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Now, Buddhadāsa makes it clear in his Thai talks that the first step of this practice, concerning the long in and out breathing, is actually a preparation for meditation, in the same way that the pancasīla, the five precepts, or guidelines for would-be meditators to practise in their ordinary lives, is a preparation exercise.  One, the training in sīla, is aimed at bringing our life, our interractions with the world we live in under some degree of control by learning to restrain our desires, which involves controlling speech and physical activities; the other, the long breathing, aims at bringing the physical body under control, calming it, relaxing it, by manipulating the breath.

According to Buddhadāsa meditation is all about control.  Hence, in the first step he follows the Buddha’s instruction to ‘fully comprehend,’ to know all about, long in and long out breathing by asking people to learn to control their breathing, that is, to make their in an out breaths long quite deliberately.  He says we should strive to understand the long breathing thoroughly by practising with its many different forms, we should get to know all the forms of long breathing the body is capable of doing: long breathing, longer, breathing, longest breathing, long soft and gentle breathing, long rough breathing, and so on.  Sit and observe the forms of long breathing until we know all about them.

To do this most easily Buddhadāsa suggests that we practise in a particular way, that is, we count as we breathe in and out to make the breathing longer, as long as we wish, thus we perhaps would count in our mind - not out loud - up to three, or up to five as we breathe in, and, if our counting is equal to seconds in time, then we’d immediately have a three or five second in breath to contemplate.  We do the same with the out breath.  In this way we can lengthen or shorten the breathing as we like.

To do this properly we’ll have to learn to control the actual flow of breath in and out of the body, so that, even though we’re taking much longer than normal to breath in and out we don’t get too much air into our lungs.  Hence it’s necessary to regulate the flow of the breathing - in much the same way that we would control the flow of water from a tap or fawcet – so that we can breathe in and out for five, ten, fifteen seconds, or whatever, and feel no discomfort.

It’s also recommended that we don’t do as people are normally advised to do when observing the in and out breaths, that is, we don’t ‘guard,’ we don’t observe a point at the tip of nose, noting the passing in and out of the breathing in that one place - at least not in the beginning - ‘guarding’ is something we will do, eventually, but at first Buddhadāsa suggests that we learn to ‘follow,’ or ‘chase’ the breathing in and out of the body.  Thus, we start at the tip of the nose, feeling the breathing enter the nostrils, and we try to follow the sensation of breathing as it passes over the inner body surfaces, over the top of the mouth, and down the throat to the top of the lungs, and then, as we’re actually observing feeling here, the feeling the breathing makes as it passes in and out of the body – the breathing itself being impossible to observe – we can switch to include the bodily movement in our observations, because, when we breathe in the body, the navel area will move more or less noticeably in response, and as this also creates a feeling we can include this in the exercise too.  So, we breathe in and follow or chase the breathing from the nose tip, down the throat to the top of the lungs, at which point we switch to the bodily movement and the sensations created by them until the in-breath comes to an end.  We then reverse the process, first noting the bodily movement as the breathing begins to make the return journey then picking up the out-breath as it enters the throat area and finally reaches the nose once more.

To do this is to really and truly fully comprehend, to know all about, the long in and out breathing, which is precisely what the Buddha asked people to do.

But remember, this long breathing step is a preparation for meditation.  The main point is to learn about the long breathing itself and how to maintain such breathing over a long enough period of time without producing any physical discomfort, such as would happen if we just try to make the breathing long without exercising any control over the flow of breath.

Buddhadāsa says that the second step, concerning the short in and out breathing, is done in much the same way as the first step.  However there are differences, because, of course, the short breathing isn’t so pleasant to experience, and it’s more difficult to observe.  Nevertheless he says we should be willing to investigate short in and out breathing in just the same way we did the long in and out breathing.  Buddhadāsa considers long, soft breathing to be the sort that we should do all the time, and short breathing, which is the sort of breathing people normally do, to be the sort we should avoid.  However, there’s no need to spend too much time experimenting with the shorter forms of breathing, the longer forms being more beneficial.  But we should do enough short breathing to be able to recognize the differences between the two forms for ourselves.

Buddhadasa wants us to experience all of this personally, to know for ourselves which sort of breathing is good for us, is healthier, more vital.

The third step is to ‘experience all bodies.’  This is where we practise to observe the actual effect the different forms of breathing have on the body and, to a lesser extent, on the mind too.  ‘All bodies’ here refers to the (1) breathing itself, which is also called a ‘body’ in Theravāda Buddhism, it’s the ‘body’ within the ‘body,) (2) the obvious physical body, and also must include (3) the effect the breathing in and out is having, particularly on the body.  Every in and out breath we make causes the body to change in some way.  This is called ‘conditioning’ in Buddhist circles.  So, be able to be aware of the breathing entering and leaving the body, and of the way the body is being made to feel – relaxed, tense or whatever - by the breathing, try also to observe the actual interaction between the body and the breathing, and do all of this with each and every in and out breath.  We can use any form of breathing, long or short, as suits us, we can experiment in this step to fully understand and directly experience the interdependence of the breathing and the body.

If we practice the third step properly then we should become aware of the inter-connectnedness of the breath and the body, of how the breathing affects the body, but also of how we are feeling physically affects the breathing; we should be aware of how the breathing affects the mind too, and of how our current mental state affects the way that we breathe.  All in all, if the third step is done properly we should have direct experience of the interdependence of the breathing, the body and the mind, enough experience to be convinced of the fact that we can use the breathing to control the body completely and that we can exert enough influence over the mind to bring it to the point where real concentration can begin to build.

All of this means that the actual meditation practice, the part where we try to bring the mind to concentration of a developed kind, takes place in the fourth step of the first tetrad.  Hence the title of the fourth step: ‘calming the body conditioner.’

From what’s gone before we know that the ‘body conditioner’ is the breathing, so that we’re going to be calming the breathing here.  But wait a minute, didn’t we do that in the first step?  Yes, we did, but then we deliberately made the breathing calm down as the means of taking the body out of the equation so that mind could begin to concentrate, now we’re going to do that again, but this time we’re going to develop the calming of the breathing further and, hopefully, at the same time take the mind into concentration.

Now, how do we do this?  We start again with the first step, the long breathing, we begin by deliberately making our breathing longer than normal in the way described, and we do this until the body relaxes completely, until the body ceases to be a problem in any way whatsoever, at which time it will be as if the body has disappeared, what will remain of the body will be a feeling of heaviness, the sensation of there being arms and legs, etc. having gone away.  This is the point we aim for with the controlled long breathing exercise.  Until this point is reached we continue to follow the long breathing in and out of the body, chasing it over the top of the mouth and down the throat, connecting with the feeling of bodily movement - back and forth, back and forth, until the feeling of there being a body more or less disappears and, more importantly, until the point is reached where the mind ceases to wander and instead stays mindfully fixed on the in and out breathing.  It’s when this happens that we’ll begin to practise the fourth step.  But what about the second and third steps?  There’s no need to do steps two and three anymore, once we’ve got the necessary information from them we can forget all about them.  The important steps are steps one and four.  Step one will bring us to step four quite naturally, all we have to do is be patient enough to sit and control the in and outflow of breath until the body responds, relaxes to the point where it almost disappears and the mind ceases to wander and stays fixed on the in and out flow of breath.  When that happens it’s a blessed experience.  The mind has been used to wandering here and there, here and there, seeking stimulation, excitement on whatever level, but now it discovers a taste for a different sort of experience as our practice starts to have its effect.  The more balanced lifestyle, and the long breathing exercise bring calmness into life, first physically, then, bit by bit, mentally as the mind slows down and gradually comes to a stop, becomes still, fixed quietly on its new love, the in and out breathing.  The mind will now be clear and agile so that the breathing will be very easy to observe; before this it was always somewhat difficult, but now, because the mind has purified itself to a certain extent it can appreciate and find contentment in observing the in and out breath, with the result that the practice becomes very easy and pleasant to do.

This has to happen before we can enter the fourth step.  Once it has happened then we can carry on for a few minutes with the forced long breathing and with the chasing exercise, just to be sure that what we’re experiencing isn’t going to disappear, then, when we’re sure enough, we can allow the breathing to become natural, we can stop forcing the breath and let it drop into a natural rhythm, at the same time stop chasing it in and out of the body and instead begin to ‘guard,’ to fix our attention on the nose tip, at some single point on or in the nose which suits us best.  The breathing, once released, will very quickly become short, soft, refined breathing, getting shorter and shorter, softer and softer, faster and faster, that is, the breathing will calm down, which is the whole point of the fourth step – ‘calming the body conditioner’ – this is how it happens, and as it does so the mind will draw in, will focus more and more on the guarding point.  The mind is going to become ‘one-pointed,’ and as it approaches that condition one should experience some facial tension, which will be a consequence of the mind focusing on one point and no longer wasting its considerable energies wandering here, there, and everywhere.  The mind may then ‘invert,’ which would mean that it’s entered full concentration.  Mind would then go ‘inside itself,’ as it were, and be in quite another place.  What else happens at this point we’ll leave you to find out for yourselves.

How to practice the first tetrad of Ānāpānasati - The Buddha’s sixteen step meditation practice.     Revised and updated

Buddhadāsa’s approach to ānāpānasati (mindfulness with breathing) is unusual, in that he explains the first tetrad, that is, the first four steps of the practice, differently. 

According to the translation of the Pali text, the first step of the practice of mindfulness with breathing is to ‘fully comprehend long in and long out breathing,’ the second step is to ‘fully comprehend short in and out breathing,’ the third step is to ‘experience all bodies,’ the fourth step is to ‘calm the body conditioner.’