Breathing Meditation


When beginning to practice mindfulness of breathing, we must first find an appropriate spot to be seated. Acquiring a spot under a shady tree, or an empty space, solitary spot where you won’t be disturbed is best suited for this meditation. If one plans to meditate with others in a room, everyone should plan to close their eyes and sit quietly and they will each be isolating themselves. This is also suitable as it is in accordance with empty space.


When practicing the mindfulness of breathing mediation, the meditator should sit with folded legs, cross-legged with a straight back. For most people this is a very difficult thing to do. There are solutions to this problem. You can make yourself a solid cushion or a little seat about three to four inches high. We should not become accustomed to leaning against the wall.


Also, if we have difficulty maintaining this position we should not be discouraged if others can sit for a long period with cross legged and straight back but we cannot do it. It takes a little practice and we will be able to do it in the end. It is very important to have a balanced and stable body posture so we can sit for a long period without being distracted by our posture. This way, the first requirement to breathing meditation is fulfilled.

Let's Meditate

Our breathing is the subject or ‘nimitta’ of this meditation. We don’t need to attempt to focus on any other nimittas or subjects. Buddha explains what the subject of breathing is very clearly.


“So satova assasati,” – he breaths in mindfully.
“Sotova passasati,” – he breathes out mindfully.


Buddha advised us to be aware of how we breathe in, and breathe out.

Contemplating the Great Qualities of the Buddha as the initial step before starting IS A GREAT AID in the development of meditation

As the initial step before starting breathing meditation, you can contemplate the great qualities of the Buddha. Think for a few a minutes about the Buddha’s great qualities in any language you are comfortable with, recollecting the meaning of each quality: The Buddha is free from defilements (arahaṁ), fully enlightened (sammā sambuddho), endowed with true knowledge and virtue (vijjā carana sampanno), discovered the noble eightfold path (sugato), knower of all worlds (lokavidū), incomparable teacher of those to be tamed (anuttaro purisadamma sārathi), teacher of gods and humans (sattha deva manussānaṁ), the compassionately taught the Dhamma (buddho), is blessed hold such great qualities (bhagavā). In this way, develop a pleasant mind by recollecting these great qualities of the Buddha. When you think about the Buddha, your mind clears and settles down as suspended particles in a murky pond settle on the bottom and leave the water clear. You begin to feel content and happy. This contentment and happiness becomes a great aid in the development of meditation.

Inhale with Mindfulness and Exhale with Mindfulness

So now, you inhale with mindfulness and you exhale with mindfulness. This is all you need to do at this stage. This introductory step is not difficult. You can see for yourself how simple this sounds. However, once you try to stay aware of the breath entering and leaving your body, you should soon realize how disobedient your ordinary mind is. You will realize that it is not that easy to sustain mindfulness on a single subject. This, too, is then anatta or non-self because it is not something within your control. You will realize how your thoughts leap from one attraction to another. One moment you are aware of your breath, the next moment your thoughts roll along memory lane, and the next moment building future dreams or your thoughts get distracted by external sounds. You will soon understand the nature of this mind. So, what do you do now? The answer is viriya or effort. When your mind starts to wander off bring it back gently to the breath. You have to keep in mind that the Buddha taught the meditator to free yourself from both attachments and aversions while developing mindfulness.

Three Skills to Sustain Mindfulness of Breathing

There are three skills to sustain mindfulness of breathing. These are:

  1. Ātāpi:improving through perseverance is the skill of overcoming weaknesses of your mind.
  2. Sampajañña:using your intelligence skillfully.
  3. Satimā:the skill of staying totally aware and mindful.

Be determined........

The way to build up the establishments of mindfulness is through perseverance with intelligence and profound awareness. When you grasp the importance of these three skills, you are no longer the casual meditator. You are the meditator who understands that if your mind splits from an attraction to attraction or if your mind splits from aversion to aversion, then you are not ready to meditate. So, you create an atmosphere where you can focus on meditating.


You can isolate yourself, sit with folded legs and a straight spine and be mindful of your breathing. Even if your mind wanders to the past or to the future, persevere and gently draw back to your breath. The mind must be totally free of anxiety in order to be successful at this. You must not be discouraged if your thoughts keep splitting to different focus points. Persevere and gently draw it back to your breath. Mindfully you will inhale; mindfully you will exhale. This practice should enhance your life immensely.

Important Things that You Should Know – 01

Sammā sati or right mindfulness is what leads us to understanding our life. Right mindfulness is essential for this. Sometimes you hear people say that in order to meditate you need to find a teacher, tell them your personal details, and ask them to recommend a meditation method for you, as it could be dangerous to meditate without a teacher. This is not the Buddha’s advice. In Buddhist meditation, the teachings or the Dhamma is the instructor, not a person.


So, we will take instruction from the Dhamma the Buddha taught, and the vinaya or the behavioural cord he set. The Buddha himself said to venerable Ānanda, who was his personal attendant and who later recited all the suttās at the First Council, that when the Buddha was no more, his teachings, the Dhamma and the behavioural cord for the Sangha should be considered the great instructor. If we go to a teacher, we can soon discover whether they teach in the same manner as the Buddha. Instructions from the suttās can be easily verified.


If, in addition to the instructions from the suttās, there are personal instructions or secret instructions, there is reason to doubt that instructor. The Buddha has stated “Tathāgathappavedito Dhamma vinayo vivato virocati no paticchanno,” the teachings of the Buddha shine when open, not when hidden in mystery. The facet of the Buddha’s Dhamma is that it invites people to approach and discover the Dhamma for themselves (ehipassika). So, by definition there cannot be any secrets in the Buddha’s teachings.

Important Things that Your Should Know – 02

You could have another question: if we are to reveal our personal opinions and personal achievements in public, isn’t that going to be an obstacle for others? If that is the case, the Buddha should have mentioned it first. In the Dhamma, there are no incidents where the Buddha secretly advised a person to meditate and secretly sent him away. All the advice the Buddha gave have been told to Venerable Ānanda and recorded, and all the monks and nuns have heard them. Therefore, there is no secret teaching in the Buddha’s Dhamma. There are no secret advice in the teaching that invites one to ‘come and see.’ If secret advices for mediation are given, you should indeed suspect it.

The Way to Cultivate Kāyānupassanā in Ānāpānasati Meditation

In the next step of Ānāpānasati meditation, you will be able to distinguish the differences in your breathing. Sometimes you will feel a long inhalation, which means you are having a stretched breathing. Since you were mindful about your breath, you realize that you are taking a lengthy breath in. Other times, there will be lengthy exhales. You will recognize those lengthy exhalations since you are mindful of your breath. Suddenly, breath could be short. Since you are aware of your breath, you will realize that your inhalation is short. When you are breathing out short exhalations, you will realize them since you are mindful of your breathing out is short. You notice this because of your sustained attention on the breath (without external distractions). However, this depends on your perseverance, intelligence, and mindfulness. That is, if you stop persevering, your mind can drop back to the state where it was before you started meditation.


As the third step, you direct your attention to the complete breath. That is, you observe when an inhalation starts, continues, and ends. You observe the beginning, continuation, and the end of the exhalation phase of a breath as a certain entity of the body. So, with improving the sensitivity you observe a breath as a certain entity of the body. This entity of entire breath is referred to as kāya sankhāra or a fabrication of the body, as a breath is associated with the body. When your mind becomes concentrated in this way, your breath becomes lighter.


As the fourth step, with improving tranquility you experience this lightening of your breath.

Breathing meditation summary

So, in mindfulness of breathing meditation, you first practice sustaining your awareness on your breath,


Then you observe differences in length of your breath,


Next you follow the complete breath, and then you observe the inhalation and exhalation as one entity as it becomes light, calm, and tranquil.

The Way to Cultivate the Vedanānupassanā and Cittānupassanā in Ānāpānasati Meditation

As the breath gradually becomes lighter, you could begin to feel a profound happiness or joy. This is called pīti. You might be distracted by this joy to the extent that you forget to be mindful of the breathing procecss and focus on the joy instead. This would result in the interruption of the concentration. Instead, you should understand the joy and while experiencing it, continue to focus on your inhalation and exhalation.

Important Things that Your Should Know - 03

One of the main problems meditators face is assuming that the state of tranquil concentration or samādhi happens by chance. Actually, this state of tranquil concentration occurs because the causes for it to occur were in place. Atāpi, or profound perseverance on purifying our minds, sampajāno or profound intellect, and satimā or profound mindfulness. This state of tranquil concentration is a result of these causes. Be aware that this state ends when you rise from the meditation posture.

Important Things that Your Should Know - 04

Another problem meditators face is the urge to rush through the initial stage in order to reach the previously acquired tranquil concentrated state and remain there longer. They pay less attention to the mindfulness on breathing and expect a samādhi or tranquil concentration stage to come to them. They forget that tranquil concentration stage is a result of causes, which were the initial hard work of focusing on the mindfulness of the breath.


This causes a downward spiral. When they cannot experience the Samadhi or tranquil concentration stage the second time, they feel disappointment, thinking, “I used to be able to experience Samadhi, but now I have failed.” This sometimes causes diffusion of the mind. Due to this diffusion, the mind cannot settle and the mind becomes restless. Because of this restlessness, we cannot keep our minds on the breath. When we cannot keep our mind on the breath, we cannot sustain awareness on the breath.


This means we cannot focus our minds on the breath. Therefore, we are unable to achieve the stage of profound concentration. Then we feel disappointment and the cycle starts again. So, we must keep in mind that the stage of tranquil concentration is a result of causes and that the causes must be in place for it to occur. This means you need to start from the beginning at each meditation sitting.

Important Things that Your Should Know - 05

When our minds become accustomed to mindfulness of breathing meditation, and our minds become settled we experience profound joy. This profound joy is not the sort of ordinary pleasure we get from listening to good music, watching a movie, or sharing a delicious meal with loved ones. Those are very coarse pleasures. The joy from tranquil concentration is more refined. It is a kind of light and profound joy that comes from utter contentment, resolution, and freedom from worries. When we start to experience this profound joy, and continue to watch our breath we feel a sense of exultation, which slowly settles and we then start to feel a sense of profound wellbeing, or sukha. This sense of wellbeing is both physical and mental.

Important Things that Your Should Know - 06

We talked about the breath becoming very light. This does not mean that it disappears. If we cannot feel the breath, we cannot sustain our attention on it. Sometimes when meditators are meditating with mindfulness of their breaths, after sometime they stop being mindful and simply watch their breaths. Then, when the breath becomes very light they tend to forget what they were doing and become confused. Because of this, we must always stay mindful and be aware of the breath. We need to remember that the breath will not disappear just yet. If we are like this we need to make an affirmation to ourselves as we sit to meditate that we will not let the mindfulness towards the breath disappear. We will stay aware and mindful on the breath. If we still cannot feel the breath, at that point, we can investigate with awareness and we should be able to find the breath and redirect our awareness towards it. When we continue to sustain our attention on the breath in this manner we realize the sukha or profound joy through the breathing. We recognize the breath well enough to understand that this is an inhalation and exhalation. We breathe in and breathe out while feeling this profound joy and with cognition of each in breath and out breath. This feeling and perception are called “citta sankhāra”. The term citta sankhāra is used because ‘feeling and perception’ are associated with the mind.


So, when we continue to breathe in and breathe out with profound understanding of this feeling and cognition associated with the mind, even this feeling and recognition become very light. We should prevent ourselves from being distracted by this lightness. We need to understand this but keep our attention and mindfulness on the breath. In the Buddha’s teachings, the word used for this understanding in the preliminary stages of meditation is pajānāthi. Pajānāthi means understanding with mindfulness. This leads to a greater understanding of the way things are. Later, He uses the word sikkhathi, which means practice or training. This means that we must train ourselves to prevent the mind from wondering here and there and develop the skill of being mindful on our breath. In other words, understand the lightening of the breath and skillfully maintain mindfulness on it. Gradually, the ‘citta sankhāra’ becomes subdued, and we feel joy, or pīti. Knowing and understanding this pīti, we maintain mindfulness on the breath. Then, we feel physical and mental lightness. Experiencing this lightness, we continue to maintain mindfulness on the breath, which enables us to have a feeling of intense comfort or sukha. Experiencing and knowing this sukha we continue to focus our mindfulness on the breath. We must practice this.

Important Things that Your Should Know - 07

As you increase your skills on being mindful on the breath through these stages, your mind will understand clearly how kāya sankāra and citta sankāra become subdued while you still keep your mindfulness on the breath. Your mind then achieves a spiritual rapture. You have a sense of clarity. The Five Hindrances are totally subdued now. Your mind is now at the stage of the first jhāna. The first jhāna is relatively easy to achieve through ānāpāna sati. When you have practiced the first jhāna skilfully, you can achieve a state of samādhi without thought or vitakka. This is the second jhāna. When you have practiced the second jhāna well, you can achieve the third jhāna. When you practice the third jhāna well, you can achieve the fourth jhāna.


When you hear the word jhāna, you may become somewhat scared or reluctant to strive for it. You may think, I am a householder, I have responsibilities, so how can I practice jhāna? Such thoughts occur for those who do not understand the pure Dhamma, and when your confidence in Dhamma is not strong enough and you have no experience of its practicality. It is not a shortcoming of the Dhamma. There are many people around the world who practice this method and experience jhāna and who benefit greatly from it. Therefore, you should place a strong confidence in the Buddha’s words and without any fear, continue with your practice of concentration and improve it.

Important Things that Your Should Know - 08

We are still talking about samatha meditation. If you develop your mind in the way we have described up to this point, you will be able to develop the calming meditation but there are various methods to follow in this world when the concentration is not cultivated. Be careful not to get trapped in those ideas. Some people may tell you that it is a simple thing for them and that they could put you in a jhāna within just ten minutes. Some would also say that if you can stay in concentration for thirty minutes then that would push you to the first jhāna. They say these things to check how badly you want it. But it just shows their lack of proper knowledge. The very important thing you must be aware of here is that there are no short cuts to jhāna. Until you can subdue and eradicate the five hindrances, which take time and effort, you cannot achieve sustained mindfulness on the breath, which leads to jhāna. Once the five hindrances are subdued, concentration is naturally achieved.

The Way to Cultivate the Dhammānupassanā in Ānāpānasati Meditation

We are now progressing through the mindfulness of breathing meditation. We find a peaceful spot, keep the back straight, and keep our mind on the point of focus that is our breathing. The breath is also called the object of meditation. We improve our mindfulness totally within the inhalation and exhalation. The breath is the object of our meditation. We should not look for or not expect other objects or “nimitta”. Other than the Satipatthāna sutta, further information on mindfulness of breathing meditation can be found in the Girimānanda sutta, which is in the chapter of tens in the Anguttara Nikāya or the Numerical discourses, and also in the satipatṭhāna samyutta as well as the ānāpānasati samyutta of the fifth book of the Samyutta Nikāya or Connected Discourses. We can get a comprehensive understanding of breathing meditation from these. This is not a personal opinion. It is directly the Buddha’s words.

Special Note

We must have total confidence in the Buddha’s teachings throughout this meditation, as it was the Blessed One who originally attained enlightenment through developing mindfulness of breathing meditation. It was He who discovered this method and instructed His followers to attain supreme freedom through this method. It was highly successful then and it will work today as well. If there was a method by which someone could end all suffering and attain arahantship, it is explained very clearly by the Buddha in the Discourses. He had total understanding on this subject and if anyone had an equal understanding that person would be a Buddha too. There is no need to edit or modify this method by saying you can try to meditate in other ways. If someone tries to modify, it only shows that individual’s lack of confidence in the Buddha and the foolish attempt to go beyond the Buddha’s unsurpassed knowledge. We must practice this Dhamma not as teachers but as followers of the Buddha.

Let's Move FORWARD ...........

We learned that there are two methods of meditation explained in the Satipatthāna sutta by the Buddha, namely samatha and vipassanā. We are now learning samatha-calming meditation. Now, we will explore calming meditation in greater depth as taught by the Buddha.


“Iti ajjhattaṁ vā kāye kāyānupssī viharati,” – one sustains the mind in the inhalation and exhalation ; one understands the nature of the breath and understands how to sustain the mind on the breath.


“Bahiddhā vā kāye kāyānupassī viharati,” – as one understands the nature of the breath inside oneself, one understands that in others too, the breath is of the same nature.


We, then, understand that this is the nature of the breath within ourselves and outside ourselves.


Then, the Buddha taught that, when we sustain our mind on the breath; it is kāyānupassanā, when we see the origination of the breath; it is the samudaya Dhammānupassi vā.


This means body is originated from nutriment. Even the continuation of the cycle of rebirth solely depends on nutriment. But in this instance we are considering our bodies. Our bodies exist because of nutriment. Therefore, respiration is composed of the elements of nutriment. Respiration arises due to causes. Therefore, respiration too is impermanent. Realizing the phenomenon that things arise due to causes is samudaya dhammānupassī vā.

How the Wisdom is Gained?

Once, the Buddha was asked, “How can one gain wisdom?”


The Buddha preached,


“Saddhāno arahatam Dhammam nibbānapattiyā ” – “the Buddhas teach the Dhamma that leads to ultimate freedom, Nibbāna.”


“Sussūsā labhatē paññā appamattā vicakkhanā ”  – “The one who listens to that Dhamma very attentively, placing confidence in the teachings and investigates it with diligence, gains wisdom.”


According to the Buddha, it is very obvious that one should listen to the Buddha’s teachings in order to gain wisdom. There is a school of thought that if you continue to meditate you will automatically gain wisdom. If this were true, there would have been no need for the Buddhas to expound the Dhamma.


The Buddha once said to his liberated disciples, “two monks should not go on one road. Teach the Dhamma clearly to everyone you meet along the way.” The Buddha continued, “If people don’t get to hear the Dhamma, they will commit unwholesome actions and be born in planes of misery…… There will be people who would realize the Dhamma if it is preached to them.”


This clearly shows us that this Dhamma can be realized. This clearly shows that learning the Dhamma is necessary to realize the true nature of things. So, we need to understand well that we must cultivate wisdom.

Realizing Impermanence as Impermanence

Now you have some knowledge about mindfulness of breathing meditation, ānāpānasati. You have gained this knowledge through the Buddha’s teachings. When you practice this meditation according to the great teachings, you will be feeling a natural respect coming from your heart for the Buddha. This respect will help you further develop this Dhamma.


When one develops insight realizing impermanence as impermanence, which leads to the realization of suffering which in turn leads to the realization of non-self. This realization does not come automatically. While maintaining a total mindfulness, you must contemplate impermanence and only then will you be able to realize impermanent things as impermanent. If you can practice contemplation of impermanence through mindfulness of breathing, Buddha teaches that you will be able to refrain from being attached to anything (naca kinci loke upādiyati ). That means the meditator will not grasp a view of I, mine, or myself with regard to breathing and will have a mind of total freedom. This will help us further develop wisdom, further develop awareness and attain a complete understanding of life.


In the Buddha’s teachings, there are no inferior goals. We do not meditate to improve memory or for health benefits, although they are byproducts of meditation. Meditating for health and memory skills is very much a worldly concept. The Buddha’s way of meditation is a revolution for freedom of thought. So, if you want to follow this method,you must understand the right goal, learn and practice the teachings and meditate. Only then can you achieve a true and honest effort; a genuine need aligns with our conscience and a real desire to understand life.


Now you have learned how to attain concentration or samādhi through ānāpānasati or mindfulness of breathing meditation and how to cultivate insight through ānāpānasati. In developing wisdom, you must keep in mind that this is a contemplation of impermanence. Inhalation and exhalation is impermanent; then you feel the breath; the feeling of breath is impermanent. You perceive the breath, that perception is impermanent. In the breath you create a thought, and form volition. These volitions too are impermanent. You are conscious of the breath, that consciousness too is impermanent. When you continue to contemplate impermanent things as impermanent with wisdom, you will be able to see impermanence as impermanent.

Now you have some knowledge about mindfulness of breathing meditation, ānāpānasati. You have gained this knowledge through the Buddha’s teachings. When you practice this meditation according to the great teachings, you will be feeling a natural respect coming from your heart for the Buddha. This respect will help you further develop this Dhamma.