Anapanasati Tetrad: Spontaneous or consciously willed?

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

Anapanasati Tetrad: Spontaneous or consciously willed?

Postby EricJ » Sat Aug 07, 2010 7:33 am

I am mostly asking this opinion with regard to the "samatha variant" of anapanasati. The title is fairly self-explanatory. I've tried both myself. I find that allowing it to happen spontaneously leads to a greater refinement of the breath/concentration and a more concrete sense of the "unity of breath and body," but the spontaneous expansions of awareness (from breath at nose, to entire body, to mental state and body) don't always happen.

So, I'd love to hear everyone's opinions on which method of awareness expansion is more common and more beneficial to samatha practice. I'd also like any general advice you lords and ladies might throw my way. :D


Regards,
Eric
I do not want my house to be walled in on sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.- Gandhi

With persistence aroused for the highest goal's attainment, with mind unsmeared, not lazy in action, firm in effort, with steadfastness & strength arisen, wander alone like a rhinoceros.

Not neglecting seclusion, absorption, constantly living the Dhamma in line with the Dhamma, comprehending the danger in states of becoming, wander alone like a rhinoceros.
- Snp. 1.3
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Re: Anapanasati Tetrad: Spontaneous or consciously willed?

Postby Moggalana » Sat Aug 07, 2010 10:11 am

Greetings Eric,

I'm trying to do as little as possible. I just watch the experience of breathing with mindfulness and let the process unfold on its own. I don't focus on any specific point like the tip of the nose, the abdomen or the wholy body. In my opinion, knowing what the breath is doing right now (breathing in or breathing out or pausing in between) is all that needs to be done in order to let the process unfold.

However, I don't have much experience with jhana, so I'm not entirely sure if the transition from access concentration to absorption happens on its own or if it requires effort or intention. Speaking from my limited experience, I would be inclined to say that it also happens on its own. Others might be able to shed more light on that matter.
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Re: Anapanasati Tetrad: Spontaneous or consciously willed?

Postby Reductor » Sat Aug 07, 2010 3:11 pm

EricJ wrote:I am mostly asking this opinion with regard to the "samatha variant" of anapanasati. The title is fairly self-explanatory. I've tried both myself. I find that allowing it to happen spontaneously leads to a greater refinement of the breath/concentration and a more concrete sense of the "unity of breath and body," but the spontaneous expansions of awareness (from breath at nose, to entire body, to mental state and body) don't always happen.

So, I'd love to hear everyone's opinions on which method of awareness expansion is more common and more beneficial to samatha practice. I'd also like any general advice you lords and ladies might throw my way. :D


Regards,
Eric


I find that its willed, but only just a little. If you really have to push hard to encompass the body, then you've probably not settled down enough with the breath.

When it seems time to move into that settled state I attend to any bodily sensations in the chest area, which settles the mind more than just at the nose (sometimes I start with by focusing on the nose, sometimes with the simple awareness 'breathing'). When my mind begins to feel solid, then it takes only a small adjustment in focus for me to encompass the entire body. Once that occurs the rapture and pleasure become manifest, so I just have to keep the mind steady during this transition (and not rush from the breath to delight in the pleasure) and I enter into jhana.

So for me the expansion of awareness is a three step process. First, the establishment on the act of breathing. Second, expansion of my awareness to the bodily sensations of breathing. Three, expansion of that awareness to the whole body regardless of the presence of the breath sensations.
Michael

The thoughts I've expressed in the above post are carefully considered and offered in good faith.

And friendliness towards the world is happiness for him who is forbearing with living beings. -- Ud. 2:1
To his own ruin the fool gains knowledge, for it cleaves his head and destroys his innate goodness. -- Dhp 72

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Re: Anapanasati Tetrad: Spontaneous or consciously willed?

Postby IanAnd » Sat Aug 07, 2010 7:33 pm

I will return to reply to the OP in a separate post. But first I wanted to address this comment.
Moggalana wrote:However, I don't have much experience with jhana, so I'm not entirely sure if the transition from access concentration to absorption happens on its own or if it requires effort or intention. . . .Others might be able to shed more light on that matter.


You are correct, Moggalana, in that the transition from samadhi to absorption can either occur on its own or can occur helped along with a bit of intention, as thereductor has suggested. Samadhi being concentration itself (or in your case with the added, although unnecessary conceptual helpmeet description, "access" concentration) and jhana or absorption being the deepening of that concentration into a stronger unification of the mind on the object (such as the breath, in the case of anapanasati meditation). Some have described this absorption or jhana as appana samadhi, or "fixed" concentration. Either way, it is a qualitatively different experience from ordinary samadhi. And it should be easily recognized as being such by any experienced meditator.

For most beginners with this practice, it is probably best, in the beginning at least, to allow it to occur on its own so that you begin to get a better idea about what absorption (or jhana) actually is and how it feels when you have attained it. Later on, as one becomes more experienced with this practice and therefore more discerning about how it occurs, one can apply a bit of intention to the process in order to allow it to occur a bit more rapidly. Either way is fine.

Thereductor has given an excellent description of how this can come about: "When my mind begins to feel solid, then it takes only a small adjustment in focus for me to encompass the entire body. Once that occurs the rapture and pleasure become manifest, so I just have to keep the mind steady during this transition (and not rush from the breath to delight in the pleasure) and I enter into jhana." Although it may take some practice in order to get to the point of being able to virtually will this into being, as in thereductor's example.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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Re: Anapanasati Tetrad: Spontaneous or consciously willed?

Postby Moggalana » Sat Aug 07, 2010 8:32 pm

Thank you Ian and thereductor :) Your comments are always helpful :namaste:
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Re: Anapanasati Tetrad: Spontaneous or consciously willed?

Postby IanAnd » Sun Aug 08, 2010 4:07 am

EricJ wrote:I am mostly asking this opinion with regard to the "samatha variant" of anapanasati. . . . I've tried both myself. I find that allowing it to happen spontaneously leads to a greater refinement of the breath/concentration and a more concrete sense of the "unity of breath and body," but the spontaneous expansions of awareness (from breath at nose, to entire body, to mental state and body) don't always happen.

So, I'd love to hear everyone's opinions on which method of awareness expansion is more common and more beneficial to samatha practice.

It is interesting the amount of time some of us spend trying to tweak all the various descriptions of meditation that we read about. While sometimes in doing this we neglect to understand the essential skills we are attempting to learn how to develop; since once they become developed we can begin using them right away — we don't have to keep chasing some elusive meditative "experience." I plead guilty to having fallen into this same diversion. I suppose it's because we would like to experience it in the same way that the description we read about says it can happen. Nothing wrong with that, as it helps us to confirm and validate the instruction. It's just that as one's practice matures, you begin to see things much clearer, and to some extent you are able to construct variations on what you practiced.

When I was first learning about jhana, I kept looking for little clues in the literature I was reading, to see if I could find some intuitive connection between what was being described and my past experiences. I was looking for a clue that would allow me to "walk through the opened doorway and enter the room" so to speak, so that I could practice with a little more confidence about what I was doing. It wasn't until several years later, on reading a passage written by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, that I understood what he meant in describing the expansion of the pleasantness of the breath to envelop the whole body. I thought, "Yeah, that would work, too."

It's just that that hadn't been the way I experienced getting into jhana up until that point; I was able to use the relatively abbreviated method of simply being mindful of the pleasantness of the in-breath and the out-breath, based upon an experience I had had as a child using a sensation I had experienced while swinging on one of those long chain and leather seated swings. You know, the kind where you can get up a good head of steam going forwards and backwards. It created a sensation in the center of my forehead similar to the sensation I experience when the mind is concentrated on an object. And if I became absorbed in that sensation, I would go directly into the first jhana.

What I'm endeavoring to make clear here is that however one "gets there" is however one gets there. It doesn't have to be only one way, using one method we might have read about. So, don't be overly concerned about not being able to experience the expansion of the pleasantness enveloping the entire body. If it happens, it happens; great! If it doesn't happen, well, don't let that bother you unnecessarily. Just stay mindful of whatever object you are using to bring you "there" and keep looking for that "opened doorway."

After a while, with more experience and maturity in meditation practice, you will be able to simply see it happening in your mind beforehand, and if you become absorbed in that idea while in contemplation, it will occur automatically, without you're hardly even trying. I suppose you might say that this is one way to "intentionally" bring on the experience of absorption. Once you get to the first jhana, all you need to do from there is to let the mind calm itself down (meaning the movements in the mind becoming more and more still) until you are barely aware that you are breathing at all. When you get to this point, you can be fairly assured that you have reached the fourth jhana.

Good luck with your practice. And let us know how you're doing from time to time.
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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Re: Anapanasati Tetrad: Spontaneous or consciously willed?

Postby EricJ » Sun Aug 08, 2010 5:21 am

Thanks thereductor and IanAnd. I peruse the meditation forum quite a bit, and, as a relatively new Buddhist who currently focuses on the development of samatha qualities and jhana, I have gained a great deal of help from the posts you two contribute in topics related to the subtleties of this practice.

Regards,
Eric
I do not want my house to be walled in on sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the cultures of all the lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.- Gandhi

With persistence aroused for the highest goal's attainment, with mind unsmeared, not lazy in action, firm in effort, with steadfastness & strength arisen, wander alone like a rhinoceros.

Not neglecting seclusion, absorption, constantly living the Dhamma in line with the Dhamma, comprehending the danger in states of becoming, wander alone like a rhinoceros.
- Snp. 1.3
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Re: Anapanasati Tetrad: Spontaneous or consciously willed?

Postby legolas » Sun Aug 22, 2010 8:25 am

As well as the excellent suggestions already posted, I personally find that a gentle reminder to oneself now & again that it is just a body breathing and the breath is also a body. It fits in with a thread going on elsewhere, regarding internal & external, wether its a mountain range or your own body breathing its all only elements. I find that this can help build a calm & dispassionate regard to the body & breathing process.
Dont forget the Buddhas similes for jhana, these give a real direction to how the jhana spreads and settles (sometimes with a gentle nudge).
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Re: Anapanasati Tetrad: Spontaneous or consciously willed?

Postby lojong1 » Sun Aug 22, 2010 9:16 am

IanAnd wrote:based upon an experience I had had as a child using a sensation I had experienced

Buddha had similar. I had some too. I'd guess we all use remembered sensations from our more wholesome moments to steer us aright.
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