Breath as concept vs breath as touch and movement?

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zan
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Breath as concept vs breath as touch and movement?

Post by zan »

I'm reading "Manual of Insight" by Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw and on page 130, in speaking about jhana compared to pure insight meditation he writes:

"The only difference is that observation of the conceptual form of the breath produces tranquility, while attention to its touch and movement produces insight."

What does he mean by this?

I assume by "conceptual form of the breath" he is referencing the Visuddhimagga/commentary approach to anapanasati where one leaves the breath itself and takes it's nimitta, in the form of a mental light, instead as the object to be absorbed with and enter jhana. So in tranquility meditation one enters jhana with the concept of the breath in the form of a nimitta and in vipassana one stays with the touch and movement of the breath directly and practices insight. Does this sound like I understand correctly?
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ryanM
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Re: Breath as concept vs breath as touch and movement?

Post by ryanM »

Heya zan, just a guess as I don't actively parse these things out, but it would make sense to me that "attention to touch and movement" regards anatta and anicca, respectively. It's difficult for me to say what he's trying to say with conceptual form of breath since it's been translated through to English. I don't quite understand what "conceptual form" is except that maybe just how the breath presents itself in the mind. What you mention about anapanasati makes sense to me since it includes steps like calming/tranquilizing bodily/breath fabrication.

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SarathW
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Re: Breath as concept vs breath as touch and movement?

Post by SarathW »

"The only difference is that observation of the conceptual form of the breath produces tranquility, while attention to its touch and movement produces insight."
In my opinion:
- Conceptual form of the breath means the first Jhana
- Attention to touch an movement is Samma Sati (Satipatthana)
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

zan
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Re: Breath as concept vs breath as touch and movement?

Post by zan »

ryanM wrote:Heya zan, just a guess as I don't actively parse these things out, but it would make sense to me that "attention to touch and movement" regards anatta and anicca, respectively. It's difficult for me to say what he's trying to say with conceptual form of breath since it's been translated through to English. I don't quite understand what "conceptual form" is except that maybe just how the breath presents itself in the mind. What you mention about anapanasati makes sense to me since it includes steps like calming/tranquilizing bodily/breath fabrication.

Cheers!
Makes sense to me. I believe according to the Visuddhagga the first tetrad of anapanasati is being with the breath and by the second tetrad one has left the physical breath and is now absorbed in the mental representation of the breath in the form of a nimitta, which could be considered a concept of the breath since it is no longer the physical breath itself. Does anyone know for sure?
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Just to be safe, assume all of my words could be incorrect. Look to an arahant for total accuracy and confirmation.

pegembara
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Re: Breath as concept vs breath as touch and movement?

Post by pegembara »

My take-

Breath can be used as focus of attention to anchor the mind and stop it from getting swept away by thoughts. If you focus on a point eg. tip of nose, it becomes conceptual. That point is a mental creation and can become a counterpart sign just like staring at a lighted candle and then closing your eyes.

If you stop focusing at a point and instead just pay attention to the sensations, then the mind doesn't create a nimitta. It remains anchored to breath sensations instead of being anchored to something that the mind fabricates.
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mikenz66
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Re: Breath as concept vs breath as touch and movement?

Post by mikenz66 »

pegembara wrote:My take-

Breath can be used as focus of attention to anchor the mind and stop it from getting swept away by thoughts. If you focus on a point eg. tip of nose, it becomes conceptual. That point is a mental creation and can become a counterpart sign just like staring at a lighted candle and then closing your eyes.

If you stop focusing at a point and instead just pay attention to the sensations, then the mind doesn't create a nimitta. It remains anchored to breath sensations instead of being anchored to something that the mind fabricates.
That's a good way of putting it, though focussing on a point isn't always necessary. I think the key is to focus on something simple such as the concept of the breath (if one is aiming for deep tranquility). You can see that in the instructions of teachers who advocate aiming for deep absorption, such as Ajahn Brahm:
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 experience
itself.
http://www.dhammaloka.org.au/files/pdf/ ... ers1-4.pdf
Focussing on details of the sensations of the breath at the nostrils or the abdomen will generally not give such a deep absorption.

It's not that one or other is "better", it depends on what you're currently trying to achieve. See
AN 4.41 Samādhibhāvanā: https://suttacentral.net/en/an4.41 which describes several aspects of the development of samadhi.

:anjali:
Mike

zan
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Re: Breath as concept vs breath as touch and movement?

Post by zan »

mikenz66 wrote:
pegembara wrote:My take-

Breath can be used as focus of attention to anchor the mind and stop it from getting swept away by thoughts. If you focus on a point eg. tip of nose, it becomes conceptual. That point is a mental creation and can become a counterpart sign just like staring at a lighted candle and then closing your eyes.

If you stop focusing at a point and instead just pay attention to the sensations, then the mind doesn't create a nimitta. It remains anchored to breath sensations instead of being anchored to something that the mind fabricates.
That's a good way of putting it, though focussing on a point isn't always necessary. I think the key is to focus on something simple such as the concept of the breath (if one is aiming for deep tranquility). You can see that in the instructions of teachers who advocate aiming for deep absorption, such as Ajahn Brahm:
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 experience
itself.
http://www.dhammaloka.org.au/files/pdf/ ... ers1-4.pdf
Focussing on details of the sensations of the breath at the nostrils or the abdomen will generally not give such a deep absorption.

It's not that one or other is "better", it depends on what you're currently trying to achieve. See
AN 4.41 Samādhibhāvanā: https://suttacentral.net/en/an4.41 which describes several aspects of the development of samadhi.

:anjali:
Mike
Thanks. In addition to this idea, I'm trying to figure out specifically: Isn't the Visuddhimagga instruction to stay with the touch and movement of the breath until the second tetrad of anapanasati and then leave it for a nimitta? The nimitta would be a conceptual and non-physical representation of the breath, right? The first tetrad, according to the Visuddhimagga is touch and movement and the second tetrad is concept only while one is in jhana, then when one exits jhana it becomes touch and sensation again. Does this sound correct?

If a contemporary teacher, that teaches lighter jhana where one can still feel sensations because the absorption is not as deep as Visuddhimagga jhana, were explaining this they would likely say that all rupa jhanas (except maybe the fourth) involve touch and movement and are not just the concept of the breath.

For example the Visuddhimagga teaches the first tetrad in depth and it involves only the breath, then when the second tetrad begins, just after the tranquilizing the breath has been explained, we have this instruction:

" So too, the bhikkhu should not look for the in-breaths and outbreaths
anywhere else than the place normally touched by them. And he should
take the rope of mindfulness and the goad of understanding, and fixing his mind
on the place normally touched by them, he should go on giving his attention to that.
[285] For as he gives his attention in this way they reappear after no long time, as the
oxen did at the drinking place where they met. So he can secure them with the rope
of mindfulness, and yoking them in that same place and prodding them with the
goad of understanding, he can keep on applying himself to the meditation subject.
214. When he does so in this way, the sign soon appears to him. But it is not
the same for all; on the contrary, some say that when it appears it does so to
certain people producing a light touch like cotton or silk-cotton or a draught.
215. But this is the exposition given in the commentaries: It appears to some
like a star or a cluster of gems or a cluster of pearls, to others with a rough touch
like that of silk-cotton seeds or a peg made of heartwood, to others like a long
braid string or a wreath of flowers or a puff of smoke, to others like a stretched-
out cobweb or a film of cloud or a lotus flower or a chariot wheel or the moon’s
disk or the sun’s disk.
"
Visuddhimagga page 277

It sounds like instead of just the touch and movement of the breath, clearly the focus of the first tetrad interpretation in the Visuddhimagga, it has introduced a nimitta which is not the actual breath any more but is a conceptual representation of it in the form of a mental light. As it explains, shortly after that, one is to achieve jhana the same as one does so with the earth kasina, only now it is with a nimitta representing the breath in place of the earth kasina.

"
222. As he strives thus, fourfold and fivefold jhána is achieved by him on that
same sign in the same way as described under the earth kasina."

Visuddhimagga page 279


Or am I misunderstanding and it is much simpler than I'm making it and the breath as concept simply means watching the breath in one place without speculating (i realize "speculation" is not typically a term for insight meditation but I'm using it on the assumption that insight is what is meant when the word is used in the quote below) in terms of insight as explained here?:

"48. The beginning, middle and end are described in §197, and the way they should
be treated is given in §199–201. What is meant is that the meditator should know what
they are and be aware of them without his mindfulness leaving the tip of the nose to
follow after the breaths inside the body or outside it, speculating on what becomes of
them.
"
Visuddhimagga page 267

So "without his mindfulness leaving the tip of his nose" is tranquility (breath as concept) and "speculating on what becomes of them" is insight (breath as touch and movement)?
I am just a learner. Keep that in mind when you read my words.

Just to be safe, assume all of my words could be incorrect. Look to an arahant for total accuracy and confirmation.

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cjmacie
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Re: Breath as concept vs breath as touch and movement?

Post by cjmacie »

zan wrote:I'm reading "Manual of Insight" by Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw and on page 130, in speaking about jhana compared to pure insight meditation he writes:

"The only difference is that observation of the conceptual form of the breath produces tranquility, while attention to its touch and movement produces insight."

What does he mean by this?

I assume by "conceptual form of the breath" he is referencing the Visuddhimagga/commentary approach to anapanasati where one leaves the breath itself and takes it's nimitta, in the form of a mental light, instead as the object to be absorbed with and enter jhana. So in tranquility meditation one enters jhana with the concept of the breath in the form of a nimitta and in vipassana one stays with the touch and movement of the breath directly and practices insight. Does this sound like I understand correctly?
Translation as "conceptual" is problematic here, as what happens is that in the experience of concentrating, of trying to hold fixed on the subtle touch of the breath (at the upper-lip / opening of the nostril area, or a kasina, etc.) the perception of the object transforms -- all by itself by virtue of the fixation and how the mind functions -- into a mental counterpart. One doesn't "leave" the breath for a different object, but the experience of the breath transforms, gradually, into a purely mental object, a still mental presence, as the breath was being focused on such that it became ever more even and still.

As it -- the "counterpart" mental representation (transformation of breath sensation) -- becomes stronger, more centered and "secluding" from all else, it provides a locus into which the mind can fixedly absorb -- into its own fabrication, the nimitta evolved, from the fixedly attended sensory object; it can't so steadily "fix" tranquility in external sensations themselves as they're unstable, changing. In kasina usage, creating a uniform, extended field as object, it's formed to be as close to motionless as possible. The mind gives it (as well as the even, subtle breath) the fixedness.

Mental object but having root in relatively substantive sensory experience -- not "concept" in the sense of pure mental abstraction, s/t of observed external phenomena but often, especially in the Western highly abstract mind, an abstraction of other abstractions. Not concept like that. I doubt that Mahasi used a Burmese term intended with that kind of meaning as used in the West.

The even, subtle breath (or even, extended kasina; or uniform and unbounded metta, etc.) is highly refined -- hence "fine-material" for rupa. Mahasi is describing, on the one hand, the jhana form of samadhi. And different, on the other hand, the sensations of rising and falling of the abdomen with (abdominal) breathing as much coarser, more complicated and dynamic -- not suitable for fixed concentration, but perfect for moment-to-moment following ("noting"), developing into khanika samadhi form of concentration to support insight / vipassana. Sense-door sensations are unstable, changing, and vipassana studies them, holding each momentary phenomena briefly "fixed" to see through clearly by the momentary / khanika concentration.

I'm fairly confident that's what's meant, contrasting "samadhi-as-vehicle" practice with "vipassana-as-vehicle" practice.

zan
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Re: Breath as concept vs breath as touch and movement?

Post by zan »

cjmacie wrote:
zan wrote:I'm reading "Manual of Insight" by Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw and on page 130, in speaking about jhana compared to pure insight meditation he writes:

"The only difference is that observation of the conceptual form of the breath produces tranquility, while attention to its touch and movement produces insight."

What does he mean by this?

I assume by "conceptual form of the breath" he is referencing the Visuddhimagga/commentary approach to anapanasati where one leaves the breath itself and takes it's nimitta, in the form of a mental light, instead as the object to be absorbed with and enter jhana. So in tranquility meditation one enters jhana with the concept of the breath in the form of a nimitta and in vipassana one stays with the touch and movement of the breath directly and practices insight. Does this sound like I understand correctly?
Translation as "conceptual" is problematic here, as what happens is that in the experience of concentrating, of trying to hold fixed on the subtle touch of the breath (at the upper-lip / opening of the nostril area, or a kasina, etc.) the perception of the object transforms -- all by itself by virtue of the fixation and how the mind functions -- into a mental counterpart. One doesn't "leave" the breath for a different object, but the experience of the breath transforms, gradually, into a purely mental object, a still mental presence, as the breath was being focused on such that it became ever more even and still.

As it -- the "counterpart" mental representation (transformation of breath sensation) -- becomes stronger, more centered and "secluding" from all else, it provides a locus into which the mind can fixedly absorb -- into its own fabrication, the nimitta evolved, from the fixedly attended sensory object; it can't so steadily "fix" tranquility in external sensations themselves as they're unstable, changing. In kasina usage, creating a uniform, extended field as object, it's formed to be as close to motionless as possible. The mind gives it (as well as the even, subtle breath) the fixedness.

Mental object but having root in relatively substantive sensory experience -- not "concept" in the sense of pure mental abstraction, s/t of observed external phenomena but often, especially in the Western highly abstract mind, an abstraction of other abstractions. Not concept like that. I doubt that Mahasi used a Burmese term intended with that kind of meaning as used in the West.

The even, subtle breath (or even, extended kasina; or uniform and unbounded metta, etc.) is highly refined -- hence "fine-material" for rupa. Mahasi is describing, on the one hand, the jhana form of samadhi. And different, on the other hand, the sensations of rising and falling of the abdomen with (abdominal) breathing as much coarser, more complicated and dynamic -- not suitable for fixed concentration, but perfect for moment-to-moment following ("noting"), developing into khanika samadhi form of concentration to support insight / vipassana. Sense-door sensations are unstable, changing, and vipassana studies them, holding each momentary phenomena briefly "fixed" to see through clearly by the momentary / khanika concentration.

I'm fairly confident that's what's meant, contrasting "samadhi-as-vehicle" practice with "vipassana-as-vehicle" practice.
Thank you so much. So he likely used some word that didn't mean a purely mental concept but rather a word that included both abstract and physical interpretations to juxtaposition the idea against the physical touch and movement of insight meditation, and so the whole thing is based on the western understanding of the concept of the word concept? Makes sense to me.
I am just a learner. Keep that in mind when you read my words.

Just to be safe, assume all of my words could be incorrect. Look to an arahant for total accuracy and confirmation.

Bakmoon
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Re: Breath as concept vs breath as touch and movement?

Post by Bakmoon »

zan wrote:Thanks. In addition to this idea, I'm trying to figure out specifically: Isn't the Visuddhimagga instruction to stay with the touch and movement of the breath until the second tetrad of anapanasati and then leave it for a nimitta? The nimitta would be a conceptual and non-physical representation of the breath, right? The first tetrad, according to the Visuddhimagga is touch and movement and the second tetrad is concept only while one is in jhana, then when one exits jhana it becomes touch and sensation again. Does this sound correct?
The Visuddhimagga doesn't instruct you to meditate on the movements of the breath, but rather to focus on the location where the breath is felt. That's why the form of Anapanasati explained in the Visuddhimagga is clasified as a Samatha practice, because if you focus on the sensations of the breath rather than on the location of it, you would end up practicing a form of Vipassana and wouldn't attain the deep concentration of the jhanas.
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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bazzaman
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Re: Breath as concept vs breath as touch and movement?

Post by bazzaman »

Don't know if this distinction might be helpful; but, as I understand it, according to Vsm. the meditation on the four great elements can only lead to access concentration. This because they are ultimate reality, and are always changing.
Attention to touch and movement is taking the characteristics of the elements as ones object.
The idea of the breath at the tip of the nose/upper lip is a concept, and not ultimate reality. and so it is a suitable object for samatha practice.
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Yena yena hi maññanti tato taṃ hoti aññathā,

zan
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Re: Breath as concept vs breath as touch and movement?

Post by zan »

bazzaman wrote:Don't know if this distinction might be helpful; but, as I understand it, according to Vsm. the meditation on the four great elements can only lead to access concentration. This because they are ultimate reality, and are always changing.
Attention to touch and movement is taking the characteristics of the elements as ones object.
The idea of the breath at the tip of the nose/upper lip is a concept, and not ultimate reality. and so it is a suitable object for samatha practice.
That makes a lot of sense.
I am just a learner. Keep that in mind when you read my words.

Just to be safe, assume all of my words could be incorrect. Look to an arahant for total accuracy and confirmation.

santa100
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Re: Breath as concept vs breath as touch and movement?

Post by santa100 »

Actually, kasina meditation (earth kasina for example) can lead to jhana as per Vism. IV.22 (page 117)

zan
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Re: Breath as concept vs breath as touch and movement?

Post by zan »

santa100 wrote:Actually, kasina meditation (earth kasina for example) can lead to jhana as per Vism. IV.22 (page 117)
Thanks. Yeah I thought so. I'm kind of swimming in a sea of Dhamma information right now. Too many books open and I couldn't remember where I read that.
I am just a learner. Keep that in mind when you read my words.

Just to be safe, assume all of my words could be incorrect. Look to an arahant for total accuracy and confirmation.

santa100
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Re: Breath as concept vs breath as touch and movement?

Post by santa100 »

Don't rush. Take your time and enjoy the ride. Dhamma cultivation is a marathon, not a sprint.

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