How to practice Anapanasati (the 16 steps, original sutta version, taught by the historical Buddha )

Maybe you could post a link or upload the text itself?

It would be interesting to see if you come up with a different perspective.

with metta

Dear Friend and Teacher, please take no offense as someone may have already pointed this out. But the word you you need is ‘which’. And thank you so much for this exposition on Anapanasanti. :woman_mage:

Dear Friend, I just join your group and wish to thank you for showing us how to practice the Anapanasati. However, I am still struggling getting the steps correctly, in particular, the first step. This is the question: The first step says "Breathing in long, he knows: “I breathe in long”; or breathing out long, he knows: “I breathe out long”. What is the technical operation we should do when we meditate? Do we say silently say “Breathing in long” and then do breathe in long and say at the time silently “I breathe in long”? Or do we just do “Breathing in long” while actually breathing in at the same time without saying silently “I breathe in long”? Thank you. Metta

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Hi @sparkles, welcome to the forum!

Venerable Anālayo has a book on the Ānāpānasati Sutta called “Mindfulness of Breathing,” published last year. This goes into interpreting the text in deep detail.

Ajahn Brahm also has a sutta-based but more informal and very accessible book called “Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond: A Meditator’s Handbook.”

In various traditions, various interpretations have been given to the original recommendations on ānāpānasati. Some advocate for techniques such as counting the breaths, noting the in- and out-breaths, focusing on a body part where breathing is felt. These techniques are not directly grounded in the Ānāpānasati Sutta itself but are later additions that various teachers thought might aid establishing mindfulness.

The Pali text says

Dīghaṃ vā assasanto ‘dīghaṃ assasāmī’ti pajānāti, dīghaṃ vā passasanto ‘dīghaṃ passasāmī’ti pajānāti

This may be translated as

When breathing in long, they know that they are breathing in long. When breathing out long, they know that they are breathing out long.

“Pajānāti” is the key verb here which means “to know” rather than “to say.” At the same time, the breath is not controlled but observed in its natural unfolding. Both Ven. Anālayo’s and Ajahn Brahm’s recommendation is to be silently aware.

About the technique of counting, Ven. Anālayo writes (in chapter 3):

An example in point is the counting technique, according to which one should count each breath, such as counting from one to ten and then starting over again from one […] Such techniques are not found as part of the instructions on the sixteen steps in the early discourses […] Excessive counting can in fact at times stimulate conceptual activity in the mind, rather than quieting it.

The drawback pointed out by the last sentence of the quote would apply to silently saying “breathing in long” as well.

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Hi Nanavippayutta,

I am so pleased to be part of the forum. I can learn so much from you all about Buddha’s teachings. Thank you and thank you for your kind reply. I want to make sure that I practice within what the Buddha says in the Anapanasati Sutta, without adding or subtracting ideas.

I like your explanation of the breathing step and doing it naturally without controlling the breath. Thank you!

Where can I purchase the "Mindfulness of Breathing” book written by Venerable Analayo. Is there an electronic version of it and would you have the link to purchase it?

Thanks again.

Metta.

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Ven Anālayo has a lot of his books in free pdf files on his website here.

If you don’t find what you want, then use Amazon (paperback or Kindle) or your regular books suppler.

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According to SN 54.1, it is a series of 16 practices, not the 16 steps (see pp. 225-7 in Choong Mun-keat, the Fundamental Teachings of Early Buddhism). The ‘practices’ and ‘steps’ are not the same idea and understanding.

Also, it is better to consider Anapanasati in the SN/SA suttas centres mainly on practice and experience for individuals in a practical sense, rather than on idealistic and systematic theory of 16 ‘steps’.

Thank you, Gillian!
The link has a wealth of info.

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Analayo’s books and articles usually eventually end up freely downloadable on that page within 2 or 3 years. The Mindfulness of Breathing book isn’t there yet (it’s too newly released). You can get that at: Mindfulness of Breathing: A Practice Guide and Translations eBook - Windhorse Publications
(and on websites like Amazon no doubt also).
There’s an interesting series of guided meditations for the book (freely downloadable), which may be useful in their own right:
Mindfulness of Breathing Audio - Windhorse Publications
(there’s a similar set for his satipatthana practice book).

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I consider the sutta SN 54.1, presents very clear about the practice of Anapanasati. It is a series of 16 practices (not ‘steps’ of idealistic and systematic theory). One does not really need any personal guides, which could be incorrect. Just follow the sutta teaching to practice the sati.

Ven. Anālayo, Ajahn Brahm, and Ven. Ṭhānissaro all call them steps. As you have an interpretation of SN 54.1 and MN 118, others do as well.

I agree with some of that. It’s a valid counterpoint/caution. Buddhism is full of commentaries on the suttas (both old and new). What is Analayo’s book but a modern practice-oriented commentary giving his opinion on some suttas related to anapanasati? :slight_smile: Commentaries can be helpful, but sometimes wrong (I don’t even always agree with Analayo’s conclusions) and perhaps at times people might be better staying away from them.

You say they are not ‘steps’. That’s something that is not clear either way from the sutta. There does appear to be a fairly natural sequential progression within each tetrad at least. Whether the Buddha intended the practice to be sequential all the way through, each ‘practice’ to stand on its own, or perhaps a tetrad at a time is hard to say.

The Choong Mun-keat reference you give above doesn’t actually take a stance on this. He’s just comparing parallels on this topic. He does incidentally use the phrase “both versions list a series of sixteen practices”. That’s all. “Practices” is an appropriate neutral term in this context (the term “steps” would be somewhat loaded, taking a particular interpretational stance). He doesn’t actually mount an argument that these are individual practices rather than steps. IMO it’s unclear from the sutta whether these are steps in a sequence or not (or perhaps either approach was meant to be valid depending on circumstances or inclination).

The sutta does not present any term or meaning for step, but just practice and experience. E.g. in the practice of the observation (anupassana) of anicca, the sutta does not say this practice should be practiced as a final step within the idealistic and systematic theory of 16 steps. The teaching centres mainly on practice and experience for individuals in a practical sense.

I am unable to see why they call them “steps”?

On the 13th practice on anicca, there are sequences elsewhere within the suttas that trace a development leading from observing anicca on to then developing disenchantment and then onto letting go. It doesn’t seem implausible that practice might sometimes progress in such a way from the 13th to 16th practices and that this is a rather natural order in which to structure these practices.

Many of the first three tetrads end with a practice with tranquilized body, feelings or mind. It doesn’t seem a big leap to me that earlier practices within these tetrads might often flow onto these later practices in such a sequence.

Amongst the four satipatthanas themselves, there does seem to be a loose order, from grosser/coarser to more refined/subtle. I’d think contemplation of vedanas would generally be easier if the body was tranquil. Similarly, contemplation of the mind should be easier if the feelings and body were tranquil. And contemplation of dhammas should tend be easier if body, feelings and mind are tranquil or stilled. It’s probably too narrow an interpretation to impose a strict sequence, but such a progression might perhaps sometimes be useful.

I suppose when looks at various lists within the suttas, a natural question is whether the order is meaningful. Sometimes it apparently isn’t, e.g. the stock order in which the four elements or the six sense bases are normally listed. Sometimes it is explicitly stated that order is meaningful, e.g. the seven enlightenment factors and their sequential development. Sometimes it is a bit unclear, e.g. the five aggregates seem to be generally ordered from from gross/physical to more subtle or the five faculties seem to be ordered somewhat sequentially (though that is never stated IIRC). But IMO just because it is nowhere explicitly stated that a list is sequential doesn’t mean it isn’t (of course, the opposite may hold also :slight_smile: ).

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Attention normally keeps switching between body, feelings and mind and one will be emphasized dependent on temperament. The four steps are exercises which develop one or other of those areas so focus can be more effective in overall mindfulness. According to the temperament of the individual practitioner, astrology will reveal whether they are naturally receptive to body (earth), feelings (water), or mind (air and fire).
The only reason they are called “steps” is because of the increasing degree of difficulty in focusing on body, feelings, mind respectively. Body (internal or external materiality) is the easiest that is why the Buddha puts the emphasis there (MN 119).

Leading Theravada teachers focus on either body or feelings:

Satipaṭṭhāna meditation objects

Mahāsi Sayādaw postures

Pa Auk Sayādaw 4 elements

S.N. Goenka feeling

Thanissaro feeling (piti)

There are two stages mentioned in the suttas, 1) the establishing of mindfulness and 2) the development of it. In the first the foundations are treated like individual exercises; in the second they are integrated into a process of insight. Whatever occurs in the first three foundations will be subjected to the mental frame (fire) of the fourth. The instructions for the establishing of mindfulness are in MN 118 itself, and no instructions for the development are found there despite the introductory sentences which mention ‘development.’ On the other hand, MN 10 consistently refers to the four foundations as ‘establishings.’ The instructions for development are found in SN 47.40.

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From 13th to 16th practices are one section, and are a final section indicated in the text. These are clearly natural progress in the practices. But this is not what I refer to.

The issue is this final section (anicca …) does not have to be systematic and idealistic steps as a result of previous sections of practices, which are being called as steps.

The 16 practices move from the practice of mindfully knowing the bodily breathing in seated meditation, through calming of bodily and mental activities, to observing anicca and so on. Naturally they are bodily and mentally interconnected on practice and experience in a practice sense.

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Thanks for your explanation indeed.
But I have to say the instructions are entirely a Theravada teaching, and not really useful and practical as indicated in the SN suttas, such as SN 54.1 for Anapanasati, and SN 47.2 for Satipatthana.

Regarding the steps in the Anapanasati (MN 118) and Satipatthana (MN 10) suttas, this extract from an interview shows how feeling (second step) is an intermediary between body and mind (mind=third and fourth steps), and how it is easier to access the body and feelings than the mind, and this is the reason teachers focus on those two areas as indicated in my previous post, and of course the reason the body is the first step in the suttas.

Q. Lay teachers often emphasize the importance of knowing the direct or “felt” sense of an experience rather than having a concept of it. Thus, we say, “the body feels like this,” “knee pain feels like this,” “a mind that’s restless feels like this.” Would you say that the body is the easiest place to first experience the felt sense?

Bh. Analayo: Yes, and I would clarify this felt sense as vedana. I think what you’re saying is very important. It is precisely why we don’t just have body contemplation being followed by contemplation of mind states, but in between these two we have the second Satipatthana, vedana. So working with the felt sense is precisely what to my mind is the rationale underlying the progression from body to feeling. Then, as feeling is not confined to the body aspect but also takes in the mental aspect, it becomes natural to move on to the mind. That is a beautiful progression.

It should also be remembered that the other groups of four in the teaching, such as the 4 noble truths are capable of forming an overall unity while at the same time being initally learned as steps. This two part process is just a normal procedure, such as how one might learn to play a musical instrument. So seeing the steps in the Anapanasati sutta as individual exercises is an elementary view which precedes their integration as a matter of experience in practice.

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It seems the “steps” theory is needed for the expanded versions of sati (MN118, MN 10), if one follows the Anapanasati MN 118 and Satipatthana MN 10 suttas.

But if one follows closely SN 54.1 Anapanasati and SN 47.2 Satipatthana suttas, it seems the “steps” theory is not really useful and practical. In the SN suttas, body and mind are naturally interconnected in a practical sense. One simply cannot manage and know well about mental activities without physical awareness, including keeping silence. In Anapanasati (SN 54.1), it moves from the practice of mindfully knowing the bodily breathing in seated meditation, through calming of bodily and mental activities, to observing anicca and so on. In Satipatthana (SN 47.2), awareness/manfulness is applied in all bodily and mental activities (body, feeling, mind, phenomena) at the present moment.

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