Anapana sati, the meditation on in-and-out breathing, is the first subject of meditation expounded by the Buddha in the Maha Satipatthana Sutta, the Great Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness. The Buddha laid special stress on this meditation, for it is the gateway to enlightenment and Nibbana adopted by all the Buddhas of the past as the very basis for their attainment of Buddhahood. When the Blessed One sat at the foot of the Bodhi Tree and resolved not to rise until he had reached enlightenment, he took up anapana sati as his subject of meditation. On the basis of this, he attained the four jhanas, recollected his previous lives, fathomed the nature of samsara, aroused the succession of great insight knowledges, and at dawn, while , world systems trembled, he attained the limitless wisdom of a Fully Enlightened Buddha. Let us then offer our veneration to the Blessed One, who became a peerless world-transcending Buddha through this meditation of anapana sati. May we comprehend this subject of meditation fully, with wisdom resplendent like the sun and moon.
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Anapana sati, the meditation on in-and-out breathing, is the first subject of meditation expounded by the Buddha in the Maha Satipatthana Sutta, the Great Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness.
The Buddha laid special stress on this meditation, for it is the gateway to enlightenment and Nibbana adopted by all the Buddhas of the past as the very basis for their attainment of Buddhahood. When the Blessed One sat at the foot of the Bodhi Tree and resolved not to rise until he had reached enlightenment, he took up anapana sati as his subject of meditation.
On the basis of this, he attained the four jhanas, recollected his previous lives, fathomed the nature of samsara, aroused the succession of great insight knowledges, and at dawn, while , world systems trembled, he attained the limitless wisdom of a Fully Enlightened Buddha.
Let us then offer our veneration to the Blessed One, who became a peerless world-transcending Buddha through this meditation of anapana sati. May we comprehend this subject of meditation fully, with wisdom resplendent like the sun and moon. Through its power may we attain the blissful peace of Nibbana. Let us first examine the meaning of the text expounded by the Buddha on anapana sati. The text begins:. This means that any person belonging to the four types of individuals mentioned in this teaching--namely, bhikkhu monk , bhikkhuni nun , upasaka layman or upasika laywoman --desirous ofpractising this meditation, should go either to a forest, to the foot of a secluded tree, or to a solitary dwelling.
There he should sit down cross-legged, and keeping his body in an erect position, fix his mindfulness at the tip of his nose, the locus for his object of meditation. If he breathes in a long breath, he should comprehend this with full awareness. If he breathes out a long breath, he should comprehend this with full awareness. If he breathes in a short breath, he should comprehend this with full awareness.
As he practises watching the in-breath and the out breath with mindfulness, he calms down and tranquilizes the two functions of in breathing and out-breathing. The Buddha illustrates this with a simile. When a clever turner or his apprentice works an object on his lathe, he attends to his task with fixed attention: in making a long turn or a short turn, he knows that he is making a long turn or a short turn. In the same manner if the practitioner of meditation breathes in a long breath he comprehends it as such; and if he breathes out a long breath, he comprehends it as such; if he breathes in a short breath, he comprehends it as such; and if he breathes out a short breath, he comprehends it as such.
He exercises his awareness so as to see the beginning, the middle and the end of these two functions of breathing in and breathing out. He comprehends with wisdom the calming down of these two aspects of in-breathing and out-breathing. In this way he comprehends the two functions of in-breathing and out-breathing in himself, and the two functions of in breathing and out-breathing in other persons.
He also comprehends the two functions of in-breathing and out-breathing in himself and in others in rapid alternation.
He comprehends as well the cause for the arising of in-breathing and out-breathing, and the cause for the cessation of in breathing and out-breathing, and the moment-by-moment arising and cessation of in-breathing and out-breathing. He then realizes that this body which exercises the two functions of in-breathing and out-breathing is only a body, not an ego or "I.
Living unattached, the meditator treads the path to Nibbana by contemplating the nature of the body. This is an amplified paraphrase of the passage from the Maha Satipatthana Sutta on anapana sati.
This meditation has been explained in sixteen different ways in various suttas. Of these sixteen, the first tetrad has been explained here.
But these four are the foundation for all the sixteen ways in which anapana sati can be practised. Now we should investigate the preliminary stages to practising this meditation. In the first place the Buddha indicated a suitable dwelling for practising anapana sati. In the sutta he has mentioned three places: the forest, the foot of a tree, or an isolated empty place. This last can be a quiet restful hut, or a dwelling place free from the presence of people. We may even consider a meditation hall an empty place.
Although there may be a large collection of people in such a hall, if every one remains calm and silent it can be considered an empty place. The Buddha recommended such places because in order to practise anapana sati, silence is an essential factor. A beginning meditator will find it easier to develop mental concentration with anapana sati only if there is silence. Even if one cannot find complete silence, one should choose a quiet place where one will enjoy privacy.
Next the Buddha explained the sitting posture. There are four postures which can be adopted for meditation: standing, sitting, reclining and walking. Of these the most suitable posture to practise anapana sati at the beginning is the seated posture.
The person wishing to practise anapana sati should sit down cross-legged. For bhikkhus and laymen, the Buddha has recommended the cross-legged Position. This is not an easy posture for everyone, but it can be gradually mastered. The half cross-legged position has been recommended for bhikkhunis and laywomen. This is the posture of sitting with one leg bent. It would be greatly beneficial if the cross legged posture recommended for bhikkhus and laymen could be adopted in the "lotus" pattern, with the feet turned up and resting on the opposite thighs.
If that is inconvenient, one should sit with the two feet tucked underneath the body. In the practice of anapana sati, it is imperative to hold the body upright. The torso should be kept erect, though not strained and rigid. One can cultivate this meditation properly only if all the bones of the spine are linked together in an erect position.
Therefore, this advice of the Buddha to keep the upper part of the body erect should be clearly comprehended and followed. The hands should be placed gently on the lap, the back of the right hand over the palm of the left. The eyes can be closed softly, or left half-closed, whichever is more comfortable. The head should be held straight, tilted a slight angle downwards, the nose perpendicular to the navel. The next factor is the place for fixing the attention.
To cultivate anapana sati one should be clearly mindful of the place where the incoming and outgoing breaths enter and leave the nostrils. This will be felt as a spot beneath the nostrils or on the upper lip, wherever the impact of the air coming in and out the nostrils can be felt most distinctly.
On that spot the attention should be fixed, like a sentry watching a gate. Then the Buddha has explained the manner in which anapana sati has to be cultivated. One breathes in mindfully, breathes out mindfully. From birth to death this function of in-breathing and out-breathing continues without a break, without a stop, but since we do not consciously reflect on it, we do not even realize the presence of this breath.
If we do so, we can derive much benefit by way of calm and insight. Thus the Buddha has advised us to be aware of the function of breathing. The practitioner of meditation who consciously watches the breath in this manner should never try to control his breathing or hold back his breath with effort. For if he controls his breath or holds back his breath with conscious effort, he will become fatigued and his mental concentration will be disturbed and broken.
The key to the practice is to set up mindfulness naturally at the spot where the in-breaths and the out-breaths are felt entering and leaving the nostrils. Then the meditator has to maintain his awareness of the touch sensation of the breath, keeping the awareness as steady and consistent as possible.
To help practitioners in developing this meditation, the commentators and meditation masters have indicated eight graduated steps in the practice. These eight steps will first be enumerated, and then they will be explained in relation to the actual meditative process. The eight steps are named: counting ganana ; following anubandhana ; contact phusana ; fixing thapana ; observing sallakkhana ; turning away vivattana , purification parisuddhi ; and retrospection patipassana.
These eight cover the whole course of meditative development up to the attainment of arahatship. Counting is intended for those who have never before practised anapana sati. It is not necessary for those who have practised meditation for a considerable period of time. However, as it is expedient to have a knowledge of this, counting should be understood in the following manner.
When the meditator sits down for meditation, he fixes his attention at the tip of his nose and consciously attends to the sequence of in-and-out breathing. He notes the breath as it enters, and notes the breath as it leaves, touching against the tip of the nose or the upper lip. At this time he begins to count these movements. There are a few methods of counting. The easiest is explained thus: The first breath felt is counted as "one, one"; the second as "two, two"; the third as "three, three"; the fourth as "four, four"; the fifth as "five, five" and so on up to the tenth breath which is counted as "ten, ten.
The mere counting is not itself meditation, but the counting has become an essential aid to meditation. A person who has not practised meditation before, finding it difficult to understand the nature of his mind, may think he is meditating while his mind runs helter skelter. Counting is an easy method to control the wandering mind.
If a person fixes his mind well on his meditation, he can maintain this counting correctly. If the mind flees in all directions, and he misses the count, he becomes confused and thus can realize that his mind has wandered about. If the mind has lost track of the count, the meditator should begin the counting over again.
In this way he should start the counting again from the beginning, even if he has gone wrong a thousand times. As the practice develops, there may come a time when the in-breathing and out breathing take a shorter course and it is not possible to count the same number many times. Then the meditator has to count quickly "one", "two," "three," etc. When he counts in this manner he can comprehend the difference between a long in-breath and out-breath and a short in-breath and out-breath.
When the mind has been subdued by counting and is fixed on the in-breathing and out-breathing, the counting is stopped and replaced by mentally keeping track of the course of the breath. This is explained by the Buddha in this manner:. Herein, one does not deliberately take a long in-breath or a long out-breath. One simply comprehends what actually takes place.
The Buddha has declared in the next passage that a meditator trains himself thinking: "I shall breathe in experiencing the whole body, and I shall breath out experiencing the whole body.
The meditator should fix his attention so as to see the beginning, the middle and the end of each cycle of in-breathing and out-breathing. It is this practice that is called "experiencing the whole body.
The beginning, middle and end of the breath must be correctly understood. It is incorrect to consider the tip of the nose to be the beginning of the breath, the chest to be the middle, and the navel to be the end.
Anapanasati Sutta – Melbourne
The sutta includes sixteen steps of practice, and groups them into four tetrads, associating them with the four satipatthanas placings of mindfulness. According to American scholar monk, Thanissaro Bhikkhu , this sutta contains the most detailed meditation instructions in the Pali Canon. The Theravada version of the Anapanasati Sutta lists sixteen steps to relax and compose the mind and body. The Anapanasati Sutta is a celebrated text among Theravada Buddhists. The Buddha states that mindfulness of the breath, "developed and repeatedly practiced, is of great fruit, great benefit. Prior to enumerating the 16 steps, the Buddha provides the following preparatory advice which the Chinese version of this sutta includes as part of the first object : . Next, the 16 objects or instructions are listed, generally broken into four tetrads.