Anapanasati - Mindfulness with Breathing
Unveiling the Secrets of Life: a Manual for Serious Beginners
by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
This electronic edition by Project Buddha Society (buddhasociety.com) as a free gift of Dhamma.
APPENDIX C: Samadhi-Bhavana in Buddhism
- The Short Cut Method for Ordinary People
- The Complete System of the Buddha
- Our Highest Duty
- Nothing Surplus
(Selections from a talk given 5 May 1987)
There are many different forms, styles, and systems of samadhi-bhavana (mental cultivation through concentration; meditation). At this time I would like to discuss the samadhi-bhavana specifically introduced and recommended by the Lord Buddha himself. It appears in the Pali Tipitaka both in brief references and detailed explanations. We call it "the Buddha's samadhi-bhavana." It is not the Burmese style or Chinese style or Sri Lankan style that we are clinging to these days. It is not the system of Ajahn This, Master That, Guru This, or Teacher That like we are so caught up in nowadays. Nor is it the style of Suan Mokkh or any other Wat. It is nothing at all like any of those things. Instead, this is the correct way as recommended by the Buddha. He declared this form of samadhi-bhavana to be the one through which he himself realized the Dhamma of Perfect Awakening. We will speak about this style of samadhi-bhavana in particular. (C.1)
This is the system of samadhi-bhavana that is known as anapanasati-bhavana or, more simply, Anapanasati. Altogether it contains sixteen steps or objects which are to be practiced. It seems, however, that some people do not like this and complain that it is too much for them. Regarding this point, I insist that the Buddha never taught anything more than necessary or less than complete. That is, this 16 Step samadhi-bhavana is neither too much nor too little. If you are patient enough to do all sixteen steps, you will have the complete system. If you are unable to do it, there is still a condensed version which is adequate for lazy people. (C.2)
THE SHORT CUT METHOD FOR ORDINARY PEOPLE
We will begin by speaking for those who do not like "a lot." By the words "a lot" they seem to mean too much or surplus. Well, the surplus is not necessary. We will take just what is sufficient for ordinary people, which we call "the short cut method." The essence of this method is to concentrate the mind adequately, just enough, which any ordinary person can do, and then take that concentrated citta to observe aniccam-dukkham-anatta - the three characteristics of being - until realizing sunyata and tathata. With this practice they will realize the benefits of samadhi just the same. They will get the fun-scale result of extinguishing dukkha, but there will not be any special qualities in addition to that. Such special abilities are not necessary anyway. So make the mind sufficiently concentrated, then go examine aniccam-dukkham-anatta. Just practice the first tetrad of Anapanasati sufficiently then practice the fourth tetrad sufficiently. That is all! Sufficient is not a lot, nor is it complete, but it is good enough. This is the short cut for ordinary people. (C.3)
Now we will look at the method of practicing the first tetrad. Make the breath fine and the entire .body will be subtle, that is, tranquil and cool. Just this much is sufficient for having a mind good enough to do vipassana. Then the citta is on a level that it can use to contemplate aniccam-dukkham-anatta that manifests in every part and particle of our bodies. The impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and selflessness of every organ and component in our bodies - both concrete and mental - are contemplated until realizing suchness. When suchness is seen we do not fall under the power of dualism. That is enough. This much is enough to penetrate higher and higher into the Dhamma until realizing the highest. This is the short cut for ordinary people. Those living in the common, ordinary world - even those living the household life - are able to do at least this much. (C.4)
THE COMPLETE SYSTEM OF THE BUDDHA
Now we will talk about the system which the Buddha himself practiced and explained. This is the full or perfect system, rather than the short cut, namely, the Complete Four Tetrad Form of Anapanasati. Please be patient and take some time to listen. You ought to be able to understand some of this and then it will be of benefit. If you still think that it is excessive or surplus, then you have not really understood at all. (C.5)
We can make different kinds of breath happen in order to understand the breath through observing actual breaths. Now we know that the breath supports and services this flesh-body. This has been known for many ages, even before the Buddha appeared in the world. There were many methods of pranayama practiced before the Buddha's time. When the Lord Buddha appeared, he took up pranayama and adjusted it into this system of contemplating the breath. We regulate life and the body through the breath. Consequently, there are four steps to practice: knowing the long breathing, knowing the short breathing, knowing how the breath regulates the body, and contemplating the breath in a way that it calms in order to calm the body. These are the four steps. They are not much at all. Why not try it out! Sincerely observe and genuinely study in a scientific way. Then it will not be difficult. (C.6)
There are many advantages and benefits to pranayama that are not directly concerned with religion or Dhamma. They are extra incentives to interest you in pranayama or breath control so that you will manage it correctly. You can make your age last longer than it normally would through pranayama. Or you could make yourself die immediately, even today. You can die during any breath you choose through controlling pranayama. You can have a healthy breath and a good, healthy body with pranayama. You can play sports, drive a car, work in the office, or whatever you require, if you regulate the breath or prana in the way that is in accordance with your aims. We would like you to know that Anapanasati has these side-benefits outside the scope of religion or Dhamma proper. (C.7)
OUR HIGHEST DUTY
The last tetrad is about Dhamma: nature and the Truth of nature. When the citta is under control and has the samadhi that is needed, use that citta to perform the highest duty. By highest we mean the duty of knowing, of realizing, Truth. Through vipassana, by observing carefully with a concentrated mind, we see the Truth of all things. We realize that everything is impermanent. Anything that we are experiencing now is impermanent. Even the things of which we are unaware are impermanent, that is, continually changing and transforming. The single exception is nibbana, the only thing that does not change. Thus, we know the aniccam of everything. Furthermore, the fact of impermanence oppresses and forces us to experience dukkha. This state of dukkha can not be endured by anyone; there is no self or soul that can stand up to it. This is anatta. And so we realize aniccam-dukkham-anatta. Together we call them sunnata, voidness of self. Then know tathata, suchness or "just like that." This is the first step of the fourth tetrad. It is called "aniccam-nupassi." Just this one word encompasses the realization of aniccam-dukkham-anatta-sunnata-tathata! They are gathered together into the same step because all are the result of directly seeing aniccam. (C.8)
Continuing we see that: Oh! Once aniccam is seen, once impermanence is realized, attachment begins to fade away. It dissolves and fades away bit-by-bit. This is called realizing viraga. Realizing this dissolving of attachment leads to: Owwh! It's finished, attachment is caput! This is called realizing nirodha: the utter extinction of all defilement and dukkha. If dukkha is ended, then we know: Wow! Now it is finally over, now it is completely stopped. Our functions and duties are fulfilled and finished. There is nothing further to be done. There is no dukkha or problem remaining that we would ever need to deal with again. This is called patinissagga: throwing it all away. There is nothing left. This is the final tetrad, dhammanupassana, concerning the Truth (sacca) of all things. (C.9)
Finally, you can see for yourself whether it is a lot or not, surplus or not. We study beginning with dukkha itself and the cause of dukkha's arising. Then we study the foundations on which dukkha grows: the body and the vedana. We go on to study the thing that experiences either dukkha or the absence of dukkha, namely, the citta. Lastly, we study Dhamma - the Truth of all things - so that the citta knows, knows, knows, until it does not attach to anything. Know letting go.
There is a lot to be done. To do it our practice must be complete. Thus, we have the 16 Steps. But as I speak and explain it to you, it does not seem the least excessive or surplus. Really, there are so many matters to study and know that to have only sixteen steps is not very much at all. Some people may say that it is too much, that they do not want to study and practice. If they do not think that it can help them, well, whatever suits them. Anyone who does not want to study and train in the Complete 16 Steps can follow a condensed practice as explained earlier. That is still enough to get something beneficial out of Buddhism through the technique of samadhi-bhavana. (C.10)
Translated from Thai by Santikaro Bhikkhu. First published in 1988.
© 1988 by Evolution/Liberation. All rights reserved.