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.
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
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
By the Venerable U Vimalaramsi
For more on Bhante Vimalaramsi, see: