Icchānaṅgala Sutta — and many others — clearly illustrate that Ānāpānasati is not breath meditation.
October 7, 2022; revised October 19, 2022 (#10 added)
“Icchānaṅgala Sutta (SN 54.11)” is a short sutta. One can get a clear answer to whether Ānāpānasati is breath meditation. I will translate the complete sutta so that there will be no ambiguity.
Buddha Spending a Rainy Season (Vassāvāsa) in Seclusion
1. “Ekaṃ samayaṃ bhagavā icchānaṅgale viharati icchānaṅgalavanasaṇḍe. Tatra kho bhagavā bhikkhū āmantesi: “icchāmahaṃ, bhikkhave, temāsaṃ paṭisallīyituṃ. Nāmhi kenaci upasaṅkamitabbo, aññatra ekena piṇḍapātanīhārakenā”ti.
“Evaṃ, bhante”ti kho te bhikkhū bhagavato paṭissutvā nāssudha koci bhagavantaṃ upasaṅkamati, aññatra ekena piṇḍapātanīhārakena.”
Translated: “On one occasion, the Blessed One was staying in Icchānaṅgala in the Icchānaṅgala forest grove. He addressed the bhikkhus: “Bhikkhus, I wish to go into seclusion for three months. I am not to be approached by anyone except for the one who brings alms food.”
“As you say, Bhante,” the bhikkhus responded to him. And no one approached the Blessed One except the one who brought alms food.
2. “Atha kho bhagavā tassa temāsassa accayena paṭisallānā vuṭṭhito bhikkhū āmantesi: “sace kho, bhikkhave, aññatitthiyā paribbājakā evaṃ puccheyyuṃ: ‘katamenāvuso, vihārena samaṇo gotamo vassāvāsaṃ bahulaṃ vihāsī’ti, evaṃ puṭṭhā tumhe, bhikkhave, tesaṃ aññatitthiyānaṃ paribbājakānaṃ evaṃ byākareyyātha: ‘ānāpānassatisamādhinā kho, āvuso, bhagavā vassāvāsaṃ bahulaṃ vihāsī’ti.
Translated: “Then the Blessed One, having emerged from seclusion after the passing of three months, addressed the bhikkhus: “Bhikkhus, if adherents of other sects ask you, ‘How did Buddha Gotama spend the rains residence?’ You should answer them in this way: ‘It was with ānāpānasati samādhi that the Blessed One dwelled.’
Buddha Spending Vassāvāsa in Ānāpānasati Samādhi
3. “Idhāhaṃ, bhikkhave, sato assasāmi, sato passasāmi. Dīghaṃ assasanto ‘dīghaṃ assasāmī’ti pajānāmi, dīghaṃ passasanto ‘dīghaṃ passasāmī’ti pajānāmi; rassaṃ assasanto ‘rassaṃ assasāmī’ti pajānāmi, rassaṃ passasanto ‘rassaṃ passasāmī’ti pajānāmi; ‘sabbakāyappaṭisaṃvedī assasissāmī’ti pajānāmi … pe … ‘paṭinissaggānupassī assasissāmī’ti pajānāmi, ‘paṭinissaggānupassī passasissāmī’ti pajānāmi.“
The above verse (phrase) is the stock phrase describing Ānāpānasati in the “Ānāpānasati Sutta (MN 118)” EXCEPT for a critical difference. Let us look at the corresponding description in the Ānāpānasati Sutta (MN 118):
“So satova assasati satova passasati. Dīghaṁ vā assasanto ‘dīghaṁ assasāmī’ti pajānāti, dīghaṁ vā passasanto ‘dīghaṁ passasāmī’ti pajānāti; rassaṁ vā assasanto ‘rassaṁ assasāmī’ti pajānāti, rassaṁ vā passasanto ‘rassaṁ passasāmī’ti pajānāti; sabbakāyapaṭisaṁvedī assasissāmī’ti sikkhati … pe …paṭinissaggānupassī assasissāmī’ti sikkhati, ‘paṭinissaggānupassī passasissāmī’ti sikkhati.”
4. I highlighted the words that are different in the two cases. Those in red denote Buddha’s Ānāpānasati described in the Icchānaṅgala Sutta (SN 54.11). They are replaced by the ones in blue in the procedure followed by a bhikkhu in the Ānāpānasati Sutta (MN 118.)
- Also, … pe … indicates skipping the intervening part to keep the text short. The skipped sections include the sections of kāyānupassanā, vedanānupassanā, cittānupassanā, to the end of dhammānupassanā. That skipped section is a couple of pages long. The switch from pajānāmi to sikkhati applies in all sections.
5. Other than the first-person usage for the Buddha (e.g., sato assasāmi) and the third-person for a bhikkhu (e.g., satova passasati), the main difference is in pajānāmi replacing sikkhati in kāyānupassanā through dhammānupassanā in the Ānāpānasati Sutta (MN 118.)
- The skipped sections include the four sections of kāyānupassanā, vedanānupassanā, cittānupassanā, to the end of dhammānupassanā. In kāyānupassanā, the verse “sabbakāyapaṭisaṁvedī assasissāmī’ti sikkhati” for a bhikkhu is replaced by “sabbakāyappaṭisaṃvedī assasissāmī’ti pajānāmi” for the Buddha. Lastly, in dhammānupassanā, “paṭinissaggānupassī assasissāmī’ti sikkhati” for a bhikkhu is replaced by the verse “paṭinissaggānupassī assasissāmī’ti pajānāmi” for the Buddha.
- There, pajānāmi means “I know,” and “sikkhati” means “(a bhikkhu) will train thus.” In the Icchānaṅgala Sutta (SN 54.11), the Buddha recalls/reenacts the process for a “pleasant abiding,” as stated in #8 below, whereas a sekha bhikkhu would train that way, as indicated in #7.
- Of course, the switching applies to all corresponding verses for vedanānupassanā and cittānupassanā, as pointed out in #4.
- That distinction will become more apparent in #7 and #8 below.
Ānāpānasati Samādhi = Ariya Vihāra, Brahma Vihāra, Tathāgata Vihāra
6. “Yañhi taṃ, bhikkhave, sammā vadamāno vadeyya: ‘ariyavihāro’ itipi, ‘brahmavihāro’ itipi, ‘tathāgatavihāro’ itipi. Ānāpānassatisamādhiṃ sammā vadamāno vadeyya: ‘ariyavihāro’ itipi, ‘brahmavihāro’ itipi, ‘tathāgatavihāro’ itipi.”
Translated: “One can call that pleasant abiding of the Buddha a Noble dwelling, a Brahmā dwelling, a Tathāgata dwelling. The Ānāpānasati samādhi can be rightly called a Noble dwelling,’ ‘Brahmā dwelling,’ or ‘a Tathāgata dwelling.’
A Trainee (Sekhā) Makes Progress With Ānāpānasati
7. “Ye te, bhikkhave, bhikkhū sekhā appattamānasā anuttaraṃ yogakkhemaṃ patthayamānā viharanti tesaṃ ānāpānassatisamādhi bhāvito bahulīkato āsavānaṃ khayāya saṃvattati.”
Translated: “For those bhikkhus who are still trainees (sekhā) who have yet to attain the Arahanthship, cultivation of Ānāpānasati samādhi leads to the ending of the āsavā (i.e., attaining Arahanthood).”
A Buddha (or Arahant) Lives With Ānāpānasati for a Pleasant State of Mind
8. “Ye ca kho te, bhikkhave, bhikkhū arahanto khīṇāsavā vusitavanto katakaraṇīyā ohitabhārā anuppattasadatthā parikkhīṇabhavasaṃyojanā sammadaññāvimuttā, tesaṃ ānāpānassatisamādhi bhāvito bahulīkato diṭṭhadhammasukhavihārāya ceva saṃvattati satisampajaññāya ca.”
Translated: “For those bhikkhus who are Arahants, who have irradicated defilements and have completed the Noble Path, Ānāpānasati samādhi leads to a pleasant abiding in this life together with mindfulness & alertness.”
Thus the Synonyms: Ariya Vihāra, Brahma Vihāra, Tathāgata Vihāra
9. “Yañhi taṃ, bhikkhave, sammā vadamāno vadeyya: ‘ariyavihāro’ itipi, ‘brahmavihāro’ itipi, ‘tathāgatavihāro’ itipi. Ānāpānassatisamādhiṃ sammā vadamāno vadeyya: ‘ariyavihāro’ itipi, ‘brahmavihāro’ itipi, ‘tathāgatavihāro’ itipī”ti.”
Translated: Therefore, “Ānāpānasati samādhi can be correctly called: ‘Noble dwelling,’ ‘Brahmā dwelling,’ ‘Tathāgata dwelling.’
- Note: Brahma and Tathāgata can be (and have been) used for an Arahant and a Buddha, even though that is not standard usage. Brahma here does not mean one in a Brahma realm.
- That is the end of the Icchānaṅgala Sutta (SN 54.11).
10. If the Buddha (or an Arahant) has already discarded the opposites of the Noble Path Factors, why do they need to engage in Anapanasati?
– Because that provides relief to the mind.
– Even Arahants have “agitation of the mind” (NOT defilements) due to kamma vipaka. They also have bodily dukkha/sukha vedana due to kamma vipaka as everyone else.
– Several suttas state that contemplation of Tilakkhana is advised for all, including Arahants. See “16 results for diṭṭhadhammasukhavihārāya.”
Kaṅkheyya Sutta Is Similar to Icchānaṅgala Sutta
11. “Kaṅkheyya Sutta (SN 54.12)” is similar. The use of the term “sekho vihāro” there indicates the abiding of a trainee bhikkhu (sekha) engaging in Ānāpānasati in the beginning verse of that sutta.
“Ekaṃ samayaṃ āyasmā lomasakaṃbhiyo sakkesu viharati kapilavatthusmiṃ nigrodhārāme. Atha kho mahānāmo sakko yenāyasmā lomasakaṃbhiyo tenupasaṅkami; upasaṅkamitvā āyasmantaṃ lomasakaṃbhiyaṃ abhivādetvā ekamantaṃ nisīdi. Ekamantaṃ nisinno kho mahānāmo sakko āyasmantaṃ lomasakaṃbhiyaṃ etadavoca: “so eva nu kho, bhante, sekho vihāro so tathāgata vihāro, udāhu aññova sekho vihāro añño tathāgatavihāro”ti?“
Translated: “At one time, Venerable Lomasavaṅgīsa was staying in the land of the Sakyans, near Kapilavatthu in the Banyan Tree Monastery. Then Mahānāma the Sakyan went up to Venerable Lomasavaṅgīsa, bowed, sat down to one side, and said to him, “Bhante, is the meditation/abiding of a trainee (sekho vihāro) just the same as the meditation/abiding of an Arahant (tathāgata vihāro)? Or is the meditation/abiding of a trainee different from the meditation/abiding of an Arahant?”
12. “Na kho, āvuso mahānāma, sveva sekho vihāro, so tathāgatavihāro. Añño kho, āvuso mahānāma, sekho vihāro, añño tathāgatavihāro. Ye te, āvuso mahānāma, bhikkhū sekhā appattamānasā anuttaraṃ yogakkhemaṃ patthayamānā viharanti, te pañca nīvaraṇe pahāya viharanti. Katame pañca? Kāmacchandanīvaraṇaṃ pahāya viharanti, byāpādanīvaraṇaṃ … pe … thinamiddhanīvaraṇaṃ … uddhaccakukkuccanīvaraṇaṃ … vicikicchānīvaraṇaṃ pahāya viharanti.
Yepi te, āvuso mahānāma, bhikkhū sekhā appattamānasā anuttaraṃ yogakkhemaṃ patthayamānā viharanti, te ime pañca nīvaraṇe pahāya viharanti.”
Translated: “Mahānāma, the meditation of a trainee and an Arahant are not the same; they are different. Those bhikkhūs who are trainees haven’t attained Nibbāna; they strive to attain Nibbāna. They meditate, seeking to give up the five hindrances. What five? Kāmacchanda, byāpāda, thinamiddha, uddhaccakukkucca, vicikicchā.”
- Another point is that sekha vihāra does not mean a meditation session. Instead, that is how a trainee bhikkhu LIVES.
Cultivation of Ānāpānasati Fulfills Satipaṭṭhāna, Satta Bojjhaṅga
13. The rest of the suttas in that series, “Paṭhamaānanda Sutta (SN 54.13)” through “Āsavakkhaya Sutta (SN 54. 20),” describe how the cultivation of Ānāpānasati will lead to the fulfillment of all requirements to get to Nibbāna or Arahanthood. More evidence is discussed in the post “Is Ānāpānasati Breath Meditation?“
- It is incredible to see those who have (mechanically) translated all those suttas did not realize the obvious statements in the suttas. Please read the English translations in the above links. But it is not just this translator. All English translators have translated without grasping the meanings. Were they not paying attention?
- All of them insist that Ānāpānasati means “breath meditation.” Amazing!
- That is why I call this series “Elephants in the Room.” It is like: a giant elephant is in a room, and someone is saying, “What elephant? No. There is no elephant here”! They can pretend to ignore the elephant until getting crushed by elephant. Such is the blinding nature of micchā diṭṭhi.