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Both Anapanasati and Vipassana are described as the direct path to Nibbana. What are the main differences along these paths?

Does one fully include the other, or do they diverge from each other, or they in a sense parallel to each?

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  • This question is a duplicate of buddhism.stackexchange.com/questions/3547/…
    – ruben2020
    Apr 19 '15 at 12:13
  • @ruben2020 not quite. The question you point is asking about differences between samatha and vipassana. Anapanasati describes, primarily, a sati practice (as per it's very title). It just happens that parts of it are used to teach samatha.
    – user382
    Apr 19 '15 at 19:50
  • @ThiagoSilva Thank you for correcting me. Mindfulness of breathing can be used for both Samatha and Vipassana, in different ways. Is that what you're telling me?
    – ruben2020
    Apr 20 '15 at 6:03
  • Yeah. Like Kayagatasati sutta details mindfulness of the body practice, and the presence of jhana series further suggests that it may be applied as a samatha practice. Also, this dhammawheel thread has some discussion over this topic.
    – user382
    Apr 20 '15 at 6:26
  • For the benefit of new users, I give below the two Sutta for comparison. In my opinion, they both lead to Nibbana. accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.118.than.html accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/dn/dn.22.0.than.html
    – SarathW
    Nov 22 '20 at 12:53
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Anapana is Vipassana Meditation also.

It has 16 stages. In sets of 4 (tetrads) they cover the 4 Satipatthana.

If I am to reinterpret the question above as "What is the difference between Anapansati and Satipatthana" as I feel this might be what you meant.

Satipatthana shares as section on Anapana. They come up to "Sabbakayapatisamvedi" - you are sensitive to your whole body; "Passambhayam kayasamkharam" - calming the body fabrication. (Disclaimer: this might be interpreted differently by different linages / teachers.)

In Anapana you more on to feelings which has arisen (when you have calmed your bodily fabrications and you are sensitive on your whole body generally it is pleasant)

In Satipatthana stay with the body, looking at it in more detail and remedying general miss perceptions about it if you have such polarity. When you are doing this you are looking at the feeling outline of the body as initially developed you sensitivity so you can feel the full outline of the body.

Though at the very high level the flow of both methods are the same. Body <=> feeling (**) <=> mind <=> dhamma.


Also any Buddhist Meditation you start off with you have to come to the junction of Sabbakayapatisamvedi and as you progress it will not be limited to the Satipatthana you started off with. In Anapana you start off with the breath but all 4 Satipatthana develops in the process. All 4 has to develop as the Satipatthana correspond to the aggregates. Also any impact on one aggregate effects the others. Hence something you observe in one foundation of mindfullness will impact the other.

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  • Thanks @Suminda. In Anapansati is insight developed at the stage when we observe the mind, or is it more cyclical?
    – Parag
    Apr 21 '15 at 4:33
  • It is from the start it self. Depending on your state there will be effects on the breath. This is also an insight. Main juncture is when you are fully aware of the whole body. Apr 21 '15 at 11:38
  • Insight follows. In my personal opinion, getting there itself the rest follows as long as you make a effort and keep practicing. (If you skip practice you fall back. ) Apr 21 '15 at 11:44
  • That's a great point - whichever path one chooses, if the practice is diligent then insight will follow. Thanks :-)
    – Parag
    Apr 22 '15 at 8:16
  • This is just my lay opinion, different people make progress more quickly in one or the other. I struggled with Satipatthana meditations for quite some time, recently I switched to Anapana and am finally making some great strides. It's difficult when you don't have a teacher.
    – avgvstvs
    May 16 '20 at 15:31
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Anapana is a pali term, the in-&-out breaths are spoken of in that way. As to Kayagatasati, mindfulness of the body is spoken of in that way. Anapana are bodily fabrications, the breathing is a thing tied to the body. When one anapanasati one is doing kayagatasati, one classification is included in the other classification.

The difference is that Anapanasati is particularly effective at cutting off distracting thoughts and the breaths are wind element whereas the bodily sensations are generally earth element.

Vipassana as it is taught by ie Yuttadhamma Bhikkhu, is in short, a bit of both.

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I have not yet read the Pali suttas refer to "vipassana" alone as the direct path to Nibbana. At least SN 43.2 says:

Katamo ca, bhikkhave, asaṅkhatagāmimaggo?

And what is the path that leads to the unconditioned?

Samatho ca vipassanā ca

Tranquility and insight

The term "anapanasati" is used in a very specific manner in the Pali suttas to refer to a combined fruition over 16 stages of concentration, tranquility & insight; where tranquility has increasing significance the earlier the stage and where vipassana has increasing significance the later the stage. Refer to MN 118 for a complete explanation.

The term "vipassana" ("insight") appears used in a very broad manner in the Pali suttas. Therefore "vipassana" appears to not refer to any specific or exact practice or experience; apart from being wisdom development in general. It appears the term "vipassana" can be used:

  1. In very lofty ways, such as in MN 149 or synonymously in AN 11.2, to refer to direct non-thinking insight that occurs naturally & automatically (without an act of will) from concentration. Contemporary teachers, such as Bhikkhu Buddhadasa, have emphasized this lofty meaning of "vipassana" when they said: "vipassana cannot be taught".

  2. In more shallow ways, such as in AN 10.60, where thinking or reflecting (paṭisañcikkhati) about impermanence (aniccasaññā), not-self (anattasaññā), etc, is used prior to direct seeing (ānupassī) of impermanence, not-self, etc. This type of vipassana (that Bhikkhu Buddhadasa called "suitable for people at a fairly undeveloped stage") is taught by contemporary teachers such as Mahasi Sayadaw and Western monk Yuttadhammo, where practitioners recite mantras such as "rising, falling, rising, falling..." etc.

Because the 2nd type of "vipassana" above continues to use thinking (paṭisañcikkhati), it may not or cannot reach serenity/samatha, such as literally described in AN 4.94, which says there are practitioners developed in vipassana but not serenity (samatha). The strong impression is AN 4.94 is not referring to a high level of vipassana because a high level of vipassana would end the asava (outflows) and fetters (as described in SN 22.59).

MN 19 clearly says even when paṭisañcikkhati is wholesome, the mind is far from concentration and, to reach concentration & serenity, the mind must be made quiet & still.

Also, this 2nd type of "vipassana" (such as "aniccasaññā") appears clearly included in many suttas, such as MN 62, MN 118 & AN 10.60, as a preliminary practise to Anapanasati. In other words, Anapanasati, incuding its 13th stage called "aniccānupassī", appears to be a superior or more lofty development than aniccasaññā (because, as said, aniccasaññā uses paṭisañcikkhati).

In summary, Anapanasati is the orthodox fruition of the Noble Eightfold Path, where mindfulness of right view maturing in letting go (vossagga) automatically results in knowing of breathing and the concurrent development of insight (vipassana) & tranquility (samatha).

Steps 3, 5, 6, 7, 9, 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16 of Anapanasati are vipassana.

Steps 4, 6, 8, 10, 11, 12 and possibly also 15 of Anapanasati are samatha.

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Anapanasati is a method of meditation that uses the focus on breathing as a tool to connect and reconcile different layers of psyche: mental, emotional, and somatic.

Vipassana usually refers to a style of meditation that puts particular emphasis on registering subjective phenomena as they arise, morph, and eventually pass away - cultivating and refining one's ability to notice arising and passing away of even the faintest and/or shortest subjective experiences and states, without getting carried away by them.

Anapanasati includes an element of vipassana, discovering things that go on in one's mental continuum, but it also assigns equal importance to cultivation of calm, non-scattered, and emotionally positive state of it mind.

Vipassana, on the other hand, insists that all attempts at manipulating and conditioning one's state of mind are counterproductive and instead claims that the very act of watching one's phenomenological continuum provides all the necessary material one may need to attain The Goal.

In practice, the two meditation styles start from two different points and get progressively closer as one's practice matures, becoming essentially the same practice at the advanced stages.

I don't think either one can lead to Nirvana by itself, in fact you have to absorb a lot of other teachings by Buddha and Buddha's students to know what it is that you're doing.

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