I meditate every morning. I used to meditate for an hour, before little man came along, now it’s fortyfive minutes. The meditation I do is based on anapanasatibhavana, or in-out-breath-awareness-development, often called ‘mindfulness of breathing’ although I don;t like that term. The basic intstrucitons for this type of meditation are found in the Pali Sutta Pitaka, or Discourses, repeated again and again in different locations, but speciffically DN 22, the 22nd discourse of the Digha Nikaya, or long discouses, called Mahasatipatthana Sutta or great-awareness-foundation lecture, and also at MN 118 , Anapanasati Sutta in the Majjhima Nikaya and SN 54, Anapanasamyutta in the Samyutta Nikaya.
The instructions recommend that we find a secluded, quiet place, sit down with our legs crossed and our backs straight and focus our attention on the breathing. This is the basic process of breath meditation. The discources then go on to describe what should happen next, that is that you should free concentrate on the breath and not the petty irritations and desires of your day to day life, you should feel the breath continuously, drawing in past the nostrils filling the lungs, then passing out through the nostrils, drawing in, passing out, you should attend to the breath every moment. As you concentrate on the breath you should let you body relax and become tranquil, with each in breath, relax, with each out breath, relax, peace and tranquility are the order of the day.
As you relax your body and experience tranquility you should feel glad, happy that your body feels good, that you are calm, that you are following the path laid down by the Buddha and his followeres for thousands of years, that this path is a path to heaven, to tranquility, to freedom from pain. with a happy mind you should let each phenomena fade from you awareness execpt the breath, no need to think of this or that, no need to feel this or that, just the breath in and out like the waves on the beach, a tranquil body and a happy mind, this is the first step in the path of Buddhist meditation.
If you read the discources, especially the long discource in DN, you will realise that breath meditation is kind of like the ‘gateway drug’ of meditation, and that there are more refined states attainable called jhanas that the aspirant can strie for. The meditations are like steps, starting with the breath, moving up through the jhanas, and onwards towards liberation. But it is not nesseserry to achieve these ‘higher’ states to reap profound benefits from breath meditation. If you practice every day, even for just ten or fifteen minutes, you can expect to find yourself less stressed, more balanced, quicker to recover from moments of anger or distress, and after a time you will have a place, in you mind, where you can go to centre yourself, to ‘settle down’ when you need to, all thanks to the simple act of watching yourself breath.
If you have an interest in meditation you will probably hear sooner or later the term ‘insight’ This is a type of meditation that contrasts itself to ‘serenity’ meditation, vipassna and samatha are the Pali terms. Many people claim that the Buddha taught serenity as a basis for insight, and that insight is the higher, more important quality, and that there are special methods of meditation that are its exclusive province.
All these things where developed early on in the life of the buddhist community, but they are not part of the original teaching of the Buddha, as can easily be seen from reading the discourses. only a calm mind can see clearly, and only by seeing clearly can we calm the mind, these two are interwoven at the roots, and one is not subordinate to the other.
As we develop our awareness of the breath, we see our own mental process more clearly, we know when we are thinking of other things and not paying attention, we know when we are distracted, after a while we begin to learn what the things are that habitually distract us, still later on we begin to see how those things come into our lives and how we can better manage them, all this is insight, it is seeing into our nature and knowing enough of ouselves to uproot the weeds that are our bad habits, and it is all right there when we medidate on the breath,
This learning process that arises from meditation can be a slow and painful one, especially when we refuse to change ourselves in response to what we learn. ‘Buddhism’, as it is called in the ‘West’ is not simply meditation, it is also a set of teachings about the world and about us, and a set of guidelines for our own behaviour. If we cannot work on our own behaviours as well as meditate, then we can make no lasting progress, because we will keep making the same mistakes that sully our meditation by misbehaving, and our meditation will never be able to catch up.
It can be helpful to think of Buddhism as a form of cognative behavioural slef therapy. The moral precepts of Buddhism are the behavioural part, the philosophy is the cognative part, and the meditation is the affective, or emotional part, and the three combine to help us help ourselves.
The basic moral precepts of Buddhism are 1. not to be violent, 2. not to be promiscuous, 3. not to lie 4. not to steal and 5. not to be intoxicated. It is easy to see that these practices are ones that tend to excess, they ‘snowball’ on us, and we end up troubled in our minds, which is not good for meditation, which is not good for clear seeing, and so on.
The basic philosophy of Buddhism is that everything has a cause or condition, and that when you take away the cause of a thing, the thing itself goes away, and this is in particular put into concrete form by taking human suffering as an example and placing the idea into a four setp formula; 1. There is a thing suffering, 2. There is a cause for suffering and it is craving, 3. There is an end to suffering, that is by taking away the cause; craving, and, 4. The way to end suffering is to practice meditation, study the philosphy of Buddhism and restrain your morality.
Pretty simple really 😉