Mindfulness of Breathing-The Anapanasati Sutta

If a person knows anything about Buddhism, they probably know that Buddhists “meditate.” And they may know that Buddhists give a lot of attention to the breath, making it an object of meditation and attention. Indeed, reading some literature, one might well think that Buddhism could just as well be called “Breathology!”

But, there’s a reason for all this attention to the breath. It’s because our breath offers a marvelous object for developing concentration and insight. Meditation on the breath, however, is not the end-all and be-all of Buddhist meditation. Rather, it is a skillful means for establishing mindfulness that can then be brought to bear on the mind and feelings in order to gain liberation and release from suffering.

See: Mindfulness of Breathing—A Short Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh

See: Mindfulness of Breathing—Exploring the Breath is Interesting!

The Anapanasati Sutta—the Buddha’s Own Instruction on Breath Meditation

If the two posts, above, have piqued your interest in learning more about mindfulness of breathing meditation, then at some point you may want to study the Buddha’s own personal instruction on the subject—the Anapanasati Sutta. It outlines the very steps of breath meditation the Buddha himself used to gain Enlightenment.

The Ānāpānasati Sutta is a discourse (sutta) that details the Buddha’s instruction on using the breath (anapana) as a focus for mindfulness (sati) meditation.

In Sanskrit, napana means breathing or breathing in. The prefix “a” means the opposite of what follows. The word a-napana therefore means breathing in and out. Sati means to watch or observe or to be aware. And so the word anapanasati literally means “watching the breath coming in and out.”

The discourse lists sixteen objects on which one may meditate in order to gain the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, the Seven Factors of Awakening, and ultimately Nibbana (nirvana).

This all may sound formidable and complicated, but actually, the Buddha’s instruction is designed to take the student step-by-step to greater and greater mindfulness and concentration. And it all starts with the “simple” practice of mindfulness of the breath.

A Wonderful Commentary on the Anapanasati Sutta

Bhante Vimalaramsi

There are many good commentaries on the Anapanasati Sutta, but over the years, the one I keep coming back to was written by the Venerable U Vimalaramsi. His commentary really helps “unpack” the Buddha’s instructions, but most of all, his explanations convey such a wonderful sense of loving-kindness and encouragement.

The commentary, freely distributed by BIONA (Buddhist Information of North America), is too long for a post, so you need to click on the link below to download a Microsoft Word version of the full commentary.

May this teaching of the Buddha and this inspired, loving commentary strengthen and support you in the path to Awakening!

“The Lord Buddha taught the methods of meditation (bhávaná) 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.” Ven. U. Vimalaramsi

A Practical Guide To Mindfulness of Breathing and Tranquil Wisdom Meditation (click to download)

By the Venerable U Vimalaramsi

For more on Bhante Vimalaramsi, see:

Learn Metta Vipassana from a Master Teacher

About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

18 Responses to “Mindfulness of Breathing-The Anapanasati Sutta”

  1. Steve
    It is just great you have made this connection to the DSMC website. I personally think your work here on this Metta Refuge site is just wonderful too.
    Two things I would like to let you in on about our site.
    First, for an personal eye-opening experience with this Tranquil Wisdom Insight MEditation ( TWIM for short) practice, you can give yourself a personal online retreat by following the “Joshua Tree Retreat I” that happened in 2005. This is an exceptionally good collection of talks. If you decide to do this, and you can let me know ahead of time, I am sure Bhante V would be willing to answer your questions each day along the way if we are near to an internet connection. This is the series of talks we like to use when teaching the meditation worldwide online.
    Secondly, this year, with Bhante’s assistance, as part of my training, I am writing online training material that is edited by him and posted onto the “dhammasukha” Private yahoo support group list. This is free training for people interested in investigating and trying this practice.
    You must request to come onto that list by letting me know you “found out through metta refuge blog”. I will let you in. that will be your pass through to get in.
    The training installments are kept in the FILES section of this group and will continue to be posted as written all year long. They have both students and teachers in mind and go from the very beginning to explain what Foundation Buddhism was all about.
    They will also be posted on the DSMC Website.

    Sadhu for your work here, Steve. It is just great!
    If you can come to the center at all this summer, from what you have said, I think Bhante could sent you into orbit with your practice!

    Much Metta and smiles.
    Rev. Sister Khema
    10 yr. student and assistant of Bhante Vimalaramsi. DSMC

    • Rev. Sister Kehma! I am so thrilled to “meet” you at last I soon saw what a presence you were on the DSMC site, and I think your beloved Bhante Vimalaramsi and his sangha are quite blessed to have you loving and supporting the him and the work.

      I too am so glad to have made the connection with DSMC, and feel quite honored to have been able to bring your teacher to the attention of those who might visit my blog and who might not know of him yet. For me, going back to and rediscovering his treatment of The Anapanasati Sutta was like a snowball rolling down a snowy hill…it just grew and grew in momentum. To mix metaphors, when I went to your website and felt I had discovered pure gold, which I have…maybe, a snowball of gold rolling down a hill of gold! 🙂 I just couldn’t believe all the affinities I felt and how much the teaching resonated with what I’d found on my own.

      As for the 2005 Joshua Tree Retreat offer, that just blew me away, both in terms of the riches being offered and your and your teacher’s generosity. You are all so kind! I would definitely like to avail myself of that in the not too distant future, and if Bhante Vimalaramsi happened to have time for questions, that would be amazing. I am quite humbled by such a prospect, and the generosity of this offer!

      And I would love to see your writing and training material and work with it; I bet it’s terrific. I will get myself signed up at the Yahoo site as soon as I can. Again, I am deeply touched by this generosity and open-hearted welcome to someone not in the immediate sangha. I actually looked into this year’s upcoming Joshua Retreat as a possibility, but it doesn’t look like it would work out this year, but I’ve started to hold that possibility in my heart as something I would love to do.

      Thank you again Rev. Sister Kehma for all that you do, and for all your kind remarks about my blog. I feel I owe so much to the teachers I have had, and of course, to the Buddha for his precious teaching, and if I can do anything to help and inspire others in this Path, then that is a huge reward and happiness. I look forward to investigating the dharma riches offered by DSMC and to further contact with you.

      With metta and very big smiles,

  2. Excellent!
    I think you understand this stuff! Sadhu! I also sometimes not only relax into a distraction but also will send Metta into it and then let it go as you say. This works well. The web site will be back online soon.

  3. Hi Steve,
    That booklet on Barebones is really a great tool to learn the meditation. I want to stress here (oops -bad choice of words!) that what Bhante has found to be the “Secret Ingredient” that has been left out of today’s teachings and is taught hardly anywhere in the world except from Bhante is this: Add the step of “Relaxing”. This is very important. As you follow your object of meditation when your mind is distracted you should use his “6 r” technique to RECOGNIZE that the mind has wandered, RELEASE the distraction, RELAX any tension or tightness that is left, Re-Smile – (Put a tiny little Buddha Smile on your lips) and then RETURN to the object of meditation. REPEAT. 6 rs. Most importantly relax relax relax.

    I spent 20 yrs with Vipassana Teachers and not once did they ever tell me to relax and release tension. I just meditated with a very tense mind and got nowhere! The Tension IS the CRAVING the Buddha is talking about! And this must be released.

    Check MN10, or MN118 Suttas “Tranquilize the bodily Formations” This means Relax! Ever hear anyone teach this before?? It really does work as he says! Ha Ha. Take care!

    • David, thanks for your further explanation. I downloaded the “barebones” document, but haven’t had a moment to look at it yet, but eager to. Yes, I agree, love how you put it, that tension, or dissatisfaction, is the craving.

      In my own work, I kind of drifted into my own version of the “six Rs” because of my strong metta focus. My observation was that if I lost focus, as you say, there is stress, and my response what just to give myself, to “flash” a moment of metta, a kind of loving embrace or “kiss” of love to myself. And then I’d go back to the mindfulness work. (Sometimes there’d be the “smile,” sometimes not, but there was always the compassion and the love.)

      I think the fact that I’ve been doing this for so long is why I felt such an immediate response and affinity to Bhante V’s teaching; it felt like coming home, and of course, I have no doubt that he’s developed what I’ve glimpsed to great depths, which I hope to explore with him through his writings and MP3s and videos.

      I will definitely look into the Suttas you mention. I now have a huge treasure chest of goodies from the dhammasukha site, and am really looking forward to getting into them…dare I say, I crave to do this? LOL!

      Thanks for your kind words and your helpful insights.

      With warm metta,

  4. Steve,

    Wow! Yes this is great stuff. I will forward this on to Bhante V who is Germany right now. I know he is going to be smiling when he sees this.

    PS that website is http://www.dhammasukha.org for anyone who is interested.

  5. I found this on Digg!.

    Told ’em I “dugg” it.


    michael j

  6. Steven
    On Behalf of Bhante Vimalaramsi I thank you for your kind post. He tries to keep things simple and easy to understand. He says that really the Buddha taught Lovingkindness (Metta) is the fastest path to Nibbana. Feel free to explore some of his videos which discuss the meditation practice and how far it can take you! Metta David at Begintosee
    PS the book can be gotten at the website or Amazon.

    • David,

      It was an honor and privilege to be able to share your teacher’s work in yesterday’s post on the Anapanasati Sutta.

      I can’t thank you enough for directing me to your teacher’s, Bhante Vimalaramsi’s website, and the incredible dharma treasures there. I immediately gained some wonderful new insights into my own metta practice and felt confirmation of everything I’ve always felt about my practice in this new (to me) Metta Vipassana practice. (In a way, I’d been doing this all along, but hadn’t fully articulated it to myself.) So, listening to MP3s and watching videos, I felt like I was “coming home” in a certain sense, I had such a powerful response to Bhante’s teaching.

      In gratitude, I posted an article today on your teacher, his website, and his wonderful, deep teaching. I hope it encourages those with a “little dust in their eyes” to go take a look for themselves. As I continue to practice, and study, what your teacher has to offer, I know my own practice can only deepen.

      Please convey to him my deepest gratitude for this new gift of dharma in my life, and for his amazing heart, which persevered through so much to find the very heart of the Buddha.

      With metta and gratitude,

  7. I can’t tell where you live but either way, Carrie Newcomer is playing the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley on March 11. Thought you might want to know.


    • Hey Jules! Thanks so much for the tip! My wife and I do indeed live in Berkeley, and Freight and Salvage is one of our favorite places. We just saw Greg Brown and Richard Shindell, but hadn’t noticed yet that Carrie was coming. Awesome! Thanks again, and thanks for stopping by.



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