Yoke of Oxen

Recently I was asked whether jhana and vipassana meditation ultimately lead to the same results.*

My answer was, that I would rather rephrase that question:

“How are jhana and vipassana faculties tied together on the path to Nibbana?”


A pure jhana practicioner (like your typical yogi in the Himalaya) who is hooked on a nimitta is not likely to “move” towards Nibbana.

A pure vipassana practicioner (dry vipassana) who discursively buries himself  in lists of abhidharmic concepts is not likely to move towards Nibbana either.


A jhana trained person observing with direct vision the rising and falling of the 5 groups of grasping AND a concentrated vipassana meditator experiencing jhanic states during stretches of intensive vipassana both will meet at a stage in their battle where their position is indistinguishable from each other.


What we do see, when studying the Tipitaka and early post-canonical Buddhist texts on meditation as well as early Buddhist history is this:

In the beginning the distinction between concentration and the specific “insight” part was almost indistinguishable. Not because they are the same but because the method of samadhi was a give for everyone and many cases even before meeting the Buddha and the special attention was on understanding craving, thirst with regard to the interplay of senses and moments of experience. The teaching of dependent origination was the key to freedom. Something which came as a revelation to even the most gifted concentration meditators among the students of the Buddha (think of Anuraddha’s story meeting Sariputta). But at the early days of the Dhamma sati and samadhi were joined forces to attain panya. The distinction was just mentioned after the enlightenment of the Buddha not completely detailed to the last inch.

Now, over time  however- and this already started to happen during the lifetime of the Buddha – we see that with more people, more explanations, more refinement of instructions the noble eightfold path and its areas of expertise and training got more and more refined and elaborated on.

No exception for the concentration (jhanic) and insight (sati toward panya) parts of meditation.

This is how the terms samatha vipassana are finally born which from then on would be used to describe two qualities necessary on the path.

Coming back to the question I was asked:

To me (and this is my little 2 cents on it) these two “forces” are part of the noble eightfold path. They can be trained separately but in order to attain Nibbana they will automatically “connect” and support each other.

If you ask vipassana meditators, the further they go, the more and more jhanic experiences they get. They might lack training identifying and harnessing them. They are simply induced by the extreme amount of concentration which correct vipassana produces.

Same is true for samatha. Moving from the Jhanas using some form of noting and letting go of experience (on a fundamental level) the rising and falling is noticed stronger and stronger.

Both oxen are yoked and will culminate in the moment we step through the door to freedom (vimutti). So even if you let one run first for a while, the other one will never be far behind and eventually catch up – due to the yoke…

That however is only true if

a.) you have two bulls, not just one

b.) they run in the right direction




* For other posts on this topic see here. It is just a very popular question 🙂

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