Upon (re)-reading this answer, I conjectured perhaps there are techniques unsuitable for some.

It does seem to be the case with the breath for me, in my experience, despite the popularity and near universality of the breath as meditative object. In context, I'm extremely sensitive to what people call experiential avoidance, and focusing on the breathing to the exclusion of all else seems to trigger this. More so, I read here that in some cases of dissociative people the breath may be difficult to focus on.

My question is mainly:

Given these conditions, could even the breath (or any object of meditation) be truly unsuitable for some? Is it possible that other objects would be much more suitable? How would one actually know/discover this?

I'm particularly tempted to conclude compassion (which has a visual and affective component) might be a better alternative. Yet, I'm always brought back to the breath because I keep concluding that its a universal object that should work for everyone. Am I wrong?

Thank you

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    Besides given already a long buddhist answer I would like to add that whenever you do certain technique to get rid of an unpleasant feeling/thought, then that just reinforces experiential avoidance & the underlying beliefs that underpin the avoidance. If you can, always expose yourself to uncomfortable feelings. Use here the principle of 'challenging, but not overwhelming'. So if you get anxious while breathing but you think you can manage this exposure, then do it to the point it feels doable for you, & then focus on the uncomfortable sensation & observe it curiously and non-judgmentally. – Val Apr 18 at 14:12
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    I'm responding because of the dissociative bit, which I recognise very much. In my case the trigger is the wrong type of concentration (laser like focus instead of unwavering composure). You might find this video helpful: youtube.com/watch?v=4kY4zVThpro Practising this way could help you avoid dissociation. – Medhiṇī Apr 21 at 10:33

I don't think the idea that breath meditation is universally suitable has any explicit basis in the texts. I'm not sure if you are aware or interested, but the Visuddhimagga has an explicit opinion on which types of meditation are suitable for which sort of individual:

As to suitability to temperament: here the exposition should be understood according to what is suitable to the temperaments. That is to say: first, the ten kinds of foulness and mindfulness occupied with the body are eleven meditation subjects suitable for one of greedy temperament. The four divine abidings and four colour kasiṇas are eight suitable for one of hating temperament. Mindfulness of breathing is the one [recollection as a] meditation subject suitable for one of deluded temperament and for one of speculative temperament. The first six recollections are suitable for one of faithful temperament. Mindfulness of death, the recollection of peace, the defining of the four elements, and the perception of repulsiveness in nutriment, are four suitable for one of intelligent temperament. The remaining kasiṇas and the immaterial states are suitable for all kinds of temperament. And anyone of the kasiṇas should be limited for one of speculative temperament and measureless for one of deluded temperament. This is how the exposition should be understood here “as to suitability to temperament.”

Path of Purification 3.121

I think it is proper to question the assumption that any meditation practice would be suitable for all individuals, though one might say that sati or "mindfulness" in general is universally applicable.


I also often think that one should stick to one school of thought, to one teaching etc., but often this leads to narrow mindedness and rigidity. Besides, if a given method works for you better than another, why don't use it?

To quote:

“Those who teach a Dhamma for the abandoning of passion, for the abandoning of aversion, for the abandoning of delusion — their Dhamma is well-taught”. (Ājīvaka Sutta; AN 3:72)

Firstly, we can see that the Buddha taught in a manner that is conducive both to oneself and to others. There is often the impression that Dhamma is exclusively concerned for other's, but that's not quite correct:

Whenever you want to do a bodily action, you should reflect on it: 'This bodily action I want to do — would it lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Would it be an unskillful bodily action, with painful consequences, painful results?' If, on reflection, you know that it would lead to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both; it would be an unskillful bodily action with painful consequences, painful results, then any bodily action of that sort is absolutely unfit for you to do.

There is also the case that some monks during the time of the Buddhs commited suicide because of the asubha bhavana practise. Those monks became disgusted by their own body. This shows you that they weren't ready yet.

Secondly, if we take MN 20 for example we can clearly see that Buddha employed a number of strategies not just one. "If X doesn't work use Y, and if that doesn't work either, use Z".

And lastly, there is the pali word 'upaya', which translates as 'skilful means'. When the Buddha was asked about certain things or teachings the Buddha often gave 'mundane answers' or remained silent, in order to not cause further confusion. For lay people he often began a talk on morality and on the drawbacks of sensuality. Then, when the mind was rid of the hindrances, he gave higher Dhamma.

Similarly, if Mindfulness of Breathing causes you distress then put it aside for a while and do metta meditation.

To summarise, there is no one size fits all. Different people, different history, different dispositions, different preferences & so on.

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