Dropping the breath

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

Dropping the breath

Postby Beautiful Breath » Thu May 02, 2013 11:47 am

Hello,

What are others thoughts regarding what to do with the breath once it becomes imperceptable?

I am erring on the side of dropping it altogether in favour of experiencing the body as a whole (Shikantaza style).

BB...
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Re: Dropping the breath

Postby Khalil Bodhi » Thu May 02, 2013 12:48 pm

Hi BB,

Not for nothing but I think nuanced and detail inquiries into the mechanics of breath meditation should be discussed with your teacher in person. Please note that I'm not trying to dissuade you from sharing I just think the replies you'll receive may not be very helpful since bhavana can't really be distilled easily into words on a screen (i.e., a teacher would be able to pick up on non-verbal cues and nuances during your discussion that are omitted via the interwebs). I wish you all the best and it certainly sounds as if your practice is moving along. Mettaya!

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Re: Dropping the breath

Postby reflection » Fri May 03, 2013 10:37 am

In my experience, when the breath disappeared from awareness, so has the rest of the body. I focus on what is remaining, which is the "knowing" if you will - on the happiness that arises in that space, or I find back the breath.


[...]

Ultimately, awareness of the breath becomes so refined that the sensation of the breath seems to disappear. You could say either that awareness of the sensation of the breath has disappeared, or that the breath itself has disappeared. Then there arises a new kind of awareness - awareness that the breath has disappeared. In other words, awareness of the breath becomes so refined that it's difficult to define it.

So it might be that you are just sitting there and there's no breath. Really, the breath is still there, but it has become so refined that it seems to have disappeared. Why? Because the mind is at its most refined, with a special kind of knowing. All that remains is the knowing. Even though the breath has vanished, the mind is still concentrated with the knowledge that the breath is not there. As you continue, what should you take up as the object of meditation? Take this very knowing as the meditation object - in other words the knowledge that there is no breath - and sustain this. You could say that a specific kind of knowledge has been established in the mind.

At this point, some people might have doubts arising, because it is here that nimitta1 can arise. These can be of many kinds, including both forms and sounds. It is here that all sorts of unexpected things can arise in the course of the practice. If nimitta do arise (some people have them, some don't) you must understand them in accordance with the truth. Don't doubt or allow yourself to become alarmed.

http://www.ajahnchah.org/book/Evening_Sitting.php
Last edited by reflection on Fri May 03, 2013 10:40 am, edited 2 times in total.
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Re: Dropping the breath

Postby Ben » Fri May 03, 2013 10:39 am

Khalil Bodhi wrote:Hi BB,

Not for nothing but I think nuanced and detail inquiries into the mechanics of breath meditation should be discussed with your teacher in person. Please note that I'm not trying to dissuade you from sharing I just think the replies you'll receive may not be very helpful since bhavana can't really be distilled easily into words on a screen (i.e., a teacher would be able to pick up on non-verbal cues and nuances during your discussion that are omitted via the interwebs). I wish you all the best and it certainly sounds as if your practice is moving along. Mettaya!

KB


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Re: Dropping the breath

Postby Beautiful Breath » Sat May 04, 2013 2:15 pm

Khalil Bodhi wrote:Hi BB,

Not for nothing but I think nuanced and detail inquiries into the mechanics of breath meditation should be discussed with your teacher in person. Please note that I'm not trying to dissuade you from sharing I just think the replies you'll receive may not be very helpful since bhavana can't really be distilled easily into words on a screen (i.e., a teacher would be able to pick up on non-verbal cues and nuances during your discussion that are omitted via the interwebs). I wish you all the best and it certainly sounds as if your practice is moving along. Mettaya!

KB


Thanks, tricky this though. I have a teacher who will not allow me to lapse into pandering to my ego. About as Zen a Theravadin as they come :quote: By this I mean any potential for me to think that I am getting somewhere is admonished very quickly in place of being told that 'I' cannot achieve anything.

I suspect that along with the quotes above I should just concentrate on the sitting...this is why I mention Shikantaza - its like one method seamlessly mutates into another.

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Re: Dropping the breath

Postby kmath » Sat May 04, 2013 3:26 pm

Here's what Ajahn Brahm says about it:

"The fourth stage is what I call the "springboard" of meditation, because from here one can dive into the blissful states. When you simply maintain this unity of consciousness, by not interfering, the breath will begin to disappear. The breath appears to fade away as the mind focuses instead on what is at the centre of the experience of breath, which is the awesome peace, freedom and bliss.
At this stage I use the term "the beautiful breath". Here the mind recognizes that this peaceful breath is extraordinarily beautiful. You are aware of this beautiful breath continuously, moment after moment, with no break in the chain of experience. You are only aware of the beautiful breath, without effort, and for a very long time.

Now you let the breath disappear and all that is left is "the beautiful". Disembodied beauty becomes the sole object of the mind. The mind is now taking its own object. You are now not aware at all of breath, body, thought sound or the world outside. All that you are aware of is beauty, peace, bliss, light or whatever your perception will later call it. You are experiencing only beauty, with nothing being beautiful, continuously, effortlessly. You have long ago let go of chatter, let go of descriptions and assessments. Here, the mind is that still that you can not say anything."

In other words, don't shift your focus to your body. Just stay with the "concentrated mind."
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Re: Dropping the breath

Postby mikenz66 » Sat May 04, 2013 7:58 pm

Beautiful Breath wrote:Thanks, tricky this though. I have a teacher who will not allow me to lapse into pandering to my ego.

And you think that's a problem? :tongue:
Beautiful Breath wrote:About as Zen a Theravadin as they come :quote: By this I mean any potential for me to think that I am getting somewhere is admonished very quickly in place of being told that 'I' cannot achieve anything.

Perhaps you should give your teacher more credit for his/her knowledge of the Dhamma:
Ajahn Brahm wrote:"You can't develop them, just look at the Anatta-lakkana sutta...This is the great myth, that we can make ourselves enlightened... we do need another ... that was the great thing about a Buddha arising ... it makes enlightenment possible... just cause and effect ..."

viewtopic.php?f=41&t=17013&p=243109#p243109
viewtopic.php?f=16&t=15952&start=740#p243110


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Re: Dropping the breath

Postby manas » Sat May 04, 2013 10:42 pm

If.we.lost.awareness.of.the.breath
and/or.the.physical.body.entirely,
and.instead.of.considering.this.a
lapse.of.attentiveness,instead.just
contemplated.that.new.object.(eg.images
arising.in.the.mind),have.we.not.thus
abandoned.the.practice.of.anapanasati,
and.actually.switched.meditation.subjects?
Im.not.sure.if.this.is.consistent.with
the.instructions.(regarding.anapanasati)
as.they.have.come.down.to.us.via
the.suttas.

Im.not.saying.there.might.not.be.some.benefit
to.be.gained,just.that.i.dont.see.anywhere
in.the.suttas,the.Buddha.instructing.that
our.primary.object(ie,the.entire.body&its.breathing.process)
should.actually.be.abandoned.in.the.course.of
jhana.practice.

but,im.open.to.ideas. :)

metta
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Re: Dropping the breath

Postby Goofaholix » Sun May 05, 2013 8:42 am

Dropping the breath is not recommended, it leads to death, dropping the sustaining of awareness of/on breathing as the primary object may or may not be a good thing to do depending on what technique you are practising and what you're trying to achieve.

For a start I don't see how one could experience the body as a whole without noticing that the body is breathing.

I think you should experiment and see what works, at this juncture one usually realises that's it's not the breath that's important but the application and sustaining of awareness, so from that point of view it doesn't matter if or what that awareness is 'on'.
"Whenever we feel that we are definitely right, so much so that we refuse to open up to anything or anybody else, right there we are wrong. It becomes wrong view. When suffering arises, where does it arise from? The cause is wrong view, the fruit of that being suffering. If it was right view it wouldn't cause suffering." - Ajahn Chah
"Remember you dont meditate to get anything, but to get rid of things. We do it, not with desire, but with letting go. If you want anything, you wont find it." - Ajahn Chah
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Re: Dropping the breath

Postby reflection » Sun May 05, 2013 10:28 am

manas wrote:If.we.lost.awareness.of.the.breath
and/or.the.physical.body.entirely,
and.instead.of.considering.this.a
lapse.of.attentiveness,instead.just
contemplated.that.new.object.(eg.images
arising.in.the.mind),have.we.not.thus
abandoned.the.practice.of.anapanasati,
and.actually.switched.meditation.subjects?
Im.not.sure.if.this.is.consistent.with
the.instructions.(regarding.anapanasati)
as.they.have.come.down.to.us.via
the.suttas.

Im.not.saying.there.might.not.be.some.benefit
to.be.gained,just.that.i.dont.see.anywhere
in.the.suttas,the.Buddha.instructing.that
our.primary.object(ie,the.entire.body&its.breathing.process)
should.actually.be.abandoned.in.the.course.of
jhana.practice.

but,im.open.to.ideas. :)

metta
:anjali:

If the breath gets lost due to a lack of awareness, that's not the best. And yes, this may be happening to the questioner, I can't say. The fact he points to experiencing the body may point to this. Also the body may disappear because of lack of awareness, by dullness or zoning out in a way. Probably due to other unskillful reasons as well.

But if the breath gets dropped because it's too coarse for awareness, it's a different story. It doesn't really feel like losing attention and it isn't. That's because it is not a lapse of awareness, but a refining of awareness. The 'new' object is not new because it was always there, but now attention is strong enough to pick it up. However it may represent itself, this object is the mind (again only if its due to a refining of awareness, not due to a lack).

The anapanasati sutta says "experiencing the mind, I shall breath in". Of course, interpretations of simple lines like this differ, but in my understanding it directs attention to the mind, not the breath. I see other evidence in the suttas that point towards these kind of states, but this is not the right thread for it. It's been discussed in the past already.

All this is clearer after experiencing it, anyway. From an 'outside' point of view it may all seem rather silly because intellectually one can't really imagine how the mind can take itself as an object. It's won't be clear how very directly and literally we can be "experiencing the mind".
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Re: Dropping the breath

Postby manas » Mon May 06, 2013 2:27 am

reflection wrote:If the breath gets lost due to a lack of awareness, that's not the best. And yes, this may be happening to the questioner, I can't say. The fact he points to experiencing the body may point to this. Also the body may disappear because of lack of awareness, by dullness or zoning out in a way. Probably due to other unskillful reasons as well.

But if the breath gets dropped because it's too coarse for awareness, it's a different story. It doesn't really feel like losing attention and it isn't. That's because it is not a lapse of awareness, but a refining of awareness. The 'new' object is not new because it was always there, but now attention is strong enough to pick it up. However it may represent itself, this object is the mind (again only if its due to a refining of awareness, not due to a lack).

The anapanasati sutta says "experiencing the mind, I shall breath in". Of course, interpretations of simple lines like this differ, but in my understanding it directs attention to the mind, not the breath. I see other evidence in the suttas that point towards these kind of states, but this is not the right thread for it. It's been discussed in the past already.

All this is clearer after experiencing it, anyway. From an 'outside' point of view it may all seem rather silly because intellectually one can't really imagine how the mind can take itself as an object. It's won't be clear how very directly and literally we can be "experiencing the mind".


Hi reflection,

I agree with you that one might lose the breath and be just perceiving the mind, and that this could be not due to a lapse of mindfulness, but rather because the mindfulness has become refined. I'm just not sure that this is what the Buddha intends for us to do when he said, "experiencing the mind, I shall breath in...experiencing the mind, I shall breath out." It's literally saying "I shall breathe in...out". The practitioner is still aware of that they are actually breathing. But I do not think this precludes him/her from 'experiencing the mind' with each in and out breath. What we need to find out is what is intended here, but from what I can see it will still involve kaya (the body as a collection of parts, the body agreggate); after all anapanasati is one of the kayanupassanas, is it not? Furthermore, the breathing process always involves body and mind, it's just that we might not have noticed this reality before we got into anapanasati. Even at the more basic level (of someone like myself for eg) we can begin get more sensitive to this.

Could it be that if we stay with the body all the way through from jhanas 1 to 4, that there will be a different result than if we allow awareness to shift to mind exclusively? I suspect this could be the case, and so there might be a bit at stake here. I agree that just observing mental imagery is fascinating (not that I've done much of that), but I really do sense that the Buddha is inviting us to stay with the body and it's breathing process, all the way to clear knowing & release. And there is something quite beautiful about the sound of that. But like I said, I'm still learning so my views on this are flexible, and I appreciate your reply, it was informative and interesting, I will go off and contemplate this further!

metta
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Re: Dropping the breath

Postby reflection » Mon May 06, 2013 2:39 pm

:namaste:

In my experience, if one wants insight into the body, one pays attention to the body. If one wants insight into the mind, one pays attention to the mind.

But as long as you don't know, I think it's probably best to not choose one way over the other.
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Re: Dropping the breath

Postby 5heaps » Tue May 07, 2013 12:41 am

reflection wrote:
manas wrote:If.we.lost.awareness.of.the.breath
and/or.the.physical.body.entirely,
and.instead.of.considering.this.a
lapse.of.attentiveness,instead.just
contemplated.that.new.object.(eg.images
arising.in.the.mind),have.we.not.thus
abandoned.the.practice.of.anapanasati,
and.actually.switched.meditation.subjects?
Im.not.sure.if.this.is.consistent.with
the.instructions.(regarding.anapanasati)
as.they.have.come.down.to.us.via
the.suttas.

Im.not.saying.there.might.not.be.some.benefit
to.be.gained,just.that.i.dont.see.anywhere
in.the.suttas,the.Buddha.instructing.that
our.primary.object(ie,the.entire.body&its.breathing.process)
should.actually.be.abandoned.in.the.course.of
jhana.practice.

but,im.open.to.ideas. :)

metta
:anjali:

If the breath gets lost due to a lack of awareness, that's not the best. And yes, this may be happening to the questioner, I can't say. The fact he points to experiencing the body may point to this. Also the body may disappear because of lack of awareness, by dullness or zoning out in a way. Probably due to other unskillful reasons as well.

But if the breath gets dropped because it's too coarse for awareness, it's a different story. It doesn't really feel like losing attention and it isn't. That's because it is not a lapse of awareness, but a refining of awareness. The 'new' object is not new because it was always there, but now attention is strong enough to pick it up. However it may represent itself, this object is the mind (again only if its due to a refining of awareness, not due to a lack).

:D

i think that when a meditator advances from continuous sustained attention to perfect samadhi and the breath drops from attention to be replaced by mental vacuity and stillness, that meditator will necessarily not be confused and left to wonder about what to do with the breath.

even long before samadhi, what do we do in-between breaths? breath out, breath pauses, breath in, breath pauses, breath out, etc. what do we do when there is no breath because breathing is paused? answer: pay attention to your meditation object! the tactile sense consciousness is still operating. on 2nd jhana when it no longer operates you use your nicely developed mental consciousness to directly observe physical obstruction without the barbaric habit of having to rely on the cumbersome and inferior tactile sense consciousness. you get at your breathing by way of skillful direct observation. an interesting question is what is the object of the 4th jhana, where breathing ceases entirely for hours and days at a time.
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Re: Dropping the breath

Postby manas » Tue May 07, 2013 6:29 pm

Hi reflection, 5heaps

my reasoning was more along the lines of this: while aware of drawing in a breath, there is awareness of 1.kaya; but how? because there is also 2.vedana (the sensation of the breath), and 3/4 vinnana/sanna (cognizing/recognition) of the breath), and 5.sankhara (volition to breathe/focus on it). The body made up of gross matter cannot be aware of itself; the body is our frame of reference (to quote Thanissaro B.) but without consciousness, no breath (or anapanasati) is going to happen.

So what I was really getting at, is that the mind is so intimately caught up with every active bodily process already, that simply the act of observing the body already involves the mind, and so although we are blessed to have this solid, substantial mass as an anchor for our awareness, to help calm it down and hold it in one place, when we are aware of a single breath, actually all five khandhas are right there - hence, we can be aware of body and mind while practicing anapanasati.

One example from my own experience, is how mind can flit between the sensation of the body and the breath moving through it, and the perception of the entire body seated there (kind of like a mental image). The one is a feeling, the other more like an idea. But with the body as a whole (along with its breathing process) as an anchor for awareness, we can reliably explore these different aspects of mind, ime, so long as we keep awareness in this fathom-long body at all times (preferably; I'm not saying my mind doesn't still wander more than I would like).

So to sum it up: aiui, if we focus on the mind, we will peceive the mind. If we focus on the body, we are actually perceiving both mind and body - and imho this sounds more in keeping with the descriptions of the jhanas in the suttas, and also might be why the Buddha is seen as praising mindfulness of the body in so many places throughout the Suttas. However I don't pretend that anyone will agree with my pov, because I have learned that it is very difficult to find even two practitioners who agree regarding jhana.

But I appreciate this interesting discussion, thank you! :)

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Re: Dropping the breath

Postby Zakattack » Tue May 07, 2013 8:48 pm

Beautiful Breath wrote:What are others thoughts regarding what to do with the breath once it becomes imperceptable?

I am erring on the side of dropping it altogether in favour of experiencing the body as a whole (Shikantaza style).

Generally, at this stage of practise, the breath becomes imperceptible because the quality of concentration is too coarse; too gross. Shikantaza style can help, because it will tend to make the mind more open & spacious. If we try too hard to "focus" on the object, it will inevitably come imperceptible, because the breath will calm but the mind remains the same. Keep in mind, the ultimate purpose of practise is to let go of craving. Often, trying too hard can be a form of craving. Shikantaza style can help find the right balance for right mindfulness. The breath will always be there, ready to come in play, when the mind has right balance. Ultimately, it is unnecessary to look for the breath. In right (quiet silent) balance, the breath will come to the mind.

:smile:
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Re: Dropping the breath

Postby reflection » Wed May 08, 2013 1:06 pm

manas wrote:Hi reflection, 5heaps

my reasoning was more along the lines of this: while aware of drawing in a breath, there is awareness of 1.kaya; but how? because there is also 2.vedana (the sensation of the breath), and 3/4 vinnana/sanna (cognizing/recognition) of the breath), and 5.sankhara (volition to breathe/focus on it). The body made up of gross matter cannot be aware of itself; the body is our frame of reference (to quote Thanissaro B.) but without consciousness, no breath (or anapanasati) is going to happen.

So what I was really getting at, is that the mind is so intimately caught up with every active bodily process already, that simply the act of observing the body already involves the mind, and so although we are blessed to have this solid, substantial mass as an anchor for our awareness, to help calm it down and hold it in one place, when we are aware of a single breath, actually all five khandhas are right there - hence, we can be aware of body and mind while practicing anapanasati.

One example from my own experience, is how mind can flit between the sensation of the body and the breath moving through it, and the perception of the entire body seated there (kind of like a mental image). The one is a feeling, the other more like an idea. But with the body as a whole (along with its breathing process) as an anchor for awareness, we can reliably explore these different aspects of mind, ime, so long as we keep awareness in this fathom-long body at all times (preferably; I'm not saying my mind doesn't still wander more than I would like).

So to sum it up: aiui, if we focus on the mind, we will peceive the mind. If we focus on the body, we are actually perceiving both mind and body - and imho this sounds more in keeping with the descriptions of the jhanas in the suttas, and also might be why the Buddha is seen as praising mindfulness of the body in so many places throughout the Suttas. However I don't pretend that anyone will agree with my pov, because I have learned that it is very difficult to find even two practitioners who agree regarding jhana.

But I appreciate this interesting discussion, thank you! :)

metta
:anjali:

Hiya,

:anjali:

You say there is consciousness of mind and body can exist together, and the mind is kept in one place by the body. See, that in itself is contradictory to me. If there are two types of consciousness, the mind is not in one place - it's not one pointed. It shares attention between multiple objects.

But I understand and respect your reasoning and one can reason either way. Myself, I don't really use reasoning for my meditation that much. But I know from experience mind-only states taught me 99% of what I know about dhamma. They can provide very deep insights into the mind and the hindrances that I would probably not have had with focusing only on the body.

So to get back to the question - to drop the breath, it's possible and I would recommend it, but only if done skillfully. Admittedly, I am no expert and it's better to find a more skilled meditation teacher. Ajahn Brahmavamso's book Mindfulness Bliss and Beyond describes these experiences and the specific problems that arise at the transition quite well.
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