Is this a weird interpretation of anapanasati?

Mark Brauer, modified 5 Years ago.

Is this a weird interpretation of anapanasati?

Posts: 5 Join Date: 11/11/14 Recent Posts
My mind has latched onto a particular interpretation that I've come to by thinking about anapanasati and the ways that different teachers seem to approach it, but I'm not sure how well-supported it is. I like it because it seems 'internally consistent' to me, but I don't know if I'm adulterating the practice with my own speculation, or perhaps making it needlessly complex, but here goes:

So knowing the long and short breath are both grouped together as the foundation of anapanasati, they often aren't presented as sequential steps but two themes pursued simultaneously. I also know that one interpretation (though not so common,) is that this isn't actually referring to the length of the breath, but rather distinguishing the gross and subtle breath. The analogy used by the Buddha of working a lathe does somewhat support this interpretation, however it also supports the more conventional long/short interpretation. But, whether the breath is gross/subtle (more so than long/short) seems like it might be a more useful determinant in some ways. For example, noticing that the breath has become subtle is generally how I notice that I have developed a degree of sense withdrawal. It also might explain why the 'gross' breath is positioned first and the 'subtle' breath is positioned second, that is to say that even if these aren't actually sequential steps, the order might still be telling of something.

Then I thought maybe this kinda reflects the different general approaches to anapanasati, because they seem to fall into two streams. On the one hand you have people suggesting that you monitor the passage of air through the nostrils, or the objective activities of the body in the process breathing, which is ostensibly 'gross'. Then you also have people like Thanissaro and Brahm who seem to emphasize a more subtle phenomenon of 'inhale/exhale energy', which maybe correlates more to metabolism, or the 'inner breath', or what have you.

So my thought then was that maybe the first two steps of anapanasati involve knowing both of these aspects of the breath. Both of them are tactile, so you're still paying attention to phenomena occuring within the same sense sphere, and you can superimpose the feeling of 'breath energy' literally anywhere in your body, including those gross breathing processes, so they don't necessarily clash or divide your attention (I'm assuming). And if instead it was just long/short duration, then you could come to learn whether the breath was long or short through observing the breath in these two ways regardless. Then the third step might just be expanding the awareness of breathing to the whole body, which would naturally include both of these aspects of the breath (both the physical/mechanical breathing, and the 'breath energy'), and maybe unify them both into a more holistic percept. Then the fourth step is just calming that whole 'unified' percept.

Though I worry that this is getting too theoretical, it seems like the following tetrads follow a similar pattern, which makes me feel more bold about this interpretation. When contemplating feeling in steps 5 and 6, piti could be considered 'gross', and sukha could be considered 'subtle', and these two phenomena are often complexed together ('piti-sukha') so again a relationship is set up where we can observe a phenomena from both a more 'outer' and 'inner' (or coarser and finer) perspective. Then maybe in step 7 you can unify those perceptions by expanding them to envelop the collection of volitional formations/thoughts, or come to perceive the bundle of thoughts from both 'gross' and 'subtle' sides simultaneously, and then just calm that bundle in step 8.

With the mind and steps 9 and 10 it's maybe the same again, perceiving the mind is more objective or 'external', and gladdening the mind is a more subjective or 'internal' process. Then the third step of this tetrad, centering the mind in samadhi, seems to (maybe) involve a cooperation of both of these processes. And then again you just calm the whole bundle.

And it might apply to steps 13 and 14 in contemplating dhammas, too. Impermanence is more of an objective phenomenon, while contemplating the fading of lust is more subjective, and then contemplating cessation (step 15) seems like it involves both of these complexed together into a greater whole again?

I'm not sure if that makes sense, but it seems like the first two steps of each tetrad might just define the two sides of a process ('gross' and 'subtle'), while the third is apprehending the 'whole' process, and the fourth is calming the whole process in some way. I kind of like this interpretation because it seems very 'symmetrical' and patterned to me.

But I'm not sure, I don't know if that's a good reason to have it resonate with me, and it might just be my thinking running off with me. I have the speculative temperament, and I tend to do a lot of idle thinking. But I find anapanasati extremely intimidating, because everyone seems to have a different interpretation of it, so at some point you have to make some kind of decision abour how to approach it, and it seems worded vaguely enough to facilitate a lot of approaches. And maybe that should tell me that a lot of interpretations are potentially viable... but I'm certainly not a scholar, I don't know the first thing about pali, and I'm not a very accmplished meditator, either, so I'm not particularly confident in my ability to make interpretations like these, even if they seem somehow 'sensible' to me. Any thoughts on this?
thumbnail
tom moylan, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: Is this a weird interpretation of anapanasati?

Posts: 896 Join Date: 3/7/11 Recent Posts
hi mark,
for my money your take is a bit complicated.  it could be that i'm just to dull to incorporate that level of analysis to the practical level.  i really like ven. analyo's general take on the satipatthana, and by inference on anapanasati. 

the general progression is from gross to subtle, both in the progression of the patthanas or tetrads and internally to each one.  the subgrouping you suggest is one way to subdivide and regroup this further but does it help you?

the long short breath example you use for instance is for my money, simply an invitation to deepen the interest / investigation of one relatively gross quality of the breath.  that interest is key in deepening concentration and balancing the energy.  the next step is experiencing and after that calming.  it is this process of bringing the energy and investigation in balance on a body mind level to a point where one can draw continually finer distinctions between nama-rupa and citta.  this is when one begins investigating feelings, then mind, then dhammas.

the focus on energies which you mention coming from thanissaro et al is something i have recently heard in talks from ajahn succito.  he asserts that these energies ARE sankaras.  feeling these subtle inclinations deeply and investigating them without attachment being the key here.  it makes some sense to me.  succitos'  explanations of kayas (or bodies) was also informative in that often the anapanasati sutta is used as the doctrinal basis for the concept of "the breath body" as being as valid a body as our physical ones.

so..to your suggestion of 'superimposing' the breath energy over whatever other thing you are currently investigating seems to me to be an unnecessary "overlay".  the guideline for me is:  ever subtler ever subtler investigation.  just my prejudice though.

cheers

tom
Mark Brauer, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: Is this a weird interpretation of anapanasati?

Posts: 5 Join Date: 11/11/14 Recent Posts
Thank you Tom,

For some reason, I'm kind of interpreting anapanasati (or the first few steps of it) as being like a 'Buddhist pranayama' or something, that is to say that the emphasis is on mindfulness, but it's investigating the nuances of breathing in a way to exert some degree of control or influence over them, though not in a hard or rigid way like you might associate with pranayama.

I'm not particularly interested in yoga, but some of the lower branches (asanas, pranayama) seem like they might be useful in concentration practice. One person on a forum suggested that pranayama is basically controlling metabolism through the retention of CO2, or rather that carbon dioxide levels in the body influence how our red blood cells receive and dispense oxygen. Following that premise, pranayama isn't really 'breathing patterns' (well, it is, but it's only one side of it), rather you could also consider it the energetic influence resulting from those objective breathing patterns, and a part of becoming fluent in it would have to be knowing both the breath and this other more subtle phenomenon (energy, metabolism?), otherwise you're just beholden to some kind of arbitrary breathing pattern, without the internally derived sensibility about them and what it is that they're actually doing.

So I thought that maybe that kind of relationship was present in anapanasati, too. And by developing sensitivity to these two sides of the process, you can potentially influence them through familiarity. Then by controlling that you can maybe develop concentration, or amenable conditions for concentration, by essentially 'slowing the body down' by mindful attention of the nuanced breath process. Kaya seems associated with samadhi in general, maybe because it's the most stable of all of the satipatthanas, but I also thought that maybe 'causing' the body to slow down is a part of that, too. Sankharas in contrast seem like they occur on a subtler level, like they're a finer grain phenomenon occuring within this same sphere, which you may not necessarily have to investigate to develop samadhi (and instead prioritize to be investigated later), and that 'calming the body' both objectively and 'energetically' while retaining heedfulness might be enough to develop deep calm.

But I don't really know, because I haven't investigated my objective/gross 'breathing patterns' or the 'subtle breath' sensation enough, so I can't say if this approach really makes sense or not and it's all theoretical. I have both developed to a mild degree, enough that I'm only not a complete novice when it comes to working with them, I don't have the kind of proficiency where I'm fluent in them, and I'm not sure how much I should try to develop this kind of proficiency, to say if this is actually a sensible approach or not. It seems like a lot of work, and that's all without knowing if the result is what I'm hoping for!

I suspect I'll try, because it seems like an 'interesting' phenomenon to investigate, but I may just end up abandoning it or realizing that it's useful in some ways, but not as useful as I thought, which would be almost perfectly in line with all of my investigations with meditation thus far...

Thank you for your reply, I do think I understand my attitude a little better, even I'm still not sure how actually useful this interpretation is to me :p
thumbnail
Nicky, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: Is this a weird interpretation of anapanasati?

Posts: 484 Join Date: 8/2/14 Recent Posts
Mark Brauer:
Thank you Tom,

For some reason, I'm kind of interpreting anapanasati (or the first few steps of it) as being like a 'Buddhist pranayama' or something, that is to say that the emphasis is on mindfulness, but it's investigating the nuances of breathing in a way to exert some degree of control or influence over them, though not in a hard or rigid way like you might associate with pranayama.



This is wrong. Anapanasati is not 'pranayama' or 'breath control' (even though the skilled practitioner can learn to control the breath). 

The term 'anapanasati' means 'mindfulness with breathing'. It does not mean 'mindfulness of breathing'. 

'Mindfulness' means to keep the mind in a state free from attachment, craving & egoism, as taught in the 4 Noble Truths.  

When the mind is free from craving & attachment, it will be still, empty & clear. When this occurs, the breathing will become the natural obejct of meditation, i.e., it will arise as a 'sign' of the mind having 'right view' that craving & attachment is abandoned. 

Try to understand that when the senses are disengaged (when there is no intentional seeing, no listening, no smelling, no tasting & no engagment in thinking) that the breathing in & out becomes the grossest sense object for the mind. Thus the mind, naturally, without volition, begins to experience the breathing in & out. 

In summary, anapanasati arises naturally when the mind abides in 'emptiness' or complete surrender. 

Regards emoticon
thumbnail
tom moylan, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: Is this a weird interpretation of anapanasati?

Posts: 896 Join Date: 3/7/11 Recent Posts
hi mark,
i think that there is one thing you should be careful of and that is mixing methods and traditions and and your own assumptions.  that is a little different than changing tactics when you feel that the method you are using is not working after having given it a good shot.  thats something i know a lot about personally.

i think that one has to be very talented to pick the right twists and turns along the path by oneself which is essentially what you are doing by mixing traditions.  i have tried several meditational techniques and frameworks in and outside of buddhism and while they all provide something they often are developing different skills and vectors that make hinder your progress.

just two pennies though.
thumbnail
Nicky, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: Is this a weird interpretation of anapanasati?

Posts: 484 Join Date: 8/2/14 Recent Posts
Mark Brauer:
But I find anapanasati extremely intimidating, because everyone seems to have a different interpretation of it, so at some point you have to make some kind of decision abour how to approach it, and it seems worded vaguely enough to facilitate a lot of approaches.  Any thoughts on this?

Anapanasati is as follows: 

* Steps 1 & 2 are not 'gross' & 'subtle' since a long breath is more peaceful than a short breath. 

* Steps 1 & 2 are mere preliminary stages, since the words: "He trains himself" are not included prior to them. 

* Steps 1 & 2 merely indicate a basic discernment of the breath, i.e., being able to discern its length but not its more subtle qualities & interactions. 

* Step 3 is not 'the whole body'. All of the translators are wrong here. The Pali is 'sabba kaya', which means 'all bodies'. In Pali the word 'kaya' means 'group' and refers to mental phenomena (nama kaya) and physical phenomena (rupa kaya). The Anapanasati Sutta states: "the breath is a kaya among (other) kaya". Therefore, kaya does not refer to a single 'body' here but to different 'bodies' that co-exist together. 

* As the successful meditator becomes increasingly sensitive of the qualities & interactions of the breath, the meditator discerns: "This kind of breath affects the body & mind in this way"; "that kind of breath affects the body & mind in that way". 

* Step 3 is clearly experiencing all kaya, which means experiencing the interrelationship between the breath, the body & the mind

* This link explains Step 3 fairly well: http://www.dhammatalks.net/Books5/Buddhadasa_Anapanasati_Unveiling-the-Secrets-of-Life.pdf although the term "all kaya" means 3 kaya (breath, body & mind) rather than 2 kaya (as explained in the book). 

* Steps 5 & 6 are gross & subtle, since sukkha is more subtle & beneficial than piti. Sukkha will predominate as piti calms. 

* Step 7 is similar to step 3. The Pali is 'citta sankhara'. MN 44 in the scriptures states vedana (feelings) are the mind conditioner (citta sankhara) because a pleasant feeling, for example, conditions greed or love in the mind, where as an unpleasant feeling conditions hatred or anger in the mind. 

* Step 7 is seeing how piti & sukha affect or influence the mind, similar to in Step 3, which is seeing how the different kinds of breathing affect the body & the mind. If the mind is clear, it will discern piti disturbs/agitates the mind where as sukkha soothes & settles the mind. 

* Step 8 is calming piti & sukkha (mind conditioner), the same as Step 4 is calming the breath (body conditioner). 

* The Pali words kaya sankhara (in Step 4) and citta sankhara (in Steps 7 & 8) mean body & mind conditioner (rather than bodily & mental condition). Refer MN 44 in the suttas or to the book above. 

* Step 9 occurs when Step 8 is done. When piti & sukha dissolve away, there will be underlying defilements that become the objects of meditation. 

* Note: These defilements have no object. At this profound and deep level of meditation, it is merely the experience of pure defilement, without an object. 

* For example, when a defilement (such as lust) is a hindrance to meditation, it has an object (eg. the image or thought of the opposite sex). 

* But in Step 9, there is no thought or no thinking in the mind and there are no objects. In Step 9, the mind has samadhi, i.e., the concentration developed from Step 1. But the lust, anger, confusion, fear, etc, experinced have no object. They are the former underlying or subconscious defilements now coming into the consciousness of meditation.

* Steps 10, 11 and 12 are more mental purification, after the defilements of stage 9 dissolve. 

* Step 13 is full-scale vipassana; i.e., the direct experience of impermanence. Here, the impermanence is happening so fast that the impermanence itself (rather than the impermant objects such as breath, feeling or mental state) is the predominant experience. 

* When the mind experiences impermanence (and notself) so clearly, the tendency to craving is destroyed and peace & liberation is experienced. This is steps 14 (viraga), 15 (nirodha) and 16 (giving up).

* The phrase: "He trains himself" starting at Step 3 is very important because it means the meditator is training themself in morality, concentration & wisdom. Training in wisdom means training in the letting go or abandoning of craving & attachment prescribed in the Four Noble Truths.

* In his book, Ajahn Brahm strongly emphasises 'letting go' as the method to develop concentration, which accords to the scriptures (SN 48.10). If the meditator tries too hard to observe the breathing, this will be a form of craving & thus an obstacle to progress. 


All the best

emoticon
thumbnail
tom moylan, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: Is this a weird interpretation of anapanasati?

Posts: 896 Join Date: 3/7/11 Recent Posts
hi nicky,
are you not comingling the words kaya and khandha?  one meaning body and one meaning aggregate?

thanks

tom
thumbnail
Nicky, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: Is this a weird interpretation of anapanasati?

Posts: 484 Join Date: 8/2/14 Recent Posts
tom moylan:
hi nicky,
are you not comingling the words kaya and khandha?  one meaning body and one meaning aggregate?

thanks

tom

no. i do not co-mingle. the word 'kaya' is found in words such as 'Nikaya' or 'sakkaya', which do not refer to the physical body 

although 'kaya' often refers to the physical body, in the phrase 'sabba kaya' it does not exclusively

the word 'sabba' does not mean 'whole'. it means 'all'

at this stage of the training, the mind fully discerns the states of mind that result in the calming or stressing of the breath & physical body and thus advances to stage 4 by developing the state of mind that calms the 'kaya sankhara' (the breath; as body-conditioner)

to quote the sutta: 

 I tell you, monks, that this — the in-&-out breath — is classed as a body (kaya) among bodies (kaya)....MN 118
thumbnail
tom moylan, modified 5 Years ago.

RE: Is this a weird interpretation of anapanasati?

Posts: 896 Join Date: 3/7/11 Recent Posts
thanks nicky.  which book from ajahn brahm are you referring to?  he is pretty prolific and i have read nothing of his.

cheers

Breadcrumb