SuttaCentral

Meditation object: Tinnitus

I mentioned in another thread that I have tinnitus, a constant ringing in my ears. Ajahn Sumedho teaches using “the sound of silence” as a meditation object. I am a little reluctant to do this with tinnitus as I recall Bhikkhu Analayo telling the story of a monk he knows who used his headache as his object of meditation and it never went away.

Any thoughts about this?

2 Likes

I have tinnitus. I can tell you that it exhibits anicca just as well as anything else for me; it changes in pitch, texture, volume, which ear, and even becomes polyphonic at times. I like to listen to it as I go to sleep.

Still, I prefer to use the breath as meditation object because there is a modicum of control that one can exert on the breath to manipulate one’s moods. The breath is a bridge between that which can be controlled and that which is automatic. I haven’t noticed a connection between the tinnitus and mood and I certainly haven’t unlocked a way to change it. The best use I have found for it is as a thing to concentrate on when I need to remove music that is stuck in my head. Otherwise, it’s a boring object, not very insight-giving, and there are many better explained, tried-and-true meditation objects in the Vishuddhimagga,
Vimmutimagga, and Patisambhidamagga.

All of the above is merely my opinion. If you feel that using tinnitus as a meditation object could be useful for you, I encourage you to experiment with it and see where it takes you.

2 Likes

In Theravada sound is not used as a meditation subject because it has the danger of leading into music, attaching the practitioner to the cycles of samsara:

“Bhikkhus, there are these five dangers when Dhamma is chanted with a long, singing sound:

He is pleased with himself regarding that sound, (= pride)

others are pleased regarding that sound (they have regard for it but not for Dhamma)

householders look down upon him (as music is for those who enjoy sense-pleasures)

while trying for accuracy of sound his concentration is broken, (he neglects the meaning of what he is chanting)

people coming after fall into views (by emulation) (“saying: Our teachers and preceptors sang it thus” [Commentary] – a source of both pride and quarreling among later generations of Buddhists).”

– Vinaya Pitaka, ii. 108


The breath as a subject employs the tactile sense because it is the easiest of the five senses to access. Following the tetrads in the Anapanasati sutta the first is sensitivity to the whole body, followed by sensitivity to feelings in the body, and these use the tactile sense.The Anapanasati and the connected Satipatthana sutta have the body as the fundamental subject of practice preceeding the mind, and the Buddha independently stresses the developing of the skill of accessing tactile sensations as a compulsory basis for practice.

"Thus you should train yourselves: ‘We will develop mindfulness immersed in the body. We will pursue it, hand it the reins and take it as a basis, give it a grounding. We will steady it, consolidate it, and set about it properly.’ That’s how you should train yourselves.”—-SN 35.206

Western Buddhists often avoid the body and attempt to skip to the mind as a subject due to western proclivity, and from there to dependent origination, and the practice becomes destabilized. It is much more difficult to discern mental states, and training in tactile perception of the body is a necessary grounding, shown in this overview of the practice:

“Having trained in physically sensing the body with the three exercises in the first satipaññhàna finds its natural complement in turning awareness to feeling itself, which in turn leads via the distinction between worldly and unworldly types of feelings to contemplation of mental states, inculcating the ability to sense the arising of unwholesomeness even before it has fully manifested in the mind. Contemplation of the mind finds a further refinement in recognition of the hindrances as a basis for emerging from them and then being able to cultivate the awakening factors.”—-Analayo

1 Like

I have tinnitus and have thought of using it as a meditation object as well. And for basically the same reason as the monk you mentioned, I’ve refrained from doing so. Also, there are plenty of other “certified” meditation objects…why go out of the way to choose an object that is not only “uncertified” but could also lead to serious problems down the line?

I just ignore it, as I’ve done since I got it.

3 Likes

If tinnitus is as vexing as my ever bubbling stray thoughts, one might find refuge listening to the suttas, since they provide a skillful focus for mindfulness. Listening to the suttas repurposes the sense of sound and might (?) provide some relief. Now, if I find myself surrounded by unpleasant sounds I just recall hearing the suttas and peace unfolds. In other words, hearing the suttas might be effective as a foundation of immersion walking, sitting, standing or reclining.

DN33:2.1.136: That mendicant feels inspired by the meaning and the teaching in that Dhamma, no matter how a meditation subject as a foundation of immersion is properly grasped, attended, borne in mind, and comprehended with wisdom.

3 Likes

Like others here, the tinnitus doesn’t bother me. In fact, as @Acalaa mentioned, I find it oddly pleasant or neither pleasant or unpleasant. Perhaps because we practice what the Buddha teaches, we don’t suffer from aversion to it like an ordinary person might.

3 Likes

Indeed, @Adutiya, I find it neither pleasant nor unpleasant, but occasionally useful. I might add here that I also have a sort of visual tinnitus, sometimes called “visual snow”. Basically, what looks like a blank wall to anyone else looks like a sparkling field of monochromatic glitter to me. Both the tinnitus and the visual snow help me to realize that my experience of the world is subjective, not necessary what is actually there but merely what is sensed due to the limitations of nama-rupa.

5 Likes

I have the same thing @Acalaa

It is my personal observation but not only, because many of my meditative companions see/hear/feel it the same way, that few things are intercorrelated:

First of all, experience of piti in the body is often associated with arising of the “high pitched sound” or perhaps something like sound of crickets singing at night. It is interesting to note that people who do OOBE’s also hear high pitched sound, so it is clearly not just “tinnitus” thing.

Experience of piti in body is sometimes related to seeing movement in visual field even with eyes closed.

The stronger the piti or the visual movement, usually the stronger the “sound of silence”.

I wonder if what people call “tinnitus” is in fact a disorder, or if it is just sound of random bursts of energy flow through the subtle body? Energy that buddhists call piti, and hindu call prana. The fact that buddhist practitioners who familiarise themselves throught meditation with so called “tinnitus”, find it usually pleasant and calming, leads me to conclusion/prediction that this tinnitus is not a disorder in itself, but some people are going a little nuts, because in their minds there are sounds that they cannot control and interpret it negatively.

I personally wonder if this energy (piti/prana) can be heard as high pitched sound/other inner sounds, and personally I believe this is the case.

There is ancient yogic practice called “Nada yoga” which is about hearing this sound, and some yogis believes that hearing it can lead to oneness with Brahman. Source: https://www.amazon.com/Practice-Nada-Yoga-Meditation-Sacred-ebook/dp/B00HDGKYWI
nada%20yoga

Also Pythagoreans were mystics, who was speaking about “music of the spheres” I wonder if they perhaps didn’t mean the same thing.

Of course it is meditation object rarely used in buddhist circles, but as mentioned, Ajahn Sumedho wrote about it, chapter 12 is about Sound of Silence:

Anyway, my interpretation of word “kaya” is such that it doens’t relate only to physical body, but also subtler perceptions of the subtle body. And if subtle body can be perceived with different “sense” than only tacticle sensations, then I think perceving this sound can be taken as “kaya”, just as seeing forms that are also felt in deeper states can be taken as “kaya” or “rupa”.

And so we can breathe in stilling “bodily formation”, which this sound can be extension of. I think on deeper levels of the mind there is hardly distincion between the senses, and they more or less merge into oneness. And I think this “sound of silence” is part of it, just heard on a level of perception that still divides this energy into particular different sense doors.

That is my take on it, but I know I’m in a minority.
I’m aware thou that we have unique minds, so it is hard to say if what is true for my mind or some other people, will be true for everyone else. And suttas I think doesn’t deal with this subject directly in any way. That is why I also this thread belongs to watercooler section :slight_smile:

With metta and may all tinnitus in the world be calming support on the path and in life :anjal: Imo it is great samatha object :heart: If it calms you down, it does the function of samatha. :sunny: :slight_smile: I hope everyone will be friends and at peace with their tinnitus :slight_smile: :peace_symbol: :dove: Perhaps it wil lead them to Brahman or even to jhanas :joy:

I can hear some high pitched sounds better than others, and cannot hear some mid pitched sounds as well. I think it’s just normal variation.
I can also hear some high pitched drones nearly constantly. Sometimes, I have wondered if I am hearing blood passing through capillaries in my head; other times, I’ve wondered if it’s the electromagnetic fields which saturate most contemporary environments. Other times, I have wondered if it’s the sound of solar winds.
It’s rarely too loud or annoying for me, though I recall that tinnitus was tortuous sometimes for my father.

I don’t make it a meditation object.

3 Likes

People taking psychodelic dmt/ayahuasca also usually seems to report/describes hearing/experiencing same sounds at the beginning of the trip.
If I remember correctly there were few cases of people with tinnitus having for years and it finished for good after some psychedelic “treatment”.
There were also people(normal, without tinnitus) who took much to much and they developed this “visual snow” for life.

And there is also this method for temporary cancellation:

2 Likes

Fascinating. I just tried it and it does work! :open_mouth:

(BTW, so does listening to the suttas with earbuds)

3 Likes

One morning this past July I woke up with zero ability to hear with my right ear. The tinnitus is loud and varies between ringing and crackling or bubbling. I couldn’t say, from experience, that using it as a meditation object would make it worse, but it does seem that “training” my brain to dwell in my ears might make it more difficult to ignore the sounds when not meditating.

3 Likes

I tried it too. After meditating for about 1:15, I paid attention to the tinnitus for a minute or so then did this technique. Immediately I heard a very different sound than the usual tinnitus; somewhat louder and with a distinct pitch. Over the next minute or two, the new sound slowly faded away and the sound I’m accustomed to was still there but much less loud. I have no idea how long it lasted, but it was temporary.

I’ve not used tinnitus as a meditation object, I don’t see the need and I don’t want to open a new can of worms.

Just a caution - Clinical tinnitus may not be ‘the sound of silence’ to which people like Ajahn Sumedho refer. I think we need to be careful to differentiate, a light background noise that one may become aware of, from a disorder of tinnitus :pray:

6 Likes

I find this interesting. And helpful in that I suffer from fibromyalgia and its associated neuropathic pain. There’s lots of meditation advice around about focusing on pain when it arises and watching it dissolve. I have been apply this advice well to the sorts of pain that arise during prolonged cushion sitting, but the same techniques don’t seem to work well for fibro pain. I find that I experience less pain when I use strategies of distraction, both in daily life and in meditation (so I do a lot of metta meditation). Sometimes I do have a go at watching the pain, and am fairly convinced that this makes it worse both during and after the sit.

The knowledge that the meditative experience of focusing on migraine and on tinnitus can have similarly reinforcing effects is immensely helpful to me.

2 Likes