Schools of Meditation
May 7, 2009 9:51 AM   Subscribe

What are the differences between Zen and Vipassana meditation?

I'm interested mostly in the practices, foci, goals, etc., rather than the history or cultural background.
posted by Picklegnome to Health & Fitness (6 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Simply put, the purpose of Zen is to "become thoroughly familiar with the true self", or achieving satori, and the basic tool or practice for doing this is through seated meditation. When you take up the practice of Zen, the teachers or roshi or whatever actively discourage scholasticism at first. It's just important to learn how to sit and breath, and meditate. Satori can be achieved instantaneously, and at any time. Practice should take place in a community with roshi.

Vipassana seems to be more structured.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:12 AM on May 7, 2009

I agree that Vipassana is more structured; basically, it's the observation of sensations, emotions, thoughts, perceptions, etc. as they arise and depart (ideally, without judging them or becoming wrapped up in them). Its goal is insight -- specifically, insight into the temporary and conditional nature of all physical and mental processes.
posted by nicepersonality at 10:29 AM on May 7, 2009

Best answer: Shamata/Vipassana vs. Dzogchen
Teaching Notes: Beginner Q & A and Shamata Meditation
Vipassanā - Wikipedia
Description of Vipassana Meditation

The way I learned it from some Tibetan lama-guy and sitting for a while with Kapleau: Shamata = mindfullness of breath / vipassana = panoramic awareness (these are complementary practices). This is just the foundation of all Buddhist meditation. Note there are differences of emphasis in the Theravadin and Mahayana traditions and this is just kindergarten for the Tantric Buddhists. Beginner's Zen starts pretty much in the same place, and depending on your school (fast or slow) can use a variety of techniques depending on your development and mental makeup to achieve various states or stages of enlightenment, from Koans to Dogen's Shikan Taza (nothing but sitting).

I wouldn't say that beginning (i.e. first five or ten years) of Zen meditation is less "structured" than simple vipassana, but then I'm not really a Buddhist.
posted by psyche7 at 10:45 AM on May 7, 2009

Zen meditation encompasses a very big group of practices.

This is from my limited knowledge, and I may not be spot on with each of them but...:

Thich Nhat Hanh (Lin-chi/Rinzai/Chinese Chan) is a modern zen teacher who teaches mindfulness meditation - gentle awareness mind, body, feelings, and objects of mind at all moments, with the goal of transformation, but a clear idea that "the pure land is here" - not practicing for the future, but practicing for right now.

SFZC (Soto) teaches "just sitting", and forgetting about a destination or achieving goals.

Then there is Rinzai koan practice, which I know little about.

If I had to explain the difference in practice and goals succinctly between the two, I'd say that:
1) Zen is "Now focused", and discourages goals in practice. Practice is very focused on the present moment, on just being, and eschews "step by step" meditation direction.

2) Vipassna has more of a focus on enlgightment, and has a very clear step by step approach involving focused concentration on directed tasks.
posted by mjewkes at 12:22 PM on May 7, 2009

Best answer: I am not sure your comparison makes sense. It might make more sense to compare Theravadan Buddhism and Zen Buddhism. But in the U.S. at least, we do talk more about Vipassana - which comes from the Theravadan tradition (at least as I understand it).

I'm pretty sure Gil Fronsdal, who was ordained as a Zen monk and spent some time at a San Francisco Zen Center but now teaches at the Insight Meditation Center gave a talk about Vipassana and Zen but in a quick scan down his talks, I am not seeing it.

I always thought that zen was a more formal practice -- more rituals, especially in the training. I think of zen as being a little more ethereal what with Koans and all.

Vipassana is a more concrete, down-to-earth practice, focusing very much on being in the present through mindfulness practices.

I've never thought of Vipassana as being particularly focused on enlightenment -- or at least not any more so than Zen.

Either path is worth traveling, I'd say.
posted by nnk at 1:51 PM on May 7, 2009

Response by poster: nnk, it's called "Zen and Vipassana", from 12/09/07. Thanks for the link! I'm downloading a few right now.
posted by Picklegnome at 2:36 PM on May 7, 2009

« Older This isn't a mouse spider, is it?   |   Tea, please? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.