It’s often claimed that the term “Samatha Vipassana” only appears once in the Early Buddhist texts, namely at MN 149:

“tassime dve dhammā yuganandhā vattanti — samatho ca vipassanā ca”

“These two things — serenity and insight — occur in him yoked evenly together.”

This claim of once is an oversimplification.

Perhaps this famous “once” being referred to here is how Samatha and Vipassana are explained only once as “evenly yoked together”. The Pali phrase “samatho ca vipassanā”, or “Samatha and Vipassana”, occurs 198 times, throughout the Pali Canon:

  • In DN 33: once

  • In DN 34: once

  • In MN 73: once

  • In MN 149: 4 times

  • In MN 151: 3 times

  • In SN 41.6: once

  • In SN 41.7: once

  • In SN 43.2: once

  • In SN 45.159: once

  • In AN 2.32: once

  • In AN 2.173: once

  • In AN 2.231 to 2.246: 180 times (once you expand all the peyyalas)

  • In AN 4.254: once

  • In AN 6.54: once

Note: there are no occurrences in the Khuddaka Nikaya, when I look in the following:

  • Khuddakapatha
  • Dhammapada
  • Sutta Nipata
  • Udana
  • Itivuttaka
  • Theragatha
  • Therigatha

I don’t go so far as to claim that “Samatha Vipassana” is a major theme in the Early Buddhist Texts, owing sheerly to these 198 appearances. In fact, the 197 other appearances of “Samatha Vipassana” in the EBTs (aside from the famous appearance above, in MN 149) only vaguely mention “Samatha Vipassana” in a passing, cursory way; merely to list it as something wholesome and beneficial in many different ways when developed, without really expanding on it, or delving into any technical particulars about it.

So it’s not untruthful to say that there was only one appearance of “Samatha Vipassana” in the EBTs, where anything of deeper substance was said about it: namely that it should be “evenly yoked together”, and even that much is a very scant expounding on the topic. So to call “Samatha Vipassana” a very minor theme (as a teaching in and of itself, never mind it being a complex, highly nuanced system of meditation) in the EBTs is indeed true.

There is one EBT sutta, MN 4.170, where serenity and insight are further shown to be the straightforward, separable things they are (as opposed to the name of a meditation technique unto itself); as practised one before the other, or “in tandem” (i.e “evenly yoked together”):

Ven. Ananda said: “Friends, whoever—monk or nun—declares the attainment of arahantship in my presence, they all do it by means of one or another of four paths. Which four?

“There is the case where a monk has developed insight preceded by tranquillity. As he develops insight preceded by tranquillity, the path is born. He follows that path, develops it, pursues it. As he follows the path, developing it & pursuing it—his fetters are abandoned, his obsessions destroyed.”

“Then there is the case where a monk has developed tranquillity preceded by insight. As he develops tranquillity preceded by insight, the path is born. He follows that path, develops it, pursues it. As he follows the path, developing it & pursuing it—his fetters are abandoned, his obsessions destroyed.

“Then there is the case where a monk has developed tranquillity in tandem with insight. As he develops tranquillity in tandem with insight, the path is born. He follows that path, develops it, pursues it. As he follows the path, developing it & pursuing it—his fetters are abandoned, his obsessions destroyed.

“Then there is the case where a monk’s mind has its restlessness concerning the Dhamma [Comm: the corruptions of insight] well under control. There comes a time when his mind grows steady inwardly, settles down, and becomes unified & concentrated. In him the path is born. He follows that path, develops it, pursues it. As he follows the path, developing it & pursuing it—his fetters are abandoned, his obsessions destroyed.

“Whoever—monk or nun—declares the attainment of arahantship in my presence, they all do it by means of one or another of these four paths.”