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Anapanasati is usually described as "mindfulness of breathing" but I've seen a member of this site describing it as "mindfulness with breathing".

Sati or mindfulness (as seen in the parable of the bowl filled to the brim with oil, of SN 47.20) is keeping the mind on the task, and not allowing the mind to become distracted.

What is the simplest version of anapanasati?

I found a very simple instruction set in SN 54.3 (quoted below). There may be other suttas too. But I find this description from SN 54.3 insufficient and requires elaboration.

While breathing, what is it that one is mindful of? Is one mindful of the breath, or mindful of something else?

The sutta states: "They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe in observing letting go.’ They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe out observing letting go.’"

What does "breathe in observing letting go" and "breathe out observing letting go" mean? Letting go of what? Do you let go, or do you observe the letting go? How do you observe the letting go (rather than letting go)?

What is the simplest instruction for the practice of anapanasati? Especially for people who are not well-versed in the teachings and maybe even non-Buddhist? Such people may not have the patience for lengthy and complicated instructions.

From SN 54.3:

“Mendicants, when mindfulness of breathing is developed and cultivated it’s very fruitful and beneficial. And how is mindfulness of breathing developed and cultivated to be very fruitful and beneficial?

It’s when a mendicant has gone to a wilderness, or to the root of a tree, or to an empty hut. They sit down cross-legged, with their body straight, and establish mindfulness right there.

Just mindful, they breathe in. Mindful, they breathe out. …

They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe in observing letting go.’ They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe out observing letting go.’

Mindfulness of breathing, when developed and cultivated in this way, is very fruitful and beneficial.”

  • The SN 54.3 linked is not a "simple version". The link is merely abbreviated because the 16 stages are listed in previous suttas. – Dhammadhatu Sep 7 at 9:36
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Anapanasati has 4 tetrads with 4 steps each making 16 steps in total:

16 Steps of Breath Meditation

Different Suttas cover all 16 or a subset of them. E.g. Maha Satipattana Sutta / Satipattana Sutta covers only the 1st tetrad.

In this context let go, the translation followed by Piya Tan is:

(16) He trains himself thus: ‘I will breathe in, contemplating the letting go (of defilements)’;

He trains himself thus: ‘I will breathe out, contemplating the letting go (of defilements)’;

(Ānâpana,samādhi) Kimbila Sutta

So what needs to be done is to contemplate letting go of defilements.

Many comprehensive works on Anpapana is are a bit lengthy in nature. These might be helpful to one who might want to learn and follow it thought books:

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The SN 54.3 linked is not a "simple version". The link is merely abbreviated because the 16 stages are listed in previous suttas.

If per SN 47.20, mindfulness is keeping the mind on the task, since the body breathes automatically via its own nature, how can breathing be a ‘task’ to keep the mind on? There can be no such thing as mindfulness ‘of’ breathing.

As for Sujato’s translation of “letting go”, this is the 16th step. Letting go of the 16th step is a result of 13th step experiencing impermanence. The simultaneous knowing of breathing occurs in the background.

The Pali here is paṭinissaggā. When impermanence & not-self is clearly experienced at 13th step, the 16th step is paṭinissaggā, which means to give up viewing anything as self. Ajahn Buddhadasa translates it as throwing or tossing back.

Paṭinissaggā above is the final step of practice. However, the type of letting go that serves as the initial step of practice is called vossagga. MN 118 at the end says each factor of enlightenment matures as vossagga. SN 48.9 & 10 say jhana is reached by making vossagga the meditation object.

Vossagga is letting go of craving & ambition. This is the supramundane meditation object or task of mindfulness.

If you try to focus on the breathing, the progress will be very limited. The focus is on vossagga. The task is vossagga. Mindfulness is mindful of vossagga.

When there is mindfulness of vossagga, the knowing of the breathing will occur automatically, without an act of will (AN 11.2). This is why anapanasati means mindfulness with breathing.

  • Comment might be a bit late, but if in meditation mindfulness is connected to vossagga, how does a novice then go about this? Especially if we have learned to always focus on the breath. Should we let go of this intention? Where should then our attention be? – Val Oct 7 at 6:19
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As i understand the 16, i think it is a comprehensive outline of both the directed and the undirected developments of mind up to the highest attainment wherein physical formations cease first, followed by verbal and the mental cessation.

I personally take the 16 to be a collection of the aspects to be developed by one who undertakes that training, to be developed progressively and tandem. I think that as one starts training one will first develop mindfulness and concentration and when one gets mindfulness and concentration; feelings, lights and visions will become manifest and these are also to be investigated and the released mind is to be reflected on.

So the way i see it is that the 16 are there to build a comprehensive tool kit and instill the foundations of development toward the progressive levels attainment and a general development which is undirected.

In other words i think one can learn to use these instructions to develop the mind general and for example the work in the 4th tetrad i take to be desctribing the general development of the perception of impermanence.

I think that one can develop the Anapanasati so that it realizes the highest attainment and that one can modify one's approach based on the circumstances.

Perhaps one would want to contemplate more for investigation and to counter something unwholesome; perhaps the stilling of the breath is hard to achieve if one's approach is too active and in that circumstance a more tranquil approach can be implemented where one is noting and thinking less for tranquility etc.

Most simple way to start is probably just trying to not lose awareness or the breath from start to finish and ignoring all other thoughts, feelings and sensations. The drawback is lesser extent of insight development and that this will be a hit or miss kind of session to the extent that ignoring distracting stuff often doesn't work and there is then a need for other counter measures.

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What is the simplest instruction for the practice of anapanasati?

Sit down and observe your breathing.

The purpose is to register your sensations.

You’re not expected to change the sensations, or get rid of them in any way.

If your mind wanders, go back to where you were.

When you feel ready, move on to observe:

  • Emotions
  • Thoughts
  • Impulses to act

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