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I have been doing meditation of various forms (Goenka body-scanning, anapanasati, just sitting, kaya, citta, and vedana nupassana, etc.) but am trying to figure out something about anapanasati in particular.

My question is partly about Buddhist history, partly practical.

If I understand the story of Buddha's enlightenment process, he began by practicing anapanasati and attained to the various mystic absorptive states, including the eight jhanas. Yet, he failed to attain insight into dukkha, annica, and annata in any meaningful way, and remained in samsara. Eventually, after relaxing self-mortifying ascetic practices, he resolved to become enlightened, and accordingly practice anapanasati--again.

What changed in the end? Wasn't Siddhartha practicing anapanasati all along? Why did it suddenly lead to nirvana after years of mere dead-end concentration.

Practically speaking, does anapanasati in its purest form--that is, simply focusing on the breath to the exclusion of any and all other thoughts, sensations, etc.--actually lead to the deep and abiding understanding of annata, annica, and dukkha?

  • most buddhists would say you need more than meditation, right? a teacher, or right view, insight training, etc. – sorta_buddhist Jul 30 '17 at 22:37
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Initially the Bodhisattva was practicing a form of Pranayama in the form of holding or controlling one's breath. [Deva Sangarava Sutta, Maha Saccaka Sutta]

The Breath meditation practiced later was was observation of phenomena. Each 4 Sathipattana is covered in sets of 4 Tetrad with a total of 16 steps. Also it is the complete path. The 16 steps can be found in Anapanasati Sutta and Anapanasati

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I have been doing meditation of various forms (Goenka body-scanning, anapanasati, just sitting, kaya, citta, and vedana nupassana, etc.) but am trying to figure out something about anapanasati in particular.

You obviously have not been doing anapanasati but instead doing an incorrect explanation of it by Goenka or someone else.

If I understand the story of Buddha's enlightenment process, he began by practicing anapanasati and attained to the various mystic absorptive states, including the eight jhanas.

This did not occur. He was taught meditations on 'nothingness' & 'non-perception'. Refer to MN 26. Obviously, these were some crude form of these meditations rather than the 7th & 8th jhanas developed from the 1st, 2nd, 3rd & 4th jhanas.

Yet, he failed to attain insight into dukkha, anicca, and annata in any meaningful way, and remained in samsara.

This view gives the impression his goal was to realise anicca, dukkha & anatta. In reality, he was groping in the dark; searching.

Eventually, after relaxing self-mortifying ascetic practices, he resolved to become enlightened, and accordingly practice > anapanasati--again.

He remembered back to when he was a child & spontaneously entered into the 1st jhana. Refer to MN 36. However, what is not clear here is exactly what is meant here. My view is the Buddha as a child attained jhana via non-attachment & he realised the path of non-attachment is the path to end suffering. This accords with SN 48.10 & the end of the Anapanasati Sutta, which states jhana is achieved by making 'non-attachment' (rather than the breathing) the meditation object.

In the correct practise of Anapanasati, the meditation object is non-attachment. The resultant awareness of breathing is merely a sign (nimitta) that the mind is correctly non-attached.

The proper translation of Anapanasati is 'mindfulness with breathing' rather than 'mindfulness of breathing'. This distinction is crucial.

What changed in the end? Wasn't Siddhartha practicing anapanasati all along? Why did it suddenly lead to nirvana after years of mere dead-end concentration.

What changed was the realisation of anatta (not-self). The scriptures (SN 12.10) state before his enlightenment he began to discover dependent origination; namely, how the 'birth' of 'self-view' arises from attachment, creates all suffering & is not intrinsically real.

Therefore, when non-attachment is the primary meditation object, the mind becomes more open, fluid & clear to be able to see anicca, dukkha & anatta clearly.

If there is too much effort & intention to focus on breathing, this makes the mind unclear & too narrow. This is called wrong concentration.

Practically speaking, does anapanasati in its purest form--that is, simply focusing on the breath to the exclusion of any and all other thoughts, sensations, etc.-

Of course not. Read the Anapanasati Sutta & the answer to this question will be quite obvious. Before this, empty the mind of the wrong views of Goenka.

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    Hi, and thank you for the detailed reply. I am enjoying the guide you linked above. Sounds like you're not a Goenka fan. Actually, I do the mindfulness of breath (or "with," I don't know which really) as presented by Shinzen Young, not the version Goenka taught. Nothing wrong with the latter, but focusing on the abdomen rather than the nostrils seems more productive for me, as vedana so often shows up in the abdomen. I do like Goenka's acupuncture-like, cubic millimeter scan of the body. Seems to really clarify sensory experience--the sensations dissolve into mist-like waves of impermanence. – stevenpaul Jul 30 '17 at 12:09
  • "This did not occur. He was taught meditations on 'nothingness' & 'non-perception'. Refer to MN 26. Obviously, these were some crude form of these meditations rather than the 7th & 8th jhanas developed from the 1st, 2nd, 3rd & 4th jhanas." what do you mean by this? how did he enter the Arūpajhānas, after the 1st four, by a new technique? – sorta_buddhist Jul 30 '17 at 22:45
  • I don't know. But MN 36 states he remember back to his childhood about the 1st jhana. Therefore, the arupa meditation in MN 26 with is first teacher must have been non-jhanic. For example, to discriminate: 'There is nothing". If we keep thinking the thought: "There is nothing", the mind will enter into a blank state eventually. This is my guess or speculation. Regards – Dhammadhatu Jul 31 '17 at 4:25
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In abhidhamma's commentary said "samatha people already saw some part of anicca and dukkha, except anatta" (so they try to get out off samsaravatta, too). But they didn't choose to develop vipassana. They didn't chosen to always clearly comprehend anicca and dukkha. They try to just pause unwholesome consciousness by samatha instead. Samatha people just divert attention from unwholesome consciousness's object to wholesome consciousness's object.

So bodhisatta, who already have jhana, just meditate the method that samatha people haven't chosen, develop clearly comprehend in anicca and dukkha to access insight anatta, the most part that just buddha can done.

Anapanassati in anapanassati sutta have 16 steps:

  • 4 first steps of anapanassati are samatha.
  • 12 last steps of anapanassati are vipassana.

In the enlightened day of bodhisatta, he meditate samatha and vipassana. Based jhana of pubbenivasanussati and cutupapata is samatha. Asavakkhaya is vipassana.

Each jhana step of bodhisatta have 4 first steps, and after get out of each jhana have 12 last steps.

These method are called yuggalanaddha and samathapubba.

Reference from vinaya mahavibhanga veranjakanda, mahavagga bodhikatha, patisambhidamagga, anapanassati sutta's commentary, ayatanavibhanga's commentary, and visuddhimagga.

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In the Pure Dhamma site it is mentioned that Anapansatti is watchfulness on arising of bad thoughts, impulses of bad habits, etc. -- and when noticed, not to get carried away with them. This weakens the fourth functionality of mind of reacting , hence if not reacted upon, no sankhara is formed, and the flow of consciousness in a slight way is setbacked. Of course there are innumerable sankharas piled up in innumerable lives but even though they may be innumerable, they can be sided by or eradicated. It is only the habit/conditioning of mind that is responsible for enhancing the sankharas and consequently strengthening its habit/conditioning.

For example, suppose there is a person having no greed for money: then even if millions are kept in front of him, he will not react so as to have it; and then another man, with greed inbuilt for money, will react upon it. So here the habit of mind for reacting driven by the greed comes into play.

According to Buddha there are five panchdoshas, greed (kam or lobha), anger (krodh), hatred etc. Greed/kam/lobha are based upon craving, and anger/hatred is based upon aversion. These two are basic weapons of mind to strengthen its habit of reacting. In breath, anapan satti the awareness or mind is concentrated upon in/out breath i.e it is focused in one kasina (object for concentration), which normally otherwise is scattered in receiving inputs from five sensory bases. Having done so, first of all it gets rested from wandering. Now the breath is such type of kasina that it neither develops aversion or craving towards it and alas the mind is of habit to avert or crave. Hence mindfulness in breath slowly weakens the habit of the mind and we experience that, if not repeated, the habit diminishes and finally extinguishes. In my opinion this is everything all about the practice of anapan, with stopping of additions/inputs of reactions, will definitely leave unto the path of nibbana. It's the habit of mind driven by either aversion or craving responsible to take next birth to satisfy itself.

Regards, with best luck to tread on path without any doubt, and understanding the hindrances given by Buddha while treading on the path.

Your co-traveler
Anchal Kate, India

To add more--The mind is ingrained with habit/conditioning of reacting abiding to craving /aversion since many lives. Hence stilling it, slowly weakening its habit, may take much time: perhaps many lives. In our normal life we experience that if in anything there are no fruits as desired by mind, our mind has no interest in it: it never gets agitated or reacts on that thing further. It implies that whatever mind learns from experience is inbuilt in it, and based upon that experiance it either reacts or not react .

Hence in kayanupasana i.e mindfulness upon bodily sensations without reacting to it, the fact that the sensations arise and passes away is realized by mind upon experiential level to give rise to the understanding of anitya. If it is anitya what to react upon? Now another e.g there are lot many cultures, teachings, elders, schoolings, which goes on teaching virtues and true values but then where everything goes when we observe so much chaos in spite of the said teachings of virtues. The reason is, all this teachings is given to the conscious mind whose all actions are superficial ,this is only 4 percent or so. The subconscious which is almost 97 percent or so is the captain of the ship. All the shoutings of teachings does not reach up to it. but if it reaches somehow then the results can be seen. Then on what input signals it works, it works on the inputs of sensations, and with weapons of aversion or craving built in it, it reacts without even knowing to our conscious. The so called conscious learnt degrees of education, mannerisms, cultures, religious upbringing is shocked when it sees the reaction shooted out of it. This is known phenomenon encountered in our daily life. So the subconscious is 24/7 busy in reacting to the sensations, the only language it understands, without knowing to our conscious. Hence observation of sensations and remaining neutral to it by not averting/craving nullifies the sensation produced on receipt of input from any of the senses: this is what is done in vipassana ,always to remain alert and vigilant. Among many saints there is one saint named Tukaram from Maharashtra whose one of many quotes says, "day and night we are on war duty". In the context of vipassana this is really understood what he wants to say. Hence anapan is okay up to stilling of conscious mind but vipassana is needed to weaken the captain which is subconscious. If at all some day some one explains exactly why and how the sensations are produced upon contact through the senses, then having rightly understood everybody will practice it to eradicate the sankharas and ultimately upon exhaustion of all sankharas attaining nibbana. NIBBANA is nothing but eradication of all sankharas/conditioning. There is nothing left to take rebirth for. Even if we forget about how to avoid rebirth because many among us does not have understood on subconsciuos level the futility of life . it is only at conscious level arised due to some sort of depressions due to the agonies of life. If the agonies are removed again we will be jumping and dancing in our life turmoil. The deep inside constant agitation at subconscious level does not keep us in happy /satisfied state. practising anapan/vipassana can definitely reduce the agitations which is of utmost importance in our present day lives. The path of avoiding rebirth/attaining nibbana can only be trod once at experiential level understands the impermanance/anityabodh. This all above has been derived after attending vipassana 10 days course of goenkagurujiat igatpuriand with strong belief , book "art of living"by william harts and personal experiance of stillness of mind on practice of anapan and development of belief on this scientific discovery by buddha as our belief in law of gravitation by newton

  • Please edit the post and insert links to your references, add line-spacing to increase readability and avoid walls of text. Thank you. – Lanka Jun 9 '18 at 15:40
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My first impulse is to tell you that the meditation prepares you to be open to receive and explore those ideas. A relaxed, objective state wherein the mind is more apt to examine the contours of ideology and teachings learned elsewhere in the dharma. Not that it brings those specific thoughts.

But it may. My "canonical" knowledge is rather limited and my views come from the laymen's perspective. I will add that the anapanasati sutta seems to agree with my view here when it mentions being OPEN TO this and OPEN TO that.

So, from the laymen's view I'd say yes if someone had mastered the techniques in anapanasati and made use of the other aspects of the dharma then as those concepts are encountered in the mind during meditation I believe you'd be susceptible to insight regarding all 3 marks of existence. In my view those initial concepts are borne from activities other than pure meditation and then fleshed out by the mind during the meditative state. But I dont have 16 factors of this or 9 steps to do that.

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