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Concentration/Samatha: What is meant by 'concept of the breath'?

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I've been making an effort to practice more Samatha and work on my concentration in formal practice. I know this would best be done on retreat, but for now I am interested in the question in the title to help guide formal sitting in daily life.

So one of the differences between concentration and insight practices is meditating on a 'concept' of the breath versus really seeing the 3 Characteristics of the sensations that make up the "breath". I understand this in theory, but in practice, I'm trying to figure out what this means exactly. This gets more complicated by the fact that insight and concentration practices are two sides of the same coin. In many insight practices, it is recommened to note in/out breaths, but concentration practice involves watching the same experience unfold.

In the beginning, when trying to practice samatha, I used to try to hold a laser-like focus on my nostrils which just made me tight and frustrated. However, breath sensations appear in the nose, throat, mouth, abdomen, and pretty much anywhere. If I am aware that I am breathing in or breathing out without examining the exact senations that clue me in to that fact, would this be acceptable? It certainly helps with feeling less constricted/more relaxed (I still get tense during samatha though) yet keeps me grounded in the present.

I just have doubts about this route as I'm just not sure if this leads to absorption (jhanas) or can help train concentration that can either be used for training in insight or for moral/off cushion purposes (studying/learning, hobbies, reading, work assignments, etc.). I'm interested in all the various benefits that a mind trained in concentration can plausibly expect to encounter.

Thank you for your time! 

RE: Concentration/Samatha: What is meant by 'concept of the breath'?
Answer
11/27/18 10:23 AM as a reply to Hibiscus Kid.
I think the formula is to, with broad awareness of the various breath sensations, find the pleasant aspects, then the most pleasant, then apply relaxed focus on that most pleasant part. For example, I often find restfulness of the diaphram in the middle of the out breath. When I practice, breath after breath, dwelling in those waves of restfulness, they eventually expand in scope to wash over my brain in some way and then over time that wash of pleasant feeling expands in time to take up a bigger fraction of each breath cycle.  The brain likes that and eventually it's possible to forget about the breath and let the mind rest on the pleasant sensations independently of the breath.

As I see it, except for the conceptual nature of the instructions, it's not about the concept of breath, it's a sensorial practice on niceness.

The ability to have this experience can provide motivation to skip the TV show and sit instead, a clear win! emoticon  As Ingram says in MCTB, a temporary diversion into absorption can clear the mind of other distractions, making it possible to shift to insight practice with a more stable platform.

This practice can be addictive, so beware!  If it starts to seem that this pleasant activity is all there is to do, the recipe then is to expand awareness to the container that surournds that setup, deconstruct the experience with insight investigation as a way to move along.  Something like that.

RE: Concentration/Samatha: What is meant by 'concept of the breath'?
Answer
11/26/18 2:38 AM as a reply to Hibiscus Kid.
Hibiscus Kid:

In the beginning, when trying to practice samatha, I used to try to hold a laser-like focus on my nostrils which just made me tight and frustrated. However, breath sensations appear in the nose, throat, mouth, abdomen, and pretty much anywhere. If I am aware that I am breathing in or breathing out without examining the exact senations that clue me in to that fact, would this be acceptable? It certainly helps with feeling less constricted/more relaxed (I still get tense during samatha though) yet keeps me grounded in the present.

 Hi Hibiscus Kid,
I think you are on the right track here. Some clarification might be in order though, to clarify my own thniking, too.

First, the concept of the breath. Consider a sail boat. If you do vipassana noting on that, you might note the different aspect of the boat. The sail is flapping, the mast is svinging, the sound of the waves, creaking of planks, seeing bundles of ropes, etc... But if you look at the whole boat, without straining to see the details and simply go "Ahh there's a nice sail boat right there", that would be my analogy to the concept of the breath. And you hold it not too tighly and accept the fact that the sensations are different all the time. But you're not focusing on the changing of the sensation (that would be more vipassana) but understand that this whole fluxing sensation is the breath. If you get lost in thought, you loose all the sensations of the breath. But if there is some sensation of the breath cycle you can experience it as a constant pulsing of breath in your mind, then you are focused on the breath the right way.
Allowing yourself to enjoy, like matthew pointed out, is good because it makes it satisfying to continue and lessens the probability of mind wandering.
Also, I would like to recommend trying the candle flame kasina to amp up your concentration practice and test how you are doing! Because it is also very visual, it is really easy to detect where exactly you are on the jhanas. It might help you apply the same level of concentration to the breath, although I haven't tested it's usefulness in this regard myself.  

RE: Concentration/Samatha: What is meant by 'concept of the breath'?
Answer
11/26/18 5:45 AM as a reply to Hibiscus Kid.
Hibiscus Kid:
If I am aware that I am breathing in or breathing out without examining the exact senations that clue me in to that fact, would this be acceptable?

This is pretty much exactly how Shaila Catherine, by way of Pa Auk sayadaw, teaches concentration, for what it's worth. She still teaches keeping attention at the nostrils, but then teaches moving the attention 'off the skin' so that the area just in front of the nostrils is the focal point spatially, but the concentration is applied to the concept/knowing of the breath mentally instead of physical sensations of the breath. She maintains that doing any sort of work with physical sensations is at some level vipassana due to their changing nature relative to mental sensations. I'd recommend her book "Focused and Fearless" for more detail.

RE: Concentration/Samatha: What is meant by 'concept of the breath'?
Answer
11/26/18 7:22 AM as a reply to Hibiscus Kid.
All great advice above. I will stress the point of seeking out and really laying into the pleasure and relaxation. I think there is a tendancy for more dry-inspired POI practitioners to miss this point (as I did and recently made an adjustment which lead to a huge breakthrough). Sit with the concept of the breath (as Lewis mentioned above) and really let yourself submerge in pleasure. Get this going till you are nicely concentrated with joy (piti) arising. Sit there for a while before practicing shifting your attention from breath to the piti. If you have enough concentration and piti, you'll drop into 1st samatha jhana when you make the switch of attention. At that point you're done with the breath and you just focus on the pleasure. As Matthew says above, it indeed can get addicting - especially the next few Jhanas follwing 1st - unbelievable. I am reading "Right Concentration" by Leigh Brasington and he has some great pointers on getting into and stabilizing these wonderful states. Best of luck!   

RE: Concentration/Samatha: What is meant by 'concept of the breath'?
Answer
11/26/18 6:13 PM as a reply to Lewis James.
Lewis:
Hibiscus Kid:
If I am aware that I am breathing in or breathing out without examining the exact senations that clue me in to that fact, would this be acceptable?

This is pretty much exactly how Shaila Catherine, by way of Pa Auk sayadaw, teaches concentration, for what it's worth. She still teaches keeping attention at the nostrils, but then teaches moving the attention 'off the skin' so that the area just in front of the nostrils is the focal point spatially, but the concentration is applied to the concept/knowing of the breath mentally instead of physical sensations of the breath. She maintains that doing any sort of work with physical sensations is at some level vipassana due to their changing nature relative to mental sensations. I'd recommend her book "Focused and Fearless" for more detail.
The instructions from Shaila Catherine you cite are what I was taught on retreat by Saylay Susila, who is a student of Pa Auk Sayadaw.

RE: Concentration/Samatha: What is meant by 'concept of the breath'?
Answer
11/27/18 4:13 PM as a reply to Hibiscus Kid.
I think others have addressed your questions pretty well but I will try to add a few things that haven't been mentioned.

Just focus on the breath alone doesn't get to jhana in my experience but can calm your mind to where it is accessable. To get to jhana the mind has to be calmed first, then attention turned from the breath to a transitionary meditation object such as nimittas or one or more jhana factors (Focusing on pleasant sensations in the body and refining to the most pleasant part of the pleasant sensation to lock onto piti seems to be the most common way to go about this approach, at least to start with).

As for mundane benefits in day to day life, there are two obvious ones I've noticed and those are:

1st/2nd jhana can relieve physical and mental pain and discomfort to a surprising degree, like a mental aspirin. If you get good at it, you can dip into these jhanas during other meditations where pain is hindering you to alleviate it, or very lightly during the day to relieve pain. The flip side is that if you overuse those jhanas you might feel a little hazy and drugged as an after effect, which can make it hard to concentrate on work/study

4th jhana can stabilize your emotional and mental state to such an extent that, combined with insight practice outside of jhana you seem effortlessly "in the flow" to other people, which can make you unusually attractive and charismatic to others. The flip side is that while you are in that state you won't feel any desire for that attention anyway.

Neither of those things is outside of being explained by science, mind you, or very impressive, but they are interesting side effects. The main thing you can get from jhana is enhanced insight as it both allows you to directly perceive things like the emptiness of sense aggregates for example, and has lingering effects on mental state that can help with your insight practices for the next day or two in some cases.

Best of luck!