Breathing Meditation

Ven. Godfrey Eshin

There are many types of meditation methods within Buddhism. They are all effective and of benefit. Breathing meditation is one of the most basic methods. Within breathing meditation there are several different methods.

One first settles the physical body. It is said traditionally that full lotus is best. However this is not easy for most people and one can sit half lotus, kneeling, or even in a chair. The back should be straight and be supporting itself, not leaning against something. Head is straight on the body, not tipping forwards or backwards. The hands form a mudra against one's abdomen. Old habits make one want to bend a little and aches occur. In time more energy is generated and this will naturally help a straighter posture.

The eyes should be open looking down past ones nose to the floor with a soft gaze. With most people there is a strong tendency to close ones eyes, especially when starting meditation. If the eyes are closed there is a tendency to become too internal and even sleepy. If a strong effort is made to keep them open then often the external object is held too tightly. It takes some time to cultivate the mind that can balance internal and external with a gentle ease.

Attention is given to the breath cycle, breathing in and breathing out. As one becomes more aware of the breath the mind slowly settles. Many people without a meditation method will have scattered mental energy. This results in random and bubbly thoughts arising. Focusing on the breath also focuses the mind and the mental scatted-ness subsides. Often at first this is difficult because the mind is accustomed to stimulus from the outer sense worlds and reacts to them with thought patterns. As one becomes less involved with ones surroundings and also focuses more fully on the breath then a natural inner stability, a comfortable lodging so to speak, develops.

Breathe naturally without forcing the breath. Breath from the stomach or abdomen. Sometimes the breath is deep, sometimes shallow. It will change by itself over time. Inhale and exhale normally mindful that 'I am inhaling and exhaling normally'. Continue for a few breaths then extend the in-breath and the out-breath being mindful of 'I am breathing out a long exhalation, I am breathing in a long inhalation'. Continue for a few more breaths. Now follow ones breath carefully, aware of every movement in ones body. In this way a settling or coming home to ones mind, body and breath will occur. Do not try to be aware of breathing from just one perspective. In time the awareness of breath may change. Often an awareness of the physical breath is noticed first. Sometimes awareness of a breath energy cycling throughout ones body may be noticed. In deep meditation it is as if one is being breathed rather than one is breathing. Thoughts, feelings and body sensations do not stop. It is that one is not attached and caught up in them. Not being caught up in them means not to give rise to strong and inappropriate emotions, speech and actions.

As a stability develops within oneself one should practise becoming more aware of ones surroundings while retaining a centered stability. Awareness of the surroundings occurs through the five sense organs. The surroundings are, in fact, the sense objects - that which one is aware of. The mind has many old habits that distort how the sense objects, ones surroundings, are perceived. It is common to stare when gazing down at the floor. In extreme cases mind shapes are seen in the pattern of the floor.

In time the eye mind relaxes and one sees naturally, clearly, all the time, without attaching tightly onto one sense object. The same occurs with the hearing, tasting, smelling and touching sense organs and sense minds. Eventually one develops the mind that is at home both with oneself and ones surroundings.

This is to develop an inner peace and a clarity of the outside situation. A balance develops between inner and outer and a natural harmony arises. Here the breath is cycling and embracing both inside and outside. A deeper intimacy of oneself and surroundings develops.

Breathing practice facilitates the awakening of ones consciousness to the original nature of things. Ones ordinary, conventional, perspective is based on a mistaken but unnoticed assumption - the mind takes the data of the senses to create an objective reality - because the tree is over there and 'I' am over here, therefore, it is other than me. When I touch the table, it is over there and I am here. One becomes stuck in a fixed notion of ones identity in relation to the external. This mistake is called ignorance and it is the undoing of this mistake that constitutes awakening.

The mind has been conventionally educated to think on the basis of this mistake. How many question the assumption 'I am so-and-so'? One creates all kinds of delusions both of the inside and of the outside. If one had a machine that attached to the brain that projected thoughts onto a large screen how many could bear the disclosure? If everyone could see inside all the minds one may run shrieking from the room or else quickly become humble!

If one gains sufficient stability with meditation it becomes possible to contemplate the nature of things more deeply. One can notice that the world revealed by the senses is not an objective, independently existing reality. Every sense experience, at its source, is a union of subject and object, of the sense organs, their objects and the mind that senses. The tree over there comes into being with the observer, it is not separately other, even though appearing in the sense world as other. From the meditative perspective, when the subject is emptied of self, the object and subject unite. Every thing that one experiences, at any time, arises from this deep mind.

During the initial stages when the mind is overly active, continually return ones awareness to the body and breathing with full feeling. When the mind calms, meditation becomes more effortless and clear. Everything that is experienced as ones meditation.

In deeper meditation there is no longer a distinction of subject and object as being separate. Every touch and taste, every sight and sound is the radiance appearing as object to a subject that is empty of true being. Right where ones foot touches the ground is an entryway to ones true self.