Breath as a concept by Yuttadhammo

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Breath as a concept by Yuttadhammo

Postby suceta » Sun May 12, 2013 2:38 am

I practise the Mahasi abdomen meditation technique and nowhere have I ever heard any Sayadaw (junior or senior) ever either denigrate the breath or designated it as a concept. Not that this may be important to everyone for that matter, but it sets the background to prevent any suggestion that there is any undercurrents whatsoever from the Mahasi tradition denigrating mindfulness of the breath.

In fact, despite the apparent bad press in some quarters and abject dismissal of this technique by some, the breath can be used as the primary object instead of the abdomen, albeit something not actively taught in this day and age.

If something is a concept and not reality - as Yuttadhammo asserts that the breath is -, the thinking that goes with that is that one cannot see the 3 characteristics of anicca, dukkha and anatta. And that means that anyone practising mindfulness on the breath cannot see the 3 characteristics and therefore experience insight knowledge. It therefore follows that one cannot achieve any of supramundane states (magga and phala) by practising mindfulness on the breath.

From my personal experience, I can tell you that the breath is rooted in reality and is not a concept; one can see the 3 characteristics when the suitable conditions arise.

I have enjoyed and rejoiced in the ongoing work by Bhikkhu Yuttadhammo in disseminating the Dhamma in the new media formats (youtube, facebook).

But now, seeing such a statement from him for those intent on meditation is not good at all.

reference: http://yuttadhammo.sirimangalo.org/arti ... questions/ (emphasis by me as seen below)

Why do we focus on the abdomen?

The abdomen is an obvious example of a physical phenomenon; it is the element of motion (vayo dhatu) as described in Buddhist texts. Whereas “mindfulness of breathing” (ānāpānasati) is technically considered tranquillity (samatha) meditation, “analysis of the elements” (catudhātuvavatthāna) is considered to be the basis of insight meditation. This is because, while the elements are experienced directly, the breath itself is a concept. For this reason, though watching the abdomen can be thought of as mindfulness of breathing in a way, it differs from watching in and out breathing in an important regard: the latter often leads to tranquillity rather than directly to insight into the nature of reality, while the former is set firmly in ultimate reality and thus conducive to insight into the nature of reality.
He should develop [contemplation of] the unattractive so as to abandon passion.
He should develop good will so as to abandon ill will.
He should develop mindfulness of in-&-out breathing so as to cut off thinking.
He should develop the perception of inconstancy so as to uproot the conceit, 'I am.'
For a monk perceiving inconstancy, the perception of not-self is made steady.
One perceiving not-self attains the uprooting of the conceit, 'I am' — unbinding right in the here-&-now.

Meghiya Sutta (ref: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html)
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Re: Breath as a concept by Yuttadhammo

Postby mikenz66 » Sun May 12, 2013 2:48 am

Hi Suceta,

Perhaps Ven Yuttadhammo was thinking of what I highlighted in the following quote from U Pandita:
“Why did Mahāsi Sayādaw ignore ānāpānassati, which was directly taught by the Buddha, but introduced the rising-falling method?”

“Is ānāpānassati the same in essence as vipassanā and meditating on rising and falling, and able to lead to magga-phala and nibbāna?”

In answering these questions, Panditārāma Sayādaw explained the teachings of the Mahāsi Sayādaw as follows.

Ānāpānassati can take two directions. If the meditator strives to be mindful of the form or manner of the in-breath and the out-breath, then it is samatha meditation and leads to one-pointedness of mind. On the other hand, if the meditator notes the sensation of the in-breath and out-breath as it moves and touches, then it is vipassanā meditation. The element of wind or motion (vayo-dhātu) is rūpa or matter, while the awareness or consciousness of the sensation is nāma or mind. Therefore, ānāpānassati can be considered as vipassanā, and can lead to high levels of insight wisdom. However, in the Visuddhimagga, in the section on kāyānupassana, or mindfulness of body, fourteen objects of meditation are discussed, and further subdivided into objects for samatha and vipassanā meditation. In the Visuddhimagga, ānāpānassati is presented as an object of samatha meditation. Consequently, if we are to instruct meditators to develop ānāpānassati as part of vipassanā meditation, we will be inviting much unwanted and unwarranted criticism and controversy. And neither Mahāsi Sayādaw or myself would want to argue here that the Visuddhimagga, the rightly venerated classic, is at fault here.
http://www.aimwell.org/Books/Other/Ques ... tions.html

Ven U Pandita certainly agrees with you, but does point out that one can focus on the "breath concept" instead (which is what Ajahn Brahm, for example, says when teaching jhana-oriented anapanasati):
If you locate the breath at the tip of your nose then it becomes “nose awareness,” not
breath awareness, and if you locate it at your abdomen then it becomes
“abdomen awareness.” Just ask yourself right now: “Am I breathing in
or breathing out? How do I know?” There! The experience that tells
you what the breath is doing, that is what you focus on. Let go of the
concern about where this experience is located. Just focus on the expe-
rience itself.

viewtopic.php?f=43&t=14767#p213876

And, of course, his approach proceeds via the breath nimitta (a purely conceptual object, divorced from the body) into a deep form of jhana.

It's not that one or other of focussing on the breath concept (Brahm) or the sensations/elements (Mahasi/Pandita) is right or wrong. However a bit of thought and experimentation will reveal a difference...

:anjali:
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Re: Breath as a concept by Yuttadhammo

Postby suceta » Sun May 12, 2013 2:59 am

Ven U Pandita certainly agrees with you, but does point out that one can focus on the "breath concept" instead (which is what Ajahn Brahm, for example, says when teaching jhana-oriented anapanasati):


I would rather that I agreed with Ovadacariya Sayadaw U Pandita than the other way round given that he was my teacher =P

I think perhaps the point being made by Bhikkhu Yuttadhammo is either very badly made or mistaken. Language and accuracy is just as important as the intent when giving out advice.
He should develop [contemplation of] the unattractive so as to abandon passion.
He should develop good will so as to abandon ill will.
He should develop mindfulness of in-&-out breathing so as to cut off thinking.
He should develop the perception of inconstancy so as to uproot the conceit, 'I am.'
For a monk perceiving inconstancy, the perception of not-self is made steady.
One perceiving not-self attains the uprooting of the conceit, 'I am' — unbinding right in the here-&-now.

Meghiya Sutta (ref: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html)
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Re: Breath as a concept by Yuttadhammo

Postby LonesomeYogurt » Sun May 12, 2013 3:01 am

The problem is that the Buddha made it quite clear that mindfulness of breathing was not simply samatha but instead a fully capable vehicle for insight. To refer to the breath as "conceptual" or to claim that knowing the character of the breath is somehow not insight or not capable of leading to insight is to ignore literally hundreds of statements to the contrary in exchange for a few later commentarial designations that were invented long after the Buddha passed on. There is no way one can read the suttas and truly come to the understanding that anapanasati is "purely samatha."
Gain and loss, status and disgrace,
censure and praise, pleasure and pain:
these conditions among human beings are inconstant,
impermanent, subject to change.

Knowing this, the wise person, mindful,
ponders these changing conditions.
Desirable things don’t charm the mind,
undesirable ones bring no resistance.

His welcoming and rebelling are scattered,
gone to their end,
do not exist.
- Lokavipatti Sutta

Stuff I write about things.
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Re: Breath as a concept by Yuttadhammo

Postby suceta » Sun May 12, 2013 3:11 am

The problem is that the Buddha made it quite clear that mindfulness of breathing was not simply samatha but instead a fully capable vehicle for insight. To refer to the breath as "conceptual" or to claim that knowing the character of the breath is somehow not insight or not capable of leading to insight is to ignore literally hundreds of statements to the contrary in exchange for a few later commentarial designations that were invented long after the Buddha passed on. There is no way one can read the suttas and truly come to the understanding that anapanasati is "purely samatha."


Could not agree more on this.

Although, I would not come to any hasty conclusions on the commentarial tradition lest I suggest replacing that with my own and someone else's interpretation.
He should develop [contemplation of] the unattractive so as to abandon passion.
He should develop good will so as to abandon ill will.
He should develop mindfulness of in-&-out breathing so as to cut off thinking.
He should develop the perception of inconstancy so as to uproot the conceit, 'I am.'
For a monk perceiving inconstancy, the perception of not-self is made steady.
One perceiving not-self attains the uprooting of the conceit, 'I am' — unbinding right in the here-&-now.

Meghiya Sutta (ref: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html)
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Re: Breath as a concept by Yuttadhammo

Postby mikenz66 » Sun May 12, 2013 4:12 am

LonesomeYogurt wrote:The problem is that the Buddha made it quite clear that mindfulness of breathing was not simply samatha but instead a fully capable vehicle for insight. To refer to the breath as "conceptual" or to claim that knowing the character of the breath is somehow not insight or not capable of leading to insight is to ignore literally hundreds of statements to the contrary in exchange for a few later commentarial designations that were invented long after the Buddha passed on. There is no way one can read the suttas and truly come to the understanding that anapanasati is "purely samatha."

Sure, and U Pandita appears to agree with you.

What he, and Ajahn Brahm, and the ancient commentators for that matter, seem to me to be saying is that if the aim is to develop strong absorption, leading to deep jhana, then focussing on the "concept" of the breath is a possible technique. As I understand it (in theory only) one can then use the impermanence and so on of the jhanas as a basis of insight.

On the other hand, if one focusses more on the sensations and elements associated with the breath (perhaps that is what you mean by "character"?), this does not lead to deep absorption (it's more like the experience of focussing on the abdominal motion) and in that case the point is to observe the impermanence and so on of those characteristics.

I've seen people use the anapanasati sutta to argue for both of those approaches.

:anjali:
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Re: Breath as a concept by Yuttadhammo

Postby suceta » Sun May 12, 2013 5:45 am

What he, and Ajahn Brahm, and the ancient commentators for that matter, seem to me to be saying is that if the aim is to develop strong absorption, leading to deep jhana, then focussing on the "concept" of the breath is a possible technique. As I understand it (in theory only) one can then use the impermanence and so on of the jhanas as a basis of insight.


Hi Mike,
As you would probably know in Yuganaddha Sutta (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html) there is no contradiction in terms of developing insight or tranquility first. These all fall within the ambit of the Noble Eightfold Path. Human beings tend to divide, categorise and elevate their preferences and this is where disagreements and defilements will arise.

What probably is the undercurrent to Yuttadhammo's assertions (that the breath is a concept) is more to do with what object of meditation is suitable to gain insight rather than the desire of any particular meditator to choose whichever meditation object that suits his temperament. The issue here is the blanket denigration of the breath to being a concept with no or little chance given to it to develop wisdom.
He should develop [contemplation of] the unattractive so as to abandon passion.
He should develop good will so as to abandon ill will.
He should develop mindfulness of in-&-out breathing so as to cut off thinking.
He should develop the perception of inconstancy so as to uproot the conceit, 'I am.'
For a monk perceiving inconstancy, the perception of not-self is made steady.
One perceiving not-self attains the uprooting of the conceit, 'I am' — unbinding right in the here-&-now.

Meghiya Sutta (ref: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html)
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Re: Breath as a concept by Yuttadhammo

Postby Bakmoon » Sun May 12, 2013 6:59 am

suceta wrote:I practise the Mahasi abdomen meditation technique and nowhere have I ever heard any Sayadaw (junior or senior) ever either denigrate the breath or designated it as a concept. Not that this may be important to everyone for that matter, but it sets the background to prevent any suggestion that there is any undercurrents whatsoever from the Mahasi tradition denigrating mindfulness of the breath.

In fact, despite the apparent bad press in some quarters and abject dismissal of this technique by some, the breath can be used as the primary object instead of the abdomen, albeit something not actively taught in this day and age.

If something is a concept and not reality - as Yuttadhammo asserts that the breath is -, the thinking that goes with that is that one cannot see the 3 characteristics of anicca, dukkha and anatta. And that means that anyone practising mindfulness on the breath cannot see the 3 characteristics and therefore experience insight knowledge. It therefore follows that one cannot achieve any of supramundane states (magga and phala) by practising mindfulness on the breath.

From my personal experience, I can tell you that the breath is rooted in reality and is not a concept; one can see the 3 characteristics when the suitable conditions arise.

I have enjoyed and rejoiced in the ongoing work by Bhikkhu Yuttadhammo in disseminating the Dhamma in the new media formats (youtube, facebook).

But now, seeing such a statement from him for those intent on meditation is not good at all.

reference: http://yuttadhammo.sirimangalo.org/arti ... questions/ (emphasis by me as seen below)

Why do we focus on the abdomen?

The abdomen is an obvious example of a physical phenomenon; it is the element of motion (vayo dhatu) as described in Buddhist texts. Whereas “mindfulness of breathing” (ānāpānasati) is technically considered tranquillity (samatha) meditation, “analysis of the elements” (catudhātuvavatthāna) is considered to be the basis of insight meditation. This is because, while the elements are experienced directly, the breath itself is a concept. For this reason, though watching the abdomen can be thought of as mindfulness of breathing in a way, it differs from watching in and out breathing in an important regard: the latter often leads to tranquillity rather than directly to insight into the nature of reality, while the former is set firmly in ultimate reality and thus conducive to insight into the nature of reality.


I don't think that is a fair characterization of the Ven. Yuttadhammo's teaching. The Ven. Yuttadhammo teaches that it depends how you do it. According to him, if you focus on the breath as something that goes in and out, that is conceptual, and if you focus on it as a series of physical sensations, then it is ultimate reality. He says so in this video from 2:00 to 2:10 and at 4:15.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKFl4E3YhlI

The Ven. Yuttadhammo also never said that focusing on the breath as a concept can never lead to insight. He says that doing so will lead to aramanupanijhana, which can be used as a basis of insight, but doesn't automatically do so. He says so in the following video, although he doesn't refer to aramanupanijhana specifically by name.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdM8n3x9vi0
It's about two minutes in.
The non-doing of any evil,
The performance of what's skillful,
The cleansing of one's own mind:
This is the Buddhas' teaching.
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Re: Breath as a concept by Yuttadhammo

Postby mikenz66 » Sun May 12, 2013 7:36 am

Thanks for pointing out those details Bakmoon. That agrees with what I was trying to say, but I'm not familiar enough with Ven Yuttadhammo's talks to point go into details.

:anjali:
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Re: Breath as a concept by Yuttadhammo

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Sun May 12, 2013 8:04 am

One might point out that "Yuttadhammo" is also just a concept.

I don't see anything wrong with what he said. Almost anything, if wrongly grasped can be misleading.

Venerable Ledi Sayādaw explains How to Proceed to Insight when using mindfulness of breathing as the primary object.
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Re: Breath as a concept by Yuttadhammo

Postby suceta » Sun May 12, 2013 8:09 am

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:One might point out that "Yuttadhammo" is also just a concept.


Indeed that is true too, but I will disagree with you on this Venerable Sir and that is to say, that in trying to promote one object of meditation, there is absolutely no need to put down the other which has been actively encouraged and in so many ways praised by the Buddha in so many Suttas.
Last edited by suceta on Sun May 12, 2013 8:25 am, edited 1 time in total.
He should develop [contemplation of] the unattractive so as to abandon passion.
He should develop good will so as to abandon ill will.
He should develop mindfulness of in-&-out breathing so as to cut off thinking.
He should develop the perception of inconstancy so as to uproot the conceit, 'I am.'
For a monk perceiving inconstancy, the perception of not-self is made steady.
One perceiving not-self attains the uprooting of the conceit, 'I am' — unbinding right in the here-&-now.

Meghiya Sutta (ref: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html)
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Re: Breath as a concept by Yuttadhammo

Postby suceta » Sun May 12, 2013 8:18 am

Bakmoon wrote:I don't think that is a fair characterization of the Ven. Yuttadhammo's teaching. The Ven. Yuttadhammo teaches that it depends how you do it. According to him, if you focus on the breath as something that goes in and out, that is conceptual, and if you focus on it as a series of physical sensations, then it is ultimate reality. He says so in this video from 2:00 to 2:10 and at 4:15.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKFl4E3YhlI


Certainly, when this is the introduction to meditation, it gives a real impression that the breath is conceptual and not leading automatically to insight, it is not a suitable meditation object. I would say it is very unfortunate both the wording and the order of advice given by Bhikkhu Yuttadhammo.
He should develop [contemplation of] the unattractive so as to abandon passion.
He should develop good will so as to abandon ill will.
He should develop mindfulness of in-&-out breathing so as to cut off thinking.
He should develop the perception of inconstancy so as to uproot the conceit, 'I am.'
For a monk perceiving inconstancy, the perception of not-self is made steady.
One perceiving not-self attains the uprooting of the conceit, 'I am' — unbinding right in the here-&-now.

Meghiya Sutta (ref: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html)
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Re: Breath as a concept by Yuttadhammo

Postby Mr Man » Sun May 12, 2013 9:11 am

How would you experience the breath directly? Surely it can only be known as a secondary object (a reflection) or as a concept?
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Re: Breath as a concept by Yuttadhammo

Postby Bhikkhu Pesala » Sun May 12, 2013 9:34 am

suceta wrote:I will disagree with you on this Venerable Sir and that is to say, that in trying to promote one object of meditation, there is absolutely no need to put down the other which has been actively encouraged and in so many ways praised by the Buddha in so many Suttas.

Well, he's not "trying to put down the practice of ānāpānasati." He is stressing that to gain insight one must perceive realities, not concepts.

As I said, almost anything can be misleading if grasped wrongly.

The Venerable Ledi Sayādaw says the same — that one must contemplate realities, not concepts, when proceeding to insight from mindfulness of respiration.
In the ultimate reality there exists in the out-breath and in-breath only these four primary elements of earth, water, fire, and air. It is when the eye of wisdom can penetrate and perceive these four primary elements that it can be said that one views reality. If the perception does not penetrate far enough and does not reach these four elements, stopping short at such things as the shape and form of out-breaths and in-breaths, then one is still on the path of personality belief (sakkāya diṭṭhi). According to this belief: “The beginning out-breath is at the navel. Its end is at the tip of the nose. It originates once at the beginning. It disappears once at the end. There is no repeated origination or disappearance in the middle. Similarly for the in-breath.” This is the belief that is firmly rooted in the minds of worldlings. One must rid oneself of this deep and firmly rooted belief in the perception of one’s body by ridding oneself of it in the parts of the body that are out-breaths and in-breaths.

The way to get rid of this view is as follows: when the eye of wisdom penetrates to the four primary elements, and the ultimate reality is perceived, such things as shape and form in out-breath and in-breath dissapear, and every time one contemplates them, the deep firm root of personality view disappears. One perceives that there are in reality no shape and form — no out-breath and in-breath. One perceives that there only exists the four primary elements. Thus Purification of Viewis achieved.
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Re: Breath as a concept by Yuttadhammo

Postby Bakmoon » Sun May 12, 2013 8:43 pm

suceta wrote:
Bakmoon wrote:I don't think that is a fair characterization of the Ven. Yuttadhammo's teaching. The Ven. Yuttadhammo teaches that it depends how you do it. According to him, if you focus on the breath as something that goes in and out, that is conceptual, and if you focus on it as a series of physical sensations, then it is ultimate reality. He says so in this video from 2:00 to 2:10 and at 4:15.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YKFl4E3YhlI


Certainly, when this is the introduction to meditation, it gives a real impression that the breath is conceptual and not leading automatically to insight, it is not a suitable meditation object. I would say it is very unfortunate both the wording and the order of advice given by Bhikkhu Yuttadhammo.


Let's look at what the Ven. Yuttadhammo said in the FAQ:

Frequently-Asked Meditation Questions wrote:Why do we focus on the abdomen?

The abdomen is an obvious example of a physical phenomenon; it is the element of motion (vayo dhatu) as described in Buddhist texts. Whereas “mindfulness of breathing” (ānāpānasati) is technically considered tranquillity (samatha) meditation, “analysis of the elements” (catudhātuvavatthāna) is considered to be the basis of insight meditation. This is because, while the elements are experienced directly, the breath itself is a concept. For this reason, though watching the abdomen can be thought of as mindfulness of breathing in a way, it differs from watching in and out breathing in an important regard: the latter often leads to tranquillity rather than directly to insight into the nature of reality, while the former is set firmly in ultimate reality and thus conducive to insight into the nature of reality.


He never said that the breath is not an acceptable meditation object. He just said that if you see it as in and out breathing, it won't directly lead to insight. He even clarifies it by only saying that about watching in and out breathing, and even there, he only says it often leads to samatha, not that it always does. I don't see what the problem with this is. A person can practice Anapanasati in a conceptual way to attain jhana, and then use the jhana as a basis for insight. Just because a meditation object doesn't automatically lead to insight doesn't mean that you can't use it indirectly to gain insight.

In fact, all 40 of the traditional Kammatthana are conceptual (When practiced in the traditional manner), not just the breath , and none of them will directly lead to insight. Some lead only up to access concentration, some lead to first jhana, some lead to the third jhana, some to the fourth, and some to the arupa jhanas, but none of them will automatically cause a person to gain insight. In order to use one of these objects for insight, you use them to attain either access concentration or one of the jhanas, and then you withdraw from it and contemplate the jhanic factors. This is how the 40 Kammatthanas are used to attain insight. It doesn't happen automatically, but requires a little more work

By no means does that mean that the 40 Kammatthana are bad objects of meditation. This method of practice involving samatha jhana and examining the factors afterwords is called in the commentaries the Samathayana, literally meaning the vehicle of tranquility. The other way is the Vipassanayana, the vehicle of insight, which starts off by analyzing the body and then analyzing the mind without first attaining access concentration or jhana. Both methods will bring a person to Nibbana and one way is not inferior to the other. All that the Ven. Yuttadhammo said is that focusing on the breath is part of the Samathayana. It is necessary for him to do so sothat the student won't constantly be switching between samatha and vipassana methods.
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The performance of what's skillful,
The cleansing of one's own mind:
This is the Buddhas' teaching.
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Re: Breath as a concept by Yuttadhammo

Postby kirk5a » Sun May 12, 2013 10:44 pm

Bhikkhu Pesala wrote:The Venerable Ledi Sayādaw says the same — that one must contemplate realities, not concepts, when proceeding to insight from mindfulness of respiration.
In the ultimate reality there exists in the out-breath and in-breath only these four primary elements of earth, water, fire, and air. It is when the eye of wisdom can penetrate and perceive these four primary elements that it can be said that one views reality. If the perception does not penetrate far enough and does not reach these four elements, stopping short at such things as the shape and form of out-breaths and in-breaths, then one is still on the path of personality belief (sakkāya diṭṭhi). According to this belief: “The beginning out-breath is at the navel. Its end is at the tip of the nose. It originates once at the beginning. It disappears once at the end. There is no repeated origination or disappearance in the middle. Similarly for the in-breath.” This is the belief that is firmly rooted in the minds of worldlings. One must rid oneself of this deep and firmly rooted belief in the perception of one’s body by ridding oneself of it in the parts of the body that are out-breaths and in-breaths.

The way to get rid of this view is as follows: when the eye of wisdom penetrates to the four primary elements, and the ultimate reality is perceived, such things as shape and form in out-breath and in-breath dissapear, and every time one contemplates them, the deep firm root of personality view disappears. One perceives that there are in reality no shape and form — no out-breath and in-breath. One perceives that there only exists the four primary elements. Thus Purification of Viewis achieved.

That is very interesting, thank you Bhante. To me it illustrates what is said in MN 1 - the difference between perceiving, conceiving, and "directly knowing."
"When one thing is practiced & pursued, ignorance is abandoned, clear knowing arises, the conceit 'I am' is abandoned, latent tendencies are uprooted, fetters are abandoned. Which one thing? Mindfulness immersed in the body." -AN 1.230
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