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Lions Roar : November 2019
ILLUSTRATIONSBYCAROLEHÉNAFF MINDFULNESS OF BREATHING (anapanasati) was the meditation method the Buddha practiced on the night of his awakening, and also the one he taught in most detail to train his students in tran- quility and insight. But despite the detail, his instructions sometimes read like rid- dles: He says, for instance, to breathe in and out sensitive to pleasure and rapture, but doesn’t say how to generate those feelings. He also says to let pleasure and rapture saturate the entire body, but again, doesn’t say how. It’s up to each meditator to use his or her own ingenuity to solve these riddles. This is a good exercise in developing dis- cernment, but it has also resulted in many breath meditation methods that address these riddles in conflicting ways. When I first started practicing breath meditation, I was told to focus exclusively on the nostrils, and to exert no control over the breath. As a result, I gave myself headaches and quickly became bored with the practice. On encountering Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo’s instructions, however, I was relieved to find that they allowed you to focus anywhere in the body—and ultimately, to develop a full- body awareness of the breath—and that they encouraged experimenting to see what kind of breathing feels best. Breath meditation became enjoyable and intriguing, which is why I have been practicing this method ever since. For thirty years I have been teaching it to Westerners, who live so much in their heads, to gain a secure grounding in the body right here and now. Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo, one of the most influential Thai Forest Tradition med- itation masters of the twentieth century, taught two methods of breath meditation. One method he developed while on retreat deep in the forest. He had walked three days to get to his location and, soon after arrival, suffered a heart attack. His only medicine was his breath. Exploring the effects of full- body breathing, he recovered enough to be able to walk back out of the forest three months later. This means that his method was not a deliberate effort to answer the Buddha’s riddles—it was more for sheer survival—but on returning to civilization he found that it provided consistent and useful answers to many of the questions surrounding the Buddha’s instructions, so he taught it for the rest of his life. The method consists of seven steps, but over time, Ajaan Lee worked variations on the steps and reduced them to five. As you follow the steps, it’s important to note that he gives meanings to “breath” and “mindfulness” that might be unfamiliar to you. “Breath,” for him, includes not just the in-and-out breath, but also the breath energies that permeate the entire body. THANISSARO BHIKKHU is abbot of the Metta Forest Monastery in San Diego County, California, and the author of The Wings to Awakening and The Mind Like Fire Unbound. HOW TO PRACTICE Full-Body Breath Meditation “Pleasure” and “rapture” aren’t words we generally associate with meditation. But they can be part of your practice. Buddhist monk THANISSARO BHIKKHU shows you how. LION’S ROAR | NOVEMBER 2019 27 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE