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Answers to this question suggest that the 16 are steps or stages of anapanasati, which implies that they are a progressive sequence of steps or stages. They are also related to the four foundations of mindfulness or the satipatthana.

On the other hand, the booklet "How To Meditate" (quoted below) by Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu, seems to suggest that one should not use it as progressive steps. Instead, it recommends that if feelings arise, stop what you were trying to do, and go with that. Or if thoughts arise, stop what you were trying to do, and go with that.

That does not sound like a progressive sequence of steps. That seems to be more "go with the flow" or feel free to move from any of the 16 to any other, depending on what arises.

So, which is right approach to anapanasati? Are the 16 progressive sequence of steps approach right? Or is the approach of the "How To Meditate" booklet right?

Or are they two different techniques?

From "Chapter Two: Sitting Meditation" of the booklet "How To Meditate":

Regarding the body, watching the rising and the falling is sufficient for a beginner meditator. At times, one might wish to also acknowledge the position of the body as “sitting, sitting”, or “lying, lying” if it is more found to be more conducive for clear observation.

In regards to feelings, when a sensation arises in the body, one should fix one’s attention on it, discarding the abdomen and focusing on the sensation. If a feeling of pain should arise, for example, one should take the pain itself as a meditation object.

Any one of the four foundations may serve as a meditation object, as all four are aspects of reality. It isn’t necessary to stay with the rising and falling of the abdomen at all times. Instead, when pain arises, one should observe the new object, the pain, in order to clearly understand it for what it is, rather than judging or identifying with it. As explained earlier, the meditator should simply focus on the pain and create the clear thought, “pain, pain, pain, pain…” until it goes away. Instead of getting upset about the pain, one will see it for what it is and let it go.

When happiness arises, one should create the clear thought, “happy.” When one feels peaceful or calm, one should create the clear thought, “peaceful,” or “calm” until that feeling goes away. Here, the object is to avoid clinging to the feeling, which would create a dependency on it. When one clings to positive feelings, one will be inevitably dissatisfied when they are gone.

Once the sensation disappears, one should return to the rising and falling of the abdomen and continue observing it as “rising” and “falling”.

In regards to the mind, if thoughts arise during meditation, one should acknowledge them as “thinking”. It doesn’t matter whether one is thinking about the past or future or whether one’s thoughts are good or bad; instead of letting the mind wander and lose track of reality, bring the mind back to the reality of the thought with, “thinking”. Then return to the rising and falling and continue practice as normal.

In regards to dhammas, when the mind gives rise to liking, pleased by a certain experience, create the clear thought, “liking, liking”. When disliking arises – anger, boredom, frustration, etc. – create the clear thought, “disliking, disliking”, “angry, angry”, “bored, bored”, or “frustrated, frustrated”. When laziness or drowsiness comes up, create the clear thought, “lazy, lazy”, or “drowsy, drowsy”. When distraction or worry arise, “distracted, distracted” or “worried, worried”. When doubt or confusion arise, “doubting, doubting” or “confused, confused” and so on.

Once the above hindrances subside, bring the mind back again to a clear awareness of the present moment by focusing on the rise and fall of the abdomen.

The 16 steps or stages of anapanasati:

16 steps of anapanasati

  • There is no such thing called 16 steps/stages of anapansmrti (Pali: anapanasati). In the Agamas and other sutras teaching meditation, it is called 16 特勝, which has nothing to do with stage or step. The Theravadin meditation teachers are simply fantasizing up their own versions by reading the Pali text, which was modified no earlier than 600CE by the Vibhajyavāda sect. To the real Elders the Sarvāstivāda School the Vibhajyavādins were heretics who couldn't realize the Buddha's prescribed attainments therefore they modified the Buddha's text to justify their lower realizations – Mishu 米殊 Sep 10 at 17:13
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Try not to overthink it. There is a clear path of progressive steps or progress, yes, but for each meditator it varies somewhat as they each have varied conditions. We don't control what arises, so we can't expect to watch it unfold like a textbook.

The stages or steps occur naturally, without us having to force or think about it, as long as you are doing the one basic thing correctly: observe with wise attention whatever arises, without judgement.

You'll notice each grouping of steps follows a pattern of prescriptive action - this pattern of treatment is the important thing. Apply this pattern to whatever arises, and the Path will unfold before you, eventually without "effort". At first we start with the coarse, and naturally go sublter and subtler as our minds get more still and concentrated. The next thing to contemplate will be waiting for you, and arise on its own. Don't try to seek out an expected experience. Just observe whatever it is as it arises, watch it as it disappears, relaxed, without clinging. Its shockingly simple when it finally clicks. No need to wonder if you're at stage 13 or should I now contemplate the next thing on the to-do list or anything like that, that will just stir your mind up.

The breath is simply our home base, something we can always return to if we wander. Sticking with the breath trains our focus, trains our concentration, trains our resistance, trains us to not cling or push away. It is important to remember that the training of these skills are the key, not what object you use.

Master the method, and the Royal Road to Nibbana will appear. Good luck. May we all become truly free.

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The 16 dhammas are obviously progressive (sequential) steps -- since the Buddha said Dhamma is taught in a proper sequence (AN 5.159):

  • Calming breathing (kaya-sankhara) leads to rapture (vedana).
  • Calming rapture (vedana) leads to mental (citta) purity.
  • Mental purity (citta) leads to vipassana & nirodha (Dhamma).

How can the 16 dhammas not be progressive?

Also, steps 7 & 8 are experiencing mind conditioner (citta sankhara) and calming mind conditioner (citta sankhara). Feeling (rapture & happiness) is the citta sankhara, per MN 44. Steps 7 & 8 are not "mental activities". Ajahn Buddhadasa expertly explained Anapanasati in his book called 'Unveiling the Secrets of Life: a Manual for Serious Beginners'.

Similar to Ajahn Brahm's book about jhana, Ajahn Buddhadasa's book is the sole only authoritative book on Anapanasati.

In conclusion, Anapanasati is 16 progressive steps, which mirror (but are not exactly the same as) the jhana sequence of steps. Anapanasati is fruition of upacāra-samādhi. Jhana is fruition of appana-samadhi. Yuttadhammo monk teaches Satipatthana Sutta parikamma-samadhi.

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    Ajahn Buddhadasa's book is the sole only authoritative book on Anapanasati For the sake of understanding, i’d like to ask what you base this conclusion on. – Erik Sep 9 at 13:36
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    For the sake of helping handful sincere seekers, instead of oiling the tongue for personal favor I would rather speak the fact. Dhammadhatu has plenty errors in his "teachings". E.g., his repeated "teaching" on mindfulness with breathing against mindfulness of breathing is an enormous error. In anapansmrti, the meditation object is breath, not mindfulness. Mindfulness cannot be for mindfulness. A candy tasted sweet, but taste cannot taste itself. Candy is the object for taste. Given the errors mentioned and unmentioned, you should give his claim a big pinch of salt @Erik – Mishu 米殊 Sep 10 at 17:54
  • Obviously questioning my answer is beyond help; just clinging to the most superficial yogic manipulations and creating "spiritual self" from this clinging. The Dhamma of the Buddha is deep. Anapanasati is deep. – Dhammadhatu Sep 10 at 21:13
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OP: Or are they two different techniques?

These are two techniques.

The technique taught by Ven. Yuttadhammo Bhikkhu is the technique taught by Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw. This is contemplating on the air element, though some also call it Anapana as it also deals with the breath. Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw also positioned it as contemplating the air element:

Thus we can feel the inward and outward movement of the abdomen. This specific characteristic of vayo dhatu must be thoroughly realized by meditators so that they can destroy the false view of a person, a being or a soul.

Mindfulness Of The Four Elements, Vipassana Meditation Lectures on Insight Meditation by Chanmyay Sayadaw

Actually it was the Buddha who did it, because he taught to observe vayo-dhatu, the air-element included in the 5 aggregates. The rising and falling is constituted of the air-element.

Questions and Answers with Mahasi Sayadaw

Anapana meditation is found in Anapanasati Sutta. This has 16 stages.

Each tetrad relates to particular Sathipattana:

Anapana

With regard to the Satipattana aspect, the sutta also mentions:

(II) When the mindfulness of the in-and-out-breathing is cultivated and often developed, it brings the 4 focuses of mindfulness to perfection.

Anapanasati Sutta

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the first 3 tetrads are about samadhi, ie with the calming of the kāyasankhāra and Cittasaṅkhāra, by relaxing the body and getting piti the usual way the buddha talks about samadhi.

The last tetrad is to reach nibanna, when the person seeks a way to reach the usual letting go, viraga and nirodha while in samadhi, which is exactly this

From AN 9.36 (translated by Bhikkhu Sujato):

‘The first absorption is a basis for ending the defilements.’ That’s what I said, but why did I say it? Take a mendicant who, quite secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unskillful qualities, enters and remains in the first absorption. They contemplate the phenomena there—included in form, feeling, perception, choices, and consciousness—as impermanent, as suffering, as diseased, as an abscess, as a dart, as misery, as an affliction, as alien, as falling apart, as empty, as not-self. They turn their mind away from those things, and apply it to the deathless: ‘This is peaceful; this is sublime—that is, the stilling of all activities, the letting go of all attachments, the ending of craving, fading away, cessation, extinguishment.’

You cannot kill the saṅkhāras and then calming them, that's complete nonsense.

  • Anapanasati is not jhana because the breath is known in each step. Nibbana is not mentioned in Anapanasati. Only 'nirodha', which may not be complete Nibbana. There are two levels of genuine concentration: neighbourhood & jhana. – Dhammadhatu Sep 9 at 12:02
  • While AN 9.36 is irrelevant, it does describe what occurs in step 7, namely, "experiencing citta sankhara". The citta sankhara (pleasant feelings) are experienced as as impermanent, as unsatisfactory, as diseased, as an abscess, as a dart, as misery, as an affliction, as alien, as falling apart, as empty, as not-self, as gross compared to the peace of letting go (the deathless). Apart from this, it is your last sentence that sounds like non-sense because AN 9.36 does not refer to killing the sankharas. It refers to not attaching to or delighting in feelings. – Dhammadhatu Sep 9 at 12:10

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