Anapanasati (“Discourse on Mindfulness When Breathing In or Out”)

Clouds Over Konocti
 
On “The Dao Bums” discussion forum, TranquilTurmoil said:
 

Interestingly enough, Thich Nhat Hanh had as his most essential sutras the “Sutta on the Full Awareness of Breathing” (which had 16 steps) and the “Sutta on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness” (Satipathhana, I believe)… I neglected both of those all of these years until it hit me how essential and profound of a door the Four Establishments are, and how much benefit there was, potentially, from skillfully reciting “Breathing in, I am aware of my body… Breathing out, I smile to my body…. Breathing In, I am aware that I am breathing in, Breathing out, I generate a feeling of joy!”

I see that Thich Nhat Hahn translates the second set of four in Anapanasati:

‘Breathing in, I feel joyful.
Breathing out, I feel joyful.’
He or she practices like this.

‘Breathing in, I feel happy.
Breathing out, I feel happy.’
He or she practices like this.

‘Breathing in, I am aware of my mental formations.
Breathing out, I am aware of my mental formations.’
He or she practices like this.

‘Breathing in, I calm my mental formations.
Breathing out, I calm my mental formations.’
He or she practices like this.

(https://plumvillage.org/library/sutras/discourse-on-the-full-awareness-of-breathing/)

I tend to go with Woodward’s translation (for the Pali Text Society):

Thus (one) makes up (one’s) mind:

Feeling the thrill of zest I shall breathe in. Feeling the thrill of zest I shall breathe out.

Feeling the sense of ease I shall breathe in. Feeling the sense of ease I shall breathe out.

(One) makes up one’s mind:

Aware of all mental factors I shall breathe in. Aware of all mental factors I will breathe out.

Calming down the mental factors I shall breathe in. Calming down the mental factors I shall breathe out.

(SN V 312, Pali Text Society Vol V pg 275-276; tr. F. L. Woodward; masculine pronouns replaced, re-paragraphed)

I can find something like “the thrill of zest” and something like “the sense of ease”, if I can relax.  “The thrill of zest” for me is just a subtle energy, and “the sense of ease” is an ease in my body.  Joyful and happy as in Hahn’s translation?–not so much.

The next two instructions I interpret as having to do with the senses, with awareness and calm with respect to the senses.   “Mental factors” I believe is a reference to the activity of the faculties, and the faculties are the senses.

Koun Franz described a practice with respect to the eyes:

I was taught we should be constantly aware of our eyes when we sit. Specifically, we should be aware of how we narrow and widen the aperture, how our field of vision gets narrower and narrower as our mind gets narrower and narrower. When you see that clearly, you also see how easily you can just open it up; the degree to which we open it up is the degree to which we’re here.

(“No Struggle [Zazen Yojinki, Part 6]”, by Koun Franz, from the “Nyoho Zen” site
https://nyoho.com/2018/09/15/no-struggle-zazen-yojinki-part-6/)

The practice koun Franz described is a matter of being aware of the eyes, and, I would contend, of remaining calm with respect to the activity of the eyes.

The Tai-Chi classics describe seated meditation as “straightening the chest and sitting precariously”*, and sitting with continued precariousness demands calm with respect to the senses.

In The Early Record, I commented on the first two elements of Gautama’s “mindfulness of feeling”:

To the extent that calm in the stretch of ligaments and relaxation in the activity of muscles reflects the extension of balance from the base of consciousness, a certain zest and ease emerges.

For me, the practice of “mindfulness of feelings” comes down to the awareness of particular feelings that occur in conjunction with relaxation in the movement of breath, and awareness and calm with respect to particular activity of the senses.

I see that the folks at Plum Village wrote that Thich Nhat Hahn was especially happy to have found Anapanasati Sutta among the scriptures of the Pali Sermons.  I can relate to that, yet I wonder at the variety of translations I see. For a  long time, I had no path forward with respect to Anapanasati, largely on account of translations that did not match with my experience.

I think the test of any translation of Anapanasati is whether or not a rhythm of the elements described emerges in daily living, and especially in sitting (since Gautama described the sixteen elements as particularly his way of living in the rainy season).

 

* “Master Cheng’s Thirteen Chapters on T’ai-Chi Ch’uan”, by Cheng Man-Ch’ing, translated by Douglas Wile, pg 21

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