Sutta Study Discussion Theme 12-3-16

From Craving to Liberation, From Grasping to Emptiness: Excursions into the Thought-World of the Pali Discourses by Bhikkhu Analayo,

Chapter 19, Tranquility & Insight

To be read out loud:
Section 19.1; First paragraph page 230 through second full paragraph page 231

Section 19.2; From start of section through third full paragraph on page 234

Practice theme:

Because the topics of insight and samadhi are covered in more depth in chapters 18 and 20, we’ll use this month to explore how these two factors on the path work together to support awakening. The simile of a honed and heavy ax is used in the tradition, with the sharpness of the ax representing the aspect of insight, seeing clearly. The heaviness of the axe represents the stability and power of a calm mind. The combination of sharpness and weight make an axe a useful tool. In awakening practice, this combination allows investigation into Dhamma to go beyond the surface/conceptual level. The uselessness of an axe missing one of these two qualities is obvious. Ajahn Chandako wrote a book on this subject: A Honed and Heavy Axe: Samatha and Vipassana in Harmony. It is unfortunate that in certain circles these two essential aspects of the path are seen as competing avenues for our practice.

Tranquility arises when the mind pays attention to present moment experience in a way that suppresses craving and leads to calm. Whenever we give complete attention to some object of experience, not triggering attachment, and sustain that attention in an unwavering manner, one experiences the tranquility of a mind free from craving. On the other hand, when one is able to pay attention to the changing, unsatisfactory and impersonal nature of phenomena in a clear and continuous way, then ignorance (wrong view) is weakened or uprooted and liberating insight into the underlying nature of the mind arises. The truth is that it takes the equanimity that arises with insight to develop tranquility, and it takes the stability and resultant clarity of tranquility to develop insight. It is hard to imagine a successful formal meditation practice and even informal daily life practice without the development of these two spiritual forces of tranquility and insight.

This month, let’s take some time before, during and after meditation to discern the activity of meditation in terms of the development of tranquility and insight. How are they activated, how can each be strengthened? How does one support the work of the other? Which one is currently stronger? How can we help these two qualities work more in harmony, in the direction of the heart’s release? Remember, there are probably many ways for tranquility and insight to partner in this process of awakening. We don’t necessarily have to change how we are practicing, but rather become more skilled at recognizing the natural forces that support the heart’s sure release.

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