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 can be divided into two syllables, the first “shi” which is tranquil and “né” is abiding. So shiné is tranquil or 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 shiné using an object or form of support. Shiné with form also 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. Shiné with out form is the practice of pure attention or vigilance, this is not so easy as the first with form. 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 some new distraction, 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.
One word of caution Shiné meditation is not just a state of non-distraction. One might be tempted to just stop here and think, well now I have done it. There is a gradient here that one can apply to check one’s progress. Shiné can be quite coarse, like that of a hibernating animal, sleepiness is not Shiné. There is to be no conflict with ones thoughts in this tranquil calm abiding. We must be totally clear and lucid.
Laktong, lhag is clear or superior and thong is seeing. This describes the pristine perception of minds basic or uncontrived nature. 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.
Maybe the only true difference between shinè and laktong is the approach. Shinè uses an object or a reference that we meditate on. A connection of sorts is established between the two. While with laktong, the connection does not exist anymore or never did. In laktong, we do not deny the things passing in mind they happen as they are the richness of our human existence but we do not follow them either. They simply pass by. Imagine you are standing along the side of a highway. Cars are passing continuously and at an incredible rate. Did you see the red Ferrari? How long could you focus on it? Can you follow all of them? Funny eh? We try this all the time in daily life as we jump from one to the other. Now another scene, same highway same traffic. The cars pass on by as you look through all of them off into the distance. This is the space like nature of mind. Our “mind is full” of all the cars but we are not attached to any of them. We have a conscious panoramic view of the entire highway, aware of all, no longer focused on anything.
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.
Want to know more about Tibetan meditation check out my page on Kyerim and Dzogrim to see more ways in how a Tibetan meditation is structured.