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[ Sitting Practice ]

Breathing Practice
The Āṇāpaṇasati Sutta

Focus on the Bree Thing

On the practice of recollecting breathing (āṇāpaṇasati see below: Āṇāpaṇasati Sutta)

For the beginner, Sitting Practice is a simile for a (temporary, unstable grip on) Nibbana. Something is always grabbing you and dragging you away from your sitting practice.

Recollecting breathing practice is a tool to be used to bring to conscious awareness the precise nature of the events that occur between the time one is detached in sitting practice and the time one is in the grip once again of the world.

Recollecting Breathing practice is a device that sharpens focus. Sharpened focus is used to accomplish the goal of detachment; sharpened focus is not the goal itself. The goal itself is to see what it is that is happening between the time you are detached in sitting practice and the time you are in the grip once again of the world. If you can find that out, make it conscious enough to focus some thought on it, if you can see it as it really is, then you can beat it.

The recollecting-breathing practice is a highly effective tool because breathing is the central focus of being for beings that breath.

The phenomena known as breathing is a joining, in activity, of a multiplicity of factors all of which are seen by all breathing beings from the lowest depths of Hell to the Fourth Burning. Consequently, when finding one's self lost upon the way, having been trained to focus [the expression in some places now (USA Wednesday, February 05, 2003 7:34 AM), is "Having become centered."] on breathing, locating breathing in whatsoever situation you may be in, you will find yourself in possession of a stable view which, if you latch on to it, can lift you from any present harassment to the Doorstep of Nibbana.

The Object, you can see, of the recollecting breathing practice, is focus.

Focus onni Bri Ting

Ting-a ling!

The object of focus in the breathing practice is the breathing.

That is one thing. Two things is being distracted.

The practice of recollecting breathing for a count of five . . .how many things is that?

The practice of recollecting breathing at the point where the breath can be felt crossing the membrane inside the nostril is the practice of recollecting breathing and the practice of recollecting the specific point in the nostril and the practice of recollecting sense experience (touch).

The practice of recollecting breathing at the surface of the stomach as it rises and falls is also a recollecting of more than one thing.

So these practices that add to the practice of recollecting breathing these other tasks, are not aimed at the task to be accomplished in the most efficient manner. And that task is? Focus. Having more than one object of focus is being distracted.

It is for these reasons that I do not recommend practicing the practice of recollecting breathing conditioned by any of the "at" clauses or math classes.

Just pay attention to the breathing. You restrict someone to just paying attention to the breathing at a certain spot, well that person may be lost way out there one day and need to find her center. Which is closer, the unrestricted topic of Breathing, or the one limited to a certain spot? The extra time involved in this person finding her center may just be the time she needed to make herself safe. (And this is to say nothing of the fact that a person may not be breathing through the nose, or have a "body" as we know it (i.e., with a 'belly'); and there are states of mind where the very idea of counting, 1, 2, 3...would be so tedious and slow as to cause a royal headache.)

We are here in the pursuit of one thing: Freedom, Liberation in whatever way it is being said. This does not have the taste of freedom to my mind; that is, suggesting the practice of recollecting breathing be limited and restricted and tied down to a certain spot a certain Way. Nah-ah.



V: I took my son to Taekwondo class this evening and took some material with me to read that I printed off the net on Vipassana meditation. This Bhikkhu (Ven. Sayadaw U Janaka) was suggesting that if you couldn't keep your mind on the rise and fall of the abdomen that you should pick additional objects on which to focus so as to keep the mind too busy to wander out.



As I mentioned to you another time, I also recommend a practice similar to this. I recommend a deliberate conscious choice of two subjects of meditation so that when you become distracted, you tend to become distracted to the second subject in stead of the millions that are the objects of the uncontrolled mind.

I do think it is not a good idea to "corrupt" the function of the breathing practice by introducing a second variation. The idea with these devices is to create concentration. Again, that is focus on one thing. With the focus on two things that are that close the danger of thinking of it as one practice is that there will be an imperfectly focused concentration. So I suggest two, quite different practices.



Why Pay Attention to Breathing?

The time has finally arrived. You have gotten the major chores out of the way and the near environment is settled and clean.

You have found an opportunity to sit.

So to focus the attention of your mind, which is scattered abroad in all directions as a consequence of the latest period of worldly activity, you Pay Attention to Breathing.

You look down at the body and you put your mind on the breathing and you try to notice the effect of an in breath on the point where it is manifesting itself as a vibration (movement, the belly rises and falls) in the body.

And you observe the effect as it originates and as it spreads out in effect, and as it dissappears out of the reach of consciousness . . . at least at this level.

This way you develop very strong, highly focused concentration.

But this is not the goal. The goal is higher than that.

Your ultimate purpose in sitting down is to aid in the process of letting go.

By sitting you are symbolically "Not-doing" the world.

This symbolism needs to be used to remind one that one may practice this attention to breathing for a long while (perhaps a long long while), but sooner or later the question is going to arise: "Why pay attention to breathing?"

Because your ultimate purpose in sitting down is to aid in the process of Letting Go. Paying attention to breathing, by putting the mind's eye on the process of breathing where it is taking place in the body is of great use in identifying those places where one is still grasping on in-tent-ly (that's in-tention-ally broken up). Paying at-tention to breathing one recognizes that one has come across such a center of tension by noticing the feeling of not getting enough air into a certain spot -- not being able to breath in or out with Satisfaction. It stands out if seen from this point of view. And then it can be let go.

Letting go of some of these things is no easy job. These graspings-on are very twisted and bundled up and knoted up and kinky too, often enough, for sure. In the same way that one cannot let go of a rock that is lying on our chest, but to let it go one must have one's chest pointed towards the ground, in the same way some of these complex graspings on cannot be let go of without understanding clearly (seeing for one's self) the manner in which they should be released. This is a thing which is greatly enabled by the point of view obtained by paying attention to breathing.

How Come?

Because, as I pointed out above, breathing is an activity which is done at virtually all times by virtually all beings, up to a point (when you get to that point you do not need pointers from me). Because of it's "centrality" to "being", it is an ideal "focal" point for the job of letting "being" go.

When one aspect of "being" has been successfully dump't, then by the practice of paying attention to breathing, one's focus is immediately returned to "being" and as a consequence it is no long time before the next area of grasping becomes apparent.

In this way, step by step, bit by bit, it can be expected that after a time (may be a long long time), but sooner or later, that individual who was paying attention to breathing in This Way would be able to say:

There is nothing there in the world whatsoever of any sort or kind of any quality or value, material or immaterial, for me.[1]

That's How Come!

That's why.



C: "Why do different "masters" have different methods regarding the focus: nose-door vs. full-body?"



That is a good question. My answer relies on two things: First, nowhere in the suttas is it spelled out that one is to pay attention to any particular spot when paying attention to breathing (in the Satipatthana there is a section which says: pay attention to the whole "breath-body"[2], and this has been interpreted to mean pay attention to the whole body as the breath effects it, or as pay attention to the whole breath as it passes in and out of the body; I think either of these two interpretations is acceptable practice; I believe these other methods you mention evolve from the effort to impose an order on the phenomena being observed); and second is my personal experience that when I have paid attention to breathing at a particular spot it has, simply put, gone wrong.

I have tried attention to breathing at the point where the wind can be felt passing past the entrance to the nose. I have tried breathing counting with beads. I have tried breathing attending to the rise and fall of the belly. I have tried all of these methods not for short periods of time but for months and years and for long periods concentrated on one style only and for long periods off and on again.

My conclusion is that paying attention to breathing at one point is mistaken on several counts. One I discussed above: it actually is not concentration on one thing as it claims to be, but by introducing into the practice a point "at" which concentration is to be directed, it introduces at least a second point of concentration. . . which defeats the purpose. (I advocate, the use of multiple concentration devices! I simply think these should be distinctly different from each other, as their purpose is to trap the mind in a sequence of points of concentration rather than ask it to focus on one only, only to find it wandering off for long periods of time in the thousand million directions of its own inclination).

Getting around to the direct answer to your question: I think that the reason the various techniques have evolved is because the orientation of those advocating these methods is not properly focused on the goal of the Pali (in some cases the method was developed outside of Buddhist studies altogether): that is, renunciation, giving up, letting go. I think these people have in mind, at the best: "Getting" Nibbana, rather than letting go of the world. They do not see the focus on a point that they advocate as being a subtle grasping.

While I am saying that it is my experience that these techniques have confused the goal, what I can say about these techniques is that they produce some astounding results in terms of attaining magic powers and fantastic experiences in this world, and even that they will conduce to some very powerful insights into the Dhamma and that they are not therefore "bad", just not "pure" (they are capable of misleading in ways that is not possible with the no point of focus method).



I have completed a translation of the Anapanasati Sutta called "The Inspiring Expiring Mind"

It is available in three versions:

1. A version formatted for the enjoyment of reading the sutta:

This is a completely "spelled-out" sutta, in it's complete form, I believe for the first time in English.

This version has no footnotes whatsoever, is in large type, and is broken up in such a way as to present each thought on it's own line. The intent is to present the sutta in the most readable fashion possible.

2. An annotated English translation.

This version contains footnotes, and important terms are linked to places on BuddhaDust that discuss/define these terms. Each segment of the sutta is linked to the Pali, and the Pali section links back to this sutta.

It is available at: [mn.118]

3. The Pali text.


I have formatted the line-breaks of this Pali version to closely parallel the linebreaks in the readable translation. For me at least, seeing it this way is far less intimidating than seeing it presented in jamed up paragraphs which makes everything look the same. If you have any interest in investigating the Pali you might want to check it out.



Here I would like to point out a couple of things that appear in the footnotes that otherwise might be skipped.

Perhaps the most important thing that stands out in this sutta in terms of themes being developed here on BuddhaDust is that this sutta makes it perfectly clear that:
The Four Satipatthanas = The Seven Dimensions of Wisdom = The Eightfold Path
and even deeper:
Minding the Breath = minding body = minding sense experience = minding the heart (or mind) = minding the dhamma
...all of these are ways, when properly developed and when handled with wisdom, encompass each other and all lead to freedom...
It is a matter of how these different methods are defined and developed that is the only distinguishing difference...some beggars are inclined towards one approach, some towards another.

The sutta begins with what anyone acquainted with hypnotism will recognize as a form of regression suggestion. Bhante Punnaji complains loudly about early translations of "jhana" as "trance" and the idea that the jhanas are in any way hypnotic states. In the same way as I have made the point that the sutta is identical in form to the "magic spell" only that in the case of Buddhism, what we have is a "Dis-Spell", the jhana is a form of trance, only in the form of a Dis-trance ... a waking up, a dis-stance-ing of one from the trance that is ordinary life-experience. In that light we can understand the series:

Some Elders were instructing 10...20...30...40 as being a "progression suggestion"...soon, we can imagine, to be followed, SNAP FINGERS, by the snap of the fingers that will wake us up.



OBA: "To me, it seems to be the seven factors of awakening that really end mindful breathing in Nibanna. [The Seven] Bojjhanga (7 factors) are: (1) Full attention, (2) investigating dharmas, (3) energy, (4) joy, (5) ease, (6) concentration, and (7) letting go. Full attention(1) can be gained simply by practicing and maintaining mindful breathing. It is put this way by Thich Nhat Nanh:
'(1) Full attention is the main Factor of Awakening. Full attention is awareness, being fully awake. If full attention is developed and maintained, the practice of observation to shed light on and see clearly all that exists will meet with success. (2) The work of observation to shed light on the object of our attention and see clearly all that exists is investigation of dharmas. (3) Energy is perseverance and diligence. (4-5) Joy and ease are wonderful feelings nourished by energy. (6) Concentration gives rise to understanding. When we have understanding, we can go beyond all comparing, measuring, discriminating, and reacting with attachment and aversion. (7) Going beyond is letting go.'
So I hear it."



[First let me say that I am glad to notice here that Thich Nhat Nanh considers Upekkha to be Letting Go and not "Equanimity"]

If you are saying that to you it seems that the seven factors (my dimensions) really end mindful breathing in Nibbana, I completely agree.

If you are saying that it is the seven factors and not the four foundations of mind (satipatthanas) that end mindful breathing in Nibbana, I think you are missing the most interesting aspect of this sutta.

So in this last case let me ask you: How is it, in your understanding, that the Satipatthana ends? -- In what concept?
How does this concept compare with factor (dimension #7).

In this sutta the Buddha is spelling out what looks like a progression, but what he has really done is to say the same thing over several different ways as though it were a progression. One could really have ended the lesson at the end of the first description of the in- and out-breath practice:

he...trains himself thinking: 'Observing letting go I will breath out'; trains himself thinking: 'Observing letting go I will breath in'.

Let me go at this another way: for a long time as we begin this trip (and for a long time while we are still on it!) we are looking for footholds...looking for ways to get our minds around this problem of escaping pain by detaching ourselves from thirst by seeing not self; looking for ways to concentrate our scattered mind on this task; looking for ways to measure our progress. Such "footholds" are categories such as

the four foundations of mind
the four high ways of walking the walk
the four power paths
the five forces
the five enablers
the seven dimensions of awakening
the aristocratic eight dimensional way

and so forth. But the reality is that these are just arbitrary (well...logical...intelligent) ways of dividing up what is actually an unbroken progression from being an ordinary person to being fully liberated.

This is why there are those who can understand the whole system after having been given only one word or phrase to study: really we only have one job here: let go of it. What we have in all these "systems" is different ways of approaching the problem that are suited for different personality types, states of advancement, locations in consciousness, and (I say; for those inclined to teach) the chance way conversations may begin.

We need to avoid forming "schools" or religions out of one or another of these methods...this sutta anticipates this phenomena by pointing out the way several of these methods amount to the same thing.


[1]N'āhaṃ kassaci kiñcanaṃ tasmiṃ
na ca mama katthaci kiñcanaṃ n'atthi

Neither am I anywhere anything that's that
Nor is there anywhere anything for me.
--Anguttara Nikaya II. Fours, Ī v (185): Brahmin truths pp 177., MO, trans.

[2]See: Nyanasatta Thera, trans.
Soma Thera, Commentary




It is necessary here to insert some ideas turned up during an intense study of the phrase: Sati-pari-mukkham, or parimukkham-sati: mind-around-mouth, which instruction is given at the point after the instruction to take a seat and before one is to mind the breathing. In every case.

This is likely the source for those methods that state one is to focus one's minding of the breathing on the nose; but is most often being translated as having nothing to do with the breathing practice at all: 'bringing mindfulness to the forefront of one's attention'.

The interpretation here is that this is the beginning of 'meditation' practice and is the anchor of the breathing technique, the instruction is not to 'focus on the breathing at the mouth' but focus on the mouth, and [moving on] 'in the same way' focus on the breathing. It's a sequence of foci, not a focus on two things.

This will become clear reading further into the suttas on the breathing technique where the instruction is to go on from the breathing to awareness of that which pertains to the body, to the personal body, to the mind ... etc.

See for this especially: The Anapanasamyutta. Probably the oldest description of the breathing technique in the suttas. Note differences between this collection and the Satipatthana Sutta.




PDF BOOK pdf One Thing followed by Happiness A Guide to Serenity through Recollecting Aspiration. Being a translation from the Pāli of Saɱyutta Nikāya V. Mahā-Vagga 10. Ānāpāna-saɱyuttaṃ by Michael M. Olds.
Includes MN 118: Recollecting Aspiration, Olds translation.
This book contains my translations, the Pali, Bhk. Thanissaro's translations, my translation of the Maha Satipatthana Sutta, the Pali for the Maha Satipatthana Suttanta, my translation of MN 118, a table giving the translations of other translators for important terms, a number of appendixes providing both directly relevant and tangential information, and a version of The Method describing one view of the Course through the Buddha's system. Most technical terms are defined and discussed in footnotes.
The book was intended to provide a single-volume original sources 'Meditation Manual' for the Recollecting Aspiration (Minding the Breaths) meditation practice.
432 pages.

118. Anapanasati Sutta (AAnaapaanasati, Ānāpānasati), PED: III.78

BD: The Inspiring Expiring Mind, mo trans
WP: Mindfulness of Breathing, 941
PED: Discourse on Mindfulness when Breathing In and Out, III.121
ATI: Mindfulness of Breathing

Satipatthana Resources

WP: Walshe, The Long Discourses of the Buddha, #22: On the Foundations of Mindfulness

Warren: Buddhism in Translations, Ch. 74: The Four Intent Contemplations

Vesali: The Buddha teaches meditation on in- and out-breathing after a large number of bhikkhus commit suicide while studying the Meditation on the Foul.

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