river during meditation practice. I often start with samatha in order to center myself and become focussed this then flows into a broader awareness of whatever is present in the moment (e.g physical sensations, images, sounds, feelings, thoughts, mind states, etc.). Noting whatever is present and allowing it to be, but not as a distant observer, noticing as it changes, intensifies or diminishes, then something else comes up. The breath is the anchor. Vipassana (clear seeing/insight) is the wisdom into human nature and that of all existence is something that develops over time as a result of regular practice.

                        There is a form of meditation as taught by S.N. Goenka and his predecessor U Ba Khin that is called Vipassana meditation and is taught over a ten day period at retreat centers. I took part in one 10 day course, but it's different to the style of vipassana I practice. Goenka's style primarily focusss on body sweeping.

                        If you want some really good books to read on insight meditation try Mindfulness in Plain English and Seeking the Heart of Wisdom.

                        Gassho and Metta,
                        Marina

                        Comment

                        • Jundo
                          Treeleaf Founder and Priest
                          • Apr 2006
                          • 39456

                          #13
                          Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

                          Originally posted by Marina S
                          Vipassana (clear seeing) is not about analyzing anything. Samatha and vipassana flow like a river during meditation practice. ... Vipassana (clear seeing/insight) is the wisdom into human nature and that of all existence is something that develops over time as a result of regular practice.
                          Dear Marina,

                          Thank you for this. Hopefully, in our "Just Sitting" practice as well, Samatha and Vipassana (clear seeing) will just "flow like a river" (lovely description, by the way). That wisdom into human nature and all existence (two but not two) should develop over time as a result of regular practice. If not, something precious would be absent from our practice, I believe.

                          Gassho, Jundo
                          ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

                          Comment

                          • Marina S
                            Member
                            • Nov 2007
                            • 17

                            #14
                            Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

                            Hi Jundo,
                            Since we're on the topic of vipassana and zazen (I don't like using "vs" because this implies polarization, and for me at least, both forms of meditation practice aren't too different), I'd like to say how appreciative I am belonging to the treeleaf sangha. As you know, I love Zen philosophy but practice a style of meditation from the Theravadin tradition. I have always felt included by you. Too often there's compartmentalization that goes on in the various sanghas from the different traditions. Your way of including us all, and your commitment to sitting online, albeit at times in the strangest places (well, perhaps they're not so strange), is an inspiration to me. If you can practice in a crowded subway train, then, I too, can find the time and motivation to practice in my room. Thank you, Jundo!

                            Gassho and Metta,
                            Marina

                            Comment

                            • Marina S
                              Member
                              • Nov 2007
                              • 17

                              #15
                              Re: Vipassana v. Zazen

                              Hi Everyone,

                              The noting that is part of insight/vipassana meditation practice comes teachers such as the Burmese monk Mahasi Sayadaw. Some well-known American insight meditation teachers have studied with him. Others such as Jack Kornfield have studied with The Thai Forest monk, Ajahn Chah. His method isn't as structured as Mahasi Sayadaw's. Goenka's style is very goal oriented ( I had to keep reminding myself to let go and be gentle when I took part in one of his 10 day meditation intensives). Some meditation instructions are heavily laden with technique. Form was important for me when I started, but at some point the tight grip on the technique needs to be let go of otherwise it becomes an obstacle. I have intentions and even goals when it comes to my own meditation practice, but I don't dwell on them nor are they laden with ambition.

                              Noting is supposed to be used ever so lightly. Some people get a bit confused where this is concerned and start obsessing over it, to the point where they're noting every single thing that comes up, rather than just noting when something is strong enough to take you away from the breath and the moment. The main part of the awareness is on experiencing whatever comes up in the present moment without trying to judge it, grasp or push it away. For instance,let's say that during my sitting, I experience a pain in my knee. I gently note it as "pressure", "stabbing", etc. Feel it and observe the sensation as it changes. If I notice that I'm pulling away (aversion) from that pain, then I note that, too. Once it subsides, back to the breath, until something else comes up in the present moment. Let's say a memory pops up about someone who upset me the other day. Anger or feelings of embarrassment might accompany that thought. I note it as "anger" or "embarrassed". The physical sensations accompanying it such as a tightening of the belly or chest, reddening of the face,etc Sometimes formaly mentally noting the sensation, mental state, feeling, image, etc. isn't even necessary. Just being aware of it is enough. People get so tensed up about technique, especially when they're starting. No need. Meditation practice isn't about rigidity. It's really about being open, aware and accepting.

                              There's a quote by Lao Tzu, which I've incorporated as a personal "mantra", so to speak, when it comes to my own meditation practice: "Be still like a mountain and flow like a great river."[/i] I sit solid and still like a mountain, yet on the mountain there is activity that goes on just as there is in your mind, body and surroundings. I flow like a great river in that I try to allow whatever to be with whatever arises. I ride the wave. Water flows; it's not rigid or static.

                              Sorry for going on and on here folks. I'm nowhere near an expert when it comes to insight meditation, but I hope some of this is of help.

                              Gassho and Metta,
                              Marina

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