Ānapānasati Eliminates Mental Stress Permanently

January 21, 2019; revised July 1, 2022


1. In the last post, we discussed how focusing the mind on breath CAN calm a mind. But we also saw that any relief one gets is temporary. Here we discuss the Ānapānasati in the Ānapānasati Sutta (MN 118).

  • We also briefly discussed in the previous post the idea that in order to permanently REDUCE and eventually REMOVE the “mental stress” we need to purify our minds.
  • Here we will discuss some details, and show the connection to dasa akusala and Paṭicca Samuppāda, key concepts in Buddha Dhamma.
  • You may want to read the earlier post: “Breath Meditation Is Addictive and Harmful in the Long Run”.

2. From the sutta (MN 118): “ Ānāpānassati, bhikkhave, bhāvitā bahulīkatā mahāpphalā hoti mahānisaṃsā. Ānāpānassati, bhikkhave, bhāvitā bahulīkatā cattāro satipaṭṭhāne paripūreti. Cattāro satipaṭṭhānā bhāvitā bahulīkatā satta bojjhaṅge paripūrenti. Satta bojjhaṅgā bhāvitā bahulīkatā vijjāvimuttiṃ paripūrenti.

Bhikkhus, when Ānāpānassati is developed and cultivated, it is of great benefit leading to the ultimate release. When Ānāpānassati is developed and cultivated, it fulfills cattāro satipaṭṭhāna (the four foundations of mindfulness). When the four foundations of mindfulness are developed and cultivated, they fulfill the seven enlightenment factors (satta bojjhaṅga). When the seven enlightenment factors are developed and cultivated, they fulfill ultimate knowledge and release (vijjāvimuttiṃ paripūrenti)“.

  • So, Ānāpānassati and Satipaṭṭhāna are the same and both lead to Nibbāna (Arahanthood). Satipaṭṭhāna describes the steps in more detail, but the key is to first understand what is meant by Ānāpāna.
  • Here we discuss the basic ideas of Ānāpānassati bhāvanā. Details at: “Bhāvanā (Meditation)“.
An Example of Getting Angry

3. We start with a simple case of getting angry. Being angry makes one turns into a totally different person as we briefly mentioned in the last post.

  • Not only one will have an agitated (and uncomfortable) state of mind, but one’s body complexion will change too. One’s face becomes “very unpleasant” even to look at.
  • With that agitated mindset, one may do something really bad (even hit or kill someone if things get out of control).
  • Now, let us see WHY we get angry.

4. The root cause of anger is greed. We get mad when someone or something gets in our way to prevent us from getting something that we really crave. Therefore, vyāpāda (anger) arises out of abhijjhā (greed).

  • Note that abhijjhā and vyāpāda are the first two of pancanivarana (five “hindrances”): they are a “hindrance” to a calm state of mind! See “Key to Calming the Mind – The Five Hindrances.”
  • Furthermore, vyāpāda can bring rebirths in the niraya (hell), while greed can bring rebirths as hungry ghosts (in preta or peta realms). Thus vyāpāda is worse than abhijjhā.
Why Some People Get Angry Than Others?

5. As the Buddha always pointed out, in order to eliminate a problem, we must first find the causes that gave rise to that problem. Then when we eliminate those causes, the problem will NOT ARISE anymore. That is the meaning of the word, “nirōdha” (“nir” + “udā“). Dukkha nirōdha is “stop future suffering from arising”. It may NOT stop any dukkha vedanā currently experienced; those are results of the previous kamma! That is a common misunderstanding.

  • When one understands dukkha samudaya (“san” + udaya” or how “san” give rise to suffering), then one can understand dukkha nirōdha or how to stop suffering from arising; see, “What is “San”? Meaning of Sansāra (or Samsāra)“.
  • The tendency to get angry is a gati (pronounced “gati“), which can be loosely translated as a “character quality”, which gets established firmly if one has made it to be a habit.
  • The more angry one gets (this is what is really meant by “āna” in Ānapānasati), the more will the “tendency to get angry” becomes. This is important to understand.

6. This has been established in neuroscience in recent years. Our brains (or more accurately neural circuits in the brain) get “wired” for certain habitual activities. The more we do something, the easier it becomes to do it again.

  • That holds not only for “defiled activities” like getting angry, to “getting addicted to doing something on a regular basis like smoking and drinking, to eating too much, or even harmless (and useful) habits like driving.
  • For example, after one learns to drive, it becomes a habit. When we drive, we are mostly on “auto-pilot”, especially if it is a regular drive, like driving to work every day. Here is an article that is an easy read: “The Neuroscience of Behavior Change“.

7. Therefore, the trick to stop getting angry is to “try to stop that anger when one becomes aware that one is angry” (this is what is really meant by “āpāna” or put out or get rid of, in Ānapāna, which comes from “āna” + “āpāna“). Many Pāli words are shortened to rhyme.

  • The long-term solution is to think about the CONSEQUENCES of such an angry mindset, and focus one’s attention deliberately on a neutral or a “pleasing thought object”, say visualizing a calm Buddha image in one’s mind.
  • If such an angry mindset comes to one’s mind while in a formal meditation session, then one COULD do “breath meditation” for a few minutes to get the mind off of that mindset.
  • The easiest is just to count to 10 in order to quickly stop the incoming thought and then think about the bad consequences of such an angry mindset.
  • The key point is that “stopping these angry thoughts from arising” MUST BE DONE any time and all the time, whether one is in formal meditation or just engaged in regular activities.

8. Thus a critical aspect of being able to stop such bad thoughts is to really understand the bad CONSEQUENCES of having such thoughts (which would feed that bad kamma viññāna and could even lead to bad bodily actions).

How That Bad Vipāka Viññāna Was Created in the First Place

9.  Now we need to see how this “kamma viññāna regarding enemy Y” is created and where it exists. This is what is explained in Paṭicca Samuppāda. Don’t worry. It is easy to see this process.

  • Let us take an example. Persons X and Y were competing for something that they crave: a girlfriend, a job, an elected position, we can think about many possible scenarios. But suppose X starts hating Y because Y is competing to win the heart of a girl.
  • Now, every day X is thinking about how to block Y from “getting the girl”. He may try to get Y kicked out of his job or physically hurt or even kill Y.
  • These conscious angry thoughts about Y are vaci saṅkhāra generated by X.

10. That is how a Paṭicca Samuppāda process starts with “saṅkhāra paccayā viññāna“. That viññāna is a “kamma viññāna.”

  • The more one does any type of saṅkhāra (manō, vaci, and kāya), the more strong that “kamma viññāna of enemy Y” will become in X’s mind.
  • In simple terms, that means thinking about harming Y, speaking against Y, or doing something to hurt Y. All those activities will help that “kamma viññāna of enemy Y” to grow.

11. When X is consciously generating such “bad thoughts” about Y, then X will be imagining (creating) scenarios in one’s mind of hurting Y in some way. This could be telling a lie about Y’s character to the girl in question or his boss, for example. Or it could even be creating in his mind how he will ambush Y and carry out a physical attack.

  • This is called creating “nāmarūpa” (creating various scenarios) in one’s mind: “(kamma)viññāna paccayā nāmarūpa“.

12. That will initiate the next step: “nāmarūpa paccayā salāyatana“.

  • The more bad thoughts (vaci saṅkhāra) that X generates, his all six sense faculties (salāyatana or six āyatana) will start getting involved. He will be looking to see (using cakkhāyatana)  whether Y is talking to that girl, and he may write a nasty email about Y to his boss (using kāyāyatana), etc.
  • Of course, some of these steps occur simultaneously and go back and forth too. For example, “nāmarūpa paccayā viññāna” happens as well as “viññāna paccayā nāmarūpa“. In other words, the more “nāmarūpa” X makes in his mind, his bad viññāna will grow too.

13. Each of such activities will lead to contact with “san” (his greed towards the girl and hate towards Y), via “salāyatana paccayā (san)phassa” or “salāyatana paccayā samphassa“.

  • That invariably leads to the next step: “samphassa paccayā vēdanā“, which is also known as “samphassa-jā-vēdanā“, i.e., X is now generating a lot of “angry feelings that arise due to hate“, which leads to “vēdanā paccayā taṇhā“.
  • That “samphassa-jā-vēdanā” is a mind-made vēdanā.

14. It is important to note that “taṇhā” is not just greed. Tanhā really means “getting bonded to a situation via greed or hate”.

  • Now X cannot let go of it, and now he pulls it even closer: “taṇhā paccayā upādāna“: upādāna (“upa” + “ādāna“) means ‘pulling closer’ (in the mind).
  • This leads to the next critical step of “upādāna paccayā bhava“. This is where that “kammic energy” that was initially created via the “viññāna of enemy Y” gets really established in the kamma bhava. It is easier to just think of “kamma bhava” as a form of energy that stays out there in the universe (just like visible rūpa are out there).
  • This energy also called dhammā (with a long ā) can come back to one’s mind at times. That is how the “subconscious” works, and we will discuss that at a later time.

Paṭicca Samuppāda processes are described in detail at, “Paṭicca Samuppāda“.

Viññāna, Kamma Bhava, Kamma Bija – Related to Each Other

15. We can see that both “kamma viññāna” and bhava are associated with kammic energy. The easiest way to remember is that kamma bhava is where kammic energy is, and those various types of kammic energies (good and bad) are kamma bija (seeds, pronounced “bīja”) in the kamma bhava. They are waiting to bring kamma vipāka or the results of such kamma.

  • When we do good kamma (say donating food to the needy), we also create good kamma bija in the kamma bhava that can bring future “good vipāka” or “good results”.
  • Therefore, there are good and bad kamma bija (seeds) waiting in the kamma bhava, to bring in kamma vipāka, so to speak.
  • Just like a seed can give rise to a plant, a kamma bija can give rise to a kamma vipāka. A good seed will give rise to a good plant (something useful, say apples or grains), and a bad seed will give rise to a bad plant (weeds).

16. When a kamma bija brings a kamma vipāka to the mind, it leads to a mindset that is compatible with the kamma vipāka; that is a vipāka viññāna.”

  • A “kamma viññāna” can be good too (in a mundane sense), for example, when engaging in a meritorious deed. We first need to get rid of “bad kamma viññāna“. All viññāna are reduced to “pure consciousness” at the Arahant stage. It may take some time to grasp this point.
  • Earlier we saw (#8-#13) that kamma viññāna is the “initiator” of a kamma bija that is “deposited” in the kamma bhava. Then that kamma bija will be waiting for the right “conditions” to bring that mindset back to the mind.
  • Then that mindset (kamma viññāna) can lead to doing more saṅkhāra (i.e., more kamma) that will, in turn, make that kamma viññāna grow; that will, in turn, lead to strengthening the corresponding kamma bija in the kamma bhava.
  • Then a corresponding gati (pronounced “gathi”) is established. It is important to understand what is meant by gati. Then it will be easier to see how different gati (including the “angry gati” of X that we discussed above) are established. 

See, “The Law of Attraction, Habits, Character (Gati), and Cravings (Āsavas)“, “How Habits are Formed and Broken – A Scientific View“, “Gati to Bhava to Jāti – Ours to Control“.

Putting It All Together – These Fundamentals Are Essential

17. So, now we are starting to see the connections among these different terms: saṅkhāra, kamma viññāna, bhava, kamma bija, gati, Ānapānasati, etc.

  • Whenever you have time, you may want to go back and read relevant previous posts. With repeated readings, things will become much more clear.
  • In the suttā, the Buddha used this pattern of repeating stuff over and over. That makes it easier for these concepts to sink in.
  • Please don’t hesitate to ask questions if something is not clear.

18. Understanding Buddha Dhamma is all about understanding the steps in Paṭicca Samuppāda:

“Yō Paṭiccasamuppādam passati,
so Dhammam passati.
Yō Dhammam passati,
so Paṭiccasamuppādam passati”

“One who sees Paṭiccasamuppāda
sees the Dhamma.
One who sees the Dhamma
sees Paṭiccasamuppāda.”

(Mahā­hatthi­pa­dopa­ma Sutta (MN 28); at the end)

  • If one to understand Paṭicca Samuppāda, one needs to understand all these key terms like saṅkhāra, kamma viññāna, bhava, kamma bija, gati, Ānapānasati, etc.
  • Other relevant posts are listed below. The more one reads and contemplates, the more one will be able to understand:

Viññāna – Consciousness Together With Future Expectations”, “Pāli to English – Serious Problems With Current Translations”, “Four Noble Truths – Suffering and Its Elimination“, “Connection Between Sankhāra and Viññāna“.

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