On The Way: The Daily Zen Journal

Feb 07 2013

Full Awareness of Breathing - Anapanasati Sutta

Majjhima Nikaya Sutra no. 118

O bhikkus, the method of being fully aware of breathing, if developed and practiced continuously, will have great rewards and bring great advantages. It will lead to success in practicing the Four Establishments of Mindfulness. If the method of the Four Establishments of Mindfulness is developed and practiced continuously, it will lead to success in the practice of the Seven Factors of Awakening. The Seven Factors of Awakening, if developed and practiced continuously, will give rise to understanding and liberation of the mind.

What is the way to develop and practice continuously the method of Full Awareness of Breathing so that the practice will be rewarding and offer great benefit?

It is like this, bhikkus: the practitioner goes into the forest or to the foot of a tree, or to any deserted place, sits stably in the lotus position, holding his or her body quite straight, and practices like this:

"Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out." 

  1. Breathing in a long breath, I know I am breathing in a long breath. Breathing out a long breath, I know I am breathing out a long breath.
  2. Breathing in a short breath, I know I am breathing in a short breath. Breathing out a short breath, I know I am breathing out a short breath.
  3. Breathing in, I am aware of my whole body. Breathing out I am aware of my whole body. He or she practices like this.
  4. Breathing in, I calm my whole body. Breathing out, I calm my whole body.
  5. Breathing in, I feel joyful. Breathing out, I feel joyful.
  6. Breathing in, I feel happy. Breathing out, I feel happy. He or she practices like this.
  7. Breathing in, I am aware of my mental formations. Breathing out, I am aware of my mental formations.
  8. Breathing in, I calm my mental formations. Breathing out, I calm my mental formations.
  9. Breathing in, I am aware of my mind. Breathing out, I am aware of my mind.
  10. Breathing in, I make my mind happy. Breathing out, I make my mind happy.
  11. Breathing in, I concentrate my mind. Breathing out, I concentrate my mind.
  12. Breathing in, I liberate my mind. Breathing out, I liberate my mind.
  13. Breathing in, I observe the impermanent nature of all dharmas. Breathing out, I observe the impermanent nature of all dharmas.
  14. Breathing in, I observe the disappearance of desire. Breathing out, I observe the disappearance of desire.
  15. Breathing in, I observe cessation. Breathing out, I observe cessation.
  16. Breathing in, I observe letting go. Breathing out, I observe letting go.


The Full Awareness of Breathing, if developed and practiced continuously according to these instructions, will be rewarding and of great benefit.

In what way does one develop and continuously practice the Full Awareness of Breathing in order to succeed in the practice of the Four Establishments of Mindfulness?

When the practitioner breathes in or out, a long or a short breath, aware of his breath or his whole body, or aware that he is making his whole body calm and at peace, he abides peacefully in the observation of the body in the body, persevering, fully awake, clearly understanding his state, gone beyond all attachment and aversion to this life. These exercises of breathing with Full Awareness belong to the first Establishment of Mindfulness, the body.

When the practitioner breathes in or out, aware of joy or happiness, aware of mental formations, or to make the mental formations peaceful, she abides peacefully in the observation of the feelings in the feelings, persevering, fully awake, clearly understanding her state, gone beyond all attachment and aversion to this life. These exercises of breathing with Full Awareness belong to the second Establishment of Mindfulness, the feelings.

When the practitioner breathes in or out with the awareness of mind or to make the mind happy, to collect the mind in concentration, or to free and liberate the mind, he abides peacefully in the observation of the mind in the mind, persevering, fully awake, clearly understanding his state, gone beyond all attachment and aversion to this life. These exercises of breathing with Full Awareness belong to the third Establishment of Mindfulness, the mind. Without Full Awareness of Breathing, there can be no development of meditative stability and understanding.

When the practitioner breathes in or breathes out and contemplates the essential impermanence or the essential disappearance of desire or cessation or letting go, he abides peacefully in the observations of the objects of mind in the objects of mind, persevering, fully awake, clearly understanding his state, gone beyond all attachment and aversion to this life. These exercises of breathing with Full Awareness belong to the fourth Establishment of Mindfulness, the objects of mind.

The practice of Full Awareness of Breathing, if developed and practiced continuously, will lead to perfect accomplishment of the Four Establishments of Mindfulness.

This is what the Buddha, the Awakened One, said; and everyone in the assembly felt gratitude and delight at having heard his teachings.

Majjhima Nikaya Sutra no. 118

Excerpted from Awakening of the Heart – essential Buddhist sutras and commentaries-Thich Nhat Hanh

Elana

Many of us were introduced to meditating by breath counting at first, then moved into simply watching the breath, and then at some point even that fell away. There are many techniques used to focus and settle the mind and body. As "introductory" as breath counting seems, it is a very powerful way to enter the present moment.

Many teachers have taken breath counting to a more in depth, breath awareness practice. However, here is a sutra from the early teachings with Buddha speaking to a gathering of monks, and he is talking directly about just this practice.

As always, translating the older writings involves more than literal line by line transcribing. Before there was writing, much was passed down orally, and so we find a lot of repetition which allowed for easier memorization.

In many of the sutras getting to the heart of the message can be challenging due to the forms of language and the necessity of repetition. In this instance the instructions are clear and simple to understand. As with any other practice, though, putting them into our reality also demands finding our own way to implement the teaching.

The point is not to rush through all these exercises and polish them off at in several sittings, but to begin at first with awareness of breathing in and breathing out and sit, walk, stand, lie down with that awareness.

And also, rather than the literal form, we might find our own key words to match our own vasanas. For many a mental note of breathing in might just be following the in breath with mind or body, with no necessity of words; for those desiring to go beyond the limited sense of "I" consciousness, we might want to use a key word or phrase to bring the awareness into that state.

Just as the Buddha had numerous teachings to match the abilities and vasanas of his listeners, so we too need to allow ourselves to adapt the teaching in a way that allows us to stay with it. Breath awareness is immediate and an anchor to ground us back in the present after we find ourselves lost in a tangent of life.

And while it would be so lovely to go into the forest and sit at the foot of a tree or on a mountain top to practice, we will just have to start in real life where we find ourselves. As to the posture of the practice, it certainly is not dependent on whether you can sit full lotus or not. One can do this in any posture and right before sleep.

Breathing in.... and out,

I wish you well, 
Elana

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