Mindfulness of Breathing
15] “Monks, when mindfulness of breathing is developed and cultivated, it is of great fruit and great benefit. When Mindfulness of Breathing is developed and cultivated, it fulfills the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. When the Four Foundations of Mindfulness are developed and cultivated, they fulfill the Seven Awakening Factors. When the Seven Awakening Factors are developed and cultivated, they fulfill true knowledge and deliverance.
Please observe that the Four Foundations of Mindfulness are in this sutta and they are fulfilled through the practice of jhāna and TWIM, which lead to wise meditative states of mind.
This is decidedly different from the current theory that you can’t observe the Four Foundations of Mindfulness while experiencingjhānas (meditation stages of understanding).
The Buddha only taught one kind of meditation and that is serenity/insight or tranquility/insight meditation. That isSamatha/Vipassanā meditation or you can say he taught samādhi which literally means TWIM.
16] “And how, Monks, is mindfulness of breathing developed and cultivated, so that it is of great fruit and great benefit?
17] “Here a monk gone to the forest or to the root of a tree or an empty hut, sits down; having folded his legs crosswise, set his body erect, and established mindfulness in front of him, ever mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out.
The phrase “gone to the forest or to the root of a tree or an empty hut” means that you go to a reasonably quiet place where there will be few distractions while learning the meditation. A suitable location would be a place that is away from road noises, loud and persistent music or sounds of people, as well as animals.
The thing that happens with many absorption concentration practitioners is that even the smallest sound turns into a “thorn in their side”. This occurs because concentration is out of balance with your mindfulness. Many students complain about a fan being on and how it makes noise, or when someone opens and shuts a door. The absorption practitioner will jump because the noise kind of shocks them. Again, this occurs because the meditators mindfulness is weak and their concentration is out of balance. This is one of the disadvantages of doing absorption concentration.
During the time of the Buddha, most people sat on the floor. Hence, the phrase “sits down; having folded his legs crosswise, sets his body erect”. But today, sitting on the floor can be very painful and a trying experience because people mostly sit on chairs, stools, or couches. If you want to sit on the floor, it may help if you sit on a cushion high enough so there is no pain in your back or knees.
In actual fact, it is far more important to observe what is happening in mind than it is to sit with uncomfortable or painful sensations. Remember that there is no magic in sitting on the floor. The magic comes from a clear, calm mind that has fun watching how mind’s attention moves from one thing to another and learning to 6R any distraction and gently be at ease, as much as possible. Thus, if sitting on the floor is a very painful experience, then it is alright to sit on a stool or a chair.
However, if you do sit on a chair, there is an extremely important factor to consider. You need to sit without leaning hard against the back of the chair. Leaning is good for sleeping but not for meditation! “Sets his body erect” means you sit with a nicely straight back which is not rigid and uncomfortable. A nicely straight back has all of the vertebrae stacked one upon another. This is to ensure that energy can flow up and down the back without any blockages. Leaning into a chair can stop the energy flow and can cause sleepiness to arise. Thus, please do not lean against anything when sitting. Very often, when you first start out, your back is not used to being straight and some of the muscles can rebel and complain. However, with patience and perseverance, these unused muscles will gradually adjust and they will strengthen.
There is another important aspect to sitting meditation. You must not move! You must sit without moving the body for any reason. Please do not wiggle the toes or fingers or move the hands to rub or scratch or change the posture in any way until the sitting is over. Any movement breaks the continuity of the practice and this can cause you to have to start all over again.
Some meditation teachers tell their students that it is quite alright to move as long as they are “mindful”. But if the students are truly mindful, they would be able to watch mind and its dislike of the sensations, and then let go of the sensation and relax mind around them. Thus, there would be no reason to move!
Mindfulness also means to lovingly accept what is happening in the present moment, without trying to control, resist, or change it. To be truly mindful means to open up and allow whatever presents itself in the present moment. While sitting, if you move, this means that you are not being mindful at that time. When you “give in” to the desire to move, you are identifying with that desire and there is no mindfulness at that time .
Thus, when you are ready and begin to meditate, you must remain still and keep relaxing mind whenever there is a distraction. To sit as still as a Buddha image is the best! Actually the only allowable movement during meditation is to straighten the back when it starts to curve or slump, as long as it is not done too often.
The phrase “establishing mindfulness in front of him” means that you put aside all other worldly affairs and involvement with sensual pleasures. Then you softly close your eyes and whenever there is a distracting sound, smell, taste, sensation, or thought, you are aware of that and simply let it go. You then relax the tightness in your head, smile, and redirect mind’s attention back to the object of meditation and relax.
“Ever mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out.”
This tells us the way to practice mindfulness of breathing. Being aware of the breath means to know when you are experiencing the in-breath, then relaxing, and to know when you are experiencing the out-breath and relaxing. You use the breath as a reminder to relax on both the in-breath and the out-breath. It simply means to open up your awareness and to be attentive to the breath as much as possible, and at the same time you relax the tightness in the head (this will be explained more thoroughly in a little while).