The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby mikenz66 » Tue May 21, 2013 7:27 pm

reflection wrote:Medtation on breathing is what the Buddha supposedly used himself before his enlightenment. Or am I mistaken here? Don't know if there is any scriptural support, but this is what I heard.

I guess the sutta support would be based on: SN 54.8: Dipa Sutta — The Lamp
See: viewtopic.php?f=25&t=17192&p=246139#p246139 where I have listed the suttas I am aware of that discuss his awakening. This one is the only one that discusses a particular meditation object. Others mention jhana (but not the object used) and one is about dependent origination.

:anjali:
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby mettafuture » Tue May 21, 2013 8:07 pm

reflection wrote:I find many teachers teach other methods as well, but not as the main point. I don't have a problem with that because I myself think breath meditation is an all-encompassing way to samadhi while many other meditation methods are not - or less easy to be.

I don't believe Master Gautama was the type who partook in idle chatter. When he said something, he likely said it for a very good reason.

Also I think people have a tendency to switch from one thing to the other, do too much stuff in their meditation. The more objects they have, the more this may be.

Or the more objects they know, the more tools they'll have to cut through their unique combination of hindrances and fetters.

Alex123 wrote:IMHO, generally speaking breath meditation is safer than other types of meditation and it can suit more people.

"More people", but not everyone.

It is also relaxing and without imposing any views that westerners may not like.

Buddhism isn't and shouldn't be about pandering to the preferences of Westerners. Gradually and carefully, wrong view should be countered with right view.

marc108 wrote:Buddhism has cultural bias within all cultures...

Bias is just another form of attachment.

that being said, the Buddha himself placed special emphasis on Anapanasati and I think that rather than being cherry picked for cultural convenience, the emphasis on breath meditation simply reflects the Buddha's own emphasis.

The Buddha did not prescribe or emphasize breath meditation to everyone he met.

Also, nearly all of the Monastic and Lay Teachings I am familiar with that are giving teachings to westerners are including various forms of practice including the elements, recollections, etc.

This is very good to hear.
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby chownah » Wed May 22, 2013 2:39 am

mettafuture,
You assert that breath meditation is not suitable for everyone. Since everyone breathes it seems to me that everyone could do breath meditation. Can you support your claim that it is not suitable for everyone?
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby mettafuture » Wed May 22, 2013 6:29 am

chownah wrote:You assert that breath meditation is not suitable for everyone. Since everyone breathes it seems to me that everyone could do breath meditation. Can you support your claim that it is not suitable for everyone?

I have asthma. Initially, breath meditation brought on more anxiety than calm. After stilling my mind with other meditation objects, watching the breath became easier to do. I find it strange that I even have to explain this, and there are people who assume that every single one of the 7 billion+ people on this planet should just be able to do breath meditation. Trying to watch the breath without controlling it doesn't come easily for a lot of people, especially if there are health issues, or if a hindrance is aggressively clouding the mind. This might explain why there's such a variety of meditation approaches to choose from in the Tipitaka.
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby mikenz66 » Wed May 22, 2013 6:51 am

Interesting topic. I would not want to generalise too much, but I guess it is true that western teachers, especially non-monastic ones, do seem to focus on methods using neutral objects that no-one is going to object to on religious or philosophical grounds.

My first Buddhist meditation instructions were Mahasi-style, so we started with walking, and after that moved on to sitting, watching the rise and fall of the abdomen, and then all the other things that come up when you try to that (feelings, mind states, thoughts, etc, thereby covering the whole gamut of satipatthana...). And my (monastic) teachers certainly varied things when confronted with students who had difficulties. In particular, sometimes getting students to just do metta for a few days if they were having trouble with various aversions coming up from the basic exercises.

I guess there is a tendency, if one has a lot of students and/or only sees them occasionally, to concentrate on things that are easy to instruct and carry out as a group. Even walking can be a problem if you don't have much space, for example... But in a small group, it would be surprising to me if a teacher wasn't able to personalise the instructions to account for differences between students. That, after all, is the point of having a "live" teacher.

:anjali:
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby chownah » Wed May 22, 2013 8:08 am

mettafuture wrote:
chownah wrote:You assert that breath meditation is not suitable for everyone. Since everyone breathes it seems to me that everyone could do breath meditation. Can you support your claim that it is not suitable for everyone?

I have asthma. Initially, breath meditation brought on more anxiety than calm. After stilling my mind with other meditation objects, watching the breath became easier to do. I find it strange that I even have to explain this, and there are people who assume that every single one of the 7 billion+ people on this planet should just be able to do breath meditation. Trying to watch the breath without controlling it doesn't come easily for a lot of people, especially if there are health issues, or if a hindrance is aggressively clouding the mind. This might explain why there's such a variety of meditation approaches to choose from in the Tipitaka.

I think that what you have shown is that breath meditation is more difficult for some people, not that it can not be done by them. Perhaps there are a lot of different meditation approaches in the Tipitaka because the Buddha knew that some people would want to cherry pick their method and therefore not want to choose breath.
I don't think that everyone should just be able to do breath meditation.....it takes considerable effort over a long period of time for it to work.
I am not trying to promote breath over other methods and I think it is good for people to have many methods to pick from but I do not think that you have given support to the idea that breath meditation is not possible for some people.
People teaching meditation usually teach what they think works. If there is a method that not many people teach then probably there aren't a lot of people who know that it works. I suggest that you start teaching meditation in the way you would like to see it...if people learn that it works then maybe some of them will teach it.......
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby Spiny Norman » Wed May 22, 2013 9:57 am

Zenainder wrote:I would think that after stabilizing a consistent practice I would then introduce the tetrads. (Again I may be completely mistaken).


Yes, you're right. I was alluding to the fact that there are all sorts of different ideas about what the tetrads are describing, and what they are for. :juggling:
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby Spiny Norman » Wed May 22, 2013 9:59 am

Alex123 wrote:IMHO, generally speaking breath meditation is safer than other types of meditation and it can suit more people.


I'm not sure I get the "safer" comment Alex - gazing at a coloured disc or a bowl of water doesn't seem particularly dangerous. ;)
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby Spiny Norman » Wed May 22, 2013 10:05 am

daverupa wrote: The thing about anapanasati is that we have the specific way the Buddha "satipatthana'd" breath meditation, while the other methods (kasina discs, etc.) are not as clearly described, at first.


It occured to me that most of the 40 objects are "mental" whereas breathing is primarily "physical", so in that sense it would make anapanasati more amenable to being "satipathana'd".
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby mettafuture » Wed May 22, 2013 10:57 am

mikenz66 wrote:Interesting topic. I would not want to generalise too much, but I guess it is true that western teachers, especially non-monastic ones, do seem to focus on methods using neutral objects that no-one is going to object to on religious or philosophical grounds.

I remember a few years ago when I first wanted to learn more about the elements, I couldn't find any helpful English language resources on this topic. All of the texts and dhamma talks that I found were in Thai or Sinhala.

Recently an amazing and somewhat hard lined sutta on renunciation was brought to my attention. Bhikkhu Bodhi, in his complete translation of the Anguttara Nikaya, describes this text as "famous". and yet the only commentaries and dhamma talks that I've been able to find on it are in Sinhala.

Maybe I just need to learn Sinhala. :lol: Or find a teacher from the Mahasi lineage. It sounds like you've received some really good training. Starting with a coarse practice like walking meditation and gradually working into the subtleties of breath meditation from the abdomen is very clever.

chownah wrote:I think that what you have shown is that breath meditation is more difficult for some people, not that it can not be done by them.

I never said breath meditation was impossible.
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby reflection » Wed May 22, 2013 12:29 pm

mikenz66 wrote:
reflection wrote:Medtation on breathing is what the Buddha supposedly used himself before his enlightenment. Or am I mistaken here? Don't know if there is any scriptural support, but this is what I heard.

I guess the sutta support would be based on: SN 54.8: Dipa Sutta — The Lamp
See: viewtopic.php?f=25&t=17192&p=246139#p246139 where I have listed the suttas I am aware of that discuss his awakening. This one is the only one that discusses a particular meditation object. Others mention jhana (but not the object used) and one is about dependent origination.

:anjali:
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby chownah » Wed May 22, 2013 2:57 pm

mettafuture wrote:
chownah wrote:I think that what you have shown is that breath meditation is more difficult for some people, not that it can not be done by them.

I never said breath meditation was impossible.

I guess I am misunderstanding you. Just to clarify then do you see any reason why someone who breathes would not be able to do breath meditation while they would be able to do some other type??
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby ground » Wed May 22, 2013 3:29 pm

mettafuture wrote:Master Gautama detailed 40 meditation objects over the course of a 45-year teaching career. So why is it that Western Buddhists focus on just 1 or 2 of these objects (eg. anapanasati and metta)? Is it because our dhamma teachers don't feel that contemplating the elements or recalling the qualities of the Buddha could be compatible with our cultural sensibilities? Perhaps they aren't. But if that's the case, maybe we need to change something about ourselves rather than continue to selectively disregard large portions of the dhamma.

I also feel that it may be a mistake to introduce breath meditation to every new Buddhist as their first meditation object. I've heard people try to make the point that anapanasati can fulfill all four satipatthanas, therefore special attention doesn't need to be given to the individual satipatthanas. But does it really make sense to skip developing at least a rudimentary understanding of the body, feelings, consciousness, and mental objects before jumping ahead to the breath?

There is a meditation object suitable for each and every condition and affliction. Breath meditation is said to be appropriate for discursive minds and discursive minds are a contemporary phenomenon. :sage:
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby mettafuture » Wed May 22, 2013 8:09 pm

chownah wrote:I guess I am misunderstanding you. Just to clarify then do you see any reason why someone who breathes would not be able to do breath meditation while they would be able to do some other type??

The student may have health issues, or the breath may be too subtle of an object for him/her to start with.

ground wrote:There is a meditation object suitable for each and every condition and affliction. Breath meditation is said to be appropriate for discursive minds and discursive minds are a contemporary phenomenon. :sage:

Elements meditation has helped me develop a more intuitive understanding of the three marks of existence. I also practice the 5 recollections, which, according to AN 10.92, can lead to stream entry. I'm using a combination of practices to cut away at my fetters from different angles.
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby daverupa » Wed May 22, 2013 8:41 pm

mettafuture wrote:
daverupa wrote:The thing about anapanasati is that we have the specific way the Buddha "satipatthana'd" breath meditation, while the other methods (kasina discs, etc.) are not as clearly described, at first.

The Mahāhatthipadopama Sutta (MN 28) has very clear instructions on how to meditate on the 4 elements, impermanence, and not-self. The Mahārāhulovāda Sutta (MN 62) covers the 4 elements and the 4 divine abodes, and it wraps it all together with a breath meditation bow.

The Buddha spent a lot of time prescribing different approaches for different people.


I think the Buddha spent a lot of time showing people how their current/favored practice could be aligned with satipatthana. That there came to be 40 examples of this ossified in the texts is indeed fascinating.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby reflection » Wed May 22, 2013 9:00 pm

mettafuture wrote:
reflection wrote:I find many teachers teach other methods as well, but not as the main point. I don't have a problem with that because I myself think breath meditation is an all-encompassing way to samadhi while many other meditation methods are not - or less easy to be.

I don't believe Master Gautama was the type who partook in idle chatter. When he said something, he likely said it for a very good reason.

Also I think people have a tendency to switch from one thing to the other, do too much stuff in their meditation. The more objects they have, the more this may be.

Or the more objects they know, the more tools they'll have to cut through their unique combination of hindrances and fetters.


Where did I say idle chatter? Those meditations certainly have a use. But I personally see them mainly as supports for breath meditation, because many of the objects mostly serve a single purpose. For example, metta is helpful against aversion, contemplation of virtue creates joy. But as a result, they are limited and for me not ideal as the main meditation. I don't see how contemplation of the sangha or death, for example, is an easy way into samadhi. In this sense breath meditation feels more encompassing in that it is a more calm and stable object. This may not be true for everybody, but probably for most it is. And what fits the most, is what will naturally get most attention. On a retreat for example, a teacher can impossibly cater to all. But one can get personal advise one on one.

I agree with you in that these objects deserve attention, but my experience is teachers do actually encourage them. Some recollections are also common chantings. But I don't follow any lay teachers so that may the difference in our experience, not sure.
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby mettafuture » Thu May 23, 2013 2:10 am

reflection wrote:Those meditations certainly have a use. But I personally see them mainly as supports for breath meditation, because many of the objects mostly serve a single purpose.

Lately I've been searching the Tipitaka for suttas where the Buddha prescribes only breath meditation to a lay person. Some may exist, but I haven't been able to find any.

I suspect there may be a reason why the 5 recollections (8 on Uposatha days) were generally presented as the preliminary practice to the laity. Consider the prerequisites for steam entry: abandonment of identity view, doubt, and ritual attachments. If you're a monk, chances are you've already abandoned these fetters. In recognizing this, the Buddha assigned a more direct path (anapanasati, jhanas, and so on) to the monastics who were ready.

How can a householder, who lives in a world full of distractions and sense pleasures, completely abandon the first 3 or 5 fetters using breath meditation alone? It seems rather obvious that they'll need the support of an additional practice to develop true insight, especially for a topic as profound as anatta.
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby Spiny Norman » Thu May 23, 2013 8:28 am

daverupa wrote:I think the Buddha spent a lot of time showing people how their current/favored practice could be aligned with satipatthana.


Have you any examples of this from the suttas, Dave? ( apart from anapanasati ).
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby reflection » Thu May 23, 2013 9:27 am

mettafuture wrote:
reflection wrote:Those meditations certainly have a use. But I personally see them mainly as supports for breath meditation, because many of the objects mostly serve a single purpose.

Lately I've been searching the Tipitaka for suttas where the Buddha prescribes only breath meditation to a lay person. Some may exist, but I haven't been able to find any.

I suspect there may be a reason why the 5 recollections (8 on Uposatha days) were generally presented as the preliminary practice to the laity. Consider the prerequisites for steam entry: abandonment of identity view, doubt, and ritual attachments. If you're a monk, chances are you've already abandoned these fetters. In recognizing this, the Buddha assigned a more direct path (anapanasati, jhanas, and so on) to the monastics who were ready.

How can a householder, who lives in a world full of distractions and sense pleasures, completely abandon the first 3 or 5 fetters using breath meditation alone? It seems rather obvious that they'll need the support of an additional practice to develop true insight, especially for a topic as profound as anatta.

I don't see that much difference between laity and monastics. If anything it is a spectrum and not black/white. Also, that the suttas don't mention it doesn't mean it wasn't thought. Obviously many teachings were lost, especially those to the laity because they were not collected. Also, talks that address monks will probably have had lay people in the audience as well.
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Postby daverupa » Thu May 23, 2013 10:38 am

porpoise wrote:
daverupa wrote:I think the Buddha spent a lot of time showing people how their current/favored practice could be aligned with satipatthana.


Have you any examples of this from the suttas, Dave? ( apart from anapanasati ).


It's inferential; SN 47.6 says satipatthana is the ancestral homeland a bhikkhu should stay within; SN 47.8 shows how satipatthana's precise method is something each ultimately needs to develop in terms of their own case.

Satipatthana should be a constant practice & means that mindfulness is being held close, ready at hand, leading to dhamma-investigation: it doesn't mean we need to find the 'four tetrads of earth element bhavana'.

Anapanasati fulfills satipatthana because it facilitates jhana, which is to say it beings the awakening factors to fulfillment by development. Satipatthana practice precedes this, and can manifest in widely varying ways as the practice develops & proceeds. MN 10 has some examples.
    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.
- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]
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