What Counts with Counting

I may be wrong, but I believe the same notion of “counting” is presented in Vasubandhu (4thC) the Visuddhimagga (5th C) and Zhiyi, (6th C).

Before I withdrew from the Tibetan lineage Sangha I had taken refuge in back in 1985 and leaving all that behind me to turn to what is now called the Buddhism of the early Buddhist texts, I interpreted counting as using a Mala and accumulating formidable Mantra repetitions.

Now my understanding is that counting is counting from 1 to 10 again and again to steady the mind while watching the breath on your lips, for instance with no notion of keeping track so much as restraining your mind to the process of mindfulness on your breath.

And I assume the counting in those three presentations I mentioned is this kind - not an accumulation in the sense of amassing great repetition counts. Am I correct? I get the impression that this kind of detail is not really recorded in your earliest texts.

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This revealing observation tells us the third step in the first tetrad of Majjhima Nikaya 118 moves on to breath influence on the body as subject. For example the air element contributes to the production of the heat element in the body, just as a fire needs oxygen. Without breath all bodily processes would rapidly shut down. This kind of elemental awareness & sensitivity is a necessary basis for the second tetrad focus on feeling. If breath energy was blocked, pleasant feeling could not arise:


Anapanasati is included in the description of air as an element, and “coursing through the body” in modern terms means contribution of air to metabolism:

"“And what is the wind property? The wind property may be either internal or external. What is the internal wind property? Anything internal, belonging to oneself, that’s wind, windy, & sustained: up-going winds, down-going winds, winds in the stomach, winds in the intestines, winds that course through the body, in-and-out breathing, or anything else internal, within oneself, that’s wind, windy, & sustained: This is called the internal wind property.”

—Majjhima Nikaya 62

Yep! Losing count is merely a good indication that your mind wandered and getting to ten is a sign that your mindfulness was reasonably “connected” for that ~1 min. :grin: No need to count the groups of ten. Just focus on the current breath.

Have you read the Ānāpānasati Sutta? It doesn’t mention counting. It mentions mentally noting each breath as e.g. “breathing in” / “breathing out”



" The third and fourth steps introduce a different verb to describe the process of contemplation: in place of “he knows” (pajānāti ), the text now uses the expression “he trains” (sikkhati ). In the Ānāpānasati Sutta , this “training” covers altogether fourteen steps, in addition to the first two steps concerned with “knowing”. The use of the word “training” indicates some degree of additional effort on the part of the meditator, owing to an increased degree of difficulty in these steps. Such training seems to entail a shift to a broader kind of awareness, which also includes phenomena other than the breath itself."


Who’s counting? 2 source quotes…

I have read that breath meditation and the early Buddhist texts had no
reference to elaborate Counting of the breaths but also I have now found
a reference to that is referencing Counting to breath meditation, but
alas I have found a second translation of the same text in which the
word counting dissolves into the ether. I would like some adult
supervision here.

Translation #1

From Internet Sacred Text Archive:
Udâna - IV. "Meghiya" UDANA 4.1 , CHAPTER IV.
“Meghiya.” p. 51

Moreover, Meghiya, the Bhikkhu who holds to these five conditions, must
give special attention to four other conditions; in order to abandon
lust he must dwell on the impurity (of the body), in order to forsake
malice he must dwell on kindness, with a view to the excision of (evil)
thoughts, he must practise meditation by (counting) inhalations and
exhalations; for the removal of the pride which says ‘I am’, he must
exercise himself in the consciousness of the impermanency of all things.
By the consciousness of impermanence, the consciousness of non-egoity is
established, and he who is conscious of non-egoity succeeds in the
removal of the notion ‘I am’, and in this very existence attains to

Translation #2

A Bhikkhu, Meghiya, who is established in these five things should
cultivate four additional things: foulness should be cultivated for
overcoming lust, loving kindness should be cultivated for overcoming
malevolence, respiration-mindfulness should be cultivated for cutting
off discursive thinking, the perception of impermanence should be
cultivated for the removal of the conceit “I am”.

Ireland, John D., trans. The Udana & The Itivuttaka. Pariyatti Edition.
Buddhist Publication Society, 1997. P. 48