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The Open Technique Of Mindfulness On The Breath

August 25th, 2008 · 1 Comment · Filed under: Practice

The breathing technique in Shambhala Training’s Level I class is the so-called “open technique”, where the inbreath is not regarded, and one simply waits for the outbreath, merging with the outbreath, becoming the experience of the outbreath, dissolving with the outbreath, and waiting at the end, in the gap, simply waiting.

Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche developed this instruction as the beginner instruction of the warrior path of Shambhala Training. This is the instruction Rinpoche gives in his core book, The Sacred Path of the Warrior. For a long time the open technique was the basic instruction that all meditators were taught who came to any Shambhala center for the free instruction.

But in recent years the basic instruction now taught has become the “precise technique”, focusing on both the inbreath and the outbreath. This change I am told was wrought by the Sakyong and I have heard that it caused large ripples throughout Shambhala, as practitioners were invited to review their decades-long basic practice.

I was given the basic meditation instruction less than three years ago, at the Austin Center, well after this change had occurred, but nevertheless I was taught the open technique. This can happen apparently when older sangha members haven’t quite heard the news of the change.

The open technique is held to be quite an advanced technique, and certainly this is how it strikes me now. I find it immensely difficult to perform faithfully according to its simple and vast instructions.

Fellow Dharma practitioner Chodpa was writing recently about not finding the breath, not finding anything real there, having turned to Shamatha from a long time in the space of mahamudra, and I think he would have liked the teaching of this Level I beginner weekend. The breath, it turns out, is just a place to find yourself lost.

Our teacher talked about noticing the contrast between where we are as we awaken from our reverie of thoughts, and the place that awareness has brought us back to. Simply noticing the contrast. Simply noticing the contrast. Oh, and maybe switching allegiance from one side to the other.

As I practiced, I noted the contrast between the pain of being caught up in thought, and the open space of presence that comes as a gift somehow, when awareness alerts us that we’re back. I can only call it a gift, because I don’t know how to claim credit for it, the coming back out of thought.

I know that I’m training in meditation to come back out of thought into presence, but I don’t know how this works. I said once to a teacher, and was agreed with, that somehow in continually returning our focus to the breath we are replacing the karma of forgetting with the karma of remembering. I stand by this, but it doesn’t mean I know how awareness comes to be in the first place. If there is a first place.

Better simply to turn away from this kind of speculation, and return to the breath, if you can find it. Because in this game the breath, I suspect, exists not to be found so much as to give us a means to recover from being lost.

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Denny Wilson // Apr 26, 2009 at 8:46 am

    Great web site

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