the Breath in Mind
Lessons in Samadhi
Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo
(Phra Suddhidhammaransi Gambhiramedhacariya)
from the Thai by
© 1995 Metta Forest Monastery
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is a "how to" book. It teaches the liberation of the mind,
not as a mind-boggling theory, but as a very basic skill that
starts with keeping the breath in mind.
here are drawn from the works of Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo (1906-61),
one of Thailand's most renowned teachers of Buddhist meditation.
Ajaan Lee was a forest monk -- one who prefers to live in
the seclusion of the forest and makes meditation the central
theme of his practice -- so his teachings grow out of personal,
practical experience, although he also makes a point of relating
them to standard Buddhist doctrine.
is in two parts: The first is a basic guide to the techniques
of breath meditation -- Ajaan Lee's specialty -- and gives
two methods that he developed at separate points in his career.
The second part consists of excerpts from five of his talks
dealing with issues that tend to arise in the course of meditation.
want to begin your practice of meditation immediately and
fill in the details later, turn to Method
2. Read over the seven basic steps until you have them
firmly in mind and then start meditating. Take care, especially
at the beginning, not to clutter your mind with extraneous
ideas or information. Otherwise, you might spend too much
time looking for things in your meditation and not see what
is actually there. The rest of the book can wait until later,
when you want help with a particular problem or -- what is
often the same thing -- when you want an over-all perspective
on what you are doing.
of this book is to suggest possibilities: to direct your attention
to areas you may have overlooked, to suggest approaches that
otherwise might not have occurred to you. What you actually
see is purely an individual matter. Don't try to force things.
Don't be worried if you have experiences that aren't covered
in the book. Don't be disappointed if you don't have experiences
and visions, for example: Some people experience them, others
don't. They are an individual matter, and not really essential
to the meditation. If you experience them, learn how to use
them wisely. If you don't, learn how to use what you do experience.
The important point is to keep the basics in mind and to stay
like carpentry, sailing, or any other skill, has its own vocabulary
that to the beginner is bound to seem like a code. One of
the challenges in using this book will be in breaking its
code. Part of the difficulty is that some of the terms are
literally foreign: They're in Pali, the language of the oldest
extant Buddhist texts, colored by shades of meaning they've
picked up from Thai. This problem, though, is relatively minor.
Most of these terms are explained in the text; the glossary
at the back of the book gives definitions for any that aren't,
plus additional information on many that are.
challenge lies in getting a feel for the author's point of
view. In meditation, we are dealing with the body and mind
as experienced from the inside. Ajaan Lee practiced meditation
most of his adult life. He had long experience in viewing
the body and mind from that perspective, and so it is only
natural that his choice of terms should reflect it.
when he refers to the breath or breath sensations, he is speaking
not only of the air going in and out of the lungs, but also
of the way breathing feels, from the inside, throughout the
entire body. Similarly, the "elements" (dhatu) of the
body are not the chemical elements. Instead, they are elementary
feelings -- energy, warmth, liquidity, solidity, emptiness,
and consciousness -- the way the body presents itself directly
to inner awareness. The only way to get past the strangeness
of this sort of terminology is to start exploring your own
body and mind from the inside and to gain a sense of which
terms apply to which of your own personal experiences. Only
then will these terms fulfill their intended purpose -- as
tools for refining your inner sensitivities -- for the truth
of meditation lies, not in understanding the words, but in
mastering the skill that leads to a direct understanding of
compare this book to a recipe. If you simply read the recipe,
you can't -- even if you understand all the terms -- get any
flavor or nourishment from it. If you follow the first few
steps and then give up when it starts getting difficult, you've
wasted your time. But if you follow it all the way, you can
then set it aside and simply enjoy the results of your own
is that this book will be helpful in your personal exploration
into the benefits that come from keeping the breath in mind.
PO Box 1409
Valley Center, CA 92082
the Breath in Mind
book is a guide to the practice of centering the mind. There
are two sections: The first deals almost exclusively with
the mind. But because the well-being of the mind depends to
some extent on the body, I have included a second section
[Method 2] that shows how to use the
body to benefit the mind.
what I've observed in my own practice, there is only one path
that is short, easy, effective, and pleasant, and at the same
time has hardly anything to lead you astray: the path of keeping
the breath in mind, the same path the Lord Buddha himself
used with such good results. I hope that you won't make things
difficult for yourself by being hesitant or uncertain, by
taking this or that teaching from here or there; and that,
instead, you'll earnestly set your mind on getting in touch
with your own breath and following it as far as it can take
you. From there, you will enter the stage of liberating insight,
leading to the mind itself. Ultimately, pure knowing -- buddha
-- will stand out on its own. That's when you'll reach an
attainment trustworthy and sure. In other words, if you let
the breath follow its own nature, and the mind its own
nature, the results of your practice will without a doubt
be all that you hope for.
the nature of the heart, if it isn't trained and put into
order, is to fall in with preoccupations that are stressful
and bad. This is why we have to search for a principle --
a Dhamma -- with which to train ourselves if we hope for happiness
that's stable and secure. If our hearts have no inner principle,
no center in which to dwell, we're like a person without a
home. Homeless people have nothing but hardship. The sun,
wind, rain, and dirt are bound to leave them constantly soiled
because they have nothing to act as shelter. To practice centering
the mind is to build a home for yourself: Momentary concentration
(khanika samadhi) is like a house roofed with thatch;
threshold concentration (upacara samadhi), a house
roofed with tile; and fixed penetration (appana samadhi),
a house built out of brick. Once you have a home, you'll have
a safe place to keep your valuables. You won't have to put
up with the hardships of watching over them, the way a person
who has no place to keep his valuables has to go sleeping
in the open, exposed to the sun and rain, to guard those valuables
-- and even then his valuables aren't really safe.
is with the uncentered mind: It goes searching for good from
other areas, letting its thoughts wander around in all kinds
of concepts and preoccupations. Even if those thoughts are
good, we still can't say that we're safe. We're like a woman
with plenty of jewelry: If she dresses up in her jewels and
goes wandering around, she's not safe at all. Her wealth might
even lead to her own death. In the same way, if our hearts
aren't trained through meditation to gain inner stillness,
even the virtues we've been able to develop will deteriorate
easily because they aren't yet securely stashed away in the
heart. To train the mind to attain stillness and peace, though,
is like keeping your valuables in a strongbox.
is why most of us don't get any good from the good we do.
We let the mind fall under the sway of its various preoccupations.
These preoccupations are our enemies, because there are times
when they can cause the virtues we've already developed to
wither away. The mind is like a blooming flower: If wind and
insects disturb the flower, it may never have a chance to
give fruit. The flower here stands for the stillness of the
mind on the path; the fruit, for the happiness of the path's
fruition. If our stillness of mind and happiness are constant,
we have a chance to attain the ultimate good we all hope for.
good is like the heartwood of a tree. Other "goods" are like
the buds, branches, and leaves. If we haven't trained our
hearts and minds, we'll meet with things that are good only
on the external level. But if our hearts are pure and good
within, everything external will follow in becoming good as
a result. Just as our hand, if it's clean, won't soil what
it touches, but if it's dirty, will spoil even the cleanest
cloth; in the same way, if the heart is defiled, everything
is defiled. Even the good we do will be defiled, for the highest
power in the world -- the sole power giving rise to all good
and evil, pleasure and pain -- is the heart. The heart is
like a god. Good, evil, pleasure, and pain come entirely from
the heart. We could even call the heart a creator of the world,
because the peace and continued well-being of the world depend
on the heart. If the world is to be destroyed, it will be
because of the heart. So we should train this most important
part of the world to be centered as a foundation for its wealth
the mind is a way of gathering together all its skillful potentials.
When these potentials are gathered in the right proportions,
they'll give you the strength you need to destroy your enemies:
all your defilements and unwise mental states. You have discernment
that you've trained and made wise in the ways of good and
evil, of the world and the Dhamma. Your discernment is like
gunpowder. But if you keep your gunpowder for long without
putting it into bullets -- a centered mind -- it'll go damp
and moldy. Or if you're careless and let the fires of greed,
anger, or delusion overcome you, your gunpowder may flame
up in your hands. So don't delay. Put your gunpowder into
bullets so that whenever your enemies -- your defilements
-- make an attack, you'll be able to shoot them right down.
trains the mind to be centered gains a refuge. A centered
mind is like a fortress. Discernment is like a weapon. To
practice centering the mind is to secure yourself in a fortress,
and so is something very worthwhile and important.
the first part of the Path, and discernment, the last, aren't
especially difficult. But keeping the mind centered, which
is the middle part, takes some effort because it's a matter
of forcing the mind into shape. Admittedly, centering the
mind, like placing bridge pilings in the middle of a river,
is something difficult to do. But once the mind is firmly
in place, it can be very useful in developing virtue and discernment.
Virtue is like placing pilings on the near shore of the river;
discernment, like placing them on the far shore. But if the
middle pilings -- a centered mind -- aren't firmly in place,
how will you ever be able to bridge the flood of suffering?
is only one way we can properly reach the qualities of the
Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, and that's through the practice
of mental development (bhavana). When we develop the
mind to be centered and still, discernment can arise. Discernment
here refers not to ordinary discernment, but to the insight
that comes solely from dealing directly with the mind. For
example, the ability to remember past lives, to know where
living beings are reborn after death, and to cleanse the heart
of the fermentations (asava) of defilement: These three
forms of intuition -- termed ñana-cakkhu, the
eye of the mind -- can arise for people who train themselves
in the area of the heart and mind. But if we go around searching
for knowledge from sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile
sensations mixed together with concepts, it's as if we were
studying with the Six Masters, and so we can't clearly see
the truth -- just as the Buddha, while he was studying with
the Six Masters, wasn't able to gain Awakening. He then turned
his attention to his own heart and mind, and went off to practice
on his own, keeping track of his breath as his first step
and going all the way to the ultimate goal. As long as you're
still searching for knowledge from your six senses, you're
studying with the Six Masters. But when you focus your attention
on the breath -- which exists in each of us -- to the point
where the mind settles down and is centered, you'll have the
chance to meet with the real thing: buddha, pure knowing.
people believe that they don't have to practice centering
the mind, that they can attain release through discernment
(pañña-vimutti) by working at discernment
alone. This simply isn't true. Both release through discernment
and release through stillness of mind (ceto-vimutti)
are based on centering the mind. They differ only in degree.
Like walking: Ordinarily, a person doesn't walk on one leg
alone. Whichever leg is heavier is simply a matter of personal
habits and traits.
through discernment begins by pondering various events and
aspects of the world until the mind slowly comes to rest and,
once it's still, gives rise intuitively to liberating insight
(vipassana-ñana): clear and true understanding
in terms of the four Noble Truths (ariya sacca). In
release through stillness of mind, though, there's not much
pondering involved. The mind is simply forced to be quiet
until it attains the stage of fixed penetration. That's where
intuitive insight will arise, enabling it to see things for
what they are. This is release through stillness of mind:
Concentration comes first, discernment later.
with a wide-ranging knowledge of the texts -- well-versed
in their letter and meaning, capable of clearly and correctly
explaining various points of doctrine -- but with no inner
center for the mind, is like a pilot flying about in an airplane
with a clear view of the clouds and stars but no sense of
where the landing strip is. He's headed for trouble. If he
flies higher, he'll run out of air. All he can do is keep
flying around until he runs out of fuel and comes crashing
down in the savage wilds.
people, even though they are highly educated, are no better
than savages in their behavior. This is because they've gotten
carried away, up in the clouds. Some people -- taken with
what they feel to be the high level of their own learning,
ideas, and opinions -- won't practice centering the mind because
they feel it beneath them. They think they deserve to go straight
to release through discernment instead. Actually, they're
heading straight to disaster, like the airplane pilot who
has lost sight of the landing strip.
centering the mind is to build a landing strip for yourself.
Then, when discernment comes, you'll be able to attain release
is why we have to develop all three parts of the path -- virtue,
concentration, and discernment -- if we want to be complete
in our practice of the religion. Otherwise, how can we say
that we know the four Noble Truths? -- because the path, to
qualify as the Noble Path, has to be composed of virtue, concentration,
and discernment. If we don't develop it within ourselves,
we can't know it. And if we don't know, how can we let go?
of us, by and large, like getting results but don't like laying
the groundwork. We may want nothing but goodness and purity,
but if we haven't completed the groundwork, we'll have to
keep on being poor. Like people who are fond of money but
not of work: How can they be good, solid citizens? When they
feel the pinch of poverty, they'll turn to corruption and
crime. In the same way, if we aim at results in the field
of the religion but don't like doing the work, we'll have
to continue being poor. And as long as our hearts are poor,
we're bound to go searching for goodness in other areas --
greed, gain, status, pleasure, and praise, the baits of the
world -- even though we know better. This is because we don't
truly know, which means simply that we aren't true in what
of the path is always true: Virtue is something true, concentration
is true, discernment is true, release is true. But if we aren't
true, we won't meet with anything true. If we aren't true
in practicing virtue, concentration, and discernment, we'll
end up only with things that are fake and imitation. And when
we make use of things fake and imitation, we're headed for
trouble. So we have to be true in our hearts. When our hearts
are true, we'll come to savor the taste of the Dhamma, a taste
surpassing all the tastes of the world.
is why I have put together the following two guides for keeping
the breath in mind.
Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo
will explain how to go about the practice of centering the
mind. Before starting out, kneel down, with your hands palm-to-palm
in front of your heart, and sincerely pay respect to the Triple
Gem, saying as follows:
Buddham bhagavantam abhivademi. (bow down)
Dhammam namassami. (bow down)
Sangham namami. (bow down)
showing respect with your thoughts, words, and deeds, pay
homage to the Buddha:
tassa bhagavato arahato samma-sambuddhasa. (three times)
refuge in the Triple Gem:
Dhammam saranam gacchami.
Sangham saranam gacchami.
buddham saranam gacchami.
Dutiyampi dhammam saranam gacchami.
Dutiyampi sangham saranam gacchami.
buddham saranam gacchami.
Tatiyampi dhammam saranam gacchami.
Tatiyampi sangham saranam gacchami.
make the following resolution: "I take refuge in the Buddha
-- the Pure One, completely free from defilement; and in his
Dhamma -- doctrine, practice, and attainment; and in the Sangha
-- the four levels of his Noble Disciples -- from now to the
end of my life."
jivitam yava nibbanam saranam gacchami.
Dhammam jivitam yava nibbanam saranam gacchami.
Sangham jivitam yava nibbanam saranam gacchami.
formulate the intention to observe the five, eight, ten, or
227 precepts according to how many you are normally able to
observe, expressing them in a single vow:
pañca sikkhapadani samadiyami. (three times)
is for the observing the five precepts, and means, "I undertake
the five training rules: to refrain from taking life, from
stealing, from sexual misconduct, from lying, and from taking
attha sikkhapadani samadiyami. (three times)
is for those observing the eight precepts, and means, "I undertake
the eight training rules: to refrain from taking life, from
stealing, from sexual intercourse, from lying, from taking
intoxicants, from eating food after noon and before dawn,
from watching shows and from adorning the body for the purpose
of beautifying it, and from using high and luxurious beds
dasa sikkhapadani samadiyami. (three times)
is for those observing the ten precepts, and means, "I undertake
the ten training rules: to refrain from taking life, from
stealing, from sexual intercourse, from lying, from taking
intoxicants, from eating food after noon and before dawn,
from watching shows, from adorning the body for the purpose
of beautifying it, from using high and luxurious beds and
seats, and from receiving money.")
aham bhante. Parisuddhoti mam buddho dhammo sangho dharetu.
is for those observing the 227 precepts.)
you have professed the purity of your thoughts, words, and
deeds toward the qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha,
bow down three times. Sit down, place your hands palm-to-palm
in front of your heart, steady your thoughts, and develop
the four Sublime Attitudes: good will, compassion, appreciation,
and equanimity. To spread these thoughts to all living beings
without exception is called the immeasurable Sublime Attitude.
A short Pali formula for those who have trouble memorizing
(benevolence and love, hoping for your own welfare and that
of all other living beings.)
(compassion for yourself and others.)
(appreciation, taking delight in your own goodness and that
(equanimity in the face of those things that should be let
a half-lotus position, right leg on top of the left leg, your
hands placed palm-up on your lap, right hand on top of the
left. Keep your body straight and your mind on the task before
you. Raise your hands in respect, palm-to-palm in front of
the heart, and think of the qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma,
and Sangha: Buddho me natho -- The Buddha is my mainstay.
Dhammo me natho -- The Dhamma is my mainstay. Sangho
me natho -- The Sangha is my mainstay. Then repeat in
your mind, buddho, buddho; dhammo, dhammo; sangho, sangho.
Return your hands to your lap and repeat one word, buddho,
three times in your mind.
think of the in-and-out breath, counting the breaths in pairs.
First think bud- with the in-breath, dho with
the out, ten times. Then begin again, thinking buddho with
the in-breath, buddho with the out, seven times. Then
begin again: As the breath goes in and out once, think buddho
once, five times. Then begin again: As the breath goes
in and out once, think buddho three times. Do this
for three in-and-out breaths.
can stop counting the breaths, and simply think bud- with
the in-breath and dho with the out. Let the breath
be relaxed and natural. Keep your mind perfectly still, focused
on the breath as it comes in and out of the nostrils. When
the breath goes out, don't send the mind out after it. When
the breath comes in, don't let the mind follow it in. Let
your awareness be broad, cheerful, and open. Don't force the
mind too much. Relax. Pretend that you're breathing out in
the wide open air. Keep the mind still, like a post at the
edge of the sea. When the water rises, the post doesn't rise
with it; when the water ebbs, the post doesn't sink.
you've reached this level of stillness, you can stop thinking
buddho. Simply be aware of the feeling of the breath.
slowly bring your attention inward, focusing it on the various
aspects of the breath -- the important aspects that can give
rise to intuitive powers of various kinds: clairvoyance, clairaudience,
the ability to know the minds of others, the ability to remember
previous lives, the ability to know where different people
and animals are reborn after death, and knowledge of the various
elements or potentials that are connected with, and can be
of use to, the body. These elements come from the bases of
the breath. The First Base: Center the mind on the tip of
the nose and then slowly move it to the middle of the forehead,
The Second Base. Keep your awareness broad. Let the mind rest
for a moment at the forehead and then bring it back to the
nose. Keep moving it back and forth between the nose and the
forehead -- like a person climbing up and down a mountain
-- seven times. Then let it settle at the forehead. Don't
let it go back to the nose.
here, let it move to The Third Base, the middle of the top
of the head, and let it settle there for a moment. Keep your
awareness broad. Inhale the breath at that spot, let it spread
throughout the head for a moment, and then return the mind
to the middle of the forehead. Move the mind back and forth
between the forehead and the top of the head seven times,
finally letting it rest on the top of the head.
bring it into The Fourth Base, the middle of the brain. Let
it be still for a moment and then bring it back out to the
top of the head. Keep moving it back and forth between these
two spots, finally letting it settle in the middle of the
brain. Keep your awareness broad. Let the refined breath in
the brain spread to the lower parts of the body.
you reach this point you may find that the breath starts giving
rise to various signs (nimitta), such as seeing or
feeling hot, cold, or tingling sensations in the head. You
may see a pale, murky vapor or your own skull. Even so, don't
let yourself be affected by whatever appears. If you don't
want the nimitta to appear, breathe deep and long, down into
the heart, and it will immediately go away.
you see that a nimitta has appeared, mindfully focus your
awareness on it -- but be sure to focus on only one at a time,
choosing whichever one is most comfortable. Once you've got
hold of it, expand it so that it's as large as your head.
The bright white nimitta is useful to the body and mind: It's
a pure breath that can cleanse the blood in the body, reducing
or eliminating feelings of physical pain.
you have this white light as large as the head, bring it down
to The Fifth Base, the center of the chest. Once it's firmly
settled, let it spread out to fill the chest. Make this breath
as white and as bright as possible, and then let both the
breath and the light spread throughout the body, out to every
pore, until different parts of the body appear on their own
as pictures. If you don't want the pictures, take two or three
long breaths and they'll disappear. Keep your awareness still
and expansive. Don't let it latch onto or be affected by any
nimitta that may happen to pass into the brightness of the
breath. Keep careful watch over the mind. Keep it one. Keep
it intent on a single preoccupation, the refined breath, letting
this refined breath suffuse the entire body.
you've reached this point, knowledge will gradually begin
to unfold. The body will be light, like fluff. The mind will
be rested and refreshed -- supple, solitary, and self-contained.
There will be an extreme sense of physical pleasure and mental
want to acquire knowledge and skill, practice these steps
until you're adept at entering, leaving, and staying in place.
When you've mastered them, you'll be able to give rise to
the nimitta of the breath -- the brilliantly white ball or
lump of light -- whenever you want. When you want knowledge,
simply make the mind still and let go of all preoccupations,
leaving just the brightness and emptiness. Think one or two
times of whatever you want to know -- of things inside or
outside, concerning yourself or others -- and the knowledge
will arise or a mental picture will appear. To become thoroughly
expert you should, if possible, study directly with someone
who has practiced and is skilled in these matters, because
knowledge of this sort can come only from the practice of
centering the mind.
that comes from centering the mind falls into two classes:
mundane (lokiya) and transcendent (lokuttara).
With mundane knowledge, you're attached to your knowledge
and views on the one hand, and to the things that appear and
give rise to your knowledge on the other. Your knowledge and
the things that give you knowledge through the power of your
skill are composed of true and false mixed together -- but
the "true" here is true simply on the level of mental fabrication,
and anything fabricated is by nature changeable, unstable,
you want to go on to the transcendent level, gather all the
things you know and see into a single preoccupation -- ekaggatarammana,
the singleness of mental absorption -- and see that they are
all of the same nature. Take all your knowledge and awareness
and gather it into the same point, until you can clearly see
the truth: that all of these things, by their nature, simply
arise and pass away. Don't try to latch onto the things you
know -- your preoccupations -- as yours. Don't try to latch
onto the knowledge that has come from within you as your own.
Let these things be, in line with their own inherent nature.
If you latch onto your pre-occupations, you're latching onto
stress and pain. If you hold onto your knowledge, it will
turn into the cause of stress.
mind centered and still gives rise to knowledge. This knowledge
is the path. All of the things that come passing by for you
to know are stress. Don't let the mind fasten onto its knowledge.
Don't let it fasten onto the preoccupations that appear for
you to know. Let them be, in line with their nature. Put your
mind at ease. Don't fasten onto the mind or suppose it to
be this or that. As long as you suppose yourself, you're suffering
from obscured awareness (avijja). When you can truly
know this, the transcendent will arise within you -- the noblest
good, the most exalted happiness a human being can know.
the basic steps to practice are as follows:
Eliminate all bad preoccupations from the mind.
Make the mind dwell on good preoccupations.
Gather all good preoccupations into one -- the singleness
of meditative absorption (jhana).
Consider this one preoccupation until you see how it is
aniccam, inconstant; dukkham, stressful; and
anatta, not yourself or anyone else -- empty and
Let all good and bad preoccupations follow their own nature
-- because good and bad dwell together and are equal by
nature. Let the mind follow its own nature. Let knowing
follow its own nature. Knowing doesn't arise, and it doesn't
fall away. This is santi-dhamma -- the reality of
peace. It knows goodness, but the knowing isn't goodness,
and goodness isn't the knowing. It knows evil, but the knowing
isn't evil, and evil isn't the knowing. In other words,
knowing isn't attached to knowledge or to the things known.
Its nature is truly elemental -- flawless and pure, like
a drop of water on a lotus leaf. This is why it's called
asankhata-dhatu: the unfabricated property, a true
can follow these five steps, you'll find marvels appearing
in your heart, the skills and perfections that come from having
practiced tranquillity and insight meditation. You'll obtain
the two types of results already mentioned:
providing for your own physical well-being and that of others
throughout the world; and
providing for the well-being of your heart, bringing happiness
that is calm, cool, and blooming, leading all the way to
Liberation (nibbana) -- free from birth, aging, illness,
been a brief explanation of the main principles of breath
meditation. If you have any questions or encounter any difficulties
in putting these principles into practice, and you wish to
study directly with someone who teaches along these lines,
I will be happy to help you to the best of my ability so that
we can all attain the peace and well-being taught by the religion.
people will find that Method 2, which follows, is easier and
more relaxing than Method 1, outlined above.
are seven basic steps:
Start out with three or seven long in-and-out breaths, thinking
bud- with the in-breath, and dho with the
out. Keep the meditation syllable as long as the breath.
Be clearly aware of each in-and-out breath.
Observe the breath as it goes in and out, noticing whether
it's comfortable or uncomfortable, broad or narrow, obstructed
or free-flowing, fast or slow, short or long, warm or cool.
If the breath doesn't feel comfortable, adjust it until
it does. For instance, if breathing in long and out long
is uncomfortable, try breathing in short and out short.
soon as you find that your breathing feels comfortable,
let this comfortable breath sensation spread to the different
parts of the body. To begin with, inhale the breath sensation
at the base of the skull and let it flow all the way down
the spine. Then, if you are male, let it spread down your
right leg to the sole of your foot, to the ends of your
toes, and out into the air. Inhale the breath sensation
at the base of the skull again and let it spread down your
spine, down your left leg to the ends of your toes, and
out into the air. (If you are female, begin with the left
side first, because the male and female nervous systems
let the breath from the base of the skull spread down over
both shoulders, past your elbows and wrists, to the tips
of your fingers, and out into the air.
the breath at the base of the throat spread down the central
nerve at the front of the body, past the lungs and liver,
all the way down to the bladder and colon.
the breath right at the middle of the chest and let it go
all the way down to your intestines.
all these breath sensations spread so that they connect
and flow together, and you'll feel a greatly improved sense
Learn four ways of adjusting the breath:
in long and out long,
b. in long and out short,
c. in short and out long,
d. in short and out short.
whichever way is most comfortable for you. Or, better yet,
learn to breathe comfortably all four ways, because your
physical condition and your breath are always changing.
Become acquainted with the bases or focal points for the
mind -- the resting spots of the breath -- and center your
awareness on whichever one seems most comfortable. A few
of these bases are:
the tip of the nose,
b. the middle of the head,
c. the palate,
d. the base of the throat,
e. the breastbone (the tip of the sternum),
f. the navel (or a point just above it).
suffer from frequent headaches or nervous problems, don't
focus on any spot above the base of the throat. And don't
try to force the breath or put yourself into a trance. Breathe
freely and naturally. Let the mind be at ease with the breath
-- but not to the point where it slips away.
Spread your awareness -- your sense of conscious feeling
-- throughout the entire body.
Unite the breath sensations throughout the body, letting
them flow together comfortably, keeping your awareness as
broad as possible. Once you're fully aware of the aspects
of the breath you already know in your body, you'll come
to know all sorts of other aspects as well. The breath,
by its nature, has many facets: breath sensations flowing
in the nerves, those flowing around and about the nerves,
those spreading from the nerves to every pore. Beneficial
breath sensations and harmful ones are mixed together by
their very nature.
(a) for the sake of improving the energy already existing
in every part of your body, so that you can contend with such
things as disease and pain; and (b) for the sake of
clarifying the knowledge already within you, so that it can
become a basis for the skills leading to release and purity
of heart -- you should always bear these seven steps in mind,
because they are absolutely basic to every aspect of breath
meditation. When you've mastered them, you will have cut a
main road. As for the side roads -- the incidentals of breath
meditation -- there are plenty of them, but they aren't really
important. You'll be perfectly safe if you stick to these
seven steps and practice them as much as possible.
you've learned to put your breath in order, it's as if you
have everyone in your home in order. The incidentals of breath
meditation are like people outside your home -- in other words,
guests. Once the people in your home are well-behaved, your
guests will have to fall in line.
here are the signs (nimitta) and vagrant breaths that
will tend to pass within the range of the breath you are dealing
with: the various signs that arise from the breath and may
appear as images -- bright lights, people, animals, yourself,
others; or as sounds -- the voices of people, some you recognize
and others you don't. In some cases the signs appear as smells
-- either fragrant or else foul like a corpse. Sometimes the
in-breath can make you feel so full throughout the body that
you have no sense of hunger or thirst. Sometimes the breath
can send warm, hot, cold, or tingling sensations through the
body. Sometimes it can cause things that never occurred to
you before to spring suddenly to mind.
these things are classed as guests. Before you go receiving
guests, you should put your breath and mind into good order,
making them stable and secure. In receiving these guests,
you first have to bring them under your control. If you can't
control them, don't have anything to do with them. They might
lead you astray. But if you can put them through their paces,
they can be of use to you later on.
them through their paces means to change them at will, through
the power of thought (patibhaga nimitta) -- making
them small, large, sending them far away, bringing them up
close, making them appear and disappear, sending them outside,
bringing them in. Only then will you be able to use them in
training the mind.
you've mastered these signs, they'll give rise to heightened
sensory powers: the ability to see without opening your eyes;
the ability to hear far-distant sounds or smell far-distant
aromas; the ability to taste the various elements that exist
in the air and can be of use to the body in overcoming feelings
of hunger and desire; the ability to give rise to certain
feelings at will -- to feel cool when you want to feel cool,
hot when you want to feel hot, warm when you want to feel
warm, strong when you need strength -- because the various
elements in the world that can be physically useful to you
will come and appear in your body.
too, will be heightened, and will have the power to develop
the eye of intuition (ñana-cakkhu): the ability
to remember previous lives, the ability to know where living
beings are reborn after they die, and the ability to cleanse
the heart of the fermentations of defilement. If you have
your wits about you, you can receive these guests and put
them to work in your home.
are a few of the incidentals of breath meditation. If you
come across them in your practice, examine them thoroughly.
Don't be pleased by what appears. Don't get upset or try to
deny what appears. Keep your mind on an even keel. Stay neutral.
Be circumspect. Consider carefully whatever appears, to see
whether it's trustworthy or not. Otherwise, it might lead
you to mistaken assumptions. Good and evil, right and wrong,
high and low: All depend on whether your heart is shrewd or
dull, and on how resourceful you are. If you're dull-witted,
even high things can become low, and good things evil.
you know the various aspects of the breath and its incidentals,
you can gain knowledge of the four Noble Truths. In addition,
you can relieve physical pains as they arise in your body.
Mindfulness is the active ingredient in the medicine; the
in-and-out breath is the solvent. Mindfulness can cleanse
and purify the breath. A pure breath can cleanse the blood
throughout the body, and when the blood is cleansed, it can
relieve many of the body's diseases and pains. If you suffer
from nervous disorders, for instance, they'll completely disappear.
What's more, you'll be able to strengthen the body so that
you feel a greater sense of health and well-being.
the body feels well, the mind can settle down and rest. And
once the mind is rested, you gain strength: the ability to
relieve all feelings of pain while sitting in meditation,
so that you can go on sitting for hours. When the body is
free from pain, the mind is free from Hindrances (nivarana).
Body and mind are both strong. This is called samadhi-balam
-- the strength of concentration.
your concentration is strong like this, it can give rise to
discernment: the ability to see stress, its cause, its disbanding,
and the path to its disbanding, all clearly within the breath.
This can be explained as follows:
breath is stress -- the in-breath, the stress of arising;
the out-breath, the stress of passing away. Not being aware
of the breath as it goes in and out, not knowing the characteristics
of the breath, is the cause of stress. Knowing when the breath
is coming in, knowing when it's going out, knowing its characteristics
clearly -- i.e., keeping your views in line with the truth
of the breath -- is Right View, part of the Noble Path.
which ways of breathing are uncomfortable, knowing how to
vary the breath; knowing, "That way of breathing is uncomfortable;
I'll have to breathe like this in order to feel at ease:"
This is Right Resolve.
factors that think about and correctly evaluate all aspects
of the breath are Right Speech.
various ways of improving the breath; breathing, for example,
in long and out long, in short and out short, in short and
out long, in long and out short, until you come across the
breath most comfortable for you: This is Right Action.
how to use the breath to purify the blood, how to let this
purified blood nourish the heart muscles, how to adjust the
breath so that it eases the body and soothes the mind, how
to breathe so that you feel full and refreshed in body and
mind: This is Right Livelihood.
to adjust the breath until it soothes the body and mind, and
to keep trying as long as you aren't fully at ease, is Right
mindful and alert to the in-and-out breath at all times, knowing
the various aspects of the breath -- the up-flowing breath,
the down-flowing breath, the breath in the stomach, the breath
in the intestines, the breath flowing along the muscles and
out to every pore -- keeping track of these things with every
in-and-out breath: This is Right Mindfulness.
intent only on issues related to the breath, not pulling any
other objects in to interfere, until the breath is refined,
giving rise to fixed absorption and then liberating insight
right there: This is Right Concentration.
of the breath is termed vitakka, directed thought.
To adjust the breath and let it spread is called vicara,
evaluation. When all aspects of the breath flow freely throughout
the body, you feel full and refreshed in body and mind: This
is piti, rapture. When body and mind are both at rest,
you feel serene and at ease: This is sukha, pleasure.
And once you feel pleasure, the mind is bound to stay snug
with a single preoccupation and not go straying after any
others: This is ekaggatarammana, singleness of preoccupation.
These five factors form the beginning stage of Right Concentration.
all these parts of the Noble Path -- virtue, concentration,
and discernment -- are brought together fully mature in the
heart, you gain insight into all aspects of the breath, knowing
that "Breathing this way gives rise to skillful mental states.
Breathing that way gives rise to unskillful mental states."
You aren't caught up with the factors -- the breath in all
its aspects -- that fabricate the body, the factors that fabricate
speech, the factors that fabricate the mind, whether for good
or for ill. You let them be, in line with their inherent nature:
This is the disbanding of stress.
Another, even briefer way
to express the four Noble Truths is this: The in-and-out breath
is the truth of stress. Not being aware of the in-breath,
not being aware of the out-breath: This is the cause of stress
-- obscured, deluded awareness. Seeing into all aspects of
the breath so clearly that you can let them go with no sense
of attachment, is the disbanding of stress. Being constantly
mindful and alert to all aspects of the breath, is the path
to the disbanding of stress.
you can do this, you can say that you're correctly following
the path of breath meditation. You have cognitive skill, able
to know all four Truths clearly. You can attain release. Release
is a mind that doesn't cling to low causes and low effects
-- i.e., stress and its cause; or to high causes and high
effects -- the disbanding of stress and the path to its disbanding.
It's a mind unattached to the things that cause it to know,
unattached to knowledge, unattached to knowing. When you can
separate these things, you've mastered the skill of release
-- in other words, when you know what forms the beginning,
what forms the end and what lies in between, letting them
be as they are on their own, in line with the phrase,
All phenomena are not-self.
attached to the things that cause us to know -- the elements,
khandhas, the senses and their objects -- is termed clinging
to sensuality (kamupadana). To be attached to knowledge
is termed clinging to views (ditthupadana). To be unacquainted
with pure knowing in and of itself (buddha) is termed
clinging to precepts and procedures (silabbatupadana).
And when we cling in this way, we are bound to be deluded
by the factors that fabricate the body, speech, and the mind,
all of which arise from obscured awareness.
was a complete master of both cause and effect, without being
attached either to low causes and low effects, or to high
causes and high effects. He was above cause and beyond effect.
Stress and ease were both at his disposal, but he was attached
to neither of them. He fully knew both good and evil, was
fully equipped with both self and not-self, but wasn't attached
to any of these things. He had at his disposal the objects
that can act as the basis for the cause of stress, but wasn't
attached to them. The Path -- discernment -- was also at his
disposal: He knew how to appear either ignorant or shrewd,
and how to use both ignorance and shrewdness in his work of
spreading the religion. And as for the disbanding of stress,
he had it at his disposal but didn't cling to it, wasn't attached
to it, which is why we can truly say that his mastery was
the Buddha was able to let go of these things in this way,
he first had to work at giving rise to them in full measure.
Only then could he put them aside. He let go from abundance,
unlike ordinary people who "let go" out of poverty. Even though
he let these things go, they were still at his disposal. He
never dismissed the virtue, concentration, and discernment
he had worked at perfecting up to the day of his Awakening.
He continued using every aspect of virtue, concentration,
and discernment to the day he entered total Liberation (parinibbana).
Even the moment he was about to "nibbana," he was practicing
his full command of concentration -- in other words, his total
Liberation occurred when he was between the jhanas of form
shouldn't dismiss virtue, concentration, and discernment.
Some people won't observe the precepts because they're afraid
of getting tied to them. Some people won't practice concentration
because they're afraid of becoming ignorant or going insane.
The truth of the matter is that normally we're already ignorant,
already insane, and that to practice centering the mind is
what will end our ignorance and cure our insanity. Once we've
trained ourselves properly, we'll give rise to pure discernment,
like a cut jewel that gives off light by its very nature.
This is what qualifies as true discernment. It arises for
us individually and is termed paccattam: We can give
rise to it, and know it, only for ourselves.
of us, though, tend to misunderstand the nature of discernment.
We take imitation discernment, adulterated with concepts,
and use it to smother the real thing, like a man who coats
a piece of glass with mercury so that he can see his reflection
and that of others, thinking he's found an ingenious way of
looking at the truth. Actually, he's nothing more than a monkey
looking in a mirror: One monkey becomes two and will keep
playing with its reflection until the mercury wears off, at
which point it becomes crestfallen, not knowing what the reflection
came from in the first place. So it is when we gain imitation
discernment, unwittingly, by thinking and conjecturing in
line with concepts and preoccupations: We're headed for sorrow
when death meets us face-to-face.
factor in natural discernment comes solely from training the
mind to be like a diamond that gives off its own light --
surrounded by radiance whether in dark places or bright. A
mirror is useful only in places already well-lit. If you take
it into the dark, you can't use it to see your reflection
at all. But a cut jewel that gives off its own light is brilliant
everywhere. This is what the Buddha meant when he taught that
there are no closed or secret places in the world where discernment
can't penetrate. This jewel of discernment is what will enable
us to destroy craving, clinging, and obscured awareness, and
to attain the highest excellence: Liberation -- free from
pain, death, annihilation, and extinction -- existing naturally
through the reality of deathlessness (amata-dhamma).
large, we tend to be interested only in discernment and release.
At the drop of a hat, we want to start right in with the teachings
on stress, inconstancy, and not-self -- and when this is the
case, we'll never get anywhere. Before the Buddha taught that
things are inconstant, he had worked at knowing them until
they revealed their constancy. Before teaching that things
are stressful, he had turned that stress into pleasure and
ease. And before teaching that things are not-self, he had
turned what is not-self into a self, and so was able to see
what is constant and true, lying hidden in what is inconstant,
stressful, and not-self. He then gathered all of these qualities
into one. He gathered all that is inconstant, stressful, and
not-self into one and the same thing: fabrications (sankhara)
viewed in terms of the world -- a single class, equal everywhere
throughout the world. As for what's constant, pleasant, and
self, this was another class: fabrications viewed in terms
of the Dhamma. And then he let go of both classes, without
getting caught up on "constant" or "inconstant," "stress"
or "ease," "self" or "not-self." This is why we can say he
attained release, purity, and Liberation, for he had no need
to latch onto fabrications -- whether of the world or of the
Dhamma -- in any way at all.
was the nature of the Lord Buddha's practice. But as for our
own practice, most of us act as if we have everything figured
out beforehand and have succeeded even before we start. In
other words, we want simply to let go and attain peace and
release. But if we haven't laid the full groundwork, our letting-go
is bound to be lacking: Our peace is bound to be piece-meal,
our release is bound to be wrong. Those of us who sincerely
mean well and want only the highest good should ask ourselves:
Have we laid the proper foundation? If we don't lay the proper
foundation for release and letting go, how will we ever be
taught that virtue can overcome common defilements, the gross
faults in our words and deeds; that concentration can overcome
such intermediate defilements as sensual desires, ill will,
torpor, restlessness, and uncertainty; and that discernment
can overcome such subtle defilements as craving, clinging,
and obscured awareness. Yet some people whose discernment
is sharp, who can clearly explain subtle points of doctrine,
can't seem to shake off the more common defilements that even
virtue can overcome. This shows that something must be lacking
in their virtue, concentration, and discernment. Their virtues
are probably all on the surface, their concentration splotchy
and stained, their discernment a smeared-on gloss -- like
the glass coated with mercury -- which is why they can't attain
the goal. Their actions fall under the old saying: Keeping
a sword outside the scabbard -- having a way with words
and theories, but no center for the mind; laying an egg
outside the nest -- looking for goodness only outside,
without training the mind to be centered; resting a foundation
on the sand -- trying to find security in things of no
substance. All of this is bound to bring disappointment. Such
people have yet to find a worthwhile refuge.
should lay the groundwork and put the causes into good working
order, because all the attainments we hope for come springing
yourself. Train your own heart.
Start judging your own in-and-out breath.
will summarize the methods of breath meditation under the
headings of jhana.
means to be absorbed or focused in a single object or preoccupation,
as when we deal with the breath.
The first jhana has five factors. (a)
Directed thought (vitakka): Think of the breath until
you can keep it in mind without getting distracted. (b)
Singleness of preoccupation (ekaggatarammana): Keep
the mind with the breath. Don't let it stray after other concepts
or preoccupations. Watch over your thoughts so that they deal
only with the breath to the point where the breath becomes
comfortable. (The mind becomes one, at rest with the breath.)
(c) Evaluation (vicara): Gain
a sense of how to let this comfortable breath sensation spread
and connect with the other breath sensations in the body.
Let these breath sensations spread until they're interconnected
all over the body. Once the body has been soothed by the breath,
feelings of pain will grow calm. The body will be filled with
good breath energy. (The mind is focused exclusively on issues
connected with the breath.)
three qualities must be brought together to bear on the same
stream of breathing for the first jhana to arise. This stream
of breathing can then take you all the way to the fourth jhana.
thought, singleness of preoccupation, and evaluation act as
the causes. When the causes are fully ripe, results will appear
-- (d) rapture (piti), a compelling sense of fullness
and refreshment for body and mind, going straight to the heart,
independent of all else; (e) pleasure (sukha), physical
ease arising from the body's being still and unperturbed (kaya-passaddhi);
mental contentment arising from the mind's being at ease on
its own, undistracted, unperturbed, serene, and exultant (citta-passaddhi).
and pleasure are the results. The factors of the first jhana
thus come down simply to two sorts: causes and results.
and pleasure grow stronger, the breath becomes more subtle.
The longer you stay focused and absorbed, the more powerful
the results become. This enables you to set directed thought
and evaluation (the preliminary ground-clearing) aside, and
-- relying completely on a single factor, singleness of preoccupation
-- you enter the second jhana (magga-citta, phala-citta).
The second jhana has three factors: rapture, pleasure, and
singleness of preoccupation (magga-citta). This refers
to the state of mind that has tasted the results coming from
the first jhana. Once you have entered the second level, rapture
and pleasure become stronger because they rely on a single
cause, singleness of preoccupation, which looks after the
work from here on in: focusing on the breath so that it becomes
more and more refined, keeping steady and still with a sense
of refreshment and ease for both body and mind. The mind is
even more stable and intent than before. As you continue focusing,
rapture and pleasure grow stronger and begin to expand and
contract. Continue focusing on the breath, moving the mind
deeper to a more subtle level to escape the motions of rapture
and pleasure, and you enter the third jhana.
The third jhana has two factors: pleasure and singleness of
preoccupation. The body is quiet, motionless, and solitary.
No feelings of pain arise to disturb it. The mind is solitary
and still. The breath is refined, free-flowing, and broad.
A radiance -- white like cotton wool -- pervades the entire
body, stilling all feelings of physical and mental discomfort.
Keep focused on looking after nothing but the broad, refined
breath. The mind is free: No thoughts of past or future disturb
it. The mind stands out on its own. The four properties --
earth, water, fire, and wind -- are in harmony throughout
the body. You could almost say that they're pure throughout
the entire body, because the breath has the strength to control
and take good care of the other properties, keeping them harmonious
and coordinated. Mindfulness is coupled with singleness of
preoccupation, which acts as the cause. The breath fills the
body. Mindfulness fills the body.
on in: The mind is bright and powerful, the body is light.
Feelings of pleasure are still. Your sense of the body feels
steady and even, with no slips or gaps in your awareness,
so you can let go of your sense of pleasure. The manifestations
of pleasure grow still because the four properties are balanced
and free from motion. Singleness of preoccupation, the cause,
has the strength to focus more heavily down, taking you to
the fourth jhana.
The fourth jhana has two factors: equanimity (upekkha)
and singleness of preoccupation, or mindfulness. Equanimity
and singleness of preoccupation on the fourth jhana are powerfully
focused -- solid, stable, and sure. The breath property is
absolutely quiet, free from ripples, crosscurrents, and gaps.
The mind, neutral and still, is free of all preoccupations
with past and future. The breath, which forms the present,
is still, like the ocean or air when they are free from currents
or waves. You can know distant sights and sounds because the
breath is even and unwavering, acting like a movie screen
that gives a clear reflection of whatever is projected onto
it. Knowledge arises in the mind: You know but stay neutral
and still. The mind is neutral and still; the breath, neutral
and still; past, present, and future are all neutral and still.
This is true singleness of preoccupation, focused on the unperturbed
stillness of the breath. All parts of the breath in the body
connect so that you can breathe through every pore. You don't
have to breathe through the nostrils, because the in-and-out
breath and the other aspects of the breath in the body form
a single, unified whole. All aspects of the breath energy
are even and full. The four properties all have the same characteristics.
The mind is completely still.
focus is strong; the light, aglow.
This is to know the great frame of reference.
The mind is beaming & bright --
like the light of the sun
that, unobstructed by clouds or haze,
illumines the earth with its rays.
sheds light in all directions. The breath is radiant, the
mind fully radiant, due to the focusing of mindfulness.
is strong; the light, aglow... The mind has power and authority.
All four of the frames of reference are gathered into one.
There is no sense that, "That's the body... That's a feeling...
That's the mind... That's a mental quality." There's no sense
that they're four. This is thus called the great frame of
reference, because none of the four are in any way separate.
mind is firmly intent, centered & true, due to the strength
of its focus.
and alertness converge into one: This is what is meant by
the one path (ekayana-magga) -- the concord among the
properties and frames of reference, four in one, giving rise
to great energy and wakefulness, the purifying inner fire
(tapas) that can thoroughly dispel all obscuring darkness.
focus more strongly on the radiance of the mind, power comes
from letting go of all preoccupations. The mind stands alone,
like a person who has climbed to the top of a mountain and
so has the right to see in all directions. The mind's dwelling
-- the breath, which supports the mind's prominence and freedom
-- is in a heightened state, so the mind is able to see clearly
the locations of all Dhamma fabrications (sankhara)
-- i.e., elements, khandhas, and sense media (ayatana).
Just as a person who has taken a camera up in an airplane
can take pictures of practically everything below, so a person
who has reached this stage (lokavidu) can see the world
and the Dhamma as they truly are.
awareness of another sort, in the area of the mind -- called
liberating insight, or the skill of release -- also appears.
The elements or properties of the body acquire potency (kaya-siddhi);
the mind, resilient power. When you want knowledge of the
world or the Dhamma, focus the mind heavily and forcefully
on the breath. As the concentrated power of the mind strikes
the pure element, intuitive knowledge will spring up in that
element, just as the needle of a record player, as it strikes
a record, will give rise to sounds. Once your mindfulness
is focused on a pure object, then if you want images, images
will appear; if sounds, sounds will arise, whether near or
far, matters of the world or the Dhamma, concerning yourself
or others, past, present, or future -- whatever you want to
know. As you focus down, think of what you want to know, and
it will appear. This is ñana -- intuitive sensitivity
capable of knowing past, present, and future -- an important
level of awareness that you can know only for yourself. The
elements are like radio waves going through the air. If your
mind and mindfulness are strong, and your skills highly developed,
you can use those elements to put yourself in touch with the
entire world so that knowledge can arise within you.
you have mastered the fourth jhana, it can act as the basis
for eight skills:
clear intuitive insight into mental and physical phenomena
as they arise, remain, and disband. This is a special sort
of insight, coming solely from training the mind. It can
occur in two ways: (a) knowing without ever having thought
of the matter; and (b) knowing from having thought of the
matter -- but not after a great deal of thought, as in the
case of ordinary knowledge. Think for an instant and it
immediately becomes clear -- just as a piece of cotton wool
soaked in gasoline, when you hold a match to it, bursts
immediately into flame. The intuition and insight here are
that fast, and so differ from ordinary discernment.
Manomayiddhi: psychic powers -- the ability to use
thoughts to influence events.
Iddhividhi: the ability to display supra-normal powers,
e.g., creating images in certain instances that certain
groups of people will be able to see.
Dibbasota: the ability to hear distant sounds.
Cetopariya-ñana: the ability to know the level
-- good or evil, high or low -- of other people's minds.
Pubbenivasanussati-ñana: the ability to remember
previous lifetimes. (If you attain this skill, you'll no
longer have to wonder as to whether death is followed by
annihilation or rebirth.)
Dibbacakkhu: the ability to see gross and subtle
images, both near and far.
Asavakkhaya-ñana: the ability to reduce and
eliminate the effluents of defilement in the heart.
eight skills come exclusively from the centering the mind,
which is why I have written this condensed guide to concentration
and jhana, based on the technique of keeping the breath in
mind. If you aspire to the good that can come from these things,
you should turn your attention to training your own heart
you're sitting, you aren't yet able to observe the breath,
tell yourself, "Now I'm going to breathe in. Now I'm going
to breathe out." In other words, at this stage you're
the one doing the breathing. You're not letting the breath
come in and out as it naturally would. If you can keep this
in mind each time you breathe, you'll soon be able to catch
hold of the breath.
your awareness inside your body, don't try to imprison it
there. In other words, don't try to force the mind into a
trance, don't try to force the breath or hold it to the point
where you feel uncomfortable or confined. You have to let
the mind have its freedom. Simply keep watch over it to make
sure that it stays separate from its thoughts. If you try
to force the breath and pin the mind down, your body is going
to feel restricted and you won't feel at ease in your work.
You'll start hurting here and aching there, and your legs
may fall asleep. So just let the mind be its natural self,
keeping watch to make sure that it doesn't slip out after
we keep the mind from slipping out after its concepts, and
concepts from slipping into the mind, it's like closing our
windows and doors to keep dogs, cats, and thieves from slipping
into our house. What this means is that we close off our sense
doors and don't pay any attention to the sights that come
in by way of the eyes, the sounds that come in by way of the
ears, the smells that come in by way of the nose, the tastes
that come in by way of the tongue, the tactile sensations
that come in by way of the body, and the preoccupations that
come in by way of the mind. We have to cut off all the perceptions
and concepts -- good or bad, old or new -- that come in by
way of these doors.
off concepts like this doesn't mean that we stop thinking.
It simply means that we bring our thinking inside to put it
to good use by observing and evaluating the theme of our meditation.
If we put our mind to work in this way, we won't be doing
any harm to ourself or to our mind. Actually, our mind tends
to be working all the time, but the work it gets involved
in is usually a lot of nonsense, a lot of fuss and bother
without any real substance. So we have to find work of real
value for it to do -- something that won't harm it, something
really worth doing. This is why we're doing breath meditation,
focusing on our breathing, focusing on our mind. Put aside
all your other work and be intent on doing just this and nothing
else. This is the sort of attitude you need when you meditate.
that come from our concepts of past and future are like weeds
growing in our field. They steal all the nutrients from the
soil so that our crops won't have anything to feed on and
they make the place look like a mess. They're of no use at
all except as food for the cows and other animals that come
wandering through. If you let your field get filled with weeds
this way, your crops won't be able to grow. In the same way,
if you don't clear your mind of its preoccupation with concepts,
you won't be able to make your heart pure. Concepts are food
only for the ignorant people who think they're delicious,
but sages don't eat them at all.
Hindrances -- sensual desire, ill will, torpor & lethargy,
restlessness & anxiety, and uncertainty -- are like different
kinds of weeds. Restlessness & anxiety is probably the
most poisonous of the lot, because it makes us distracted,
unsettled, and anxious all at the same time. It's the kind
of weed with thorns and sharp-edged leaves. If you run into
it, you're going to end up with a stinging rash all over your
body. So if you come across it, destroy it. Don't let it grow
in your field at all.
meditation -- keeping the breath steadily in mind -- is the
best method the Buddha taught for wiping out these Hindrances.
We use directed thought to focus on the breath, and evaluation
to adjust it. Directed thought is like a plow; evaluation,
like a harrow. If we keep plowing and harrowing our field,
weeds won't have a chance to grow, and our crops are sure
to prosper and bear abundant fruit.
here is our body. If we put a lot of thought and evaluation
into our breathing, the four properties of the body will be
balanced and at peace. The body will be healthy and strong,
the mind relaxed and wide open, free from Hindrances.
you've got your field cleared and leveled like this, the crops
of your mind -- the qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha
-- are sure to prosper. As soon as you bring the mind to the
breath, you'll feel a sense of rapture and refreshment. The
four bases of attainment (iddhipada) -- the desire
to practice, persistence in the practice, intentness, and
circumspection in your practice -- will develop step by step.
These four qualities are like the four legs of a table that
keep it stable and upright. They're a form of power that supports
our strength and our progress to higher levels.
another comparison, these four qualities are like the ingredients
in a health tonic. Whoever takes this tonic will have a long
life. If you want to die, you don't have to take it, but if
you don't want to die, you have to take a lot. The more you
take it, the faster the diseases in your mind will disappear.
In other words, your defilements will die. So if you know
that your mind has a lot of diseases, this is the tonic for
Art of Letting Go
you sit and meditate, even if you don't gain any intuitive
insights, make sure at least that you know this much: When
the breath comes in, you know. When it goes out, you know.
When it's long, you know. When it's short, you know. Whether
it's comfortable or uncomfortable, you know. If you can know
this much, you're doing fine. As for the various thoughts
and concepts (sañña) that come into the
mind, brush them away -- whether they're good or bad, whether
they deal with the past or the future. Don't let them interfere
with what you're doing -- and don't go chasing after them
to straighten them out. When a thought of this sort comes
passing in, simply let it go passing on. Keep your awareness,
unperturbed, in the present.
we say that the mind goes here or there, it's not really the
mind that goes. Only concepts go. Concepts are like shadows
of the mind. If the body is still, how will its shadow move?
The movement of the body is what causes the shadow to move,
and when the shadow moves, how will you catch hold of it?
Shadows are hard to catch, hard to shake off, hard to set
still. The awareness that forms the present: That's the
true mind. The awareness that goes chasing after concepts
is just a shadow. Real awareness -- "knowing" -- stays in
place. It doesn't stand, walk, come, or go. As for the mind
-- the awareness that doesn't act in any way coming or going,
forward or back -- it's quiet and unperturbed. And when the
mind is thus its normal, even, undistracted self -- i.e.,
when it doesn't have any shadows -- we can rest peacefully.
But if the mind is unstable, uncertain, and wavering, concepts
arise and go flashing out -- and we go chasing after them,
hoping to drag them back in. The chasing after them is where
we go wrong. This is what we have to correct. Tell yourself:
Nothing is wrong with your mind. Just watch out for the shadows.
improve your shadow. Say your shadow is black. You can scrub
it with soap till your dying day, and it'll still be black
-- because there's no substance to it. So it is with your
concepts. You can't straighten them out, because they're just
images, deceiving you.
thus taught that whoever isn't acquainted with the self, the
body, the mind, and its shadows, is suffering from avijja
-- darkness, deluded knowledge. Whoever thinks the mind is
the self, the self is the mind, the mind is its concepts --
whoever has things all mixed up like this -- is deluded and
lost, like a person lost in the jungle. To be lost in the
jungle brings countless hardships. There are wild beasts to
worry about, problems in finding food to eat and a place to
sleep. No matter which way you look, there's no way out. But
if we're lost in the world, it's many times worse than being
lost in the jungle, because we can't tell night from day.
We have no chance to find any brightness because our minds
are dark with avijja.
of training the mind to be still is to simplify things. When
things are simplified, the mind can settle down and rest.
And when the mind has rested, it'll gradually become bright,
in and of itself, and give rise to knowledge. But if we let
things get complicated -- if we let the mind get mixed up
with sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, and
ideas -- that's darkness. Knowledge won't have a chance to
intuitive knowledge does arise, it can -- if you know how
to use it -- lead to liberating insight. But if you let yourself
get carried away by knowledge of the past or future, you won't
get beyond the mundane level. In other words, if you dabble
too much in knowledge of physical things, without gaining
wisdom with regard to the workings of the mind, it can leave
you spiritually immature.
for example, that a vision arises and you get hooked: You
gain knowledge of your past lives and get all excited. Things
you never knew before, now you can know. Things you never
saw before, now you see -- and they can make you overly pleased
or upset. Why? Because you take them all too seriously. You
may see a vision of yourself prospering as a lord or master,
a great emperor or king, wealthy and influential. If you let
yourself feel pleased, that's indulgence in pleasure. You've
strayed from the Middle Path. Or you may see yourself as something
you wouldn't care to be: a pig or a dog, a bird or a rat,
crippled or deformed. If you let yourself get upset, that's
indulgence in self-affliction -- and again, you've strayed
from the path. Some people really let themselves get carried
away: As soon as they start seeing things, they begin to think
that they're special, somehow better than other people. They
let themselves become proud and conceited -- and the right
path has disappeared without their even knowing it. If you're
not careful, this is where mundane knowledge can lead you.
you keep one principle firmly in mind, you can stay right
on the path: Whatever appears, good or bad, true or false,
don't let yourself feel pleased, don't let yourself get upset.
Keep the mind balanced and neutral, and discernment will arise.
You'll see that the vision or sign displays the truth of stress:
it arises (is born), fades (ages), and disappears (dies).
get hooked on your intuitions, you're asking for trouble.
Knowledge that proves false can hurt you. Knowledge that proves
true can really hurt you. If what you know is true,
and you go telling other people, you're bragging. If it turns
out to be false, it can backfire on you. This is why those
who truly know say that knowledge is the essence of stress:
It can hurt you. Knowledge is part of the flood of views and
opinions (ditthi-ogha) over which we have to cross.
If you hang onto knowledge, you've gone wrong. If you know,
simply know, and let it go at that. You don't have to be excited
or pleased. You don't have to go telling other people.
who've studied abroad, when they come back to the rice fields,
don't tell what they've learned to the folks at home. They
talk about ordinary things in an ordinary way. The reason
they don't talk about the things they've studied is because
(1) no one would understand them; (2) it wouldn't serve any
purpose. Even with people who would understand them,
they don't display their learning. So it should be when you
practice meditation. No matter how much you know, you have
to act as if you know nothing, because this is the way people
with good manners normally act. If you go bragging to other
people, it's bad enough. If they don't believe you, it can
get even worse.
you know, simply be aware of it and let it go. Don't let there
be the assumption that "I know." When you can do this, your
mind can attain the transcendent, free from attachment.
in the world has its truth. Even things that aren't true are
true -- i.e., their truth is that they're false. This is why
we have to let go of both what's true and what's false. Once
we know the truth and can let it go, we can be at our ease.
We won't be poor, because the truth -- the Dhamma -- will
still be there with us. We won't be left empty-handed. It's
like having a lot of money: Instead of lugging it around with
us, we keep it piled up at home. We may not have anything
in our pockets, but we're still not poor.
is true with people who really know. Even when they let go
of their knowledge, it's still there. This is why the minds
of the Noble Ones aren't left adrift. They let things go,
but not in a wasteful or irresponsible way. They let go like
rich people: Even though they let go, they've still got piles
people who let things go like paupers, they don't know what's
worthwhile and what's not. When they throw away the things
that are worthwhile, they're simply heading for disaster.
For instance, they may see that there's no truth to anything
-- no truth to the khandhas, no truth to the body, no truth
to stress, its cause, its disbanding, or the path to its disbanding,
no truth to Liberation. They don't use their brains at all.
They're too lazy to do anything, so they let go of everything,
throw it all away. This is called letting go like a pauper.
Like a lot of modern-day sages: When they come back after
they die, they're going to be poor all over again.
the Buddha, he let go only of the true and false things that
appeared in his body and mind -- but he didn't abandon his
body and mind, which is why he ended up rich, with plenty
of wealth to hand down to his descendants. This is why his
descendants never have to worry about being poor.
should look to the Buddha as our model. If we see that the
khandhas are worthless -- inconstant, stressful, not-self,
and all that -- and simply let go of them by neglecting them,
we're sure to end up poor. Like a stupid person who feels
so repulsed by a festering sore on his body that he won't
touch it and so lets it go without taking care of it: There's
no way the sore is going to heal. As for intelligent people,
they know how to wash their sores, put medicine and bandages
on them, so that eventually they're sure to recover.
same way, when people see only the drawbacks to the khandhas,
without seeing their good side, and so let them go without
putting them to any worthwhile or skillful use, nothing good
will come of it. But if we're intelligent enough to see that
the khandhas have their good side as well as their bad, and
then put them to good use by meditating to gain discernment
into physical and mental phenomena, we're going to be rich.
Once we have the truth -- the Dhamma -- as our wealth, we
won't suffer if we have money, and won't suffer if we don't,
for our minds will be transcendent. The various forms of rust
-- greed, anger, and delusion -- that have been obscuring
our senses will all fall away. Our eyes, ears, nose, tongue,
and body will be entirely clean, clear, and bright, for as
the Buddha said, the Dhamma -- discernment -- is like a lamp.
Our mind, far distant from all forms of trouble and suffering,
will stay in the current flowing on to Liberation.
the Tip of Your Nose
feelings of pain or discomfort arise while you're sitting
in meditation, examine them to see what they come from. Don't
let yourself be pained or upset by them. If there are parts
of the body that won't go as you'd like them to, don't worry
about them. Let them be -- because your body is the same as
every other body, human or animal, throughout the world: It's
inconstant, stressful, and can't be forced. So stay with whatever
part does go as you'd like it to, and keep it comfortable.
This is called dhamma-vicaya: being selective in what's
is like a tree: No tree is entirely perfect. At any one time
it'll have new leaves and old leaves, green leaves and yellow,
fresh leaves and dry. The dry leaves will fall away first,
while those that are fresh will slowly dry out and fall away
later. Some of the branches are long, some thick, and some
small. The fruits aren't evenly distributed. The human body
isn't really much different from this. Pleasure and pain aren't
evenly distributed. The parts that ache and those that are
comfortable are randomly mixed. You can't rely on it. So do
your best to keep the comfortable parts comfortable. Don't
worry about the parts that you can't make comfortable.
like going into a house where the floorboards are beginning
to rot: If you want to sit down, don't choose a rotten spot.
Choose a spot where the boards are still sound. In other words,
the heart needn't concern itself with things that can't
can compare the body to a mango: If a mango has a rotten or
a wormy spot, take a knife and cut it out. Eat just the good
part remaining. If you're foolish enough to eat the wormy
part, you're in for trouble. Your body is the same, and not
just the body -- the mind, too, doesn't always go as you'd
like it to. Sometimes it's in a good mood, sometimes it's
not. This is where you have to use as much thought and evaluation
thought and evaluation are like doing a job. The job here
is concentration: centering the mind in stillness. Focus the
mind on a single object and then use your mindfulness and
alertness to examine and reflect on it. If you use a meager
amount of thought and evaluation, your concentration will
give meager results. If you do a crude job, you'll get crude
results. If you do a fine job, you'll get fine results. Crude
results aren't worth much. Fine results are of high quality
and are useful in all sorts of ways -- like atomic radiation,
which is so fine that it can penetrate even mountains. Crude
things are of low quality and hard to use. Sometimes you can
soak them in water all day long and they still don't soften
up. But as for fine things, all they need is a little dampness
in the air and they dissolve.
is with the quality of your concentration. If your thinking
and evaluation are subtle, thorough, and circumspect, your
"concentration work" will result in more and more stillness
of mind. If your thinking and evaluation are slipshod and
crude, you won't get much stillness. Your body will ache,
and you'll feel restless and irritable. Once the mind can
become very still, though, the body will be comfortable and
at ease. Your heart will feel open and clear. Pains will disappear.
The elements of the body will feel normal: The warmth in your
body will be just right, neither too hot nor too cold. As
soon as your work is finished, it'll result in the highest
form of happiness and ease: nibbana -- Liberation. But as
long as you still have work to do, your heart won't get its
full measure of peace. Wherever you go, there will always
be something nagging at the back of your mind. Once your work
is done, though, you can be carefree wherever you go.
haven't finished your job, it's because (1) you haven't set
your mind on it and (2) you haven't actually done the work.
You've shirked your duties and played truant. But if you really
set your mind on doing the job, there's no doubt but that
you'll finish it.
you've realized that the body is inconstant, stressful, and
can't be forced, you should keep your mind on an even keel
with regard to it. "Inconstant" means that it changes. "Stressful"
doesn't refer solely to aches and pains. It refers to pleasure
as well -- because pleasure is inconstant and undependable,
too. A little pleasure can turn into a lot of pleasure, or
into pain. Pain can turn back into pleasure, and so on. (If
we had nothing but pain we would die.) So we shouldn't be
all that concerned about pleasure and pain. Think of the body
as having two parts, like the mango. If you focus your attention
on the comfortable part, your mind can be at peace. Let the
pains be in the other part. Once you have an object of meditation,
you have a comfortable place for your mind to stay. You don't
have to dwell on your pains. You have a comfortable house
to live in: Why go sleep in the dirt?
We all want nothing but goodness, but if you can't tell what's
good from what's defiled, you can sit and meditate till your
dying day and never find nibbana at all. But if you're knowledgeable
and intent on what you're doing, it's not all that hard. Nibbana
is really a simple matter because it's always there. It never
changes. The affairs of the world are what's hard because
they're always changing and uncertain. Today they're one way,
tomorrow another. Once you've done something, you have to
keep looking after it. But you don't have to look after nibbana
at all. Once you've realized it, you can let it go. Keep on
realizing, keep on letting go -- like a person eating rice
who, after he's put the rice in his mouth, keeps spitting
it out rather than letting it become feces in his intestines.
is that you keep on doing good but don't claim it as your
own. Do good and then spit it out. This is viraga-dhamma:
disengagement. Most people in the world, once they've done
something, latch onto it as theirs -- and so they have to
keep looking after it. If they're not careful, it'll either
get stolen or else wear out on its own. They're headed for
disappointment. Like a person who swallows his rice: After
he's eaten, he'll have to defecate. After he's defecated he'll
be hungry again, so he'll have to eat again and defecate again.
The day will never come when he's had enough. But with nibbana
you don't have to swallow. You can eat your rice and then
spit it out. You can do good and let it go. It's like plowing
a field: The dirt falls off the plow on its own. You don't
need to scoop it up and put it in a bag tied to your water
buffalo's leg. Whoever is stupid enough to scoop up the dirt
as it falls off the plow and stick it in a bag will never
get anywhere. Either his buffalo will get bogged down, or
else he'll trip over the bag and fall flat on his face right
there in the middle of the field. The field will never get
plowed, the rice will never get sown, the crop will never
get gathered. He'll have to go hungry.
our meditation word, is the name of the Buddha after his Awakening.
It means someone who has blossomed, who is awake, who has
suddenly come to his senses. For six long years before his
Awakening, the Buddha traveled about, searching for the truth
from various teachers, all without success. So he went off
on his own and on a full-moon evening in May sat down under
the Bodhi tree, vowing not to get up until he had attained
the truth. Finally, toward dawn, as he was meditating on his
breath, he gained Awakening. He found what he was looking
for -- right at the tip of his nose.
doesn't lie far away. It's right at our lips, right at the
tip of our nose. But we keep groping around and never find
it. If you're really serious about finding purity, set your
mind on meditation and nothing else. As for whatever else
may come your way, you can say, "No thanks." Pleasure? "No
thanks." Pain? "No thanks." Goodness? "No thanks." Evil? "No
thanks." Paths and fruitions? "No thanks." Nibbana? "No thanks."
If it's "no thanks" to everything, what will you have left?
You won't need to have anything left. That's
nibbana. Like a person without any money: How will thieves
be able to rob him? If you get money and try to hold onto
it, you're going to get killed. This you want to take. That
you want to take. Carry "what's yours" around till you're
completely weighed down. You'll never get away.
world we have to live with both good and evil. People who
have developed disengagement are filled with goodness, and
know evil fully, but don't hold onto either, don't claim either
as their own. They put them aside, let them go, and so can
travel light and easy. Nibbana isn't all that difficult a
matter. In the Buddha's time, some people became arahants
while going on their almsround, some while urinating, some
while watching farmers plowing a field. What's difficult about
the highest good lies in the beginning, in laying the groundwork
-- being constantly mindful and alert, examining and evaluating
your breath at all times. But if you can keep at it, you're
bound to succeed in the end.
Care & Feeding of the Mind
is a mirror for the mind. If the mirror is abnormal, it gives
abnormal reflections. Say you look into a convex mirror: Your
reflection will be taller than you are. If you look in a concave
mirror, your reflection will be abnormally short. But if you
look into a mirror that's flat, smooth, and normal, it'll
give you a true reflection of yourself. If you polish the
mirror so that it's clean and bright -- in other words, if
you use evaluation to adjust and expand the breath so that
it's comfortable -- your reflection will be sharp and clear.
how to adjust the breath, putting it in good order, is tantamount
to putting the mind in good order as well and can give all
kinds of benefits -- like a good cook who knows how to vary
the foods she serves, sometimes changing the color, sometimes
the flavor, sometimes the shape, so that her employer will
never grow tired of her cooking. If she fixes the same thing
all year around -- porridge today, porridge tomorrow, porridge
the next day -- her employer is bound to go looking for a
new cook. But if she knows how to vary her offerings so that
her employer is always satisfied, she's sure to get a raise
in her salary, or maybe a special bonus.
is with the breath. If you know how to adjust and vary the
breath -- if you're always thinking about and evaluating the
breath -- you'll become thoroughly mindful and expert in all
matters dealing with the breath and the other elements of
the body. You'll always know how things are going with the
body. Rapture, ease, and singleness of preoccupation will
come on their own. The body will be refreshed, the mind content.
Both body and mind will be at peace. All the elements will
be at peace, free from unrest and disturbances.
like knowing how to look after a small child. If the child
starts crying, you know when to give it milk or candy, when
to give it a bath, when to take it out for some air, when
to put it in a playpen and give it a doll to play with. In
no time at all, the child will stop crying, stop whining,
and leave you free to finish whatever work you have to do.
The mind is like a small, innocent child. If you're skilled
at looking after it, it'll be obedient, happy, and contented,
and will grow day by day.
* * *
When the body and mind are full and content, they won't feel
hungry. They won't have to go opening up the pots and pans
on the stove or pace around looking out the windows and doors.
They can sleep in peace without any disturbances. Ghosts and
demons -- the pains of the khandhas -- won't come and possess
them. This way we can be at our ease, because when we sit,
we sit with people. When we lie down, we lie down with people.
When we eat, we eat with people. When people live with people,
there's no problem; but when they live with ghosts and demons,
they're sure to squabble and never find any peace. If we don't
know how to evaluate and adjust our breathing, there's no
way our meditation will give any results. Even if we sit till
we die, we won't gain any knowledge or understanding at all.
There was once an old monk -- 70 years old, 30 years in the
monkhood -- who had heard good things about how I teach meditation
and so came to study with me. The first thing he asked was,
"What method do you teach?"
meditation," I told him. "You know -- bud-dho, bud-dho."
As soon as he heard that, he said, "I've been practicing that
method ever since the time of Ajaan Mun -- buddho, buddho
ever since I was young -- and I've never seen anything good
come of it. All it does is buddho, buddho without ever
getting anywhere at all. And now you're going to teach me
to buddho some more. What for? You want me to buddho
till I die?"
This is what happens when people have no sense of how to adjust
and evaluate their breathing: They'll never find what they're
looking for -- which is why adjusting and spreading the breath
is a very important part of doing breath meditation.
* * *
to know yourself -- becoming acquainted with your body, your
mind, the elements (earth, water, fire, wind, space, and consciousness),
knowing what they come from, how they arise, how they disband,
how they're inconstant, stressful, and not-self: All of this
you have to find out by exploring on your own. If your knowledge
simply follows what's in books or what other people tell you,
it's knowledge that comes from labels and concepts, not from
your own discernment. It's not really knowledge. If you know
only what other people tell you, you're following them down
a road -- and what could be good about that? They might lead
you down the wrong road. And if the road is dusty, they might
kick dust into your ears and eyes. So in your search for the
truth, don't simply believe what other people say. Don't believe
labels. Practice centering the mind until you gain knowledge
on your own. Only then will it be insight. Only then will
it be trustworthy.
you meditate, you have to think. If you don't think, you can't
meditate, because thinking forms a necessary part of meditation.
Take jhana, for instance. Use your powers of directed thought
to bring the mind to the object, and your powers of evaluation
to be discriminating in your choice of an object. Examine
the object of your meditation until you see that it's just
right for you. You can choose slow breathing, fast breathing,
short breathing, long breathing, narrow breathing, broad breathing;
hot, cool, or warm breathing; a breath that goes only as far
as the nose, a breath that goes only as far as the base of
the throat, a breath that goes all the way down to the heart.
When you've found an object that suits your taste, catch hold
of it and make the mind one, focused on a single object. Once
you've done this, evaluate your object. Direct your thoughts
to making it stand out. Don't let the mind leave the object.
Don't let the object leave the mind. Tell yourself that it's
like eating: Put the food in line with your mouth, put your
mouth in line with the food. Don't miss. If you miss and go
sticking the food in your ear, under your chin, in your eye,
or on your forehead, you'll never get anywhere in your eating.
is with your meditation. Sometimes the "one" object of your
mind takes a sudden sharp turn into the past, back hundreds
of years. Sometimes it takes off into the future and comes
back with all sorts of things to clutter your mind. This is
like taking your food, sticking it up over your head, and
letting it fall down behind you -- the dogs are sure to get
it; or like bringing the food to your mouth and then tossing
it out in front of you. When you find this happening, it's
a sign that your mind hasn't been made snug with its object.
Your powers of directed thought aren't firm enough. You have
to bring the mind to the object and then keep after it to
make sure it stays put. Like eating: Make sure the food is
in line with the mouth and stick it right in. This is directed
thought: The food is in line with the mouth, the mouth is
in line with the food. You're sure it's food and you know
what kind it is -- main course or dessert, coarse or refined.
you know what's what, and it's in your mouth, chew it right
up. This is evaluation: examining, reviewing your meditation.
Sometimes this comes under threshold concentration -- examining
a coarse object to make it more and more refined. If you find
that the breath is long, examine long breathing. If it's short,
examine short breathing. If it's slow, examine slow breathing
-- to see if the mind will stay with that kind of breathing,
to see if that kind of breathing will stay with the mind,
to see whether the breath is smooth and unhindered. This is
the mind gives rise to directed thought and evaluation, you
have both concentration and discernment. Directed thought
and singleness of preoccupation fall under the heading of
concentration; evaluation, under the heading of discernment.
When you have both concentration and discernment, the mind
is still and knowledge can arise. But if there's too much
evaluation, it can destroy your stillness of mind. If there's
too much stillness, it can snuff out thought. You have to
watch over the stillness of your mind to make sure you have
things in the right proportions. If you don't have a sense
of "just right," you're in for trouble. If the mind is too
still, your progress will be slow. If you think too much,
it'll run away with your concentration.
things carefully. Again, it's like eating. If you go shoveling
food into your mouth, you might end up choking to death. You
have to ask yourself: Is it good for me? Can I handle it?
Are my teeth strong enough? Some people have nothing but empty
gums and yet they want to eat sugar cane: It's not normal.
Some people, even though their teeth are aching and falling
out, still want to eat crunchy foods. So it is with the mind:
As soon as it's just a little bit still, we want to see this,
know that -- we want to take on more than we can handle. You
first have to make sure that your concentration is solidly
based, that your discernment and concentration are properly
balanced. This point is very important. Your powers of evaluation
have to be ripe, your directed thought firm.
have a water buffalo, tie it to a stake, and pound the stake
deep into the ground. If your buffalo is strong, it just might
walk or run away with the stake. You have to know your buffalo's
strength. If it's really strong, pound the stake so that it's
firmly in the ground and keep watch over it. In other words,
if you find that the obsessiveness of your thinking is getting
out of hand, going beyond the bounds of mental stillness,
then fix the mind in place and make it extra still -- but
not so still that you lose track of things. If the mind is
too quiet, it's like being in a daze. You don't know what's
going on at all. Everything is dark, blotted out. Or else
you have good and bad spells, sinking out of sight and then
popping up again. This is concentration without directed thought
or evaluation, with no sense of judgment: Wrong Concentration.
have to be observant. Use your judgment -- but don't let the
mind get carried away by its thoughts. Your thinking is something
separate. The mind stays with the meditation object. Wherever
your thoughts may go spinning, your mind is still firmly based
-- like holding onto a post and spinning around and around.
You can keep on spinning, and yet it doesn't wear you out.
But if you let go of the post and spin around three times,
you get dizzy and -- Bang! -- fall flat on your face.
So it is with the mind: If it stays with the singleness of
its preoccupation, it can keep thinking and not get tired,
not get harmed, because your thinking and stillness are right
there together. The more you think, the more solid your mind
gets. The more you sit and meditate, the more you think. The
mind becomes more and more firm until all the Hindrances (nivarana)
fall away. The mind no longer goes looking for concepts. Now
it can give rise to knowledge.
here isn't ordinary knowledge. It washes away your old knowledge.
You don't want the knowledge that comes from ordinary thinking
and reasoning: Let go of it. You don't want the knowledge
that comes from directed thought and evaluation: Stop. Make
the mind quiet. Still. When the mind is still and unhindered,
this is the essence of all that's skillful and good. When
your mind is on this level, it isn't attached to any concepts
at all. All the concepts you've known -- dealing with the
world or the Dhamma, however many or few -- are washed away.
Only when they're washed away can new knowledge arise.
is why you should let go of concepts -- all the labels and
names you have for things. You have to let yourself be poor.
It's when people are poor that they become ingenious and resourceful.
If you don't let yourself be poor, you'll never gain discernment.
In other words, you don't have to be afraid of being stupid
or of missing out on things. You don't have to be afraid that
you've hit a dead end. You don't want any of the insights
you've gained from listening to others or from reading books,
because they're concepts and therefore inconstant. You don't
want any of the insights you've gained by reasoning and thinking,
because they're concepts and therefore not-self. Let all these
insights disappear, leaving just the mind, firmly intent,
leaning neither to the left, toward being displeased; nor
to the right, toward being pleased. Keep the mind still, quiet,
neutral, impassive -- set tall. And there you are: Right
Right Concentration arises in the mind, it has a shadow. When
you can catch sight of the shadow appearing, that's vipassana:
you gain from Right Concentration doesn't come in the form
of thoughts or ideas. It comes as Right Views. What looks
wrong to you is really wrong. What looks right is really right.
If what looks right is really wrong, that's Wrong View. If
what looks wrong is really right, again -- Wrong View. With
Right View, though, right looks right and wrong looks wrong.
it in terms of cause and effect, you see the four Noble Truths.
You see stress, and it really is stressful. You see the cause
of stress arising, and that it's really causing stress. These
are Noble Truths: absolutely, undeniably, indisputably true.
You see that stress has a cause. Once the cause arises, there
has to be stress. As for the way to the disbanding of stress,
you see that the path you're following will, without a doubt,
lead to Liberation. Whether or not you go all the way, what
you see is correct. This is Right View. And as for the disbanding
of stress, you see that there really is such a thing. You
see that as long as you're on the path, stress does in fact
fall away. When you come to realize the truth of these things
in your heart, that's vipassana-ñana.
it even more simply: You see that all things, inside as well
as out, are undependable. The body is undependable, aging
is undependable, death is undependable. They're slippery characters,
constantly changing on you. To see this is to see inconstancy.
Don't let yourself be pleased by inconstancy. Don't let yourself
be upset. Keep the mind neutral, on an even keel. That's what's
meant by vipassana.
stress: Say we hear that an enemy is suffering. "Glad to hear
it," we think. "Hope they hurry up and die." The heart has
tilted. Say we hear that a friend has become wealthy, and
we become happy; or a son or daughter is ill, and we become
sad. Our mind has fallen in with suffering and stress. Why?
Because we're unskilled. The mind isn't centered -- i.e.,
it's not in Right Concentration. We have to look after the
mind. Don't let it fall in with stress. Whatever suffers,
let it suffer, but don't let the mind suffer with it. The
body may be in pain, but the mind isn't pained. Let the body
go ahead and suffer, but the mind doesn't suffer. Keep the
mind neutral. Don't be pleased by pleasure -- pleasure is
a form of stress, you know. How so? It can change. It can
rise and fall. It can be high and low. It can't last. That's
stress. Pain is also stress: double stress. When you gain
this sort of insight into stress -- when you really see
stress -- vipassana has arisen in the mind.
anatta, not-self: Once we've examined things and seen
them for what they really are, we don't make claims, we don't
display influence, we don't try to show that we have the right
or the power to bring things that are not-self under our control.
No matter how hard we try, we can't prevent birth, aging,
illness, and death. If the body is going to be old, let it
be old. If it's going to hurt, let it hurt. If it has to die,
let it die. Don't be pleased by death, either your own or
that of others. Don't be upset by death, your own or that
of others. Keep the mind neutral. Unruffled. Unfazed. This
is sankharupekkha-ñana: letting sankharas --
all things fashioned and fabricated -- follow their own inherent
briefly, is vipassana: You see that all fabrications are inconstant,
stressful, and not-self. You can disentangle them from your
grasp. You can let go. This is where it gets good. How so?
You don't have to wear yourself out, lugging sankharas around.
attached means to carry a load, and there are five heaps (khandhas)
we carry: attachment to physical phenomena, to feelings, to
concepts and labels, to mental fabrications, and to sensory
consciousness. We grab hold and hang onto these things, thinking
that they're the self. Go ahead: Carry them around. Hang one
load from your left leg and one from your right. Put one on
your left shoulder and one on your right. Put the last load
on your head. And now: Carry them wherever you go -- clumsy,
encumbered, and comical.
Go ahead and carry them.
The five khandhas are a heavy load,
and as individuals we burden ourselves with them.
Carry them everywhere you go, and you waste your time
suffering in the world.
taught that whoever lacks discernment, whoever is unskilled,
whoever doesn't practice concentration leading to liberating
insight, will have to be burdened with stress, will always
be loaded down. It's a pity. It's a shame. They'll never get
away. Their legs are burdened, their shoulders burdened --
and where are they going? Three steps forward and two steps
back. Soon they'll get discouraged and then, after a while,
they'll pick themselves up and get going again.
when we see inconstancy -- that all fabrications, whether
within us or without, are undependable; when we see that they're
stressful; when we see that they're not our self, that they
simply whirl around in and of themselves: When we gain these
insights, we can put down our burdens, i.e., let go of our
attachments. We can put down the past -- i.e., stop dwelling
in it. We can let go of the future -- i.e., stop yearning
for it. We can let go of the present -- i.e., stop claiming
it as the self. Once these three big baskets have fallen from
our shoulders, we can walk with a light step. We can even
dance. We're beautiful. Wherever we go, people will be glad
to know us. Why? Because we're not encumbered. Whatever we
do, we can do with ease. We can walk, run, dance, and sing
-- all with a light heart. We're Buddhism's beauty, a sight
for sore eyes, graceful wherever we go. No longer burdened,
no longer encumbered, we can be at our ease. This is vipassana-ñana.
editions of Keeping the Breath in Mind contain a version of
Step 3 in Method 2 that Ajaan Lee later
shortened and revised to its present form. Some people, though,
find the original version helpful, so here it is:
Observe the breath as it goes in and out, noticing whether
it's comfortable or uncomfortable, broad or constricted, obstructed
or free-flowing, fast or slow, short or long, warm or cool.
If the breath doesn't feel comfortable, adjust it until it
does. For instance, if breathing in long and out long is uncomfortable,
try breathing in short and out short. As soon as you find
that your breath feels comfortable, let this comfortable breath
sensation spread to the different parts of your body. For
example, each time you breathe in and out once, think of an
important part of the body, as follows:
you let the breath pass into the bronchial tubes, think
of it as going all the way down the right side of your abdomen
to the bladder.
you take another in-and-out breath, think of the breath
as going from the main arteries to the liver and heart on
down through your left side to the stomach and intestines.
you take another in-and-out breath, think of the breath
as going from the base of the throat all the way down the
internal (front) side of the spine.
you take another in-and-out breath, think of letting the
breath go from the base of the throat down the front of
your chest through to the tip of the breastbone, to the
navel, and out into the air.
you take another in-and-out breath, inhale the breath into
the palate down to the base of the throat, on through the
middle of the chest to the large intestine, the rectum,
and out into the air.
you've completed these five turns inside the body, let the
breath flow along the outside of the body:
you take an in-and-out breath, think of inhaling the breath
at the base of the skull and letting it go all the way down
the external (back) side of the spine.
Now, if you're male, think
first of your right side, both with the legs and with the
arms. As you take an in-and-out breath, think of the right
buttock and of letting the breath run all the way down the
right leg to the tips of your toes.
you take another in-and-out breath, think of the left buttock
and of letting the breath run all the way down the left
leg to the tips of your toes.
you take another in-and-out breath, think of the base of
the skull and of letting the breath run down your right
shoulder, along your right arm to the tips of your fingers.
you take another in-and-out breath, inhale the breath into
the base of the skull and let it run down your left shoulder,
along your arm to the tips of your fingers.
you take another in-and-out breath, inhale the breath into
the area inside your skull, thinking of your ears -- eyes
-- nose -- mouth. (Men should think of the right side first,
with each part of the body: the right eye, right ear, right
nostril, right arm, right leg, etc.; women: the left eye,
left ear, left nostril, left arm, left leg, etc.)
finished, keep careful watch over your breath. Make the breath
refined, light, and free-flowing. Keep the mind steady and
still in this breath. Make your mindfulness and alertness
thorough and circumspect. Let the various breath sensations
join and permeate throughout the body. Let the mind be neutral,
impassive, and well-composed.
A Worthy One or Pure One -- i.e., a person whose heart is
freed from the fermentations of defilement and is thus not
destined for further rebirth. An epithet for the Buddha and
the highest level of his Noble Disciples.
sacca: Noble Truth. The word Noble (ariya) here
can also mean ideal or standard, and in this phrase carries
the meaning of objective or universal truth. There are four:
stress, its cause, its disbanding, and the path of practice
leading to its disbanding.
Fermentation; effluent -- mental defilements (sensuality,
states of being, views, and unawareness) in their role as
causes of the flood of rebirth.
Unawareness, ignorance, obscured awareness, counterfeit knowledge.
Sense medium. The inner sense media are the eyes, ears, nose,
tongue, body, and intellect. The outer sense media are their
(buddho): The mind's innate quality of pure knowingness,
as distinct from the themes with which it is preoccupied and
its knowledge about those preoccupations.
Event; phenomenon; the way things are in and of themselves;
their inherent qualities; the basic principles that underlie
their behavior. Also, principles of behavior that human beings
ought to follow so as to fit in with the right natural order
of things; qualities of mind they should develop so as to
realize the inherent quality of the mind in and of itself.
By extension, Dhamma refers also to any doctrine that teaches
such matters. To view things -- mental or physical -- in terms
of the Dhamma means to view them simply as events or phenomena,
as they are directly perceived in and of themselves, seeing
the regularity of the principles underlying their behavior.
To view them in terms of the world means to view them with
regard to their meaning, role, or emotional coloring -- i.e.,
in terms of how they fit into our view of life and the world.
Element; potential; property; the elementary properties that
make up the inner sense of the body and mind: earth (solidity),
water (liquidity), fire (heat), wind (energy or motion), space,
and consciousness. The breath is regarded as an aspect of
the wind property, and all feelings of energy in the body
are classed as breath sensations. According to ancient Indian
and Thai physiology, diseases come from an aggravation or
imbalance in any of the first four of these properties. Well-being
is defined as a state in which none of them is dominant: All
are quiet, unaroused, balanced, and still.
Singleness of object or preoccupation.
Meditative absorption in a single notion or sensation.
The component parts of sensory perception; physical and mental
phenomena as they are directly experienced: rupa (sensations,
sense data), vedana (feelings of pleasure, pain, or
indifference), sañña (labels, names,
concepts, allusions), sankhara (mental fabrications,
thought formations), viññana (sensory
An expert with regard to the cosmos -- an epithet normally
used for the Buddha.
The state of mind that forms the path leading to the transcendent
qualities culminating in Liberation. Phala-citta refers
to the mental state that follows immediately on magga-citta
and experiences its fruit.
(nirvana): Liberation; the unbinding of the mind from
greed, anger, and delusion, from physical sensations and mental
acts. As this term is used to refer also to the extinguishing
of fire, it carries connotations of stilling, cooling, and
peace. (According to the physics taught at the time of the
Buddha, the property of fire in a latent state exists to a
greater or lesser extent in all objects. When activated, it
seizes and gets stuck to its fuel. When extinguished, it is
Mental sign, theme, or image.
Hindrance. The mental qualities that hinder the mind from
becoming centered are five: sensual desire, ill will, torpor
& lethargy, restlessness & anxiety, and uncertainty.
The name of the most ancient recension of the Buddhist canon
now extant and -- by extension -- of the language in which
it was composed.
Concentration; the act of keeping the mind centered or intent
on a single preoccupation. The three levels of concentration
-- momentary, threshold, and fixed penetration -- can be understood
in terms of the first three steps in the section on jhana:
Momentary concentration goes no further than step (a);
threshold concentration combines steps (a)
and (c); fixed penetration combines steps
(a), (b), and (c)
and goes on to include all higher levels of jhana.
The community of the Buddha's followers. On the conventional
level, this refers to the Buddhist monkhood. On the ideal
(ariya) level, it refers to those of the Buddha's followers
-- whether lay or ordained -- who have practiced to the point
of gaining at least the first of the transcendent qualities
culminating in Liberation.
Fabrication -- the forces and factors that fabricate things,
the process of fabrication, and the fabricated things that
result. As the fourth khandha, this refers to the act of fabricating
thoughts, urges, etc., within the mind. As a blanket term
for all five khandhas, it refers to all things fabricated,
compounded, or fashioned by nature. 'Sankharupekkha-ñana'
refers to a stage of liberating insight in which all sankharas
are viewed with a sense of equanimity.
(-ñana): Liberating insight -- clear, intuitive
discernment into physical and mental phenomena as they arise
and disappear, seeing them for what they are in terms of the
four Noble Truths and the characteristics of inconstancy,
stress, and "not-selfness."
anything in this translation is inaccurate or misleading,
I ask forgiveness of the author and reader for having unwittingly
stood in their way. As for whatever may be accurate, I hope
the reader will make the best use of it, translating it a
few steps further, into the heart, so as to attain the truth
to which it points.
-- The translator
Inquiries concerning this book may be addressed to: The Abbot,
Metta Forest Monastery, PO Box 1409, Valley Center, CA 92082.
satta sada hontu
katam puñña-phalam mayham
sabbe bhagi bhavantu te
May all beings always live happily,
free from animosity.
May all share in the blessings
springing from the good I have done.