Anapanasati - Mindfulness with Breathing
Unveiling the Secrets of Life: a Manual for Serious Beginners
by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
EXPERIENCING ALL BODIES
In step three, the aim is to experience all kaya, all bodies. The essence of this step is to feel all bodies while breathing in and breathing out. We already began to observe while practicing the beginning steps that the breath is the conditioner of our flesh-and-blood bodies. This step does not involve anything new, we merely note more this fact more profoundly, clearly, and carefully than earlier. We contemplate more distinctly the fact that there are two kaya (bodies). Continuously observe this while breathing in and breathing out. (69)
The practitioner must recollect an observation that we began to experience previously. Recall the fact that the breath is the conditioner of the flesh-body. We will distinguish between two things, but we will call both of them kaya (body). The breath is a body in that it is a group or collection. The flesh-body is a kaya because it is a group or collection, also. There are these two groups or bodies. One group is the breath that conditions the flesh-body group. Analyze this experience to see distinctly that there are two groups. And see how they condition each other. Contemplate this more and, more emphatically until it is obvious. (70)
When you hear the word "body," please understand that it includes the meaning of the word "group." In the original Pali language the Lord Buddha used this word "kaya": "sabbakayamipatisamveti" (experiencing all bodies). In Thai, kaya comes from the Pali kaya and can mean "group, pile, heap, division," also. This word does not apply to our physical human forms exclusively, but can apply to other things as well. For instance, in Pali the word for a squad of soldiers is kaya, a kaya of soldiers. Kaya means "group, heap, collection"; please do not understand it in terms of flesh-bodies only. The breath is called "kaya" or group, also. To understand what "experiencing all bodies" means we must have the correct understanding of this word "kaya" Then we can know about both groups, the breath group and the flesh body group. (71)
The specific aim of this step is that we must know that there are two groups and that one group conditions, nourishes, and supports the other group. The breath group nourishes the body group. Actually, we have experienced this since the beginning of Anapanasati practice. Earlier, we experienced that when the breath is coarse the flesh-body gets aggravated and when the breath is fine the body calms down. We have observed these facts since practicing steps one and two. In this step, we emphasize this secret until it becomes absolutely clear. There are two groups. One of them conditions and nourishes the other. Know the difference between them. (72)
THE THREE MEANINGS OF SANKHARA
We are making the inner, mental experience that these bodies condition each other in this way. The body which is the causal conditioner is given the name kaya-sankhara (body conditioner) to distinguish it from the other, the one effected by the conditioning, the conditioned body." Work on this fact in the mind, seeing it as if it were physically tangible. See the one group condition and nurture the other. See them arise together, fall together, coarsen together, become fine together, grow comfortable together, and become uncomfortable together. Realize how intimately they are connected.
This is what is meant by "seeing all bodies," Watch both bodies together and see them condition each other. This is valuable for seeing truth more extensively, for realizing anatta, even. In seeing this interrelationship, we see that what occurs is merely a natural process of conditioning. There is no atta, no self, no soul, no such thing at all involved. Such understanding can have the highest benefit, although it may be somewhat beyond the specific object of this step. For now, however, we only need to understand this fact of conditioning enough to be able to regulate the flesh-body, to calm it by regulating the breath-body. (73)
I would like to take this opportunity to discuss all the meanings of the term "sankhara." This is a very common and important word in the Pali scriptures, but many people have problems with it due to its different uses and meanings. Languages are like that, uncertain and seemingly unreliable. The single word "sankhara" can mean "conditioner," the cause that conditions; it can mean "condition," the result of the action of conditioning; and it can mean "'conditioning," the activity or process of conditioning. We use the same word for the subject of the conditioning, "the concocter," as well as the object, "the concoction." We even use it for the activity, "the concocting," itself. This may be a bit confusing for you, so please remember that "sankhara" has three meanings. The correct meaning depends on the context. This knowledge will be valuable in your further studies. (74)
Study the three meanings of sankhara in this body of ours. There is no need to study it in books or in a theoretical way. The body itself is a sankhara. It has been conditioned by a variety of causes and by the many things of which it is formed. Thus, it is a sankhara in the meaning of "condition." Once this body exists, it causes the arising of other things, such as thoughts, feelings, and actions. Without the body these thoughts and actions could never happen. Thus, it is a "conditioner" because it causes other actions. Lastly, in this flesh-body sankhara of ours, there is the process of conditioning going on constantly. We can discover all three aspects of the word sankhara within this very body. Study the meaning of sankhara in this comprehensive way. Then you will find it easy and convenient to realize more and more profound Dhamma as you go on. (75)
"experiencing all bodies," experiencing both the breath and this flesh-body - each of these three meanings is practiced. First, we contemplate the flesh-body as the thing conditioned by the breath. Then, we see the breath as the conditioner of the flesh-body. Lastly, we observe the activity of conditioning that always exists simultaneously between the two of them. Thus, in the practice of step three we see the conditioner, the condition, and the action of conditioning. This conditioning of the body is the physical level of sankhara. We have not yet seen it on the mental level. Step three is this work of seeing these three things together, simultaneously and continuously, within the mind. Then, you will see everything concerning the term "sankhara," especially as it relates to the kaya and its activity, right here in step three. (76)
When we have studied this fact until it is plainly, obviously, and universally understood as explained above, then we will be able to experience all three of these facts together in one moment. Even for the duration of just one in-breath, or for just one out-breath, we can experience all three facts in just one stroke of the breath. If we are able to do so, then we have "fully experienced the kaya-sankhara (body-conditioner)" and step three is successfully completed. (77)
The essence of practicing step three is to know that there are two kaya, and to be able to regulate one kaya through the other kaya. That is, we can regulate the flesh-body through the breath-body. Once we are certain or this, once we see it dearly, once we are convinced by our experience of this fact with each in-breath and out-breath, then we have realized success in our practice of step three. (78)
CALMING THE BREATH
After we know that we can regulate the flesh-body with the breath-body, we begin to practice step four. The Lord Buddha described step four as "calming the body-conditioner (passambhayam kayasankharam)." We are able to do this once we know that we can use the breath-body to control the flesh-body. (79)
The subject of step four is to calm the body-conditioner (kaya-sankhara) while breathing in and calm the body-conditioner while breathing out. This means we can make the body-conditioner. (breath) calmer and calmer at the same time that we inhale and exhale. This is the matter which we now will explain. (80)
Note the specific wording of this step. "Calming the body-conditioner" refers to calming the breath-body. In step four, the aim of our practice is to calm the breath. We make it fine and peaceful using various techniques which are available to us. If we can calm the breath, there will be very interesting and powerful results. First of all, the flesh-body will become very gentle, relaxed, and tranquil. Then there will arise a calming of the mind, also. There will be other results as well, but they will be left alone until later. The immediate lesson is to calm the breath. To mange the breath is the first point to be considered in the practice of step four. (81)
FIVE SKILLFUL TRICKS
In practicing step four, we have various methods or skillful means - we could even call them tricks - to use in calming the breath. Whether we call them techniques or tricks, these are a higher order of things which we use over things that are more crude and foolish. We call them "skillful means." We have some tricks to use on the breath and these tricks come in five stages. These five tricks or skillful means are:
1.following the breath
2.guarding the breath at a certain point
3.giving rise to an imaginary image at that guarding point
4.manipulating those images in any ways that we want in order to gain power over them
5.selecting one of these images and contemplating it in a most concentrated way until the breath becomes truly calm and peaceful
These are our five techniques or tricks: following, guarding, raising a mental image, playing with the different mental images, and choosing one image to be the specific object of samadhi (concentration, collectedness) up until there is complete calmness. (82)
As for the first stage - following or chasing - we have been doing this from the start. With the long and short breaths we must use hunting or following. Now, we merely repeat or review it until we are most expert at following the breath. This does not require further explanation. We have already done plenty of it in steps one, two, and three.
The second trick is guarding, to choose one point along the breath's path and to watch or guard the breath there. We do not need to follow the breath anymore, but the results are as if we continued to do so. This citta, this sati, is no allowed to go anywhere; it must stay only at that point. It guards the breath passing in and passing out, which give results equal to following, except that guarding is more subtle.
Generally, we use the furthest point in the nose where the breath makes contact, which is usually at the tip. That point is the easiest and most simple to guard, unless you have a hooked nose that comes down low and a high upper lip. Then you might feel the breaths touch just above the upper lip. For each of us the point will be in a different place, depending on the shape and structure of each nose and lip.
Find the place where it is easiest to observe the breath. If it is difficult to find while breathing normally, take a few deep, strong breath it will become obvious. The exact location is not important, only find that point in your nose, or even on the upper lip, where you feel the breath most clearly. Once you find it, guard that point as the breath passes in and out. The mind, sati, stays right at point and contemplates the breath as it goes in and out. Just breathing in and breathing out with the mind guarding at that point: this is stage two in our series of tricks. (83)
You can observe for yourself that when we do not bother to note the breath and just let it go as it pleases, it will have a certain feel. As soon as we begin to note it, even when merely following it, it becomes finer and more gentle. It adjusts itself and becomes more subtle in order to deceive us. It plays tricks like this. Then, when we stop chasing and start to guard the breath at a specific point in the nose, the breath calms down even more. You can verify this fact in your own experience.
A MENTAL IMAGE APPEARS
Now, the breath refines and calms further when we create a mental image (nimitta) at the guarding point. This mental image is only imaginary, it is not real. It is created by the citta, it is mind-made. You can close the eyes and "see" it, you can open the eyes and you still "see" it. It is like a hallucination that the mind creates by itself to calm the breath. To do so, the mind must be subtle. The breath, everything, must be refined in order to raise a mental image. The breath must become finer and calmer until the image is created.
The mental image can be any kind of shape or form depending on what is appropriate for the body of each person. Some people might create a sphere - red, white, green, or any color. It could be a candle flame, for instance, or a puff of cotton, or a wisp of smoke. It can look like the sun, or the moon, or a star. Even the image of a spider's web glimmering in the sunlight is within the abilities of the mind's creative powers. The kind of image depends on the one who creates it. The mind merely inclines in a certain way and the image arises by itself. It is a purely mental phenomenon that has no physical reality. The third trick is complete when we are able to create a mental image at the guarding point. (84)
Now it is time for trick number four. This trick is to change or manipulate the images according to our requirements. Change them from this image to that. Change them in this way, in that way, in all the ways that we wish. This all is possible because the mind creates the images in the first place. Thus, it has the ability to change them, to manipulate them, to play with them. This all can be done easily, it is well within the mind's capabilities. And at the same time, it develops our ability to master the mind in increasingly subtle and powerful ways.
We can control the mind more than we could before and this citta automatically grows more subtle and refined by itself. It calms down until eventually we will be able to calm it completely. Now we merely control these images, changing them according to the mind's tendencies. Depending on how the mind inclines, we experiment with changing the images in order to calm the breath more and more. This is nothing more than a trick. Still, it is a more advanced trick which enables us to have greater influence over the mind. Then, the breath calms down automatically. The breath must become calmer for us to manipulate the images. Although the mind calms down as well, the emphasis now is on calming the breath. The fourth trick is controlling the mental images as we wish. (85)
THE FINAL IMAGE
If we want to observe the process, or the order, of calming, we must watch and see that when we train in the way described here, the breath refines and calms down automatically in itself. When we practice in this way the breath will become calm. When the breath calms, the flesh-body automatically will calm down accordingly. Now when the body calms there is an effect upon the mind. The citta calms in proportion to the calming of the body, but this is not our intention at this point. The calming of the mind is the aim of a later step. Calm the breath and the body calms. In addition, there will be certain effects upon the mind. We can observe the calming process while we practice this step. (86)
The fifth trick is choosing the one single most appropriate nimitta (image). We will not change it any more. We will choose the one image that is most fitting and proper, then will contemplate it with our full attention in order to develop a complete measure of samadhi (concentration). We advise that you choose an image that is soothing, relaxing, and easy to focus upon. Choose one that does not stir up thoughts and emotions: one that does not develop any special significance or meaning. A mere white point or dot will do fine.
The best kind of image is neutral. If we choose a colored one it will brew up thoughts and feelings. The same holds for attractive, interesting, fancy, or complicated images. Some people like to use a picture of the Buddha as their nimitta, but that can get carried away in all kinds of thinking. The thoughts merely follow the picture that is seen, rather than plumbing down into stillness. Therefore, we take an image that has no meaning, has no mental associations, and natural. A white spot is most proper. A tiny spot of light is also fitting. Some people will prefer a Buddha image or whatever suits their fancy. We do not. We take a spot that is easy to contemplate and does not stir up any thoughts. We choose such an image and focus all of the mind on it, in order to develop a concentrated mind. Focus on just this simple point. None of the citta wanders anywhere else. It all gathers together on this single spot. Concentrating everything on this one point is the fifth trick. (87)
So it is that we select the one object (nimitta) which is the most appropriate for the mind to contemplate. At this point, we need know that ordinarily the mind is scattering, spreading, and radiating outward in all directions. Now, we must turn inward onto one focus, all of that outward flowing. In Pali this state is called "ekaggata," which means "to have a single peak, focus, or apex." Everything gathers together at this single focus. We have found the image that is most appropriate - a tiny central point -- now the mind plunges into it. The mental flow is collected at this point in the same way that a magnifying glass collects the sun's rays and focuses them into a single point powerful enough to ignite a flame. This example illustrates the power that is harnessed when all of the mind's energy is gathered into one point. Once the mind focuses upon the object we have chosen, its radiance gathers there and becomes ekaggata - one-pointed, one-peaked, one-pinnacled. (88)
When the mind is one-pointed, there are no other feelings, thoughts, or objects of that mind. There remain only the things called jhananga (factors of jhana*). At the first level of one-pointedness there are five factors. At this level the mind is still coarse enough to perform the function of contemplating the object. The mind noting its object is called vitakka. The mind experiencing that object is, called vicara. Due to vitakka and vicara the mind is satisfied or contented (piti). And once there is piti, there is the feeling of joy (sukha) at the same instant. Lastly, one-pointedness of mind continues as before. Thus, the mind on this level of samadhi (concentration) has five factors: noting (vitakka), experiencing (vicara), contentment (piti), joy (sukha), and one-pointedness (ekaggata). These five show that the mind has entered the first level of perfect samadhi. This kind of awareness does not include any kind of thinking, yet these five activities of the mind occur. We call them factors of jhana. If we can identify that all are present, then we can be satisfied with experiencing success in having perfect samadhi, although only the first. That sounds strange - perfect, but only the first stage. (89)
[* Jhana means "to gaze, to focus" but the exact significance varies with the context. Here it signifies a high level of samadhi often translated "absorption."]
AT THE PEAK
I would like to take a closer look at the word "ekaggata." This word is commonly translated "one-pointedness." Literally, the Pali term means "to have one single (eka) peak (agga; Thai, yod).The Thai word "yod" (rhymes with "laud") can mean either the very top, peak, apex, or pinnacle of something, such as a mountain or a pyramid; or the new tip or growing point of a plant. I am not sure that the English "point" has the same meaning. A point can be anywhere. It can be off to the side somewhere or even down very low. This is why the Pali uses the word agga (peak, summit, or zenith). Ekaggata is like being the apex of a pyramid. It would not be proper for such a mind to be at some low point. This mind must be on a high level. It is gathered together up from low levels to one high point or peak. This is the proper meaning of ekaggata.
Do not worry, however, should the mind collect itself on a focus that may not be the highest. That is a start anyway. Whenever there is ekaggata, it is the beginning of something most useful. Whenever there is some ekaggata, then there is samadhi. In our practice of step four of Anapanasati, it is not necessary to try to enter jhana completely. In the practice of Anapanasati those very refined levels of concentration are not necessary. We only need to have a sufficient and appropriate level of concentration to continue with our practice, that is, enough samadhi that there are the feelings of piti and sukha (contentment and happiness). We need to use piti and sukha in the next steps of our study. If you can go on into jhana, into the material absorptions (rupa-jhana), that will be useful. It will make the next steps easier. Even if you do not reach jhana, as long as there is some piti and sukha you are doing fine. Now that will not be too difficult, will it?
When the feelings piti and sukha are strong enough for the mind to feel them clearly, this is sufficient concentration to be able to go on to step five. If you enter the first, second, third, and fourth rupa-jhana that is more splendid yet. But samadhi sufficient to experience piti and sukha distinctly is enough for step four. (90)
IT'S EASY WHEN ...
Some of you may be wondering whether this will be difficult or easy to do. That is something we cannot tell you. But we can say that it will not be difficult if the method is practiced correctly. If you have been listening carefully, then you will understand the proper way to do this practice. If you follow the technique correctly, it will not be very difficult. You might even finish in a short time. If you do not practice according to the method, then it may be very difficult. You might never finish. It could take three days for some, three weeks for others, three months for some, or even three years. Who can say?
Most of you are still at the beginning, working on step one, but that does not mean you need not pay attention to the instructions about step four. If you do not know what to do, then it will be very difficult for you to do it when the time comes. We are giving instructions as clearly as we can, that you will understand the proper way to do this practice. Many people, however, do not like to follow instructions. They prefer to mix everything up with their own ideas and opinions. They like to make a hodge-podge out of things they read and hear from different places. You can do what you wish. But if you want to make this practice as successful and easy for yourself as possible, then we recommend that you follow these instructions that explain the most proper, efficient, and successful way to do this technique.
Practicing according to the method is not difficult. Not following the technique brings many difficulties. Therefore, we must try to learn the correct method and how to apply it. Then, we will achieve the expected results. Beyond that, there is nothing else to do except repeat and repeat and repeat these steps until we are expert. Repeat them until we can very quickly calm the breath and calm the body. Practice until these steps require no effort. Become well versed in these activities.
And please do not forget! In every step, in every stage and interval of the practice, we must note the breathing in and breathing out. This is the background and foundation of our sati. This is how to be supremely mindful. Note the inhalations and exhalations at each stage of practice. Then we will meet with success in the first tetrad of Anapanasati. This is the theoretical background of Anapanasati and the principles on which we practice it.
Our time is up. May we end today's lecture now. (91)