Breaking down Bhikkhu Sujato's translation of anapanassatisutta MN 118

I found a lot of clarity when I broke down the anapanassatisutta, so I’ll share what I did here.

NOTE: I used The Venerable Sujato’s translation here and he translates sikkhati as practice where many other translators use train.

In MN 118 (anāpānassatisutta), the Buddha extrapolates how:

  • Mindfulness of Breathing, when developed and cultivated, it is very fruitful and beneficial.

  • Mindfulness of Breathing, when developed and cultivated, fulfills the four kinds of mindfulness meditation.

  • The four kinds of mindfulness meditation, when developed and cultivated, fulfill the seven awakening factors.

  • The seven awakening factors, when developed and cultivated, fulfill knowledge and freedom.

In the sutta, the Buddha first makes a global statement:

“Mendicants, when mindfulness of breathing is developed and cultivated it is very fruitful and beneficial. Mindfulness of breathing, when developed and cultivated, fulfills the four kinds of mindfulness meditation. The four kinds of mindfulness meditation, when developed and cultivated, fulfill the seven awakening factors. And the seven awakening factors, when developed and cultivated, fulfill knowledge and freedom.”

The Buddha then describes how Mindfulness of Breathing is developed and cultivated.

The sutta’s first two stages instruct to simply know the breath is there in whatever form, but then switches to progressive stages of practicing particular aspects of phenomena within each in-breath and each out-breath:

“Breathing in heavily they know: ‘I’m breathing in heavily.’ Breathing out heavily they know: ‘I’m breathing out heavily.’ When breathing in lightly they know: ‘I’m breathing in lightly.’ Breathing out lightly they know: ‘I’m breathing out lightly.’ They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe in experiencing the whole body.’ They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe out experiencing the whole body.’They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe in stilling the physical process.’ They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe out stilling the physical process.’

“They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe in experiencing rapture.’ They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe out experiencing rapture.’ They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe in experiencing bliss.’ They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe out experiencing bliss.’ They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe in experiencing mental processes.’ They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe out experiencing mental processes.’They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe in stilling mental processes.’ They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe out stilling mental processes.’

“They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe in experiencing the mind.’ They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe out experiencing the mind.’ They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe in gladdening the mind.’ They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe out gladdening the mind.’ They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe in immersing the mind in samādhi.’ They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe out immersing the mind in samādhi.’ They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe in freeing the mind.’ They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe out freeing the mind.’

“They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe in observing impermanence.’ They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe out observing impermanence.’ They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe in observing fading away.’ They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe out observing fading away.’ They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe in observing cessation.’ They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe out observing cessation.’ They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe in observing letting go.’ They practice like this: ‘I’ll breathe out observing letting go.”

The progression of knowing is, with each in-breath and each out-breath:

  • breathing in heavily
  • breathing out heavily
  • breathing in lightly
  • breathing out lightly

The progression of practice is, with each in-breath and each out-breath:

  • experience the whole body
  • still the physical process
  • experience rapture
  • experience bliss
  • experience mental processes
  • still the mental processes
  • experience the mind
  • gladden the mind
  • immerse the mind in samadhi
  • free the mind
  • observe impermanence
  • observe fading away
  • observe cessation
  • observe letting go

The Buddha states that “Mindfulness of breathing, when developed and cultivated in this way, is very fruitful and beneficial.”

Next, the Buddha goes on to say that:

“Mindfulness of Breathing, when cultivated in this way, actually fulfills the Four Kinds of Mindfulness meditation (satipatthana).”

He then proceeds by describing how the progression of Mindfulness of Breathing, with each in-breath and each out-breath, fulfills each of the Four Kinds of Mindfulness meditation (body, feelings, mind, principles).

Body

“Whenever a mendicant knows that they breathe heavily, or lightly, or experiencing the whole body, or stilling physical processes—at that time they’re meditating by observing an aspect of the body—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of covetousness and displeasure for the world. For I say that the in-breaths and out-breaths are an aspect of the body. That’s why at that time a mendicant is meditating by observing an aspect of the body—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of covetousness and displeasure for the world.”

Feelings

“Whenever a mendicant practices breathing while experiencing rapture, or experiencing bliss, or experiencing mental processes, or stilling mental processes—at that time they meditate observing an aspect of feelings—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of covetousness and displeasure for the world. For I say that careful application of mind to the in-breaths and out-breaths is an aspect of feelings. That’s why at that time a mendicant is meditating by observing an aspect of feelings—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of covetousness and displeasure for the world.”

Mind

“Whenever a mendicant practices breathing while experiencing the mind, or gladdening the mind, or immersing the mind in samādhi, or freeing the mind—at that time they meditate observing an aspect of the mind—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of covetousness and displeasure for the world. There is no development of mindfulness of breathing for someone who is unmindful and lacks awareness, I say. That’s why at that time a mendicant is meditating by observing an aspect of the mind—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of covetousness and displeasure for the world.”

Principles

“Whenever a mendicant practices breathing while observing impermanence, or observing fading away, or observing cessation, or observing letting go—at that time they meditate observing an aspect of principles—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of covetousness and displeasure for the world. Having seen with wisdom the giving up of covetousness and displeasure, they watch over closely with equanimity. That’s why at that time a mendicant is meditating by observing an aspect of principles—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of covetousness and displeasure for the world.”

Body:

  • breathing in heavily
  • breathing out heavily
  • breathing in lightly
  • breathing out lightly
  • experience the whole body
  • still the physical process

Feelings

  • experience rapture
  • experience bliss
  • experience mental processes
  • still the mental processes

Mind

  • experience the mind
  • gladden the mind
  • immerse the mind in samadhi
  • free the mind

Principles

  • observe impermanence
  • observe fading away
  • observe cessation
  • observe letting go

Note:
The Body section above says “Whenever a mendicant knows that…"

The Feelings, Mind and Principles sections above say “Whenever a mendicant practices breathing while…"

He concludes this part with “That’s how mindfulness of breathing, when developed and cultivated, fulfills the four kinds of mindfulness meditation.”

Next in the sutta, the Buddha describes how the Four Kinds of Mindfulness meditation, when developed and cultivated, fulfills the the Seven Awakening Factors.

In similar fashion, he next describes how the Four Kinds of Mindfulness meditation, when developed and cultivated, fulfills the the Seven Awakening Factors.

Mindfulness

Whenever a mendicant meditates by observing an aspect of the body, at that time their mindfulness is established and lucid. At such a time, a mendicant has activated the awakening factor of mindfulness; they develop it and perfect it.”

Investigation of Principles

As they live mindfully in this way they investigate, explore, and inquire into that principle with wisdom. At such a time, a mendicant has activated the awakening factor of investigation of principles; they develop it and perfect it.”

Energy

As they investigate principles with wisdom in this way their energy is roused up and unflagging. At such a time, a mendicant has activated the awakening factor of energy; they develop it and perfect it.”

Rapture

When they’re energetic, rapture not of the flesh arises. At such a time, a mendicant has activated the awakening factor of rapture; they develop it and perfect it.”

Tranquility

When the mind is full of rapture, the body and mind become tranquil. At such a time, a mendicant has activated the awakening factor of tranquility; they develop it and perfect it.”

Smadhi

When the body is tranquil and they feel bliss, the mind becomes immersed in samādhi. At such a time, a mendicant has activated the awakening factor of immersion; they develop it and perfect it.”

Equanimity

They closely watch over that mind immersed in samādhi. At such a time, a mendicant has activated the awakening factor of equanimity; they develop it and perfect it.”

“That’s how the four kinds of mindfulness meditation, when developed and cultivated, fulfill the seven awakening factors.”

Lastly, the Buddha links developing the Seven Awakening Factors to fulfilling knowledge and freedom.

“And how are the seven awakening factors developed and cultivated so as to fulfill knowledge and freedom?”

“It’s when a mendicant develops the awakening factors of mindfulness, investigation of principles, energy, rapture, tranquility, immersion, and equanimity, which rely on seclusion, fading away, and cessation, and ripen as letting go.”

That’s how the seven awakening factors, when developed and cultivated, fulfill knowledge and freedom.”


Any thoughts will be welcomed.

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wow. you hit the target with this synopsis. thank you for breaking it down so eloquently. it gave me more clarity and fervor for my practice.

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