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Further comments on the Sutta on Antecedentness by Breath

by Zenmar

Presented November 7, 2003

I can't recall if I shared this passage with you, but it proves, in clearest words, that being antecedent to the breath is the whole enchilada! (I am reminded of Hui-neng's "Original Face" and the Hua-Tou aspect of Kung-an.) Here is the passage:

"Anapanasati (before-breath-remembering). By anapane sati is meant 'recollection is turned towards (pavatta) the beginning (ârabbha),' the goal (attho) of recollection (sati) being to thoroughly (pari) eclipse (ggâhikâ) in-breathing and out-breathing."
— Itivuttaka-Atthakatha 2.87

This, of course, is from the commentaries to the Pali Nikayas which are quite old. This is a definition of anapanasati. For me it is unambiguous as to its meaning. When we put this beside an utterance made by the Buddha in the Majjhima-Nikaya, we can get a clearer picture of maybe what was going on in his mind.

"In-and-out breaths are bodily; these are things tied up with the body. That's why in-and-out breaths are bodily fabrications."
— MN 1.301

Bearing this in mind, what then is to be gained by following the breath which is "tied up with the body?" It seems to me that it would be more profitable to recollect (sati) thoroughly before (parimukha) the breath. Needless to say, I have done this—and one taps into to an unmistakable sense of energy, or the same "spiritual light." To go with this, recently I found this passage.

"He by whom recollection (sati) of in breathing (initiation) has been perfected, well empowered (bhâva), practiced as the Buddha taught, he emanates a light upon the world as the moon freed from a cloud."
— Theragâthâ 548

As for the light—well—it is there. There is no doubt. I suspect this was Grandmaster Lin-chi's light when he said:

"The pure light in a moment of awareness in your mind is the Buddha's essence within you. The nondiscriminating light in a moment of awareness in your mind is the Buddha's wisdom within you. The undifferentiated light in a moment of awareness in your mind is the Buddha's manifestation within you."


"The spiritual light manifesting through the six senses, has never been interrupted. He who is able to perceive it can be an unconcerned man for the rest of his life."

At any rate, "what gets the light" is what it is all about, this light being will itself (sva-citta) which has come to itself and found (at last) blessed fulfillment. No more having to strive (samsara) and undergo strife (duhkha).

Speaking about the "adept," I should mention that the Buddha seems to have had some qualifications in mind for his students who wished to do this meditation.

"I do not, oh monks, teach the development of breathing-recollection (sati) for one who is deprived of recollection, and who cannot be clearly conscious."
— SN 5.337

To sum it up for now, I will stick with the logic that says if one is going to transcend the "beast" they'd better remember something which is transcendent. For Hui-neng it was the "Original Face." For Hsu-Yun the "Unborn Mind." For Milarepa,

"From the marvelous Palace of Heaven shines the ray of light by which all sentient beings are illuminated and seen."
— (1.39)

And the list goes on. In fact, the entire Flower Ornament Sutra is about light. The Buddha Vairocana is a generator of divine light, as was Buddha Dipamkara the Light Maker Buddha.

Oh how we have sunk into darkness, to even question such a light! But then what enabled Joshu to place his sandals on his head or say "Wu!" Surely he was not a corpse!


Last modified: July 11, 2004
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