I am practicing samadhi meditation using the breath as an object. Most teachers say to watch the breath at the tip of the nose. However, Ajahn Brahm says not to locate the breath anywhere. I find that these two approaches are very different. Which one is right?
This stems from the different interpretation of Parimukham in Anapanasati Sutta and relate other Suttas. Here in Ajahn Brahm's tradition what is said is to simply establish mindfulness. (See Ven. Sujato's interpretation in What is the Interpretation of Parimukham in the context of Buddhist Meditation?)
One way to judge what is the right interpretation if the instruction can be put to practice easily, after all these are meditation instructions. In this context both interpretations seem valid.
Also Suttas like Sammaditthi Sutta mentions the calming of verbal fabrication, i.e., calming of thinking and pondering. The beast is way to start this process is the develops concentration by anchoring your mind on a small fixed object like the centre of the upper lip.
Whatever works for you is right. In essence this is the doctrine of the 84,000 techniques.
Nose tips or everywhere else is ok. But when you found an obvoius point to observe. Use that single point your entire life, focus on that, And don't try to move to everywhere.
We do sammadi to make Janas. Janas means become firmillar.
When you become firmillar with that point, Your mind will automatically observe that point without thinking of it or taking any effort.
Everybody is right. You need to decide what is right for you and which teacher you follow.
I practice Suizen (meditating by playing the Shakuhachi, a Japanese bamboo flute). My way to breath and my thinking about it - is it right or wrong? Who decides? Is it the right thing for you? Is your way of meditation the right thing for me? Is my teacher more right than Ajahn? Is Ajahn enlightened?
This all does not matter.
As a Shakuhachi player I am aware that I should not become attached to the Shakuhachi and to the specific practice. The practice itself is only the tool. You should not be attached to Samadhi meditation as well. It is only a tool.
Don't start making an "correctness order" in the different practices. Just chose yours. Otherwise it will not lead to anything.
Ajahn Brahm is a fantastic writer and certainly a wise person. There is so much more to learn from what he says than "just" the "location of the breath".
Finally I want to share this story/quote which I can only translate roughly, but impressed for me for years. I hope it inspires you as well.
The King invited Hannyatara (Bodhidharmas teacher) to practice Sutra. All practiced Sutra, but Hannyatara remained silent. "Why don't you practice?", the King asked. Hannyatara replied: "I practice the real Sutra at any time, with every breath I take"
In all honesty and with all due respect to the western philosophy and way of living, I'd say don't worry about it. It really doesn't matter. It's the wrong thing to bother about. I know with all the reading of techniques and people saying 1001 things about meditation, (what's that fad? Mindfulness?), we start scratching our heads. Also you'll see as you go on, you'll get a lot of contrasting opinions.
Just be. Don't think. (About this I mean).
To illustrate this, a very famous Zen story is available. 2 monks are standing next to a flag. They are arguing with each other about whether the flag is moving or wind. The sixth patriarch could not bear to see this and went to them and said, "the wind is not moving, the flag is not moving. The mind is."
Buddhist practise is about testing. You have to test the different methods for yourself.
Ultimately, Ajahn Brahm is right since Buddhist practise is about giving up craving. If you wish to meditate in a specific conditioned way with a specific conditioned goal, that is craving. But giving up craving is focusing in the unconditioned, which is Buddhist practise.
However, you don't have to believe me or Ajahn Brahm. Instead, try to watch your breathing at the nose-tip & see for yourself the results. In the short term, the mind will certainly become calm & tranquil but in the longer term the mind will become foggy, sleepy & confused.
Beginners can certainly watch the breath at the nose-tip. This is a good method for beginners to have a taste of peace. But, after time, it will cease to bring results because it is too conditioned & too coarse. The very effort to intentionally keep the mind at one point suppresses the mind. In true one-pointedness (ekkaggatta), the mind's energy gathers at one-point after the physical body has been calmed & purified of mental formations. To purify the body, there must be openness of mind rather than suppression.
With Reference to 'Anapanasati Sutta (MN 118)' there are 16 steps (of meditation). Please focus on the Seventh step: that is 'Experiencing the Breath as a mind object'.
Once the sixth step: Arousing Happiness, is established the breath appears to be disappear, and only stable peacefulness prevails.
Hence at the Seventh Step (Experiencing the Breath as a mind object): even though you are still breathing; breath is no longer being experienced as a touching feeling.
Here actually what happen is: we shift from feeling to knowing. That is 'feeling turns off' to 'mind turns on'. Technically called 'experiencing the chitta sankara' or knowing the 'breath' as an 'object'(of mind). Here we still aware of the breath, but in a different perspective.
Now you understand the argument of whether establishing a point to feel breath becomes immaterial when you proceed to the advance steps of the Anapanasati meditation.
I have thought about this a fair amount and have come to the following conclusion: Both methods are possible.
My reasoning is simple: there are teachers who appear to have advanced very far in meditation who advocate both methods. If one believes that Ajahn Brahm is telling the truth and speaking from experience, this means that it is possible to achieve all 8 levels of samadhi with his method--without being aware at the tip of the nose.
If one believes, e.g., Pa Auk Sayadaw is teaching from experience and telling the truth, then it seems that it is possible to achieve all 8 levels of samadhi with by focusing on the breath around the upper lip area/outside of the nostrils.
I think that it is highly likely that both of the assumptions are easy to make and therefore we should think either method is suitable for developing samadhi to its culmination. There may be certain advantages or disadvantages to either of these methods, perhaps in certain situations or for certain people. Such matters are interesting and should be investigated.
Update: The following is from Ajahn Brahm and was added in response to Dhammadhatu's concerns that I had misrepresented Ajahn Brahm's teaching. I think it is clear from the text that I have not. I have also watched many youtube videos of Brahm and to the best of my knowledge his view on this has not changed. The first of the two following quotations is repeated verbatim in the 2016 book Kindfulness by Ajahn Brahm.
Some teachers say to watch the breath at the tip of the nose, some say to watch it at the abdomen, and some say to move it here and then move it there. I have found through experience that it does not matter where you watch the breath. In fact it is best not to locate the breath anywhere. If you locate the breath at the tip of your nose then it becomes “nose awareness,” not breath awareness, and if you locate it at your abdomen then it becomes “abdomen awareness.” Just ask yourself right now: “Am I breathing in or breathing out? How do I know?” There! The experience that tells you what the breath is doing, that is what you focus on. Let go of the concern about where Some teachers say to watch the breath at the tip of the nose, some say to watch it at the abdomen, and some say to move it here and then move it there. I have found through experience that it does not matter where you watch the breath. In fact it is best not to locate the breath anywhere. If you locate the breath at the tip of your nose then it becomes “nose awareness,” not breath awareness, and if you locate it at your abdomen then it becomes “abdomen awareness.” Just ask yourself right now: “Am I breathing in or breathing out? How do I know?” There! The experience that tells you what the breath is doing, that is what you focus on. Let go of the concern about where this experience is located. Just focus on the experience itself.
Brahm (2006-08-10). Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond: A Meditator's Handbook (p. 15). Wisdom Publications. Kindle Edition.
You are now asked to set up mindfulness “in front of you.” [parimukhaṃ...see Suminda's post in this thread] When the Buddha said “in front of you” he didn’t mean putting attention on the tip of your nose, or on your upper lip, or some place in front of your eyes. To put something in front means to make it important. So this preliminary instruction is to establish mindfulness by giving it priority.
In chapter 7 he explains that after sometime, one ceases to feel any sensation of the breath at all and relates to the breath purely as a mental object, then a nimitta arises and one takes that as the object at the appopriate moment.
Thanks adamokkha. That is very helpful. Which do you choose? Apr 24, 2016 at 20:49
@Wolfie, I do both but I will probably focus more on the upper lip method as it is advocated by two teachers that I have worked with a fair amount. Apr 25, 2016 at 0:43
Adamokkha. Respectfully, your post about Ajahn Brahm is not correct. Ajahn Brahm is not saying it is possible to achieve all 8 levels of samadhi without being aware at the tip of the nose. Instead, there is a phase of the meditation when the mind naturally is aware at the tip of the nose. On the path to the 1st jhana, the mind will focus at only the tip of the nose at a certain time. What Ajahn Brahm is saying is the method to to achieve all 8 levels of samadhi is not a deliberate effort to watch the nose. To start meditation by watching the tip of the nose is like trying to climb Mt Everest from its peak. Kind regards.
I have added content to my post below in response to this comment. The view I attributed to Ajahn Brahm is, I think, very clearly supported by the text I quoted. If you have any source material that suggests that his view has changed on this matter, or if he contradicts this somewhere else, then that would be worth reading. I have never seen or heard him say anything that supports the view you attribute to him. Apr 25, 2016 at 0:42
Thanks to both of you. I think both of you may be correct....I have found that when I do not try to localize the breath, and then reach access concentration, my mind is drawn to trying to find a "spot"... Perhaps tip of the nose? Apr 25, 2016 at 1:31
I was not referring to anything I know Ajahn Brahm said about the nose-tip. I am simply explaining the reality of meditation. When the mind eventually reaches 'ekaggatta', it must lock onto a localised point & established a centredness there. However, it is impossible to start from the nose-tip & reach jhana from there. Regards Apr 25, 2016 at 3:55
Ajahn Brahm states in MIndfulness Bliss & Beyond: "The breath appears to fade away as the mind focuses instead on what is at the center of the experience of breath.." Here, Ajahn Brahm is explaining approaching ekkaggata & the nimitta. However, this is jhana level. On the level of neighbourhood concentration, the nimitta will not arise. Instead, the mind will gather on the breath at the nose-tip. But as I originally posted, you will only learn which method is proper by the results achieved. Best wishes. Apr 25, 2016 at 4:05
Dhammadhatu When you say: "...the Nimitta will not arise"...do you mean the Nimitta will not arise in neighbourhood concentration? Or that the Nimitta will not arise if in neighborhood concentration if you do not focus on the tip of the nose?? Apr 30, 2016 at 1:02