The Buddha’s approach to breath meditation
This was the meditation utilised by the Gotama Buddha (while still a
Boddhisatta) to calm his mind for the penetration of dependant
origination (paticca-samuppada) and insight into the Four Noble Truths.
In light of this, it becomes clear how important this meditation is for
anyone who is serious about the practice of the Dhamma (Teachings) and
the attainment of insight into reality.
awareness of in and out breath meditation (anapanasati) is a
very important meditation for all Buddhists as it allows for
the development of mindfulness of the present moment and
calms the mind allowing for contemplation and insight (vipassana)
into the reality into ‘the way things really are’.
The correct posture is important to allow the breath to easily ‘flow’
in and out of the body. The back should be upright yet relaxed. Hold
your body upright in a way such that it is at its perfect centre of
balance (this can be perceived with the mind), where one is neither
leaning too far forwards, backwards or to either side.
When one gains this perfect ‘equilibrium’ of the bodily trunk, all
swaying of the body will cease. It is important to train oneself to keep
the body still during meditation - if you can’t keep your body still,
how can you hope to keep your mind still? The legs can be bent in the
form of the full or half lotus position and the palms should be placed
on top of each other (right on left) facing upwards on top of the lap
(refer to a seated statue of the Lord Buddha for reference).
The eyes should be fully closed to minimise distractions for the
mind. If the posture becomes uncomfortable after a while, you can
persevere to keep it despite the physical pain for as long as possible
and/or change your posture, e.g. from a cushion to a stool or chair, or
from lotus position to a kneeling position - keep switching (the lesser
the better) while continuing with the meditation (the longer the
better). Once one gains a state of perfect stillness and a state of
jhanic peace, the physical body and its sensations will ‘disappear’ and
pain will no longer affect the mind. So strive for these states at all
times during meditation.
Before beginning the meditation, bring and focus your mind’s
attention to the front (of your head/body). The mind has a habit of
‘talking’ (thinking) and it takes the form of an ‘inner commentary.’
This commentary needs to be completely stopped (repeat as required)
by will as and when it starts up, before the mediation can begin
(otherwise it will be impossible to focus on the breath as the ‘inner
noise’ will destroy concentration). Once the mind gets the signal that
thinking is undesired, it will become calm and quiet. Now the meditation
While keeping your awareness in front (of the head/body), direct your
quiet mind to observing the incoming and outgoing breath. There should
be no controlling or forcing of the breath, but simply quiet watching of
Try to see the whole ‘length’ of the breath as it enters and leaves
the body. So you should be noticing the various characteristics of the
breath, such as whether it is short, long, calm or quick. Just as you
know you are full, when you have eaten enough, or that have a headache
when there is one - in the same manner you should know when you are
breathing in and out when you are doing so.
So there is no need to watch a particular point in the body such as
the tip of the nose or the abdomen - doing so will take one’s
concentration away from the object of the meditation (one’s breath).
In fact in the Anapanasati Sutta (discourse) where the Buddha details
the particulars of this meditation, there is no mention whatsoever of
watching a particular part of the body such as the tip of the nose or
When the mind becomes calm, tranquil and still (i.e. state of
Samadhi) due to this meditation, this is the best time to contemplate
(think/analyse/understand) some aspects of the Dhamma to gain insight (vipassana),
which is what the term ‘see things as they really are’ refers to.
You can contemplate on any aspect of the Dhamma that touches on the
three signs of all conditioned things, i.e. impermanence (anicca),
suffering (dukkha) and ‘no real self in anything/anyone’ (anatta).
You can also contemplate on the Four Noble Truths or the dependent
origination (paticca-samuppada) in aid of this. You may also prefer to
refer to a discourse (sutta) to find a section of Dhamma that touches on
the above and contemplate on that once the mind is in a state of samadhi.
Try to understand the meaning behind these concepts and how they relate
to tour life through analysis.
The aim of this contemplation is to realise the Truth about our lives
and all conditioned things and to enter the stream (sotapatti) leading
to Nibbana. Once you become a stream enterer/winner, there can be no
further rebirth in any of the lower hellish realms and you will be
assured of Nibbana within a maximum of seven lifetimes or less.
May you seize this extremely rare opportunity of the appearance of
the true Dhamma along with your extremely rare fortune of gaining a good
rebirth with access to that true Dhamma (neither of which will last very
long) to find it within yourself to develop samadhi allowing you to
break through to the stream taking you directly to the supreme bliss of
Calm is not enough
Just calmness meditation, Samatha, is not enough; once the mind is
super calm, ideally in a jhanic state, you need to contemplate, analyse
and understand, some aspect of the Dhamma, perhaps a section, or a line
of the Buddha’s words, that touches on the three characteristics, of
impermanence (anicca), suffering (dukkha), no self (anatta), or the Four
Noble Truths, or dependant origination, and relate it to your life, to
penetrate (vipassana) the truth, to enter the stream or even higher, for
the mind to ‘break through,’ to the ‘other side.’
May you break through, to the other side!
Courtesy: Dhamma Group
Buddhism and the Free Thinkers
Many so-called free thinkers are actually not free thinkers, but they
are lazy to think. Just because they do not want to think seriously and
ponder about the meaning of their existence they say they are free
thinkers. There is no room for these kinds of thinkers in Buddhism.
Buddhism encourages people to think freely but deeply and without bias.
Immediately after gaining enlightenment, when there were many
disciples, the Buddha said: “Monks, now you and I are free from human
and divine bondages.” Here, we can find a clue to what a free thinker
Usually, people try to introduce their religious concepts and beliefs
and practices by imposing divine bondages and appealing divine messages.
The Buddha has rejected such concepts. He said he and his Disciples are
free from divine and human bondage.
What are these bondages? They are various kinds of beliefs, cravings,
attachments, concepts, traditions and customs created in the name of
religion by exploiting fear and suspicion.
People who are enslaved by such beliefs and practices are in bondage.
In what way was the Buddha a free thinker or how can we claim that
Buddhism is a religion of freedom and reason?
The Buddha has given full freedom for man to think freely without
depending on the concept of a god, a Buddha or any teacher to understand
the truth. That is freedom. According to some western thinkers Buddhism
is known as ‘the religion of freedom and reason’.
Freedom however must be guided by reason. Otherwise, people can abuse
that freedom. For instance, if a government gives full freedom for
people to live or to do anything according to their free will I am sure
that within twenty-four hours, they can ruin the whole country.
That is the danger of giving freedom without first developing reason
in the minds of people. We must follow the same principle in practicing
religion. Although some people say that free will exists for man to
exert, we know that without proper training and guidance the use of that
free will can lead to disastrous con-sequences. A child may have free
will, but it has to be taught not to play with a live electric wire.
The Buddha emphasises that freewill is not a gift from any external
source. It is intrinsic to us. Human behavior, human character,
humanistic minds are characteristics, which are developed over many life
Whether we are cultured or uncultured, civilised or uncivilised,
religious or irreligious, good or bad, wicked or kind, depends on our
mental habits which we developed life after life in the past. These
characteristics are not given by anybody.
Religion becomes important to guide and direct man’s way of thinking
by giving proper guidelines. The purpose of religion is to help a human
being train his mind so that he develops understanding and acts in a
morally responsible way. He does good because he ‘knows’ that is the
right thing to do, not because be wants to avoid punishment or receive
rewards. Religion is an aid to individual development.
Why should we not depend on anybody? If we are going to stop our
evil, wicked, selfish thinking fearing that there is somebody to punish
us, we will never give a chance for our mind to cultivate understanding,
kindness, compassion. People also sometimes do good deeds or provide
some service to others in expectation of a big reward.
If this is the motivation, they will not develop sympathy,
understanding according to the true meaning of these words. They become
selfish avoiding evil deeds to escape punishment or do good to get
rewards. This is selfishness.
The Buddha did not advocate this. If heaven and hell were both closed
down, how many people would remain religious? Buddhism however
encourages moral behavior without reference to heaven or hell. This is
the uniqueness in the Buddha’s teaching.
The main purpose of religion is not to ensure escape from punishment
or gain a reward but to help one become perfect and to end physical and
mental suffering and be free from un-satisfactoriness.
The Buddha also wanted to cultivate humanity according to certain
moral and ethical codes, discipline, and character. This is to be
achieved without resorting to temptations provided by promises of heaven
or to fear by threats of hell fire.
That is why this religion is described as a religion of freedom and
reason. The Buddha encouraged us to learn with an open mind to
investigate and to understand the world. We must accept nothing at once
on mere faith. The Buddha says, “Do not accept anything through mere
faith because it will make it difficult for you to understand the truth,
because that faith can make you a blind follower.”
This kind of blind faith can lead to religious fanaticism. People
react emotionally to their religious authorities rather than deciding
rationally whether something is true or false because they have not
developed analytical knowledge in their minds to understand why they
should uphold certain moral practices and why they should keep away from
certain immoral practices.
For instance, when a boy cannot under-stand things properly, a father
or mother threatens him. If he is very mischievous, they can even beat
him and warn him not to make mistakes. Because of that fear, the child
may stop doing mischievous deeds but he is not helped to realise why it
is wrong and where the mistake is.
That only creates fear of punishment. Again, when they ask a child to
do something and if he refuses, then, the parents will bribe him with
the promise of a reward. The child may do it, but again without
understanding why. It will be easy for him to revert to the wrong way of
thinking or action without understanding. Similarly, we should not
introduce religion through reward and punishment, without allowing
people to have proper understanding.
If we try to introduce religion through punishment and rewards,
people will not understand the real validity and main purpose of
religion. That is why in Buddhism there is no threat of religious
punishment. The duty of a religion is to guide, educate and enlighten
Punishment is the duty of the law of the land. Religion should not
undertake the role of the law to punish people. Otherwise, there will be
fear but not understanding. This is the nature of the Buddha’s teaching
and why we regard him as a free thinker.
The reason why we have good days and bad days is actually due to our
expectation that we should always have good days but should never have
bad days. So we are always wishing and desiring that every day be a
happy and good day and are averse to the idea that we should experience
anything bad on any given day. But the reality of our lives is quite the
The Buddha explained this with the ‘eight characteristics of the
world’ that we all must face in our daily lives and they are: 1. Gain,
2. Loss, 3. Happiness, 4. Unhappiness, 5. Praise, 6. Blame, 7. Fame and
8. Obscurity, the four pairs of opposites. But we only hope and expect
to have gain, happiness, praise and fame and are averse to the idea of
loss, unhappiness, blame and obscurity.
This is the reason why we are elated when these four positive
conditions exist in our lives and are depressed, dejected and conflict
arises in our minds when the four negative conditions exist.
As a result our feelings also go up and down much like a
roller-coaster ride. This can be cause of great stress to people and can
also induce further fear, anxiety, worry and related stresses into their
lives. The solution is to understand that our lives are going to always
revolved around these eight characteristics and that there is no escape
from them whatsoever (remember that even the Buddha was blamed in his
day and there were days when he went without a dana (food) - loss), but
to also understand how to deal with these eight characteristics
skilfully in daily life which is what practicing the Dhamma is all
The skilful way to deal with the eight characteristic of the world is
by developing the quality embodied by the Pali word upekkha. Upekkha
means ‘equanimity’ or ‘even-mindedness’.
The meaning is better described with an example. Let’s take the pair
of gain and loss and in real-world terms equate ‘gain’ as a pay-rise in
the work place and ‘loss’ as being fired from the work place. Now we are
all liable to these two outcomes at some point in our lives.
So when we gain a pay-rise the skilful means of dealing with this
worldly condition is by not getting excited, carried away, intoxicated
with feelings, etc; but with calm and the awareness that this situation
is also liable to changes in the future as are all conditioned things.
Also the skilful way to deal with being fired from the work place is
to not be angry, upset, dejected, depressed etc.; but to understand this
is one of the eight characteristics of life and this situation being
conditioned is also subject change in the future (impermanence - anicca
This is the same skilful approach that should be taken with the other
three pairs of happiness and unhappiness, praise and blame, and fame and
obscurity as and when they arise, that is with upekkha (equanimity).
They are all impermanent conditions (anicca in Pali) arising and
passing away on their own accord, are unsatisfactory causing suffering
when clung to (dukkha in Pali), they do not belong to us (not mine nor
part of me - anatta in Pali) and we should not react to them strongly
either positively (elation) or negatively (dejection).
Most importantly we should train our minds to not be averse to loss,
unhappiness, blame and obscurity nor be attached to and expect gain,
happiness, praise and fame; but to be at peace with all these
Imagine going on a roller-coaster ride that doesn’t go up and down!
It would be very peaceful wouldn’t it? You could peacefully enjoy the
view rather than screaming with fear and excitement. This is what we are
aiming for with the development of upekkha. However the ride wont be
perfectly flat until we attain Nibbana! This equates to inner peace,
stability, joy and a mental state which un-wavers when faced with the
eight worldly conditions, which will be source of strength in our daily
lives. This way we don’t have to worry about having good or bad days but
rather look forward to having peaceful and joyful days.
May you be at peace and also attain the lasting peace of Nibbana!