Author Topic: Whole 'body' breathing awareness - The Ajahn Brahm method vs Thanissaro Bhikku  (Read 24960 times)

J0rrit

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I would like to open a discussion about the two methods I know that are used for whole body breathing awareness. I would call them the Ajahn Brahm vs the Thanissaro Bhikku method, because they are described by these two guys in the books 'Mindfulness, bliss and beyond, a meditator's handbook' and in 'each and every breath' by Ajahn Brahm and Thanissaro Bhikku, respectively.

The methods:

Ajahn Brahm:

He describes the words 'breathing in-out sensitive to the entire body' and 'breathing in-out calming the body facrications' in this book. He says that here is meant with the body the breath-body and not the entire body. He gives for explanations that the Buddha called the breath a body among bodies and that in the first couple steps of Anapanasati the object of meditation (the breath) is simplified (from knowing the breath as long or short to just knowing you are breathing) and that it would be unlogical to make it more complicated in step 3 or 4 in the Anapanasati to suddenly be sentivive to the entire body. He also explains that 'calming bodily fabrications' means calming the breath-body, and the rest of the body will follow. The breath is NOT experienced in only the abdomen or nasal cavity, but at the points where you 'know you are breathing in or out'. So think 'how do I know that I'm breathing in or out?', focus on that! From my own experience this includes a combination of abdomen and nasal perceptions. But don't think about where you are sensitive to, just be sensitive to the breath.

Thanissaro Bhikku:

He is talking about the whole body. So 'breathing in-out sensitive to the entire body' and 'breathing in-out calming the body facrications' means sensitive to the entire body, and not only the breath. 'Calming bodily fabrications' means literally calming all of the bodily stress-points and be sensitive to the entire body. This method also includes visualizing the breath coming out of every pore in the body, and in his book he describes more of these visualizing stuff. I am sceptible about this because I have the feeling visualizing stuff (an example is that he describes visualizing the words from someone else floating around you instead of coming towards you in an agressive communication) is not experiencing things as they really are.

In short: the two methods I know for whole 'body' breathing are sensitive to the 'breath body' or sensitive to the 'entire body' and calming the 'breath body' or calming the 'entire body'.

Hopefully we can start a nice discussion here. I use the Ajahn Brahm method at the moment, but I'm trying to find out which one is the 'right' method and what are the pros and cons for each method. I am also very interested in which method you use, and why you think this one is better than the other etc.

Metta,

Masauwu

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        Hi J0rrit,

        In my opinion, as long as you make mindfulness (continuous present moment awareness) your priority, there is no wrong way to meditate. All these teachers provide valid methods and there is a wide range of nuances a practice session can take.

        Meditation as i understand it is all about remaining mindful and relaxed. Then you add the flavor you intend for the particular session: either focus attention on (any) one thing continuously (the samatha direction) or calmly witness any stimuli from the 6 sense doors and investigate the 3 characteristics in them (the vipassana direction), or any one of hundreds of ratios between the two flavors with the added variations of the body/bodies that you choose as meditation objects. It's entirely up to you as long as you maintain mindfulness.
« Last Edit: October 31, 2013, 10:59:40 AM by Masauwu »
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Renze

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I think this comes down to different interpretations of the Anapanasati Sutta, one word actually. This is what Thanissaro says about his translation (http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.118.than.html):

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The commentaries insist that "body" here means the breath, but this is unlikely in this context, for the next step — without further explanation — refers to the breath as "bodily fabrication." If the Buddha were using two different terms to refer to the breath in such close proximity, he would have been careful to signal that he was redefining his terms (as he does below, when explaining that the first four steps in breath meditation correspond to the practice of focusing on the body in and of itself as a frame of reference). The step of breathing in and out sensitive to the entire body relates to the many similes in the suttas depicting jhana as a state of whole-body awareness

And this makes sense to me. The only way to be aware of the breath is through the bodily sensations. I've been working with Thanissaro's method for a while now, and it works for me. Before that, the only thing I'd do is try to keep my awareness on the breath. Now I learned to also expand that awareness as much as I can, relaxing any tension I can feel along the way. I'm much more engaged in the object of meditation, and it prevents me from getting into this dull trance-like state of concentration.

J0rrit

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Yes, but if you follow only the breath, than your concentration/awareness on the breath is better becauase you don't divide your awareness/concentration, so it's 100% for the breath instead of 80/20 or something. That was my experience when I tried the 'entire body breathing'. Also, when I started this method from Ajahn Brahm (so focussing on how do you that you are breathing, which than contrains all the bodily sensations which make up the breath, so only the upper half of your body, not your legs or something) I became close to experiencing Jhana with the nimitta method (just at home, so not the best environment) and my Vipassana insights of impermanence, self-less and unsatisfactory got a boost. So there is definitely something in this method I would say. When I get enough concentration on the breath with this method, the breath expands to everywhere so that all of my body is breathing, and this happens in itself. So I guess in the end the same thing happens?

Could you maybe explain how you begin your meditation and how/where do you expand your awareness than ?

Renze

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Basically what Thanissaro describes. I start with finding a breath that is relaxed and comfortable. I then 'scan' my body part by part looking for tension, and relaxing tension as much as possible. After that, I bring my awareness to my abdomen area, and from there I try to observe all the physical sensations that are part of the breath, in the entire body. I chose the abdomen because that's the easiest spot to feel the breath and expand my awareness from. The nostrils are also an easy spot to feel the breath, but very hard to expand awareness to the rest of the body from. To be honest, I don't feel my breath in the back of my skull or spine very well. But I can feel a lot of energy going up and down my arms and legs, which could be blood flowing or something.

Johann (Hanzze)

That might be useful in addition, as it is really not about giving things a name or even nail them down, but to get ride of objectification step by step. Very Zen at least, but step by step, so just Zen at the point where it is proper:

Quote
De-perception, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (2002; 5pp./14KB)
    When we sit down to meditate we usually bring along a host of assumptions about what our perceptions are, what our experience of meditation is like, and what it should be. As meditators, our task is to learn to ask the right questions — questions that will help us break through layer after layer of these false preconceived notions. This article, based on a Dhamma talk, is full of practical advice for meditators of all levels.

The feelings on the way are just used to bring you to deeper concentration, it's not for the sake of this or that sensation that vipassana (or insight meditation) is made even through it is a good motivation and a way to stay with it.

Matthew

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What is this 'breath body'? It sounds like a fabricated idea to me. Also I see no logical confusion in moving from awareness of long or short breaths to awareness of all body sensations  created by breathing. Actually the opposite - it makes sense to go from the course to a more fine sensation.

We can only sense the breath through bodily sensations. If sensing the whole body breathing method doesn't seem to work for you it could be the case that more time  would be well spent on courser sensations and establishing mindfulness or alternatively that you were somewhere following a conception/thought about the breath rather than the breath.

And unless someone can point out this 'breath body' to me I am convinced by following it you are surely following a conception and not sensate experience.

Kindly,

Matthew
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

J0rrit

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What is this 'breath body'? It sounds like a fabricated idea to me. Also I see no logical confusion in moving from awareness of long or short breaths to awareness of all body sensations  created by breathing. Actually the opposite - it makes sense to go from the course to a more fine sensation.

We can only sense the breath through bodily sensations. If sensing the whole body breathing method doesn't seem to work for you it could be the case that more time  would be well spent on courser sensations and establishing mindfulness or alternatively that you were somewhere following a conception/thought about the breath rather than the breath.

And unless someone can point out this 'breath body' to me I am convinced by following it you are surely following a conception and not sensate experience.

Kindly,

Matthew

It's not a fabricated idea. You just ask yourself this question: How do I know that I'm breathing (in or out) ? And than focus on that ! After a while you will not be sensitive anymore to the individual parts of bodily sensations that make the breath, but it will be sensed as just a sort of breath energy (the breath body). I also had the idea that the Buddha himself called the breath a body among the bodies ?

I think this is less a conception that the full body breathing awareness method is, because Thanissaro Bhikku describes a lot about imagining that the breath comes out of every pore in the body and so fort. Correct me if I'm wrong please,

greets

Johann (Hanzze)

What is this 'breath body'? It sounds like a fabricated idea to me. Also I see no logical confusion in moving from awareness of long or short breaths to awareness of all body sensations  created by breathing. Actually the opposite - it makes sense to go from the course to a more fine sensation.

We can only sense the breath through bodily sensations. If sensing the whole body breathing method doesn't seem to work for you it could be the case that more time  would be well spent on courser sensations and establishing mindfulness or alternatively that you were somewhere following a conception/thought about the breath rather than the breath.

And unless someone can point out this 'breath body' to me I am convinced by following it you are surely following a conception and not sensate experience.

Kindly,

Matthew

Matthew, we "must" be that we train always in the sphere of concepts, if not out training is finished. As people have long time perception of what breath is, it's good to try another concept, to get ride of it. That is all it is about.
If you get caught in any idea of breath body at least, that means you take any body for real and lasting, this is actually the same game.
As far as I had seen, Ven. Thanissaro does give it just as a sample and as he always pointed out, (read for example "Joy of effort", it is very good in that regard):

Quote
The Buddha recommended sixteen steps in dealing with the breath. The first two involve straightforward instructions. The rest raise questions to be explored. In this way, the breath becomes a vehicle for exercising your ingenuity in solving the problems of the mind, and exercising your sensitivity in gauging the results.

Sensual experience is a concept at least as well. So which one do you like to start? What feeling (sensation) is we, can see in the chain of depending co-arising (contact + identification/not knowing => comes up to what we normally take as feeling.)

Actually I can not sense anything with the body. Do you know what I mean? And that is a especially the point where he likes to lead with this concept, away for the conceptional border of body straight back to mind, using a finer body at least to be able to do so.

Try to find the breath body, that is for sure a good training.

Johann (Hanzze)

It's not a fabricated idea.
It is also, J0rrit. It is.

Matthew

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...
Matthew, we "must" be that we train always in the sphere of concepts, if not out training is finished.

This is contradictory both to my  understanding and experience of practice/Dhamma.

Agreed we start from concepts. BUT, the actual practice is 100% the opposite - it is lettting go of concepts, it is experiencing the now, the moment, directly and progressively with greater intensity of reality through the silencing of the thinking/conceptual mind.

Only in silence do we really know.

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As people have long time perception of what breath is, it's good to try another concept, to get ride of it. That is all it is about.

Peception and concept are oppposing experiences. Most people do not breathe conceptually. Again your words are contrary to my experience of reality. Most people breathe paying no attention. It is only when they start to meditate they get caught in concepts of what the breathing should be - a manifestation of grasping ego. Getting caught in concepts of what breathing should be is a common experience many have overcome by the simple realisation that letting go - and not control - is the simple heart of the practice.

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Sensual experience is a concept at least as well.

the words "sensual experience" are concepts. SENSING EXPERIENCE is absolutely non-conceptual.

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Actually I can not sense anything with the body. Do you know what I mean?

Sort of ... in reality you can only experience/sense anything with body and mind. no mind no experience/sense, no body, no experience/sense.

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Try to find the breath body, that is for sure a good training.

No, that for sure is a mistaken view. Try to find the real experience that lays beyong the conceptual/thinking mind - that is a good training. Trying to find another conceptualised view of reality is contrary to the path.

Kindly,

Matthew
~oOo~     Tat Tvam Asi     ~oOo~    How will you make the world a better place today?     ~oOo~    Fabricate Nothing     ~oOo~

Johann (Hanzze)

...
Matthew, we "must" be that we train always in the sphere of concepts, if not out training is finished.

This is contradictory both to my  understanding and experience of practice/Dhamma.

Agreed we start from concepts. BUT, the actual practice is 100% the opposite - it is lettting go of concepts, it is experiencing the now, the moment, directly and progressively with greater intensity of reality through the silencing of the thinking/conceptual mind.

Only in silence do we really know.
Matthew, there are many levels and there are many stages of "silence" and most of them are really not knowing at all. There is no such as thinking without concepts, its just that concepts may be more inherent to each others and path leading.
If you tell, that you are on a level of no concepts, that you have reached the deathless already, even then, when you come down to earth conditions, you need concepts to communicate, explain...

So to say its contradictory to the own understanding and to the experience is total ok, but it would be good to proof them. Be sure that you are always on the level of concepts even in a fine-material world (awareness).

May teacher, including the Buddha him self heavily warn for bark wood, bark wood praising and the so called "householder equanimity"

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Quote
As people have long time perception of what breath is, it's good to try another concept, to get ride of it. That is all it is about.

Peception and concept are oppposing experiences. Most people do not breathe conceptually. Again your words are contrary to my experience of reality. Most people breathe paying no attention. It is only when they start to meditate they get caught in concepts of what the breathing should be - a manifestation of grasping ego. Getting caught in concepts of what breathing should be is a common experience many have overcome by the simple realisation that letting go - and not control - is the simple heart of the practice.
Where should be the different between perception and concept, that seems to be a gross conception-ism. Actually it is very often that people who believe that they walk a way of fact are most bound to concepts, that means they believe but seldom are able to watch.
The only time when normal people have no concept of breath is when they are not aware of it and this not by letting go, but by distracted and confused. The so called are of "sukha-dukkha-vedana", immense dullness which is often meant as silence. 

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Quote
Sensual experience is a concept at least as well.

the words "sensual experience" are concepts. SENSING EXPERIENCE is absolutely non-conceptual.

If that is so, why you don't have the beath 24h in mind. Or do the air and the breath disapeare. It's because you are busy to build (sankhara) other stuff and so it does not exist. What ever you build comes into being. So it is concept and the idea of concept as well.
Sensing and experiences are self made, or would you like to call them real?

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Quote
Actually I can not sense anything with the body. Do you know what I mean?

Sort of ... in reality you can only experience/sense anything with body and mind. no mind no experience/sense, no body, no experience/sense.

That is you idea and of course it is dangerous to train the uposatha of the jains.
When I say actually that it was meant as actually. Of course it is not a useful concept on a level where still deep caught in sensuality.

Quote
Quote
Try to find the breath body, that is for sure a good training.

No, that for sure is a mistaken view. Try to find the real experience that lays beyong the conceptual/thinking mind - that is a good training. Trying to find another conceptualised view of reality is contrary to the path.

Kindly,

Matthew

That is good phantasies (concept, perception), but I am not sure it such ideas of beyond on such a level are very honest to one self. There is no such as reality in the sensual world, that is all agreed and conceptional.
Buddha gave concepts, the whole path is concept, a good and leading to liberation and not to better concepts or other concepts (perceptions).

At least, don't forget the arrow ("I will not walk the holly path till you point out..."), as it could hinder you and its lost another time.
If that concept does not fit to you, take another, but don't stay with your concepts ideas and that is the whole point and reason, as intellectual tended people stick horrible to their ideas and concepts where a breath body has no anchor. They like real bodies...


ommanipadmehum

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According to Nanamoli's analysis of the Anapanasati Sutta and commentaries:

Whole body of breath = beginning, middle and end of the in breath and beginning, middle and end of the out breath (at the nostrils)
Calming the bodily formations = gross breath vs subtle breath (at the nostrils)

Gross means feeling the breath very strongly.  If you just put down a heavy load, the in and out breaths are so heavy you can hardly contain them.  But after resting the breaths become quieter.  For example if you lay down after taking a bath and become completely still, the breath can become even difficult to discern.  Are you even breathing? 

If your breaths become still to the point that you can hardly tell whether you are breathing or not and you then task your mind with discerning the beginning, middle and end of each in and out breath you have begun to work at the subtle level. 

This is what is meant by the whole body of breath and calming the bodily formations.
« Last Edit: November 17, 2013, 02:49:58 AM by ommanipadmehum »
"A little bit of insight brings a little bit of calm, and a little bit of calm brings a little bit of insight."
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Renze

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If I focus exclusively at the nostrils, I'm starting to feel this pressure on my forehead. Some people link this to a third eye chakra or something, but I think it's the muscles in my face that are getting tense. It's uncomfortable and distracting. If I focus on the body as a whole, as Ven. Thanissaro Bhikkhu suggests, that really helps with keeping my body relaxed. And with a relaxed body, it's much easier to stay focused on the breath. So Thanissaro's interpretation of the Anapanasati Sutta works really well for me.

J0rrit

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I think the Thanissaro Bhikku method is full of concepts; ' imagining breathing out of this and that body part and through your pores'. There is a lot of this kind of stuff in his technique. This is not experiencing things as THEY are, right ?

Renze

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What I like about his method is that it leaves room for experimentation. See where you can feel the breath, and how you feel it. Some of these things are really counter-intuitive, like sensing the breath in the back of your neck. But if you experiment a little, you might start to feel the breath through the muscles in your neck. If not, you skip that part.

Mpgkona

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I think the Thanissaro Bhikku method is full of concepts; ' imagining breathing out of this and that body part and through your pores'. There is a lot of this kind of stuff in his technique. This is not experiencing things as THEY are, right ?

No it's not. It's fabricating things as they're NOT. It's self-delusion. However, if the end result is the same should it still not be done? IDK. Interesting dilemma though.
« Last Edit: December 23, 2013, 11:21:43 PM by Mpgkona »
When you change the way you look at things the things you look at change.

Renze

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I think the Thanissaro Bhikku method is full of concepts; ' imagining breathing out of this and that body part and through your pores'. There is a lot of this kind of stuff in his technique. This is not experiencing things as THEY are, right ?

No it's not. It's fabricating things as they're NOT. It's self-delusion. However, if the end result is the same should it still not be done? IDK. Interesting dilemma though.

Every meditation technique is a form of self-delusion if you assume you are experiencing reality as it truly is.

ommanipadmehum

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If I focus exclusively at the nostrils, I'm starting to feel this pressure on my forehead. Some people link this to a third eye chakra or something, but I think it's the muscles in my face that are getting tense. It's uncomfortable and distracting.

One of the problems with learning meditation from books is the likelihood that we skip a step or rush into certain techniques without the necessary preparation.  Before going to the nostrils, one method is to do ten minutes of walking meditation and then sit down.  After sitting down and starting seated meditation, spend time contemplating death (to develop motivation) and gladdening the mind (for the appropriate attitude) which can take up to half an hour.  Only then we proceed to the breathing technique of Anapanasati's first tetrad (witnessing longbreath, followed by short breath, then whole body of breath and finally calming the body of breath) also taking half an hour or more.  So here you have an hour's worth of meditation depending on the level of skill of the meditator.

Where I disagree with Thanissaro's interpretation is his going into the breath and then instruction to back out to the body (not just the breath).  This is incorrect and can be confirmed in the Visuddhimagga.  Any time anapanasati is practiced, the object of contemplation is the in/out breaths.  You will also confirm it yourself if you can find a teacher to help you discover the natural progression from one stage to the next.  The breath IS the body to work with.  Ana means in breath, Pana means out breath, sati means of course mindfulness.

Many teachers will help you customize the techniques to suite your needs.  Of course it depends on the school or teacher what process we should perform when doing anapanasati.  But the point I hope to make here is that we aren't to just leap into deep concentration or we can cause adverse affects like activating things that shouldn't be activated in Buddhist meditation or otherwise causing unnecessary stress.  Anapanasati is a difficult, very subtle practice.

Metta and upekkha...
« Last Edit: January 07, 2014, 03:59:41 AM by ommanipadmehum »
"A little bit of insight brings a little bit of calm, and a little bit of calm brings a little bit of insight."
 --Ayya Khema

Pacific Flow

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Wow the confusion that seems to exist around Anapanasati among many here is really stunning me. Why make things so complicated? It seems like every monk has his own interpretation of Anapanasati. I haven't tried either Ajahn Brahm's method nor that of the other monk mentioned. But one thing i can say for sure. Imagining something like the breath streaming out of one's pores and stuff like that is creating imaginations. I don't see how that could lead to either insight or right concentration.
Having read all this i really appreciate the simple and practical way of Anapanasati taught by Goenka even more! You just use the breath as an object for the training of pure concentration. It is always available and free from being an object of craving and aversion. You don't regulate anything nor do you imagine any fancy stuff like breath bodies or third eyes ect. Just the concentration on the touch of the natural breath is sufficient. Simple, effective and that way there is absolutely nothing to intellectualize or get confused about.

Dharmic Tui

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Is there more to life than concentrating on a breath?

Pacific Flow

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Is there more to life than concentrating on a breath?

Who would want to doubt that there is more to life than concentrating on a breath?

Dharmic Tui

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I dunno I just find the mere act of meditating purely on the immediate breath action a bit limiting.

Pacific Flow

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I dunno I just find the mere act of meditating purely on the immediate breath action a bit limiting.

Totally agree. If that would be all one is doing it would be limiting.
If however you use the concentration developed through this practice to explore the sensations on the entire body in a second step it makes perfect sense.
For those who practice exclusively Anapanasati for whatever reason, it would make sense to focus on more than just the touch of the breath in a limited area.

What's really important if you ask me is that you focus on something that is actually there. A reality to be observed within ones physical/mental structure. Not an object of imagination.
As long as that is the case it would be an effort worth spending time and energy on.

Dharmic Tui

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Totally agree. If that would be all one is doing it would be limiting.
If however you use the concentration developed through this practice to explore the sensations on the entire body in a second step it makes perfect sense.
What if there are steps beyond the 2nd one. The further you go the harder things become to enunciate.

 

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