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Anapanasati Sutra: Mindfulness of Breathing

Breathing is the essence of life. It is the first thing we do when we are born and the last thing we do when we die. Yet, how often do we take the time to truly appreciate the power and beauty of our breath? The Anapanasati Sutra, or the Discourse on Mindfulness of Breathing, is a profound teaching in Buddhist philosophy that invites us to do just that. In this chapter, we will explore the Anapanasati Sutra and the practice of mindfulness of breathing, using descriptive and detailed language, rich imagery, powerful metaphors and similes, and a poetic, formal style.

The Anapanasati Sutra is one of the most revered and influential teachings in the Buddhist canon. It is a guide to the practice of mindfulness of breathing, which is a simple yet profound technique that can help us cultivate greater peace, clarity, and wisdom in our lives. The sutra is believed to have been taught by the Buddha himself, and it is said to have been one of his favorite teachings.

The Anapanasati Sutra is divided into 16 steps, each of which is designed to be practiced in sequence. These steps are not meant to be followed rigidly, but rather to serve as a guide for the practitioner to develop their own practice of mindfulness of breathing. Let us explore each step in greater detail.

  1. Mindfulness of In-Breathing: Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.

This first step reminds us to simply be aware of our breath as we inhale. We do not need to change our breath in any way or try to control it. We simply observe it with a sense of mindfulness and presence.

  1. Mindfulness of Out-Breathing: Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.

In this step, we bring the same sense of mindfulness and presence to our exhalation. We observe our breath as we exhale, without trying to change it or control it in any way.

  1. Awareness of the Length of Breath: Breathing in, I am aware of the length of my in-breath. Breathing out, I am aware of the length of my out-breath.

In this step, we begin to pay attention to the length of our breath, both as we inhale and as we exhale. We simply observe the natural rhythm of our breath and become aware of its length.

  1. Awareness of the Body: Breathing in, I am aware of my body. Breathing out, I calm my body.

In this step, we bring our attention to our body as we breathe. We become aware of the physical sensations of our body, such as tension, relaxation, warmth, or coolness. We also use our breath to calm our body and release any tension or discomfort.

  1. Joy: Breathing in, I feel joyful. Breathing out, I feel joyful.

In this step, we begin to cultivate a sense of joy and happiness as we practice mindfulness of breathing. We breathe in joy and breathe out joy, allowing ourselves to experience the simple pleasure of being alive and breathing.

  1. Relaxation: Breathing in, I feel relaxed. Breathing out, I feel relaxed.

In this step, we deepen our sense of relaxation and calmness as we practice mindfulness of breathing. We allow ourselves to let go of any tension or stress and simply relax into the present moment.

  1. Awareness of Mental Processes: Breathing in, I am aware of my mental processes. Breathing out, I calm my mental processes.

In this step, we bring our attention to our thoughts and mental processes as we breathe. We become aware of the thoughts that arise in our mind and observe them with a sense of mindfulness and equanimity. We also use our breath to calm our thoughts and bring a sense of inner peace.

  1. Awareness of Mental States: Breathing in, I am aware of my mental states. Breathing out, I calm my mental states.

In this step, we begin to cultivate a deeper awareness of our mental states, such as anger, fear, or sadness. We observe these states with a sense of mindfulness and non-judgment, and we use our breath to calm and transform them.

  1. Happiness: Breathing in, I feel happy. Breathing out, I feel happy.

In this step, we continue to cultivate a sense of joy and happiness as we practice mindfulness of breathing. We breathe in happiness and breathe out happiness, allowing ourselves to fully experience the present moment with a sense of joy and contentment.

  1. Concentration: Breathing in, I concentrate my mind. Breathing out, I concentrate my mind.

In this step, we begin to deepen our concentration and focus as we practice mindfulness of breathing. We use our breath as an anchor for our attention, allowing us to stay present and focused in the here and now.

  1. Letting Go: Breathing in, I let go ofmy worries. Breathing out, I let go of my fears.

In this step, we learn to let go of any worries or fears that may be holding us back. We use our breath as a tool for releasing these negative thoughts and emotions, allowing ourselves to experience a greater sense of peace and freedom.

  1. Equanimity: Breathing in, I develop equanimity. Breathing out, I develop equanimity.

In this step, we cultivate a sense of equanimity or balance in our practice of mindfulness of breathing. We observe our thoughts and emotions with a sense of non-judgment and non-reactivity, allowing them to simply arise and pass away without getting caught up in them.

  1. Non-attachment: Breathing in, I practice non-attachment. Breathing out, I practice non-attachment.

In this step, we learn to practice non-attachment or letting go of our attachment to our thoughts and emotions. We observe them with mindfulness and awareness, but we do not become attached to them or identify with them as being a part of ourselves.

  1. Compassion: Breathing in, I feel compassion for myself. Breathing out, I feel compassion for others.

In this step, we cultivate a sense of compassion for both ourselves and others. We use our breath to connect with our own suffering and the suffering of others, allowing us to develop greater empathy and compassion for all beings.

  1. Loving-kindness: Breathing in, I feel love for myself. Breathing out, I feel love for others.

In this step, we cultivate a sense of loving-kindness or unconditional love for both ourselves and others. We use our breath to connect with our own innate goodness and the goodness of others, allowing us to develop greater love and kindness for all beings.

  1. Awareness of Impermanence: Breathing in, I am aware of the impermanence of all things. Breathing out, I am aware of the impermanence of all things.

In this final step, we bring our attention to the impermanence of all things, including our breath and our own lives. We observe the constant change and flux of the world around us, and we use our breath to connect with the timeless and eternal nature of our own being.

In conclusion, the Anapanasati Sutra and the practice of mindfulness of breathing are powerful tools for cultivating greater peace, clarity, and wisdom in our lives. By following the 16 steps outlined in this sutra, we can learn to develop a deeper awareness of our breath and our own inner world, while also cultivating positive mental states such as joy, happiness, compassion, and loving-kindness. May this practice bring greater peace, clarity, and wisdom to all those who undertake it.

  1. Mindfulness of In-Breathing: Breathing in, I know I am breathing in.
  2. Mindfulness of Out-Breathing: Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.
  3. Awareness of the Length of Breath: Breathing in, I am aware of the length of my in-breath. Breathing out, I am aware of the length of my out-breath.
  4. Awareness of the Body: Breathing in, I am aware of my body. Breathing out, I calm my body.
  5. Joy: Breathing in, I feel joyful. Breathing out, I feel joyful.
  6. Relaxation: Breathing in, I feel relaxed. Breathing out, I feel relaxed.
  7. Awareness of Mental Processes: Breathing in, I am aware of my mental processes. Breathing out, I calm my mental processes.
  8. Awareness of Mental States: Breathing in, I am aware of my mental states. Breathing out, I calm my mental states.
  9. Happiness: Breathing in, I feel happy. Breathing out, I feel happy.
  10. Concentration: Breathing in, I concentrate my mind. Breathing out, I concentrate my mind.
  11. Letting Go: Breathing in, I let go of my worries. Breathing out, I let go of my fears.
  12. Equanimity: Breathing in, I develop equanimity. Breathing out, I develop equanimity.
  13. Non-attachment: Breathing in, I practice non-attachment. Breathing out, I practice non-attachment.
  14. Compassion: Breathing in, I feel compassion for myself. Breathing out, I feel compassion for others.
  15. Loving-kindness: Breathing in, I feel love for myself. Breathing out, I feel love for others.
  16. Awareness of Impermanence: Breathing in, I am aware of the impermanence of all things. Breathing out, I am aware of the impermanence of all things.

This alternative version and translation of the Anapanasati Sutra follows the traditional 16 steps of the original sutra, but with some modifications to the wording and emphasis of each step. The goal of this version is to emphasize the cultivation of positive mental states such as joy, happiness, compassion, and loving-kindness, while also recognizing the impermanence of all things and practicing non-attachment.

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