Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breath

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Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breath

Postby twelph » Wed Feb 15, 2012 12:04 am

When first learning to meditate many years ago, the teachers I studied under all had a clear rule about not trying to control the breathe. Within this past year I have started to really bunker down and study the teachings of my favorite modern teachers, namely Gil Fronsdal, Sayadaw U Tejaniya, and Thanissaro Bikkhu. While I greatly enjoy Thanissaro's Pali references in the majority of his work, I seem to have an aversion to his style of meditation that he talks about in most of his dhamma talks and compiled essays.The whole idea of wanting to manipulate the breathe to get rid of unpleasant feelings, and to create momentary pleasure seems to stem from greed and aversion. Is this the wrong way to look at it? Is there any information in the Suttas that mention this type of practice?
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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Feb 15, 2012 12:12 am

Greetings,

twelph wrote:Is this the wrong way to look at it?

Yes.

twelph wrote:Is there any information in the Suttas that mention this type of practice?

Follow specifically that which I have bolded...

MN 10 wrote:"Breathing in long, he discerns, 'I am breathing in long'; or breathing out long, he discerns, 'I am breathing out long.' Or breathing in short, he discerns, 'I am breathing in short'; or breathing out short, he discerns, 'I am breathing out short.' He trains himself, 'I will breathe in sensitive to the entire body.' He trains himself, 'I will breathe out sensitive to the entire body.' He trains himself, 'I will breathe in calming bodily fabrication.' He trains himself, 'I will breathe out calming bodily fabrication.' Just as a skilled turner or his apprentice, when making a long turn, discerns, 'I am making a long turn,' or when making a short turn discerns, 'I am making a short turn'; in the same way the monk, when breathing in long, discerns, 'I am breathing in long'; or breathing out long, he discerns, 'I am breathing out long' ... He trains himself, 'I will breathe in calming bodily fabrication.' He trains himself, 'I will breathe out calming bodily fabrication.'

MN 44 wrote:"But what are bodily fabrications? What are verbal fabrications? What are mental fabrications?"

"In-&-out breaths are bodily fabrications. Directed thought & evaluation are verbal fabrications. Perceptions & feelings are mental fabrications."

"But why are in-&-out breaths bodily fabrications? Why are directed thought & evaluation verbal fabrications? Why are perceptions & feelings mental fabrications?"

"In-&-out breaths are bodily; these are things tied up with the body. That's why in-&-out breaths are bodily fabrications. Having first directed one's thoughts and made an evaluation, one then breaks out into speech. That's why directed thought & evaluation are verbal fabrications. Perceptions & feelings are mental; these are things tied up with the mind. That's why perceptions & feelings are mental fabrications."

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Postby Goofaholix » Wed Feb 15, 2012 12:17 am

twelph wrote:The whole idea of wanting to manipulate the breathe to get rid of unpleasant feelings, and to create momentary pleasure seems to stem from greed and aversion. Is this the wrong way to look at it? Is there any information in the Suttas that mention this type of practice?


Is it really manipulating the breath? Perhaps you could post a quote, the talks I've read/heard though are about using the breath to gladden the mind before undertaking the work of insight practice.

From http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ffort.html

Then, when the breath is calm and you've been refreshed by feelings of ease and stillness, you're ready to look at the mind itself. You don't leave the breath, though. You adjust your attention slightly so that you're watching the mind as it stays with the breath. Here the Buddha recommends three areas for experimentation: Notice how to gladden the mind when it needs gladdening, how to steady it when it needs steadying, and how to release it from its attachments and burdens when it's ready for release.


I don't think this is inconsistant with the anapanasati sutta, nor some other Thai based teachers, but it is inconsistant with the Bumese approach I guess
"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: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Postby twelph » Wed Feb 15, 2012 12:22 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings,

twelph wrote:Is this the wrong way to look at it?

Yes.

twelph wrote:Is there any information in the Suttas that mention this type of practice?

Follow specifically that which I have bolded...

MN 10 wrote:"Breathing in long, he discerns, 'I am breathing in long'; or breathing out long, he discerns, 'I am breathing out long.' Or breathing in short, he discerns, 'I am breathing in short'; or breathing out short, he discerns, 'I am breathing out short.' He trains himself, 'I will breathe in sensitive to the entire body.' He trains himself, 'I will breathe out sensitive to the entire body.' He trains himself, 'I will breathe in calming bodily fabrication.' He trains himself, 'I will breathe out calming bodily fabrication.' Just as a skilled turner or his apprentice, when making a long turn, discerns, 'I am making a long turn,' or when making a short turn discerns, 'I am making a short turn'; in the same way the monk, when breathing in long, discerns, 'I am breathing in long'; or breathing out long, he discerns, 'I am breathing out long' ... He trains himself, 'I will breathe in calming bodily fabrication.' He trains himself, 'I will breathe out calming bodily fabrication.'

MN 44 wrote:"But what are bodily fabrications? What are verbal fabrications? What are mental fabrications?"

"In-&-out breaths are bodily fabrications. Directed thought & evaluation are verbal fabrications. Perceptions & feelings are mental fabrications."

"But why are in-&-out breaths bodily fabrications? Why are directed thought & evaluation verbal fabrications? Why are perceptions & feelings mental fabrications?"

"In-&-out breaths are bodily; these are things tied up with the body. That's why in-&-out breaths are bodily fabrications. Having first directed one's thoughts and made an evaluation, one then breaks out into speech. That's why directed thought & evaluation are verbal fabrications. Perceptions & feelings are mental; these are things tied up with the mind. That's why perceptions & feelings are mental fabrications."

Metta,
Retro. :)


Aha, thanks. When I had read this passage before, I had assumed that "calming bodily fabrication" by breathing in and out was something that the breathe does naturally by focusing on it. Now I can see how this can be interpreted as an active process.
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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Postby twelph » Wed Feb 15, 2012 12:25 am

Goofaholix wrote:
twelph wrote:The whole idea of wanting to manipulate the breathe to get rid of unpleasant feelings, and to create momentary pleasure seems to stem from greed and aversion. Is this the wrong way to look at it? Is there any information in the Suttas that mention this type of practice?


Is it really manipulating the breath? Perhaps you could post a quote, the talks I've read/heard though are about using the breath to gladden the mind before undertaking the work of insight practice.

From http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ffort.html

Then, when the breath is calm and you've been refreshed by feelings of ease and stillness, you're ready to look at the mind itself. You don't leave the breath, though. You adjust your attention slightly so that you're watching the mind as it stays with the breath. Here the Buddha recommends three areas for experimentation: Notice how to gladden the mind when it needs gladdening, how to steady it when it needs steadying, and how to release it from its attachments and burdens when it's ready for release.


I don't think this is inconsistant with the anapanasati sutta, nor some other Thai based teachers, but it is inconsistant with the Bumese approach I guess



Meditations 5
Having the breath as a way of training yourself to be kind to
yourself is an important aspect of developing goodwill: It helps you realize that
you really do have a role in shaping your present experience, starting with the
breath and then moving into other areas of the present. There’s nobody forcing
you to breathe in an uncomfortable way, or in a way that puts yourself to sleep,
or in a way that gets you anxious and on edge. And yet we allow these things to
happen because we’re distracted, often about things that are really none of our
business. But the breath is something that really is your responsibility. Nobody
else can breathe for you. And nobody else can tell you what kind of breathing is
going to be comfortable. You have to pay attention yourself.
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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Postby Cittasanto » Wed Feb 15, 2012 1:20 am

twelph wrote:When first learning to meditate many years ago, the teachers I studied under all had a clear rule about not trying to control the breathe. Within this past year I have started to really bunker down and study the teachings of my favorite modern teachers, namely Gil Fronsdal, Sayadaw U Tejaniya, and Thanissaro Bikkhu. While I greatly enjoy Thanissaro's Pali references in the majority of his work, I seem to have an aversion to his style of meditation that he talks about in most of his dhamma talks and compiled essays.The whole idea of wanting to manipulate the breathe to get rid of unpleasant feelings, and to create momentary pleasure seems to stem from greed and aversion. Is this the wrong way to look at it? Is there any information in the Suttas that mention this type of practice?

I believe Thanissaro teaches this controlling method as a form of investigation of the breathing, getting to know the breath, not getting control over it!

I think retros quotes will suffice for quotes, but none specifically mention control or no control, except for one about extreme breath controll before his enlightenment, although there are groups which do use breath control to start with such as the samatha trust I believe (I havn't attended any of their classes but have been told so)
This offering maybe right, or wrong, but it is one, the other, both, or neither!
Blog, - Some Suttas Translated, Ajahn Chah.
"Others will misconstrue reality due to their personal perspectives, doggedly holding onto and not easily discarding them; We shall not misconstrue reality due to our own personal perspectives, nor doggedly holding onto them, but will discard them easily. This effacement shall be done."
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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Feb 15, 2012 2:47 am

Goofaholix wrote:I don't think this is inconsistant with the anapanasati sutta, nor some other Thai based teachers, but it is inconsistant with the Burmese approach I guess

I agree. While most modern teachers I'm familiar with teach just watching the breath, and in the context of their approaches there are sound reasons for not controlling it, like Cittasanto I can't see any place in the Anapanasati, or any other, Sutta where it specifically says not to exert some control the breath. Many of the lines can be read in multiple ways. And it's rather obvious from personal experience that manipulating the breath can produce a change in mood.

:anjali:
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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Feb 15, 2012 2:57 am

Greetings,

mikenz66 wrote:And it's rather obvious from personal experience that manipulating the breath can produce a change in mood.

This seems to be the thrust of much of Thanissaro Bhikkhu's meditation advice. He encourages people to see and recognise that their experience comprises of fabrication, so you're better off having 'bhavana' (cultivation) that is wholesome and conducive to the tranquillity that supports insight, and it's through a process of trial-and-error and experimentation with the breath that you come to see what works for you.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Feb 15, 2012 3:35 am

Yes, that's true. Developing wholesome states is clearly important. I think it is a mistake to jump to the conclusion that when people talk about starting with: "bare awareness" or "just be with the experience" that they are advocating that the whole of the path is about "just observing", and there is no development. But "just being with the experience" is often a good place to start, because going in with the idea that you can directly manipulate things also doesn't work very well. What often seems to be required is a somewhat sneaky "setting up the right conditions".

For example, it's almost impossible to "let go" of something (such as wanting to be in a relaxed state) by willing oneself to let go of it. That, of course, just makes it worse. One has to use a different strategy, such as focussing attention on the wanting, and figuring out what actually works takes some experimentation.

:anjali:
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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Feb 15, 2012 4:16 am

twelph wrote:When first learning to meditate many years ago, the teachers I studied under all had a clear rule about not trying to control the breathe. Within this past year I have started to really bunker down and study the teachings of my favorite modern teachers, namely Gil Fronsdal, Sayadaw U Tejaniya, and Thanissaro Bikkhu. While I greatly enjoy Thanissaro's Pali references in the majority of his work, I seem to have an aversion to his style of meditation that he talks about in most of his dhamma talks and compiled essays.The whole idea of wanting to manipulate the breathe to get rid of unpleasant feelings, and to create momentary pleasure seems to stem from greed and aversion. Is this the wrong way to look at it? Is there any information in the Suttas that mention this type of practice?
Is it a wrong way to look at it? The problem is that it is easy to manipulate the breath and one's mental states to quash what is unwanted, unpleasant, as if not having unpleasant thoughts and emotions is the goal, and it is all too easy to "cultivate" seemingly wholsesome states. Manipulating the breath is a matter choice and the question is what is behind that choice.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Feb 15, 2012 4:44 am

Greetings,

tiltbillings wrote:The problem is that it is easy to manipulate the breath and one's mental states to quash what is unwanted, unpleasant, as if not having unpleasant thoughts and emotions is the goal, and it is all too easy to "cultivate" seemingly wholsesome states. Manipulating the breath is a matter choice and the question is what is behind that choice.


Self honesty in this is paramount...

MN 19 wrote:The Blessed One said, "Monks, before my self-awakening, when I was still just an unawakened Bodhisatta, the thought occurred to me: 'Why don't I keep dividing my thinking into two sorts?' So I made thinking imbued with sensuality, thinking imbued with ill will, & thinking imbued with harmfulness one sort, and thinking imbued with renunciation, thinking imbued with non-ill will, & thinking imbued with harmlessness another sort.

"And as I remained thus heedful, ardent, & resolute, thinking imbued with sensuality arose. I discerned that 'Thinking imbued with sensuality has arisen in me; and that leads to my own affliction or to the affliction of others or to the affliction of both. It obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, & does not lead to Unbinding.'

"As I noticed that it leads to my own affliction, it subsided. As I noticed that it leads to the affliction of others... to the affliction of both... it obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, & does not lead to Unbinding, it subsided. Whenever thinking imbued with sensuality had arisen, I simply abandoned it, destroyed it, dispelled it, wiped it out of existence.

"And as I remained thus heedful, ardent, & resolute, thinking imbued with ill will arose. I discerned that 'Thinking imbued with ill will has arisen in me; and that leads to my own affliction or to the affliction of others or to the affliction of both. It obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, & does not lead to Unbinding.'

"As I noticed that it leads to my own affliction, it subsided. As I noticed that it leads to the affliction of others... to the affliction of both... it obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, & does not lead to Unbinding, it subsided. Whenever thinking imbued with ill will had arisen, I simply abandoned it, destroyed it, dispelled it, wiped it out of existence."

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Feb 15, 2012 4:49 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings,

tiltbillings wrote:The problem is that it is easy to manipulate the breath and one's mental states to quash what is unwanted, unpleasant, as if not having unpleasant thoughts and emotions is the goal, and it is all too easy to "cultivate" seemingly wholsesome states. Manipulating the breath is a matter choice and the question is what is behind that choice.


Self honesty in this is paramount...
Which is, of course, far easier said than done.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Feb 15, 2012 4:57 am

Greetings Tilt,

tiltbillings wrote:Which is, of course, far easier said than done.

I think one's personality type (e.g. Meyers-Briggs, Buddhaghosa's carita tables) might play a factor in how natural this level of self-transparency and internal consistency of intention is.

Regardless of the degree of difficulty involved, I think it's an indispensible factor in the spiritual quest, and may well be why Right Intention (Samma Sankappa) follows smack bang after Right View in the Noble Eightfold Path.

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Postby mikenz66 » Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:03 am

tiltbillings wrote:
retrofuturist wrote:Greetings,

tiltbillings wrote:The problem is that it is easy to manipulate the breath and one's mental states to quash what is unwanted, unpleasant, as if not having unpleasant thoughts and emotions is the goal, and it is all too easy to "cultivate" seemingly wholsesome states. Manipulating the breath is a matter choice and the question is what is behind that choice.


Self honesty in this is paramount...
Which is, of course, far easier said than done.

Yes, see my posts on confusing cultivating pleasant states with cultivating progress:
viewtopic.php?f=17&t=11240
It's something really easy to fall into once you build up some basic skills...

:anjali:
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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:06 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings Tilt,

tiltbillings wrote:Which is, of course, far easier said than done.

I think one's personality type (e.g. Meyers-Briggs) might play a factor in how natural this level of self-transparency and internal consistency of intention is.

Regardless of the degree of difficulty involved, I think it's an indispensible factor in the spiritual quest, and may well be why Right Intention (Samma Sankappa) follows smack bang after Right View in the Noble Eightfold Path.

Metta,
Retro. :)
Self-honesty is something I have pointed to here more than once, and it is always a work in progress, but it is also way too easy to to fool oneself into thinking that one is being honest with oneself. And the point here in this thread is that manipulating the breath type practice can be an easy way to fool oneself, especially when not working with a highly experienced teacher. It is simply the nature of the beast.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:09 am

mikenz66 wrote:Yes, see my posts on confusing cultivating pleasant states with cultivating progress:
viewtopic.php?f=17&t=11240
It's something really easy to fall into once you build up some basic skills...

:anjali:
Mike
Especially given the allure of "special" experiences while meditating, something out of the ordinary, something that indicates one's practice is succeeding.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Postby farmer » Wed Feb 15, 2012 6:19 am

This discussion of "controlled" breathing assumes that there is a way of meditating on the breath in which the breath is natural or uncontrolled. I think Venerable Thanissaro would argue that our habitual ways of focusing on and conceptualizing the breath shape our breathing even if we intend to breathe naturally. Better to get these processes out into the light, where we can observe and experiment with them than to pretend they aren't happening.
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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Postby phil » Wed Feb 15, 2012 6:38 am

He encourages people to breathe through their eyes, through their hands. It feels good to tap into the "breath energy" which is indeed coursing through the body, as ki, or chi, though T.B doesn't acknowledge it as such. The founder of the tradition (Ajahn Lee) developed it to heal his body after a heart attack during a rains retreat. Great, healing is great. This kind of breath yoga definitely brings heath benefits, wonderful. Very unfortunate that he promotes it as Dhamma, but most people who study Dhamma seriously are able to see past Thanissaro Bhikkhu pretty easily, and those who don't and get caught up in his cozy atta trap will at least get physical benefits from it. Well, at the cost of being deprived of a correct understanding of Dhamma, that's a steep price.
Kammalakkhano , bhikkhave, bālo, kammalakkhano pandito, apadānasobhanī paññāti
(The fool is characterized by his/her actions/the wise one is characterized by his/her actions/Wisdom shines forth in behaviour.)
(AN 3.2 Lakkhana Sutta)
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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Postby retrofuturist » Wed Feb 15, 2012 7:06 am

Greetings,

farmer wrote:This discussion of "controlled" breathing assumes that there is a way of meditating on the breath in which the breath is natural or uncontrolled. I think Venerable Thanissaro would argue that our habitual ways of focusing on and conceptualizing the breath shape our breathing even if we intend to breathe naturally. Better to get these processes out into the light, where we can observe and experiment with them than to pretend they aren't happening.

Yes, he does say this and I agree with the "observe and experiment with them [rather] than to pretend they aren't happening" sentiment.

Even "passive" awareness of the breath is not unconditioned. As Tilt says, "it is also way too easy to to fool oneself into thinking that one is being honest with oneself".

Metta,
Retro. :)
If you have asked me of the origination of unease, then I shall explain it to you in accordance with my understanding:
Whatever various forms of unease there are in the world, They originate founded in encumbering accumulation. (Pārāyanavagga)


Exalted in mind, just open and clearly aware, the recluse trained in the ways of the sages:
One who is such, calmed and ever mindful, He has no sorrows! -- Udana IV, 7


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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Postby tiltbillings » Wed Feb 15, 2012 7:19 am

retrofuturist wrote:Even "passive" awareness of the breath is not unconditioned. As Tilt says, "it is also way too easy to to fool oneself into thinking that one is being honest with oneself".
It is not unconditioned, but allowing the breath to function without deliberate control, which is quite possible, is quite different from deliberately controlling it.
This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond.
SN I, 38.

Ar scáth a chéile a mhaireas na daoine.
People live in one another’s shelter.

"We eat cold eels and think distant thoughts." -- Jack Johnson
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