Mindfulness of breathing: an evolving approach to translation (MN118)

Hi Mat,

Can be said as meant for beginner but anything after this,

as the meditator, instead of experiencing, he is working on the mind sounds pretty advance.
To me, after gladdening, the meditator already departed from beginner title.
Just to make sure that we are talking on the same thing; though you mention this

if you map gladdening part on practice, what would you qualify as unique, worth mentioning.

Thanks @SarathW1 for the link on Patisambhidamagga in Dhammawheel. https://dhammawheel.com/viewtopic.php?t=28963

Notice the following details interesting which is pretty helpful in my consideration on ‘samādahaṃ’.

[quote]“Sign (nimitta), in-breath, out-breath, are not the object of a single mind;
One not knowing these three dhammas does not obtain development.
Sign, in-breath, out-breath, are not the object of a single mind;
One knowing well these three dhammas can then obtain development.
How is it that these three dhammas are not the supporting object of a single mind, that they are nevertheless not unrecognized, that mind does not become distracted, that he manifests endeavour, carries out a task and achieves a distinctive effect?”[/quote]

I find that “One knowing well these three dhammas can then obtain development“ and yet these three dhammas “are not the object of a single mind” is worth exploring; as where does it fits in the Anapanasati. This three dhammas, ‘sign’ perhaps shouldn’t be taken as ‘specific’ mind ‘object’ on the 3rd tetrad (just not yet). Knowing 3 dhammas would be contemplating the 3 dhammas?

I have posted in another thread on Malay usage of the word ‘samada’:

[quote]The Malay, though official dictionary take ‘sama ada’ as correct usage, but samada does appear being use as well. Probably ‘ā’ has been drop much earlier. My speculation is due to their pronunciation of a longer ‘a’ as in ‘ā’ that the word later split to ‘sama ada’, which further developed to being used (un-officially ‘samada’, interchangeably) when related to choices/judgemental to be made such as
“ ‘sama ada’ right or wrong”
“ ‘sama ada’ correct or not“
So ‘sama ada’ means ‘either’ or ‘is it’, is in the sense of uncertainty.[/quote]
The Malay also use ‘samada’ in such as:

[quote]“samada merah ke, kuning ke atau hijau?!”
“either red, yellow or green?!”[/quote]
It sound pretty much like ‘contemplating’ by the Malay.
And “knowing well these three dhammas” seems fit to refer to ‘contemplating’; and “can then obtain development” may refer to the next step of “freeing the mind” and further development in the practice.

[quote]パーリ語辞典 水野弘元著
haṃ:adv.[〃私は言う,注意をうながす 語] iti haṃ=iti.cf.handa,hambho. [/quote]

[quote] A.P. Buddhadatta Mahathera
hambho:a particle used in addressing equals.

Taking haṃ=iti, that means it ends here; but the practice does not ends yet, so it can not be meant ending here but perhaps something else.
The Malay in Kelantan, M’sia uses ‘hambo’ (pronunciation include h as in ‘bho’:hambho) to address himself in a humble manner, not being attached to own status/ego.

So I’m incline to take haṃ to means un-attached; that seems ‘samādahaṃ cittaṃ’ could be render as ‘un-attached contemplating (of the 3 dhammas) of mind (base on my limited vocab).

The long breath stage would be what I consider beginner’s practice when some relaxation is felt and the breath lengthens out.

Anything further is seeing the gradual growth of samadhi.

I consider experiencing the mind as experiencing the bright and stable nimittas, as they are a manifestation of the mental purification.

Gladening the mind can be done at any stage (as can relaxing the body), but at these specific points mentioned in the Anapanasati sutta, they are most useful for progress.

With metta


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It seems that you are using the terms nimittas with a ‘s’, which is to say that you are referring to specific mind object. I thought you mention that

[quote=“Mat, post:39, topic:4202”]
The object of meditation is the breath and there is no mention of it being changed. It is of course possible to do this while meditating to a skin sensation or nimitta. …[/quote]
Since you are mentioning nimittas now, so can i take that you accept contemplating of the 3 dhammas fit for ‘samādahaṃ cittaṃ’?

So we have in, out breath 2 dhammas, would you be able to help describing specifically what is this 3rd dhamma?
If ‘bright’ sign as the 3rd dhamma, then how is that different from the next step of freeing the mind?

What exactly is the mental purification that leads to contemplation of the 3 dhammas?

OR your reply is response to the prior post (41)?

I experience Samadaham as unifying the mind - if I were to use a similie it would be like collecting white dough together - white being the brightness of the purified mind. Sati (mindfulness) leads to samadhi according to the suttas so mindfulness of the breath has been developing samadhi (unification) from step 1 of the tetrads. The in and out breath is the main focus of the mindfulness. The mindfulness may shift to other things like rapture or mind as required. As we can only focus well on only one thing at a time the focus will be on in or out breath or a third dhamma at any given time. Some of the five hindrances are disappearing by step 5 for rapture and bliss to appear. The suttas say that the five hindrances, other defilements and sub-defilements (upakilesa) disappear. By step 9 it is rather difficult to think discursively due to a high degree of unification. Samadaham then must be an action apart from what is already happening by watching the breath. The only action which is possible at this stage of the process is to work directly with the mind ‘substance’ itself. It’s one of those strange qualities that emerge in deep samadhi.

It’s only a very purified mind that can go into a jhana. Purification itself isn’t jhana. A sudden change of state (that the meditator was in all this time in the 1-11 steps) is felt with entering into the first jhana. This would be like a fish swimming up from very deep water, seeing changes in the environment as it swam upwards. If it breaks out of the water into the medium of air, that would be similar to a meditator entering into jhana. Many of the previous mental factors cease at this point.

With metta


Thank you for that. Central in my experience is the moment of absorption as a distinct, unmistakable change of state – s/t thinking of it as a “quantum shift”. – which isn’t emphasized much in descriptions I’ve come across.

The fish & water metaphor reflects that marked degree of change. I would, however, compare the phenomenology of it to a frog, or perhaps a seal, and jhana entry like entering the water from the air/land environment – total change as in immersion of total body tactile sensation to feeling the water; and the proprioceptive change in the quality of motion under water, or just hanging there floating, supported on all sides; as well as the relative muffling, i.e. seclusion from the distinctness of sights, sounds on the outside.

(This may be, however, all individually relative, and not to be asserted as inherent or necessary in all experiences of jhana.)

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[quote=“frankk, post:23, topic:4202, full:true”]

[quote=“Mat, post:22, topic:4202”]
I’ve got notes I can post if you wish with lots of excerpts.

Please do, thanks. I’m trying to understand why it is that pamojja arises at this stage (and not piti sukha).

Many thanks for those extensive notes – saves others a lot of work, and offers an opportunity to look more closely at the translation variations that have bugged me from the early days of reading sutta-s – e.g. “joy” for pamojja (also as pamujja), or s/t for piti, or even for sukha.

The shifting sands of those variations reinforced my sense that learning more of the Pali was essential.

I’ve always thought of that pericope of progression as representing
increasingly refined and yet stronger (less “shakable”) modes of
mind. As pamojja is the lowest rung of the ladder, so to speak, the relatively mild “gladness” seems appropriate – and perhaps as a simple sense of relief in having escaped (even if only temporarily) the stress of the hindrances.

I would agree with that. Previously I thought of it as being encased in concrete. In my experience and of those who I taught jhana, the two most stable, repetitive, identifiable and repeatable signs of entering and being in a jhana are 1) state shift -as discussed (when entering) above 2) feeling of being enveloped (due to the intense unification of samadhi).

One might add that all this is felt located internally inside the head (and not elsewhere in the body).

Other features of jhana can vary from person to person, sitting to sitting and according to the quality and depth of samadhi at the time. These include degree of ‘light’, degree external sense impressions felt, phenomena at the point of entry etc.

With metta

That’s what drove me to learn pali, trying to understand jhana as described in the suttas to compare with vism. The various english translations will totally mess you up because they use the same english word and map it differently, especially between different translators.

If others are in this situation, here’s my advice that will save you a lot of time. Forget all the english translations for piti, sukha, pamojja, just remember the pali. Memorize the STED 4j (standard EBT definition for 4 jhanas), word for word. Memorize the 16 APS (anapana), at least the keyword in each step.

Then when you read the english translation in the EBT and vism., when they talk about 4j and 16APS, you’ll know exactly which pali term they’re referring to. If you don’t have this universal reference point memorized, you’re going to get lost and confused, having many books open and not knowing what’s what.


Though i like what you write, i do not think freeing the mind means absorption. Lets look at the translation:

Step 12, mention out breath and in breath, which means breath is there; so, are these two dhammas still there after the transition?
When you are there, you know this feeling

within the process or this is just your expression.

If you are satisfied with 1 transition, that is fine. But if you are not, perhaps you could do some verification on your own:

[quote] Vitakka vicāra (Jhana-factors)
Post 134 (middle)
“even though you do not sense your nose or eye and you do not feel the pain of your back; this is what you can check. Do it in subtlety, else upacara samadhi will be weaken. Direct attention to the top of your scalp, there is this area of less than 2 inches diameter; within this region, you might be able to find very fine multiple ‘pins’ like response. There is another location; bottom of your foot skin area near toe including toe, also produces response. The latter is vivid (may not be found), the former is more clear.”

If you do not sense it, goes back to what you were doing and settle the mind, try again after a while.
The point is if one is able to direct his attention, it means that he is not in absorption. Able to sense it or not is not the intention.

If you are unable to ‘know’ those response, it’s OK, after all, step 13 says can proceed to observe impermanence.

In order to experience absorption, then skip postpone step 13, continue with the breath and take a nimitta object (production of concept); there is a few more transitions coming! Although Patisambhidamagga does not mention transitions, i find the explaination very helpful.

[quote] Patisambhidamagga
"… this remaining ‘sign’ being either as small as the nostril area (or upper lip in one breathing
through the mouth), or as large as the internal felt-sense of the whole body (indicated previously as being the sign for anchoring mindfulness, and at this level of subtlety represents its full development as the sign of calm abiding).
That being so, there is production of the experience of wind, and there is production of in-breaths and out-breaths, and there is production of mindfulness of breathing, and there is production of concentration by mindfulness of breathing, and consequently the wise enter into and emerge from that attainment."
Since your description is only 1 transition, it would be better not to draw a finish line too soon on samatha.

I just don’t think step 11 & 12 should carry too much burden!

I’ve found the Paṭisambhidāmagga/Ānāpānasatikatha to be very interesting as a lesser known text on ānāpāna; does anyone have any insight on whether this is considered an earlier or later stratum of the Khuddaka?

There are probably more authoritative references, but from a text-analysis point of view I think everyone agrees that it is relatively late:

It certainly has some very detailed methodology:

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This is difficult for me to follow, since it seems to assert the five hindrances are dispelled at stage 10, which would means the calming of the breathing & the experiences of rapture & happiness have occurred with the five hindrances.

Since, in respect to jhana, rapture (piti) is more coarse than the more refined happiness (sukha), it would seem, in respect to Anapanasati, ‘pamojja’ is a higher rung on the ladder (rather than the lowest), with nirodha the top rung of the ladder.

If the sub-defilements (upakilesa) have disappeared before step 9 then how can step 9 be described (such as in MN 10) as experiencing if the mind has greed, anger, etc, is without greed, hatred, etc?.

[quote=“Mat, post:46, topic:4202”]
Please do, thanks. I’m trying to understand why it is that pamojja arises at this stage (and not piti sukha).[/quote]
When rapture & happiness are calmed (stage 8), there is obviously some sub-defilements remaining, which would be stage 9.

As you previously wrote, these sub-defilements would be the mind ‘substance’ itself (rather than thinking discursively). I think it is not correct to equate defilement with thinking. Defilement (kilesa) is one thing & thinking (vitakka) is another thing. There can be defilements without discursive thinking (but there cannot be discursive thinking without defilements). This is explained in many suttas, such as MN 9, SN 14.12, etc.

The stages of Ananapasati obviously refer to increasing purification of the mind. Stage 9 is a higher rung up the ladder than stage 5. In other words, when stage 5 is occurring, the sub-defilements exist underlying the rapture but are not present in awareness.

Thus when the sub-defilements appear & are then cleansed at stage 9, because the mind is so much more refined, the pleasant feeling from relief from the sub-defilements that arises is much more refined than the coarseness of rapture. This is why it is called ‘pamoda’ at stage 10.


Just read the Patisambhidāmagga and see that what is mentioned in it is different to the Mindfulness of breath practice in the Anapanasati sutta.

For one, it applies contemplation of impermanence and insight into every aspect of the mindfulness of breath. It’s approach is scholarly, analytical and neat - not the gnarled and organic tree trunk that is that description found in the Anapanasati sutta.

Nimitta (my apologies) can be of many kinds. I was referring to the patibhagha nimitta (stable, unmoving, ‘full moon’ level of illumination). The Patisambhidāmagga seems to be referring to the parikamma nimitta (small, local and a mental representation of the breath) seeing as they apply the term to the beginning stages (1-4) of the breath (though they are unlikely to be present at the very start). Nyanatiloka Mahathera’s Buddhist Dictionary under the word nimitta:‘Mental (reflex-) image’, obtained in meditation. In full clarity, it will appear in the mind by successful practice of certain concentration-exercises and will then appear as vividly as if seen by the eye. The object perceived at the very beginning of concentration is called the preparatory image (parikamma-nimitta). The still unsteady and unclear image, which arises when the mind has reached a weak degree of concentration, is called the acquired image (uggaha-nimitta). An entirely clear and immovable image arising at a higher degree of concentration is the counter-image (patibhāga-nimitta).

The sawing similie is used to denote strict one-pointedness at the point where the breath is best felt. This is again different from the Anapanasati sutta where it is the knowing plus the experience of the breath which is utilised. The latter method is conducive to a more intelligent awareness versus a high powered concentration in the former. The former can also lead to suppression of the ability to remember things if the one-pointedness is not balanced or adequately spaced. I remember having to stop meditation to be able to sit for exams as my recall was impaired. It was fortunately reversible.

If a strict one-pointedness is used, it won’t be possible to know at what stage the breath is, so the Patisambhidāmagga asks how do they still progress despite this. The progress of course is merely in concentration (samatha), which doesn’t require knowledge of the three dhammas (see above). To apply impermanence etc to the breath they will have to relax the strict concentration and use a more broader awareness.

With metta


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Ahh… understood then, some transitions in between are not mentioned. :innocent:

I share same view on this. I tried to put the 1~12 steps as a practice up to 1st jhana in a single pass and even tried to split some steps as beginning, middle and end of a particular step; but with the text of in breath out breath appearance in step 12, hard to make sense of it as absorption. So i am looking at it as 2 pass process. Your view on this

applicable, and some teachers says this is due to past life experience, that could be most logical explanation. I see it as also can be due to that person’s way of life, a built in character that suitable for meditating; but then that kind of charisma could be also due to past existance practice as well.
i have a slightly different approach now that (still a preliminary thought in mind), looking at practice on a specific nimitta object as a 2nd pass process. In this way, then begginer meditator will have less stress in the practice and that can avoid developing specific senses ‘locking’ experience (at early learning stage), anchoring in front of nostril after step 12, by targeting the mind towards the 3rd dhamma.

I’ll throw out a wild theory, what if…

Step 5 :: 1st jhāna — the pītisukha characterized by the pīti of being free of sensuality
Step 6 :: 2nd jhāna — the pītisukha characterized by the sukha of samādhi
Step 10 :: 3rd jhāna — the sukha free from pīti (which can be called pāmojja (abhipamodayaṃ) since sukha is already taken and to emphasize a subtler mental state than a feeling)
Step 12 :: 4th jhāna — the liberation from even positive vedanā arriving at pure upekkhā

Take this with a mountain of salt btw.


It is not the jhana itself, but the place where the mind is (actively) released into jhana. Now such an act of release would be possible only if a person has a good degree of control over the entry into a jhana- so this is referring to much advanced practice. Most people would go into jhana without much control. It still doesn’t make sense once a person has released the mind into jhana on the in-breath, why they would be doing it again in the out-breath. I think this is the work of the redactors trying to make everything neat and easy to memorize.

I came across a sutta where it talks of using the breath in jhanas as well, but I cant seem to find it now. In any case we know there is another sutta saying how the breath stops in the fourth jhana, implying it was present before this.

Release (vimutti) would have been final release for most other religious teachers- however it wasn’t so for the Buddha (see Alara kalama). This might be one instance where the Buddha was influenced or kept the common terminology around at the time. So mind-release (ceto-vimutti) refers to the release which is jhana while wisdom-release (panna-vimutti) refers release from insight.

He doesn’t use the term release or jhana in any of the other steps, but does so at the 12 step, suggesting that he intended release here and not before. Also, considering that the insight or vipassana practice comes in steps 13-16 it makes sense then that this is mind-release (ceto-vimutti) and not final liberation.

He doesn’t describe the jhana here as attaining the first jhana samadhi is adequate for final release, and he is describing how the mindfulness of breath fulfils the four foundations of mindfulness (Right mindfulness) and not Right concentration (where the jhanas are described).

with metta

This could work as an explanation and lot of people probably do use it that way. However the only problem I see with it is that it could mislead someone into thinking that they have prematurely attained jhana. As a first jhana Samadhi is right concentration, then they should work their way up to the ‘fourth jhana’ according to this scheme.



I would say do whatever you need to do to get beyond the initial stages, including having several sitting per day, giving adequate time in each sitting (1 hour or more), using nimittas, kasinas, picking the right time of day etc. Initial practice is quite messy and individual variations are many. Picking on what motivates us personally will help go further. Nimittas can take a long time to appear and many people are disheartened if they don’t. It is nice to have bright shining nimittas but not everyone gets these and it does vary from sitting to sitting. I think apart from distracting thoughts, nimittas are the second worst culprits in discouraging meditators.

Focus on the breath, not it’s side effects (like nimittas or rapture…). The engine of progress is the breath. Let go of the breath (to watch the ‘scenery’) and valuable seconds are lost. This is a bit like treading water to stay upright in the water (of Samadhi). The more you tread the water the higher into Samadhi and then jhana, you will go. Get distracted and it is like sinking to the bottom. The technique here requires watching rapture etc. As long as thinking about it in a prolonged way it wont be an issue. The Buddha says watching it WITH the breath, which maintains the momentum. If nimittas etc do not arise that doesn’t mean your Samadhi is not developing. It does develop undetected, which is why after many days of seemingly no progress, there can be sudden signs of deepening, which wouldn’t have happened at all without the preceding gradual practice). The nimittas will come. Make sure the five precepts are being kept- that defilements are kept at a minimum. The purity of the mind is dependant on environmental as well as internal factors. Maintain mindfulness during the day as much as is possible- this helps. Don’t let anyone let you think you don’t have the good karma or the past life experience. In fact all of us have attained jhana at some point in our cycle of samsara - if we haven’t attained nimittas or jhanas now, the only thing that can happen to us in the future is for them to happen. The single most important factor is sustained effort to see you through.

with metta


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Are you referring to AN9.31 and SN36.11 here?

catutthaṃ jhānaṃ samāpannassa assāsapassāsā niruddhā honti
When one has attained the fourth jhāna, in-and-out breaths [bodily fabrications] have been stopped/ceased

What is the right way to read this?

Does the bodily phenomena of breathing cease or is it the feeling of the bodily phenomena of breathing that ceases?

If such a thing were only to be found in the 36th chapter of the SN - which apparently has feelings (vedana) as its subject - I would say that it is the feeling of the in and out breath which ceases. But once this is found in the AN as well, not necessarily within a chapter on feelings (vedana) I am really not sure!