Eliminating the pauses of the breath

Discussion of meditation in the Mahayana and Vajrayana traditions.
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Injrabodi
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Eliminating the pauses of the breath

Post by Injrabodi » Sun Oct 21, 2018 11:25 pm

About 10 months ago I decided to try and connect with some of the "local" meditating community. However I live in a rather dead area as far as Buddhism goes, and so I settled upon the occasional visit to a yoga ashram which is about an hours drive away. The founder of the ashram has a quote upon the wall which makes a rather emphatic statement, saying (not verbatim)- "The pinnacle of practice is removing the pauses between inhalation and exhalation of the breath. All else is preliminary."

Is this the guiding principle for meditation practice, and breathing in general? In my own routine meditation I find the pause after the exhale, when the lungs are empty, to be highly pleasurable and I'll sit there for extended periods of time without any air in me at all. If this is an incorrect habit on my part I'd rather intentionally break it now rather than keep practicing incorrectly.

Thank you for your input.

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Re: Eliminating the pauses of the breath

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Mon Oct 22, 2018 2:08 am

Injrabodi wrote:
Sun Oct 21, 2018 11:25 pm
About 10 months ago I decided to try and connect with some of the "local" meditating community. However I live in a rather dead area as far as Buddhism goes, and so I settled upon the occasional visit to a yoga ashram which is about an hours drive away. The founder of the ashram has a quote upon the wall which makes a rather emphatic statement, saying (not verbatim)- "The pinnacle of practice is removing the pauses between inhalation and exhalation of the breath. All else is preliminary."

Is this the guiding principle for meditation practice, and breathing in general? In my own routine meditation I find the pause after the exhale, when the lungs are empty, to be highly pleasurable and I'll sit there for extended periods of time without any air in me at all. If this is an incorrect habit on my part I'd rather intentionally break it now rather than keep practicing incorrectly.

Thank you for your input.
No, not really. There are yogic techniques in Buddhism that involve all sorts of breathwork, but as far as basic shamatha meditation goes, the instruction is usually simply to use the breath as an object of awareness, to attend to the sensations etc.. I'm familiar with the technique they are talking about, but it's by no means the only one out there. If you are doing stuff where you are controlling your breath though, that is different from shamatha meditation with breath as a focus.

As a general rule, Buddhist teachers recommend -not- chasing pleasant or pleasurable experiences, if that helps at all.

I'd watch a few youtube videos by reputable Buddhist teachers, if I were in your shoes, adn wanting to learn more about using/attending to the breath in meditation.
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Re: Eliminating the pauses of the breath

Post by weitsicht » Mon Oct 22, 2018 8:01 am

Welcome to the forum Injrabodhi,

I learned shamata meditation as a means to calm the mind. And through practice I understood that mind is calmer on and after outbreath, revives on the inbreath. With the intention in mind to calm the mind I played with keeping the outbreath as much as you also describe (from what I read). Later I learned to bring my mind to that state also in regular flat breathing. As long as you consider anything you do as a stage to somewhere else and as long as you don't force your body, speech, mind into something, everything will be just fine.

On a sidenote: if you venture into understanding Buddhism a little more you'll see that it's about the negation of both eternalism and nihilism. Paradoxically, it is rather the two at the same time. Indulging in this empty mind moment and pushing a little further in keeping the outbreath showed me my tendency towards nihilism. Seeing that there still is movement, that total emptiness is a figment, is the antidote in practice. Ponder on that if you will.
Ho! All the possible appearances and existences of samsara and nirvana have the same source, yet two paths and two results arise as the magical display of awareness and unawareness.
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Re: Eliminating the pauses of the breath

Post by Wayfarer » Mon Oct 22, 2018 9:58 am

It sounds very idiosyncratic advice to me. I wouldn't put any stock in it.
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Re: Eliminating the pauses of the breath

Post by Simon E. » Mon Oct 22, 2018 10:03 am

There is a great deal of difference between pranayama in various forms which include breathing in certain set ways to bring about certain physiological changes on the one hand, and Buddhist meditation on the breath AS IT IS..on the other. They are different practices with different aims.
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Re: Eliminating the pauses of the breath

Post by Grigoris » Mon Oct 22, 2018 11:27 am

It seems to me that it is physically impossible to eliminate the pause between the in and out breath. You can shorten and lengthen it, but not eliminate it. In most systems the pause between inhalation and exhalation is considered an effective and useful object of meditation.
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Re: Eliminating the pauses of the breath

Post by kirtu » Mon Oct 22, 2018 11:55 am

Injrabodi wrote:
Sun Oct 21, 2018 11:25 pm
"The pinnacle of practice is removing the pauses between inhalation and exhalation of the breath. All else is preliminary."
This strikes me as being a kind of Shaivite statement about meditation and can be interpreted in different ways (and not necessarily strictly physically). In fact I'm pretty sure a virtually identical statement can be found in Paul Reps book "Zen Flash, Zen Bones" in his Shaivite chapter. One of our friends here who has practiced in that tradition might have more to say about this.

So the main way it can be interpreted is as a statement dealing with necessary focus on inhalation and exhalation. People can be overwhelmed by thoughts during meditation and can specifically focus on inhalation and exhalation when they begin meditation with a kind of pause between both. After a while thoughts will be wiped away during inhalation and exhalation because of concentration but during the pauses thoughts can proliferate.

This is really one of the lower levels of meditation in the following diagram depicting the 33 stages of "Taming the Elephant" (taming the mind and developing calming and insight meditation):
meditation_stages.jpg
33 Stages of Taming the Mind (Taming the Elephant)
meditation_stages.jpg (220.48 KiB) Viewed 576 times
Once people master concentration and calming these things become automatic and people can direct their minds without much interference from arising thoughts (so they can go "deeper" but then distractions become subtler ....). So the statement "The pinnacle of practice ..." is for most people really talking about the beginning of shamata/calm abiding meditation before their practice becomes supple. Later the mediator will notice "deep" states in which s/he appears to have stopped breathing (the first time they notice this they usually get yanked out of it because they startle themselves). However for dedicated Shaivite yogis (dedicated sadhus) this is a pointer to their practice of samadhi.

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Re: Eliminating the pauses of the breath

Post by Bristollad » Mon Oct 22, 2018 5:13 pm

Personally, I wouldn't necessarily interpret that quote as an instruction about the physical breath, but about our awareness of the breath.

When using the breath as an object of mediation, early on it becomes quite easy to maintain attention to the sensations of the breath at the nose or the rising or falling of our stomach on the in-breath and the out-breath. However, inbetween the peak of the in-breath and start of the out-breath and the last moment of the out-breath and the beginning of the in-breath seem to be the natural points when the awareness leaps to another object, a thought (this is pleasant/unpleasant, breakfast etc.) or a sensation (pain/ease/numbness, warmth/cold etc.). It's like advidly watching a video; when it's playing it's easy but when its paused our attention wanders to something else.

I wouldn't say it's the pinnacle of practice, but maybe it's the start of a path towards the pinnacle. :tongue:

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Re: Eliminating the pauses of the breath

Post by Injrabodi » Wed Oct 24, 2018 2:03 am

kirtu wrote:
Mon Oct 22, 2018 11:55 am
This strikes me as being a kind of Shaivite statement about meditation and can be interpreted in different ways (and not necessarily strictly physically). In fact I'm pretty sure a virtually identical statement can be found in Paul Reps book "Zen Flash, Zen Bones" in his Shaivite chapter. One of our friends here who has practiced in that tradition might have more to say about this.
The founder of the ashram has a clear Shaiva background that permeates most of what he speaks on. I wasn't sure if this here was Shaivite in particular though, the lines can be quite blurry when it comes to Indian religion at times.
Johnny Dangerous wrote:
Mon Oct 22, 2018 2:08 am
If you are doing stuff where you are controlling your breath though, that is different from shamatha meditation with breath as a focus.
Shamatha is simply the cooling of the mind isn't it? Directed focus towards any object that results in the pacification of the vrittis? I would think that as far as pure shamatha goes controlling the breath or not is irrelevant. In the text "Mahamudra: the Moonlight Quintessence of Mind and Meditation" by Dakpo Tashi Namgyal there's one very specific breathing technique he mentions in a section specifically concerning shamatha meditation- a full inhale, then "relaxing" the ribcage so as to allow the breath to settle in the abdomen and then retaining the air there until discomfort is felt, then slowly releasing it.

It sounds like shamatha is a goal and not a method, though as everyone here is pointing out right now most traditions discourage active control of the breath to attain shamatha.

Thank you again everyone, my question has been answered several times over.

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Re: Eliminating the pauses of the breath

Post by Johnny Dangerous » Wed Oct 24, 2018 8:49 pm

Injrabodi wrote:
Wed Oct 24, 2018 2:03 am
kirtu wrote:
Mon Oct 22, 2018 11:55 am
This strikes me as being a kind of Shaivite statement about meditation and can be interpreted in different ways (and not necessarily strictly physically). In fact I'm pretty sure a virtually identical statement can be found in Paul Reps book "Zen Flash, Zen Bones" in his Shaivite chapter. One of our friends here who has practiced in that tradition might have more to say about this.
The founder of the ashram has a clear Shaiva background that permeates most of what he speaks on. I wasn't sure if this here was Shaivite in particular though, the lines can be quite blurry when it comes to Indian religion at times.
Johnny Dangerous wrote:
Mon Oct 22, 2018 2:08 am
If you are doing stuff where you are controlling your breath though, that is different from shamatha meditation with breath as a focus.
Shamatha is simply the cooling of the mind isn't it? Directed focus towards any object that results in the pacification of the vrittis? I would think that as far as pure shamatha goes controlling the breath or not is irrelevant. In the text "Mahamudra: the Moonlight Quintessence of Mind and Meditation" by Dakpo Tashi Namgyal there's one very specific breathing technique he mentions in a section specifically concerning shamatha meditation- a full inhale, then "relaxing" the ribcage so as to allow the breath to settle in the abdomen and then retaining the air there until discomfort is felt, then slowly releasing it.

It sounds like shamatha is a goal and not a method, though as everyone here is pointing out right now most traditions discourage active control of the breath to attain shamatha.

Thank you again everyone, my question has been answered several times over.

As far as I understand it the abdominal breathing technique your mentioned is one to support shamatha, a tsa-lung/pranayama type technique rather than being shamatha itself. I have learned the technique where you remove the pauses as shamatha (I guess) in a short retreat setting, but it's my impression it's not really 'standard' in the Tibetan traditions i'm familiar with, just one variation among many. But yes there are a bunch of different shamatha techniques.
I would think that as far as pure shamatha goes controlling the breath or not is irrelevant
To add to the confusion, when I've been taught the basic shamatha technique of following breath, I've been expressly told by more than one teacher not to try controlling anything, and simply to observe.
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