Homage to the Blessed One, Accomplished and Fully Enlightened
Anapanasati, the meditation on in-and-out breathing, is the first subject of meditation expounded by the Buddha in the Maha Satipatthana Sutta, the Great Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness. The Buddha laid special stress on this meditation, for it is the gateway to enlightenment and Nibbana adopted by all the Buddhas of the past as the very basis for their attainment of Buddhahood. When the Blessed One sat at the foot of the Bodhi Tree and resolved not to rise until he had reached enlightenment, he took up anapanasati as his subject of meditation. On the basis of this, he attained the four jhanas (Absorptions), recollected his previous lives, fathomed the nature of samsara (Life flux), aroused the succession of great insight knowledges, and at dawn, while 100,000 world systems trembled, attained the limitless wisdom of a Fully Enlightened Buddha.
The Buddha preached:
“Herein, monks, a monk who has gone to the forest,
or to the foot of a tree, or to an empty place,
sits down cross legged, holding his back erect,
arousing mindfulness in front of him.”
This means that any person belonging to the four types of individuals mentioned in this teaching–namely, bhikkhu (monk), bhikkhuni (nun), upasaka (layman) or upasika (laywoman)–desirous of practising this meditation, should go either to a forest, to the foot of a secluded tree, or to a solitary dwelling. There he should sit down cross-legged, and keeping his body in an erect position, fix his mindfulness at the tip of his nose, the locus for his object of meditation.
If he breathes in a long breath, he should comprehend this with full awareness. If he breathes out a long breath, he should comprehend this with full awareness. If he breathes in a short breath, he should comprehend this with full awareness. if he breathes out a short breath, he should comprehend this with full awareness.
“He breathes in experiencing the whole body, he breathes out experiencing the whole body”: that is, with well-placed mindfulness, he sees the beginning, the middle and the end of the two phases, the in-breath and the out-breath. As he practises watching the in-breath and the out breath with mindfulness, he calms down and tranquilizes the two functions of in breathing and out-breathing.
Now we should investigate the preliminary stages to practising this meditation. In the first place the Buddha indicated a suitable dwelling for practising anapanasati. In the sutta he has mentioned three places: the forest, the foot of a tree, or an isolated empty place. This last can be a quiet restful hut, or a dwelling place free from the presence of people. We may even consider a meditation hall an empty place. Although there may be a large collection of people in such a hall, if every one remains calm and silent it can be considered an empty place.
Next the Buddha explained the sitting posture. There are four postures which can be adopted for meditation: standing, sitting, reclining and walking. Of these the most suitable posture to practise anapanasati at the beginning is the seated posture.
The person wishing to practise anapanasati should sit down cross-legged. For bhikkhus and laymen, the Buddha has recommended the cross-legged Position. This is not an easy posture for everyone, but it can be gradually mastered. The half cross-legged position has been recommended for bhikkhunis and laywomen. This is the posture of sitting with one leg bent. It would be greatly beneficial if the cross legged posture recommended for bhikkhus and laymen could be adopted in the “lotus” pattern, with the feet turned up and resting on the opposite thighs. If that is inconvenient, one should sit with the two feet tucked underneath the body.
In the practice of anapanasati, it is imperative to hold the body upright. The torso should be kept erect, though not strained and rigid. One can cultivate this meditation properly only if all the bones of the spine are linked together in an erect position. Therefore, this advice of the Buddha to keep the upper part of the body erect should be clearly comprehended and followed.
The hands should be placed gently on the lap, the back of the right hand over the palm of the left. The eyes can be closed softly, or left half-closed, whichever is more comfortable. The head should be held straight, tilted a slight angle downwards, the nose perpendicular to the navel.
The next factor is the place for fixing the attention. To cultivate anapanasati one should be clearly mindful of the place where the incoming and outgoing breaths enter and leave the nostrils. This will be felt as a spot beneath the nostrils or on the upper lip, wherever the impact of the air coming in and out the nostrils can be felt most distinctly. On that spot the attention should be fixed, like a sentry watching a gate.
Then the Buddha has explained the manner in which anapanasati has to be cultivated. One breathes in mindfully, breathes out mindfully. From birth to death this function of in-breathing and out-breathing continues without a break, without a stop, but since we do not consciously reflect on it, we do not even realize the presence of this breath. If we do so, we can derive much benefit by way of calm and insight. Thus the Buddha has advised us to be aware of the function of breathing.
The practitioner of meditation who consciously watches the breath in this manner should never try to control his breathing or hold back his breath with effort. For if he controls his breath or holds back his breath with conscious effort, he will become fatigued and his mental concentration will be disturbed and broken. The key to the practice is to set up mindfulness naturally at the spot where the in-breaths and the out-breaths are felt entering and leaving the nostrils. Then the meditator has to maintain his awareness of the touch sensation of the breath, keeping the awareness as steady and consistent as possible.
In conclusion, Births like ours are rare in samsara (life flux). We have been fortunate to encounter the Buddha’s message, to enjoy the association of good friends, to have the opportunity to listen to the Dhamma. As we have been endowed with all these blessings, if our aspirations are ripe, we can in this very life reach the final goal of Nibbana through its graduated stages of stream entry, once-returner, non-returner and Arahatship. Therefore, let us make our life fruitful by developing regularly the meditation of anapanasati. Having received proper instructions on how to practise this method of meditation, one should purify one’s moral virtue by observing the precepts and should surrender one’s life to the Triple Gem.
One should choose a convenient time for meditation and practise with utmost regularity, reserving the same period each day for one’s practice. One may begin by briefly reflecting on the abundant virtues of the Buddha, extending loving-kindness towards all beings, pondering the repulsiveness of the body, and considering the inevitability of death. Then, arousing the confidence that one is walking the very road to Nibbana walked by all the enlightened ones of the past, one should proceed forth on the path of meditation and strive with diligent effort.
May all beings be well and happy & attain the fruits of nibbana.