Vipashyana: The Indian Root Sources
While having its roots in the system of meditation presented in the earliest Buddhist sutras, what we actually practice today in terms of the system of shamatha and vipashyana was formulated in the early centuries of the first millennium in India. In this course, we will study the main texts that come down to us today from the Indian genre that describe that system. In a later course, we will study the main meditation texts of the Tibetan genre. We are incredibly fortunate that these texts are now available in viable translations.
There are two main Indian sources: the famous eighth chapter of the Samdhinirmocana Sutra (or Sutra Explaining the Intention, i.e. of the Buddha, circa 2nd– 3rd century BCE), focused exclusively on shamatha and vipashyana, along with the help of a commentary by Shri Jnanagarbha; and the Bhavanakramas of Kamalashila (circa late 8th century BCE), which he composed as a condensation of the entire system of meditation as it had been fleshed out by the then fully developed Mahayana tradition of his day, and which includes a wonderful presentation of the cultivation of bodhicitta and shamatha as preliminaries and how to dedicate the merit and arise from meditation at the end, surrounding a much longer presentation of the development vipashyana as the cultivation of the three prajnas of hearing, contemplation, and meditation.
Additionally, there are a number of shorter texts which present more concisely what is the standard scheme for the practice of vipashyana, that is, cultivating the understanding of the emptiness of all external phenomena, then of the mind, then of discriminating awareness itself, and then finally resting, or letting go of any mental complexity entirely. This includes excerpts from the Lankavatara Sutra, Nagarjuna's Bodhicittavivarana, and the entirety of Atisha's very short Madhyamakopadesha.
- Classical Reasons for Selflessness, Five- and Seven-Fold
- "Objects of Observation" from Study and Practice of Meditation
- "Pervasive Objects of Observation" from Study and Practice of Meditation
- "Meditation and the Concept of Insight" in Kamalasila’s Bhavanakramas