I was wondering if I could get some feedback on tranquil wisdom meditation? I was thinking of attending a retreat where this is taught. I am very new to Buddhism and this would be my first retreat so, I don’t want to be led astray. In the introduction of the book I am reading it says, ( not verbatim) that it could cause criticism because it gives ideas that go against the belief that Buddha taught two separate types of meditation techniques.
I’m asking the people on this forum because I trust your opinion, and my knowledge of such things is but a sand granule.
I would suggest following the below path first. Listen, read and become well established in your understanding before rushing to do serious retreats. Meditating without proper understanding can cause various misunderstandings in the path.
It is recommended:
association with spiritual friends
listening or reading the True teachings
proper contemplation and comprehension of the teachings
practicing the Path (including Tranquility and Wisdom meditation) SN55.5
I’ve never used Bhante Vimalamsi’s teaching specifically, but it all sounds fine and very sutta-based. The recognition that the Buddha did not teach two entirely different forms of meditation, but rather a set of techniques that are conducive to both insight and deepening concentration, seems to be a common theme in much contemporary thinking on meditation, and a welcome change from the imbalanced perspective in some parts of the modern vipassana movement. Venerable Analayo has a new book that makes the same point:
Peter Harvey, in a forward to the book, writes:
Examining the claims of some scholars that tranquillity (samatha) and insight (vipassanā) were actually competing and incompatible paths, Anālayo adroitly refutes them. He also argues that, while samatha and vipassanā tended to be assigned to separate stages of the path by the time of the Visuddhimagga, in the early texts they are more closely linked as complementary aspects of meditative cultivation.
I did a two week retreat at Dhammasukha with Bhante Vimalaramsi. I guess it is up to everyone to try things out and see where it leads. IMO, however, TWIM as taught by Bhante V and his associates leads one astray. It has shown results for helping one relax if they are too tense in meditation. Other than that, the amount of suggestibility that is inculcated would be where I think one really goes in terms of his prescribed jhanas.
There is a lot of confusion in Bhante V’s teaching. It is rather fundamentalist and dogmatic. If you would like to see more on this check out the Sunday sessions that I hope will follow the Saturday sessions from the 10th Global Buddhist Conference in Toronto. I was there and finally saw Brahm adress Bhante V’s claims about the arupa jhanas and nibbana in a global fashion. IMO, it was a long time coming. Very interesting.
I have found Bhante Vimalaramsi’s mnemonic system very helpful, pragmatic and rewarding in terms of strengthening one’s inclination to the practice:
So, over the years I have developed what we call a mnemonic
system. It’s a way of remembering how to do the meditation. This
mnemonic system is:
You ‘Recognize’ when your mind is distracted.
You ‘Release’ the distraction. How do you release the distraction?
Say it’s a thought, you don’t keep your attention on the thought
You ‘Relax’ the tightness caused by that mind’s attention moving.
Now you ‘Re-Smile’.
And then you come back, ‘Return’ to your object of meditation.
And you ‘Repeat’ staying with the object of meditation as long as
you can remember to do it.
Now, I call this the 6Rs. Recognize, Release, Relax, Re-Smile - this
helps pull your mind up a little bit, Return to your object of
meditation. When you smile a little bit and come back to your object
of meditation, your mind is more clear, alert. So, you’ll be able to
catch distractions more quickly. Then you Repeat this process. You
stay with your object of meditation as long as you can.
See, the whole point of the Buddha’s teaching is learning how mind’s
attention actually works, and seeing how the mind’s attention - when
you start letting it go and stop feeding hindrances, and feeding
dissatisfactions, and feeding all of these different things - how when
you let that go there is happiness, there is a kind of deep “Ah.” So
you get into the first jhana, you experience all of these wonderful
states - and you’re there for a little while - but eventually your
mindfulness slips a little bit, and when it does, you’re not in the jhana
anymore, you have another hindrance to work with. The hindrance is
the thing that is helping you go deeper, and deeper into your
meditation. It’s showing you more and more subtle things about how
mind actually does work.
See, if you just focus on the breath, you never learn these kind of
lessons because your mind becomes absorbed just on the breath. But
when you put that extra step of relax of the tension and tightness, it
changes the meditation. And now you start teaching yourself - more
and more - how to be happy. And that’s what the Buddha was trying
to teach us, all along. He was trying to teach us how we can learn to
be happy, no matter what happens.
Thank you for your input. I have been practicing the 6 R’s for a few weeks now and it has been helpful in weaning me off of guided meditations. As for the Jhana stages, well, one baby step at a time for me. I hope the Sunday sessions are uploaded, it would be interesting to see.