What are tranquility and insight?

Tranquility and insight are the two proximate goals of Buddhist meditation. When you meditate on a single thing itself the mind will eventually become calm and collected. We call this samatha or tranquility meditation. If you meditate on the three characteristics—that things are impermanent, unsatisfying, and not our own—wisdom will arise. We call this vipassana or insight meditation.

These two kinds of practice and result support each other. Insight requires tranquility because the mind must be stable and clear to see and to accept the truth. But tranquility requires wisdom which is what lets go of our thinking and worrying long enough to meditate and to stabilize the mind.

So, as with mindfulness itself, we have to start where we are. We use whatever tranquility we have to remind ourselves what is real and we use whatever insight we have to let go of what is bothersome. As we let go more and more, we become calmer and calmer and as we become more and more calm we are able to see more and more clearly. In this way, tranquility and insight form the two wings which together lift us out of delusion.


This course assumes a familiarity with meditation and the Pāli Canon. Prior knowledge of the Āgamas or Chinese is not required.


A lecture series on MĀ division 7 (sutras 72–86) revolving around the theme of balancing and developing tranquility with insight.

The above lectures, along with their PDF notes, are the course.


When Bhikkhu Anālayo first taught this class in 2013, there was not yet a published, English translation of the MA Sutras covered here. In 2020, however, he co-authored with Roderick Bucknell:

The first section of this book contains translations of the Madhyama Āgama Discourses covered in this course, so please feel free to reference these translations as you take the course.

Pāli Parallels

In addition to the main Madhyama Āgama sutras above, a number of discourses from the Pāli Canon will be referenced throughout the course, mostly as parallels to the MA discourse under investigation. I’ve collected them below for your convenience, in the order of their appearance in the course:

As you study these parallel Pāli and Āgama discourses, remember that these two recensions were separated by thousands of miles and hundreds of years. Note the similarities and differences. How reliable do you feel the Early Buddhist Texts are now, as records of what the Buddha actually taught?

Further Reading

Canonical Works

They contemplate the phenomena there—included in form, feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness—as impermanent, as suffering, as diseased, as a boil, as a dart, as misery, as an affliction, as alien, as falling apart, as empty, as not-self. They turn their mind away from those things, and apply it to the deathless

When a mendicant is committed to development, they might not wish: ‘If only my mind was freed from the defilements by not grasping!’ Even so, their mind is freed…



This is the kind of inquiry one has to make for oneself. We call that, “biting into the mango.”

Advanced Courses

The Majjhima Nikāya
If you're enjoying studying the Middle Length Discourses and comparing Pāli and Āgama texts, you can continue with Bhikkhu Anālayo and Bhikkhu Bodhi in this course focusing more on the Pāli canon.
Nibbāna: The Goal of Buddhist Practice
The final culmination of tranquility and insight is the cessation of all the corruptions.
or feel free to check out any of our University's other fine offerings.