The Arittha Sutta might be the most concise Buddhist meditation manual ever written: 

“There is the case where a monk, having gone to the wilderness, to the shade of a tree, or to an empty building, sits down folding his legs crosswise, holding his body erect, and setting mindfulness to the fore (making mindfulness a priority). Always mindful, he breathes in; mindful he breathes out.

“Breathing in long, he discerns, ‘I am breathing in long;’ or breathing out long, he discerns, ‘I am breathing out long.’ Or breathing in short, he discerns, ‘I am breathing in short;’ or breathing out short, he discerns, ‘I am breathing out short.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to the entire body.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to the entire body.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in calming bodily fabrication.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out calming bodily fabrication.’

“He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to rapture.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to rapture.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to pleasure.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to pleasure.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to mental fabrication.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to mental fabrication.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in calming mental fabrication.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out calming mental fabrication.’

“He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in sensitive to the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out sensitive to the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in satisfying the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out satisfying the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in steadying the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out steadying the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in releasing the mind.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out releasing the mind.’

“He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in focusing on inconstancy.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out focusing on inconstancy.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in focusing on dispassion.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out focusing on dispassion.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in focusing on cessation.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out focusing on cessation.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe in focusing on relinquishment.’ He trains himself, ‘I will breathe out focusing on relinquishment.’

“This, Arittha, is how mindfulness of in-&-out breathing is brought in detail to its culmination.”


The first step here is to find someplace quiet and uncluttered to sit—especially when we first start meditating. When we can’t concentrate very well yet, then noisy or cluttered environments can be extremely distracting.

Make sure you have a balanced posture, neither slouched nor board straight. You can feel it when you get it. It’s like sitting balanced and poised on a pinhead. Then some people take a few deep breaths to calm their mind and body. No more than five, though; we’re not trying to go to sleep.

Now, just breathe and concentrate on breathing. I concentrate on the breath at the nostrils and in the abdomen at the same time. Whatever stimuli the breath causes in the body, that’s where my focus is. The breath includes the whole body, our entire experience.

And we’re not just concentrating, we’re being mindful of the quality of the breath as well and the effects that concentrating on it has on us. 

The first effect is usually calm. When we feel calm, we’re breathing in calm and breathing out calm. We’re letting the breath and its calm permeate our minds. Nowhere to go, nothing else to do, no one to be. Just calm breathing.

As we grow more and more calm, the body will seem to disappear. That’s nothing to worry about, just stick with the breath no matter what happens. The itches and aches, the feeling of your ass on the cushion, the subtle breeze cast by a nearby fan—they’ll all start to fade into a soft comfort. What’s fading are called “Bodily fabrications.”

In Buddhism, anything we experience that seems like a thing-unto-itself is considered a fabrication. From that ache in your knee, to words, to a sense of self, to everything you see, hear, touch, and know—all fabrications. Not in a philosophical way, but in a direct, perceptual way. What there really is is the ungraspable, indivisible flow of experience.

Whenever we experience something as a thing-unto-itself (even these words), then we’re fixating on one small aspect of that flow, like dipping a bucket in a stream. The problem is that, once we take water from the stream, it starts to stagnate and evaporate. In mindfulness of breathing meditation, bodily sensations are the first to go, the first part of our experience that we pour back into the stream.

Instead of alarm, the result of this is a feeling of deep comfort. Breathe in that comfort; breathe out that comfort. 

In that comfort, you might notice wisps of joy, happiness, or even bliss start to rise up. Breathe it in, breathe it out. As your whole world becomes an ocean of happiness and ease, your directed thoughts will start to fade. You’ll still be thinking, but you won’t be thinking about anything, especially yourself. Your thoughts won’t be attached to feelings, perceptions, sensations, or each other. This is, “Breathing in calming mental fabrication, breathing out calming mental fabrication.”

The body and thinking both rest in spaciousness. In this spaciousness, we can see through the content in our minds to the state of mind itself. That’s called citta, our overall mood or atmosphere. The container.

Often, our state of mind is very rigid, unstable, or contracted and that affects everything in our minds. Here, we can breathe in steadying and satisfying our state of mind, and breathe out that steadying and satisfaction until our state of mind is vast, stable, bright, and clear. Equanimity.

From there, with that peaceful state of mind, we can investigate the teachings. Everything is out in the open, there’s nothing hidden under attachment, worry, doubt, fear, etc. Whatever attention falls on is the Dharma, everything that appears is a teacher, all of them teaching the same thing: just flow and let everything flow. When we stop up the flowing, we craft whirlpools in the water. That’s samsara, that’s our cycles and our perception of cycles.

Buddha said, “I am unbound.” Everything is unbound. Unbound from the curse of thing-unto-itself, and untouched by all of the ramifications that isolation has. Everything flows, that’s our way as well.

 

 

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