Is breath meditation over prescribed?

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

Is breath meditation over prescribed?

Postby mettafuture » Thu Jun 24, 2010 8:10 pm

I think it is.

Yes, breath meditation has the potential to lead one all the way to awakening (SN 54.13), but 1 size doesn't always fit all, and other meditation objects might work better for some.

The time of the Buddha was a different time, and many people, particularly the bhikkhus, probably already had some insight into reality because they didn't have as many distractions clouding their perception as we do today. This might be why breath meditation is referenced so often in the texts. But even if this is the case, the Buddha still outlines 39 other objects of meditation. If he only wanted us to do breath meditation, why would he bother doing this? Why do the Metta, Satipatthana, and Maranassati suttas even exist?

Metta meditation has helped me counter ill-will, being mindful of the 5 hindrances have helped me counter laziness and doubt, and contemplating the Maranassati Sutta and impermanence have helped me counter my fears of death. I don't think I would have been able to make as much progress if I only did breath meditation.

Mental noting, a method I learned in detail thanks to a teacher I met in Chicago, has also been a great help. To simply know and note when a fetter arise (as suggested in the Satipatthana Sutta) is a very powerful first step in learning how to be mindful of your feelings so that you may live more in tune with the Eightfold Path.

I'd love to see other meditations talked about as much as breath meditation. I bet a lot of people struggling with the breath would be able to get further with practice if they could simply be mindful of a different object.
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Re: Is breath meditation over prescribed?

Postby jcsuperstar » Thu Jun 24, 2010 8:28 pm

from Ajaan Lee
With one exception, all of the meditation themes mentioned here are simply gocara dhamma — foraging places for the mind. They're not places for the mind to stay. If we try to go live in the things we see when we're out foraging, we'll end up in trouble. Thus, there is one theme that's termed "vihara dhamma" or "anagocara": Once you've developed it, you can use it as a place to stay. When you practice meditation, you don't have to go foraging in other themes; you can stay in the single theme that's the apex of all meditation themes: anapanassati, keeping the breath in mind. This theme, unlike the others, has none of the features or various deceptions that can upset or disturb the heart. As for the others:

— Some of the recollections, when you've practiced them for a long time, can give rise to startling or unsettling visions.

— The ten foul objects can give rise after a while to visions and sometimes to sense of alienation and discontent that turns into restlessness and distress, your mind being unable to fashion anything on which it can come to rest, to the point where you can't eat or drink.

— The ten kasina, after you've stared at them a long while, can give rise to visions that tend to pull you out of your sense of the body, as you become enthralled by their color and features, to the point where you may become completely carried away.

— As for the resolution into elements, when you become more and more engrossed in contemplating the elements, everything in the world becomes nothing more than elements, which are everywhere the same. You come to believe that you no longer have to make distinctions: You're nothing more than elements, members of the opposite sex are nothing more than elements, food is nothing more than elements, and so you can end up overstepping the bounds of morality and the monastic discipline.

— As for the perception of the filthiness of food, as you become more and more caught up in it, everything becomes repulsive. You can't eat or sleep, your mind becomes restless and disturbed, and you inflict suffering on yourself.

— As for the four sublime abodes, if you don't have jhana as a dwelling for the mind, feelings of good will, compassion, and appreciation can all cause you to suffer. Only if you have jhana can these qualities truly become sublime abodes, that is, restful places for the heart to stay (vihara dhamma).

Thus only one of these themes — anapanassati, keeping the breath in mind — is truly safe. This is the supreme meditation theme. You don't have to send your awareness out to fix it on any outside objects at all. Even if you may go foraging through such objects, don't go living in them, because after a while they can waver and shift, just as when we cross the sea in a boat: When we first get into the boat we may feel all right, but as soon as the boat heads out into the open bay and we're buffeted by wind and waves, we can start feeling seasick. To practice keeping the breath in mind, though, is like sitting in an open shelter at dockside: We won't feel queasy or sick; we can see boats as they pass by on the water, and people as they pass by on land. Thus, keeping the breath in mind is classed:

— as an exercise agreeable to people of any and every temperament;

— as "anagocara," an exercise in which you focus exclusively on the breath while you sit in meditation, without having to compound things by sending your awareness out to grab this or get hold of that;

— and as "dhamma-thiti," i.e., all you have to do is keep your mind established firm and in place.

The beginning stage is to think buddho — "bud-" with the in-breath, and "dho" with the out. Fixing your attention on just this much is enough to start seeing results. There's only one aim, and that's:

that you really do it.



http://www.what-buddha-taught.net/Books/Ajahn_Lee_Basic_Themes.htm
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Re: Is breath meditation over prescribed?

Postby PeterB » Thu Jun 24, 2010 9:02 pm

mettafuture wrote:I think it is.

Yes, breath meditation has the potential to lead one all the way to awakening (SN 54.13), but 1 size doesn't always fit all, and other meditation objects might work better for some.

The time of the Buddha was a different time, and many people, particularly the bhikkhus, probably already had some insight into reality because they didn't have as many distractions clouding their perception as we do today. This might be why breath meditation is referenced so often in the texts. But even if this is the case, the Buddha still outlines 39 other objects of meditation. If he only wanted us to do breath meditation, why would he bother doing this? Why do the Metta, Satipatthana, and Maranassati suttas even exist?

Metta meditation has helped me counter ill-will, being mindful of the 5 hindrances have helped me counter laziness and doubt, and contemplating the Maranassati Sutta and impermanence have helped me counter my fears of death. I don't think I would have been able to make as much progress if I only did breath meditation.

Mental noting, a method I learned in detail thanks to a teacher I met in Chicago, has also been a great help. To simply know and note when a fetter arise (as suggested in the Satipatthana Sutta) is a very powerful first step in learning how to be mindful of your feelings so that you may live more in tune with the Eightfold Path.

I'd love to see other meditations talked about as much as breath meditation. I bet a lot of people struggling with the breath would be able to get further with practice if they could simply be mindful of a different object.

You may be right Mettafuture and certainly one size does not fit all...but clearly meditations on the breath are popular for a good reason, and I dont think that its only because they get good publicity. Obviously though its about what works for us as individuals ,under experienced supervision.
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Re: Is breath meditation over prescribed?

Postby Kenshou » Thu Jun 24, 2010 9:05 pm

Metta and Satipatthana are certainly commonly prescribed meditations these days. The discourses also outline how Anapanasati and Satipatthana can be mutually inclusive practices, MN 118 for example. Noting practice too is quite common, and as I understand it often practiced in tandem with anapanasati.

Bare anapanasati may be very commonly prescribed for beginning meditators, but I think this is probably not a bad thing, since simple mindfulness of the breath is a good way to develop concentration and mindfulness in general, which a beginning meditator may not have enough of to engage effectively in more detailed approaches, and a foundation in anapanasati is often very easily integrated into other approaches too, so it's all around a great tool.

Of course we should make good use of our whole meditation toolkit, nor should we stick with one tool where another would be better, but anapanasati is a good starting place and foundation, worth getting familiar with.
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Re: Is breath meditation over prescribed?

Postby mettafuture » Thu Jun 24, 2010 9:19 pm

PeterB wrote:You may be right Mettafuture and certainly one size does not fit all...but clearly meditations on the breath are popular for a good reason, and I dont think that its only because they get good publicity. Obviously though its about what works for us as individuals ,under experienced supervision.

I think one of the reasons (certainly not the only reason) why breath meditation is popular is because it's nonsecretarian, and easy for most people to do.

Kenshou wrote:Of course we should make good use of our whole meditation toolkit, nor should we stick with one tool where another would be better, but anapanasati is a good starting place and foundation, worth getting familiar with.

I agree.

I'm curious though: Does anyone here believe samatha and samadhi could be cultivated through an insight meditation? I think it could be. I've never not been calm or concentrated during my insight meditations. :D
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Re: Is breath meditation over prescribed?

Postby Kenshou » Thu Jun 24, 2010 9:28 pm

I'm pretty certain a lot of people would say yes. The distinction is somewhat artificial, I think.
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Re: Is breath meditation over prescribed?

Postby Ben » Thu Jun 24, 2010 11:57 pm

Hi mettafuture

I don't know whether it is over 'prescribed'. An observation I have made is that not many people give their meditation subjects a fair go before switching to something else. I also get the sense with people who are doing anapanasati, and many of the people who have learned from online sources, books, CDs and the like, is that they are more likely to mix up what they're doing or not practicing correctly.
To give a fair trial to a particular method, I think one needs to devote at least a year to the practice, to maintain the precepts diligently and to devote oneself to an intensive retreat at least once a year. Playing around at the edges, meditating five or ten minutes here or there, and only maintaining those precepts which are 'easy' is only giving lip service to practice.
My experience, albeit with the samatha variant, is that ananapasati is an incredibly profound technique and should never be underrated.
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Re: Is breath meditation over prescribed?

Postby rowyourboat » Fri Jun 25, 2010 10:19 am

I'm just shocked at the Ajhan Lee quote above. Any meditation method can have drawbacks without proper guidance. But I agree with mettafuture. If you find one that works for you (assuming you know what 'works' mean) then by all means run with it. But it is a problem that most meditation teachers will find it very difficult to instruct a person using a method outside of their own technique.
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Re: Is breath meditation over prescribed?

Postby shurangama » Fri Jun 25, 2010 1:44 pm

I have noticed that when using the technique of feeling the sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils can lead to a situation where it seems as if my breathing has stopped. Where the time of a normal inbreath and outbreath is extended four-fold. Have others had this experience? Does using a mantra interfere with experiencing Jhana? Focusing on the navel center seems to calm me more than the nostril area. Any thoughts?
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Re: Is breath meditation over prescribed?

Postby mettafuture » Fri Jun 25, 2010 3:13 pm

With one exception, all of the meditation themes mentioned here are simply gocara dhamma — foraging places for the mind. They're not places for the mind to stay. If we try to go live in the things we see when we're out foraging, we'll end up in trouble. Thus, there is one theme that's termed "vihara dhamma" or "anagocara": Once you've developed it, you can use it as a place to stay. When you practice meditation, you don't have to go foraging in other themes; you can stay in the single theme that's the apex of all meditation themes: anapanassati, keeping the breath in mind. This theme, unlike the others, has none of the features or various deceptions that can upset or disturb the heart.

I finally read this, and I couldn't disagree more.

First off, why would the Buddha recommend a meditation technique that could "upset or disturb the heart?" Secondly, how could a monk, basically, attack insight meditation? And third, during my first round as a Theravada Buddhist, I never had any "upsets" or "unsettling visions" during my metta or 5 hindrance meditations. In fact, I've had the exact opposite. Metta cooled my anger, and contemplating the 5 hindrances weakened my fetters. I'm no where near enlightenment, but I'm much farther down the path than I was 5 years ago. I have made significant progress, and I'm far more patient and calmer than I used to be thanks to insight meditation.

shurangama wrote:I have noticed that when using the technique of feeling the sensation of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils can lead to a situation where it seems as if my breathing has stopped. Where the time of a normal inbreath and outbreath is extended four-fold. Have others had this experience? Does using a mantra interfere with experiencing Jhana? Focusing on the navel center seems to calm me more than the nostril area. Any thoughts?

Are you seeing a qualified meditation teacher? I used to have this problem, but a teacher helped me. Basically, when you stop breathing, it's because you're making yourself stop. You're controlling your breath. Big no-no. :) You are to watch your breath, and let it happen naturally -- not control it.

A lot of people have problems with breath meditation because it's such a subtle object. It's hard to hear your breath, especially if you have quiet lungs, and big nostrils like myself. :lol: If all else fails, you might want to consider another meditation object. But Ben above makes a good point. You probably shouldn't hop about the different meditation objects until you've given one a fair chance.
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Re: Is breath meditation over prescribed?

Postby jcsuperstar » Fri Jun 25, 2010 5:20 pm

how is he attacking insight meditation?
how is anapanasati not insight meditation?
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the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat
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Re: Is breath meditation over prescribed?

Postby acinteyyo » Fri Jun 25, 2010 6:13 pm

There are cases where people when meditation becomes difficult lack proper intention and the necessary endurance and effort to make further progress on the path. Then what those people do is in most cases to switch the meditation technique thinking that the previous method might not be the right one for oneself. They stay with the new method until they reach the point where proper intention, effort and endurance again is necessary to gain profound insight, but what happens is, that they start doubting and start to think that the actual meditation technique still might not be the right one. So they switch again, again turning away from what have to be done searching for a new and more comfortable way to satisfy their desires. What actually happend was that the other method only was easier because they had to begin right from the start again and what's worse is that their ignorance made them unable to see the desires which made them turn around in circles.

Breath meditation is suitable for everybody, but there certainly may be cases where somebody benefits from a different approach. In the end there will come the point where one has to let go of any technique or method and see for oneself what has to be done.

Btw meditation has many positive side effects but one must not forget that the main-purpose of meditation is liberation from suffering.

best wishes, acinteyyo
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Re: Is breath meditation over prescribed?

Postby Moggalana » Fri Jun 25, 2010 6:29 pm

acinteyyo wrote:There are cases where people when meditation becomes difficult lack proper intention and the necessary endurance and effort to make further progress on the path. Then what those people do is in most cases to switch the meditation technique thinking that the previous method might not be the right one for oneself. They stay with the new method until they reach the point where proper intention, effort and endurance again is necessary to gain profound insight, but what happens is, that they start doubting and start to think that the actual meditation technique still might not be the right one. So they switch again, again turning away from what have to be done searching for a new and more comfortable way to satisfy their desires. What actually happend was that the other method only was easier because they had to begin right from the start again and what's worse is that their ignorance made them unable to see the desires which made them turn around in circles.

Breath meditation is suitable for everybody, but there certainly may be cases where somebody benefits from a different approach. In the end there will come the point where one has to let go of any technique or method and see for oneself what has to be done.

Btw meditation has many positive side effects but one must not forget that the main-purpose of meditation is liberation from suffering.

best wishes, acinteyyo


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Re: Is breath meditation over prescribed?

Postby bodom » Fri Jun 25, 2010 6:35 pm

Luang Pu Atulo once advised his students,"When you go to a lot of centers and study with a lot of teachers, your practice won't get results, for when you go to a lot of centers, it's as if you go back to the beginning over and over again. You don't gain any sure principles in your practice. Sometimes you get uncertain and bewildered. Your mind isn't solid. Your practice degenerates and doesn't progress."


http://www.what-buddha-taught.net/Books ... Legacy.htm

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The heart of the path is SO simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice. Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing. Of course, there are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this - just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle. - Ajahn Chah
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Re: Is breath meditation over prescribed?

Postby mettafuture » Sat Jun 26, 2010 2:33 am

jcsuperstar wrote:how is he attacking insight meditation?

By saying breath meditation is the only safe meditation. He's implying all other meditations are dangerous, which is completely false, and unproven.

how is anapanasati not insight meditation?

Breath meditation is most commonly known as a tranquility meditation.
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Re: Is breath meditation over prescribed?

Postby Kenshou » Sat Jun 26, 2010 2:43 am

Breath meditation is most commonly known as a tranquility meditation.


I'm not so sure that's true. It's not inherently one or the other, really.
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Re: Is breath meditation over prescribed?

Postby jcsuperstar » Sat Jun 26, 2010 2:53 am

mettafuture wrote:
jcsuperstar wrote:how is he attacking insight meditation?

By saying breath meditation is the only safe meditation. He's implying all other meditations are dangerous, which is completely false, and unproven..

i think you're misreading him

how is anapanasati not insight meditation?
Breath meditation is most commonly known as a tranquility meditation.

by whom? every teacher I've seen teach it uses it to lead to insight. including ajaan lee.. i mean what is insight meditation? if you don't want to use the anapanasati sutta but rather the Satipatthana Sutta as your guide to meditation , which is the sutta most use to teach insight meditation then fine, but have you really read it? cause look here how does one practice mindfulness according to the Buddha in this sutta? well it starts out like this:
"And how does a monk remain focused on the body in & of itself?

[1] "There is the case where a monk — having gone to the wilderness, to the shade of a tree, or to an empty building — sits down folding his legs crosswise, holding his body erect and setting mindfulness to the fore [lit: the front of the chest]. Always mindful, he breathes in; mindful he breathes out.

"Breathing in long, he discerns that he is breathing in long; or breathing out long, he discerns that he is breathing out long. Or breathing in short, he discerns that he is breathing in short; or breathing out short, he discerns that he is breathing out short. He trains himself to breathe in sensitive to the entire body and to breathe out sensitive to the entire body. He trains himself to breathe in calming bodily fabrication and to breathe out calming bodily fabrication. Just as a skilled turner or his apprentice, when making a long turn, discerns that he is making a long turn, or when making a short turn discerns that he is making a short turn; in the same way the monk, when breathing in long, discerns that he is breathing in long; or breathing out short, he discerns that he is breathing out short... He trains himself to breathe in calming bodily fabrication, and to breathe out calming bodily fabrication.

"In this way he remains focused internally on the body in & of itself, or externally on the body in & of itself, or both internally & externally on the body in & of itself. Or he remains focused on the phenomenon of origination with regard to the body, on the phenomenon of passing away with regard to the body, or on the phenomenon of origination & passing away with regard to the body. Or his mindfulness that 'There is a body' is maintained to the extent of knowledge & remembrance. And he remains independent, unsustained by (not clinging to) anything in the world. This is how a monk remains focused on the body in & of itself.


um isn't that anapanasati? seems almost identical to the anapanasati sutta doesn't it?

so again i ask you how is anapanasati not insight meditation?

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.010.than.htmlSatipatthana Sutta
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.118.than.htmlAnapanasati Sutta
Last edited by jcsuperstar on Sat Jun 26, 2010 2:54 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Is breath meditation over prescribed?

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Jun 26, 2010 2:54 am

Kenshou wrote:
Breath meditation is most commonly known as a tranquility meditation.


I'm not so sure that's true. It's not inherently one or the other, really.


I agree with Kenshou that it depends what approach you use. The breath may be used for tranquillity and/or insight:
viewtopic.php?f=17&t=4631#p70910

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Re: Is breath meditation over prescribed?

Postby Ben » Sat Jun 26, 2010 3:22 am

Actually, I have rarely come across the terms 'calm abiding' and 'tranquility' when refering to samatha within the Theravada.
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Re: Is breath meditation over prescribed?

Postby mikenz66 » Sat Jun 26, 2010 3:31 am

Hi Ben,
Ben wrote:Actually, I have rarely come across the terms 'calm abiding' and 'tranquility' when refering to samatha within the Theravada.

I don't recall seeing "calm abiding" in a Theravada context, but Ven Nyanatiloka does use tranquillity as one of the possible translations of Samatha:
viewtopic.php?f=17&t=4631#p70910

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