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Our text archive has over 17 million words!
Vicki, Seattle, USA
Samudradaka, FBA Team
Candradasa, FBA Team
Sanghajivini, Newcastle, UK
Nagabodhi, London, UK
Vajradarshini, Valderrobres, Spain
Ratnachuda, South London, UK
Ratnavyuha, Auckland, NZ
INTRO TO THE SUTTA
Anapanasati means mindfulness while breathing in and breathing out
While you’ve been introduced to the Mindfulness OF Breathing we can think of what
we’ll be doing on this retreat as expanding from that base of breath awareness and
expanding to Mindfulness WITH breathing.
The Thai teacher Buddhadasa Bhikkhu says, ‘Actually, the meaning of anapanasati is
quite broad: ‘to recall anything with sati [mindfulness] while breathing in and
The anapansati sutta is a recording of the teaching on mindfulness while breathing in
and out to that Shakyamuni gave to his disciples at the end of on one of their annual
three month rainy season retreats in Savatthi. We can imagine 400 of them together on
the rainy season retreats. The rain can help us become imaginatively closer to the time
this teaching was actually delivered. Maybe that can help us think of this retreat as
very small! The senior monks were teaching 10, 20, 30 or 40 monks.
They’ve been practicing so diligently he decides to stay on with them for an extra
fourth month and in that extra month he teaches them the anapanasati sutta. It is a
night with a bright moon and he teaches this sutta by moonlight.
Tonight before the meditation we’ll hear the whole scene as described in the original
The Buddha says, “Mindfulness of in-and-out breathing, when developed and
pursued, is of great fruit, of great benefit. Mindfulness of in-and-out breathing, when
developed and pursued, brings the Four Foundations of Mindfulness to perfection.
The Four Foundations of Mindfulness, when developed and pursued, bring the seven
factors of awakening to their culmination. The seven factors of awakening, when
developed and pursued, perfect clear insight and liberation.”
Basically this means that practicing anapansati is a means to complete enlightenment
and as such, in addition to being a samatha or calming practice is also a vipasyana or
insight practice. The Buddha was using anapanasati when he attained enlightenment.
So the breath, while an excellent object of meditation for the development of calm, is
also an excellent vehicle for the development of wisdom. The process of how
enlightenment comes about is described in the seven factors of awakening or
bojjhangas (well described by Sangharakshita in Buddha Mind).
Investigation (dharma vicaya)
Persistence or energy (virya)
Serenity or tranquility (passaddhi)
Equanimity (upekkha), fully developed is synonymous with enlightenment
The heart of the sutta contains the actual step by step meditation instructions for
anapanasati. The sixteen contemplations are a structure for dharma vicaya or
investigation which makes the anapanasati a vipasyana bhavana practice. They are
both practical, actionable meditation instructions and a description of the process by
which awareness of the breath sets in motion a sequence of cause and effect leading
all the way to nibbana. After we practice the sutta for a while we can see how the
seven factors of awakening come about. They’re no longer just another one of those
These meditation instructions are organized by the Four Foundations of Mindfulness,
or satipatthanas which are:
Body (kaya or RUPA)
Mental Objects (dhammas) or explorations of the nature of our experience and reality
itself, bringing to mind the dhamma, the teachings on how things are, with our
In general they are emphasized because they are always there, they comprise our
subjective experience, and our lack of understanding of them leads to suffering
By working with understanding the nature of our experience we can learn wiser ways
of being and slowly become free from self-created reactive suffering
For each of the four foundations there are four instructions or contemplations given to
us by the Buddha. This makes 16 instructions altogether. Each group of four
instructions, corresponding to a foundation of mindfulness is called a tetrad. So there
is a body tetrad, a feelings tetrad, mind tetrad and dhamma tetrad. Only the first two
contemplations are exclusively focused on the breath but the breath is there with us
through the remaining 14 contemplations as an anchor, helping us to stay mindful and
A general note about each of these 16 contemplations.
Contemplation is Anupassana (pali). It means looking at, viewing, contemplating,
Not intellectually theorizing about things in lieu of experiencing or outside what is
happening in the practice as we breathe in and out
They are a way of learning from our experience. An honest, non-acquisitive
motivation to learn is the key to the sutta.
Sometimes I translate these as instructions because it reminds me that they are direct
instructions on how to proceed from the Buddha himself speaking to meditators
They are very process oriented and not very goal-oriented. Thich Nhat Hanh remarks
on how the sutta doesn’t talk in terms of getting into any particular states at all. It
doesn’t talk about creating dhyana. The language is all in terms of how we work with
our experience and what is actually happening.
The Anapanasati sutta is a very elegant, pared down, and immediately actionable set
of instructions that walk us through the four foundations of mindfulness through to
enlightenment. If you’ve studied the satipatthana sutta (which I’ve put on your
resource list) you’ll find a consistency with the anapanasati sutta. The anapansati is a
way to practice the material in the satipatthana. Not the only way but a very effective
We will work through the 16 contemplations over the course of the retreat
Reading them at face value they might seem opaque but we’ll explore and unpack
each one seeing what it’s pointing at
Each contemplation is really bottomless, we can keep learning from it over years of
practicing. This quality of the sutta has led me to have a great deal of gratitude and
even aesthetic appreciation for this teaching. It is truly profound and artful.
The succession of instructions do describe a sequence of cause and effect.
Practicing each paves the way for the next instruction to be practiced.
Cumulatively they show a causal path by which wisdom will arise.
While the instructions are quite specific as a whole the sutta points at an organic
process of bare awareness maturing into understanding
And we don't need to perfect one instruction before moving on to the next. Gradually
go deeper with the teaching as a whole.
Also we don’t need to practice all 16 steps one by one although we will do so on the
retreat for the most part. There is a simplified way of practicing called a condensed
method that you will also be introduced to. You can also focus on a particular tetrad
such as feelings, or the mind or dhammas in a particular meditation session. Also, the
learning can be taken from the 16 steps into the simpler 4 stage mindfulness of
breathing technique we’re all familiar with. This we can also explore here.
A retreat setting is a good opportunity to practice the detailed instructions one-by-one
and to deepen our understanding of what it is exactly the Buddha is trying to point out
to us through this teaching
SAID IN FRIDAY NIGHT INTRO There will be plenty of teaching on the retreat but if
you want more resources they are listed on the handout. The two main books I’ve used
are the practice commentaries on the sutta in the books by Larry Rosenberg and by
Buddhadasa Bhikkhu. I’d recommend starting with Larry Rosenberg who really does
well with getting the spirit of the sutta and what it’s getting at across. Buddhadasa
Bhikkhu’s book then is a useful resource and more technical.
We’ve recommended in the silence that you don’t read other than what could be called
spiritual reading. This is non-consumptive reading to aid reflection and meditation.
You might find dipping into the Rosenberg or Buddhadasa book while here useful and
they are available through the bookshop. But I’d recommend keeping reading to a
minimum. Maybe just a page at one sitting. While here we have the opportunity to
learn from what’s happening, through direct experience.
There are plenty of ways to practice anapanasati. The different commentaries on
awareness of breath (including for example, Buddhaghosa’s Vissudhimagga or Path of
The two main books I’ve used are the practice commentaries on the sutta in the books
by Larry Rosenberg and by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu. I’d recommend starting with Larry
Rosenberg who really does well with getting the spirit of the sutta and what it’s
getting at across. Buddhadasa Bhikkhu’s book then is a useful resource and more
technical. The new book by Analyo on Satipatthana is a very good reference text as
While it’s the anapansati is a sutta from the Pali Canon in the
Theravadan tradition, we can bring an ekayana approach drawing
out the Mahayana and Vajrayana implications that are there in the
sutta. This is something I’ve done in how I practice the anapanasati