2021-01-06 Mindfulness of Breathing (3): Introduction
4:38PM Jan 6, 2021
So today I'd like to give the third introductory talk to on this topic of mindfulness of breathing. And then tomorrow we'll start with 16 steps that the Buddha taught for this practice. And so there is one discourse of these particular teachings of the Buddha, where he lays out this teaching of the 16 steps. The particular discourse is divided can be divided into three parts.
And one of the things that characterizes this, these parts is the way in which they are unifying things. It doesn't say this explicitly. So maybe this is my interpretation. But there's a way in which it's emphasizing the bringing together in harmony of different elements of practice - all the different practices that the Buddha taught, all the different mind states that happen in meditation, and different developments of meditation, how it all fits together in a harmonious whole. And also the Buddha's community at his time, how they come together in a harmonious way, the unified way.
The discourse begins with a beautiful image of a full moon night in the fall, maybe in around September, in ancient India, in the woods. And there's a wonderful way in which the full moon in the woods if it's not too dense, the canopy, can really light up a certain kind of beautiful, clear, peaceful, calm light. It lights up, and you can see pretty well at night. And, and this big, full moon can be so much different than the sun. You can't really look at the sun without injuring yourself. The moon, which represents in Buddhism, the full moon, the awakened mind, is, is safe to look at. It's cool, it's peaceful, it's brings a light we can see clearly in the dark. And so in this full moon night, in the woods, there is a large gathering of the Buddha's disciples. And, and the ten senior disciples of the Buddha are all together there. And they're there for three months for what's called the rains retreat. And each of them is there together with a group of new monks who they're training. And so in one, one of the senior disciples of the Buddha has 10 new monks, one has 20, 30, 40 - all in multiples of 10. There's a multiple of 10 disciples that different ones of them have. So it's well organized, this idea of being kind of organized and harmonious and orderly, is kind of implied in this. And, and, and each of the senior disciples is teaching for these three months, the younger disciples - teaching them meditation, the practice. And the Buddha gathers them together on this full moon night, and he says to them all, "I'm really pleased with all of you, your practice. I'm delighted in your practice, and you've developed and matured wonderfully in this practice. However, you can mature more. There's more to be done. So I was going to leave now at the end of this range retreat, but I'm going to stay here one more month. And why don't you stay one more month and keep practicing because you're doing so well."
So they do. And, and so here they're living together harmoniously in the wood. The senior disciples are living together and doing the same thing supporting, and the Buddhist pleased. It's this image of unity, and harmony of practice, and dedication in practice. And the full moon can almost stand for the maturity of these practitioners - their hearts are becoming full, mature, awakened. And so they practice for another month, and then the Buddha gathers them together again. And he says, "I'm really pleased with all of you. You've really matured further." And then he says, "Here in this community, everyone is well practiced. Everyone is well settled. Everyone is ethical. There's no one who's slacking off, and I'm really happy with how it's going."
So you get the sense that the whole community is maturing harmoniously, and involved in the same thing, developing in the same way on the path of practice. And then he says "Yes, here among you all, there are those of you who are fully awakened, and those of you who are well on the way to full awakening, at different stages of awakening. And there are those of you who are practicing the four foundations of mindfulness, or practicing seven factors of awakening, or practicing the Eightfold Path, or practicing developing the five faculties and the five powers, and the four bases of success." He goes through all these different practices that they're doing, including loving kindness, compassion, appreciative joy, and equanimity. And so all these different practices and developments that go on in early Buddhism - they're all represented in that community. They all have a place, They're all important and valuable. So that's the setup for the teachings on breathing.
And then the Buddha says, kind of he says, it didn't I don't think he uses the word but but he says, "But mindfulness of breathing, when practiced, and cultivated frequently, leads to great benefit, to great advantage. And, and, and when you practice mindfulness of breathing, it cultivates the four foundations of mindfulness. And as you cultivate the four foundations of mindfulness with breath meditation, it develops the seven factors of awakening. And the seven factors of awakening lead to initial awakening. And then initial awakening allows those seven factors to develop further, which leads to final awakening."
So here, again, there's a way in which he's bringing together all these different parts of the path of practice, and explaining how they fit together, and support each other. Mindfulness of breathing is not a separate practice from foundations of mindfulness. It is not a separate practice from cultivating the seven factors of awakening. So he's really built up this whole momentum in his teaching in this prelude, or prologue to this discourse. And mindfulness of breathing is so valuable. And, and then he is going to start giving the instructions. And before talking about the first step, he gives the preliminary instructions for doing breath meditation.
He says, and maybe it's worth reading it. So he says, "How is mindfulness of breathing developed and cultivated, so it is of great fruit and great benefit? Here, a practitioner, gone to the forest, or to the root of a tree, or to an empty hut, sits down, having folded their legs crosswise, set their body erect, and established mindfulness to the forefront. Ever mindful, one breathes in. Ever mindful, one breathes out."
So there's a definitiveness to being here - that sitting down to meditate. And the Buddha's very particular, specific about location. I don't think it's because it's those particular locations where you have to go meditate, but rather, this idea of sitting in a definitive place, like I'm here. This is the place where I'm sitting, I'm rooted, I'm going to be: in the forest, at the root of a tree, an empty hut, in a quiet room in your house - wherever, but there's a kind of definitiveness: "This is the spot."
And then having folded one's legs crosswise - this is a cross-legged seated posture. There are other postures as well. Elsewhere, he talks about four dignified postures. I don't know if he said 'dignified,' but this is how it's come down through the ages: four dignified postures: the posture of sitting upright, lying down, standing, and walking. All are suitable meditation postures. So, different ways of sitting. But again, this definitiveness of really taking your place, sitting up.
And then he says, "With one's body erect." And, and of course, if you're lying down, the body's not erect. But maybe erect also means a kind of internal uprightness, or internal integrity, internal confidence: "Yes, here, I'm going to practice."
And so there's time, and effort, and emphasis here on gathering oneself together. For me, symbolically folding your legs together as a gathering together - coming here being established here. I used to be able to sit full lotus, really cross-legged. And there is a kind of definitiveness, and a gathering together of the physical energies that seems to happen with this posture that really helps you to definitively be here.
And then with that, "Ever mindful one breathes in. Ever mindful one breathes out." So here, ever mindful. This is a fascinating idea, that one establishes mindfulness. One establishes mindfulness to the forefront, and ever mindful one breathes in, and breathes out. It's interesting, this term "establishes mindfulness" - as opposed to saying, "Now you do the mindfulness. Now you apply mindfulness. Now you are busy being mindful." Rather, establishing mindfulness has a very different connotation than doing mindfulness. I think of this as awareness. You don't do awareness, but you can establish yourself in awareness.
I'll give you an analogy. And then we'll stop. Imagine that you're a naturalist, and you're told of an amazing bird, somewhere in the natural world, maybe in the woods, the wilds. But the bird is very shy. And so if you want to see this amazing bird, it's important to go to a particular place, a clearing in the woods, and stand there very still. You have to be very patient. And the bird can come from any direction. It can come from above, the back, side, from below even. It might suddenly appear, but it just comes through very quickly. So almost if you blink, you might miss it. And if you're too busy looking for it, then you can't really see it. The very looking for it is making the mind too busy. You have to just stand there and be very still, with all your senses open. Establishing awareness, all your senses open, without doing too much application, or looking, or searching. Just be open to all your senses, so you're alert enough - when the bird comes through, you're ready to pick it up, to see it, to understand it there. If you spend your time daydreaming and thinking, you won't have all the senses open enough to see the bird.
So that's more of my analogy for this idea of establishing mindfulness, establishing awareness. And then: "Ever aware, one breathes in. Ever aware, one breathes out."
And since breathing is so close and intimate with the whole inner experience of awareness - if awareness is established, then we become aware of breathing. And so this is a different feeling, or different instructions than: "Now bore into your breathing" - like being the control tower, and really apply yourself and focus on the breathing.
Yes, it is a strong attention to breathing, but it's through establishing attention, establishing awareness. And when awareness is established in breathing in and breathing out, then the 16 stages of breathing begin - which we'll talk about tomorrow. So thank you very much for today, and I look forward to tomorrow.