In Vipassana meditation, while you are relaxed, it becomes profoundly evident that breathing simply goes on and that there is the knowing that it does. You can intentionally breathe in a certain way, but the need for doing so is based upon some external circumstances bringing about the need for the intention so that the matter of choice seems somewhat obviated; thus, the intention seems to come about almost capriciously, in spite of yourself, as it were. This paradox exists in everything that we do.
Meditation takes place in the absence of thought, and yet we think that without thought there can be no meditation. Perhaps the answer to this conundrum lies in the sequence of two separate events rather than in what seems their apparent opposition. For example, when you are actively paying attention to your breath, you cannot be calm; and so you are advised simply to relax so calm can ensue. Meditation is distinguished by the absence of thought and a very characteristic sort of breathing, neither of which can be brought about at will. Control must first be relinquished. You circuitously bring that about by applying whatever you may have discovered about relaxation, and that is the full extent of exerting your will.
The following rule holds true, whether you practice natural breathing or right breathing: When you sit down to meditate, sit easily erect, breathing through your nose.At first, your breathing may be rapid and shallow. As you relax and have the attitude of neither accepting nor rejecting whatever arises, your breathing slows down and deepens until you find that you inhale and exhale, in a cycle, once every minute. Ease may be conceived of as the standard. At no time should anything feel forced or uncomfortable; rather, it should all just happen free of any concern on your part.
As you continue to sit, your breath grows finer and finer. You should devote, at the very least, five minutes each morning and each evening to this breathing-relaxation practice. Practice as often as you can during the rest of the day, wherever and whenever you happen to think of it. As the breath slows and becomes increasingly subtle, the mind stabilizes and grows calm. As the mind goes, so goes the breath. To illustrate this, four kinds of breath are noted as evolving in the course of practice:
- The first is called windy breath to describe the sound that you make as you breathe.
- The second is known as gasping breath. Here, you no longer make any sound when you breathe but have the feeling that you cannot inhale enough.
- In the third type of breathing, the breath is even and silent and without any obstruction, but you have yet to feel calm. This is called air breath. These first three ways of breathing are still rough-hewn and still show signs of unrest.
- When there is neither sound nor obstruction, neither roughness nor softness, and in that very quiet time when you do not feel that you are breathing at all and breathing evokes no association of any kind, you have achieved the fourth kind of breath, silent breath.
It is the breath that harmonizes. If you find that you easily grow calm and that your breath quickly becomes
fine, this indicates that your mind is easily stabilized. With continued practice, it may take only a few moments for your breath to be regulated, and then the need to breathe will diminish and vanish; and, with that, you will no longer be disturbed by anything.
Your mind, at this stage, is said to be quiet and stable. On the way to this trouble-free state, however, there is bound to be much discomfort and restlessness. If this persists, and to help to harmonize the breath, you can try the following methods, progressing from one to the next as you grow proficient. Very relaxedly and unconcernedly count from 1 to 10 in all of these exercises:
- Count your breaths, calling one exhalation and inhalation just one breath;
- Count only your inhalations;
- Count only your exhalations.
When you have reached ten, resume counting from number one. Gradually, as your skill develops, you will be able to count to one hundred in ten groups of ten, without having your mind wander and without dropping off to sleep. However, should that happen, you are required to return to one and start all over again. As you grow more at ease, your mind and breath will, slowly and peacefully, become interdependent.
Confusion and sleepiness decrease in all three breathing methods of concentration and the mind is calmed as well. When the goals of breath-counting have been reached, your next step will be to trace your breath. The mind, by this time, will be very calm and very concentrated.
By tracing your breath, this calm and this concentration deepen until the breath is felt to enter and leave through all of your pores. As you continue in this way, you will come to experience yourself dissipating like a cloud and melting away like a fog, until there is nothing but voidness. When this happens, you find yourself freed of all sorts of illness, as the mind is established on a new, deeper level of quiet; and it is then that it is time to dispense with the method of tracing the breath.