Shiné and Laktong in Tibetan or Shamata and Vipassana in Sanskrit are the two primary components or innerstandings that are practised within the framework of most if not all Tibetan Buddhist meditations.
Shiné is calming and abiding in that which is. Shiné is practised within meditation in several ways; the most common way is that of focusing on one’s breath, this is also known as formless shiné. Shiné with form includes focusing on a Buddha diety in its entirety as well as it’s individual parts or attributes, mantra repetition, and any physical activity such as body posture or the use of a mala. As the English translation suggests the aim of the practice is first to calm the mind and then to learn to keep it one place. A very common way of learning to master the skill of shiné is to think of this analogy. When working out in the gym pushing weights one could plan to do 3 sets of ten reps each for any particular muscle group. In meditation one focuses for a period of time and then relaxes the mind before beginning to focus once more and repeats this over and over again slowly adding more time or reps between the breaks. As the mind gets used to staying in one place instead of following the never-ending train of thoughts, wisdom and innerstanding arise. There is a great exertion or expenditure of energy that we constantly use as our mind focuses, stops focusing, and then refocuses on something new, this is known as grasping. As this energy is freed up by the practice our mind naturally transforms it into wisdom or what can be described as insight.
Laktong or insight meditation can be divided into two parts. Intellectual and non-intellectual insight. The first, intellectual insight, seems rather easy as one ontologically tries to find or describe his mind. What is our mind? It is that which sees through our eyes or hears through our ears. We ask, is it in my head or my body, is it big or small, is it heavy or light, or red or grey? Non-intellectual insight is a very different animal and this is where things become difficult. How should one describe a non-intellectual experience in an intellectual way? Our language is based on our dualistic patterns in which most of us tend to perceive the myriad of interdependent phenomena around us. We try to use words like “non-dual” or phrases such as “beyond personal” to explain that which words cannot adequately describe. My personal favourite is the French phrase “conscience panoramique”. On one hand Laktong may be described as “ah ha” moments when suddenly you have an amazing idea or something becomes very clear in the moment when mind is relaxed and free. On the other hand, this state of mind is comparable to how one feels after jumping out of a perfectly good aeroplane or during an orgasm, the mind has no frame of reference and experiences pure joy. Because of the meditative training it is not grasping or reaching for the next thought it just stays in rest of the present moment. Mind can, therefore, tap into the untold wisdom of all that is.
In the end, for advanced practitioners, Shiné and Laktong merge into one. There is no need with a complete understanding of both shiné and laktong to dissect and reduce each term to their absolute definitions if we can fathom the sum of all their parts.