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The Anapanasati Sutta
-- A Practical Guide to Midfulness of Breathing and Tranquil Wisdom Meditation
Ven. U Vimalaramsi
This book may possibly be stirring up a hornet's nest of indignation and criticism because it gives ideas which go against a unilateral belief that the Lord Buddha taught two separate types of meditation techniques, that is, "Concentration meditation" and "Vipassana Meditation." This unilateral belief which really means a "one-sided" belief is called "Ekamso-vada" in Pali. It is to take a one-sided stand and maintain that one's own opinion or view is correct and all other views are wrong. The Lord Buddha advised his disciples to be flexible and not to be angry if someone gives a new or different kind of understanding to his teachings. He taught his true disciples to listen closely to what is being presented, then compare it with what is being taught in the suttas--to see if it is correct or not. The key word here is suttas (not commentaries or sub-commentaries). This admonishment about not getting angry saves his true disciples from polluting their own minds. And in the process of being angry, they would not be able to determine whether the criticism was fair or not.
In the same way, this book is offered as a clarification of the teachings of the Lord Buddha's method in practicing meditation. If one holds on to a unilateral belief that "Their way is the only way" to practice meditation, without honestly investigating what is being presented in the suttas, then they may possibly be lead astray. Even the best of intentions can cause one to go away from the Buddha's teachings, if those teachings are not occasionally questioned, investigated and compared with the suttas.
The Lord Buddha illustrated the futility and absurdity of unilateral belief and thinking by this story:
Once upon a time, there was a king who, wishing to amuse himself, ordered the Royal Elephant to be brought before him. He also ordered some blind men, blind from birth, to be brought near the elephant. He then asked these blind men to touch the elephant and gave a description of the elephant to him.
The man who touched the tail said the elephant was like a broom. The one who touched a leg said it was like a tree. The one who touched the body said it was like a wall. The one who touched the ear said the elephant was like a winnowing fan. Thus, each described the elephant differently, but each was sure that his own version was the true description of the elephant. They did not realize that each one touched only a part of the elephant. Each blind person had only a one-sided truth. They started arguing with each other, each sticking to his own point of view. The argument ended up in quarreling and fighting. The king and his ministers rolled with laughter as the blind men continued to quarrel and fight with each other.
The Lord Buddha pointed out that meditators, as well as philosophers dispute and quarrel with each other because similarly, they see only one-side of the truth, or have only one way of looking at things. They dogmatically cling to their views, maintaining that they alone have a monopoly of that truth. All of the Buddhas consider and see all sides of the truth. That is why the suttas are so much more important than the commentaries. Although the comments made about a sutta may be helpful, it is absolutely necessary to check what the commentary says against the original sayings of the Buddha.
This proves that genuine Buddhism is in no way be called unilateral. According to this Buddhist way of thinking, experience is multi-faceted and the Buddhist view is therefore multilateral. If truth is multi-faceted, it cannot be stated in a unilateral way!
This is why the Buddha said, "I do not dispute with the world, though the world disputes with me. No one who is aware of the whole truth can dispute with this world." When a person asked the Lord Buddha for his view, he replied that his view was that he did not oppose anyone in the world, whether human, divine or diabolical. If this is the Buddhist position, how can Buddhist meditators come in conflict with each other, or for that matter, with anyone in the world?
When meditation practitioners become dogmatic, they cease looking for Truth (Dhamma) because dogmatism separates all people, including those who seek to open and purify their minds. This definitely causes conflict and verbal daggers to be thrown. Meditation and mental purification is supposed to teach us love, compassion and tolerance. If this is so, how can dogmatism prevail in the name of Truth?
The Buddhist position cannot be understood if one is attached to preconceived notions like, "This is the Only Way." This was why the Lord Buddha opened his teachings with the words, "Open, is the Door to Deathlessness. May those who have little dust in their eyes see clearly, so that they can let go of blind faith." This idea is illustrated in a Zen Buddhist story:
Once, a professor went to a Zen Master. He asked him to explain the meaning of Zen. The Master quietly poured a cup of tea. The cup was full but he continued to pour. The professor could not stand this any longer, so he questioned the Master impatiently, "Why do you keep pouring when the cup is full?" "I want to point out to you," the Master said, "that you are similarly attempting to understand Zen while your mind is full. First, empty your mind of preconceptions before you attempt to understand Zen."
Please enjoy reading this book with a mind that is open and free from preconceptions.
Namo Tassa Bhagavato Arahato Samma Sambudhasa
Many people are now on a spiritual search for a path that leads their mind to peace and openness. They discovered that the norms of the world which emphasize material happiness, do not actually bring real peace and security. Instead, it leads to more pain and dissatisfaction. To these people, the Lord Buddha's Noble Eightfold Path exemplifies a simple and contented life. A life that is open and free. He taught the methods to free our minds of lust, hatred and delusion and started by showing his disciples how to have an open mind that expands beyond its present limitations so that one can examine with understanding. In the Kalama Sutta, the Lord Buddha explicitly stated that one should always examine and investigate and not follow any beliefs blindly. All of these admonishments were for the purpose of opening and expanding one's experience so that they will not be attached to any particular doctrine without thorough investigation.
This kind of honest inquiry into any particular doctrine opens one's minds and expands their consciousness. Then, they can see what leads to a close or tight mind and what leads to a mind which is open and clear. One of the many lessons which the Lord Buddha taught is to first, expand our consciousness by the practice of generosity (dana). When a person is miserly, they have a tendency to have a tight and limited mind. Their mind holds on to material things and easily becomes attached to them. Attachment of any form makes the mind uncomfortable and tensed. This tension is the cause of immeasurable pain and suffering (dukkha). Thus, by encouraging the practice of generosity, it teaches one how to have a joyful, open and clear mind, which is never closed or tight. Another form of generosity is the giving of time and energy to help those who are having problems, i.e. to become real friends. This includes helping others to be happy! When one says or performs actions which cause people to smile, it opens one's mind and then joy arises, not only to the other person but in their own mind as well. This type of practice helps one to expand their mind and let go of the tension.
The Lord Buddha also emphasized the importance of keeping one's moral disciplines (sila). There are five moral precepts which release the mind from remorse, anxiety and guilty feelings, when they are continually kept and observed. These precepts are abstaining from killing living beings, abstaining from taking what is not given, abstaining from wrong sexual activities, abstaining from telling lies, and abstaining from taking drugs and alcohol. One's mind will be tension-free when they keep these simple rules of conduct continually.
Subsequently, the Lord Buddha taught the methods of meditation (bhavana) or mental development to free the mind from tension. The essence of meditation is to open and calm one's mind and accept whatever that arises without any tightening at all. And thus, this book of instructions is written for those who are on this noble quest. To a beginner, these instructions may appear confusing and difficult to understand but, one will gradually discover the many benefits when these instructions are followed closely.
In actual fact, meditation, as taught by the Lord Buddha, is never broken into different types, as is commonly practiced today. It is never deep concentration in any of its forms, that is, fixed or absorption concentration (appana samadhi), access or neighborhood concentration (upacara samadhi) or moment-to-moment concentration (khanika samadhi) --which actually brings tightness to the mind and suppresses the hindrances. The 'concentration' meditation is a form of suppression, a kind of cutting off at one's experience which causes a kind of resistance to arise in one's mind. As a result, there is a conflict with reality. On the other hand, "Tranquil Wisdom Meditation" opens one's mind and is continually expanding it, which does not ever exclude or resist anything. A 'concentrated' mind does not meditate in the Buddhist way. It doesn't matter whether one is talking about full or fixed absorption concentration, or access concentration. It is still the same.
The important rule of the meditation is, no matter what distracts one's mind away from the breath and tranquilizing one's mind, they simply open, expand, let it go without thinking about the distraction, relax the mind and tightness in the head, feel the mind open and relax away the tension, and softly redirect one's attention back to the object of meditation i.e., the breath and relaxing. The act of calming the mind and relaxing the tightness in the head before coming back to the breath makes a huge difference between "Concentration Meditation" and "Tranquil Wisdom Meditation". A meditator who practices "Concentration Meditation" over-focuses on the object of meditation and thus, they have the tendency to close or tighten the mind until there are no more distractions. This practice leads to deep absorption of mind where hindrances are blocked. On the other hand, "Tranquil Wisdom Meditation" has the tendency to open one's mind and to allow the mind to become calm naturally. One does not suppress or force their mind to stay focused on the object of meditation. Instead, the mind is always aware of what it is doing in the present moment. Whenever any distraction arises, one lets go, opens, expands and relaxes the tightness in the head before coming back to the breath and calming the mind. Thus, as described in the sutta, "Tranquil Wisdom Meditation" leads to wisdom, full awareness, sharp mindfulness and eventually to the highest goal of attaining nibbana.
The in-breath, the out-breath, the relaxing of the tightness in the head and the opening and expanding of one's mind, is one's home base. This means that whenever the mind goes away from home, they first let go, relax the tightness again, feel the mind expand and become calm, then redirect the attention back to the breath and calming the mind. One "Always Comes Back Home" regardless whether it is a wandering thought, an emotional pain, a physical sensation or any other distraction. They are all treated in the same way! This is by far the easiest meditation instructions that the Lord Buddha ever gave. Simply let go, relax the tightness in the head, feel the mind expand and become tranquil, redirect the attention back to the breath, on the in-breath relax the tightness in the head and calm the mind, on the out-breath relax the tightness in the head and calm the mind. Easy! Do not try to control the breath. Just breathe normally and naturally. That's it in a nutshell. The rest of the book describes these instructions, but with more precise explanations. As one examines and explores the meanings in this book, they will begin to understand and gradually apply this technique in their meditation sittings as well as during their daily activities. At the same time, one will marvel at the beauty and simplicity of the Lord Buddha's "Mindfulness of Breathing" (Anapanasati).
May all who read this book find it helpful and may they reach the highest goal.
In recent years, there have been many expositions of the Lord Buddha's teachings in English and other languages. However, a great number of them lack authenticity and do not accurately represent the Buddha's words. Many are written in such a free-lance way that it is difficult to even recognize these writings as Buddha-Dhamma. Thus, the purpose of these pages is to draw attention to the far reaching significance of the Lord Buddha's Dhamma, which includes the meditation instructions, and the initial guidance to an understanding of his teachings and their practical applications. This book attempts to give an accurate description of meditation based on the Anapanasati Sutta (which instructions are exactly the same, letter for letter and word for word, as the Satipatthana Sutta and the Maharahulavada Sutta, sutta number 62. Both are from the Majjhima Nikaya.), with only limited use of standard commentaries. It is selected from the Middle Length Sayings translated from Pali by the Venerable Nanamoli and Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi.
We will first start with redefining some words which are regularly misunderstood (or badly used to suit some commentaries), misused and are causing a lot of confusion to the practice of the Lord Buddha's method of meditation. Firstly, let us look at the word jhana. In Pali, jhana has many types of meanings. It can mean meditation stages or illumination. However, when the common translation of the word jhana as being merely "concentration" is used, misunderstanding takes place. Thus, the author will explain its meaning whenever it occurs in this book. The author also observed that the word jhana was never defined as "fixed concentration, access concentration or momentary concentration" in the suttas. These definitions are only mentioned in some commentaries.
The Lord Buddha invariably includes the word jhanas (meaning 'meditation stages', not fixed absorption of mind) in the full gradual training. According to the suttas, these meditation stages are not mystical or magical experiences. They are simply stages to be recognized by the meditator. These meditation stages (jhanas) contribute to the build-in perfection of the path which emphasizes deep tranquillity, wisdom, stillness and opening of the mind. These qualities provide a solid base for the realization of both calmness of mind and the development of wisdom. While they are still mundane, the jhanas (meditation stages) are the very 'footsteps of the Tathagata' that forms the gradual training which leads to nibbana.
Next is the Pali word samatha. The more accurate meanings of samatha are peacefulness, calmness, tranquility, serenity or stillness and not as the commonly translated terms like absorption or fixed concentration. Thus, the author prefers to use the word tranquility.
The Pali word samadhi is equally important too, as it has many different meanings such as calmness, unified mind, tranquility, peacefulness, stillness, composure of mind, quiet mind, serenity, and one of the lesser meanings, "concentration". Thus, the true meaning is not merely fixed absorption concentration or access concentration, but calmness or stillness in different degrees. Interestingly, Rhys Davids found through his studies, that the word samadhi was never used before the time of the Buddha. Even though as a Bodhisatta, he practiced 'concentration meditation', this word has a different meaning other than concentration. The Lord Buddha "popularized" the word samadhi to express calm wisdom, tranquility, openness, awareness, along with developing a mind which has clarity and wisdom in it. Later, the Hindus changed the meaning to 'concentration'. Hence, the author will use either stillness, or composure of mind, or unified mind. According to the Pali-English dictionary written by Buddhadatta, the prefix sama means "calmness or tranquility" and dhi means "wisdom". When these two meanings are added together, the word samadhi can actually mean "tranquil wisdom". If one chooses to use the word concentration', they must know that it means stillness of mind or composure of mind, or a unified mind and not absorption, fixed (appana), or access (upacara) concentration or even momentary (Khanika) concentration.
This book is written with a deep conviction that the systematic cultivation of 'Tranquil Wisdom Meditation' brings both insight into the seeing of the true nature of this psycho/physical (mind/body) process and serenity of mind at the same time! Furthermore, there is the seeing and realizing the cause and effect relationships of all dependent conditions. This means seeing dependent origination which is the development of penetrative wisdom that leads to dispassion, emancipation and enlightenment. As a matter of fact, the Lord Buddha discovered that 'concentration practices' of any kind did not lead him to Nibbana.
After becoming a homeless one, the Bodhisatta went to two different teachers of "concentration meditation". His first teacher was Alara Kalama. After learning the Dhamma and discipline, he practiced until he attained a very high and distinguished stage of meditation called the "realm of nothingness". The Bodhisatta then went to his teacher and asked whether he could proceed any further with that meditation. Alara Kalama replied that it was the highest stage anyone could attained. The Bodhisatta was dissatisfied and went to another teacher by the name of Uddaka Ramaputta. He learned the Dhamma and discipline, then practiced it and attained the "realm of neither-perception nor non-perception". The Bodhisatta again went to his teacher and asked a similar question about there being more to attain. Again, the Bodhisatta was told that this was absolutely the highest attainment anyone could achieve. The future Buddha was disappointed because he saw that there were still many more things to let go of. He observed that these "concentration techniques", which focused intensely on the object of meditation caused tightening in the mind. He reasoned that there was still attachment whenever there was tension in the mind. He also noticed that if any part of the experiences were suppressed or not allowed to arise, (This occurs with every form of 'concentration'--that is, fixed absorption concentration, or access concentration.) there was still some kind of holding on or attachment to an ego belief. Thus, after six long years of trying all of the various spiritual and ascetic practices from body mortifications like starving the body, to holding the breath, he realized that these practices did not lead him to a calm and open mind which was free from attachment and suffering.
On the night of the Bodhisatta's realization of the supreme nibbana, he recalled an incident at a ploughing festival while he was just a young boy of one or two years old. When his attendants left him alone under a rose-apple tree, he sat in "tranquil wisdom meditation" and experienced a mind that was expanded and opened! He saw that this form of meditation would lead him to the experience of "tranquility jhanas" (as opposed to 'concentration jhanas'). As a result of the "tranquil wisdom meditation", his mind was filled with joy, his body became light and happy. When the joy faded away, he then experienced strong calmness and peacefulness. His mind and body became very comfortable. His mind was very still, composed, with sharp mindfulness and full awareness of what was happening around him i.e., he could still hear sounds and feel sensations with his body, etc., at that time.
When the Bodhisatta sat under the Bodhi tree to meditate on the full moon night of May and made his great effort to attain the supreme nibbana, he recalled that not all forms of pleasure are unwholesome. He realized that there could be pleasurable feelings arising in the mind and body although there was not any attachment to anything. That very night, the Bodhisatta practiced "Tranquil Wisdom Meditation" through the method of opening and expanding the mind. In short, he practiced the "Anapanasati" or "Mindfulness of Breathing". And as we all know, he became the Buddha or the supremely enlightened one.
The Anapanasati Sutta taught by the Lord Buddha 2500 years ago still provides the most simple, direct, thorough, and effective method for training and developing the mind for its daily tasks and problems as well as for its highest aim--the mind's own unshakable deliverance from greed, hatred and delusion. The method described here is taken directly from the sutta itself and its results can be seen clearly and easily when one practices according to the instructions on the sutta. The author would like to emphasize that the instructions in this book are not his "own opinion", but is actually the Lord Buddha's own instruction given in a clear and precise way. It can be called the "Undiluted Dhamma", because it comes directly from the suttas themselves, without a lot of additions or free-lance ideas.
The Anapanasati Sutta gives the most profound meditation instructions available today. It includes the "Four Foundations of Mindfulness" and the "Seven Enlightenment Factors" and shows how they are fulfilled through the practice of "Mindfulness of Breathing". This is done by attaining all of the meditation stages (jhanas). This sutta shows the direct way to practice "Tranquil Wisdom Meditation" and does not categorize meditation practices. Strangely, the current separation into various types of meditation like "fixed absorption concentration , or access concentration" and "momentary concentration" meditation seems to occur only in the commentaries but never in the suttas. Thus, one must notice this and compare them with the suttas for their accuracy.
From the attainment of the fourth jhana, three alternative lines of further development become possible. This sutta deals with only one of those, namely the attainment of all the material and immaterial jhanas (meditation stages), followed by the experience of the cessation of perception and feeling (nirodha samapatti in Pali) and finally the experience of Dependent Origination (Paticcasamuppada). In these attainments, the Lord Buddha mentions four meditative stages that continue the mental unification established by the jhanas (meditation states). These states described as "the liberation that are peaceful and immaterial", are still mundane states. Distinguished from the material jhanas (meditation stages) by their deepening of the subtle mental observations, they are named after their own exalted stages: "the base of infinite space, the base of infinite consciousness, the base of nothingness, the base of neither-perception nor non-perception." These states of consciousness are very attainable if one ardently and continually keeps their daily meditation practice going. As this is a gradual training, one first must learn to walk before they learn how to run. Thus, the beginning of the meditation practice is the basis for further development.
This is a straight and direct path towards liberation and the supramundane nibbana. It does, however, require sustained meditative effort, applied to a simple object of meditation to watch, i.e., the breath, followed by the relaxation and expansion of the mind which allows the mind to become calm and clear without distractions.
When one practices the Anapanasati Sutta as a "Tranquil Wisdom Meditation", they find that their creativity and intuition increase as their practice develops. This forms the timeless and universal appeal of a true 'Doctrine of Enlightenment' (realizing Dependent Origination and the Four Noble Truths) which has the depth and breadth, the simplicity and intelligence for providing the foundation and the framework of a living Dhamma For All. One will sense the urgency of the fundamental "non-materialistic" problems and search for solutions that neither science nor the "religions of faith" can provide.
More important is the final realization which comes through the method of "Tranquil Wisdom Meditation" that invokes experiencing the various meditation stages (jhanas) and seeing through direct knowledge, all of the twelve links of "Dependent Arising". This means seeing and realizing directly the second and third Noble Truths. And when these two Noble Truths have been seen and realized directly, this implies that the First Noble Truth and the Fourth Noble Truth are seen and practiced. This is because one can't see the "Origin of Suffering" without first seeing the "Suffering" itself and suffering would not cease without practicing the way leading to the cessation of suffering. Thus, seeing and realizing Dependent Origination, means that one sees and realizes all of the Four Noble Truths, which is actually the true essence of Buddhist meditation.
The true aim of the Anapanasati Sutta is nothing less than final liberation from suffering which is the highest goal of the Lord Buddha's Teachings--Nibbina. The practice of the Buddhist Path evolves in two distinct stages, a mundane (lokiya) or preparatory stage and a supramundane (lokuttara) or accomplished stage. The mundane path is developed when the disciples undertake the gradual training in developing their virtues (continually keeping the precepts), tranquility or deep composure of mind, and developing wisdom. This reaches its peak in the practice of "Tranquil Wisdom Meditation", which deepens direct experience, and at the same time, shows one the three characteristics of all existence, as well as, all of the Noble Truths.
In short, there are two kinds of nibbina, one is the worldly or mundane type of nibbana and the other is the supramundane or unworldly type of nibbana. The mundane or worldly type of nibbana is attained every time the meditator lets go of an attachment or hindrance and relief arises along with a kind of happiness. This type of nibbana will occur many times when one is seriously practicing "Tranquil Wisdom Meditation'. The supramundane type of nibbana only occurs after the meditator sees and realizes 'Dependent Origination' (Paticcasamuppada) both forwards and backwards. (This means realizing the Four Noble Truths.) This supramundane nibbana takes time and effort to achieve. However, that does not mean that it is impossible for laymen and laywomen to attain it. With persistent daily practice and by taking an occasional meditation retreat with a competent teacher who understands how the "Tranquil Wisdom Meditation" works, even those who live active lives in the world can still achieve the highest goal of the Supramundane Nibbana. It was mentioned in the Parinibbana Sutta, that during the time of the Lord Buddha, many more laymen and laywomen became saints than the Bhikkhus and Bhikkhunis when they practiced on a regular basis. The common belief that one must be a 'Bhikkhu' or 'Nun' in order to reach this goal is just not true. The exhortation of the Lord Buddha was for all people who were interested in the correct path to 'Ehipassiko' (a Pali word meaning 'come and see'). This is very good advice because it helps those who are interested, to get out of the judgmental, critical mind and honestly practice to see if this is, in fact, the right way.
Dependent Origination is the teaching which makes the Lord Buddha's path unique among all other types of meditation. During his period of struggle for enlightenment, Dependent Origination came as a marvelous and eye-opening discovery that ended his pursuit in the darkness: "Arising, arising--thus, Bhikkhus, in regard to things unheard before there arose in me vision, knowledge, wisdom, understanding and light". (Samyutta Nikaya X11. 65/ii.105). Once enlightened, the mission of the Tathagata is to proclaim Dependent Origination (This means the Four Noble Truths.) to the world (Samyutta Nikaya X11.25-6). The Lord Buddha taught this in discourse after discourse, so much so, that the Dependent Origination soon becomes the most essential and important teaching of all. When the Arahat Assaji was asked to state the Master's message as precisely and as briefly as possible, he gave the doctrine of arising and ceasing of phenomena. With a single sentence, the Lord Buddha dispels doubt about the correctness of this summary: "He who sees Dependent Origination sees the Dhamma, he who sees the Dhamma sees Dependent Origination." (Taken from the Middle Length Sayings [Majjhima Nikaya] Sutta 28 section 38). This means seeing and realizing all of the Noble Truths. This is the only way!
When one's faculties have gained a degree of maturity and they see the twelve links of 'Dependent Origination' clearly, the mundane path rises to the supramundane path because it leads directly and surely out of 'Suffering'. One then realize 'The Origin of Suffering', 'The Cessation of Suffering', and 'The Path Leading the Way Out of Suffering'.
There is another interesting sutta about seeing of the Four Noble Truths, found in the Digha Nikaya Sutta number 16, section 5.27. From this section of the sutta, one concludes that the way to attain enlightenment is by following the Eightfold Path and realizing the Noble Truths. It says:
The mind opens when it sees and realizes these twelve links of Dependent Origination directly. As a result, the mind becomes dispassionate and free. This is as true now in present times, as it was 2500 years ago. Any teaching that doesn't highlight the necessity of the Dependent Origination as its realization and final goal or destination, isn't teaching the true path. Currently, many people say that seeing impermanence, suffering, and not-self is realizing nibbina. However, one must note that although these characteristics do lead the way to realizing nibbina and are very important to develop, they don't directly allow one to see the supramundane state of Nibbana. The meditator can see, one or all of the three characteristics of existence, i.e., impermanence, suffering and not-self, without directly seeing Dependent Origination, but, when one sees Dependent Origination directly he will always see all of the three characteristics. According to the first sutta in the Maha Vagga of the Vinaya, it cannot work. any other way.
Currently, there seems to be some disputes regarding the kinds of meditation the Lord Buddha taught. One school of thought says -- "One must begin by practicing 'Jhana [fixed] concentration meditation' and then proceed to the fourth jhana  before switching over to the practice of 'vipassana meditation' or momentary concentration [khanika sarnadhi]. Other schools of thought say that one can attain Nibbana without going through the jhanas, but only practice "vipassana meditation" or developing access concentration [upacara samadhi] right from the beginning of their meditation practice.
Interestingly, the word "vipassana' or 'vidassana' (which has the same meaning) is only mentioned very few times in the suttas, whereas the word Jhana (here meaning tranquil wisdom meditation stages, not fixed concentration) is mentioned many thousands of times. Moreover, the Anapanasati Sutta shows that the Lord Buddha taught only one kind of meditation, that is by simultaneously developing both the jhanas and wisdom. (Here, the word jhana means meditation stages or illumination of mind, not deep absorption or fixed concentration (appana samadhi), access concentration (upacara samadhi) or even momentary concentration (Khanika samadhi).) This sutta actually shows the method of how to tranquilize the mind and develop wisdom at the same time by seeing the true nature of existence. This means observing anicca [impermanence], dukkha [suffering], anatta [not-self], along with seeing and realizing the cause and effect relationships of Dependent Origination. At the same time, it also fulfills the "Four Foundation of Mindfulness and the Seven Enlightenment Factors". Hence, the way leading to the realization of Supramundane Nibbana is clearly and precisely taught in this wonderful sutta.
The commentaries and sub-commentaries have divided "concentration" and "vipassana" into different forms of meditation. This kind of "separation" does not appear in the suttas. Although it is mentioned in the Anggutara Nikaya that the first part of the practice is samatha and the second part is vidassana (developing wisdom), it is not saying that they are two different types of practices or meditations. The practice is the same! It is only that different things are seen at different times, as in the case of Sutta 111 'One By One as they Occurred' from the Majjhima Nikaya. This sutta gives an explanation of Venerable Sariputta's meditation development and experience of all the jhanas (meditation stages) before he attained arahatship.
When one starts to differentiate and categorize meditation practices, the situation becomes very confusing. This is also evident in the popular commentaries like the Visuddhi Magga and its sub-commentaries. One begins to see inconsistencies when they make a comparison with the suttas. Nowadays, most scholars use just a line or parts of a sutta to ensure that the commentaries agree with the sutta. However, if one were to read the sutta as a whole, the sutta has an entirely different meaning. This is not to say that scholars are intentionally making wrong statements, but sometimes they are caught in looking at such tiny details or parts of the Dhamma with a unilateral view that they tend to lose view of the larger picture of things. The description of the jhanas (here again meaning absorption or fixed on or into the object of meditation, where concentration suppresses the hindrances) in the Visuddhi Magga, doesn't exactly match the description given in the suttas and in most cases, these descriptions are very different!
For example, the Visuddhi Magga talks about having a sign (nimitta in Pali, this can be a light or other visualized mind-made pictures) arise in the mind at certain times when one is practicing jhana meditation (absorption concentration [appana samadhi] or when one gets into access concentration [upacara samadhi] or even in momentary concentration [khanika samadhi]. With each type of 'concentration' a nimitta of some kind arises. When this happens one is practicing a 'concentration' type of meditation practice which the Bodhisatta rejected as being the way to Nibbana! However, if one were to check the suttas, the description of nimittas arising in the mind has never been mentioned. And, if it were very important, it would be mentioned many times. The Lord Buddha never taught concentration techniques, having nimittas (signs) arising, or the chanting of mantras. These are forms of Hindu practices that have sneaked into Buddhism for a few hundred years. Their influences can be seen in the 'concentration practices' and in the Tibetan Buddhist styles of meditation, as well as, in other popular commentaries like the Visuddhi Magga. Thus, the current ways of practicing "concentration", do not conform to the descriptions given in the suttas.
One must always honestly and openly investigate what is being said and then check it against the suttas. It is best that one does this not with just part of the sutta but the whole sutta itself, because taking out one or two lines from various sections can cause confusion. When one honestly questions what the Lord Buddha's Teachings really are, they will observe that open investigation helps one to see more clearly and thus, questions can be answered rationally. One must always remember that the commentaries and sub-commentaries are the authors' interpretation of what the suttas say and mean. Many times good intentioned monks look for ways to expand their understanding and attempt to help themselves and others with their comments. Then as time goes by, more scholar monks will expound on a certain comment, explaining the different and subtle meanings of some tiny phrases and individual comments. This "dilutes" the true teachings and thus, has the tendency to take one further away from the true meaning and understanding of the suttas. As a result, many puzzling questions arise.
For example: "In the practice of momentary concentration, where does Dependent Origination fit into the scheme of things?" This practice doesn't seem to go hand in hand with the teaching of Dependent Origination. Another question is: "According to the suttas, Right Effort means bringing up zeal, or joyful interest, or enthusiasm (chanda) in the mind. However, some meditation teachers say Right Effort only means "noting". Other puzzling questions that one might asked are, "Which suttas mentioned the terms momentary [Khanika Samadhi], access [Upacara Samadhi], and absorption or fixed concentration [Appana Samadhi]?" and "Which sutta describes 'Insight Knowledges'?" or "Which sutta says that there is no mindfulness while in the jhana meditation stage?". Please note that in the Parinibbana Sutta, the Lord Buddha had requested his disciples to always check against the suttas and not any other texts.
There must come a time when one must stop repeating the words of others, and stop practicing ways of questionable methods, without doing some open and honest investigation of the original teachings of the Lord Buddha. One must not depend on hearsay, or blind belief in what a teacher says, simply because he is the authority. In the Kalama Sutta, the Lord Buddha gives some very wise advice:
We must go beyond opinions, beliefs and dogmatic thinking. In this way, we can rightly reject anything which when accepted, practiced and perfected, leads to more anger, criticism, conceit, pride, greed and delusion. These unwholesome states of mind are universally condemned and are certainly not beneficial to ourselves or to others. They are to be avoided whenever possible.
On the other hand, we can rightly accept anything which when practiced and perfected, leads to unconditional love, contentment and gentle wisdom. These things allow us to develop a happy, tranquil, and peaceful mind. Thus, the wise praise all kinds of unconditional love (loving acceptance of the present moment), tranquility, contentment and gentle wisdom and encourages everyone to practice these good qualities as much as possible.
In the Parinibbana Sutta, the Lord Buddha's advice to the Bhikkhus is very plain and precise. One is to practice according to the scriptural texts and observe whether the practice is done correctly. Only after close examination and practice, along with experience, can one be sure that the scriptures are correct. Thus, the Lord Buddha's advice to the Bhikkhus is not only to use the suttas, but also to check whether the suttas are correct according to the Dhamma and the Discipline. This is how one makes sure that the information is true and can then be practiced correctly. This is taken from Sutta number 16, section 4.7 to 4.11 of the Digha Nikaya translated from the book "Thus Have I Heard" by Maurice Walsh. It says:
The spirit of open investigation and exploration into the ways and means of the Lord Buddha's Middle Path, is open to all who have an inquiring mind. This means a mind which is not stuck in looking at things through pride and attachment at what they "think" is right without first checking with the suttas. Occasionally, some meditators become very attached to their opinions and teachers such that they think their method is the "only way", without checking the true teachings from the suttas. As this book is taken directly from the sutta, one can observe how things can be confused and misrepresented by some commentaries and sub-commentaries. If one has the courage to investigate and practice, they will be pleasantly surprised at the simplicity and clarity of the Lord Buddha's teaching, especially when commentaries like the Visuddhi Magga are left alone. Although the suttas appear dry and repetitive, they are quite illuminating and can be fun to read, especially when one practices the meditation and gains intellectual knowledge at the same time.
Before one starts with their meditation, it is very important to build a strong foundation of morality (sila). If the meditator doesn't even practice the five precepts, they will lose interest and finally stop meditating, because they think that the technique is incorrect. Actually the Lord Buddha's technique works very well. The meditator is just not doing the complete practice nor is one doing it in the correct way. Keeping the precepts is essential to the development and purity of the mind. If one breaks any of these precepts, they will experience a lot of restlessness, remorse, and anxiety due to their guilty feelings. This causes the mind to be tight and clouds one's thoughts.
These precepts are absolutely necessary for any spiritual attainments. They provide the mind with general mindfulness and awareness which helps one to have a peaceful mind that is clear from any remorse due to wrong doing. A peaceful and calm mind, is a mind that is tension-free and clear. Thus, it is a very good idea to take these precepts everyday, not as some form of rite or ritual, but as a reminder for one's practice. Taking the precepts everyday helps to keep one's mind, speech and actions uplifted. There are people who recite these precepts in the Pali language. However, it can turn into an empty exercise if the meditator doesn't completely understand Pali. For the earnest meditator it is best to recite these precepts daily in a language that one understands so that the meanings are clear without a doubt. These precepts are:
1. I undertake to keep the precept to abstain from killing living beings. - This precept includes non-killing of beings like ants, mosquitoes, and cockroaches.
2. I undertake to keep the precept to abstain from taking what is not given. - This covers any forms of stealing which even includes taking a pencil from work without permission or using equipment like copy machines for personal use.
3. I undertake to keep the precept to abstain from wrong sexual activity. - Basically, it means not having any sexual activity with and another person's partner, or having sexual activity with someone that is still under the care of a family member. It also means that one must follow the sexual laws of the land . Any sexual activity that causes undue pain to another being will cause one to have remorse and guilty feelings to arise.
4. I undertake to keep the precept to abstain from telling lies, using harsh speech, slandering others, and speaking gossip or nonsense talk. - This means abstinence from any type of speech which is not true or helpful to others. It also includes abstinence from telling white lies.
5. I undertake to keep the precept to abstain from taking drugs and alcohol which dulls the mind. - Many people think that drinking one glass of beer or one social glass of wine would not effect their mind. But this is not true! If one is practicing meditation, they become very sensitive and will notice the effects of even taking something as harmless as aspirin. It can dull one's mind for a whole day. How much more with alcohol and other drugs! However, when one is sick and the doctor says that they must take a certain drug as medicine, then please take the medicine. This precept refers to taking drugs or alcohol in order to relax and escape from the stress of the day.
As soon as one realize that they have broken a precept, one should first forgive themselves and acknowledge that they are not perfect. This helps one to free their mind a little. One then retakes the precepts as soon as possible and make a determination not to break the precepts again. Taking the precepts again will help to re-purify the mind. Over a period of time, one will become more aware and naturally abstain from breaking them due to realization of its harmful effects.
Please practice only one meditation technique at a time because the mind will becomes confused if one tries to mix and match various meditation. Mixing and matching only stops one's progress. The best way is to pick only one teacher who truly understands the meditation. The way to select a good teacher is by observing if their students are kind, pleasant, friendly and supportive. Then, stay with that teacher for a period of time and see for oneself whether their mind becomes more happy and peaceful all of the time, not just while meditating, but in daily life as well. This is ultimately the best way to choose. Does one's awareness of mind states become clearer and easier to recognize then let go of them during one's daily activities as well as during the sitting practice? Otherwise, check with the teacher and the suttas to see if what is being taught agrees with them. As one's practice deepens and the meditation becomes better, the suttas become clearer and easier to understand. This always happens when the teacher is using the suttas as his guide.
Lastly, it is very important for the meditator to recognize whenever the five hindrances arise. They are lust or greed, hatred or aversion, sloth and torpor or sleepiness and dullness, restlessness or remorse, anxiety or scatteredness and doubt. A hindrance is an obstacle or a distraction because it completely blocks one from practicing meditation either while sifting or in their daily activities or seeing things in the present moment clearly. It also causes one to take an impersonal process, personally. Whenever these hindrances arise, one identifies with them very strongly and takes them personally i.e., "I am sleepy, I am restless, I like and I want, I dislike and I hate, I have doubt". These hindrances completely clouds their mind and stops one from seeing clearly whatever happens in the present moment due to the ego involvement of "I am that".
When one is practicing "fixed concentration' the meditator lets go of any distraction and then redirects their mind back to the meditation object again. On the other hand, when one is practicing "Tranquil Wisdom Meditation", one lets go of the distraction (this part is exactly the same as the 'fixed concentration'), relaxes the tightness in the head and feels the mind becomes open, expanded and calm. Only then does one redirect their attention back to the object of meditation. The small difference of relaxing the mind and feeling it open and calm, changes the whole meditation from a 'fixed concentration' to a more flowing, mindful and calm kind of awareness, that doesn't go as deep as the absorption types of meditation. As a result, the meditator becomes more in tune with the teachings in the suttas.
When one is practicing "Tranquil Wisdom Meditation", they do not suppress anything. Suppression means to push down or to push away or not allow certain types of experience i.e., it stops the hindrances from arising. Instead, when a hindrance arises, one must work to open their minds by seeing it clearly as anicca (impermanence, it wasn't there and now it is), dukkha (suffering or unsatisfactoriness, one sees that when these distractions arise they are painful), and anatta (not taking it personally, seeing the hindrances in the true way as being an impersonal process that one has no control over and not taking these hindrances as "I am that"). One then lets go of this obstruction, relaxes the tightness in the head, calms the mind and finally, redirects the attention back to the practice of 'Mindfulness of Breathing'.
As a result, one begins to see clearly how the mind works and this leads to the development of wisdom. When one allows and does not identify with these hindrances, they will naturally fade away, and the mind becomes more clear and bright. Every time one lets go of the ego attachment of "I am that", the mind naturally becomes more expanded, alert and mindful. Thus, one of the main reasons of this book is to show that whenever one suppresses any thing, they are not purifying the mind, or experiencing things as they truly are. At the time of suppression, one is pushing away or not allowing part of their experience and thus, this contracts the mind instead of expanding and opening the mind. As a result, it is not purifying the mind of ignorance. One is actually stopping the process of purification of the mind! It is impossible to experience the unconditioned state of the Supramundane Nibbana when one does not let go of everything that arises, and in that way, purify the mind of the ego belief of "I am that". The Lord Buddha had never taught suppression of any experience nor did he teach a meditation that causes the mind to fix or to absorb into the meditation object. Remember, he rejected every form of 'concentration meditation' as not being the correct way. Actually, any kinds of pain or emotional upset or physical discomforts and even of death must be accepted with equanimity, full awareness or strong attention and not identifying with it or taking that pain personally.
Real personality change occurs when one opens and expands their mind and let go any kinds of hindrances, pain, suffering and tension even in their daily lives. This means that one opens and expands their awareness so that they observe everything with a silent mind which is free from tightness and all ego-attachment. One gradually leads a happy and calm life without a lot of mind chatter, especially during their daily activities. When one practices "concentration meditation", one will feel very comfortable and happy while in the deep meditation but when they get out of these exalted stages, their personality remains the same (this means that the hindrances attack them but they do not recognize and open their mind. Thus, they contract their mind and become even more attached!). They might even tend to be prideful and critical! This is because whenever a hindrance arises during the meditation, the meditator lets it go and immediately goes back to the object of meditation again. They do this without calming and relaxing the tightness caused by the distraction. Instead, their mind tends to close or contract and tighten around that experience (while in sitting meditation) until the mind becomes more deeply 'concentrated'. As a result, this suppresses the hindrance. Thus, they have not completely let go of the ego-attachment to that distraction. Their mind is also tight and tense because they are not seeing clearly that they are not opening and allowing, but closing and fighting with that distraction. This explains why nowadays meditators complain that they have huge amounts of tension in their head. Actually, when one truly lets go of any distraction, there will not ever be any tension in the head. As a result of this suppression, there is no real purifying of the mind and thus, personality change does not occur.
Now, we are almost ready for the Anapanasati Sutta. But, before we go into that, let's look at some words which have been changed so that their meanings in the texts become clearer. For instance, the word 'rapture' is replaced by 'joy', and the word 'pleasure' is changed to 'happiness'. In addition, the word 'concentration' is replaced by 'stillness', 'composure of mind', or 'unified mind'. When one practices according to the Lord Buddha's instructions as described here, they will be able to confirm their experiences by reading the suttas. As a result, there is better understanding of these profound texts.
One last note: In these few opening chapters, the author has touched on some controversial views about the practices of absorption or fixed concentration (appana samadhi), access concentration (upacara samadhi) and momentary concentration (khanika samadhi). Thus, the author appreciates very much if the reader finds any mistake, they would indicate the suttas which mentioned these various concentration practices.
When one practice "Tranquil Wisdom Meditation" there is only opening, expanding of the mind and allowing, then relaxing the tightness caused by the hindrance or distraction, before going back to the object of meditation again. This opening and allowing helps one to be more aware and alert to the things which causes pain and suffering so that they can open up and expand even further. With this kind of awareness, there is personality change and only then can one fulfill the Lord Buddha's admonition of "We are the Happy Ones".
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last updated: 20-01-2005