Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

General discussion of issues related to Theravada Meditation, e.g. meditation postures, developing a regular sitting practice, skillfully relating to difficulties and hindrances, etc.

Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby befriend » Thu Jan 05, 2012 9:19 pm

i was taught that vipassana from watching the rising and falling motions of the abdomen, can lead to samatha after 45 minutes of practice. in my experience nostril awareness is samatha. but i never practiced that more than getting to access concentration a handful of times and my teacher is not a samatha teacher. you may be right if you say nostril breathing can eventually become vipassana, i am not learned in this so ill leave that discussion up to those who have experience more with nostril awareness. i just know in the BEGINNING stages nostril is samatha, abdomen is vipassana, after a little while the lines may begin to blur and possibly another factor may play a role in nostril samatha turning into vipassana?
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Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby Pondera » Thu Jan 05, 2012 11:41 pm

Goofaholix wrote:
Pondera wrote:Probably sounds dangerous. To meditate while one drives a car. :) No accidents so far. To be honest, I'm responsible in a sense that when I focus simply on my breath while I drive, I take greater care to drive more safely. It actually seems that my intentions to go over the speed limit and so on fade away with concentration on breath. So, it's as if the hubris that comes with breaking the speed limit is, as it should be, calmed by focusing on the breath.


Trying to be in touch with the breath while you are performing another activity can at times be helpful to ground you when you are feeling anxious, or scattered, or tired.

However if you're trying to split your attention as an ongoing practise when undertaking a potentially dangerous activity that requires your full present moment attention it seems to me you are missing the point of breath meditation.


Well. I've been driving so long that I can basically meditate while I drive, as long as I'm able to see the road. There's nothing about my own contemplation of breath that takes away from my visual awareness, reaction time, or decision making. So I wouldn't say that driving requires my full present moment attention.

I doubt that I'm "missing" the point of meditation. You assert I am though you cannot indeed know what points I cross while meditating as I drive. It is possible for me to move the steering wheel and watch for problems in an intelligent way while also focusing on my breath, and then if the focus catches well, turn my awareness also over to my body.

In fact, driving is really no different than brushing ones teeth or performing any of those actions recommended to be associated with the contemplation of breath. So, for instance if one walks, one makes a mental effort to do this -one foot after the other. And if one wishes to observe their breath while they walk, then they do just that. They observe their own breath as they exert their own mental efforts.

So, what I meant by splitting my attention was that I remain mentally alert while I drive, but give attention over to the breathing process - for the purpose of grounding (essentially) and nothing more. I find the contemplation of breath to be a meaningful activity: at least as rewarding as any other pursuit in life.
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Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby Goofaholix » Fri Jan 06, 2012 12:38 am

Pondera wrote:Well. I've been driving so long that I can basically meditate while I drive, as long as I'm able to see the road.

There's nothing about my own contemplation of breath that takes away from my visual awareness, reaction time, or decision making. So I wouldn't say that driving requires my full present moment attention.


That's the problem right there. You've judged breathing to be somehow "spiritual" and worthy of attention whereas driving is not.

If you are doing jhana practice then there's some truth in that. If you are doing insight practise however the aim is that everything you do has full present moment attention and an awareness of how the mind is unwilling.

Pondera wrote:In fact, driving is really no different than brushing ones teeth or performing any of those actions recommended to be associated with the contemplation of breath. So, for instance if one walks, one makes a mental effort to do this -one foot after the other. And if one wishes to observe their breath while they walk, then they do just that. They observe their own breath as they exert their own mental efforts.


That's right, but the question is why do you feel the need to add something to what you're doing in your day to day activities? There are some circumstances where adding something can be helpful for grounding as I outlined before. However if you try and do it as an ongoing practise it may well be because you've judged breathing to be somehow "spiritual" and worthy of attention whereas other activities are not. This is a common mistake for meditators and I had this attitude for a long time.

Pondera wrote:So, what I meant by splitting my attention was that I remain mentally alert while I drive, but give attention over to the breathing process - for the purpose of grounding (essentially) and nothing more. I find the contemplation of breath to be a meaningful activity: at least as rewarding as any other pursuit in life.


The reason it's a meaningful activity is that it's a baseline, it's a baseline that helps you to know when the mind has stopped giving full attention in the present moment, it's a baseline that helps you bring the mind back to full attention in the present moment, it's a baseline that helps you sustain this activity over a period of time and thus train the mind.

It's not about the breathing it's about the mind. Insight arises in the mind not in the breath.

Driving can also perform this function, actually I find it very good for that, as can brushing the teeth or any number of other activities that don't encourage discursive thought.

In many respects it's about sharpening the mind like you'd sharpen a knife, nobody sharpens it for the sake of sharpening, you sharpen it because it's all the better for cutting with. Otherwise the breath effectively becomes another avoidance strategy.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby Pondera » Fri Jan 13, 2012 1:47 am

Goofaholix wrote:.
That's the problem right there. You've judged breathing to be somehow "spiritual" and worthy of attention whereas driving is not.


You're joking, right. Because you're hilarious. At what point in my post did I even mention the word 'spiritual". I honestly think this is a classic case of guilt transference. I think you're possibly so caught up in your practice of breath awareness and whether or not you should view it as spiritual or not spiritual that you simply assume anyone who mentions it has got to be having the same problem.

No. Absolutely not. If I said even anything, it was something about not trying to enter a trance when I practice breathing awareness as I drive. It is precisely because I don't practice breath meditation for the purpose of "spirituality" that I practice breath meditation in my day to day life. If I said something or anything, it was about not ever wanting to sit and breath, precisely because I want to completely avoid the very pretentiousness of thought you're so quick to place in the context of my writings. I'm not like that. I don't care about spirituality. I barely have an idea of what the word means.

If you are doing jhana practice then there's some truth in that. If you are doing insight practise however the aim is that everything you do has full present moment attention and an awareness of how the mind is unwilling.


Maybe there's some truth to that. But there isn't a lot of truth to that.

Pondera wrote:In fact, driving is really no different than brushing ones teeth or performing any of those actions recommended to be associated with the contemplation of breath. So, for instance if one walks, one makes a mental effort to do this -one foot after the other. And if one wishes to observe their breath while they walk, then they do just that. They observe their own breath as they exert their own mental efforts.


That's right, but the question is why do you feel the need to add something to what you're doing in your day to day activities?


Because by adding breath awareness to everything I do I take away a little amount of my own stupidity.

There are some circumstances where adding something can be helpful for grounding as I outlined before. However if you try and do it as an ongoing practise it may well be because you've judged breathing to be somehow "spiritual" and worthy of attention whereas other activities are not. This is a common mistake for meditators and I had this attitude for a long time.


Yeah. Well there's the problem right there. I called it. Little bit of classic Freudian projection going on. No worries. I do it to. Everyone does.

I practice it often without expectation and I do it for the mild benefits I find it gives to me in the sense of grounding, as you said. I might sound like a 17 year old boy in my writing, but I'm a 30 year old man and I've had my fun with the spiritual. I don't need any more of that. I need to start preparing for old age. That's why I focus on my breath, and if it happens naturally, becoming sensitive to the effects that breathing has on my body makes me feel better.

The reason it's a meaningful activity is that it's a baseline, it's a baseline that helps you to know when the mind has stopped giving full attention in the present moment, it's a baseline that helps you bring the mind back to full attention in the present moment, it's a baseline that helps you sustain this activity over a period of time and thus train the mind.


You know, there aren't any winners or losers in life. It sounds to me like you've interpreted your life as if there was a goal and unless you constantly seek for that goal, you're doing something wrong. Relax. We're not all Buddhas. We don't live in that time.

People say: Take a deep breath in and...relax (shuuuuuu), Take a deeep breath in.....and...relax (shuuuuuu).

You know? Watch that stress melt away from all over the place. Make your body feel good. Relax. Let those muscles relax. Have a beer. Watch a hockey game.

It's not about the breathing it's about the mind. Insight arises in the mind not in the breath.


Not my goal. Not interested in insight. To me it's about the breath. My broken body needs pain killers. The natural kind. I know where they are and I know how to release them. The only thing stopping me is consistency. There's a whole plethora of beautiful little endorphins stored up in certain places of the body that never get released because we're all too tense.

Let me embarrass my self for your sake. I can't piss in public urinals unless my feet are placed firmly on the ground, I take a huge breath in, hold it, hold it, hold it...and then, let it out...slowly...and then...ahhh. You know? It's the other men. I don't get it. Am I secretly attracted to them? Is it a left over thing from my childhood? I don't want men to see my wanker?

I know what it is. My lower back is bent at the fifth vertebrae from the bottom. There's too much tension in there for my unconscious mind to suspend the parasympathetic hold over my bladder. That's why I have to plant my feet firmly on the ground. This releases some tension on the spine. Then it's that deep breath in that makes it happen.

Otherwise, I'm standing with the guy next to me thinking "There's no sound! There's no sound! What kind of a man am I if I can't pee in public? I'm such a loser."

But I'm not. I just have an arched lower back (and I'm neurotically afraid that other men will look at my wanker). It took me a long time to realize how easy and natural it is to take a whiz when you plant your feet firmly on the ground, straighten out that lower part of your back, and take in a deep breath.

Breath is inextricably linked to the relaxation of the body.

In many respects it's about sharpening the mind like you'd sharpen a knife, nobody sharpens it for the sake of sharpening, you sharpen it because it's all the better for cutting with. Otherwise the breath effectively becomes another avoidance strategy.


See you've got to put the rest of the analogy in there or it doesn't make any sense. Okay, yes. Nobody sharpens a knife just for the sake of sharpening, although I must say I take a certain amount of pride in my personal ability to sharpen my favorite knives on the steel I own. If you don't have the right technique, if you don't understand the knife, if you aren't exerting pressure from the right parts of your body, if you don't get the exact angle - you're wasting your time and your knife and your steel. Experts take two strokes at the steel and there blade is sharp. Others swipe at the steel aimlessly just guessing that the knife is going to clean itself. So yes, once the sharpening is done you cut something up. Like an onion. What's better than slicing through an onion with a razor sharp blade? Nothing. Absolutely nothing compares to it.

So I sharpen my mind. And then...cut through ignorance? Please expand,

Respectfully,
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Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby Goofaholix » Fri Jan 13, 2012 2:40 am

Pondera wrote:You're joking, right. Because you're hilarious. At what point in my post did I even mention the word 'spiritual". I honestly think this is a classic case of guilt transference. I think you're possibly so caught up in your practice of breath awareness and whether or not you should view it as spiritual or not spiritual that you simply assume anyone who mentions it has got to be having the same problem.

No. Absolutely not. If I said even anything, it was something about not trying to enter a trance when I practice breathing awareness as I drive. It is precisely because I don't practice breath meditation for the purpose of "spirituality" that I practice breath meditation in my day to day life. If I said something or anything, it was about not ever wanting to sit and breath, precisely because I want to completely avoid the very pretentiousness of thought you're so quick to place in the context of my writings. I'm not like that. I don't care about spirituality. I barely have an idea of what the word means.


There's no need to get personal, we are talking about the practise of meditation not speculating on anyone's pretentions or guilt transferences.

You've focussed on one word and missed the point, if I replace the word "spiritual" with the word "special" the meaning is the same but hopefully less likely to lead us off on tangents.

The point I was trying to make is why is the breath "special" and worthy of attention when day to day activities are not? Why is driving not considered "special" but breathing is?

One of the major causes of dukkha is no matter we are doing the mind eventually wants to escape to something else. When sitting on the meditation cushion observing the breath for example the mind tries to escape into fantasies about the future or regrets about the past etc.

If one is engaged in driving or brushing teeth and the mind doesn't value what you're doing, wants to be somewhere else, then using breath awareness as a kind of escape from that is just a replication of that same habit that annoys us during meditation.

Pondera wrote:Because by adding breath awareness to everything I do I take away a little amount of my own stupidity.


Why does it have to be breath awareness, why can't it be driving awareness, or tooth brushing awareness, or standing at the urinal awareness, in fact why can't it just be awareness?

Pondera wrote:Not my goal. Not interested in insight. To me it's about the breath. My broken body needs pain killers. The natural kind. I know where they are and I know how to release them. The only thing stopping me is consistency. There's a whole plethora of beautiful little endorphins stored up in certain places of the body that never get released because we're all too tense.


Ok, now I'm starting to realise where you're coming from. If you're interested in breath meditation just as a relaxation technique and are not interested in insight then what you are saying makes sense.

It's not practising the Buddhist path of course, and that's up to you I'm not going to criticise, but it accounts for our difference in point of view.

Pondera wrote:Let me embarrass my self for your sake. I can't piss in public urinals unless my feet are placed firmly on the ground…
Breath is inextricably linked to the relaxation of the body.


I'm not really sure what this was all about.

Pondera wrote:So I sharpen my mind. And then...cut through ignorance? Please expand,


Of course, and greed, and aversion. This is the Buddhas path to awakening.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby ground » Fri Jan 13, 2012 4:35 am

No it does not matter at all. However avoid objects toward which there is still the arising of greed/lust or aversion/anger.

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Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby Pondera » Fri Jan 13, 2012 6:52 pm

The point I was trying to make is why is the breath "special" and worthy of attention when day to day activities are not? Why is driving not considered "special" but breathing is?


I don't separate breathing from daily attention to activities. Sometimes I'm well aware of my breathing while I perform a certain activity, and the benefit is that my whole approach to whatever task it is I have becomes fine-lined. Sometimes I am not paying attention to my breathing while I perform a certain activity and I forget to remember that the object of my attention is farther away from me, literally, than my capacity to work with that object.

My focus on day to day activities changes for the better when I am aware of my breath. So I consider that my attention to breathing is a credit to whatever thing I am simultaneously involved in.

I can try to do anything in my life with constant attention to breath. I can't do anything in my life without breathing. So whether I pay attention to it or not, the breath is important to all the things I do. They cannot be defined as unrelated or separate.

One of the major causes of dukkha is no matter we are doing the mind eventually wants to escape to something else. When sitting on the meditation cushion observing the breath for example the mind tries to escape into fantasies about the future or regrets about the past etc.

If one is engaged in driving or brushing teeth and the mind doesn't value what you're doing, wants to be somewhere else, then using breath awareness as a kind of escape from that is just a replication of that same habit that annoys us during meditation.

Why does it have to be breath awareness, why can't it be driving awareness, or tooth brushing awareness, or standing at the urinal awareness, in fact why can't it just be awareness?


It has to be breath awareness, because breath awareness is body awareness. Without body awareness there is no driving, no tooth brushing, and no standing in the urinal.

Ok, now I'm starting to realise where you're coming from. If you're interested in breath meditation just as a relaxation technique and are not interested in insight then what you are saying makes sense.

It's not practising the Buddhist path of course, and that's up to you I'm not going to criticise, but it accounts for our difference in point of view.


Buddhist insight follows from relaxation of the body. Buddhist insight is found within the relaxation of the body, and upon the foundation of a body which is relaxed. This is evident from the fact that in the description of the breathing mindfulness technique described by the Buddha, one sequentially turns one's attention to being sensitive to the body and the calming of the body. All Buddhist insight is founded and occurs only on the basis of a body which has been calmed. You can not relax the mind, without first having relaxed the body. And this is evident in the following familiar passage:

"[1] Breathing in long, he discerns, 'I am breathing in long'; or breathing out long, he discerns, 'I am breathing out long.' [2] Or breathing in short, he discerns, 'I am breathing in short'; or breathing out short, he discerns, 'I am breathing out short.' [3] He trains himself, 'I will breathe in sensitive to the entire body.'[2] He trains himself, 'I will breathe out sensitive to the entire body.' [4] He trains himself, 'I will breathe in calming bodily fabrication.'[3] He trains himself, 'I will breathe out calming bodily fabrication.'

"[5] He trains himself, 'I will breathe in sensitive to rapture.' He trains himself, 'I will breathe out sensitive to rapture.' [6] He trains himself, 'I will breathe in sensitive to pleasure.' He trains himself, 'I will breathe out sensitive to pleasure.' [7] He trains himself, 'I will breathe in sensitive to mental fabrication.'[4] He trains himself, 'I will breathe out sensitive to mental fabrication.' [8] He trains himself, 'I will breathe in calming mental fabrication.' He trains himself, 'I will breathe out calming mental fabrication.'


Pondera wrote:Let me embarrass my self for your sake. I can't piss in public urinals unless my feet are placed firmly on the ground…
Breath is inextricably linked to the relaxation of the body.


I'm not really sure what this was all about.


That was about the cart coming before the horse.

Of course, and greed, and aversion. This is the Buddhas path to awakening.


Yes. The Buddha's path to awakening was accomplished by cutting through ignorance, greed, and aversion. However the awakening was gradual.

Yes. No one sharpens a knife for no reason, yes. But, like I said, even sharpening the knife follows its own gradual progression.
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Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby reflection » Fri Jan 13, 2012 7:13 pm

I don't think it matters where one places attention. I often place the attention where I feel the breath the best at that moment. This may be the nostrils or the abdomen, but also lower in the nose. Or I choose to not focus on the breath at all, but on bodily feelings or compassion. There is not too much difference in the effect, as long as you can concentrate on it. The breath is nice to focus on because it has a close connection with the mind, but apart from that it is nothing special about the breath. Also particular spots where we feel it also aren't that special or important I would say.

But what I found works best for me is to not focus on any particular spot, but just on the general feeling of the breath. This way the bodily feelings seem to fade away more easily, leaving only the mental representation of the breath, which is a higher state of concentration. This is the method taught by Ajahn Brahmavamso, by the way.

But, to each his own.
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Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby Pondera » Fri Jan 13, 2012 10:17 pm

I took a quick peek at what Ajahn Brahmavamso has to say about breath meditation.

I am certain that my progress along sustained awareness of breath is far behind a person such as Ajahn Brahmavamso, but the one thing I can relate to in a writing of his on the net is the not "interfering" part that comes with breath-awareness.

Also becoming completely engrossed in each and every phase of the breathing process is something essential I have come to appreciate. The one pitfall I have recognized is an expectation I have that bodily calmness will come hand in hand with breath awareness. This becomes a stumbling block for me. But the minute I give up on trying to achieve bodily calmness and come back to the basic awareness of breath, the bodily calmness simply follows.

I realize the whole time that I've been trying to screw the lid off of a jar of pickles in a counter clockwise direction. Whether we choose to break it into 15 parts or 100; an essential step towards understanding the effects of the breath on the body and mind is a full commitment to the breath first.

I personally step out, in many other people's opinions, from Buddhism in my connection to my body. I realize that the body is meant to operate in a certain way. For me, the loftiness of insight comes through a fairly straight forward, albeit magical reaction within the context of letting go or initiating non-attachment to the body.

My practical efforts can be summarized like this. With the help of understanding one's breath...

...focus on:

The base of the spine, in the morning, releases testosterone and keeps the lower regions of the body healthy

The second lowest part of the spine, as the morning continues, encourages healthy bladder function through a release of different but similar biochemicals like testosterone

The region of the spine, right at noon, where the stomach is located encourages healthy bowel movement with a similar release of bio-chemical endorphines or steroids (I can't say what genera these "chemicals" belong to for certain).

The region of the spine, in the afternoon, right behind the heart, or the heart itself releases an especially important thing. This thing, and whatever it is, helps to reduce any adrenaline produced in the bodies metabolism of food. This thing is also quite related to metabolism.

The neck region, in the evening, releases insulin.

The base of the neck near the back of the head, promotes open and healthy nervous tissues - via yet another kind of molecule. At this stage the molecules are becoming less and less material in nature; therefore harder to explain and define.

The front of the head, as the evening continues, promotes healthy bone structure. And when this important area is concentrated on properly the effect it has on the entire bodies bone structure is, to the observer, like going completely numb. This is why, having experienced it for my self, I suspect it shares something in common with the third jhana. I have no way of proving that. It is a suspicion of mine.

The top of the head, as the night is coming to a close, promotes healthy muscles with the release of the last biochemical which can rightly be called "material".

The places which then follow now correspond not to bodily functions and the promotion of their well being, but rather speculative views and a healthy distance created from those views, or, in other terms, a spontaneous revelation of how these views exist within a person. They are, so to speak, immaterial.

While most people are asleep, around 12:30 or so...

...focus on:

Another region near the back of the head; another region near the front of the head; another region near the top of the head; another the region right in the center of the head; and the region right in the center of the heart open up; in the same order - to promote:

A perception of:
"Just" Space
Consciousness extended around the objects which surround the person
Nothingness, as if it were the shadow of the hollows which form inside the emptiness of a person's rib cage
Neither perception nor non-perception; and
The heart's release from the bondage of attachments.

So as non-Buddhist as all of this sounds, it's how I understand the body and it's more Yogic than anything else except that, in my experience, the nature of these "precious-points" put the context of jhanas and immaterial jhanas into an understandable framework (for me anyhow).

Buddhist heresy?
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Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby Goofaholix » Fri Jan 13, 2012 11:50 pm

Pondera wrote:My focus on day to day activities changes for the better when I am aware of my breath. So I consider that my attention to breathing is a credit to whatever thing I am simultaneously involved in.


Aha! yes that's the thing, your focus on day to day activities changes for the better when you are aware of the breath, so awareness of the breath is just a tool to establish your attention to the present moment, awareness of the breath is just a means to an end not an end in itself.

Pondera wrote:It has to be breath awareness, because breath awareness is body awareness. Without body awareness there is no driving, no tooth brushing, and no standing in the urinal.


Actually no, breath awareness is just breath awareness and body awareness is body awareness. The breath is just one of many things happening in the body at any one time. It is a very useful gateway to body awareness though, for example in the body sweeping vipassana technique breath awareness is used at the beginning to help establish concentration before progressing to awareness of bodily sensation.

Then there are the four foundations of mindfulness; body, mind, feelings, and dhammas. Body awareness is an important foundation because it's the easiest to work with and keeps you grounded but just as breath awareness is just the beginning of body awareness so body awareness is just the beginning of the four foundations of mindfulness.

Pondera wrote:Buddhist insight follows from relaxation of the body. Buddhist insight is found within the relaxation of the body, and upon the foundation of a body which is relaxed. This is evident from the fact that in the description of the breathing mindfulness technique described by the Buddha, one sequentially turns one's attention to being sensitive to the body and the calming of the body. All Buddhist insight is founded and occurs only on the basis of a body which has been calmed. You can not relax the mind, without first having relaxed the body. And this is evident in the following familiar passage:


Actually no, Buddhist insight doesn't necessarily follow from relaxation of the body and the passage you've quoted doesn't support this idea either, it's the description of just one meditation technique and it's a concentration technique not an insight technique.

As one gains insight and lets go of holding onto stresses and tension then of course the body relaxes more. As one gains more body awareness one can recognise when tension is starting to arise, investigate, the causes and let go of them.

But to say insight follows from relaxation of the body seems a pretty odd way of looking at things and not my experience, or perhaps frequenting massage parlours is the road to enlightenment.

Pondera wrote:That was about the cart coming before the horse.


This is my point also, you appear to be taking the breath cart before the awareness horse.

Pondera wrote:Yes. No one sharpens a knife for no reason, yes. But, like I said, even sharpening the knife follows its own gradual progression.


Indeed, but if one doesn't progress beyond giving importance to just one tool then what progression is there? That doesn't mean that the tool of breath awareness ever passes a use by date it's just our understanding of the whole mind body process progresses beyond just that.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby Pondera » Sat Jan 14, 2012 3:41 am

Actually no, breath awareness is just breath awareness and body awareness is body awareness. The breath is just one of many things happening in the body at any one time. It is a very useful gateway to body awareness though, for example in the body sweeping vipassana technique breath awareness is used at the beginning to help establish concentration before progressing to awareness of bodily sensation.

Then there are the four foundations of mindfulness; body, mind, feelings, and dhammas. Body awareness is an important foundation because it's the easiest to work with and keeps you grounded but just as breath awareness is just the beginning of body awareness so body awareness is just the beginning of the four foundations of mindfulness.


Well the four foundations of mindfulness are explicitly indicated in the full description of the in and out breathing meditation, but I admit that each is a separate object of meditation in and of itself. Still, regardless of what you direct your contemplation towards, breathing will not only accompany that thing (whether it is the body, the mind, feelings, or dhamma); breathing will also condition that thing.


Actually no, Buddhist insight doesn't necessarily follow from relaxation of the body and the passage you've quoted doesn't support this idea either, it's the description of just one meditation technique and it's a concentration technique not an insight technique.


Of course it's insight! The passage doesn't stop at calming the mind. The passage stops when Nirvana is reached! That's insight.

As one gains insight and lets go of holding onto stresses and tension then of course the body relaxes more. As one gains more body awareness one can recognise when tension is starting to arise, investigate, the causes and let go of them.

But to say insight follows from relaxation of the body seems a pretty odd way of looking at things and not my experience, or perhaps frequenting massage parlours is the road to enlightenment.


Well, you don't necessarily have to calm the body in order to achieve insight into reality. It's a good idea to. Recall Sariputta in the sutta "One After the Other".

This is my point also, you appear to be taking the breath cart before the awareness horse.


Well, my point of view is that the awareness cart should follow behind the breathing horse, and this seems right to me. But I don't think we'll get anywhere arguing about it because both of us are probably convinced we're right. So maybe a vote or tally of opinions might settle that. But we won't be able to between the two of us.

Indeed, but if one doesn't progress beyond giving importance to just one tool then what progression is there? That doesn't mean that the tool of breath awareness ever passes a use by date it's just our understanding of the whole mind body process progresses beyond just that.


You know, I slipped into Neither Perception nor Non-Perception and I recall that there was one distinct breath which separated that last bit of consciousness my Mind was holding onto and then total blank awareness. When Perception and Feeling ceased, I don't recall whether I breathed or not. But it was very much, even at a stage of progression like the eighth jhana still a question of "how can I use my breath and my knowledge to attain insight and liberation." So...
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Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby pilgrim » Sat Jan 14, 2012 4:45 am

I find both useful depending on my mind state. When I'm distracted or tired, I focus on the abdomen as it is grosser and more easily observed. Then when I am calmed down somewhat, I change to the nostrils to refine the concentration.
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Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby Goofaholix » Sat Jan 14, 2012 8:52 pm

Pondera wrote:Well the four foundations of mindfulness are explicitly indicated in the full description of the in and out breathing meditation, but I admit that each is a separate object of meditation in and of itself. Still, regardless of what you direct your contemplation towards, breathing will not only accompany that thing (whether it is the body, the mind, feelings, or dhamma); breathing will also condition that thing.


Yes of course, breathing is involved in everything we do, that's one of the reasons it's by far the most popular introductory Buddhist meditation techniques, however the Buddha listed many more subjects of meditation which to me is evidence that it's the effect on the mind that's important not the technique itself.

The two most popular Theravadin meditation traditions today, Mahasi Sayadaw and U Ba Khin, both do not use meditation on the breath as the main thing. The former uses it as an anchor to help establish concentration and return to when one gets lost with noting practise, the latter to help establish concentration and an awareness of bodily sensation before moving on to the main thing.

Pondera wrote:Of course it's insight! The passage doesn't stop at calming the mind. The passage stops when Nirvana is reached! That's insight.


Yes you're right the sutta moves on to talk about insight. The word translated as calming is passadhi http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passaddhi and calming is part of the process but I'm not sure that relaxation is a good translation, also I think it's quite a stretch to contend that there is a causal relationship between relaxation and insight, one can gain a lot of insight when clearly observing tension, but I do think that insight in turn leads to more calming.

Pondera wrote:Well, you don't necessarily have to calm the body in order to achieve insight into reality. It's a good idea to. Recall Sariputta in the sutta "One After the Other".


See, we agree.

Pondera wrote:Well, my point of view is that the awareness cart should follow behind the breathing horse, and this seems right to me. But I don't think we'll get anywhere arguing about it because both of us are probably convinced we're right. So maybe a vote or tally of opinions might settle that. But we won't be able to between the two of us.


That could only be true if the breath were the only meditation object, and as I've pointed out this is clearly not the case.

Over the past few years I've been attending quite a few retreats where the breath is not used as an object at all, listening to the questions of meditators I've noticed something a bit disturbing. It's quite common to get questions about the breath even though none of the instructions have encouraged it's use as an object like people haven't been listening, it's also quite common for people who do realise they need to change meditation object to find they struggle to do so. So breath meditation has become an habitual rut one can't let go of rather than a tool to enhance awareness.

You appear to be heading down this path, which is probably fine if you are interested in relaxation and/or jhana, but not if you're interested in insight.

Pondera wrote:You know, I slipped into Neither Perception nor Non-Perception and I recall that there was one distinct breath which separated that last bit of consciousness my Mind was holding onto and then total blank awareness. When Perception and Feeling ceased, I don't recall whether I breathed or not. But it was very much, even at a stage of progression like the eighth jhana still a question of "how can I use my breath and my knowledge to attain insight and liberation." So...


Yes, and all this happened in the mind not the breath, the breath was just a tool to hold onto and help you get there, once you've crossed the river time to let go of the raft.
"Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happen. It is the effort to be aware and awake each moment." - Ajahn Chah
"When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness. When we stop clinging, we can begin to be happy." - Ajahn Chah
"Know and watch your heart. It’s pure but emotions come to colour it." — Ajahn Chah
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Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby benoit_santerre » Tue Mar 13, 2012 8:10 pm

"befriend wrote:
tip of nose or around the nose = samatha,
rising motions of abdomen = vipassana
motion of feet in walking meditation = vipassana"

Actually, Mahasi Sayadaw has himself said that breath at nostrils could be used for vipassana. Believe it or not (I've read this from one of his discourse), he didn't teach at the nostril because he wanted to avoid criticism from others that this could not be called vipassana but samatha! If a reference to what discourse of Mahasi S. said this, I could find it but don't have it right now. Just ask me and I'll find it.
The pressure is strong in Burma for teachers to justify their techniques in the suttas or commentaries. The commentaries classify mindfulness of breath (at nostril) as samatha. Since Mahasi Sayadaw said he taught direct vipassana, teaching at the nostrils would put him in contradiction to the commentaries, and therefore open to criticism. There is a "political" aspect to this debate I think many are not aware of in the Western vipassana circle simply because we don't have the same demands from tradition as in Theravada Buddhist countries. Unfortunately Mahasi S. was criticised anyway for teaching the movement of the abdomen as Anapanasati. He clarified that he did not consider focusing at the abdomen as 'Anapanasati' but as contemplating the motion element.
In any case, whether one is in vipassana or samatha mode does not depend on where one is focused in the body, but on the quality of attention. If you are focused on the nostrils and get to the point where you contemplate the elements in the breath sensations, such as pressure, softness, temperature, motion, then you are in vipassana mode. This instruction I actually got from the Mahasi lineage.
And then you have people actually getting "jhanic" type experiences from focusing on the movement of the abdomen. It's all about "how" one uses one's attention, not "where".
There are also other techniques in Burma that uses breath at nostrils as vipassana. Mogok Sayadaw taught a method where one focuses on breath at the nostrils (initially as samatha), but then switches to vipassana using that same breath at the nostrils by contemplating "in-breathing consciousness" and "out-breathing consciousness".
Webu Sayadaw taught vipassana by exclusively using the breath sensations at the nostrils.
Ledi Sayadaw, in his 'AnapanaDipani', showed how breath at nostrils can be used for vipassana by contemplating the breath with wisdom.
Although the commentaries mention breath at nostrils as Samatha, many masters obviously disagree with that classification.
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Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby mikenz66 » Tue Mar 13, 2012 11:32 pm

Hi benoit_santerre,

Thank you for your interesting post. It would be nice to see a quote from Mahasi Sayadaw, but the following from Sayadaw U Pandita basically says what you are saying, that some choices in teaching style were made to minimize criticism from conservative elements...

http://aimwell.org/Books/Other/Questions/questions.html
“Why did Mahāsi Sayādaw ignore ānāpānassati, which was directly taught by the Buddha, but introduced the rising-falling method?”

“Is ānāpānassati the same in essence as vipassanā and meditating on rising and falling, and able to lead to magga-phala and nibbāna?”

In answering these questions, Panditārāma Sayādaw explained the teachings of the Mahāsi Sayādaw as follows.

Ānāpānassati can take two directions. If the meditator strives to be mindful of the form or manner of the in-breath and the out-breath, then it is samatha meditation and leads to one-pointedness of mind. On the other hand, if the meditator notes the sensation of the in-breath and out-breath as it moves and touches, then it is vipassanā meditation. The element of wind or motion (vayo-dhātu) is rūpa or matter, while the awareness or consciousness of the sensation is nāma or mind. Therefore, ānāpānassati can be considered as vipassanā, and can lead to high levels of insight wisdom. However, in the Visuddhimagga, in the section on kāyānupassana, or mindfulness of body, fourteen objects of meditation are discussed, and further subdivided into objects for samatha and vipassanā meditation. In the Visuddhimagga, ānāpānassati is presented as an object of samatha meditation. Consequently, if we are to instruct meditators to develop ānāpānassati as part of vipassanā meditation, we will be inviting much unwanted and unwarranted criticism and controversy. And neither Mahāsi Sayādaw or myself would want to argue here that the Visuddhimagga, the rightly venerated classic, is at fault here.

It has been said that by noting the rising and falling of the abdomen, meditators are distancing themselves from the teachings of the Buddha. The answer to this is a firm and definite “no.” Quite apart from the success that meditators have achieved by noting rising-falling, there is much solid evidence in the Buddhist scriptures, such as Salāyatana Vagga Samyutta, to show that the method is very much a part of the Buddha’s teachings regarding mindfulness of the body, mindfulness of the elements (dhātu), and mindfulness of the five aggregates (khandhas).

:anjali:
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Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby benoit_santerre » Wed Mar 14, 2012 4:23 pm

Thanks Mikenz66!
Excellent passage you found!
metta.
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Re: Does it Matter Where One Places One's Attention

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Mar 14, 2012 7:13 pm

Yes, there's this odd idea that Mahasi Sayadaw and his students are part of some conservative, studious establishment, rather than inspiring, practical, meditation teachers.

Here's more from U Pandita that is relevant to this, and other, discussions.
http://homepage.ntlworld.com/pesala/Pan ... hanas.html
Vipassanā jhāna is the focusing of the mind on paramattha dhammas. Usually these are spoken of as “ultimate realities,” but actually they are just the things we can experience directly through the six sense doors without conceptualization.


:anjali:
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