by Abbot George Burke (Swami Nirmalananda Giri)

Afterword: It Is All Up to You

breath meditationChapter 9 of The Breath of Life

One whose mindfulness of breathing
Is undeveloped and imperfect,
Remains unsettled in his body,
Remains unsettled in his mind,
Remains unsteady in his body,
Remains unsteady in his mind.

One whose mindfulness of breathing
Is developed and perfected,
Remains quite settled in his body,
Remains quite settled in his mind,
Remains quite steady in his body,
Remains quite steady in his mind.

(The Patisambhida-magga)

Many have heard of the philosophy and practice of meditation, many have enjoyed lectures and books on the subject (some have even given the lectures and written the books), and yet have never taken up the practice to any degree. Why? They simply did not make the connection between the beautiful theory and the actuality of their own lives. This is pretty much the trouble in all “spiritual” matters–people do not make the connection or transition from the theoretical to the practical. Writing on the subject of Breath Meditation in Going Forth (Pabbajja), the Venerable Sumana Samanera said: “First of all, three things are required here: 1. persistence, 2. persistence, 3. persistence. Without great devotion, without extraordinary patience even one who is otherwise gifted, will not be able to make progress.” It is the matter of perseverance that usually presents the greatest difficulty to the meditator.

It is essential in meditation, as in ordinary matters, to realize that all goes according to precise laws. When speaking of meditation, Patanjali says: “Its application is by stages” (Yoga Sutras 3:6). That is, meditation keeps moving onward in its effect when regularly practiced, just like the taking of a journey. It all goes in an exact sequence. Meditation produces steady growth if there is steady practice.

All the theory and eulogy in the world regarding a meditation practice mean virtually nothing. But practice is everything. Buddha insisted that his hearers not accept something because he taught it–but rather that they should gain their own experience and thereby know the truth and the value of what he said. This is most especially true in regard to the meditation method he taught them: Breath Meditation. It is extremely difficult to believe that such a simple practice could have such a profound effect–Nirvana itself in time. And it is not only difficult for the hearer to believe this, it is incredible to the practicer that it works so powerfully and profoundly. In Breath Meditation more than anything I know, practice certainly does Make Perfect. And the practice is so marvelously simple.

We observe the breath because it has the power to draw us into it, into the “still point” from which the breath arises. And that point is the individual spirit itself. Watching the breath lets the pure Self manifest and work its will in us, changing all the levels of our being. And that is everything, as you will discover yourself.

Recounting his experience beneath the Bodhi Tree, Buddha said: “I thought: ‘While my Sakyan father was busy and I [as a child] was sitting in the shade of a rose apple tree, then…I had direct acquaintance of entering upon and abiding in…meditation….Might that be the way to enlightenment?’ And following that memory came the recognition: ‘That is the only way to enlightenment” (MN 36).

The first time I heard a story about someone who had three wishes, like just about everybody else on their first time around, I said: “I would wish for a magic ring that would give me all the wishes I might ask!” That was something not permitted in the fantasy story, but it is a reality in the realm of Breath Meditation. It will do everything for us on the path to enlightenment. All the sixteen states outlined in the Anapanasati Sutra as well as all possible states between “here” and “there” are opened up to us by the simple means of Breath Meditation. That is why Ajahn Lee could confidently say: “…as he [Buddha] was meditating on his breath, he gained Awakening. He found what he was looking for–right at the tip of his nose. Nirvana does not lie far away. It is right at the tip of our nose.” His disciple Ajahn Fuang said it even more directly: “The breath can take you all the way to Nirvana.”

The great Master, the Lord Buddha, said: “Mindfulness of in-and-out breathing, when developed and pursued, brings clear knowing and release [nirvana] to completion.”

And the Visuddhimagga itself sums it up perfectly:

“When mindfulness of breathing in
And out is perfect, well developed,
Gradually brought to growth
According as the Buddha taught,
’Tis he illuminates the world,
Like the full moon freed from cloud.”

Yoga, the spiritual state, is produced by yoga the practice. Those who persevere in their meditation practice find unfailing and abundant happiness, peace, and fulfillment. Certainly the goal is not reached without much practice through the years, but every step of the way is blessed and brings rejoicing to the meditator’s heart. Then at last no more steps are needed, and he enters the ocean of Satchidananda. “A tiny bubble of laughter, I am become the Sea of Mirth Itself,” wrote Yogananda.

As Ajaan Fuang Jotiko said: “If you were to say it is easy, well yes, it is easy. If you were to say it is hard, it is hard. It all depends on you.”

So it really is all up to you.

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