“They practice breathing in experiencing the whole body. They practice breathing out experiencing the whole body.”
In many translations, it is mentioned, be aware of the breath while experiencing whole body.
But in some interpretations as per Venerable Ajahn Brahm in ‘Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond Ajahn Brahm.copy’, also of Bhikkhu Nanamoli on Anapanasati, body is interpreted as body of the breath or the entire cycle of the entire breath.
How the interpretation of whole body of breath is formed .
What is the literal meaning of ’ sabba-kāya-paṭisaṃvedī’
This is a common point of contention which will have been discussed here many times before, but to summarize the matter:
The Pali word translated as “body” is kāya, which more literally means “accumulation” or “collection”. The physical body is called a “collection” because it is a collection of many body parts. So one interpretation of “experiencing the whole kāya” takes it as “experiencing the whole collection of physical body parts”, that is, “the whole physical body”.
Another interpretation sees it as “experiencing the whole collection of moments of breath”, that is, “the whole breath (from start to finish)”. This is based largely on the Anapanassati (Mindfulness of Breathing) Sutta where the Buddha says that “when a mendicant practices to experience the whole ‘collection’, they meditate on a certain ‘collection’ because I call the breath a ‘collection’.” (MN118, somewhat condensed) I think this interpretation makes most textual sense, also because the next practice of Anapanassati is “tranquilizing the activity of the kāya”. The “activity of the kāya” is elsewhere in a meditative context mentioned to be the breath. (MN44)
In the traditional interpretation the practice is explained as follows: When you know whether the breath is long or short, you don’t need to be aware of every detail of the breath. You just need to know clearly when it begins and when it ends. But when your awareness becomes sharper, you can focus on the whole breath in detail. So following this interpretation, there is a natural progression: first you focus mainly on the beginning and end of the breath, then you focus on the whole breath, and then you calm the breath. With the idea of “whole physical body” the progression isn’t as natural, I would say, because you start with the breath, but then move awareness to the body.
Pragmatically, though, as opposed to textual, I find both approaches to be worthwhile—as long as they are practiced in the right context. That context is that the practice should lead to mental delight (piti) and bliss (sukha), because these are the next two practices in Anapanassati. I myself often skip to these steps, either straight away or by doing other practices, like metta or contemplation of the Buddha/Dhamma/Sangha. I’d say, thought, that if you arrive there by focusing on something else than the breath (including the whole physical body), it’s not really Anapanassati as such. After all, it’s called Mindfulness of Breathing, not Mindfulness of the Body.
So to answer your question in brief: I think the meaning in the Pali text is the whole breath. But you don’t have to pick one interpretation and practice that one exclusively! Just do both and see what brings more “bliss” and “delight”.
The Anapanasati sutta is designed to include the beginner in its instructions. This is clear from the introduction where of the five levels in the Buddha’s training, meditation on the breath is the first stage. In this context the instructions in the Anapanasati sutta proceed logically from sensitivity of the physical body to the induction of pleasant feeling in the second tetrad. Not to become fixated on the breath but to progress to its effect on the body and how pleasant feeling arises from this is crucial to correct understanding of the path, because at a later stage feelings of the flesh can only be overcome based on the acquisition of this foundation. Pleasant feeling can also arise from the natural environment as location.
So why not take it as Mindfulness of the Body during Breathing (in or out)?
I believe the Anapanasati Sutta is not for a beginner.
The whole 16 steps expand from the beginner level to the advance level.
Beginner take the Kaya course. Very early beginner practitioner practice at step 1 & 2. Intermediary practitioner take the step 3. Advance practitioner is at the 4th step.
As for steps 5 to 8, the Vedana course should be practice by those who can manage the Kaya course, where he/she can manage effectively any sense awareness arises. Only expert can manage the ‘Vedana’-Trap in this level.
The step 9 to 12 will take us further to manage the ‘Citta’-Trap. And of course step 13 to 16 lead to realization to all truth that we met before.
Hi HSS, (Is this the Health Support Services?? I need a new card!)
Not 100% sure what you’re asking, but Mindfulness of the Body is called kayagata-sati, not anapana-sati. To me it makes sense that if the Buddha says “I’ll be teaching you Mindfulness of Breathing” that the practice actually is that: Mindfulness of Breathing. If already in the very first section of Anapanasati we would be instructed to be mindful of something else, to me that makes little sense.
According to all the other schools it means the whole body. Theravada seems to be the exception. I’ll link a paper which compares all of the early traditions take on this later.
This is it
Dhammajoti - Minfulness of Breathing with Parallels.pdf (1.0 MB)
But instead of “body” some Chinese versions speak of “bodily formation/activity” 切身行覺知 or “bodily motions” 動身, (which in Pali MN43 is explained as the breath, also SA568) so there clearly was some interpretation or translation issue here, whatever it was.
So I wouldn’t be so quick to say all other schools understood it as the whole body. Analayo actually argues that it’s SA810 where the focus should be kept on the breath, as opposed to the Pali, he says.
Also the Samyutta Agama version of the Anapanassati sutta seems to describe “mindfulness of long and short breath” as a “body”, when it explains the four satipatthannas, similar to the Pali that calls the breath “a body”.
(I’m totally relying on the Venerable Analayo’s notes and explanations here. I can’t read Chinese.)
I’m only aware of 1 sutra which talks of “all bodily formations [breaths] instead of “the whole body” which is in the SA (possibly the one you have referred to).
Analayo indeed refers to SA810 (main parallel for the Anapanassati sutta) for “bodily formations”. He refers to T602 and T606 for “bodily motions”. Though these latter are non EBTs, I suppose they do still portray, perhaps even more clearly, the ideas of their particular school(s), which I assume to be Sarvāstivāda. Just like the Visuddhimagga portrays the Theravada school. (Sorry, I realize now by calling these latter two “versions” earlier, it sounded like they were sutta parallels. That was a mistake, typing too quickly, but that’s not what I meant.) See Venerable Analayo’s comparative study of the Majjhima for the details, page 667.
Venerable Anālayo’s new book Developments in Buddhist Meditation Traditions: The Interplay between Theory and Practice deals with the topic and concludes that the interpretation according to which “whole body” refers to the entire length of the breath (“whole body of breath”) is unconvincing.
I find Venerable Analayo’s arguments rather weak here.
His main reason for discarding “experiencing the whole collection [of breath]” is that according to him you already need to be aware of the whole breath in order to know whether it is long or short. Or in other words, that “only by attending closely to the breath will it be possible to know if it is long or short”. And so, he argues, experiencing the whole breath wouldn’t be distinct from noticing the length. To support this, though, there is no early text, just a quote by the late Thich Nhat Hahn. That’s fine, but it’s not in line with his aim to “only to provide a text historical perspective”. It’s not one of Analayo’s usual textual arguments, but one based on experience. (His tone generally stays factual, though, which makes it kind of blurry what is textual evidence and what isn’t.)
But in my experience (and per the Visuddhimagga) you can actually know whether the breath is long or short without having to experience the entire breath in detail. As long as you don’t become so distracted that you forget about the breath altogether, you can lose some awareness of it and still generally know its length. For example, superficial thoughts may come up so that the breath is not your main object of awareness anymore, but it’s still somewhere in the background of your awareness. I belief that is exactly why we’re instructed to focus on the length of the breath: to give us something to keep us interested in the breath, something a bit coarser than the breath itself so we don’t lose it so easily. Something to remind us of the breath. It serves the same function as counting.
Moreover, once you do focus on the whole breath (by which I mean without thoughts or other distractions), at some point it can actually become impossible to tell the length. You are so much in the moment that you lose the sense of time. ‘Long’ or ‘short’ don’t have much meaning anymore. At that point the practice of “experiencing the whole collection [of breath]” actually becomes fundamentally different from knowing its length—it becomes much more refined. It can even become impossible to tell whether the breath goes in or out, when the breath becomes more subtle during the fourth step of “calming the breathing (kāyasankhara)”. That eventually leads to the breath disappearing altogether, so that you’re left with piti and sukha, the next steps.
Which brings me to the second argument, the one where Analayo calls Anapanasati a “dynamic type of practice” where awareness shifts to the whole body, as opposed to a “reduced” type where it doesn’t. He repeatedly states this, but again doesn’t really give textual support for the idea. It seems it’s just a possible interpretation of the Anapanasati sutta. Sure, he provides later texts which have reduced the number of steps, but who is to say those interpretations are pragmatically incorrect? I see Anapanasati as a gradual and quite natural deepening of the meditation: a refinement of awareness onto more and more subtle objects (excluding the last four steps, which are meant to develop insight). So to me the later suttas do not significantly deviate from the essence of Anapanasati. To Analayo they do. The texts may then actually support my position, because it makes them more in agreement.
The Venerable has some other arguments as well. However, I find them far outweighed by the Buddha saying “I call the breath a kāya” in the Ananapanasati Sutta itself, and by the sutta definition of kāyasankhara as the breathing. Both I don’t see mentioned in this book, so I don’t think it’s really weighing all the evidence. (Unless I somehow skimmed over it twice.)
Anyway, the short story I suppose is that arguments from experience can only tell us so much.
(I was also very surprised the venerable thinks we abandon the five hindrances before doing anapanasati. The Chinese text he quotes in support I think simply erroneously included both formulas (of hindrances and anapanasati) in succession, since the phrase about sitting down cross-legged and such is followed in the Pali canon by either abandoning the hindrances or anapanasati, never both. So the two seem to serve the same function. (Again, except for the last four steps.)
As I see it, the hindrances get abandoned only when we come to the step of “samadhi-ing the mind”. Samadhi, after all, is always said to happen with the removal of the hindrances. If they were already removed long before, the inclusion of this “samadhi-ing” step I don’t think makes much sense. By the way, it’s only at “liberating the mind” that I understand the hindrances to be truly gone. The jhanas are elsewhere called “(temporary) liberations”, so that fits. The mind is liberated from the hindrances, though, not the underlying tendencies.)
Instead of debating if it means body, body of breath or something else, maybe we should look at it in the context of the Dhamma.
Ultimately, what Buddha tried to point out is that form, feeling, perception, volition and consciousness are impermanent, dukkha and not self.
The practice should lead us to know every aspect of 5 clinging aggregates and their realities. Narrowing our perspective to focus on just the breathing doesn’t seems to do so in my opinion.
That’s because it’s a standard mechanism in the suttas. Step 4 is relaxing the body, and there are references where a relaxed body is a necessary precursor to a calm mind:
“His body calm, he feels pleasure. Feeling pleasure, his mind grows concentrated.”—SN 47.10
“There is physical serenity & there is mental serenity. To foster appropriate attention to them”—SN 46.51
This body> feeling> mind represents the physical causal (dynamic) sequence from the first to third tetrads. The basis of this is found in the seven factors of awakening, where ‘investigation’ underpins step 3 in the first tetrad, and there is active examination of the breath’s effect on the body systems.
if you look at the sutta, you will see that it is actually practising the four foundations of mindfulness using the breath as an anchor for attention.
it’s effectively "for the whole of the in-breath, ; for the whole of the out-breath ".
the only part that directs us to pay attention to the breath itself is the preliminary “breathing in long/short, i know i’m breathing in long/short; breathing out long/short, i know i’m breathing out long/short”.
that’s the only part that directs us to the breath itself, and you’ll see that that part doesn’t have the “he trains himself” refrain. this further indicates that attention to the breath itself is preliminary.
it’s not “mindfulness of breathing”, but “inhalation-exhalation mindfulness”. it’s mindfulness based around the inhalations and exhalations to help us develop constant awareness of body, feelings, mind and natural phenomena. this constancy of mindfulness is what we need to develop on the path - the breath as an anchor supports that.
from my own experience, for decades, i tried to focus on the breath, but got nowhere. it’s only after i followed the buddha’s instructions that my meditation progressed and made sense.
focusing on the breath itself is really mindfulness of the air element of the body. that’s not as generalised as mindfulness of the body, and i don’t think most people would have an affinity for the air element. they’re more likely to have an affinity for the body, hence, in the sutta, the body is the first object of mindfulness that the buddha teaches us to attend to.
people who have had benefit with the breath as a focus seem to have generally attended to the air element in the body. for example, ajahn lee and thanissaro bhikkhu seem to indicate attention to the breath ‘energy’ in the body. this is not incorrect - it would be mindfulness of the elements, as the buddha taught it. however, mindfulness training in the anapanasati sutta is a distinctly different systematic training to that. i think both ways would end up touching similar aspects of mindfulness, but approaching it in this systematic manner is easier for beginners.
my advice is just to try it - one session should be enough to convince you of whether it works. follow the buddha’s instruction and start with the preliminaries - get comfortable, direct your attention the in and out long/short breaths. once you have a grip on that, then take that attention and direct it to developing a whole body awareness as you breathe in (for the whole of the in breath) and as you breathe out (for the whole of the out breath). try to grow that sense of whole body awareness for the whole of the in breath and for the whole of the out breath, make it strong.
if you do this much, you should start to experience feelings in the body quite soon - tingling / zinging feelings, feelings of lightness, joy, and happiness. to my understanding this is the start of the first jhana - all the elements are there: initial and sustained thinking about the body, joy and happiness.
try it - please let me know if it works for you.
Please explain the difference it’s not clear, as this is what Thanissaro teaches, progression from the body sensitivity in the first tetrad, to pleasurable feeling in the second:
ajahn lee for example talks about mindfulness of the four elements:
Investigate the four properties: earth, water, wind and fire. The parts of the body that feel hard are the earth property. The parts that feel liquid are the water property. The energy that flows through the body is the wind property; and the warmth in the body, the fire property. Imagine that you can take the earth property out and pile it in a heap in front of you, that you can take the water property out and pile it behind you, that you can pile the wind property in a heap to your left, and the fire property in a heap to your right.
ajahn lee’s method is very breath-focused:
thanissaro bhikkhu extends this idea:
If you want, you can think of breath energy entering the body right there at the navel, so that you don’t create a sense of strain by trying to pull it there from somewhere else. Have a sense that the breath energy is coming in and out freely and easily … As you breathe in and out, think of the breath energy coming in and out not only through the nose, but also through the eyes, the ears, the back of the neck, the top of the head. Think of the energy gently working through any patterns of tension you may feel in the head—in the jaws, around the eyes, in the forehead—and very gently dissolving those patterns of tension away. When the patterns of tension feel relaxed, you can think of the breath energy going deep into the area around the pineal gland, right behind the eyes, and allowing that part of the body to absorb all the incoming breath energy it needs.
thinking about this in terms of breath energy coursing through the body is, to my mind, attention primarily to the breath (air element) in the body. the awareness of the body that might arise as a result is secondary to this developing awareness of breath energy / air element coursing through the body. to my mind, this attention to the air element is entirely consistent with mindfulness of the four elements as the buddha taught it in the satipatthana sutta.
however, that’s a different starting point from just sitting there and developing awareness of the body as a body, using the breath as an anchor for your attention.
making that awareness of the whole body your primary object (rather than the breath energy / air element) is what i believe the buddha is referring to in the anapanasati sutta. in think this is supported by those initial stanzas where the buddha first directs us to pay attention to the whole body, and then directs us to calm the whole body. the relevant word in the sutta is sabbakāyapaṭisaṁvedī: sabba - whole, entire; kāya - body, the physical body; paṭisaṁvedī - one who feels, experiences, suffers, or enjoys. so we end up with “experiencing the whole of the physical body”. i think this is similar to the buddha’s indication in the satipatthana sutta that one can simply be mindful “that the body exists, to the extent necessary for knowledge and mindfulness”.
my mind is very specific, so when i’ve tried to direct my attention to the breath energy, i’ve found it too abstract and less connected to the anapanasati sutta resulting in frustration.
let me make clear that i have immense respect for ajahn thanissaro, and obviously ajahn lee - they are, and have been, like devas to me with the gifts of their dhamma teachings and the inspiration of their practice - it’s just that my mind works in a different way. it seems to enjoy the simplicity of “there is this body here”, so i have to simplify my practice to the buddha’s most basic instructions.
this works for me. for others like me who may have difficulty with the breath as a primary focus, i suggest approaching it in the way i’ve outlined above and seeing if that makes a difference.
as this is what Thanissaro teaches, progression from the body sensitivity in the first tetrad, to pleasurable feeling in the second
i have no doubt that what ajahn thanissaro teaches is correct and works.
my mind, though, seems to need to progress from ‘definite body’ in the first stage of practice, to ‘definite feelings’ that arise as a result. the ‘breath energy’ hasn’t made sense to my mind in terms of the awareness of body in the anapanasati sutta (though thinking about it in terms of the air element of the satipatthana sutta has), so i’ve just revisited mindfulness of the body in terms of the buddha’s words as ‘experiencing the whole of the body’.
i think part of the issue for me is that being aware of the ‘breath energy’ requires attention to feelings in the body. it’s not just developing awareness of the body itself as just a thing / a body. further, distinguishing that breath energy from feelings of joy in the body wasn’t clear to me when i first started practicing.
i suspect for advanced practitioners like ajahn lee and ajahn thanissaro, it’s just mindfulness - not anapanasati or satipatthana. for someone who’s driven a car for 40 years they instruct a beginner with “now move to the left lane”, while someone with a fresh licence is more like “okay, so pop on your indicator, keep your speed constant, check your mirrors, do a quick head check. if it’s all clear now, turn the wheel slightly to the left and left the car just drift across to the next lane …”
hope that makes sense!
The Anapanasati sutta is a skill development stage, this made clear by the fact it precedes the Satipatthana in parts A & B of the sutta itself.
The joy that arises in the second tetrad is contingent on the development of sensitivity to the body as instructed in the first, so both refer to the physical body:
“According to the relevant passages (MN 119), with the first and second absorption a practitioner’s whole body is thoroughly pervaded with joy and happiness. This text does seem to consider these absorptions to be embodied experiences.”—Analayo
Can you provide a reference for the venerable’s quote please?