Concentration and Insight

by Friends of Godwin


I’d like to say something about the connection between samadhi, deep concentration, and vipassana, insight. One practical thing which you can do is that when the mind is reasonably calm and stable, then you can investigate, explore any situation in life. So in everyday life when suffering arises – when conflicts arise, when unpleasant emotions arise – you can learn about it, you can explore it, you can investigate it and see how it is created by yourself. And then you can discover tools, how to work with these emotions, how to learn to be free of them.

So the idea is that when you have these pleasant, calm states of mind, not to hold onto them, not to identify yourself with them, but rather to use them in developing insight. I came across a very interesting quotation in one of the Buddhist texts where it says that sometimes calm can come first and insight later, sometimes insight can come first and then calm comes later; that’s a very interesting point. They can also sometimes come together. So sometimes this strong distinction we draw between calm and insight doesn’t seem to apply because they are really interconnected, interrelated.

What does it mean that when there is insight, calm can come? One way of understanding this in relation to developing insight is that you can allow any thought to arise, any emotion to arise, any sensations to arise; and whatever arises, you just observe, you just watch, you just know. So from that practice sometimes calm can come naturally without your wanting to have calm and tranquility. And sometimes if calm is not there and you are unable to really develop insight in that way, then you can focus your attention on the breath and try to develop some calm and clarity and again start investigating and developing insight.