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Budhdhism Cultivation of Moral Concern in Theravada Buddhism

Budhdhism Cultivation of Moral Concern in Theravada Buddhism

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Journal of Buddhist Ethics
ISSN 1076-9005
http://jbe.gold.ac.uk/
Cultivation of Moral Concern in Therav\u00afada
Buddhism: Toward a Theory of the
Relation Between Tranquility and Insight
Ethan Mills
Augsburg College
Email: mills@augsburg.edu
Copyright Notice: Digital copies of this work may be made and

distributed provided no change is made and no alteration is made to the content. Reproduction in any other format, with the exception of a single copy for private study, requires the written permission of the author. All enquiries to: d.keown@gold.ac.uk

Cultivation of Moral Concern in Therav\u00afada
Buddhism: Toward a Theory of the Relation
Between Tranquility and Insight

Ethan Mills
AbstractThere are two groups of scholars writing on the two

main types of Buddhist meditation: one group that considers insight (vipassan\u00afa) to be essential and tranquility (samatha) to be inessential in the pursuit of nirvana, and a second group that views bothsamatha andvipassan\u00afa to be essential. I approach an answer to the question of which group is correct in two steps: (1), an outline of the disagreement between Paul Gri\ufb03ths (of the \ufb01rst group) and Damien Keown (of the second group); and (2), an augmentation of Keown\u2019s assertion thatsamatha can culti- vate moral concern. I am not de\ufb01nitively solving the problem of the relationship betweensamatha andvipassan\u00afa, but rather I show that by making Keown\u2019s theory of the cultivation of moral concern more plausible we have more reasons to accept his larger theory of the importance of bothsamatha andvipassan\u00afa.

1. Introduction: Meditations in Tension?
There are two main branches of Buddhist meditation techniques: insight
meditation (vipassan\u00afa-bh\u00afavan\u00afa ) and tranquility meditation (samatha-bh\u00afavan\u00afa ).
Insight meditation is aimed at cultivatingpa\u02dc
n\u02dc
n \u00afa(most often translated as

\u201cwisdom\u201d); tranquility meditation is aimed a cultivatingsamatha (\u201ccalm- ness, tranquility\u201d).1 Tradition generally considers the \ufb01rst to have been a new form of meditation invented by the historical Buddha and the sec- ond to have been highly developed by Indian practitioners by the time of the Buddha\u2019s life. The most common story is that the Buddha learned all that his meditation teachers had to o\ufb00er and, still unsatis\ufb01ed, developed his own type of meditation:vipassan\u00afa-bh\u00afavan\u00afa. After he developed this insight meditation, he achieved nirvana and transcended su\ufb00ering (dukkha).

I \ufb01nd it useful to categorize scholars who have written on the relationship
betweenvipassan\u00afa andsamatha into two groups: one group that considers
vipassan\u00afato be essential and samathato be inessential in the pursuit of
nirvana, and a second group that views bothsamatha andvipassan\u00afa to
be essential for Buddhist soteriology. For the sake of perspicuity, I will
21
22
Journal of Buddhist Ethics

refer to the \ufb01rst group as \u201csamatha-inessentialists\u201d and the second group as \u201csamatha-essentialists.\u201d My goal in this essay is to approach an answer to the question of which group is correct.

I will make this approach in two steps: (1), I will outline the disagreement between Paul Gri\ufb03ths (as a representative of thesamatha-inessentialists) and Damien Keown (as a representative of thesamatha-essentialists) on the issue; and (2), in order to come closer to deciding which of the two has the better answer, I shall augment a small part of Keown\u2019s theory, namely his assertion thatsamatha can cultivate moral concern, with some ideas of my own. I will not de\ufb01nitively solve the general problem of the relationship betweensamatha andvipassan\u00afa, but rather I hope to show that by making Keown\u2019s theory of the cultivation of moral concern more plausible we have more reasons to accept his larger theory of the importance of bothsamatha andvipassan\u00afa. As Gri\ufb03ths and Keown concentrate on Therav\u00afada sources in this context, I will limit the scope of my essay to such sources, predominantly theNik\u00afayas and Buddhaghosa\u2019sVisuddhimagga (Path of Puri\ufb01cation).2 I am making no claims about Mah\u00afay\u00afana or other Buddhist meditation tra- ditions; however, I suspect that there will be much overlapping in the form and content of the problem within other Buddhist traditions.

Most scholars have considered insight meditation to be the more im- portant of the two (for instance, Bodhi, Gunaratna, King, Rahula, and Sol\u00b4e-Leris). Walpola Rahula has written that the states created bysamatha meditation are \u201c...mind-created, mind-produced, conditioned.... They have nothing to do with Reality, Truth, Nirvana\u201d (Rahula, p. 68). These senti- ments are shared by Bhikkhu Bodhi: \u201cThe role of serenity is subordinated to that of insight because the latter is the crucial instrument needed to up- root the ignorance at the bottom of the samsaric bondage\u201d (Bodhi, p. 38). To reach nirvana, one must have the insight into the true nature of reality created byvipassan\u00afa-bh\u00afavan\u00afa. Thus,samatha is considered to be inessential for nirvana.

Ifsamatha is inessential, why is it included in Buddhist meditation tra-
ditions? The answer, for Rahula and most scholars of this group, is that
samathatechniques can sometimes help develop qualities useful in vipassan\u00afa

meditation. Nonetheless,samatha techniques are not as inherently valuable asvipassan\u00afa techniques. Of course I am not claiming that these scholars have thesame theory. My claim is simply that they share the basic simi- larity of consideringvipassan\u00afa the superior form of meditation andsamatha to be ultimately unnecessary\u2014however helpful it might be\u2014in the pursuit of nirvana. The work of Paul Gri\ufb03ths, which falls into this category of

vipassan\u00afaenthusiasts, will be discussed in section 1.1.

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