“I need to sound a few cautions about spiritual reading….Many of us are so intellectually oriented that we can easily misunderstand its purpose. Spiritual reading is mean to inspire us to change and show us how to change, but I feel sure the mystics themselves would agree—some having learned it through trial and error—that reading cannot be substituted for experience. No matter how many mystics we read, we cannot move forward on the spiritual path without practicing their teachings in daily life.” ~ Eknath Easwaran
“Everything you need to know for the purpose of Awakening is right here, and if you hold back, that means you’re missing some of the elements. So as far as you’re concerned right here, right now, this is all there is: the right here, the right now—this breath, this breath. If you see any thoughts arising in the mind about how much longer we’re going to be sitting here or how long we have been sitting here, just let them blow away. Think of the breath as going right through them, not giving them any space to land.
“You’ll find, as you stay fully immersed in the breath like this, that a lot of the good qualities you want to develop in the practice come along without your having to think about them. You don’t have to worry about directed thought, you don’t have to worry about evaluation, you don’t have to worry about all those Wings to Awakening. As you fully give yourself to the breath, fully give yourself to the present moment, they all come together.” ~ Thanissaro Bhikkhu
A helpful talk for beginning meditators entitled “The Steps of Breath Meditation” by Thanissaro Bhikkhu follows this excerpt:
“…the breath is the topic the Buddha recommends most highly, most frequently — because the breath is not only a place where the mind can settle down and gain concentration, but it’s also something the mind can analyze. It’s where all the insights needed for Awakening can arise — while the mind is being mindful of the breath, alert to the breath, and also conscious of how it relates to the breath.”
Here’s the link to Ajahn’s talk:
Mindfulness is at the heart of metta as well as meditation, and this article by Ajahn Brahmavamso is a terrific introduction to the subject. In his talk, Ajahn Brahm (as he is affectionately known) introduces the skillful means of setting up a “gate keeper” inside as an aid to developing concentration and mindfulness.
As he says, “For mindfulness is not just being aware, being awake, or being fully conscious of what’s occurring around you. There is also that aspect of mindfulness that guides the awareness on to specific areas remembers the instructions and initiates a response. “
This idea of skillful watching, of actively working with the mind, not just sitting there passively is a skill that is highly emphasized in Theravada meditation instruction, and indeed, in all the Buddha’s teachings as found in the foundational Pali Canon.
My first meditation efforts were more along the lines of “bare intention” or “choiceless awareness,” and this approach to meditation certainly has its skillful uses. But I found my meditation taking great strides forward when I began taking a more active part in what was happening “on the cushion.”
Ajahn Brahmavamso, by the way, is a very funny fellow, as well as an inspired teacher. He is the Spiritual Director of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia You can find out more about him at:
The Buddhist Society of Western Australia has hundreds of free MP3s of Ajahn Brahm and other monks that you can listen to, as well as a great podcast:
Now, here’s the talk
Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
The following short (22 page) excerpt is from one of the best basic books on meditation practice and techniques, Mindfulness in Plain English by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana. Bhante G., as he is affectionately know by students and friends, is a Sri Lankan Buddhist monk. Not only is he a profound student of the dharma, he’s brings great scholarship to his subject. And yet his writing is simple, approachable, and easy to understand, just like the man himself.
In this excerpt, Bhante G gets into the basic “nuts and bolts” of meditation, focusing on how to work with breath, how to follow the breath, techniques like breath counting, and what to do when your mind wanders off, as it inevitably will do. It’s a great introduction by a wonderful teacher.
Here’s the excerpt:
And here is Gunaratana’s book in PDF format, the complete masterpiece:
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 and his DhammaSuka teaching center see: