Using "Don't Know" in mindfulness with breathing

Is there any short comprising of 2 words/phrase that can be recited while inhaling & exhaling like mantra chanting (Bud- dho) in order to strengthen our contemplation.

For myself the expression “Don’t know” covers so many facets of mindfulness development, it is surprising more people are not aware of it. The Zen practice of the “Don’t know mind” that ‘empties’ the mind, is not what is intended here; but of a meaningful enquiry so as to keep focused on just about any object of contemplation. One of the basics of Dhamma is Anattaa, hence any object under investigation will respond to the genuine exclamation of “Don’t know” simply because all objects lack any substance and thus arn’t objects.

Unwholesome objects will become ‘stressed’ or rejected; whilst wholesome objects will gladden and develop, until such time as increasing subtlety renders such objects unwholesome so as to give way to states of ever greater subtlety and wholesoeness: etc, etc.

For some practitioners the best results might come when the so called ‘heart’ centre is focused on, whilst synchronising the breath. The space behind the sternum joint at the first visible rib pair: which is drifting off topic!

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Everything goes in my experience, and binding oneself up to any standard phrase just makes practicing a bit dull. I have been using a lot of different mantras, and at the moment it is:

I love you

I sometimes use “rise” and “fall”.
I find this works quite well with the bodily sensations of breathing ( in-breath and out-breath ), but is also a useful prompt to notice impermanence more generally as stuff rises and falls at the sense bases.

Ajahn Brahm taught us: breathing in ‘peace’, breathing out ‘let go’.
Bit of a mind full and my breaths are too short for ‘let go’ so,
breathing in ‘peace’, breathing out ‘release’

I dont use this mantra myself i just sit back and relax, maybe you could do an experiment :smiley:


I think that would be good for “encouraging” the quality of samatha. I sometimes use “stillness”.


“Not sure” :slight_smile:


I’ve used “Not Mine” one the past.

There’s also the “neti neti” meditation of the Upaniṣads.

(wouldn’t take much to adapt it for Buddhist practice)

In general I prefer using these “mantras” to the practice of counting the breath.

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I understand a “mantra” is an object word for concentrated focus so as to get a concentrated result. In the context of this discussion the various expressions recommended are more of a way to keep the attention on currently running phenomena so as to better see their principle characteristics.

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I use “Here-Now” as in Ram Dass “Be here, Be Now”. But mostly just listen to the sound of my breath.

Just this.

Could you elaborate on how the “not this” method could be applied to breathing meditation, given that we don’t believe in Atman/Brahman?

Well, you don’t need to accept the doctrine of a religion to practice a technique from their praxis.

Case in point, the Buddha still taught the meditation techniques of his meditation teachers (probably Upaniṣadic yogis) after founding his own religion.

I would say abstractly that “neti neti” is the technique of abandoning, found throughout Buddhist meditation even in ānāpānasati. In ānāpānasati for instance, the body’s processes are stilled to the point that the meditator can abandon that focus, towards a focus on the subtler feelings, and beyond that a focus on the even subtler mind itself. All of this is a gradual process of abandoning.

“Neti neti” is used by the sage Yājñavalkya I think to get to Upaniṣadic samādhi believed by them to be the experience of the “capital s” Self — the ātman. (someone with more knowledge might correct me here) The claim of the Buddha is that there is something even beyond that, nibbāna.

I think this meditation technique is somewhat relevant to this thread because it is mantra-like. Not in the sense that it produces some magical effect, but that it is a kind of verbal method (which probably becomes non-verbal at some point).

As in this sort of thing?

He knew those phenomena as they arose, as they remained, and as they went away. He understood: ‘So it seems that these phenomena, not having been, come to be; and having come to be, they flit away.’ And he meditated without attraction or repulsion for those phenomena; independent, untied, liberated, detached, his mind free of limits. He understood: ‘There is an escape beyond.’ And by repeated practice he knew for sure that there is.

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Yes, it seems that in Buddhism there is a turning away from the conditioned, and towards the unconditioned, so effectively we’re substituting Atman/Brahman with Nibbana. I sometimes have the sense of turning towards a stillness “beneath” the movement of the mind and senses.