This book is a guide to the practice of centering the mind. There are
two sections: The first deals almost exclusively with the mind. But
because the well-being of the mind depends to some extent on the body,
I have included a second section [Method 2] that shows how to use the
body to benefit the mind.
From what I've observed in my own practice, there is only one path
that is short, easy, effective, and pleasant, and at the same time has
hardly anything to lead you astray: the path of keeping the breath in
mind, the same path the Lord Buddha himself used with such good
results. I hope that you won't make things difficult for yourself by
being hesitant or uncertain, by taking this or that teaching from here
or there; and that, instead, you'll earnestly set your mind on getting
in touch with your own breath and following it as far as it can take
you. From there, you will enter the stage of liberating insight,
leading to the mind itself. Ultimately, pure knowing -- buddha -- will
stand out on its own. That's when you'll reach an attainment
trustworthy and sure. In other words, if you let the breath follow its
own nature, and the mind its own nature, the results of your practice
will without a doubt be all that you hope for.
Ordinarily, the nature of the heart, if it isn't trained and put
into order, is to fall in with preoccupations that are stressful and
bad. This is why we have to search for a principle -- a Dhamma -- with
which to train ourselves if we hope for happiness that's stable and
secure. If our hearts have no inner principle, no center in which to
dwell, we're like a person without a home. Homeless people have
nothing but hardship. The sun, wind, rain, and dirt are bound to leave
them constantly soiled because they have nothing to act as shelter. To
practice centering the mind is to build a home for yourself: Momentary
concentration (khanika samadhi) is like a house roofed with thatch;
threshold concentration (upacara samadhi), a house roofed with tile;
and fixed penetration (appana samadhi), a house built out of brick.
Once you have a home, you'll have a safe place to keep your valuables.
You won't have to put up with the hardships of watching over them, the
way a person who has no place to keep his valuables has to go sleeping
in the open, exposed to the sun and rain, to guard those valuables --
and even then his valuables aren't really safe.
So it is with the uncentered mind: It goes searching for good
from other areas, letting its thoughts wander around in all kinds of
concepts and preoccupations. Even if those thoughts are good, we
still can't say that we're safe. We're like a woman with plenty of
jewelry: If she dresses up in her jewels and goes wandering around,
she's not safe at all. Her wealth might even lead to her own death.
In the same way, if our hearts aren't trained through meditation to
gain inner stillness, even the virtues we've been able to develop will
deteriorate easily because they aren't yet securely stashed away in
the heart. To train the mind to attain stillness and peace, though,
is like keeping your valuables in a strongbox.
This is why most of us don't get any good from the good we do. We
let the mind fall under the sway of its various preoccupations. These
preoccupations are our enemies, because there are times when they can
cause the virtues we've already developed to wither away. The mind is
like a blooming flower: If wind and insects disturb the flower, it may
never have a chance to give fruit. The flower here stands for the
stillness of the mind on the path; the fruit, for the happiness of the
path's fruition. If our stillness of mind and happiness are constant,
we have a chance to attain the ultimate good we all hope for.
The ultimate good is like the heartwood of a tree. Other 'goods'
are like the buds, branches, and leaves. If we haven't trained our
hearts and minds, we'll meet with things that are good only on the
external level. But if our hearts are pure and good within, everything
external will follow in becoming good as a result. Just as our hand,
if it's clean, won't soil what it touches, but if it's dirty, will
spoil even the cleanest cloth; in the same way, if the heart is
defiled, everything is defiled. Even the good we do will be defiled,
for the highest power in the world -- the sole power giving rise to
all good and evil, pleasure and pain -- is the heart. The heart is
like a god. Good, evil, pleasure, and pain come entirely from the
heart. We could even call the heart a creator of the world, because
the peace and continued well-being of the world depend on the heart.
If the world is to be destroyed, it will be because of the heart. So
we should train this most important part of the world to be centered
as a foundation for its wealth and well-being.
Centering the mind is a way of gathering together all its
worthwhile potentials. When these potentials are gathered in the right
proportions, they'll give you the strength you need to destroy your
enemies: all your defilements and unwise mental states. You have
discernment that you've trained and made wise in the ways of good and
evil, of the world and the Dhamma. Your discernment is like gunpowder.
But if you keep your gunpowder for long without putting it into
bullets -- a centered mind -- it'll go damp and moldy. Or if you're
careless and let the fires of greed, anger, or delusion overcome you,
your gunpowder may flame up in your hands. So don't delay. Put your
gunpowder into bullets so that whenever your enemies -- your
defilements -- make an attack, you'll be able to shoot them right
Whoever trains the mind to be centered gains a refuge. A centered
mind is like a fortress. Discernment is like a weapon. To practice
centering the mind is to secure yourself in a fortress, and so is
something very worthwhile and important.
Virtue, the first part of the Path, and discernment, the last,
aren't especially difficult. But keeping the mind centered, which is
the middle part, takes some effort because it's a matter of forcing
the mind into shape. Admittedly, centering the mind, like placing
bridge pilings in the middle of a river, is something difficult to do.
But once the mind is firmly in place, it can be very useful in
developing virtue and discernment. Virtue is like placing pilings on
the near shore of the river; discernment, like placing them on the far
shore. But if the middle pilings -- a centered mind -- aren't firmly
in place, how will you ever be able to bridge the flood of suffering?
There is only one way we can properly reach the qualities of the
Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, and that's through the practice of mental
development (bhavana). When we develop the mind to be centered and
still, discernment can arise. Discernment here refers not to ordinary
discernment, but to the insight that comes solely from dealing
directly with the mind. For example, the ability to remember past
lives, to know where living beings are reborn after death, and to
cleanse the heart of the effluents (asava) of defilement: These three
forms of intuition -- termed nana-cakkhu, the eye of the mind -- can
arise for people who train themselves in the area of the heart and
mind. But if we go around searching for knowledge from sights, sounds,
smells, tastes, and tactile sensations mixed together with concepts,
it's as if we were studying with the Six Masters, just as the Buddha,
while he was studying with the Six Masters, wasn't able to gain
Awakening. He then turned his attention to his own heart and mind, and
went off to practice on his own, keeping track of his breath as his
first step and going all the way to the ultimate goal. As long as
you're still searching for knowledge from your six senses, you're
studying with the Six Masters. But when you focus your attention on
the breath -- which exists in each of us -- to the point where the
mind settles down and is centered, you'll have the chance to meet with
the real thing: buddha, pure knowing.
Some people believe that they don't have to practice centering the
mind, that they can attain release through discernment (panna-vimutti)
by working at discernment alone. This simply isn't true. Both release
through discernment and release through stillness of mind
(ceto-vimutti) are based on centering the mind. They differ only in
degree. Like walking: Ordinarily, a person doesn't walk on one leg
alone. Whichever leg is heavier is simply a matter of personal habits
Release through discernment begins by pondering various events and
aspects of the world until the mind slowly comes to rest and, once
it's still, gives rise intuitively to liberating insight
(vipassana-nana): clear and true understanding in terms of the four
Noble Truths (ariya sacca). In release through stillness of mind,
though, there's not much pondering involved. The mind is simply forced
to be quiet until it attains the stage of fixed penetration. That's
where intuitive insight will arise, enabling it to see things for what
they are. This is release through stillness of mind: Concentration
comes first, discernment later.
A person with a wide-ranging knowledge of the texts -- well-versed
in their letter and meaning, capable of clearly and correctly
explaining various points of doctrine -- but with no inner center for
the mind, is like a pilot flying about in an airplane with a clear
view of the clouds and stars but no sense of where the landing strip
is. He's headed for trouble. If he flies higher, he'll run out of air.
All he can do is keep flying around until he runs out of fuel and
comes crashing down in the savage wilds.
Some people, even though they are highly educated, are no better
than savages in their behavior. This is because they've gotten carried
away, up in the clouds. Some people -- taken with what they feel to be
the high level of their own learning, ideas, and opinions -- won't
practice centering the mind because they feel it beneath them. They
think they deserve to go straight to release through discernment
instead. Actually, they're heading straight to disaster, like the
airplane pilot who has lost sight of the landing strip.
To practice centering the mind is to build a landing strip for
yourself. Then, when discernment comes, you'll be able to attain
This is why we have to develop all three parts of the path --
virtue, concentration, and discernment -- if we want to be complete in
our practice of the religion. Otherwise, how can we say that we know
the four Noble Truths? -- because the path, to qualify as the Noble
Path, has to be composed of virtue, concentration, and discernment. If
we don't develop it within ourselves, how can we know it? If we don't
know, how can we let go?
Most of us, by and large, like getting results but don't like
laying the groundwork. We may want nothing but goodness and purity,
but if we haven't completed the groundwork, we'll have to keep on
being poor. Like people who are fond of money but not of work: How can
they be good, solid citizens? When they feel the pinch of poverty,
they'll turn to corruption and crime. In the same way, if we aim at
results in the field of the religion but don't like doing the work,
we'll have to continue being poor. And as long as our hearts are poor,
we're bound to go searching for goodness in other areas -- greed,
gain, status, pleasure, and praise, the baits of the world -- even
though we know better. This is because we don't truly know, which
means simply that we aren't true in what we do.
The truth of the path is always true: Virtue is something true,
concentration is true, discernment is true, release is true. But if we
aren't true, we won't meet with anything true. If we aren't true in
practicing virtue, concentration, and discernment, we'll end up only
with things that are fake and imitation. And when we make use of
things fake and imitation, we're headed for trouble. So we have to be
true in our hearts. When our hearts are true, we'll come to savor the
taste of the Dhamma, a taste surpassing all the tastes of the world.
This is why I have put together the following two guides for
keeping the breath in mind.
Phra Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo
* * * * * * * *
Now I will explain how to go about the practice of centering the mind.
Before starting out, kneel down, with your hands palm-to-palm in front
of your heart, and sincerely pay respect to the Triple Gem, saying as
Araham samma-sambuddho bhagava:
Buddham bhagavantam abhivademi. (bow down)
Svakkhato bhagavata dhammo:
Dhammam namassami. (bow down)
Supatipanno bhagavato savaka-sangho:
Sangham namami. (bow down)
Then, showing respect with your thoughts, words, and deeds, pay
homage to the Buddha:
Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma-sambuddhasa. (three times)
And take refuge in the Triple Gem:
Buddham saranam gacchami.
Dhammam saranam gacchami.
Sangham saranam gacchami.
Dutiyampi buddham saranam gacchami.
Dutiyampi dhammam saranam gacchami.
Dutiyampi sangham saranam gacchami.
Tatiyampi buddham saranam gacchami.
Tatiyampi dhammam saranam gacchami.
Tatiyampi sangham saranam gacchami.
Then make the following resolution: 'I take refuge in the Buddha --
the pure One, completely free from defilement; and in his Dhamma --
doctrine, practice, and attainment; and in the Sangha -- the four
levels of his Noble Disciples -- from now to the end of my life.'
Buddham jivitam yava nibbanam saranam gacchami.
Dhammam jivitam yava nibbanam saranam gacchami.
Sangham jivitam yava nibbanam saranam gacchami.
Then formulate the intention to observe the five, eight, ten, or
227 precepts according to how many you are normally able to observe,
expressing them in a single vow:
Imani panca sikkhapadani samadiyami. (three times)
(This is for the observing the five precepts, and means, 'I
undertake the five training rules: to refrain from taking life, from
stealing, from sexual misconduct, from lying, and from taking
Imani attha sikkhapadani samadiyami. (three times)
(This is for those observing the eight precepts, and means, 'I
undertake the eight training rules: to refrain from taking life, from
stealing, from sexual intercourse, from lying, from taking
intoxicants, from eating food after noon and before dawn, from
watching shows and from adorning the body for the purpose of
beautifying it, and from using high and luxurious beds and seats.')
Imani dasa sikkhapadani samadiyami. (three times)
(This is for those observing the ten precepts, and means, 'I
undertake the ten training rules: to refrain from taking life, from
stealing, from sexual intercourse, from lying, from taking
intoxicants, from eating food after noon and before dawn, from
watching shows, from adorning the body for the purpose of beautifying
it, from using high and luxurious beds and seats, and from receiving
Parisuddho aham bhante. Parisuddhoti mam buddho dhammo
(This is for those observing the 227 precepts.)
Now that you have professed the purity of your thoughts, words, and
deeds toward the qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, bow down
three times. Sit down, place your hands palm-to-palm in front of your
heart, steady your thoughts, and develop the four Sublime Attitudes:
good will, compassion, appreciation, and equanimity. To spread these
thoughts to all living beings without exception is called the
immeasurable Sublime Attitude. A short Pali formula for those who have
trouble memorizing is:
"Metta" (benevolence and love, hoping for your own welfare and
that of all other living beings.)
"Karuna" (compassion for yourself and others.)
"Mudita" (appreciation, taking delight in your own goodness and
that of others.)
"Upekkha" (equanimity in the face of those things that should be
* * *
Sit in a half-lotus position, right leg on top of the left leg, your
hands placed palm-up on your lap, right hand on top of the left. Keep
your body straight and your mind on the task before you. Raise your
hands in respect, palm-to-palm in front of the heart, and think of the
qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha: Buddho me natho -- The
Buddha is my mainstay. Dhammo me natho -- The Dhamma is my mainstay.
Sangho me natho -- The Sangha is my mainstay. Then repeat in your
mind, buddho, buddho; dhammo, dhammo; sangho, sangho. Return your
hands to your lap and repeat one word, buddho, three times in your
Then think of the in-and-out breath, counting the breaths in pairs.
First think bud- with the in-breath, dho with the out, ten times. Then
begin again, thinking buddho with the in-breath, buddho with the out,
seven times. Then begin again: As the breath goes in and out once,
think buddho once, five times. Then begin again: As the breath goes in
and out once, think buddho three times. Do this for three in-and-out
Now you can stop counting the breaths, and simply think bud- with
the in-breath and dho with the out. Let the breath be relaxed and
natural. Keep your mind perfectly still, focused on the breath as it
comes in and out of the nostrils. When the breath goes out, don't send
the mind out after it. When the breath comes in, don't let the mind
follow it in. Let your awareness be broad and open. Don't force the
mind too much. Relax. Pretend that you're breathing out in the wide
open air. Keep the mind still, like a post at the edge of the sea.
When the water rises, the post doesn't rise with it; when the water
ebbs, the post doesn't sink.
When you've reached this level of stillness, you can stop thinking
buddho. Simply be aware of the feeling of the breath.
Then slowly bring your attention inward, focusing it on the various
aspects of the breath -- the important aspects that can give rise to
intuitive powers of various kinds: clairvoyance, clairaudience, the
ability to know the minds of others, the ability to remember previous
lives, the ability to know where different people and animals are
reborn after death, and knowledge of the various elements or
potentials that are connected with, and can be of use to, the body.
These elements come from the bases of the breath. The First Base:
Center the mind on the tip of the nose and then slowly move it to the
middle of the forehead, The Second Base. Keep your awareness broad.
Let the mind rest for a moment at the forehead and then bring it back
to the nose. Keep moving it back and forth between the nose and the
forehead -- like a person climbing up and down a mountain -- seven
times. Then let it settle at the forehead. Don't let it go back to the
From here, let it move to The Third Base, the middle of the top of
the head, and let it settle there for a moment. Keep your awareness
broad. Inhale the breath at that spot, let it spread throughout the
head for a moment, and then return the mind to the middle of the
forehead. Move the mind back and forth between the forehead and the
top of the head seven times, finally letting it rest on the top of the
Then bring it into The Fourth Base, the middle of the brain. Let it
be still for a moment and then bring it back out to the top of the
head. Keep moving it back and forth between these two spots, finally
letting it settle in the middle of the brain. Keep your awareness
broad. Let the refined breath in the brain spread to the lower parts
of the body.
When you reach this point you may find that the breath starts
giving rise to various signs (nimitta), such as seeing or feeling hot,
cold, or tingling sensations in the head. You may see a pale, murky
vapor or your own skull. Even so, don't let yourself be affected by
whatever appears. If you don't want the nimitta to appear, breathe
deep and long, down into the heart, and it will immediately go away.
When you see that a nimitta has appeared, mindfully focus your
awareness on it -- but be sure to focus on only one at a time,
choosing whichever one is most comfortable. Once you've got hold of
it, expand it so that it's as large as your head. The bright white
nimitta is useful to the body and mind: It's a pure breath that can
cleanse the blood in the body, reducing or eliminating feelings of
When you have this white light as large as the head, bring it down
to The Fifth Base, the center of the chest. Once it's firmly settled,
let it spread out to fill the chest. Make this breath as white and as
bright as possible, and then let both the breath and the light spread
throughout the body, out to every pore, until different parts of the
body appear on their own as pictures. If you don't want the pictures,
take two or three long breaths and they'll disappear. Keep your
awareness still and expansive. Don't let it latch onto or be affected
by any nimitta that may happen to pass into the brightness of the
breath. Keep careful watch over the mind. Keep it one. Keep it intent
on a single preoccupation, the refined breath, letting this refined
breath suffuse the entire body.
When you've reached this point, knowledge will gradually begin to
unfold. The body will be light, like fluff. The mind will be rested
and refreshed -- supple, solitary, and self-contained. There will be
an extreme sense of physical pleasure and mental ease.
If you want to acquire knowledge and skill, practice these steps
until you're adept at entering, leaving, and staying in place. When
you've mastered them, you'll be able to give rise to the nimitta of
the breath -- the brilliantly white ball or lump of light -- whenever
you want. When you want knowledge, simply make the mind still and let
go of all preoccupations, leaving just the brightness. Think one or
two times of whatever you want to know -- of things inside or outside,
concerning yourself or others -- and the knowledge will arise or a
mental picture will appear. To become thoroughly expert you should, if
possible, study directly with someone who has practiced and is skilled
in these matters, because knowledge of this sort can come only from
the practice of centering the mind.
The knowledge that comes from centering the mind falls into two
classes: mundane (lokiya) and transcendent (lokuttara). With mundane
knowledge, you're attached to your knowledge and views on the one
hand, and to the things that appear and give rise to your knowledge on
the other. Your knowledge and the things that give you knowledge
through the power of your skill are composed of true and false mixed
together -- but the 'true' here is true simply on the level of mental
fashioning, and anything fashioned is by nature changeable, unstable,
So when you want to go on to the transcendent level, gather all the
things you know and see into a single preoccupation --
ekaggatarammana, the singleness of mental absorption -- and see that
they are all of the same nature. Take all your knowledge and awareness
and gather it into the same point, until you can clearly see the
truth: that all of these things, by their nature, simply arise and
pass away. Don't try to latch onto the things you know -- your
preoccupations -- as yours. Don't try to latch onto the knowledge that
has come from within you as your own. Let these things be, in line
with their own inherent nature. If you latch onto your
pre-occupations, you're latching onto stress and pain. If you hold
onto your knowledge, it will turn into the cause of stress.
So: A mind centered and still gives rise to knowledge. This
knowledge is the path. All of the things that come passing by for you
to know are stress. Don't let the mind fasten onto its knowledge.
Don't let it fasten onto the preoccupations that appear for you to
know. Let them be, in line with their nature. Put your mind at ease.
Don't fasten onto the mind or suppose it to be this or that. As long
as you suppose yourself, you're suffering from obscured awareness
(avijja). When you can truly know this, the transcendent will arise
within you -- the noblest good, the most exalted happiness a human
being can know.
To summarize, the basic steps to practice are as follows:
1. Eliminate all bad preoccupations from the mind.
2. Make the mind dwell on good preoccupations.
3. Gather all good preoccupations into one -- the singleness of
meditative absorption (jhana).
4. Consider this one preoccupation until you see how it is
aniccam, inconstant; dukkham, stressful; and anatta, not yourself
or anyone else -- empty and void.
5. Let all good and bad preoccupations follow their own nature --
because good and bad dwell together and are equal by nature. Let
the mind follow its own nature. Let knowing follow its own
nature. Knowing doesn't arise, and it doesn't fall away. This is
santi-dhamma -- the reality of peace. It knows goodness, but the
knowing isn't goodness, and goodness isn't the knowing. It knows
evil, but the knowing isn't evil, and evil isn't the knowing. In
other words, knowing isn't attached to knowledge or to the things
known. Its nature is truly elemental -- flawless and pure, like a
drop of water on a lotus leaf. This is why it's called
asankhata-dhatu: the uncompounded property, a true element.
When you can follow these five steps, you'll find marvels appearing
in your heart, the results of having practiced tranquility and insight
meditation. These results fall into the two classes already mentioned:
mundane, providing for your own physical well-being and that of others
throughout the world; and transcendent, providing for the well-being
of your heart, bringing happiness that is calm, cool, and blooming,
leading all the way to Liberation (nibbana) -- free from birth,
ageing, illness, and death.
This has been a brief explanation of the main principles of breath
meditation. If you have any questions or encounter any difficulties in
putting these principles into practice, and you wish to study directly
with someone who teaches along these lines, I will be happy to help
you to the best of my ability so that we can all attain the peace and
well-being taught by the religion.
Most people will find that Method 2, which follows, is easier and
more relaxing than Method 1, outlined above.
* * *
There are seven basic steps:
1. Start out with three or seven long in-and-out breaths, thinking
bud- with the in-breath, and dho with the out. Keep the meditation
syllable as long as the breath.
2. Be clearly aware of each in-and-out breath.
3. Observe the breath as it goes in and out, noticing whether it's
comfortable or uncomfortable, broad or narrow, obstructed or
free-flowing, fast or slow, short or long, warm or cool. If the breath
doesn't feel comfortable, change it until it does. For instance, if
breathing in long and out long is uncomfortable, try breathing in
short and out short.
As soon as you find that your breathing feels comfortable, let this
comfortable breath sensation spread to the different parts of the
body. To begin with, inhale the breath sensation at the base of the
skull and let it flow all the way down the spine. Then, if you are
male, let it spread down your right leg to the sole of your foot, to
the ends of your toes, and out into the air. Inhale the breath
sensation at the base of the skull again and let it spread down your
spine, down your left leg to the ends of your toes, and out into the
air. (If you are female, begin with the left side first, because the
male and female nervous systems are different.)
Then let the breath from the base of the skull spread down over
both shoulders, past your elbows and wrists, to the tips of your
fingers, and out into the air.
Let the breath at the base of the throat spread down the central
nerve at the front of the body, past the lungs and liver, all the way
down to the bladder and colon.
Inhale the breath right at the middle of the chest and let it go
all the way down to your intestines.
Let all these breath sensations spread so that they connect and
flow together, and you'll feel a greatly improved sense of well-being.
4. Learn four ways of adjusting the breath:
a. in long and out long,
b. in long and out short,
c. in short and out long,
d. in short and out short.
Breathe whichever way is most comfortable for you. Or, better yet,
learn to breathe comfortably all four ways, because your physical
condition and your breath are always changing.
5. Become acquainted with the bases or focal points for the mind --
the resting spots of the breath -- and center your awareness on
whichever one seems most comfortable. A few of these bases are:
a. the tip of the nose,
b. the middle of the head,
c. the palate,
d. the base of the throat,
e. the breastbone (the tip of the sternum),
f. the navel (or a point just above it).
If you suffer from frequent headaches or nervous problems, don't
focus on any spot above the base of the throat. And don't try to force
the breath or put yourself into a trance. Breathe freely and
naturally. Let the mind be at ease with the breath -- but not to the
point where it slips away.
6. Spread your awareness -- your sense of conscious feeling --
throughout the entire body.
7. Unite the breath sensations throughout the body, letting them
flow together comfortably, keeping your awareness as broad as
possible. Once you're fully aware of the aspects of the breath you
already know in your body, you'll come to know all sorts of other
aspects as well. The breath, by its nature, has many facets: breath
sensations flowing in the nerves, those flowing around and about the
nerves, those spreading from the nerves to every pore. Beneficial
breath sensations and harmful ones are mixed together by their very
To summarize: (a) for the sake of improving the energy already
existing in every part of your body, so that you can contend with such
things as disease and pain; and (b) for the sake of clarifying the
knowledge already within you, so that it can become a basis for the
skills leading to release and purity of heart -- you should always
bear these seven steps in mind, because they are absolutely basic to
every aspect of breath meditation. When you've mastered them, you will
have cut a main road. As for the side roads -- the incidentals of
breath meditation -- there are plenty of them, but they aren't really
important. You'll be perfectly safe if you stick to these seven steps
and practice them as much as possible.
Once you've learned to put your breath in order, it's as if you
have everyone in your home in order. The incidentals of breath
meditation are like people outside your home -- in other words,
guests. Once the people in your home are well-behaved, your guests
will have to fall in line.
The 'guests' here are the signs (nimitta) and vagrant breaths that
will tend to pass within the range of the breath you are dealing with:
the various signs that arise from the breath and may appear as images
-- bright lights, people, animals, yourself, others; or as sounds --
the voices of people, some you recognize and others you don't. In some
cases the signs appear as smells -- either fragrant or else foul like
a corpse. Sometimes the in-breath can make you feel so full throughout
the body that you have no sense of hunger or thirst. Sometimes the
breath can send warm, hot, cold, or tingling sensations through the
body. Sometimes it can cause things that never occurred to you before
to spring suddenly to mind.
All of these things are classed as guests. Before you go receiving
guests, you should put your breath and mind into good order, making
them stable and secure. In receiving these guests, you first have to
bring them under your control. If you can't control them, don't have
anything to do with them. They might lead you astray. But if you can
put them through their paces, they can be of use to you later on.
To put them through their paces means to change them at will,
through the power of thought (patibhaga nimitta) -- making them small,
large, sending them far away, bringing them up close, making them
appear and disappear, sending them outside, bringing them in. Only
then will you be able to use them in training the mind.
Once you've mastered these signs, they'll give rise to heightened
sensory powers: the ability to see without opening your eyes; the
ability to hear far-distant sounds or smell far-distant aromas; the
ability to taste the various elements that exist in the air and can be
of use to the body in overcoming feelings of hunger and desire; the
ability to give rise to certain feelings at will -- to feel cool when
you want to feel cool, hot when you want to feel hot, warm when you
want to feel warm, strong when you need strength -- because the
various elements in the world that can be physically useful to you
will come and appear in your body.
The mind, too, will be heightened, and will have the power to
develop the eye of intuition (nana-cakkhu): the ability to remember
previous lives, the ability to know where living beings are reborn
after they die, and the ability to cleanse the heart of the effluents
of defilement. If you have your wits about you, you can receive these
guests and put them to work in your home.
These are a few of the incidentals of breath meditation. If you
come across them in your practice, examine them thoroughly. Don't be
pleased by what appears. Don't get upset or try to deny what appears.
Keep your mind on an even keel. Stay neutral. Be circumspect. Consider
carefully whatever appears, to see whether it's trustworthy or not.
Otherwise, it might lead you to mistaken assumptions. Good and evil,
right and wrong, high and low: All depend on whether your heart is
shrewd or dull, and on how resourceful you are. If you're dull-witted,
even high things can become low, and good things evil.
Once you know the various aspects of the breath and its
incidentals, you can gain knowledge of the four Noble Truths. In
addition, you can relieve physical pains as they arise in your body.
Mindfulness is the active ingredient in the medicine; the in-and-out
breath is the solvent. Mindfulness can cleanse and purify the breath.
A pure breath can cleanse the blood throughout the body, and when the
blood is cleansed, it can relieve many of the body's diseases and
pains. If you suffer from nervous disorders, for instance, they'll
completely disappear. What's more, you'll be able to strengthen the
body so that you feel a greater sense of health and well-being.
When the body feels well, the mind can settle down and rest. And
once the mind is rested, you gain strength: the ability to relieve all
feelings of pain while sitting in meditation, so that you can go on
sitting for hours. When the body is free from pain, the mind is free
from Hindrances (nivarana). Body and mind are both strong. This is
called samadhi-balam -- the strength of concentration.
When your concentration is strong like this, it can give rise to
discernment: the ability to see stress, its cause, its disbanding, and
the path to its disbanding, all clearly within the breath. This can be
explained as follows: The in-and-out breath is stress -- the
in-breath, the stress of arising; the out-breath, the stress of
passing away. Not being aware of the breath as it goes in and out, not
knowing the characteristics of the breath, is the cause of stress.
Knowing when the breath is coming in, knowing when it's going out,
knowing its characteristics clearly -- i.e., keeping your views in
line with the truth of the breath -- is Right View, part of the Noble
Path. Knowing which ways of breathing are uncomfortable, knowing how
to vary the breath; knowing, 'That way of breathing is uncomfortable;
I'll have to breathe like this in order to feel at ease:' This is
Right Aspiration. The mental factors that think about and correctly
evaluate all aspects of the breath are Right Speech. Knowing various
ways of improving the breath; breathing, for example, in long and out
long, in short and out short, in short and out long, in long and out
short, until you come across the breath most comfortable for you: This
is Right Action. Knowing how to use the breath to purify the blood,
how to let this purified blood nourish the heart muscles, how to
adjust the breath so that it eases the body and soothes the mind, how
to breathe so that you feel full and refreshed in body and mind: This
is Right Livelihood. Trying to adjust the breath until it soothes the
body and mind, and to keep trying as long as you aren't fully at ease,
is Right Effort. Being mindful of the in-and-out breath at all times,
knowing the various aspects of the breath -- the up-flowing breath,
the down-flowing breath, the breath in the stomach, the breath in the
intestines, the breath flowing along the muscles and out to every pore
-- keeping track of these things with every in-and-out breath: This is
Right Mindfulness. A mind intent only on issues related to the breath,
not pulling any other objects in to interfere, until the breath is
refined, giving rise to fixed absorption and then liberating insight:
This is Right Concentration.
To think of the breath is termed vitakka, directed thought. To
adjust the breath and let it spread is called vicara, evaluation. When
all aspects of the breath flow freely throughout the body, you feel
full and refreshed in body and mind: This is piti, rapture. When body
and mind are both at rest, you feel serene and at ease: This is sukha,
pleasure. And once you feel pleasure, the mind is bound to hold fast
to a single preoccupation and not go straying after any others: This
is ekaggatarammana, singleness of preoccupation. These five factors
form the beginning stage of Right Concentration.
When all these parts of the Noble Path -- virtue, concentration,
and discernment -- are brought together fully mature in the heart, you
gain insight into all aspects of the breath, knowing that 'Breathing
this way gives rise to good mental states. Breathing that way gives
rise to bad mental states.' You aren't caught up with the factors --
the breath in all its aspects -- that fashion the body, the factors
that fashion speech, the factors that fashion the mind, whether for
good or for ill. You let them be, in line with their inherent nature:
This is the disbanding of stress.
Another, even briefer way to express the four Noble Truths is this:
The in-and-out breath is the truth of stress. Not being aware of the
in-breath, not being aware of the out-breath: This is the cause of
stress -- obscured, deluded awareness. Seeing into all aspects of the
breath so clearly that you can let them go with no sense of
attachment, is the disbanding of stress. Being constantly mindful and
aware of all aspects of the breath, is the path to the disbanding of
When you can do this, you can say that you're correctly following
the path of breath meditation. Your awareness is unobscured. You have
the skill to know all four Truths clearly. You can attain release.
Release is a mind that doesn't cling to low causes and low effects --
i.e., stress and its cause; or to high causes and high effects -- the
disbanding of stress and the path to its disbanding. It's a mind
unattached to the things that cause it to know, unattached to
knowledge, unattached to knowing. When you can separate these things,
you've mastered the skill of release -- in other words, when you know
what forms the beginning, what forms the end and what lies in between,
letting them be as they are on their own, in line with the phrase,
sabbe dhamma anatta
All phenomena are not-self.
To be attached to the things that cause us to know -- the elements,
khandhas, the senses and their objects -- is termed clinging to
sensuality (kamupadana). To be attached to knowledge is termed
clinging to views (ditthupadana). To be unacquainted with pure knowing
in and of itself (buddha) is termed clinging to precepts and
procedures (silabbatupadana). And when we cling in this way, we are
bound to be deluded by the factors that fashion the body, speech, and
the mind, all of which arise from obscured awareness.
The Buddha was a complete master of both cause and effect, without
being attached either to low causes and low effects, or to high causes
and high effects. He was above cause and beyond effect. Stress and
ease were both at his disposal, but he was attached to neither of
them. He fully knew both good and evil, was fully equipped with both
self and not-self, but wasn't attached to any of these things. He had
at his disposal the objects that can act as the basis for the cause of
stress, but wasn't attached to them. The Path -- discernment -- was
also at his disposal: He knew how to appear either ignorant or shrewd,
and how to use both ignorance and shrewdness in his work of spreading
the religion. And as for the disbanding of stress, he had it at his
disposal but didn't cling to it, wasn't attached to it, which is why
we can truly say that his mastery was complete.
Before the Buddha was able to let go of these things in this way,
he first had to work at giving rise to them in full measure. Only then
could he put them aside. He let go from abundance, unlike ordinary
people who 'let go' out of poverty. Even though he let these things
go, they were still at his disposal. He never dismissed the virtue,
concentration, and discernment he had worked at perfecting up to the
day of his Awakening. He continued using every aspect of virtue,
concentration, and discernment to the day he entered total Liberation
(parinibbana). Even the moment he was about to 'nibbana,' he was
practicing his full command of concentration -- in other words, his
total Liberation occurred when he was between the physical and
non-physical levels of jhana.
So we shouldn't dismiss virtue, concentration, and discernment.
Some people won't observe the precepts because they're afraid of
getting tied to them. Some people won't practice concentration because
they're afraid of becoming ignorant or going insane. The truth of the
matter is that normally we're already ignorant, already insane, and
that to practice centering the mind is what will end our ignorance and
cure our insanity. Once we've trained ourselves properly, we'll give
rise to pure discernment, like a cut jewel that gives off light by its
very nature. This is what qualifies as true discernment. It arises
for us individually and is termed paccattam: We can give rise to it,
and know it, only for ourselves.
Most of us, though, tend to misunderstand the nature of
discernment. We take imitation discernment, adulterated with concepts,
and use it to smother the real thing, like a man who coats a piece of
glass with mercury so that he can see his reflection and that of
others, thinking he's found an ingenious way of looking at the truth.
Actually, he's nothing more than a monkey looking in a mirror: One
monkey becomes two and will keep playing with its reflection until the
mercury wears off, at which point it becomes crestfallen, not knowing
what the reflection came from in the first place. So it is when we
gain imitation discernment, unwittingly, by thinking and conjecturing
in line with the things we think we've perceived: We're headed for
sorrow when death meets us face-to-face.
The crucial factor in natural discernment comes solely from
training the mind to be like a diamond that gives off its own light --
surrounded by radiance whether in dark places or bright. A mirror is
useful only in places already well-lit. If you take it into the dark,
you can't use it to see your reflection at all. But a cut jewel that
gives off its own light is brilliant everywhere. This is what the
Buddha meant when he taught that there are no closed or secret places
in the world where discernment can't penetrate. This jewel of
discernment is what will enable us to destroy craving, attachment, and
obscured awareness, and to attain the highest excellence: Liberation
-- free from pain, death, annihilation, and extinction -- existing
naturally through the reality of deathlessness (amata-dhamma).
By and large, we tend to be interested only in discernment and
release. At the drop of a hat, we want to start right in with the
teachings on stress, inconstancy, and not-self -- and when this is the
case, we'll never get anywhere. Before the Buddha taught that things
are inconstant, he had worked at knowing them until they revealed
their constancy. Before teaching that things are stressful, he had
turned that stress into pleasure and ease. And before teaching that
things are not-self, he had turned what is not-self into a self, and
so was able to see what is constant and true, lying hidden in what is
inconstant, stressful, and not-self. He then gathered all of these
qualities into one. He gathered all that is inconstant, stressful, and
not-self into one and the same thing: fashionings (sankhara) viewed in
terms of the world -- a single class, equal everywhere throughout the
world. As for what's constant, pleasant, and self, this was another
class: fashionings viewed in terms of the Dhamma. And then he let go
of both classes, without getting caught up on 'constant' or
'inconstant,' 'stress' or 'ease,' 'self' or 'not-self.' This is why we
can say he attained release, purity, and Liberation, for he had no
need to latch onto fashionings -- whether of the world or of the
Dhamma -- in any way at all.
This was the nature of the Lord Buddha's practice. But as for our
own practice, most of us act as if we have everything figured out
beforehand and have succeeded even before we start. In other words, we
want simply to let go and attain peace and release. But if we haven't
laid the full groundwork, our letting-go is bound to be lacking: Our
peace is bound to be piece-meal, our release is bound to be wrong.
Those of us who sincerely mean well and want only the highest good
should ask ourselves: Have we laid the proper foundation? If we don't
lay the proper foundation for release and letting go, how will we ever
The Buddha taught that virtue can overcome common defilements, the
gross faults in our words and deeds; that concentration can overcome
such intermediate defilements as sensual desires, ill will, torpor,
restlessness, and uncertainty; and that discernment can overcome such
subtle defilements as craving, attachment, and obscured awareness. Yet
some people whose discernment is sharp, who can clearly explain subtle
points of doctrine, can't seem to shake off the more common
defilements that even virtue can overcome. This shows that something
must be lacking in their virtue, concentration, and discernment. Their
virtues are probably all on the surface, their concentration splotchy
and stained, their discernment a smeared-on gloss -- like the glass
coated with mercury -- which is why they can't attain the goal. Their
actions fall under the old saying: Keeping a sword outside the
scabbard -- having a way with words and theories, but no center for
the mind; laying an egg outside the nest -- looking for goodness only
outside, without training the mind to be centered; resting a
foundation on the sand -- trying to find security in things of no
substance. All of this is bound to bring disappointment. Such people
have yet to find a worthwhile refuge.
So we should lay the groundwork and put the causes into good
working order, because all the attainments we hope for come springing
Rouse yourself. Train your own heart.
Start judging your own in-and-out breath.
* * *
Now we will summarize the methods of breath meditation under the
headings of jhana.
Jhana means to be absorbed or focused in a single object or
preoccupation, as when we deal with the breath.
1. The first level of jhana has five factors. (a) Directed thought
(vitakka): Think of the breath until you can recognize it clearly
without getting distracted. (b) Singleness of preoccupation
(ekaggatarammana): Keep the mind with the breath. Don't let it stray
after other objects. Watch over your thoughts so that they deal only
with the breath to the point where the breath becomes comfortable.
(The mind becomes one, at rest with the breath.) (c) Evaluation
(vicara): Gain a sense of how to let this comfortable breath sensation
spread and coordinate with the other breath sensations in the body.
Let these breath sensations spread until they all merge. Once the body
has been soothed by the breath, feelings of pain will grow calm. The
body will be filled with good breath energy. (The mind is focused
exclusively on issues connected with the breath.)
These three qualities must be brought together to bear on the same
stream of breathing for the first level of jhana to arise. This stream
of breathing can then take you all the way to the fourth level of
Directed thought, singleness of preoccupation, and evaluation act
as the causes. When the causes are fully ripe, results will appear --
(d) rapture (piti), a compelling sense of fullness and refreshment for
body and mind, going straight to the heart, independent of all else;
(e) pleasure (sukha), physical ease arising from the body's being
still and unperturbed (kaya-passaddhi); mental contentment arising
from the mind's being at ease on its own, unperturbed, serene, and
Rapture and pleasure are the results. The factors of the first
level of jhana thus come down simply to two sorts: causes and results.
As rapture and pleasure grow stronger, the breath becomes more
subtle. The longer you stay focused and absorbed, the more powerful
the results become. This enables you to set directed thought and
evaluation (the preliminary ground-clearing) aside, and -- relying
completely on a single factor, singleness of preoccupation -- you
enter the second level of jhana (magga-citta, phala-citta).
2. The second level of jhana has three factors: rapture, pleasure,
and singleness of preoccupation (magga-citta). This refers to the
state of mind that has tasted the results coming from the first level
of jhana. Once you have entered the second level, rapture and pleasure
become stronger because they rely on a single cause, singleness of
preoccupation, which looks after the work from here on in: focusing on
the breath so that it becomes more and more refined, keeping steady
and still with a sense of refreshment and ease for both body and mind.
The mind is even more stable and intent than before. As you continue
focusing, rapture and pleasure grow stronger and begin to expand and
contract. Continue focusing on the breath, moving the mind deeper to a
more subtle level to escape the motions of rapture and pleasure, and
you enter the third level of jhana.
3. The third level of jhana has two factors: pleasure and
singleness of preoccupation. The body is quiet, motionless, and
solitary. No feelings of pain arise to disturb it. The mind is
solitary and still. The breath is refined, free-flowing, and broad. A
radiance -- white like cotton wool -- pervades the entire body,
stilling all feelings of physical and mental discomfort. Keep focused
on looking after nothing but the broad, refined breath. The mind is
free: No thoughts of past or future disturb it. The mind stands out on
its own. The four properties -- earth, water, fire, and wind -- are in
harmony throughout the body. You could almost say that they're pure
throughout the entire body, because the breath has the strength to
control and take good care of the other properties, keeping them
harmonious and coordinated. Mindfulness is coupled with singleness of
preoccupation, which acts as the cause. The breath fills the body.
Mindfulness fills the body.
Focus on in: The mind is bright and powerful, the body is light.
Feelings of pleasure are still. Your sense of the body feels steady
and even, with no slips or gaps in your awareness, so you can let go
of your sense of pleasure. The manifestations of pleasure grow still
because the four properties are balanced and free from motion.
Singleness of preoccupation, the cause, has the strength to focus more
heavily down, taking you to the fourth level of jhana.
4. The fourth level of jhana has two factors: equanimity (upekkha)
and singleness of preoccupation, or mindfulness. Equanimity and
singleness of preoccupation on the fourth level of jhana are
powerfully focused -- solid, stable, and sure. The breath property is
absolutely quiet, free from ripples and gaps. The mind, neutral and
still, lets go of all preoccupations with past and future. The breath,
which forms the present, is still, like the ocean or air when they are
free from currents or waves. You can know distant sights and sounds
because the breath is even and unwavering, acting like a movie screen
that gives a clear reflection of whatever is projected onto it.
Knowledge arises in the mind: You know but stay neutral and still. The
mind is neutral and still; the breath, neutral and still; past,
present, and future are all neutral and still. This is true singleness
of preoccupation, focused on the unperturbed stillness of the breath.
All parts of the breath in the body connect so that you can breathe
through every pore. You don't have to breathe through the nostrils,
because the in-and-out breath and the other aspects of the breath in
the body form a single, unified whole. All aspects of the breath
energy are even and full. The four properties all have the same
characteristics. The mind is completely still.
The focus is strong; the light, aglow.
This is to know the great frame of reference.
The mind is beaming and bright --
like the light of the sun
that, unobstructed by clouds or haze,
illumines the earth with its rays.
The mind sheds light in all directions. The breath is radiant, the
mind fully radiant, due to the focusing of mindfulness.
The focus is strong; the light, aglow.... The mind has power and
authority. All four of the frames of reference are gathered into one.
There is no sense that, 'That's the body....That's a feeling....
That's the mind....That's a mental quality.' There's no sense that
they're four. This is thus called the great frame of reference,
because none of the four are in any way separate.
The mind is firmly intent,
centered and true,
due to the strength of its focus.
Mindfulness and self-awareness converge into one: This is what is
meant by the one path (ekayana-magga) -- the concord among the
properties and frames of reference, four in one, giving rise to great
energy and wakefulness, the purifying inner fire (tapas) that can
thoroughly dispel all obscuring darkness.
As you focus more strongly on the radiance of the mind, the power
that comes from letting go of all preoccupations enables the mind to
stand alone. You're like a person who has climbed to the top of a
mountain and has the right to see in all directions. The mind's
dwelling -- the breath, which supports the mind's freedom -- is in a
heightened state, so the mind is able to see all things fashioned
(sankhara) clearly in terms of the Dhamma: as elements, khandhas, and
sense media (ayatana). Just as a person who has taken a camera up in
an airplane can take pictures of practically everything below, so a
person who has reached this stage (lokavidu) can see the world and the
Dhamma as they truly are.
In addition, awareness of another sort, in the area of the mind --
called liberating insight, or the skill of release -- also appears.
The elements or properties of the body acquire potency (kaya-siddhi);
the mind, resilient power. When you want knowledge of the world or the
Dhamma, focus the mind heavily and forcefully on the breath. As the
concentrated power of the mind strikes the pure element, intuitive
knowledge will spring up in that element, just as the needle of a
record player, as it strikes a record, will give rise to sounds. Once
your mindfulness is focused on a pure object, then if you want images,
images will appear; if sounds, sounds will arise, whether near or far,
matters of the world or the Dhamma, concerning yourself or others,
past, present, or future -- whatever you want to know. As you focus
down, think of what you want to know, and it will appear. This is nana
-- intuitive sensitivity capable of knowing past, present, and future
-- an important level of awareness that you can know only for
yourself. The elements are like radio waves going through the air. If
your mind and mindfulness are strong, and your skills highly
developed, you can use those elements to put yourself in touch with
the entire world so that knowledge can arise within you.
When you have mastered the fourth level of jhana, it can act as the
basis for eight skills:
1. Vipassana-nana: clear intuitive insight into mental and physical
phenomena as they arise, remain, and disband. This is a special sort
of insight, coming solely from training the mind. It can occur in two
ways: (a) knowing without ever having thought of the matter; and (b)
knowing from having thought of the matter -- but not after a great
deal of thought, as in the case of ordinary knowledge. Think for an
instant and it immediately becomes clear -- just as a piece of cotton
wool soaked in gasoline, when you hold a match to it, bursts
immediately into flame. The intuition and insight here are that fast,
and so differ from ordinary discernment.
2. Manomayiddhi: the ability to use the mind to influence events.
3. Iddhividhi: the ability to display supra-normal powers, e.g.,
creating images in certain instances that certain groups of people
will be able to see.
4. Dibbasota: the ability to hear distant sounds.
5. Cetopariya-nana: the ability to know the level -- good or evil,
high or low -- of other people's minds.
6. Pubbenivasanussati-nana: the ability to remember previous
lifetimes. (If you attain this skill, you'll no longer have to wonder
as to whether death is followed by annihilation or rebirth.)
7. Dibbacakkhu: the ability to see gross and subtle images, both
near and far.
8. Asavakkhaya-nana: the ability to reduce and eliminate the
effluents of defilement in the heart.
These eight skills come exclusively from the centering the mind,
which is why I have written this condensed guide to concentration and
jhana, based on the technique of keeping the breath in mind. If you
aspire to the good that can come from these things, you should turn
your attention to training your own heart and mind.
* * * * * * * *