Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breath

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tiltbillings
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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Post by tiltbillings » Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:09 am

mikenz66 wrote:Yes, see my posts on confusing cultivating pleasant states with cultivating progress:
http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f=17&t=11240" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
It's something really easy to fall into once you build up some basic skills...

:anjali:
Mike
Especially given the allure of "special" experiences while meditating, something out of the ordinary, something that indicates one's practice is succeeding.
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Post by farmer » Wed Feb 15, 2012 6:19 am

This discussion of "controlled" breathing assumes that there is a way of meditating on the breath in which the breath is natural or uncontrolled. I think Venerable Thanissaro would argue that our habitual ways of focusing on and conceptualizing the breath shape our breathing even if we intend to breathe naturally. Better to get these processes out into the light, where we can observe and experiment with them than to pretend they aren't happening.

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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Post by phil » Wed Feb 15, 2012 6:38 am

He encourages people to breathe through their eyes, through their hands. It feels good to tap into the "breath energy" which is indeed coursing through the body, as ki, or chi, though T.B doesn't acknowledge it as such. The founder of the tradition (Ajahn Lee) developed it to heal his body after a heart attack during a rains retreat. Great, healing is great. This kind of breath yoga definitely brings heath benefits, wonderful. Very unfortunate that he promotes it as Dhamma, but most people who study Dhamma seriously are able to see past Thanissaro Bhikkhu pretty easily, and those who don't and get caught up in his cozy atta trap will at least get physical benefits from it. Well, at the cost of being deprived of a correct understanding of Dhamma, that's a steep price.
Kammalakkhano , bhikkhave, bālo, kammalakkhano pandito, apadānasobhanī paññāti
(The fool is characterized by his/her actions/the wise one is characterized by his/her actions/Wisdom shines forth in behaviour.)
(AN 3.2 Lakkhana Sutta)

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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Post by retrofuturist » Wed Feb 15, 2012 7:06 am

Greetings,
farmer wrote:This discussion of "controlled" breathing assumes that there is a way of meditating on the breath in which the breath is natural or uncontrolled. I think Venerable Thanissaro would argue that our habitual ways of focusing on and conceptualizing the breath shape our breathing even if we intend to breathe naturally. Better to get these processes out into the light, where we can observe and experiment with them than to pretend they aren't happening.
Yes, he does say this and I agree with the "observe and experiment with them [rather] than to pretend they aren't happening" sentiment.

Even "passive" awareness of the breath is not unconditioned. As Tilt says, "it is also way too easy to to fool oneself into thinking that one is being honest with oneself".

Metta,
Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Post by tiltbillings » Wed Feb 15, 2012 7:19 am

retrofuturist wrote:Even "passive" awareness of the breath is not unconditioned. As Tilt says, "it is also way too easy to to fool oneself into thinking that one is being honest with oneself".
It is not unconditioned, but allowing the breath to function without deliberate control, which is quite possible, is quite different from deliberately controlling it.
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Post by retrofuturist » Wed Feb 15, 2012 7:27 am

Greetings,

Further to the above comments, here is an indication of Thanissaro Bhikkhu's perspective on the matter...
When I first went to stay with Ajaan Fuang, one of the questions I asked him was, "What do you need to believe in order to meditate?" He answered that there was only one thing: the principle of kamma. Now when we hear the word "kamma," we usually think, "kamma-and-rebirth," but he meant specifically the principle of action: that what you do shapes your experience.

If you're convinced of this, you can do the meditation because, after all, the meditation is a doing. You're not just sitting here, biding your time, waiting for the accident of Awakening to happen. Even in very still states of meditation, there's an activity going on. Even the act of "being the knowing" is still a doing. It's a fabrication, a sankhara. In one of the suttas, the Buddha says that all the different khandhas, all the different aggregates that make up experience as a whole, have to get shaped into aggregates by the process of fabrication. In other words, there's a potential for a form, a potential for a feeling, potential for perception, fabrication, consciousness; and the act of fabricating is what turns these potentials into actual aggregates.

It sounds abstract, but it's a very important lesson for the meditation even from the very beginning. You sit here in the body — and of course, that's a fabrication right there: the idea that you're sitting in the body — but given all the many different things you could focus on right now, there's the possibility of choice. This possibility of choice is where kamma comes in. You can choose any of the sensations that are coming into your awareness. It's as if there were a buzz in all the different parts of the body. There's a potential for pain here, a potential for pleasure over there. All these different sensations are presenting themselves to you for you to do something about them, and you have the choice as to which ones you'll notice.

Doctors have done studies showing that pain isn't just a physical phenomenon. It isn't totally a given. There are so many different messages coming into your brain right now that you can't possibly process them all, so you choose to focus on just some of them. And the mind has a tendency to focus on pain because it's usually a warning signal. But we don't have to focus there. In other words, there can be a slight discomfort in a part of the body, and you can focus on it and make it more and more intense, more and more of an issue. That's one thing you can do right now, but — even if you may not realize it — you have the choice of whether or not to do that. You can choose not to make it more intense. You can choose even to ignore it entirely. Many times we have habitual ways of relating to sensations, and they're so habitual and so consistent that we think there's no choice at all. "This is the way things have to be," we think, but they don't.

That's the other implication of the principle of kamma: You can change your actions. If some parts of experience are dependent on choice and fabrication, you can choose to change. You see this really clearly when you focus on the breath. The breath is always there in the body, and if you look carefully you'll discover that it has many levels. It's like looking up in the sky: Sometimes you feel a breeze coming from the south, but you look up in the sky and see a layer of clouds moving east, and another higher layer of clouds moving west. There are lots of different layers of wind in the atmosphere and, in the same way, there are lots of different layers of breath in the body. You can choose which ones to focus on.

It's like having a radio receiver: You can choose to tune-in to different stations. The radio waves from all the nearby radio stations, all the different frequencies, are all in the air around us. There are radio waves from Los Angeles, radio waves from San Diego, even short wave radio waves from who-knows-where, all over the place. They're going through this room right now. They're going through your body right now. And when you turn on the radio you choose which frequency you want to focus on, which one you want to listen to. The same with the body. You sort out, of all the possible sensations, just one type of sensation to focus on: the breath-ness of the breath. Wherever you feel the sensation of the in-and-out breath most clearly, you focus right there. Now some of us have a radio we haven't taken very good care of, and as soon as we tune it in to one station it slips over to another. So you've got to keep tuning it back, tuning it back.
Source: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... tml#tuning" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;

Metta,
Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"One discerns wrong view as wrong view, and right view as right view. This is one's right view." (MN 117)

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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Post by danieLion » Wed Feb 15, 2012 7:31 am

What does Ven. Thanissaro and Ven. Lee say is the goal of Keeping The Breath In Mind?

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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Post by tiltbillings » Wed Feb 15, 2012 7:33 am

retrofuturist wrote:Greetings,

Further to the above comments, here is an indication of Thanissaro Bhikkhu's perspective on the matter...
When I first . . .
That is an okay description, but does seem to leave out a great deal.
>> Do you see a man wise [enlightened/ariya] in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.<< -- Proverbs 26:12

This being is bound to samsara, kamma is his means for going beyond. -- SN I, 38.

“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?” HPatDH p.723

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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Post by carlosm » Wed Feb 15, 2012 2:58 pm

phil wrote:He encourages people to breathe through their eyes, through their hands. It feels good to tap into the "breath energy" which is indeed coursing through the body, as ki, or chi, though T.B doesn't acknowledge it as such. The founder of the tradition (Ajahn Lee) developed it to heal his body after a heart attack during a rains retreat. Great, healing is great. This kind of breath yoga definitely brings heath benefits, wonderful. Very unfortunate that he promotes it as Dhamma, but most people who study Dhamma seriously are able to see past Thanissaro Bhikkhu pretty easily, and those who don't and get caught up in his cozy atta trap will at least get physical benefits from it. Well, at the cost of being deprived of a correct understanding of Dhamma, that's a steep price.
wow, that actually worries me a lot, I've been following Thanissaro instructions for quite a while. Another thing to worry about, how good is my practice!
Regards,

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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Post by marc108 » Wed Feb 15, 2012 5:15 pm

I would have to strongly disagree with phil, especially in saying "most people who study Dhamma seriously are able to see past Thanissaro Bhikkhu pretty easily". Feeling the subtle breath energy in the eyes is no different than feeling the physical breath energy raising the abdomen, imo... One is just a more gross, and one a more subtle movement of energy.

I'm unsure if the OP's question was about manipulating the breath itself, or manipulating the breath towards the goal of pleasure but I would like to comment on both:

First, I know many teachers teach passive observation of the breath as the sole means... but it seems clear from the Sutta's on Anapanasati that the Buddha taught both passive and active parts of the practice. You can see this clear difference in the descriptions of discerning vs training, re: "he discerns, I am breathing" vs "He trains himself, 'I will breathe". "trains himself, I will breath" is a clear reference to actively manipulating the breath.

Second, towards the goal of feeling pleasure... Ven. Thanissaro teaches Jhana, and accessing Jhana through Anapanasati requires using pleasure as a springboard or access point. Beyond the goal of Jhana, manipulating the breath to bring up relaxation and good feelings in the mind at the beginning of sitting is, imo, an extremely skillful way to assist in the process of letting go and greatly deepens concentration. Sensual pleasure and the pleasure that arises from sense withdrawl in meditation are completely different things... Meditation is supposedto be enjoyable and pleasurable, the Buddha was very clear about this imo.

"There is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful qualities — enters and remains in the first jhana: rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation. He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal.

:smile:
"It's easy for us to connect with what's wrong with us... and not so easy to feel into, or to allow us, to connect with what's right and what's good in us."

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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Post by Goofaholix » Wed Feb 15, 2012 6:37 pm

When we breath it isn't an activity that happens just at the nostrils, or just in the abdomen, the whole body breathes, the whole body vibrates subtely.

I think a lot of people who hear instructions to be aware of the breathing at just one point can end up clamping down on just that point and miss the fact that there is sensation and vibration happening throughout the body in time with the breathing.

I think Thanissaros instructions are designed to open us up to awareness of the whole body through noticing the affect the breath has on the whole body. Some people might end up imagining it when they are looking for sensation that they didn't know was there though, this would be a problem if they get cauught up in it.
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah

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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Post by twelph » Wed Feb 15, 2012 6:45 pm

marc108 wrote:I would have to strongly disagree with phil, especially in saying "most people who study Dhamma seriously are able to see past Thanissaro Bhikkhu pretty easily". Feeling the subtle breath energy in the eyes is no different than feeling the physical breath energy raising the abdomen, imo... One is just a more gross, and one a more subtle movement of energy.

I'm unsure if the OP's question was about manipulating the breath itself, or manipulating the breath towards the goal of pleasure but I would like to comment on both:

First, I know many teachers teach passive observation of the breath as the sole means... but it seems clear from the Sutta's on Anapanasati that the Buddha taught both passive and active parts of the practice. You can see this clear difference in the descriptions of discerning vs training, re: "he discerns, I am breathing" vs "He trains himself, 'I will breathe". "trains himself, I will breath" is a clear reference to actively manipulating the breath.

Second, towards the goal of feeling pleasure... Ven. Thanissaro teaches Jhana, and accessing Jhana through Anapanasati requires using pleasure as a springboard or access point. Beyond the goal of Jhana, manipulating the breath to bring up relaxation and good feelings in the mind at the beginning of sitting is, imo, an extremely skillful way to assist in the process of letting go and greatly deepens concentration. Sensual pleasure and the pleasure that arises from sense withdrawl in meditation are completely different things... Meditation is supposedto be enjoyable and pleasurable, the Buddha was very clear about this imo.

"There is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful qualities — enters and remains in the first jhana: rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation. He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal.

:smile:
I believe Phil has more of a problem with the channeling of the breath energies through various parts of the body to relieve tension and increase pleasure. Listening to Thanissaro's dhamma talks, this becomes the main theme whenever he talks about meditation. While he doesn't specifically come right out to say these are chakra points, he makes sure to mention that this is what his teacher thought of them as.

Reading the sutta, when it says:
He trains himself, 'I will breathe in calming bodily fabrication.' He trains himself, 'I will breathe out calming bodily fabrication.'
... and then putting into context with the previous part:
"Breathing in long, he discerns, 'I am breathing in long'; or breathing out long, he discerns, 'I am breathing out long.' Or breathing in short, he discerns, 'I am breathing in short'; or breathing out short, he discerns, 'I am breathing out short.' He trains himself, 'I will breathe in sensitive to the entire body.' He trains himself, 'I will breathe out sensitive to the entire body.'
Leads me to believe that when you make the decision to alter your breathing due to discomfort, you realize what you are doing and why you are doing it. It seems like the Buddha did not want the meditator to be in constant pain because of some strict guideline of non-interference with the breath. In practice, I notice that sometimes when I become lost in thought, my breathing becomes tights and restricted. At this point I recognize that I need to take a long breath to bring awareness to my breathing pattern and correct it. This would be a moderate alteration of the breath, not a main technique.

Let's take a closer look at the quote at the end of your post:
There is the case where a monk — quite withdrawn from sensuality, withdrawn from unskillful qualities — enters and remains in the first jhana: rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal, accompanied by directed thought and evaluation. He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal. There is nothing of his entire body unpervaded by rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal.
In my interpretation, the Buddha here is describing jhana, not a practice that leads to Jhana. He looks to be stating that a person has to be withdrawn from sensuality to enter this state. The way I have been taught, using pleasure to create a mental state is not the same thing as entering Jhana. Later when the quote mentions "He permeates and pervades, suffuses and fills this very body with the rapture and pleasure born from withdrawal", it specifically mentions rapture born through withdrawal from sensuality, not rapture created through your own directed thoughts.

On a related note, I thought part of the purpose of meditation was to realize our perception of categorizing something as good or bad, but then not acting on it? It still seems to me that a constant emphasis on increasing pleasure would be rooted in greed.

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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Post by Goofaholix » Wed Feb 15, 2012 6:53 pm

twelph wrote:On a related note, I thought part of the purpose of meditation was to realize our perception of categorizing something as good or bad, but then not acting on it? It still seems to me that a constant emphasis on increasing pleasure would be rooted in greed.
Can you post a Thanissaro quote that illustrates "a constant emphasis on increasing pleasure"?
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah

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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Post by Cittasanto » Wed Feb 15, 2012 6:57 pm

Goofaholix wrote:
twelph wrote:On a related note, I thought part of the purpose of meditation was to realize our perception of categorizing something as good or bad, but then not acting on it? It still seems to me that a constant emphasis on increasing pleasure would be rooted in greed.
Can you post a Thanissaro quote that illustrates "a constant emphasis on increasing pleasure"?
in one of Thanissaros talks he points these out, but my wording sorry. (edit = possibly in Jhana not by the numbers)
Jhana is pleasurable!
It takes wisdom to choose a greater pleasure for a lesser one!
Blog, Suttas, Aj Chah, Facebook.

He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them.
But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion …
...
He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them … he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.
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Re: Thanissaro Bikkhu and manipulation of the breathe

Post by twelph » Wed Feb 15, 2012 7:09 pm

Goofaholix wrote:
twelph wrote:On a related note, I thought part of the purpose of meditation was to realize our perception of categorizing something as good or bad, but then not acting on it? It still seems to me that a constant emphasis on increasing pleasure would be rooted in greed.
Can you post a Thanissaro quote that illustrates "a constant emphasis on increasing pleasure"?
Here is one from Meditations 5:
If you’re going to find any pleasure in the course of the day, you have to look
more intently at developing pleasure in the meditation to make up for the
restrictions you’ve placed on your foraging for pleasure outside.
&
You focus on the potentials for pleasure. Notice, when the breath comes in,
where it’s feeling good, which part of the breath cycle feels nicest. Is it the middle
of the breath, the beginning of the breath, the end of the breath? Can you notice
when the breath is getting too long? Can you catch yourself squeezing the breath
as it goes out? When you squeeze it, you’re weakening the potential for pleasure
that the breath can give.
&
As you’re sticking with this process of experimenting with the breath, getting
it more pleasurable and allowing that sense of pleasure to seep throughout the
body, it gives you a steadier base in the present moment. The interest you
develop in exploring the breath energy in the body helps you stay steadily in the
present as well.
Is there a place in the Suttas that say you need to focus on pleasure created outside of Jhana to enter into Jhana? Or do you focus on the pleasure that is there once you enter Jhana. This is subtle but important I think.

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