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 Post subject: Anapana Sati Meditation
 Post Posted: Thu Aug 11, 2005 8:57 pm 
Anapana Sati Meditation

by Rajah Kuruppu

Considerable reference is made to the subject of Anapana Sati meditation, both in the Maha Satipattana Sutta of the Digha Nikaya and the, Anapana Sati Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya. The place, posture and description of Anapana Sati in both the Suttas is basically the same though not identical. In the Anapanasati Sutta of the Majjihama Nikaya (the new translation of Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi first published in 1993, P.943), it is stated as follows:

"Bhikkhus, when mindfulness of breathing is developed and cultivated, it is of great fruit and great benefit ..............

And how, bhikkhus, is mindfulness of breathing developed and cultivated, so that it is of great fruit and great benefit?

Here a bhikkhu, gone to the forest or to the root of a tree or to an empty hut, sits down; having folded his legs crosswise, set his body erect, and established mindfulness in front of him, ever mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out.

Breathing in long, he understands: ‘I breathe in long’; Or breathing out long, he understands: ‘I breathe out long.’ Breathing in short, he understands: ‘I breathe in short; or breathing out short, he understands: ‘I breathe out short’ He trains thus: "I shall breathe in experiencing; the whole body (of breath)’; he trains thus: ‘I shall breathe out experiencing the whole body (of breadth).’ He trains thus: "I shall breathe in tranquillizing the bodily formation’; he train— thus: ‘I shall breathe out tranquillizing the bodily formation."


Place

Thus, the recommended place for meditation on the breath is the forest, root of a tree or an empty hut. In the circumstances prevailing today, however, it would not be that convenient to strictly abide by these instructions. Meditation masters are agreed that a silent place like a room where one could meditate without disturbance would be adequate.

Anapana Sati means the mindfulness of the in and out breath. This is the first subject of meditation mentioned in Maha Satipattana Sutta among 40 subjects given for concentration.

Group and guided meditation is quite popular today for those keen to learn the technicalities of mediation. Though such a practice does not appear to have been mentioned in the teachings of the Buddha, if total silence is maintained in group meditation, there would be no hindrance to, the practice of this meditation, however large the gathering may be. This was well demonstrated -during the meditation sessions conducted by Ven. Ajahn Brahmavanso, the outstanding meditation master from Perth, Australia, when he conducted guided meditation to thousands at the BMICH, Dharmayatana in Maharagama, and Malabe where pin drop silence was maintained during actual meditation.


Posture

The recommended posture for this meditation is too be seated with legs crosswise and body erect. This is the lotus posture. Today what is recommended by meditation masters is the lotus or semi-lotus postures with back erect either seated on the ground or on a straight back chair with feet resting on the ground to ensure that the body is erect. To cultivate this meditation effectively, all the bones of the spine should be linked together in an erect position. Thus, the advice to keep the upper part of the body erect. Some meditation masters advise to take a deep breath once comfortably seated and release the breath gradually concentrating on the spine which would tend to relax the spine. Otherwise, there is a tendency for the spine to be erect but rigid.

With regard to posture, there are other recommendation such as to place the back of the right palm on top of the left palm. If one finds it more convenient to place the back of the left palm on top of the right palm, there is no serious objection. The eyes to be closed or slightly on. Today, the usual practice in Sri Lanka and other Theravada countries is to have the eyes fully closed, gently and not tightly, although the Buddha is depicted in statues and paintings mostly with eyes slightly open in Samadhi or concentration lotus posture. The inclination towards sleep and drowsiness is minimised by slightly open eyes but greater concentration is possible when external visual impressions are totally eliminated, especially in the Anapana Sati meditation where the subject of meditations internal and not external.

This is the only subject of meditual for which the Buddha has recommended a definite posture.

Some would have difficulties in adopting the seated posture on the ground or on a chair due to advancing years or ill-health. In such circumstances, it would be useful to practice this meditation in whatever possible posture and in reasonable comfort. One could also engage in this meditation in the lying down posture when proceeding to sleep and many experience that it facilitates sleep. Moreover, a little practice of Anapana Sati in the lying down posture even by those whose physical faculties are in good order would stand in good stead if in future years they are unable to adopt the recommended posture. It is also advised that whenever one is restless and agitated or when depressed or elated or when anger is arising, the practice of Anapana Sati meditation for a short time in whatever posture with eyes open and in the company of others would also have a meaningful calming effect on the mind.

Thus this meditation could be practiced in postures other than those recommended in the Suttas but would not yield the same level of concentration.


Observation

It should be emphasized that Anapana Sati is not a breathing exercise. What is required is the observation of the natural in and out breath and not the deliberate undertaking of breathing. Although this is the standard advice given for the practice of this meditation, there is a tendency among many to control or force the breath which makes the breathing uncomfortable. If one observes the breath not in formal posture but when relaxing informally, it would be noticed at such times that the breath is natural but when sitting formally it is strained. What is expected in this meditation is for the breath to do the breathing while the meditator just observes without interference noting the short in breath and the short out breath, the long in breath and the long out breath.

Perhaps, it may be useful to observe the breath just behind the natural breath initially to overcome interference with the natural breath.


Concentration on Breath

The Suttas mentioned earlier refer to the establishment of mindfulness in front. Until recently, it was generally accepted that we should observe the in and out breath as the air passes through the nostrils at or around the tip of the nose where the sensations arise. Beginners take some time to locate this sensation and some find it very difficult to do so. However, today, certain meditation masters maintain that it is best not to locate the breath anywhere but be aware of the in and out breath. One should focus attention on what the breath is doing.

In the Anapana Sati Sutta, there is no reference to locate the in and out breadth at any particular point but merely states how to arouse mindfulness on the object of meditation, namely, arouse mindfulness in front - Satin Upatthapetva. However, in the Patissambhida Magga, which is a part of the Abhidhamma, it is recorded that the Buddha has stated to focus attention at the point below the nostrils and above the upper lip. Later, since certain communities found it difficult to locate the breath at the tip of the nostrils due to their natural facial structure, they were advised to focus attention on the and fall of the abdoman.

Ven. Ajahn Brahmavanso has clearly stated in a popular booklet "The Basic Method of Meditation" that he has found through experience "‘that it does not matter where you watch the breath. In fact, it is best not to locate the breath anywhere? If you locate the breath at the tip of your nose, then it becomes nose awareness, not breath awareness, and if you locate it at your abdoman, then it becomes abdoman awareness. Just ask yourself the question right now, am I breathing in or am I breathing out? How do you know? There! that experience which tells you what the breath is doing, that ‘is what you focus on in breath meditation. Let go of concern about where this experience is located; just focus on the experience itself" - Ven. Ajahn Brahmavanso, The Basic Method of Meditation, P.17.

In deciding on how to focus one’s attention in this meditation between the sensation at or around tip of the nostrils and breath itself, one could follow the advice given by the Buddha Himself. Test these two methods in the school of experience and ascertain which is more effective for oneself and adopt that method.


Total attention

What is emphasized in this meditation is that total attention should be given to the in and out breath - "Ever mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out". From the beginning of the in breath to the end of the in-breath and from the beginning of the out-breath to the end of the out breath undivided attention should be given to experiencing the breath. The two Suttas mentioned earlier state that in breathing in and breathing out one should be experiencing the whole body. In the Maha Satipattana Sutta of the Digha Nikaya, a translation by Maurice Walshe, it is stated "I will breath-in conscious of the whole body" and "I will breathe out conscious of the whole body - Digha Nikaya Translation of Mairce Walshe, Sutta 22, 1995, P.336."

Maurice Walshe explains in his notes in the volume that the whole body is taken to mean the whole body of breath - Digha Nikaya, Translation of Maurice Walshe, 1995, Note 640, P.590. In the Anapana Sati Sutta of the Majjhima Nikaya, it is stated "experiencing the whole body (of breath)".

Thus, what is meant as "the whole body" is the entire cycle of in and out breathing. Meditators observe the commencement, the middle and the conclusion of each cycle of in breath and out breath. The commencement of the in -breath is the start of the inhalation, the middle is the continued inhalation and the conclusion is the completion of the inhalation. Similarly, the out breath. To experience the whole body means to be mindful of the entire cycle of each inhalation and exhalation.


Pre-requisite for success

A pre-requisite for success fin this meditation, or for that matter on any subject of meditation, is to let go of the past and the future. Abandoning the past means that one cease to think about one’s work, family, responsibilities, commitments, position in life and so on. In short, when one meditates and is in deep concentration, one is without a history and total attention is on the breath. One should also abandon thoughts of the future - all plans, expectations and dreams for the future.

Although the abandoning of past and the future is advocated for meditation, it is quite difficult to do so. In our normal life, our thoughts are often in the past or the future rather than in the present or the currently engaged activity. A firm determination at the outset of the meditation would be helpful to leave out the past and the future at least during the time of meditation and be alive to any trespass in the course of, meditation. One should let go of such thoughts if they arise and bring back the mind expeditiously to the mindfulness of the breath with equanimity -and without resentment.

As mentioned earlier, it is important in this meditation to observe the breath continuously from the beginning of the in-breathe to its end and likewise for the out breath. This uninterrupted attention would tend to prevent other thoughts of the past and the future entering the mind.

It is said that if one could concentrate continuously for 100 breaths without a diversion, then one would have achieved sustained attention to the breadth.


Counting Method

A counting method is suggested to help concentration on the breath especially for the beginners. Here, one counts the breath either taking the in and out breath as one or separately. It is advised to count upto 10 and if necessary to continue the count thereafter commencing once more from 1 to 10. Perhaps, counting beyond 10 could be a distraction.

It is also emphasized that the priority should be for the observation of the breath and not the count. In any event, if one were to miss the count it is not of much consequence, but what is crucial is the concentration on the breath.

Counting is also recommended by some meditation masters for experienced meditators for a short time if they face difficulties in concentration on certain occasions.


Objective

The long-term objective of this meditation as well as other subjects of meditation is to gradually overcome and eventually eradicate the three root defilements of greed, aversion and delusion. When one is in deep meditation, the five hindrances of sense-desires, ill-will, sloth and thorper, restlessness and worry, and doubts are suppressed. These hindrances include the three root defilements. In fact, it is said that ones progress in mediation is Judged by the progress in reducing these three root defilements which should be observable by those with whom one associate. The length of the period of formal meditation is not necessarily the criteria for success.


Development of Concentration

As the mindfulness of the breath becomes strengthened, the breathing becomes progressively tranquil and subtle. Consequently, the body becomes calm and ceases to feel fatigued. Bodily pain and numbness disappear and there is an exhilarating comfort in the body. On account of the tranquillity of the mind, the breathing tend to be finer and finer and eventually appear to have ceased. Some get alarmed but the breath exists in delicate and subtle form. One should maintain the concentration and the breathing would be felt once again. At this stage of development, the five hindrances are suppressed and the mind is calm and joyful.

Then, it is said that signs of mental images appear heralding the success of the concentration the learning sign (Uggaha Nimitta) followed by the counterpart sign - (Patibhaga Nimitta). To some, it appears like a wad of cotton, an electric light, a silver chain, a mist or wheel.

The learning sign is unsteady, but the counterpart sign is fixed and motionless. Then there are no hindrances and the mind is most active and tranquil. This is the stage mentioned in the Suttas as "I shall breath in tranquillizing bodily formations" and "I shall breath out tranquillizing the bodily formations". This is the attaining of access concentrations (Upacca Sarnadhi). When concentration is further developed, the meditator attains full absorption "Appana Samadhi" commencing with the first Jhana. The first four Jhanas could be attained by the practice of Anapana Sati meditation. These stages of deep-concentration are- called "fixing" or thapana - Verr. Nauyana Ariyadhamma Maha Thera, Anapana. Sati, Bodh; Leaves No. B 115 PP. 1. 8-20


Vipassana

However, these Jhanas would not lead to deliverance from Dukkha for all time. When in the Jhana, there is freedom from dukkha but one cannot be in Jhana for ever. For deliverance on a continuous basis one should practice insight meditation (Vipassana Bhava.—). For that, when the mind is calm and tranquil with deep concentration on the in and out breath, one should shift from tranquillity meditation to insight meditation. One way to do so is when the mind strays from the breath to pain and discomfort one may experience having been in the seated position for a considerable period. Here, instead of bringing the mind back to the object of meditation, one could concentrate on the discomfort, its increase or decrease or remaining the same. After a time, attention would shift to another area of the body where discomfort is experienced to a greater degree. One could also observe the feelings that arise, some pleasant, others unpleasant or neutral. There is arising and ceasing. Similarly, it could be noted whether the thought that arise in the mind is wholesome, unwholesome or neutral. This arising and ceasing of feelings, thoughts and phenomena would bring to the forefront, the impermanence and changing character of all things leading to the realization of the unsatisfactory nature of life when even happiness is temporary and consequently unsatisfactory. And on account of the impermanent nature of all phenomena, the absence of a permanent, unchanging, eternal self, ego or soul realized.


Conducive for Concentration

When concluding the mediation, the advise given is to open the eyes slowly and gently realizing the place where one had meditated since with concentration on the breath or another subject of meditation one would have lost the awareness of location.

Anapana Sati meditation; is conducive for the concentration of the mind and has the advantage to shift from mere observation of the breath which is Samitha (tranquillity) meditation to Vipassana (insight meditation) by contemplating on the three characteristics of life of Anicca, Dukkha and Anatta or impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and absence of a permanent eternal, self or ego.

Moreover, it is conducive for concentration for the reason that it is a neutral subject which is neither attractive nor repulsive. On the other hand, meditation on other subjects such as a metta, karuna, mudita or death, one may contemplate among other things of known persons and in the process thoughts of attachment, ill-will and jealousy could arise.


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