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The "3-point concentration object" in Daniel P Brown´s teaching



In Daniel P Brown´s "Pointing Out the Great Way" retreats (now possibly no longer offered, judging by the website as of March 2023), the chosen meditation object was the breath.


However, it initially sounded strange to me when the designation for it in the actual meditations was not "breath" but "concentration object".


Even more abstract, it was called the "3-point concentration object" or the "7-point concentration object", or simply the "3-point object".


Here is Dan Brown using this terminology in a short "demo meditation" during an interview on stage (it is worth listening to the entire interview)




The 3/7-point concentration object and full-body breathing


The "3-point concentration object" designated the meditation object "breath" where the attention is sequentially directed to 3 points of the breath cycle (Bissanti et. al. 2022)


  1. "Focus on the felt sense of the arising breath

  2. Then the felt sense of the falling breath

  3. And then the felt sense of the body as a whole between the full cycle of the breath. Concentration on the body in the intervals between the cycle of breath prevents the meditator from resuming chasing after thought and mind wandering while waiting for the next cycle of breath "



The more complex "7-point object" is useful later to reduce the habit of partial staying and apportioning attention between the concentration object and the background noise.


  1. the start of the in-breath

  2. full duration of the in-breath

  3. the end-point of the in-breath

  4. the start of the out-breath

  5. the full duration of the out-breath

  6. the end-point of the out-breath

  7. the felt sense of the body after the out-breath



Full-body breathing (Culadasa) tbd


It’s possible to achieve exclusive attention by just focusing over and over on the breath at the nose and ignoring subtle distractions until they fade away, but that can take a very long time. Experiencing the whole body with the breath is a faster and more enjoyable method that makes it much easier to completely ignore distractions. This practice involves clearly defining then gradually expanding the scope of your attention until it includes sensations related to breath throughout the entire body all at once. The method itself builds on the body-scanning practice you learned in Stage Five. Just as with the body scan, you first direct your attention to the breath at the abdomen. Then, making sure that peripheral awareness of the breath at the abdomen doesn’t fade, you shift your attention to a particular body part, such as your hand. Define your scope of attention to include that area only. Then further refine your scope to include only the breath sensations in the hand. Ignore all other sensations by excluding them completely from attention, but let them remain in peripheral awareness. Next, move to another body part, perhaps the forearm, and do the same thing. Each moment of attention should include a very strong intention to focus clearly on breath-related sensations and to exclude everything else. As your skill improves, keep increasing the scope of your attention to include larger and larger areas. Also, keep shifting between larger and smaller areas. For example, you might move between one finger and the entire arm. Your intention should be to observe all breath-related sensations as clearly in the whole arm as in that one finger. Whether you succeed or not isn’t important—though eventually, you will succeed. What matters is that simply holding this intention will bring your maximum available conscious capacity to bear on the current task.


The breath as concept


I have seen no explanation for this strange terminology, so here are my thoughts:


Daniel Brown uses this highly abstract term in oder to reduce the amount of conceptualisation.


"The breath", as Culadasa (2017) explains, is in reality a highly complex conceptualisation.


The very idea of “the breath” is really a complex concept built from many other concepts: that we’re a separate being; we have a body; we have a nose that’s part of our body; our body is surrounded by air; air moves through the nose in two directions; and so on. It’s not until we start observing the subtle details, the sensations that repeat themselves with every in- and out-breath, that we actually begin experiencing sense-percepts directly.

Culadasa illustrates it with an example.


When we start meditating, our experience of the breath is mostly conceptual, although we don’t know it at the time. In fact, during the early stages, we’re hardly aware of the actual breath sensations, just enough to trigger the arising of concepts related to the breath. These concepts (“inhaling,” “pause,” “exhaling”) are our real objects of attention. The conceptualizing begins as we breathe in, when air first strikes the skin at the nostrils. The somatosensory mind projects a small number of mind moments into consciousness that have these breath-related sense-percepts as their objects. The discriminating mind immediately assimilates those sense-percepts and interprets them using concepts it already has, like “nose,” “touch,” “air,” “beginning,” and “in-breath.” When this purely conceptual view of what’s happening is projected into consciousness, we subjectively perceive the “beginning of the in-breath,” hardly noticing the actual sensations. The same thing happens again when a few more moments of attention provide another “sample” of sense-percepts produced by air flowing over the skin of the nostrils. The discriminating mind generates another conceptual construct, such as the “first part of the middle of the in-breath.” In other words, as we engaged with the breath, we were following concepts more than actual sensations.

From "initial appearance" of breath to "acquired appearance" of the concentration object


Culadasa uses the Pali term "initial appearance of the concentration object" for this initial, largely conceptual perception.


With practice, the meditator acquires a more sensory based perception, just registering the elementary sensory impressions of the flow of air, pressure etc. This is called "acquired appearance of the concentration object".


In fact, when meditating on the breath for a longer period, I occasionally lose the knowledge whether I am currently breathing in or breathing out (an example also brought by Culadasa).


Thus, when using the term "concentration object" or "3-point concentration object", Daniel P Brown´s instructions facilitate a non-conceptual perception.


This approach is similar to Sam Harris´s avoidance of too "concretistic" terms and metaphors. For example, Sam Harris prefers the term "condition" to the term "space" when he designates the internal "space" of awareness. Or, he avoids the typical nature-based Tibetan teaching metaphors. At one point, when deviating from this practice, he uses the "ocean and wave" metaphor, he immediately guides the student to not hang on to that concept.


It's not often that I ask you to invoke a concept in this way, but it can be helpful. And then let go of it.

Resources


Bissanti, M., Brown, D. P., & Pasari, J. (2022). The Elephant Path: Attention Development and Training in Children and Adolescents (2.). Mustang Bon Foundation. https://www.amazon.de/Elephant-Path-Attention-Development-Adolescents/dp/1732157995



Brown, D. P. (2019). Sacred Sundays with Daniel P Brown. Sacred Sundays. https://youtu.be/0swudgvmBbk

A very wide and deep overview of the tradition and background of Daniel P Brown´s teachings


Gebel, T. (2023a, January 8). Ocean and Wave - Sam Harris Daily Meditation 2023.01.08. Till Gebel. https://www.till-gebel.com/post/sam-harris-daily-meditation-2023-01-08-ocean-and-wave-metaphor


Gebel, T. (2022c). Daniel P Brown makes various enemies. Till Gebel. https://www.till-gebel.com/post/daniel-p-brown-meditation-teacher-cia-catholic-church-kennedy-enemies


Yates (Culadasa), J., & Immergut, M. (2017). The Mind Illuminated: A Complete Meditation Guide Integrating Buddhist Wisdom and Brain Science for Greater Mindfulness. Hay House Uk.

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