A Theravada Meditation

The following meditation was recorded in January 1981 in Sydney, Australia:

This meditation is drawn from Theravada, or southern Buddhism. It’s called Anapana and it is just bringing you to right here and it is done through the breath. So it is common to everyone in this room at this moment. Of all of our individual differences, we are all breathing in, breathing out. This process is one that is like, if you can imagine a flower and the center of the flower and then the petals coming out of the flower. And the center is called your primary object in meditation and the petals are all the thoughts that keep coming out from that center.

In this case our primary object of meditation is our breath. We will focus on our breath going in and our breath coming out. You can do this two ways. One is by focusing on a muscle that is in the solar plexus that every time you breathe in it moves in one direction and every time you breathe out it moves in another direction. Rising, falling, rising, falling. Or you could focus at the tip of the inside of your nose. And as the air goes by you will feel a slight whisper of air on the in breath and as the air goes out you will feel a slight whisper of air on the out breath and you are like a gate keeper at the gate. The cars go in and the cars go out. You don’t follow them to see where they go you just notice the breath going in, breathing in, the breath going out, breathing out. So whichever one is easiest for you, pick one now and stay with it for this period of 15 minutes, either the muscle in your solar plexus, that is rising and falling or the air going by the tip of your nose breathing in, breathing out.

Your job in the most gentle possible way is to merely keep your awareness focused on your primary object. Now it is going to wander. Your awareness is going to be grabbed by many thoughts. You’ll sit down and you’ll say, breathing in, breathing out. And then the thought will come, “this will never work.” Now you can either take the thought that this will never work and immediately go off on another train of thought, even though I am giving you instructions you just ignore them, and then the meditation is over. That’s okay. Or at some point you’ll say “gee, all I was going to do for these 15 minutes was watch my breath and this is another thought, I’ll just let it go and I’ll go back to my breath.” The art is not to get violent with your other thoughts. Don’t get guilty because you are thinking them. Don’t even try to push them away. Merely very gently again and again bring your awareness back to the primary object of meditation. Let each thought be another petal in the flower. Keep coming back to the center, back to the center, back to the center. So with eyes closed and body straight as is comfortable for you to sit, it’s good to keep straight if you can – your head and neck and chest – bring your awareness either to the muscle in your abdomen or to the breath passing the tip of your nostrils and notice the breath either rising and falling or breathing in and breathing out.

If your breath gets fast or slow it doesn’t matter, just notice it. Don’t change it but just notice it. You are merely remaining aware. Any sounds, smells, sensations just let them come and let them go and bring your awareness back to either rising and falling or breathing in and breathing out.

If your mind wanders just notice it and bring it very gently back to breathing in breathing out or rising and falling.

Wherever your mind is now, just notice where it is and very gently bring it back to rising and falling, breathing in, breathing out. If it helps to say those words inside yourself with each breath it is perfectly okay.

All the sounds, everything that comes into your ears, just notice it as another thought and come back to your breath. There is nothing you need to think about now other than breathing in, breathing out or rising and falling.

Notice the shape and form as the breath goes by – beginning, middle, and end of the in breath, the space, the beginning, middle, and end of the out breath, the space.

If you experience agitation or confusion or boredom or bliss or anything just see it as more thoughts. Notice it and bring your awareness back to rising and falling or breathing in and breathing out.

If you begin to doze take a few deep intentional breaths. Rising and falling or breathing in and breathing out.

All the feelings in your body, the sounds, the sensations, the tastes, the smells, the sights, just notice them coming and going bring your awareness back to the primary object of meditation.

Firm your seat, head straight, rising and falling or breathing in and breathing out.

There are three more minutes left. Use these three minutes consciously. Gently but firmly each time your mind wanders bring it back to rising and falling or breathing in and breathing out.

Be vigilant but gentle. Bring the awareness back to the basic primary object of meditation. Basic attention to the breath.

Okay. Om.

-Ram Dass

8 thoughts on “A Theravada Meditation”

  1. You have traveled far and wide with me, Ram Dass. Your tapes are my most constant companions…none other bring such comfort and love. None other share the wisdoms of this and other ages. My meager library is abundant from their inclusion.

    Now at 65, I hear daily your words – so powerful at this time on Earth, “No expectations, no upset.”

    Thank you for your loving kindness, your experiences shared, your leadership, and your devotion and love of your fellow planet-mates. I feel gifted to have sailed these waters both placid and turbulent, with you.

    With much love and gratitude – in the hope of becoming a better human…


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