What is conceptual breathing?


Pa Auk says that in order to reach the first jhana, one must concentrate on the breath. But he specifies that we must concentrate on the breath passing through a specific point of the body. This specific point is the tip of the nostrils. So Pa Auk thinks that we should concentrate on the breath passing through the tip of the nostrils (and we should not even follow the breath entering the nostrils, but only concentrate on the breath at the tip of the nostrils).

And Pa Auk says something else very important: he distinguishes between “non-conceptual breath” and “conceptual breat”. Non-conceptual breath is the most obvious breath : it is the breath that goes through the body channel, it is the moving and unstable breath that rubs against the skin. Conversely, the conceptual breath is the breath that passes through the channel of the mind, it is the very stable, immobile, massive breath, where inhalation and exhalation merge.

Pa Auk says that the beginning meditator should start by focusing on the non-conceptual breath. But after that, the meditator should concentrate on the non-conceptual breath.

My problem (and from what the internet says, I’m not the only one) is that when I meditate, I can never find conceptual breath. I can’t make it appear. In other words, I don’t see what conceptual breath is in practice.
Do you understand what the conceptual breath is? Do you have any techniques to make it appear?

Thanks in advance

I’m guessing he is referring to the visual nimitta, back when I followed that visuddhimagga based system I found that ayya khema’s instruction worked best for allowing the visual nimitta to take over and expand. Any attempt at shifting focus to the visual nimitta too early would cause it to disappear, so stick to the physical breath until you know without doubt that the visual nimitta is strong.

Watch HR day 13 and 14, maybe 12 too.


For Pa Auk, concentrating on the conceptual breath allows to concentrate better, and consequently to make the nimatta appear better. So I understood that he was differentiating between the conceptual breathing and the nimatta.

Thank you for your advice.

Hello again. Its good to ask such questions however people (much as myself) may not agree with the above instruction. While the mind must merge with the breath in the nostrils prior to the manifestation of/entry into jhana; attempting to use willful volition to maintain concentration on the breath at the tip of the nostrils may not work. According to the suttas, the Buddha did not teach like this. The way of the Buddha to develop concentration (immersion) is explained in SN 48.9.

The above “conceptual breath” seems to be describing the breath sensations sensed/experienced by the brain cells

While beginner meditators should try their very best to practice instructions similar to the above, Higher Dhamma practice is about giving up craving/willfulness. In words, as already posted, attempting to maintain such crude concentration methods for a long period may not work.

Yes, this is because your situation/development is not yet ready to experience this “conceptual breath”. Your mind is not refined enough. The practise of the “non-conceptual breath” has not been developed sufficiently enough.

To me. respectfully, the above question is born from craving. The practice of the Buddha is the abandonment/letting go of craving. The magical instructions of Pa Auk seem to have generated craving. Such ‘mechanistic’ descriptions/instructions of meditation, at least in my experience, generally do not work. But they are useful for beginners to experiment with because they can actually bring some very good short term results (such as the taste of calm/samatha). But for sustained concentration development, in my experience, these types of instructions do not work. This is because, when the mind concentrates on the breath, the breath refines. The more the breath refines, the more difficult the breath is to discern. Therefore, if the mind does not refine to the same degree the breath refines, the knowing of the breath will be lost. If you keep trying with your mind to apply these willful techniques, such as maintaining the mind only at the nose-top, the mind will not refine because the mind is rigid & ambitious.

The best meditation is of the “non-conceptual” breath; when the mind/consciousness is allowed to fall/drop into the body. The is why in MN 118 the Buddha taught to experience “all of the bodies” or “the whole body”. The more ambition/impatience/rush to develop jhana, the slower the results.

Kind regards :pray:t2:


Yes, it is the visualization (sign) which appears at a certain stage of meditation (irrespective of subject), and takes years to develop. The full instructions are in the Visuddhimagga, IV 27 fwd., where the conceptual leap is explained. There are no shortcuts as it is dependent on overcoming the hindrances.


Thank you very much for your answer.

Pa Auk says that one problem with non-conceptual breathing is that when we concentrate on it, we end up perceiving the particles that constitute it, and therefore our concentration stops deepening because these particles are extremely unstable and volatile. What do you think about it?

Thanks in advance

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Thank you very much!

The above is not a problem. Understanding what constitutes the state/quality of the breathing is part of the insight taught by the Buddha.

Concentration calms the volatility. Therefore, concentration does not stop deepening.

If Pa Auk believes volatility is a problem then it seems their obsession with “conceptual” breathing is “suppressing” the cause of the volatility and suppressing the volatility (rather than calming & dissolving the volatility); similar to sweeping dust under a carpet. This is what I think about it.

Kind regards :slightly_smiling_face:

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Thank you very much.

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