Mindfulness of Breathing - A Very Brief Introduction

Let me begin with an apology! I had intended for this post to auto-publish just prior to my heading out of town for the week. Alas, things don't always go as we plan, do they? Thank you for your patience. What follows is what I intended you to read a week ago...

By necessity I must be brief with this week’s post. Some personal and work-related issues have made it so that I will not have time to adequately complete the lengthier post that I’ve been working on. Rather than rush it to publication without having done it proper justice, I am simply going to let it percolate for another week. I do appreciate you reading this, though, especially if you’ve visited this site because you know it’s about time for me to post something new. So, here is a little something new:



It seems that we hear about mindfulness almost everywhere these days. For some, mindfulness has come to represent what Buddhism is all about. For others, mindfulness is something that we strive for as we work through our yoga poses. For still others, mindfulness has become something of a clinical technique used by counselors, psychologists, therapists, etc. Mindfulness has been used to treat anxiety and depression, manage pain, alleviate the manifestations of personality disorders, and to unlearn dysfunctional eating habits. But where did it come from? Let me quote at length from the Anapanasati Sutta as translated by Vimalaramsi (1999):

Here a Bikkhu, gone to the forest or to the root of a tree or an empty hut, sits down; having folded his legs crosswise, set his body erect, and established mindfulness in front of him, ever mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out. Breathing in long, he understands: ‘I breathe in long’; or breathing out long, he understands: ‘I breathe out long.’ Breathing in short, he understands: ‘I breathe in short’; or breathing out short, he understands: ‘I breathe out short.’ He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in experiencing the whole body (of breath)’; he trains thus ‘I shall breathe out experiencing the whole body (of breath)’; He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in tranquilizing the bodily formation’; he trains thus: ‘I shall breathe out tranquilizing the bodily formation’. He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in experiencing joy’; he trains thus: ‘I shall breathe out experiencing joy’. He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in experiencing happiness’ … He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in experiencing the mental formation’ … He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in tranquilizing the mental formation’ … He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in experiencing the mind’ … He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in gladdening the mind’ … He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in stilling the mind’ … He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in liberating the mind’ … He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in contemplating impermanence’ … He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in contemplating fading away’ … He trains thus: ‘I shall breathe in contemplating relinquishment’; he trains thus: I shall breathe out contemplating relinquishment’ (pp. 47-70)

Please keep in mind that different meditation techniques arise out of different Buddhist traditions. The mindfulness meditation described above is quite different than what I described in the post Now, In Entering Into Zen. That post described the practice of shikantaza – just sitting without goals and without techniques. Actually, shikantaza is the meditation practice that I engage in the vast majority of the time. However, since I have frequently tried to include in my posts here wisdom from the tradition of Buddhism as well as that of modern psychology, I think it appropriate to touch on this type of meditation, however briefly at present. I’m sure I’ll be referencing it in the not-too-distant future.

Thank you. I hope to “see” you again soon. In the meantime, please enjoy your mindful breathing!


References

Majjhima Nikaya MN 118. Anapanasati sutta: mindfulness of breathing (Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Tr.). Access to Insight, 25 September 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.118.than.html

Vimalaramsi, U. (1999) The anapanasati sutta – A practical guide to mindfulness of breathing and tranquil wisdom meditation. Yin-Shun Foundation, http://www.YinShun.org


Copyright 2011 by Maku Mark Frank

Comments

  1. Short, sweet, and concise. Thanks for posting - better late than never, right? Hope you're well!

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thanks, Kristen! Yes, I'm well. I hope you are also. I am so enjoying being back home!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Maku, I have to agree with Kristen. Short but well-said! You're right about the important differences among traditions. I just finished a book by a Tibetan practitioner, Introduction to Emptiness, that asserts that one must practice analytical meditation and stability meditation (i.e., shikantaza)to gain enlightenment.

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