The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Exploring Theravāda's connections to other paths. What can we learn from other traditions, religions and philosophies?
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Zenainder
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Post by Zenainder » Tue May 21, 2013 1:25 pm

Perhaps I am mistaken, but do not these come after stabilizing some rudimentary form of concentration on only the breath and cultivating stillness? Again, to throw the 4 tetrads, which are important, at a Westerner early on may overwhelm them. I am no meditation teacher, but being consistent and successful in the most basic of meditation for a Westener is no easy task. I would think that after stabilizing a consistent practice I would then introduce the tetrads. (Again I may be completely mistaken).

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mettafuture
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Post by mettafuture » Tue May 21, 2013 1:36 pm

Sekha wrote:I don't regard the practice of anapanasati as a watered down version of the Dhamma.
Neither do I. But when a teacher prescribes anapanasati for everything and everyone, and doesn't take into consideration which hindrances or fetters the student may be struggling with, I do feel that they are watering down the practice.
porpoise wrote:I suspect that most western meditation teachers simply don't have enough experience or knowledge of the other 39 objects of samatha, because these have been neglected in favour of the breath. So it's chicken and egg.
I'm not saying every teacher must know and teach every meditation object. But they could, at the very least, have instructions on a few other topics (metta, recollections, elements) on hand for those who may need them.
Zenainder wrote:The western culture is fast paced and encourages perpetual distraction. It is also encourages to doubt, rather unskillfully I will add. With that in mind the breath is what I would consider a favorable meditation object for Westerners because it is easily relatable, leaves less room for doubt, and easy to understand.
For most Westerners, the breath would likely be the ideal starting point. But, depending on a person's hindrances, fetters, and/or medical issues, a different meditation object may suit them better.
Westerners also tend to refrain from what may seem religious tradition and other objects may have that poor association. Personally, I consider it a skillful means of teaching.
I think we can handle a teaching on the elements. It might be construed as a little depressing at first, but it's not supernaturalistic. There are 3 large suttas on the elements in the Majjhima Nikaya (28, 62, 140), and Samyutta Nikaya has an entire section on them.

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reflection
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Post by reflection » Tue May 21, 2013 2:06 pm

Medtation on breathing is what the Buddha supposedly used himself before his enlightenment. Or am I mistaken here? Don't know if there is any scriptural support, but this is what I heard.

I find many teachers teach other methods as well, but not as the main point. I don't have a problem with that because I myself think breath meditation is an all-encompassing way to samadhi while many other meditation methods are not - or less easy to be.

Also I think people have a tendency to switch from one thing to the other, do too much stuff in their meditation. The more objects they have, the more this may be.

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Alex123
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Post by Alex123 » Tue May 21, 2013 3:25 pm

mettafuture wrote:Master Gautama detailed 40 meditation objects over the course of a 45-year teaching career. So why is it that Western Buddhists focus on just 1 or 2 of these objects (eg. anapanasati and metta)?
IMHO, generally speaking breath meditation is safer than other types of meditation and it can suit more people.
It is also relaxing and without imposing any views that westerners may not like. In life affirming west, some meditations such as asubha and maranasati are not really popular... But metta, it sounds good.
"Life is a struggle. Life will throw curveballs at you, it will humble you, it will attempt to break you down. And just when you think things are starting to look up, life will smack you back down with ruthless indifference..."

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marc108
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Post by marc108 » Tue May 21, 2013 4:49 pm

Buddhism has cultural bias within all cultures... that being said, the Buddha himself placed special emphasis on Anapanasati and I think that rather than being cherry picked for cultural convenience, the emphasis on breath meditation simply reflects the Buddha's own emphasis.

Also, nearly all of the Monastic and Lay Teachings I am familiar with that are giving teachings to westerners are including various forms of practice including the elements, recollections, etc.
"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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mikenz66
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Post by mikenz66 » Tue May 21, 2013 7:27 pm

reflection wrote:Medtation on breathing is what the Buddha supposedly used himself before his enlightenment. Or am I mistaken here? Don't know if there is any scriptural support, but this is what I heard.
I guess the sutta support would be based on: SN 54.8: Dipa Sutta — The Lamp
See: http://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?f= ... 39#p246139 where I have listed the suttas I am aware of that discuss his awakening. This one is the only one that discusses a particular meditation object. Others mention jhana (but not the object used) and one is about dependent origination.

:anjali:
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mettafuture
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Post by mettafuture » Tue May 21, 2013 8:07 pm

reflection wrote:I find many teachers teach other methods as well, but not as the main point. I don't have a problem with that because I myself think breath meditation is an all-encompassing way to samadhi while many other meditation methods are not - or less easy to be.

I don't believe Master Gautama was the type who partook in idle chatter. When he said something, he likely said it for a very good reason.
Also I think people have a tendency to switch from one thing to the other, do too much stuff in their meditation. The more objects they have, the more this may be.
Or the more objects they know, the more tools they'll have to cut through their unique combination of hindrances and fetters.
Alex123 wrote:IMHO, generally speaking breath meditation is safer than other types of meditation and it can suit more people.
"More people", but not everyone.
It is also relaxing and without imposing any views that westerners may not like.
Buddhism isn't and shouldn't be about pandering to the preferences of Westerners. Gradually and carefully, wrong view should be countered with right view.
marc108 wrote:Buddhism has cultural bias within all cultures...
Bias is just another form of attachment.
that being said, the Buddha himself placed special emphasis on Anapanasati and I think that rather than being cherry picked for cultural convenience, the emphasis on breath meditation simply reflects the Buddha's own emphasis.
The Buddha did not prescribe or emphasize breath meditation to everyone he met.
Also, nearly all of the Monastic and Lay Teachings I am familiar with that are giving teachings to westerners are including various forms of practice including the elements, recollections, etc.
This is very good to hear.

chownah
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Post by chownah » Wed May 22, 2013 2:39 am

mettafuture,
You assert that breath meditation is not suitable for everyone. Since everyone breathes it seems to me that everyone could do breath meditation. Can you support your claim that it is not suitable for everyone?
chownah

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mettafuture
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Post by mettafuture » Wed May 22, 2013 6:29 am

chownah wrote:You assert that breath meditation is not suitable for everyone. Since everyone breathes it seems to me that everyone could do breath meditation. Can you support your claim that it is not suitable for everyone?
I have asthma. Initially, breath meditation brought on more anxiety than calm. After stilling my mind with other meditation objects, watching the breath became easier to do. I find it strange that I even have to explain this, and there are people who assume that every single one of the 7 billion+ people on this planet should just be able to do breath meditation. Trying to watch the breath without controlling it doesn't come easily for a lot of people, especially if there are health issues, or if a hindrance is aggressively clouding the mind. This might explain why there's such a variety of meditation approaches to choose from in the Tipitaka.

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mikenz66
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Post by mikenz66 » Wed May 22, 2013 6:51 am

Interesting topic. I would not want to generalise too much, but I guess it is true that western teachers, especially non-monastic ones, do seem to focus on methods using neutral objects that no-one is going to object to on religious or philosophical grounds.

My first Buddhist meditation instructions were Mahasi-style, so we started with walking, and after that moved on to sitting, watching the rise and fall of the abdomen, and then all the other things that come up when you try to that (feelings, mind states, thoughts, etc, thereby covering the whole gamut of satipatthana...). And my (monastic) teachers certainly varied things when confronted with students who had difficulties. In particular, sometimes getting students to just do metta for a few days if they were having trouble with various aversions coming up from the basic exercises.

I guess there is a tendency, if one has a lot of students and/or only sees them occasionally, to concentrate on things that are easy to instruct and carry out as a group. Even walking can be a problem if you don't have much space, for example... But in a small group, it would be surprising to me if a teacher wasn't able to personalise the instructions to account for differences between students. That, after all, is the point of having a "live" teacher.

:anjali:
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chownah
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Post by chownah » Wed May 22, 2013 8:08 am

mettafuture wrote:
chownah wrote:You assert that breath meditation is not suitable for everyone. Since everyone breathes it seems to me that everyone could do breath meditation. Can you support your claim that it is not suitable for everyone?
I have asthma. Initially, breath meditation brought on more anxiety than calm. After stilling my mind with other meditation objects, watching the breath became easier to do. I find it strange that I even have to explain this, and there are people who assume that every single one of the 7 billion+ people on this planet should just be able to do breath meditation. Trying to watch the breath without controlling it doesn't come easily for a lot of people, especially if there are health issues, or if a hindrance is aggressively clouding the mind. This might explain why there's such a variety of meditation approaches to choose from in the Tipitaka.
I think that what you have shown is that breath meditation is more difficult for some people, not that it can not be done by them. Perhaps there are a lot of different meditation approaches in the Tipitaka because the Buddha knew that some people would want to cherry pick their method and therefore not want to choose breath.
I don't think that everyone should just be able to do breath meditation.....it takes considerable effort over a long period of time for it to work.
I am not trying to promote breath over other methods and I think it is good for people to have many methods to pick from but I do not think that you have given support to the idea that breath meditation is not possible for some people.
People teaching meditation usually teach what they think works. If there is a method that not many people teach then probably there aren't a lot of people who know that it works. I suggest that you start teaching meditation in the way you would like to see it...if people learn that it works then maybe some of them will teach it.......
chownah

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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Post by Dinsdale » Wed May 22, 2013 9:57 am

Zenainder wrote:I would think that after stabilizing a consistent practice I would then introduce the tetrads. (Again I may be completely mistaken).
Yes, you're right. I was alluding to the fact that there are all sorts of different ideas about what the tetrads are describing, and what they are for. :juggling:
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Post by Dinsdale » Wed May 22, 2013 9:59 am

Alex123 wrote:IMHO, generally speaking breath meditation is safer than other types of meditation and it can suit more people.
I'm not sure I get the "safer" comment Alex - gazing at a coloured disc or a bowl of water doesn't seem particularly dangerous. ;)
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Post by Dinsdale » Wed May 22, 2013 10:05 am

daverupa wrote: The thing about anapanasati is that we have the specific way the Buddha "satipatthana'd" breath meditation, while the other methods (kasina discs, etc.) are not as clearly described, at first.
It occured to me that most of the 40 objects are "mental" whereas breathing is primarily "physical", so in that sense it would make anapanasati more amenable to being "satipathana'd".
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mettafuture
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Re: The Breath, and Cherry-Picking for Cultural Convenience

Post by mettafuture » Wed May 22, 2013 10:57 am

mikenz66 wrote:Interesting topic. I would not want to generalise too much, but I guess it is true that western teachers, especially non-monastic ones, do seem to focus on methods using neutral objects that no-one is going to object to on religious or philosophical grounds.
I remember a few years ago when I first wanted to learn more about the elements, I couldn't find any helpful English language resources on this topic. All of the texts and dhamma talks that I found were in Thai or Sinhala.

Recently an amazing and somewhat hard lined sutta on renunciation was brought to my attention. Bhikkhu Bodhi, in his complete translation of the Anguttara Nikaya, describes this text as "famous". and yet the only commentaries and dhamma talks that I've been able to find on it are in Sinhala.

Maybe I just need to learn Sinhala. :lol: Or find a teacher from the Mahasi lineage. It sounds like you've received some really good training. Starting with a coarse practice like walking meditation and gradually working into the subtleties of breath meditation from the abdomen is very clever.
chownah wrote:I think that what you have shown is that breath meditation is more difficult for some people, not that it can not be done by them.
I never said breath meditation was impossible.

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