Question and Answer
By the Venerable U Vimalaramsi
Hi Bhante V!
There has been quite a few questions and some confusion about
relaxing on the in breath and also on the out breath. Can you put a
finer point on that and perhaps explain very specifically how your
awareness needs to be directed through the course of a few breaths.
Would it be helpful to use noting "relaxing". What are you being
aware of exactly?
Boy! Next time why don't you
pick a deeper question? Hahaha! OK
I'll try to be as precise as possible and also it would be good to
re-read the article about the practice of Breathing Meditation that
I wrote and have posted a couple of times (the last time I posted
it, it was to Tom).
When the Buddha gave the
instructions in the Mindfulness of Breathing Sutta he said "He
trains thus: 'On the in breath, I shall tranquilize the bodily
formation': He trains thus: "On the out breath, I shall tranquilize
the bodily formation." (This is paraphrased by me) and later in the
sutta it says, "On the in breath, I shall tranquilize the mental
formations. On the out breath I shall tranquilize the mental
formation". The breath is used as a reminder to relax, it is not the
main purpose of this meditation to only see the breath to the
exclusion of everything else. Again the breath is the reminder to
relax and then to be able to see how mind's attention moves away
from the breath and relaxing. Now what does this mean?
In my experience I have found
that there is a slightly different type of relaxing on the in
breath, by this I mean that the feeling of tranquilizing the
tightness or tension in one's head is not the same as the feeling
when one tranquilizes the tightness or tension on the out breath.
Maybe I can explain it like this there is a membrane that encloses
the entire brain. Anytime mind's attention moves it causes this
membrane to contract or get tighter this is commonly called
"Craving" or the "I like it or I don't like it mind". This tightness
is how we notice that craving is present. When one lets go of this
slight tightness or tension they will feel a release of this bigger
type of craving that always manifests as tension or tightness. When
this tightness or tension is let go of there is a feeling of
expansion or opening up that occurs and there is a very subtle
Then on the out breath the feeling goes deeper. I will explain it
like this physically the brain is made up of two separate lobes and
each lobe also, has another membrane around each individual lobe
these two separate membranes get stuck together by old attachments.
As the meditator relaxes on the out breath this allows the two
separate membranes to let go a very little bit. The smiling is so
important because when one is smiling it helps mind to be lighter
and more alert. Also, this gives a sense of fun to the practice and
this helps one to see the impersonal nature of everything that
arises. This is why we stress smiling so much at this group. Joy is
one of the enlightenment factors - without a sense of joyful
curiosity about how mind and body occurs the practice tends to get
very serious and it turns into work instead of being a fun
exploration. Here is a question to ponder: Would the Buddha have
become so popular if he only talked about pain and suffering?
Remember > the Buddha lived and taught many different types of
people. Mostly uneducated farmers and laymen, so would talk about
suffering be a popular topic? Or was the cessation of the suffering
what was focused on? If one develops a sense of fun and seeing how
to let go of pain and suffering, would that make Buddhism more of an
optimistic way of life?
Overtime as one lets go of the hindrances these membranes begin to
come a part little by little. As this happens one's meditation gets
deeper and more clear. Letting go of the hindrances means to see
exactly how each hindrance arises on a more and more subtle level.
This is where the links of Dependent Origination become more easily
discernable. Without going through the whole process it works like
this. In order to see (for example) there must be a good working eye
and color and form. When the eye hits the color and form then
eye-consciousness arises. The meeting of these three things is
called eye-contact. With eye-contact as condition eye feeling arises
(this feeling is pleasant, painful or neither painful nor pleasant
and the feeling can be either bodily or mental) with eye-feeling as
condition, eye-craving arises, with eye-craving as condition
clinging arises. Now the clinging is all of the stories, concepts,
opinions, ideas and the "I" identification becomes very big.
When the meditator relaxes on the in breath and on the out breath
they are beginning to let go of craving. Whenever mind's attention
begins to move away from the breath and relaxing both types of the
brains membranes tighten and again this is how one is able to
recognize when craving arises then they practice the 6R's and let go
of the craving at that time. Whenever anyone lets go of the tension
or tightness in their mind and body they will begin to notice a
quiet space where mind is exceptionally alert and there is no
disturbance at all. Mind at that time is clear, alert and very
tranquil and they bring that mind back to the meditation object
again, which is the breath and relaxing on the in breath and
relaxing on the out breath.
Now everytime mind becomes distracted by anything - there is contact
(with one of the sense objects that is eye, ear, nose, tongue,
body or mind), next arises a feeling and then right on its heals the
craving arises. If the meditator is alert enough they will notice a
feeling arise and relax right at that moment, then the craving,
clinging, and habitual tendencies will not arise. But if the
meditators mindfulness (observation) is not strong enough or alert
enough then the craving (tightness or tension), the clinging (the
story about) and the false belief in a personal self arises, next
the old habitual tendencies of treating that story and self belief,
like always arises. The job of the meditator is to be able to
recognize when a feeling arises and relax right then. And of course
this is not an easy thing to do, and almost impossible for people
who are just starting out in meditation.. But and this is a Big but,
when the meditator follows the simple instructions given to us by
the Buddha about relaxing both mind and body on the in breath and
the out breath, one's progress in meditation will improve until one
goes by stages through the jhanas. Jhanas are stages of
understanding that is gained by the meditator as they begin to see
exactly how this whole process actually occurs.
This whole process actually needs to be a joyful experience because
that is the way to deeply understand how the true nature of all
existence occurs. The fun one has in exploring the faster they will
learn and see how each of us causes the suffering to arise in
ourselves. With the smile we can recognize when mind becomes heavy
and full of unwholesome states like sadness, grumpiness, anger,
dissatisfaction, depression, fear, anxiety or whatever the catch of
the day is! When we learn to smile and have fun with whatever arises
in the present moment then we are able to progress quickly.
I hope this has been of some help to everyone! Hahaha! Whew!