The Hindu Tradition of Breath Meditation
“From Him springs forth the breath of life” (Mundaka Upanishad 2:1:3).
The breath does not just begin or support life, the breath is the totality of life. It is life, far beyond the simple movement of the lungs in the bodies of mammals. Every single movement in the cosmos is a movement of the vishwaprana, the Cosmic Breath. In our own personal cosmos of the body and mind (including their subtle levels), nothing occurs that is not a movement of prana-breath. Every life process is breath itself. Breath is the substance of which the inner and outer universe is constructed as well as the power within it which causes it to move and live. (This was the teaching of Zen Master Hogen, as well.) Breath is All.
Our attention focused on the breath causes its potential to manifest in the way sunlight causes the petals of a flower to open. It is the key to life on the cosmic level. For this reason Breath Meditation is productive of many functions of the life-force sometimes called “kriyas.” These kriyas will vary greatly in scope and intensity, but they will all produce needed changes, some of which will be perceived, and some will not–but the effects will eventually all be perceived by the consciousness refined by meditation. It is good to keep in mind that all phenomena, personal and cosmic, are actions of the breath. This is why Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri, the guru of Paramhansa Yogananda, wrote in a song:
Pranayama be thy religion,
Pranayama will give thee salvation,
Pranayama is the Wishing Tree.
Pranayama is Beloved God,
Pranayama is Creator Lord,
Pranayama is the Cosmic World.
Control the little pranayama,
Become all-pervading pranayama,
You won’t have to fear anything anymore.
Pranayama is both the practice and the result of Breath Meditation.
Intuition and breath
In Journey to Self-Realization, a collection of Yogananda’s talks, we find the following on page 309 under the heading: In Calmness, Intuition Gives Birth to Faith.
“The Sanskrit word for faith is wonderfully expressive. It is visvas. The common literal rendering, ‘to breathe easy; have trust be free from fear,’ does not convey the full meaning. Sanskrit svas refers to the motions of breath, implying thereby life and feeling. Vi conveys the meaning of ‘opposite; without.’ That is, he whose breath, life, and feeling are calm, he can have faith born of intuition.”
The Rig Veda
The most ancient spiritual text of India, the Rig Veda, has some interesting things to say about the breath. In the great Hymn of Creation (10:129:2) it says of the Absolute: “That One Thing, breathless, breathed by its own nature.” Before creation the Cosmic Breath was fully internal, becoming external at the advent of the universe. It is the same way with us. In the depths of meditation the breath becomes internal so that we, too, breathe inwardly and perceive that inward movement which is a manifestation of our own essential nature.
Rig Veda 1:66:1, speaks of “breath which is the life,” as does 1:113:16.
“In thee is each living creature’s breath and life” (1:48:10). Our breath is inherent in Brahman, Absolute Being-Existence.
“Breath which is the life, like one’s own son” (1:66:1). The breath is the extension of our inmost life. It is our “offspring.”
Another hymn speaks of “All the world that moves and breathes” (1:101:5), implying that the whole world breathes, that breath encompasses the whole world.
“Arise! the breath, the life, again hath reached us: darkness hath passed away and light approacheth” (1:113:16). The breath bears life and light within itself.
“In thee is each living creature’s breath and life” (1:48:10). The breath is inseparable from Brahman.
Brahman is also described as “giver of breath” in 10:121:2.
Breath and mind
The reason why breath plays such an important part in the technique of classical Yoga lies in the close relation existing between breath and mind. “Breath and mind arise from the same source”–the Self–according to Sri Ramana Maharshi in Day By Day With Bhagavan.
Breath, which exists on all the planes of manifestation, is the connecting link between matter and energy on the one hand and consciousness and mind on the other. Consciousness expressing itself through the mind cannot come into touch with matter and function through it without the intermediate presence of breath. Matter in association with energy cannot affect consciousness except through the agency of breath. That is why breath is found on all the planes. It is necessary for the vitalization and functioning of all vehicles of consciousness, physical or superphysical. This capacity to act as intermediary depends upon its peculiar constitution. It combines in itself in some mysterious manner the essential qualities of both matter and consciousness and is thus able to serve as an instrument for their actions and reactions on each other.
The Chandogya Upanishad speaks of the Atman-Self as: “He who is permeating the mind, who has the breath for his body, whose nature is consciousness, who is without speech…” (Chandogya Upanishad 3:14:2). So in Breath Meditation we immerse our awareness in the breath as that is beyond the thinking mind, beyond all words and concepts, and leads us to the silent consciousness that is our sole reality.
The nosetip in traditional Yoga
In the fundamental texts on yoga meditation, some of which we will be considering later, we are told to fix our awareness on the tip of the nose, the nasikagram. Preeminent among them are the writings of Gorakhnath, perhaps the most influential yogi of India’s history. We do not know just when he lived, but every district in India has much local lore about his visits there, and even in Tibet, Bhutan and Ladakh he is still held in reverent memory. He seems to have lived to a tremendous age, and many of his devotees declare that he is still living on earth.
According to Gorakhnath our subtle energy bodies consist of chakras, adharas and nadis. We are all familiar with chakras and nadis, the power centers and channels through which the spiritual life force circulates, but adharas are not so commonly known. Adharas are reservoirs of life force. The chakras are like artesian wells and the adharas are like cisterns. Although the chakras are the sources of spiritual energies, the adharas are like storage batteries of those energies from which our subtle bodies draw their power.
The main adhara is the Nasadhara at the tip of the nose, where we are told to establish our attention in meditation. This nosetip adhara is directly connected to a most important chakra located directly opposite the tip of the nose at the root of the palate. Known as the Talu Chakra, this is the “switching station” through which the sushumna/kundalini passes (crosses over) from the seventh cervical chakra in the spine to the point between the eyebrows on the front of the head, the Ajna chakra, in its journey to the Brahmarandhra at the crown of the head. This sandhya, or junction, is extremely important to the yogi, for without its activation the ascending kundalini cannot rise higher than the seventh cervical chakra. So nosetip awareness is a key element in the yogi’s development. In Philosophy of Gorakhnath, Akshaya Kumar Banerjea writes about the sixteen adharas and says: “The thirteenth is called Nasadhara, which is in the nose. The nose is an important center of vital functions. The trainee is advised to focus his vision on the tip of the nose and concentrate his attention upon this one point. If this practice is continued for some time, the mind becomes free from restlessness and fit for deep meditation.”
The nosetip and the medulla
Indian yogis refer to the medulla oblongata as the ajna chakra, and say that it has two “petals” or rays–the subtle movements of consciousness and energy that culminate in the breath as inhalation and exhalation. There is a subtle connection between the medulla and the tip of the nose. It is commonly thought that the point between the eyebrows, the so-called “third eye,” is the opposite pole of the medulla. But this is incorrect. The tip of the nose is the opposite pole of the medulla, and concentration on the tip of the nose thus directly affects the medulla. During meditation you may even feel the medulla being energized.
Actually, concentration on the nosetip directly stimulates the three major glands in the head: pituitary, hypothalamus, and pineal. Secondarily, it stimulates the thyroid and thymus glands, in the throat and chest respectively, as well. For this reason, during meditation you may become aware of these glands (or their locales) and feel energy flowing there. This is as it should be, but no special attention need be given to it.
Ida, Pingala, Sushumna, and Kundalini
In classical yoga there are four very important terms used in speaking of the subtle energy systems through which the evolution of the individual person, the jivatman, is accomplished.
- The Ida, a subtle channel that extends from the base of the spine to the medulla on the left side of the spine.
- The Pingala, a subtle channel that extends from the base of the spine to the medulla on the right side of the spine.
- The Sushumna, a subtle passage in the midst of the spinal column, corresponding to the spinal cord, that extends from the base of the spine to the medulla oblongata in the head.
- The Kundalini, the primordial cosmic energy located in the individual; it is usually thought of as lying coiled up like a serpent at the base of the spine. When activated, it rises up the sushumna to the crown of the head, the Brahmarandhra.
They are almost never considered in relation to Breath Meditation because they are not factors in its technique, in its practice. This is because they come into play without there being any deliberate involvement with them, but, they really have a very significant role in the experience of the Breath Yogi.
When the Ida comes into dominance, the subtle life force (prana) flows upward through it, and at the same time, the Breath Yogi experiences the perpetual exhalation movement of the subtle breath at the nosetip.
When the Pingala comes into dominance, the subtle life force flows downward through it, and at the same time, the Breath Yogi experiences the perpetual inhalation movement of the subtle breath at the nosetip.
When the Ida and Pingala are coming into balance, the Breath Yogi experiences both the perpetual inhalation and exhalation movements of the subtle breath at the nosetip simultaneously.
After the Ida and Pingala are in perfect balance for a while, the Sushumna comes into dominance and the Kundalini begins to rise upward through it into the Brahmarandhra. Simultaneously, the Kundalini that is dispersed throughout the body withdraws back into the spine and rises up through the Sushumna. At this time the Breath Yogi experiences at the nosetip the motionless “presence” breath that is in the midst of the perpetual inhalation and exhalation movements at the nosetip.
This is spoken of symbolically in the Bible as the times when the waters of the Red Sea and the Jordan River parted, standing on the right and left hands, while the Hebrews passed dry shod through their midst and reached their goal. Since these two “Pass-overs” are really motionless, they are “dry” passages, motionless movement.
Within the yogic systems of both Hinduism and Buddhism the breath is considered an actual body within the body–exactly as Buddha speaks of it in the Anapanasati Sutra. It is called the pranamaya kosha–the body formed of breath or prana. And working with it is known as pranayama.
Pranayama can mean restraint of prana, and it can also mean control [yama] of the breath, but ayama also means length, expansion, and extension. Thus pranayama can also mean the lengthening, expansion, and extension of the breath as occurs spontaneously in Breath Meditation. For Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2:50 says that pranayama is “external, internal or suppressed modification [of breath], and it becomes measured or regulated [paridrishto], prolonged [dirgha] and subtle or attenuated [sukshmah].” Sutra 51 says: “That pranayama which goes beyond the sphere of internal and external is the fourth”–that which directly relates to turiya or pure consciousness, beyond the three states of waking, dreaming, and dreamless sleep. Also, internal and external can refer either to: 1) inhaling and exhaling, 2) the outer breath accompanied by movement of the lungs, or 3) to the internal movement of the subtle prana or breath that has no outer manifestation. It is our attention to the breath at the nosetip that is the practice of pranayama. For Shankara says: “Pranayama is caused by a mental activity deriving from a restraining effort inherent in the Self.”
In Sutra 2:51 Patanjali speaks of “pranayama which goes beyond the sphere of inhalation and exhalation.” In time a meditator becomes aware that there is an internal breath that is the support and stimulus of the bodily breathing. Behind that breath is an even subtler force, and so on back to utter stillness at the core of his being. It is the experiencing of all such subtle forms of breath that is pranayama. Through meditation we effect the inner pranayama and achieve the inner “breathlessness” that is a state of pure awareness. (It is true, though, that during meditation the physical breath becomes, as Vyasa says, “prolonged and light [fine],” and may even stop for a while.)
There is more to this pranayama: “From that [pranayama] is dissolved the covering of light” (Yoga Sutras 2:52). The inner pranayama dissolves the veil which covers the light of the knowledge of the Self. Yet this veil is itself light–the light of subtle matter or energy, the substance of which the most subtle bodies are formed. They might reasonably be called light that veils the ultimate light. “The covering of light referred to in this sutra is obviously not used in reference to the light of the soul, but to the light or luminosity associated with the subtler vehicles associated with and interpenetrating the physical vehicle,” according to Taimni in The Science of Yoga.
Vyasa expands on this, saying: “It [pranayama] destroys the karma which covers up the light of knowledge in the yogi. As it is declared: ‘When the ever-shining [Self] is covered over by the net of great illusion, one is impelled to what is not to be done.’ By the power of pranayama, the light-veiling karma binding him to the world becomes powerless, and moment by moment is destroyed. So it has been said [in The Laws of Manu 6:70, 72]: ‘There is no tapas higher than pranayama; from it come purification from taints and the light of knowledge [of the Self].’” Breath Meditation, then, is the direct way to dissolve karma and be free, for “it is karma by which the light is covered,” says Shankara. And both he and Vyasa explain to us that karma not only binds us to material experience, it also impels us to create even more karma–and more bondage–in a self-perpetuating circle. But by Breath Meditation the karma “becomes powerless, and moment by moment is destroyed.” That is, the karmic seeds are “roasted” and rendered incapable of creating future experience or births and are ultimately completely annihilated. The more we do meditation, the more karma is dissolved.
In a conversation regarding his instructions on breath given in the book Maha Yoga, Sri Ramana Maharshi remarked: “Pranayama is of two kinds: one of controlling and regulating the breath and the other of simply watching the breath.” The purpose of working with the breath is simple: “From that comes the dissolving of the covering of light and the fitting of the mind for meditation” (Yoga Sutras 52 and 53). When by the process of Breath Meditation the breath is refined, so also is the mind; and eventually so is the nervous system and the entire body. Since the body is a vehicle of the mind this is a very important effect.
In advanced yoga treatises we frequently encounter the term, “Chidakasha,” which means “the Space (Ether) of Consciousness.” This is the level of existence and consciousness so pure and subtle, so interwoven with spirit, that it is indistinguishable from spirit. Various yogic texts inform us that the breath arises directly from the Chidakasha. Breath Meditation right away begins centering our awareness in the etheric levels of our being, in the Chidakasha. By fixing our attention on the movement of the breath our awareness enters into the very root of our existence.
The process of meditation takes place within the Chidakasha, the seat of the Spirit-Self. This is the Paradise from which we fell into the “earth” of material consciousness, and to which we return through meditation. In Breath Meditation, through increasing awareness of the breath we begin experiencing the Chidakasha to greater and greater degrees. This is the highest experience for the meditator. The more we meditate the higher and higher and further and further we penetrate into the Infinite Consciousness of which we are an eternal part.
The formless and placeless Chidakasha is perfect Unity, and is our real nature. Those who continually attune and merge their consciousness in this way with the Chidakasha will in time become totally identified with the individual Spirit-Self and with the Supreme Spirit. Since all things have arisen from/in the Chidakasha, this merging is the beginning of Cosmic Consciousness.
The evolving breath
Life and evolution are synonymous. Just as Brahman has “clothed” Itself in creative, evolutionary energy–Prakriti–and is actively engaged in cosmic progression toward perfection, in the same way the individual spirit (atman) is encased in its own energy-prakriti and is evolving it toward perfection. This is life within Life.
In the twelfth chapter of Autobiography of a Yogi, Yogananda wrote: “Master numbered many doctors among his disciples. ‘Those who have ferreted out the physical laws can easily investigate the science of the soul,’ he told them. ‘A subtle spiritual mechanism [antahkarana] is hidden just behind the bodily structure.’”
The breath is intended to evolve us, to move us forward breath by breath in the stream of evolution, but from ages past our breath along with our minds have gotten out of phase or sync so they no longer move us forward but backward and around and around like a whirlpool. When the breath is restored to its correct form and held there, then our evolution moves forward.
Breath meditation is like keeping a boat in the middle of a river where the current moves us onward, keeping the boat from drifting to one side or getting stuck along the bank. Here, too, it is not passive, but in a mysterious way active without acting, through simple attention holding the breath in its intended channel, moving ever onward to its predestined consummation/culmination. Since the breath arises from spirit it leads us to spirit, into consciousness itself.
The original Impulse which begins, sustains, and completes all evolution, the dance of creation itself, is the Cosmic Breath within us and outside us as the cosmos. Both the cosmic and the individual life-force are known as prana–vital energy–which manifests as breath. All that exists is formed of prana-breath, which acts as a mirror for the individual spirits, changing and modifying itself as they change and modify–as they evolve.
Relativity evolves through the alternating cycles of creation and dissolution–outward movement and inward movement. In the same way the simple act of breathing evolves all sentient beings–whose fundamental common trait is that of breathing. Thus merely living and breathing is a process of ascent in consciousness if the individual does nothing to counteract that process–which we all do, retarding and even halting our progress and causing ourselves to become bound to the wheel of continual birth and death. Breath Meditation frees the breath from all interference or inhibition and thus allows this automatic development to go forward and manifest.
The purpose of the original, dual breath was to enable us to descend into the plane of relativity and begin evolving therein until we could develop the capacity for infinite consciousness. It not only moved us downward into material embodiment, it also began to impel us upward on the evolutionary scale so we might finally develop or evolve to the point where we can finally share–actually participate–in the infinity of God. If unhindered, it would accomplish this evolutionary movement. But in our present state we are always thwarting its purpose, especially by keeping its action bound and buried in the subconscious rather than resurrecting it into our conscious life and cooperating with it and thereby accelerating our growth. When awareness of the breath is consciously cultivated, the two currents become united and oriented toward their original purpose, which they then accomplish. In this way every single breath becomes a step forward and upward on the path of spiritual evolution.
Throughout the upanishads the breath is mentioned as the evolutionary force which only much later began to be called “kundalini.” This is why breath is the focus of our internal cultivation.
The Bhagavad Gita
The most influential scripture of India, the Bhagavad Gita, gives us some indications of Breath Meditation. First, the yogi sits upright. “His posture will be motionless, with the body, head and neck held erect, and the vision indrawn, as if gazing at the tip of the nose” (6:13). The instruction swam nasikagram samprekshya–“as if gazing at the tip of the nose,” means that your eyes should be closed, relaxed, and turned somewhat downward. “As though gazing at the tip of the nose” indicates that your eyes should not be crossed–but just turned downward at the angle that they would be if looking at the tip of the nose in a relaxed manner.
To help you sense the right angle to turn your eyes down, touch the middle of your horizontal forefinger to the tip of your nose and look down at the finger without turning your eyes in. That way you can determine the angle without making yourself cross-eyed. The angle is important because turning the eyes all the way down may strain them and also tend to put us to sleep. Shankara uses a dramatic simile: “Let him fix the gaze on the tip of the nose, like one dead or asleep.” If you have ever seen people who slightly open their eyes in sleep, or have done so in death, you will know what he means. So the eyes should be turned down, closed, relaxed, and then forgotten about.
Next, he breathes through his nose in a completely natural and spontaneous manner. From that vantage point the breath is observed as is indicated in Krishna’s statement that the yogis “offer as sacrifice the outgoing breath in the incoming, and the incoming in the outgoing, restraining the courses of the outgoing and the incoming breaths, solely absorbed in the restraint of the breath” (4:29), in this way “equalizing the outgoing and incoming breaths moving within the nostrils” (5:27), easily calming and refining the breath.
The “offering” of the exhalation into the inhalation and vice versa refers to the smoothing of the breath until there is no significant or marked pause between inhaling and exhaling, but rather there is a smooth transition from one to the other–one seeming to arise from the other, both together being a single organic unity. As the Sandilya Upanishad 17 says: “Pranayama is the union of inhalation and exhalation.” Some Buddhist texts refer to this as “joining” or “circling.”
As we become more and more aware of the subtle forms or movements of the inner breaths, it automatically happens that the breath movements on all levels become slower; this is what is meant by “restrained”–not the holding of the breath. We need not try to produce this deliberately, since attention itself modifies and decreases the breath. As a result we easefully remain relaxed and “solely absorbed in the movement of the breath.” This, according to Krishna, is pranayama.
And the ultimate result he also tells us: “With the senses, the mind and the intellect always controlled, having liberation as his supreme goal, free from desire, fear and anger—the sage is verily liberated for ever” (5:28). “Thus, always keeping the mind balanced, the yogi, with the mind controlled, attains to the peace abiding in Me, which culminates in liberation” (6:15).
Breath in the Upanishads
Here are some of the things the major upanishads have to tell us about Breath. The upanishads use two words for the Supreme and the Individual Self: Atman and Purusha. Atman means “the breather” and purusha means “person” in the sense of a conscious spirit.
“[He who perceives] this Aditi that comes into being as the Breath, comprising all the gods, that is manifested along with the elements, and that, entering into the cavity of the heart, is seated there, he perceives that very Brahman.” (Katha Upanishad 2.1.7) Aditi–boundless–is a designation of the boundless “Infinite Mother”–Prakriti–the source of all the forms of consciousness from physical upwards. In Vedic cosmology Aditi is the mother of the gods. The meaning here is that the breath is the first aspect of sentient being that comes into manifestation, that the senses (“gods”) are permutations of the primal breath, as are the five elements (panchabhuta) to which they correspond. Seated in the very core of our being is the breath, and he who truly knows the breath knows Brahman.
“[The Self] sends forth the exhaling breath and draws in the inhaling breath. All the gods [senses] worship Him who is adorable and seated in the middle [of the breath]” (Katha Upanishad 2.2.3). Breathing is an action of the Self who is seated in midst of the breath. That is, exhalation and inhalation take place around the Self. For that reason those who observe the breath movements regain the awareness of their Self which they had lost. It is a reviving of their original consciousness.
“Not by inhaling, not by exhaling, does a mortal live; but all live by something else on which these two depend” (Katha Upanishad 2.2.5). And that something else is the Self upon which they depend, wherefore through them the Self is experienced.
“The world, whatever here exists, springs from and moves in Breath” (Katha Upanishad 2.3.2). The Cosmic Breath is spoken of here, but it applies equally to the individual breath in each evolving entity.
“The sun is verily Breath…. That very one rises up who is Breath, who is identified with all creatures, and who is possessed of all forms. This very one, that has been referred to, is spoken of by the mantra: ‘The realizers of Brahman knew the one that is possessed of all forms, full of rays, endowed with illumination, the resort of all, the single light (of all), and the radiator of heat. It is the sun that rises–the sun that possesses a thousand rays, exists in a hundred forms and is the life of all creatures” (Prashna Upanishad 1:5, 7, 8).
The sun is the source of all life in our solar system. The enlivening energy of the sun enters all living beings in the form of breath–is drawn into the body with each inhalation, and circulates throughout the body with each exhalation to sustain it. Accordingly, the sun and the breath are equated here. All life forms exist by means of the breath. The solar breath ensouls all life forms in many modes (rays). The breath “rises” in us at the dawn of life and “sets” at the end of life. The breath is Life, and those who truly know the breath know Brahman, for the breath is an extension of Brahman.
By means of the breath all else is controlled. This is revealed in the following parable: “Once the senses of the body made the boastful assertion: ‘We hold the body together and support it,’ whereupon Breath said to them: ‘Do not deceive yourselves. It is I alone, who hold together this body and support it.’ But they would not believe him. Breath, to justify himself, made as if he intended to leave the body. But as he rose and appeared to be going, all the rest realized that if he went they also would have to depart with him; and as Breath again seated himself, the rest found their respective places. As bees go out when their queen goes out, and return when she returns, so was it with speech, mind, vision, hearing, and the rest [in relation to the Breath]. Convinced of their error, the powers now praised Breath, saying: ‘He is immortal life.’ All things are fixed in the Breath like spokes on the hub of a chariot wheel” (Prashna Upanishad 2:2-6). He, then, who is truly one with the breath (in the fullest sense) is one with all the aspects of his existence, and is immortal.
A eulogy then follows from verse six to verse thirteen continuing the theme of the glories of the breath, including:
- All things are rooted in the breath like spokes fixed in the hub of a wheel.
- The breath is present even in the womb as the spark of life. (In the chapter on Taoism we will find reference to “the womb breath.”)
- The breath is the Lord of Creation, and it is the breath that empowers birth and growth to adulthood within each life form.
- It is the breath that enables the senses to function, and regulates that function.
- The breath is both awareness and strength in the individual.
- The breath is the expansive power of evolution.
- The breath is the source of mental and physical well-being.
- The breath is the basic “food” of the body. (That is why great yogis in various religions have lived without eating–on breath alone.)
- All things are under the control of breath, including the body and mind of sentient beings.
- 1The breath protects, develops, and perfects all life forms.
“This breath is born of the Self. As a person casts a shadow, so is this breath connected with the Self. It comes into this body by the action of the mind” (Prashna Upanishad 3:3). Not only is the Self the source of the breath, the breath and the mind are interdependent. This means that we can reach the Self by means of the breath and can purify and perfect the mind (buddhi) by the breath–and the breath by the mind–through fixing the attention of the mind on the breath.
“The wise one who knows Breath thus…becomes immortal. As to this there is this verse: The birth, the entrance, the abode, the fivefold overlordship and the relation to the Self of the Breath–knowing these one obtains immortality, knowing these one obtains immortality” (Prashna Upanishad 3:11, 12). The repetition of the final clause emphasizes the truth of the breath as the means of immortality.
There are five forms of sacred fire in Vedic religious rites. The upanishad (4:3, 4) next says that “It is the ‘fires’ of Breath that really keep awake in this city of the body,” meaning that it is not the body that is really alive, but the breath moving inside it. Then it likens the mind aware of the breath to a priest supervising the fires, and concludes that the breath “leads this sacrificer every day to Brahman.”
The absolute rulership of the breath in the individual is outlined in this way: “Earth and the element of earth, water and the element of water, fire and the element of fire, space and the element of space, the organ and object of vision, the organ and object of hearing, the organ and object of smell, the organ and object of taste, the organ and object of touch, the organ and content of speech, the hands and the object grasped, sex and enjoyment, the organ of excretion and the excreta, the feet and the space trodden, the mind and the content of thought, understanding and the content of understanding, egoism and the content of egoism, awareness and the content of awareness, the shining skin and the object revealed by that–all that is held and controlled by Breath” (Prashna Upanishad 4:8).
Finally the upanishad (6:4) declares that the Supreme Self created the Breath, and from the Breath was created all the worlds and all that is within them. The same is true of the individual Self as well.
“From the Self [purusha] originates the breath as well as the mind, all the senses, space, air, fire, water, and earth that supports everything” (Mundaka Upanishad 2.1.3). This is a hierarchal list. First there is the breath, and then everything that follows are its modifications.
Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.8 explains why we fix the mind on the breath, saying: “It is the director of the breath-body [prana sharira].” We will find the expression “body of the breath” in the teachings of Buddha and Buddhist meditation masters in the chapter on the Buddhist tradition.
“Truly it is Breath that shine forth in all beings. Knowing it, the wise man does not talk of anything else. Sporting in the Self, delighting in the Self, performing works, such a one is the greatest of the knowers of Brahman” (Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.4). The wise man “does not talk of anything else” but the breath in the sense that he knows that whatever he speaks of is a ray of the breath-sun. Knowing the breath, he rejoices in the Self and does all things in the consciousness of the Self. Certainly he is among the greatest of those who know the Absolute. He no longer experiences the breath as anything but Brahman.
“The Self [atman] is to be known by means of the breath which pervades the mind [chitta]” (Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.9). In Taoist writings we frequently find the directive to make the breath rest on the mind and the mind rest on the breath. This makes it clear.
Earlier the subject of a yogi leaving the body on the vehicle of the breath was mentioned. Since there is no physical body in the higher worlds, does breath remain relevant? Will not breath awareness cease as soon as the person leaves the body? Yes, the breath does remain relevant to the disembodied yogi, and No, breath awareness will not cease, for the Taittiriya Upanishad tells us: “The gods breathe along with the breath, as also humans and animals; the breath is the life of all beings. Therefore, it is called the Life of All. They who worship Brahman as breath attain to a full life, for the breath is the life of all beings. Therefore it is called the life of all. The breath is indeed the embodied soul of the physical body” (Taittiriya Upanishad 2.3.1). From this we see that the subtle breath continues on the higher levels of existence, so the practice of Breath Meditation continues, as well. This is underlined by the following verse: “Breath is Brahman. For truly, beings here are born from breath, when born they live by breath, and they enter into breath when they depart” (Taittiriya Upanishad 3.3.1).
“Breath, verily, is food. The body is the ‘eater’ of that food. In breath is the body established; in the body is the breath established” (Taittiriya Upanishad ).
“Verily, indeed, all beings here enter with breath and depart with breath” (Chandogya Upanishad 1.11.5).
As in other upanishads, the following verse applies both to Brahman and the Self: “He consists of mind, his body is breath” (Chandogya Upanishad 3.14.2).
“I take refuge in breath, for verily breath is everything here that has come to be, whatsoever there is” (Chandogya Upanishad 3.15.4).
The sage Ghora Angirasa was the spiritual teacher of Krishna. He taught him to say in prayers: “Thou art the essence of breath” (Chandogya Upanishad 3.17.6).
We have already seen that the senses are “rays” of the breath; therefore the upanishad (4.3.3) next says that in both sleep and death the senses become withdrawn into the breath.
“Breath is Brahman” (Chandogya Upanishad 4.10.3).
“Verily, he who knows the eldest and the best, surely becomes the eldest and the best. Breath is indeed the eldest and the best” (Chandogya Upanishad). This is meant both cosmically and individually. Shankara, commenting on this verse, says that one reason the breath is called the “eldest” is that it functions in the womb, whereas all the other faculties usually only come into function at birth. Again we have reference to the “womb breath” of which the Taoist scriptures speak.
Another parable regarding the supremacy of the breath among the faculties and powers of the body is found in 5.1.6 to 5.1.15. There each of the bodily powers in turn depart and return to find the body still alive though bereft of that sense or function while it was gone. But the moment the breath even began to depart, all the other powers realized that they were departing also because they were rooted in the breath. So the parable concludes with the statement that all these are really forms of the breath, “for the breath indeed is all these.”
In the section on the practice of Breath Meditation, diet was emphasized as a vital factor in its practice. The upanishad informs us (5.2.1-3; 6.5.2, 4; 6.6.3, 5; 6.7.1) that the subtle energies of our food and drink become our breath energies. This being true, the quality of our breath is determined by diet–the more pure it is, the more pure and refined our breath will be. We can imagine what quality breath would be produced from dead animal bodies, nicotine, drugs and alcohol. It is crucial that the yogi avoid them altogether.
“Just as a bird tied by a string, after flying in various directions without finding a resting-place elsewhere settles down at the place where it is bound, so also the mind, after flying in various directions without finding a resting-place elsewhere settles down in the breath, for the mind is bound to breath” (Chandogya Upanishad 6.8.2). And the breath is bound at the tip of the nose.
“Even as the spokes are fastened in the hub, so on the breath all this is fastened. Life moves by the breath. Breath gives life to a living creature. Breath is one’s father, breath is one’s mother, breath is one’s brother, breath is one’s sister, breath is one’s teacher, breath is the Brahmin [knower of Brahman]” (Chandogya Upanishad 7.15.1). That breath is a teacher-revealer to the meditator will be the experience of those that apply themselves to Breath Meditation.
“Breath springs from the Self” (Chandogya Upanishad 7.26.1).
“As an animal is attached to a chariot, even so is the Breath attached to this body” (Chandogya Upanishad 8.12.3). Because of breath the body moves (“lives”).
In the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad we have an interesting variation of the parable regarding the supremacy of the breath. In it Death seized each of the body’s powers in turn and they ceased, but Death was unable to even touch the breath, which was immortality itself. Then the upanishad says this is true even of the gods in the high astral worlds–breath is their life. And the subject is concluded by the words: “Breath, verily, is the Immortal” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.6.3).
“The being who is the breath within–him I meditate upon as Brahman.…That which breathes in is thy Self, which is within all.…That which breathes out is thy Self, which is within all.…Breath is the abode of Brahman” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.1.6).
“As a spider moves along the thread, as small sparks come forth from the fire, even so from this Self come forth all breaths.…The breaths are the Real [in manifestation] and the reality of the breaths is the Self” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.1.20).
“The Self is The Truth of Truth, and verily the Breath is Truth, and the Self is the Truth of the Breath” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.3.6).
“This shining, immortal Person who is Breath is this Self” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.5.4).
“Verily, the breath is the priest of the [cosmic and individual] sacrifice. That which is this breath is liberation–complete liberation” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.1.5).
“He who breathes through your breath is your Self” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.4.1).
“He who dwells in the breath, and is within the breath,…whose body the breath is, and who controls the breath from within, he is your Self, the inner controller, the immortal” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.7.16).
“Which is the one God? The Breath. He is Brahman. They call him That” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.9.9). That–Tat–is a common designation of God.
“On what do the body and the heart rest? On the Breath” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.9.26).
“The Breath, verily is Brahman.…Breath is, in truth, the highest Brahman. Breath does not desert him who, knowing thus, worships it as such. All beings approach him. Having become a god, he goes to the gods” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.1.3).
In the upanishads both the universal Self and the individual Self are symbolized as a swan (hansa). In verse 4.3.12, it is said that the swan-Self protects its “nest”–the body–through the breath, and also moves out of the body by means of the breath.
“They who know the breath of the breath have realized the ancient primordial Brahman” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.4.18).
In 5.13.1-4, we find a passage that is very hard to translate, but the gist of it is that the breath is the vitalizer of all, that which puts us in touch with all things through perception, that which unites us mentally with whatever we desire to know, and is the ruler and protector that needs no ruler and protector itself. Those who know this attain union with the Self in the transcendental world of the Self.
“The Breath is Strength” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 5.14.4).
“Verily, he who knows the oldest and the greatest becomes the oldest and the greatest. Breath is, indeed, the oldest and the greatest. He who knows this becomes the oldest and the greatest” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 6.1.1).
6.1.7-13 gives the usual parable about the supremacy of the Breath.
In the fifth verse of the first section of the Shvetashvatara Upanishad it is said that the Self is like a river and the breath is the streams of that river.
A final word about breath in the upanishads
The breath is considered to have five modes of function that affect both the body and the mind. Consequently there is a large amount of material outlining those functions. These I have omitted as so much citation would have been tedious and have only a peripheral relevance to Breath Meditation. Nevertheless they do show that the human being is really breath in manifestation, that those who unite with the breath truly are Masters in a very literal sense.
What is relevant, though, is the statement that the breath is moving through seven million two hundred seventy-two thousand (7,272,000) channels–known as nadis–in the physical and subtle bodies. Obviously, then, when we perfect the breath we perfect all these channels as well. Further, in meditation we can experience an amazing number of differing sensations of the breath as these channels come into prominence and are perceived by us. These can also translate themselves into color and sound. The variations are endless. Also, the movements of the breath can be felt in various parts of the body. Yet it is extremely important that at all times we keep focused on the tip of the nose and the breath sensations there. The nosetip is our safety zone and the inhaling/exhaling breath our only object of attention.
The solar path of liberation
All plant, animal, and human life on this planet depends upon the sun. It is the subtle powers of sunlight which stimulate growth and evolution. Sunlight particularly stimulates the activity of the higher centers in the brain, especially that of the pineal gland. Even in the depths of the earth a sensitive man can tell when the sun rises and sets above him. The sun truly awakens us in the deepest sense. As the germinating seed struggles upward toward the sun and out into its life-giving rays, so all higher forms of life reach out for the sun, which acts as a metaphysical magnet, drawing them upward and outward toward ever-expanding consciousness. Human beings, especially, are solar creatures.
The Amritabindu Upanishad (26) refers to “the gate of liberation which is known as the open orb”–the sun. When the individual comes into manifestation on this earth he passes from the astral world into the material plane by means of the sun, which is a mass of exploding astral energies, not mere flaming gases. And when the individual has completed his course of evolution within this plane, upon the death of his body he rises upward in his subtle body and passes through the sun into the higher worlds, there to evolve even higher or to pass directly into the depths of the transcendent Brahman. It is very important, then, that the yogi maintain breath awareness at the time of death so this will take place easily and without hindrance.
The Chandogya Upanishad says: “Even as a great extending highway runs between two villages, this one and that yonder, even so the rays of the sun go to both these worlds, this one and that yonder. They start from the yonder sun and enter into the nadis. They start from the nadis and enter into the yonder sun.” (Chandogya Upanishad 8.6.2,5). The solar energies and the breath are also intimately connected. Our life depends on the light of the sun, and Breath Meditation aligns us with the solar powers and greatly increase our life force and the evolution of all the levels of our being.
The solar rays do not just flow into this world, they also draw upward through the sun and beyond. In the human body the process of exhalation and inhalation is related to solar energy, and much of the solar power on which we subsist is drawn into the body through our breathing. Which is why Giri Bala (see Autobiography of a Yogi, Chapter Forty-Six) employed a special form of breathing to live without eating. The solar rays do not just strike the surface of our body, but penetrate into the nadis, the channels in the astral body that correspond to the physical nerves. Just as the electrical impulses flow through the physical nerves, the subtle solar life force, or prana, flows through the subtle nadis and keeps us alive and functioning. The breath, then, is a vehicle for the solar energies that produce evolution, and we increase its effect through Breath Yoga.
The continual awareness of the breath during and outside of meditation, conditions our subtle levels so that at the time of death we will be oriented toward the solar powers and can ascend upon them–especially if we continue breath awareness even after the physical body has been dropped. Awareness of the subtle breath will guarantee our ascent into the solar world. We will enter through the solar gate and never be compelled to return to earthly rebirth.
Classical Yoga is that which is outlined by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. It will be meaningful to consider the eight components of yoga as he lists them, for in Sutra 2:28 he avers: “From the practice of the component exercises of Yoga, spiritual illumination arises which develops into awareness of Reality.” In the next sutra he lists the components: “Yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi.” Let us look at each in turn.
Yama and Niyama are the abstentions and observances which create the personal mental and physical environment that is indispensable for the successful practice of meditation. (This was the teaching of Buddha, as well.) Since they are not part of the actual practice of meditation, we need not analyze them here, having done so in the first chapter as the Ten Commandments of Yoga. The other steps have a multitude of meanings assigned to them in contemporary writings and commentaries, but I will only discuss what is salient to us in the practice of Breath Meditation.
Asana is usually thought of as meditation posture, but it also means “sitting” (for meditation).
So we sit. Then what do we do? We observe the breath–and that is pranayama.
We close our eyes and turn the mind inward, and that is pratyahara–“the interiorizing of the mind.”
But we do not just observe the breath. We focus our attention on the tip of the nose. And that is dharana, which Patanjali defines as: “the fixing of the mind on a single point or object.”
Our turning of the mind inward and experiencing the movement of the breath at/in the tip of the nose is itself the process of dhyana–meditation–which is defined as “the movement of the mind inward like the pouring of a stream of oil.” The simile of oil is used because it does not splash like water but is silent when poured out. Also, it is steady and continuous.
Samadhi is the absorption of the awareness into itself–the state of awareness of pure consciousness–which occurs through the correct and prolonged practice of meditation.
From this we can understand why some researchers and scholars believe that Breath Meditation is the original Eightfold (Ashtanga) Yoga taught by Patanjali.
The identity of the breath with the individual spirit, the Atman (Self)
The breath is the spirit in extension. “The Self is the breath of the breath” (Kena Upanishad 1:2). This being so, through the outer breath we come in contact with the inner breath, and through the inner, refined, subtle breath we enter the consciousness that is the Self (Atman/spirit). “The subtle Self within the living and breathing body is realized in that pure consciousness wherein is no duality” (Mundaka Upanishad 3.1.9). And this consciousness comes from tracing the breath back to its Source.
When we observe the breath, we actually observe our Self acting. “He who breathes in with your breathing in is your Self. He who breathes out with your breathing out is your Self” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.4.1). “The breaths are the Real, and their Reality is the Self” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.1.20).
The breath is also the “body” of the Self: “He, who is permeating the mind, whose nature is consciousness, has the breath for his body” (Chandogya Upanishad 3:14:2). “The Breath is born from the Self” (Prashna Upanishad 3:3). The breath can lead us inward into the center–to the spirit. When we relax and make ourselves aware of the breath, the mind naturally turns within and begins tracing the breath-thread back to the consciousness of which it is the manifestation. This is accomplished by breathing naturally and letting the breath do as it will rather than by forcing it into artificial modes.
The identity of the breath with the Supreme Spirit, Brahman
But breath is much more than an individual matter, and therefore is more than a means to uncover the individual consciousness of which it is a manifestation. It is also a bridge to the Infinite Consciousness, being rooted in the Supreme Spirit. The breath is the living presence and action of God (Brahman). “That which is not drawn by the breath but by which the breath is drawn know that to be Brahman” (Kena Upanishad 1:9). “He, the adorable one, seated in the heart, is the power that gives breath. Unto him all the senses do homage” (Katha Upanishad 2.2.3).
“Man does not live by breath alone, but by him in whom is the power of breath” (Katha Upanishad 2.2.5).
“O Prana, lord of creation, thou as breath dwellest in the body” (Prashna Upanishad 2.7).
“Self-luminous is that Being, and formless. He dwells within all and without all. He is unborn, pure, greater than the greatest. From him is born the breath” (Mundaka Upanishad 2.1.2,3).
“The Self-Existent is the essence of all felicity. Who could live, who could breathe, if that blissful Self dwelt not within the lotus of the heart? He it is that gives joy” (Taittiriya Upanishad 2.7.1). “Breath is a part of Brahman” (Chandogya Upanishad 4.9.3).
“When one breathes, one knows him as breath” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.4.7). This implies that through breathing–specifically through observing the breath–God can be known.
“The being who is the breath within–him I meditate upon as Brahman” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.1.6).
“Breath is the Immortal One” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 1.6.3).
“The breath is real, and He (Brahman) is the reality of the breath” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.3.6).
“The shining, immortal person who is breath is the Self, is Brahman” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 2.5.4).
“Which is the one God? The breath. He is Brahman” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 3.9.9).
“They who know the breath of the breath…have realized the ancient, primordial Brahman” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.4.18).
“The breath is the Supreme Brahman. The breath never deserts him who, knowing thus, meditates upon it. Having become a god, he goes to the gods” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad 4.1.3).
When we remain “in” the breath, we abide in Brahman. When our awareness is centered in the breath it is centered in God. Furthermore, the breath is the substance of all things. “All these beings, whatsoever exist, are indeed Breath. So it was in this alone that I took refuge” (Chandogya Upanishad 3:15:4). A little later (3:17:6) the upanishad says regarding Brahman: “Thou art the subtle essence of Breath.”
Sri Ramana Maharshi
Sri Ramana Maharshi was one of the most widely-known and sought-after sages of modern India. His uncompromising teachings on non-dual realization have influenced untold numbers of seekers–and continue to do so. One of Sri Ramana’s most important teachings is: “The Self is not attained by doing anything, but by remaining still and being as we are” (The Power of the Presence, vol. III, p. 131, footnote).
“He who instructs an ardent seeker to do this or that is not a true Master. The seeker is already afflicted by his activities and wants peace and rest. In other words he wants cessation of his activities. Instead of that, he is told to do something in addition to or in place of his other activities. Can that be a help to the seeker?
“Activity is a creation; activity is the destruction of one’s inherent happiness. If activity is advocated, the advisor is not a Master but a killer. Either the Creator, Brahma, or Death, Yama, may be said to have come in the guise of such a Master. He cannot liberate the aspirant; he can only strengthen his fetters” (The Power of the Presence, vol. III, p. 128).
“Even the idea ‘I am Brahman’ [the mahavakya Aham Brahmasmi] is only a thought and is not atmanishta [Self-abidance]. That one should give up all thought and abide as the Self is the conclusion of all religions. Even nirvikalpa samadhi is only a stage in sadhana. It implies going into samadhi and rising from samadhi” (The Power of the Presence, vol. III, p. 129).
“Sadhana implies an object to be gained and the means of gaining it. What is there to be gained which we do not already possess? In meditation, concentration and contemplation, all we have to do is be still and not think of anything. Then we shall be in our natural state. This natural state is given many names–moksha, jnana, Atman, etc.–and these give rise to many controversies.…People seem to think that by practicing some elaborate sadhana the Self will one day descend upon them as something very big and with tremendous glory, giving them what is called sakshatkaram [direct experience]. The Self is sakshat [direct] all right, but there is no karam [the one who performs actions] or kritam [the action that is performed] about it. The word karam implies doing something. But the Self is realized not by doing something but by refraining from doing anything, by remaining still and being simply what one really is” (The Power of the Presence, vol. III, p. 130-132). “Doing” anything in meditation drives away the perception of spirit–of consciousness itself–from our awareness. Breath Meditation, however, is really not a “doing” but a “being.” And, as already quoted: “Pranayama is of two kinds: one of controlling and regulating the breath and the other of simply watching the breath.”
In the book Day By Day With Bhagavan, we find the following: “[Seekers] are advised to watch their breathing, since such watching will naturally and as a matter of course lead to cessation of thought and bring the mind under control.
“Breath and mind arise from the same place and when one of them is controlled, the other is also controlled.…The method [of Self-Inquiry recommended by Sri Ramana] contains within it…the watching of the breath. When we watch wherefrom the ‘I’ thought, the root of all thoughts, springs, we are necessarily watching the source of breath also, as the ‘I’ thought and the breath arise from the same source.”
When asked in the same conversation about actually controlling the breath, he commented: “Watching the breath is also one form of pranayama. Retaining breath, etc., is more violent and may be harmful in some cases…. But merely watching the breath is easy and involves no risk.”
The following comes from Talks With Sri Ramana Maharshi, a stenographic record of his conversations: “To watch the breath is one way of doing pranayama. The mind abstracted from other activities is engaged in watching the breath. That controls the breath; and in its turn the mind is controlled.” And further: “Breath and mind arise from the same source. The source can be reached by regulating the breath…. Regulation of the breath is accomplished by watching its movements.”
One of the most renowned yogis of twentieth century India was Paramhansa Nityananda. Some of his teachings were recorded, compiled and made into a book called The Chidakasha Gita. The following are his words on breath. (The numbers following them are the numbers of the aphorisms in the Chidakasha Gita.)
“When the movement of the breath is internal, one will see the world in himself” (11).
“It is the breath that man brings here at birth and it is the breath that man takes with him when he leaves this world” (52).
“Just as small rivers enter the sea, our attention must be fixed on the internal breath” (58).
“Harmonizing the prana [inhalation] and apana [exhalation], enjoy the eternal bliss. The seat of breath is the truth. It is the internal space (chidakasha). In the eternal space is the tower of eternal bliss. This tower is the seat of eternal peace. In the ‘unconscious sleep,’ enjoy the ‘conscious sleep’ of bliss. This is not the sleep of beasts. Sleep the ‘sleep of man.’ Enjoy that sleep which must be the aim and end of man. Sleep the sleep of the ‘spiritual eye’ (upanayana). When talking, when sitting, without any desires, without any thoughts, sleep this spiritual sleep. Fixing your attention on breath, sleep. Perform the natural ‘japa’ of the inward and the outward breath” (120).
“Breath is the ONE. Breath is the ONE in all. Breath is existence. This is known only to those who have practiced yoga. Those who have not practiced yoga are not aware of this fact” (121).
“Those who do not practice pranayama have no yoga. It is impossible to draw water from a well without a rope” (204).
“Many sorts of cakes are prepared from the same rice. So also, by breath everything is accomplished.…What is called pranayama is all internal working” (210).
“The internal breath is not divisible. It is indivisible; it is one” (215).
“The origin of breath is true ananda” (231).
“Those who do not concentrate on breath have no aim, no state, no intelligence and no fulfillment. So concentrate and think. Concentrate on the indrawing and outgoing breath” (232).
“The internal faith should be concentrated upon breath” (240).
“O breath! Enter the abode of peace. Have under control both this world and the next! Such souls will attain Satchitananda. They have no attachment to the results of karma. They are eternally liberated from bondage. They are eternally one-minded. They have conquered the qualities of the jiva” (279).
Sri Anandamayi Ma
Sri Sri Anandamayi Ma (the Joy-filled Mother) was also one of the most renowned spiritual figures of twentieth-century India. Paramhansa Yogananda devoted an entire chapter of his Autobiography of Yogi to her. Here are some of her words regarding breath:
“As soon as the mind understands the fact of His immanence, then…He becomes as it were active within us, at first through the vehicle of the breath, which is an expression of the life-force [prana].…Be ever aware of the following: What is called life-breath is really an aspect of a universal, all-pervasive power that functions continuously. It is He in one of His forms. He Who is Truth-Consciousness reveals Himself in this mode. If…we can remain concentrated on the breath,…simply watching the movement of the breath, this will help to steady the mind and may also be an aid in our search of Him Who is the Life of our life [or: Who is the Breath of our breath], Who is the Whole, the Eternal One.…
“The ever-moving breath changes its rhythm according to what we do, feel and think, with the precision of a clock’s pendulum, which works without a break although it may at times go fast or slow. With a similar constancy endeavor to concentrate on the breath; this will exercise a check on the mind and prevent it from wandering away to outer objects.…With the help of your intelligence and individual capacity try to unite the mind with the breath” (Extracted from Matri Vani, pp. 145-148).
Mataji said that all the life process of the gross and subtle bodies are actions (kriyas) of the breath, that the breath was the key to ALL.
On another occasion some people expressed to Anandamayi Ma their disinterest in the worship of symbols. One of them asked: “What is the means of steadying the mind?” To this query Mataji responded: “Very well, you sit quietly and concentrate on your breath–there is no need to do anything else. Inhalation and exhalation are your symbols” (Gurupriya Devi, Sri Sri Ma Anandamayi, Volume Five, page 136).
“Watch your breath moving in and out. It is this breathing that enables us to remain alive. However different human beings, animals, birds, etc., may be in species and also each creature from the other, in this respect, as far as breath is concerned, they are the same.…As the breath He resides within each creature. He is the Breath of all breathers [praner prana], the Supreme Breath.…Just as still water can be reached by pursuing flowing waves, so Supreme Life [or Breath] can be realized by performing sadhana with every breath [praner sadhana]. This kind of sadhana can be practiced in all circumstances. God Himself is present as the breath of life. Nothing can be achieved without cultivation of the breath” (From In Association With Sri Sri Ma Anandamayi by Amulya Kumar Datta Gupta).
Sri Ma Anandamayi also advised her ill devotees to practice Breath Meditation while lying down for their healing, just as Buddha did in the Girimananda Sutra.
When Paramhansa Nityananda said: “Perform the natural ‘japa’ of the inward and the outward breath” he was referring to ajapa japa, a yogic term that means the natural, spontaneous sound of the breath that goes on perpetually in the subtle levels of perception as we breathe. This subtle, inner sound is experienced in Breath Meditation when the breath and mind become refined, and though non-verbal is the highest form of mantra.
Next Chapter in The Breath of Life: The Buddhist Tradition of Breath Meditation