Two questions on breathing meditation

Discussion of Samatha bhavana and Jhana bhavana.
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Sati1
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Two questions on breathing meditation

Postby Sati1 » Wed Mar 12, 2014 10:25 pm

Hello,

I wanted to ask for your advice regarding a blockade I've recently been experiencing in my meditation:

My current approach for the breathing meditation is to sense the breath at the tip of the nose until it steadies, which usually takes a few minutes. When that has happened, awareness eventually "locks" into place, providing firm concentration and an easy and enjoyable flow. That is the most enjoyable period of the session. It is after I've been there for perhaps 10 minutes that the trouble begins: either I begin to crave the blissful sensation (piti), which I used to feel quite often but no longer feel very frequently (almost certainly because of the craving) or, if I happen to experience bliss, I lose concentration since I get severely distracted by the bliss and can no longer concentrate on the breath at the nosetip. Either way, there is a struggle either to attain bliss or to maintain concentration if there is bliss. It is always one of these two outcomes and in almost every case the end result is a sense of disappointment about the session. My questions are:

1) Does anybody have suggestions on how to get rid of the craving for bliss? I know that it is an impediment to meditation, but am finding it hard to get rid of it, and

2) When bliss arises, should one try to maintain awareness on the tip of the nose, or should awareness be shifted elsewhere, such as to the sensation of bliss or to the body?

Many thanks,
Sati1
London, UK

----
"I do not perceive even one other thing, o monks, that when developed and cultivated entails such great happiness as the mind" (AN 1.10, transl. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"So this spiritual life, monks, does not have gain, honor, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of moral discipline for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakable liberation of mind that is the goal of this spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end," (MN 29, transl. Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi)

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Re: Two questions on breathing meditation

Postby culaavuso » Wed Mar 12, 2014 10:44 pm

Sati1 wrote:1) Does anybody have suggestions on how to get rid of the craving for bliss? I know that it is an impediment to meditation, but am finding it hard to get rid of it,

One approach is to be directly aware of the craving itself. The feeling of craving tends to be unpleasant because it supposes something inadequate about the present experience. Seeing this unpleasantness can help focus the mind on eliminating the cause of the craving through identifying and abandoning the mental activities that feed it. The craving is inconstant and will pass away if the conditions for it to continue arising are no longer present. Giving attention to the object of craving is falling for its trick. Giving attention to craving itself tends to undermine its ability to continue.

Keeping the Breath in Mind by Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo wrote:Release is a mind that doesn't cling to low causes and low effects — i.e., stress and its cause; or to high causes and high effects — the disbanding of stress and the path to its disbanding.


Sati1 wrote:2) When bliss arises, should one try to maintain awareness on the tip of the nose, or should awareness be shifted elsewhere, such as to the sensation of bliss or to the body?


With a focus on causes, results naturally arise.

Keeping the Breath in Mind by Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo wrote:The first jhana has five factors.
(a) Directed thought (vitakka): Think of the breath until you can keep it in mind without getting distracted.
(b) Singleness of preoccupation (ekaggatarammana): Keep the mind with the breath. Don't let it stray after other concepts or preoccupations. Watch over your thoughts so that they deal only with the breath to the point where the breath becomes comfortable. (The mind becomes one, at rest with the breath.)
(c) Evaluation (vicara): Gain a sense of how to let this comfortable breath sensation spread and connect with the other breath sensations in the body. Let these breath sensations spread until they're interconnected all over the body. Once the body has been soothed by the breath, feelings of pain will grow calm. The body will be filled with good breath energy. (The mind is focused exclusively on issues connected with the breath.)

These three qualities must be brought together to bear on the same stream of breathing for the first jhana to arise. This stream of breathing can then take you all the way to the fourth jhana.

Directed thought, singleness of preoccupation, and evaluation act as the causes. When the causes are fully ripe, results will appear —
(d) rapture (piti), a compelling sense of fullness and refreshment for body and mind, going straight to the heart, independent of all else;
(e) pleasure (sukha), physical ease arising from the body's being still and unperturbed (kaya-passaddhi); mental contentment arising from the mind's being at ease on its own, undistracted, unperturbed, serene, and exultant (citta-passaddhi).

Rapture and pleasure are the results. The factors of the first jhana thus come down simply to two sorts: causes and results.


Keeping the Breath in Mind by Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo wrote:Breath meditation — keeping the breath steadily in mind — is the best method the Buddha taught for wiping out these Hindrances. We use directed thought to focus on the breath, and evaluation to adjust it. Directed thought is like a plow; evaluation, like a harrow. If we keep plowing and harrowing our field, weeds won't have a chance to grow, and our crops are sure to prosper and bear abundant fruit.

The field here is our body. If we put a lot of thought and evaluation into our breathing, the four properties of the body will be balanced and at peace. The body will be healthy and strong, the mind relaxed and wide open, free from Hindrances.

When you've got your field cleared and leveled like this, the crops of your mind — the qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha — are sure to prosper. As soon as you bring the mind to the breath, you'll feel a sense of rapture and refreshment.


AN 11.2: Cetana Sutta wrote:For a person free from remorse, there is no need for an act of will, 'May joy arise in me.' It is in the nature of things that joy arises in a person free from remorse.

For a joyful person, there is no need for an act of will, 'May rapture arise in me.' It is in the nature of things that rapture arises in a joyful person.
Last edited by culaavuso on Wed Mar 12, 2014 10:47 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Ben
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Re: Two questions on breathing meditation

Postby Ben » Wed Mar 12, 2014 10:45 pm

Greetings Sati,
Craving for any particular sensation or experience is definitely a barrier to progress.
Remember if you are craving for something your mind is not attending to the meditation object in the present moment.
My advice to you is when you begin to notice that you are craving piti, attend closely to the touch of the breath and attempt to keep your mind focused on the object for as long as possible. Try and forget about the possibility of exotic experiences and stay steadfastly focused. Also, several points to keep in mind.
1. As your concentration develops, your breath will become more subtle and harder to discern. When this happens, continue to focus on the breath. This training will assist you to become aware of more subtle phenomena.
2. Meditation is often filled with all sorts of experiences, pleasant, neutral and painful. Whether you experience boredom, pins and needles, euphoria or piti - they are all insubstantial and transient experiences. Attachment to any one, or an absence of some will only be a source of Dukkha.

As per the second question, you should only change the focus of one's attention as per the guidelines or approach you are following. Within my own tradition, I maintain awareness of the breath regardless of whatever I am experiencing. It is probably best to consult with your teacher, should you have one, or an advanced practitioner in the particular tradition you are practicing.
Kind regards,
Ben.
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725

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Re: Two questions on breathing meditation

Postby fivebells » Wed Mar 12, 2014 11:31 pm

Does this craving for bliss constitute the hindrance of sensual desire? (It's never been a problem for me.)

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Re: Two questions on breathing meditation

Postby Ben » Thu Mar 13, 2014 12:21 am

fivebells wrote:Does this craving for bliss constitute the hindrance of sensual desire? (It's never been a problem for me.)


Yes, it's a manifestation of it.
Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.

Taṃ nadīhi vijānātha:
sobbhesu padaresu ca,
saṇantā yanti kusobbhā,
tuṇhīyanti mahodadhī.

Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR
Buddhist Life Stories of Australia
e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com

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Re: Two questions on breathing meditation

Postby Sati1 » Thu Mar 13, 2014 6:58 am

Dear Culaavuso and Ben,

Thank you very much for your answers. This morning, I tried your advice by seeing piti and sukkha as results that arise automatically when the conditions are right. It helped also to befriend the breath and receive pleasant sensations with gratitude, rather than as something that "I deserve" or "I better get for myself". As for the focus of the awareness, I will start practicing to spread it over the whole body rather than to stay only on the tip of the nose. That might facilitate encountering any rapture that arises, but also doing the whole Anapanasatti Sutta method ("body in body", etc).

Many thanks,
Sati1
London, UK

----
"I do not perceive even one other thing, o monks, that when developed and cultivated entails such great happiness as the mind" (AN 1.10, transl. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"So this spiritual life, monks, does not have gain, honor, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of moral discipline for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakable liberation of mind that is the goal of this spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end," (MN 29, transl. Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi)

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Re: Two questions on breathing meditation

Postby Sati1 » Fri Mar 14, 2014 4:27 pm

Dear Culaavuso,

After reading your quotes from Ajahn Lee's "Keeping the Breath in Mind", I went back to study his method (Method # 2) again. The approach of spreading the attention to the whole body was immediately extremely helpful, as it made it (finally) possible to incorporate sensations of piti into the awareness of the breath. By maintaining the awareness broad rather than narrow, it was also easier to deal with incoming thoughts. This was very difficult previously when I was just concentrating on the tip of the nose. So: thank you for providing those quotes as a reminder of that excellent essay!

:namaste:
Sati1
London, UK

----
"I do not perceive even one other thing, o monks, that when developed and cultivated entails such great happiness as the mind" (AN 1.10, transl. Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi)
"So this spiritual life, monks, does not have gain, honor, and renown for its benefit, or the attainment of moral discipline for its benefit, or the attainment of concentration for its benefit, or knowledge and vision for its benefit. But it is this unshakable liberation of mind that is the goal of this spiritual life, its heartwood, and its end," (MN 29, transl. Ven Bhikkhu Bodhi)


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