Focusing the Breath

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

Focusing the Breath

Postby sattva » Fri Oct 30, 2009 7:07 pm

This is a question, especially for those who have practiced breath meditaion focusing on the nostrils and on the belly both. In Zen, it is considered best to focus on the belly (tanden, hara) because it helps to create joriki (energy) and groundedness in practice. From a Theravada perspective what do you consider to be the benefits and detriments of each? Is there any difference in your opinion?
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Re: Focusing the Breath

Postby Ben » Fri Oct 30, 2009 11:35 pm

Hi Sattva

I've only praciced the samatha-variant of anapana-sati in the nostril area off-and-on for many years. I have a particular point of view and without the benefit of having practiced other variants. So, I'm unable to give you a comparison against other variants.
I would say that the main benefit of this form of anapana is that it gives, potentially, greater (more tightly focused) single-pointed concentration. I've always used this technique as a precursor to moving on to vedananupassana (observation of sensation) and the two techniques seem to have a symbiosis of function.
Practitioners of the Mahasi tradition who use anapana-sati with the awareness in the abdomen, use the technique as a form of vipassana practice and they develop sati via metta practice.
metta

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

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Re: Focusing the Breath

Postby catmoon » Sat Oct 31, 2009 5:40 am

sattva wrote:This is a question, especially for those who have practiced breath meditaion focusing on the nostrils and on the belly both. In Zen, it is considered best to focus on the belly (tanden, hara) because it helps to create joriki (energy) and groundedness in practice. From a Theravada perspective what do you consider to be the benefits and detriments of each? Is there any difference in your opinion?



I view Zen guys as meditation specialists. If they have an opinion on meditation, I'm inclined to accept it. But by all means, test the concept and see how it works for you.
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Re: Focusing the Breath

Postby Collective » Sat Oct 31, 2009 8:18 am

Good question, this thread is very relevant to me right now. Thanks for asking it.

I have trouble with concentrating on the breath. I can hardly feel it at all. I commit the biggest mistake by roving all over from nostril, chest, abdomen and back again. I just can't seem to feel my breath after a while.

Also, someone said something about sensation/awareness. What I want to do is focus on emptiness, just being aware, just being. No breath focus, just keeping mindfullness of the holistic you and the holistic situation. I'm not sure if this is the way to go because the Buddah taught about using the breath. I don't want to reinvent the wheel to coin a phrase.

Awareness of awareness is just being aware of everything and anything. Thie thing is - when sensations arise, an itch, a pain etc, I don't acknowledge them with 'itch, itch,' or 'thinking, thinking', or similar, I ignore them. I just find it a contradiction to use the 'mind' to focus on the breath, in order to not use the mind.

Make sense?
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Re: Focusing the Breath

Postby Ben » Sat Oct 31, 2009 11:11 am

Let's keep this thread focused on the OP's question, shall we?
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: Focusing the Breath

Postby Collective » Sat Oct 31, 2009 3:14 pm

Ben wrote:Let's keep this thread focused on the OP's question, shall we?

Who me? I think I did
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Re: Focusing the Breath

Postby sattva » Sat Oct 31, 2009 6:42 pm

Thanks everyone for the input. _/l\_
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Re: Focusing the Breath

Postby IanAnd » Sun Nov 01, 2009 6:49 am

sattva wrote:This is a question, especially for those who have practiced breath meditation focusing on the nostrils and on the belly both. In Zen, it is considered best to focus on the belly (tanden, hara) because it helps to create joriki (energy) and groundedness in practice. From a Theravada perspective what do you consider to be the benefits and detriments of each? Is there any difference in your opinion?

From my perspective and understanding, it seems as though it just depends on what one is attempting to accomplish. Some people relate better to subtle phenomena like the breath when developing calmness meditation (samatha), while others find it more productive to focus on something more substantial within their experience such as the rising and falling of the stomach. In Theravada, to my knowledge, there is no emphasis on esoteric "energy patterns" within the body, so this would be one of the differences in the focus on the end product of what is to be accomplished.

If you read and study the Pali discourses, the Buddha teaches a way of meditation designed to help increase mental concentration abilities. The end goal of this practice is for the mind to become unified on an object or subject in order to be able to more fully examine either the object or the subject during insight meditation. He wants you to be able to know these phenomena directly in order to verify their true nature. In order for that to occur, a sharpening in one's concentration and comprehension ability is necessary, which is why he emphasized a practice in mindfulness and clear knowing (clear comprehension).

I suppose if one is focusing on the stomach in order to create joriki that perhaps, depending on how one is being instructed by their meditation guide, they too might experience an increase in mental concentration, although I have never seen described or heard of such a practice. But it might be.

People teach all kinds of methods in order to help others sharpen various skills that it is not unimaginable. Perhaps this is what is meant by the phrase "groundedness in practice"?
"The gift of truth exceeds all other gifts" — Dhammapada, v. 354 Craving XXIV
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Re: Focusing the Breath

Postby Ben » Sun Nov 15, 2009 7:55 pm

Dear members

Following my earlier reminder to keep posts on-topic, this is a reminder that off-topic posts are routinely removed without warning.
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


Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR
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Re: Focusing the Breath

Postby Sanghamitta » Sun Nov 15, 2009 8:28 pm

sattva wrote:This is a question, especially for those who have practiced breath meditaion focusing on the nostrils and on the belly both. In Zen, it is considered best to focus on the belly (tanden, hara) because it helps to create joriki (energy) and groundedness in practice. From a Theravada perspective what do you consider to be the benefits and detriments of each? Is there any difference in your opinion?


Some teachers of Vipassana take the rise and fall of the abdomen as a primary object. This was explained to me as being a matter of convenience, the breath in the nostrils can become very subtle, whereas a hand placed lightly on the abdomen can ususally detect even a slight movement. I have recieved personally no instruction that suggested that a purpose of this process is to create energy. Rather that its purpose is the raising of insight. In both cases, the breath in the nostrils or the rise and fall of the abdomen, the purpose is essentially the same.
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Re: Focusing the Breath

Postby mikenz66 » Mon Nov 16, 2009 12:37 am

IanAnd wrote:...it seems as though it just depends on what one is attempting to accomplish

The passage below expands a little on this point about "it depends on what one is attempting to accomplish" and Sanghamitta's observations. I think that this "depends..." is often the source of apparent disagreements in discussions of mediation objects and approaches.

http://aimwell.org/Books/Other/Questions/questions.html
“Why did Mahāsi Sayādaw ignore ānāpānasati, which was directly taught by the Buddha, but introduced the rising-falling method?”

“Is ānāpānasati 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.

Ānāpānasati 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, ānāpānasati 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, ānāpānasati is presented as an object of samatha meditation. Consequently, if we are to instruct meditators to develop ānāpānasati 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.

It has been said that by noting the rising and falling of the abdomen, meditators are distancing themselves from the teachings of the Buddha. The answer to this is a firm and definite “no.” Quite apart from the success that meditators have achieved by noting rising-falling, there is much solid evidence in the Buddhist scriptures, such as Salāyatana Vagga Samyutta, to show that the method is very much a part of the Buddha’s teachings regarding mindfulness of the body, mindfulness of the elements (dhātu), and mindfulness of the five aggregates (khandhas).

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Re: Focusing the Breath

Postby Dmytro » Mon Nov 16, 2009 5:55 am

Hi Sattva,

sattva wrote:This is a question, especially for those who have practiced breath meditaion focusing on the nostrils and on the belly both. In Zen, it is considered best to focus on the belly (tanden, hara) because it helps to create joriki (energy) and groundedness in practice. From a Theravada perspective what do you consider to be the benefits and detriments of each? Is there any difference in your opinion?


There is a sad misunderstanding that concentration means narrowing the mind to one point, - for example, the nostrils area.

However, the jhanas are 'mahaggata dhamma' - states with a spacious mind. Nostrils area are just a place to tune in to the air contact nimitta, not to narrow the mind into a trance-like state.

As I have found, the focus on the belly can indeed be very helpful as a starting point. It is one of the options recommended by Ajahn Lee Dhammadharo:

"5. Become acquainted with the bases or focal points for the mind — the resting spots of the breath — and center your awareness on whichever one seems most comfortable. A few of these bases are:

a. the tip of the nose,
b. the middle of the head,
c. the palate,
d. the base of the throat,
e. the breastbone (the tip of the sternum),
f. the navel (or a point just above it)."

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai ... ml#method2

The choice of such a starting point is individual matter.

Metta, Dmytro
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