Origin of Thanissaro Bhikkhu's Meditation Method

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ieee23
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Origin of Thanissaro Bhikkhu's Meditation Method

Post by ieee23 » Tue Sep 26, 2017 6:08 pm

I've read in Thanisarro Bhikkhu book "With Each And Every Breath" that one of the meditation methods he teaches is not from the Buddha ( and not in the suttas ). It involves breathing meditation with the addition of trying to feel "breath energy" ( even in places in the body not connected with the respiratory system ) and control the flow of this energy.

I've read in other Buddhist forums that this method is from TB's lineage, and that it was introduced into his lineage by an Indian monk, possibly Hindu. If that is true, does anyone know where I can read it for myself?
Whatever a bhikkhu frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his mind. - MN 19

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bodom
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Re: Origin of Thanisarro Bhikkhu's Meditation Method

Post by bodom » Tue Sep 26, 2017 6:30 pm

Ajahn Lee is the one who taught this method. His student Ajahn Fuang, Ajahn Thanissaro's teacher, taught this method to him. Ajahn Lee was a student of Ajahn Mun in the thai forest tradition.
This method is most certainly found in the anapanasati sutta where the words "he trains himself" are found in relation to the different steps of breath meditation.

:anjali:
To study is to know the texts,
To practice is to know your defilements,
To attain the goal is to know and let go.

- Ajahn Lee Dhammadharo


With no struggling, no thinking,
the mind, still,
will see cause and effect
vanishing in the Void.
Attached to nothing, letting go:
Know that this is the way
to allay all stress.

- Upasika Kee Nanayan

ieee23
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Re: Origin of Thanisarro Bhikkhu's Meditation Method

Post by ieee23 » Tue Sep 26, 2017 6:43 pm

Where did Ajahn Munn learn it from?

It has been a while since I read the anapanasati sutta(s),but I do not recall any phrases that seem to say "feel the breath energy" or "move the breath energy".

Since you seem to know more could you quote the passages where that is stated explicitly?

I ask because I have seen other groups teaching meditation methods not taught by the Buddha ( that I think are worth nonetheless ) use the phrases like "he trains himself" as wide net/weak argument that their meditation methods are canonical.

Much of the meditation suttas do seem to be more about providing general guidelines and establishing sign posts of success, but they also do have some explicit instructions ( he knows he breaths in, he know he breaths a short breath, a long breath, etc ) so I am not inclined to see phrases such as "he trains himself" translating as "the Buddha says to use any method that remotley fits this".
Whatever a bhikkhu frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his mind. - MN 19

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bodom
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Re: Origin of Thanisarro Bhikkhu's Meditation Method

Post by bodom » Tue Sep 26, 2017 6:48 pm

ieee23 wrote:Where did Ajahn Munn learn it from?

It has been a while since I read the anapanasati sutta(s),but I do not recall any phrases that seem to say "feel the breath energy" or "move the breath energy".

Since you seem to know more could you quote the passages where that is stated explicitly?

I ask because I have seen other groups teaching meditation methods not taught by the Buddha ( that I think are worth nonetheless ) use the phrases like "he trains himself" as wide net/weak argument that their meditation methods are canonical.

Much of the meditation suttas do seem to be more about providing general guidelines and establishing sign posts of success, but they also do have some explicit instructions ( he knows he breaths in, he know he breaths a short breath, a long breath, etc ) so I am not inclined to see phrases such as "he trains himself" translating as "the Buddha says to use any method that remotley fits this".
If you would like to learn more about the method and its origins in the suttas please look into the copious amounts of books and articles written on the subject by both Thanissaro and Lee. They can all be found here:

www.dhammatalks.com

:anjali:
To study is to know the texts,
To practice is to know your defilements,
To attain the goal is to know and let go.

- Ajahn Lee Dhammadharo


With no struggling, no thinking,
the mind, still,
will see cause and effect
vanishing in the Void.
Attached to nothing, letting go:
Know that this is the way
to allay all stress.

- Upasika Kee Nanayan

chownah
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Re: Origin of Thanisarro Bhikkhu's Meditation Method

Post by chownah » Tue Sep 26, 2017 8:29 pm

ieee23 wrote:Where did Ajahn Munn learn it from?
I think that ajahn munn learned it from doing it.

There is a difference between how meditation is taught and how it happens. Someone who has experienced a type of meditation can only teach it by trying to describe how to approach that meditative state.....but if that description works then the student learns what that meditative state is about. Everyone is different so descriptions about how to appoach a certain meditative state will vary.

I think that there are enough people who agree that thanissaro's description is conducive to approaching a certain kind of meditative state that if one is intrested in it then it very well might be worth a try as it seems to work for many people.
chownah

Garrib
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Re: Origin of Thanisarro Bhikkhu's Meditation Method

Post by Garrib » Tue Sep 26, 2017 8:39 pm

Does this have anything to do with the "breath body' (sabbakaya), as some have rendered it?

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Re: Origin of Thanisarro Bhikkhu's Meditation Method

Post by Garrib » Tue Sep 26, 2017 9:04 pm

Thanks, bodom. :smile:

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mikenz66
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Re: Origin of Thanisarro Bhikkhu's Meditation Method

Post by mikenz66 » Tue Sep 26, 2017 9:08 pm

He has some interesting things to say in the talks linked here:
https://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?t=25834#p376203
mikenz66 wrote: Ven Thanissaro's Thai Forest Masters day-long lecture series http://www.audiodharma.org/series/16/talk/5996/ may be of interest to you. I think he mentioned that Ajahn Lee learned some of the practices on a trip to India. (Unfortunately, searching through four hours of talks to locate the exact passage is not easy!)
:heart:
Mike

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bodom
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Re: Origin of Thanisarro Bhikkhu's Meditation Method

Post by bodom » Tue Sep 26, 2017 9:11 pm

Garrib wrote:Does this have anything to do with the "breath body' (sabbakaya), as some have rendered it?
Yes it does.
The first tetrad: “[1] Breathing in long, he discerns, ‘I am breathing in long’; or breathing out long, he discerns, ‘I am breathing out long.’ [2] Or breathing in short, he discerns, ‘I am breathing in short’; or breathing out short, he discerns, ‘I am breathing out short.’ [3] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to the entire body.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to the entire body.’ [4] He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in calming bodily fabrication.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out calming bodily fabrication.’”

Because steps 1 and 2 are not described as “trainings,” we can infer that in the beginning stages of familiarizing yourself with the breath you don’t consciously try to adjust it. You simply try to discern variations in the breath. The same principle would appear to apply to questions of whether the breath is fast or slow, shallow or deep, heavy or light.

However, steps 3 and 4 are described as trainings, and there are several reasons for assuming that you would consciously try to adjust the breath in these steps. With step 4 this principle is obvious: You’re trying to calm the effect of the breath on the felt sense of the body. As for step 3, there are two reasons for assuming a similar principle at work. But before we look at those reasons, we have to discuss what the instructions in step 3 actually say, for there is a controversy as to what they mean by “entire body.”

The commentaries—molding the practice of breath meditation into the pattern of kasi ̊a practice, in which the mind has to become focused exclusively on a single point—insist that “body” here means the breath, and that the “entire body” means the entire length of the breath, felt at one spot in the body, such as the tip of the nose or the upper lip.

This interpretation, however, is unlikely for several reasons. The first is that the commentaries’ interpretation of step 3 makes it redundant with steps 1 and 2. It’s hard to understand how you could know whether the breath is long or short in those steps without being aware of the full length of the breath.
The second reason is that step 3 is immediately followed by step 4, which— 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—“body” in step 3, and “bodily fabrication” in step 4—he would have been careful to signal that he was redefining his terms (as he does in a later part of the discourse, 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). But here he doesn’t.

The third reason is that the similes for the jh›nas, which are attained through the sixteen steps, repeatedly mention a full-body awareness. If the mind were forced exclusively into a single point, it wouldn’t be able to spread feelings of rapture or pleasure throughout the entire body in the first three jh›nas, or to fill the body with a clear bright awareness in the fourth.

One response to this last argument is that the word “body” in the similes for jh›na doesn’t mean the physical body, because a person in jh›na has to be oblivious to the physical body. Instead, “body” is meant metaphorically as a term for the “body” of the mind.

Putting aside the question of why someone with the Buddha’s teaching skills would use terms in such a potentially confusing way in his basic meditation instructions, we can simply note that in MN 119 he gives the similes for the jh›nas immediately after his discussion of six ways of focusing on the physical body. As in the case of steps 3 and 4 in breath meditation, if he had meant “body” to mean “physical body” in one context, and “mind body” in the discussion immediately following it, he would have signaled that he was redefining his terms. But again he doesn’t.

So unless we want to assume that the Buddha was careless or devious in his meditation instructions, it seems best to interpret “body” as meaning “physical body” in all of these contexts, and to interpret “entire body” in step 3 as referring to the entire physical body as sensed from within.

Although step 3 doesn’t say to adjust the breath as part of being sensitive to the entire body, there are—as we noted above—two reasons to assume that some manipulation of the breath is involved. To begin with, step 3 as a prelude to step 4 is aimed at sensitizing yourself to the way the breath fabricates your sense of the body as felt from within. To gain this sort of sensitivity, you have to adjust the breath to see what impact that has on the various properties of the body as sensed from within.
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ulness.pdf

:namaste:
To study is to know the texts,
To practice is to know your defilements,
To attain the goal is to know and let go.

- Ajahn Lee Dhammadharo


With no struggling, no thinking,
the mind, still,
will see cause and effect
vanishing in the Void.
Attached to nothing, letting go:
Know that this is the way
to allay all stress.

- Upasika Kee Nanayan

ieee23
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Re: Origin of Thanisarro Bhikkhu's Meditation Method

Post by ieee23 » Wed Sep 27, 2017 12:32 pm

mikenz66 wrote:
Tue Sep 26, 2017 9:08 pm
He has some interesting things to say in the talks linked here:
https://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?t=25834#p376203
mikenz66 wrote: Ven Thanissaro's Thai Forest Masters day-long lecture series http://www.audiodharma.org/series/16/talk/5996/ may be of interest to you. I think he mentioned that Ajahn Lee learned some of the practices on a trip to India. (Unfortunately, searching through four hours of talks to locate the exact passage is not easy!)
:heart:
Mike

Mike, thanks for answering my question :anjali:
Whatever a bhikkhu frequently thinks and ponders upon, that will become the inclination of his mind. - MN 19

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bodom
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Re: Origin of Thanisarro Bhikkhu's Meditation Method

Post by bodom » Wed Sep 27, 2017 2:54 pm

chownah wrote:
Tue Sep 26, 2017 8:29 pm
ieee23 wrote:Where did Ajahn Munn learn it from?
I think that ajahn munn learned it from doing it.

There is a difference between how meditation is taught and how it happens. Someone who has experienced a type of meditation can only teach it by trying to describe how to approach that meditative state.....but if that description works then the student learns what that meditative state is about. Everyone is different so descriptions about how to appoach a certain meditative state will vary.

I think that there are enough people who agree that thanissaro's description is conducive to approaching a certain kind of meditative state that if one is intrested in it then it very well might be worth a try as it seems to work for many people.
chownah
Exactly. There are going to be a lot of dissapointed people if they believe there meditation experience will fall exactly in line with the suttas.


:anjali:
To study is to know the texts,
To practice is to know your defilements,
To attain the goal is to know and let go.

- Ajahn Lee Dhammadharo


With no struggling, no thinking,
the mind, still,
will see cause and effect
vanishing in the Void.
Attached to nothing, letting go:
Know that this is the way
to allay all stress.

- Upasika Kee Nanayan

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Javi
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Re: Origin of Thanisarro Bhikkhu's Meditation Method

Post by Javi » Wed Sep 27, 2017 9:08 pm

There is also evidence from the Chinese Agamas and Vinayas that whole body means physical body and that one trains in a similar way.

I was just listening to one of the recordings from Bhikkhu Analayo's classes on the Chinese Madhyama Agama (the one on the Kayagatasati sutta). Towards the very end he mentions that the Mahasamgika Vinaya's version of the instructions mention "pervading the whole body" in this part of the instructions.

Interestingly enough, there is actually a Ekottarika Agama text which describes this in more detail:

He completely observes the body (具觀身體), fully observing and knowing it from the head down to the feet (從頭至足皆當觀知)

This is in EA 3.8. See here: https://lapislazulitexts.com/articles/a ... the-agamas

So the body scanning process and spreading awareness throughout the body is not really that much of a derivation from the suttas.
Vayadhammā saṅkhārā appamādena sampādethā — All things decay and disappoint, it is through vigilance that you succeed — Mahāparinibbāna Sutta

Self-taught poverty is a help toward philosophy, for the things which philosophy attempts to teach by reasoning, poverty forces us to practice. — Diogenes of Sinope

I have seen all things that are done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a chase after wind — Ecclesiastes 1.14

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Re: Origin of Thanisarro Bhikkhu's Meditation Method

Post by ToVincent » Fri Sep 29, 2017 12:05 am

Javi wrote:
Wed Sep 27, 2017 9:08 pm
Interestingly enough, there is actually a Ekottarika Agama text which describes this in more detail:

He completely observes the body (具觀身體), fully observing and knowing it from the head down to the feet (從頭至足皆當觀知)
I would not rely on such texts that have no parallel.
As I speak french, I just quickly read the translation on SC.

It also speaks about observing the hot and cold breath ?!?!?
How reliable?
In this world with its ..., Māras, ... in this population with its ascetics.... (AN 5.30).
------
We are all possessed - more or less.
------
And what, bhikkhu, is inward rottenness? Here someone is immoral, one of evil character, of impure and suspect behaviour, secretive in his acts, no ascetic though claiming to be one, not a celibate though claiming to be one, inwardly rotten, corrupt, depraved. This is called inward rottenness.”
SN 35.241
------
https://justpaste.it/j5o4

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Re: Origin of Thanisarro Bhikkhu's Meditation Method

Post by Javi » Fri Sep 29, 2017 4:49 am

ToVincent wrote:
Fri Sep 29, 2017 12:05 am
Javi wrote:
Wed Sep 27, 2017 9:08 pm
Interestingly enough, there is actually a Ekottarika Agama text which describes this in more detail:

He completely observes the body (具觀身體), fully observing and knowing it from the head down to the feet (從頭至足皆當觀知)
I would not rely on such texts that have no parallel.
As I speak french, I just quickly read the translation on SC.

It also speaks about observing the hot and cold breath ?!?!?
How reliable?
Just because it lacks a parallel doesn't mean it doesn't reflect an ancient Buddhist practice.

I am not claiming it goes back all the way to the Buddha, just that it shows that this interpretation is not some new thing
Vayadhammā saṅkhārā appamādena sampādethā — All things decay and disappoint, it is through vigilance that you succeed — Mahāparinibbāna Sutta

Self-taught poverty is a help toward philosophy, for the things which philosophy attempts to teach by reasoning, poverty forces us to practice. — Diogenes of Sinope

I have seen all things that are done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a chase after wind — Ecclesiastes 1.14

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Re: Origin of Thanisarro Bhikkhu's Meditation Method

Post by cjmacie » Fri Sep 29, 2017 1:22 pm

Thanks for the excellent discussion here.:coffee:

I: For those perhaps not familiar with TG’s (=”Than-Geoff” = Thanisarro Bhikkhu) method, he uses it regularly – so much so that I’ve long since memorized it. Here are two instances, from his visit, two weeks ago, to the Sati-Center / IMC (Redwood City, CA):
1: at http://www.audiodharma.org/teacher/16/ – second item in list -- "Guided Meditation - Whole Body Awareness"
2: from the third item in the same list -- "The Ten Perfections with Ajaan Thanissaro" -- click into "View Series", further to the first in that list "The Ten Perfections - guided meditation 1"

II:
The bases have been so well covered (to use an idiom from the American sport of baseball) already, by others here, that I have only a couple of meta reflections to add.

A: TG’s intro-meditation method is an example of a useful interpretation, technique where it’s, in the end, irrelevant (other than for the sake of viewpoint-skirmishing) whether or not it can be proven to have been literally taught in the EBT (“Early Buddha Teachings”, i.e. sutta-s). It’s an example of the “body-scan” techniques so common today, through-out new-age usage, and also, for another example in the Buddhist area, in techniques associated with S. N. Goenke.

When first being exposed to TG’s version, I was struck with it’s resemblance, in a couple of salient points, with classical Chinese traditions, medical and Taoist. The first being how it proceeds through the body core (axial skeleton), from bottom to top, and then outwards and down through the limbs. It’s been compared with the Indic “Chakra” system, is structurally similar, but is considered (by the Chinese, of course, but also others) to be historically independent. Namely division of the body in terms of three “bony cavities” (pelvis, thorax and cranium), and the four boundaries / intersections between / around those bony structures: so there’s (1) the bottom border (perineum) of the pelvic cavity; (2) the center of that cavity; (3) the boundary / linkage between the pelvis and thorax (aka the solar plexus); (4) the center of the thoracic cavity; (5) the boundary / linkage between the thorax and the cranium (aka the neck); (6) the center of the cranium; and (7) the upper border of the cranium (top of head – actually slightly back from the very top, at the parietal-occipital fontanelle). The classical Taoist “internal alchemy” cultivation / attainment system proceeds from intensive work (“transformation” from gross to purified) in the lower cavity (lower dan tien), then in the middle, and finally in the top (after perhaps decades of practice), culminating (if one can reach it) in the “opening of the 3rd eye”, where “one can see in all directions at once, in both time and space”, and with other qualities arguably similar to Buddhist “awakening”.

The second resemblance lies in the terminal use of the hands and feet, namely the trajectory of energy flow cultivated through the body core and then out through the limbs. This is found in Taoist daoyin (today commonly referred to by the modern term gigong – dating only from the 1930’s) techniques for both dispelling “evil influences” (bad, pathogenic qi) out of the body, or drawing in good qi from the environment.

In one of the many times I’ve witnessed TG lead this guided meditation, he even used the term “qi” to describe this “breath energy” from Ajaan Lee’s methods.

B: A bit more speculative, and coming to mind just today in reviewing this discussion: the name “Lee” (as in “Ajaan Lee”) bears at least a superficial resemblance (i.e. as English transliteration) to the name “Lee” that is the most common Chinese family name, and found in other places like Korea, s/t referred to the “mu-zi Lee”, whose Chinese character consist of the pictographic radical mu (tree) over the radical zi (“thingy”). Does that part of the Ajaan’s name trace back to some Chinese-related origin? Or is it an unrelated Thai name? The Thai Ubon Ratchathani province where he was born (according to Wikipedia) borders on Vietnam, the roots of which civilization and peoples are known to be intertwined with Chinese history.

C: The great “sabbakāya” debate – is it “the physical body”, or “the aggregate of sensations” relating to some mental object?

From a phenomenological (“subjective science of subjectivity”) perspective, this much-debated issue is rather more a red herring (misleading, distracting). In the PTS Dictionary definition:
Kāya … I. (Physical).—(a) Understanding of the body is attained through introspection (sati)...
The locus of “reality”, the starting point, in the Buddha’s teachings, IMO, is the mental perception (at best, skillful mindfulness) of whatever arises in experience. Body awareness, as in body scanning, is a function of what sensations are available and taken-up by the mind.

The term “physical” body is often used in a way relating more to a modern conditioned bias stemming from the Western classical “mind-body problem”, originating a couple hundred years go and related to the emergence of modern science. In scientific terms, the “physical” body is, by definition, only externally viewed (as distinct from introspection), by “objective” observation and measurement. (Hence the famous dilemma of science’s difficulty in coming to terms with “consciousness”.) The common, I would say metaphorically extended, usage of “physical body” to refer to this, to “my” organism betrays confusion. In one’s “whole body” (subjective) awareness, is one also cognizant of the state of the gall bladder and bile management, the functioning of the pancreatic enzymes, the condition of the ileo-secal valve, the circulation of cerebral-spinal fluid, etc., etc.? Or is one’s awareness of one’s “whole” body, just as in the Buddha’s time, an approximation of the sum total of propriosensate stimulation in the nervous system, which surfaces, presents to consciousness, as a cognitive image (a fabrication, to use TG’s translation of sankhāra) ?

Granted contemplation of the “31 [or, later, 32] “body parts” plays a role in Buddhist practice. This break-down, also virtually the same used in the classical Chinese medicine of the same historical period, could be called the “scientific” view of the day. But the focus in dhamma is decomposition of the image, the “deluded” notion of integrated “I/me/mine”-ness into the realization of it’s basic composite nature (as a heap, an aggregate, a kāya, if you will). It is also used in concentration meditations, especially in the Visuddhimagga, focusing on cultivating disenchantment, dispassion, ultimately cessation of attachment to that or any such delusional image.
Last edited by cjmacie on Fri Sep 29, 2017 1:50 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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