Ānāpānasati Sutta

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The Ānāpānasati Sutta (Pāli) or Ānāpānasmṛti Sūtra (Sanskrit), "Breath-Mindfulness Discourse," Majjhima Nikaya 118, is a discourse that details the Buddha's instruction on using awareness of the breath (anapana) as an initial focus for meditation.

The sutta includes sixteen steps of practice, and groups them into four tetrads, associating them with the four satipatthanas (placings of mindfulness). According to American scholar monk, Thanissaro Bhikkhu, this sutta contains the most detailed meditation instructions in the Pali Canon.[1]

Versions of the text[edit]

In Theravada Buddhism[edit]

The Theravada version of the Anapanasati Sutta lists sixteen steps to relax and compose the mind and body. According to Ajahn Sujato, the ultimate goal of Anapanasati is to bear insight and understanding into the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (Satipaṭṭhāna), the Seven Factors of Awakening (Bojjhangas), and ultimately Nibbana.[2]

The Anapanasati Sutta is a celebrated text among Theravada Buddhists.[3] In the Theravada Pali Canon, this discourse is the 118th discourse in the Majjhima Nikaya (MN) and is thus frequently represented as "MN 118".[4] In addition, in the Pali Text Society edition of the Pali Canon, this discourse is in the Majjhima Nikaya (M)'s third volume, starting on the 78th page and is thus sometimes referenced as "M iii 78".

In East Asian Buddhism[edit]

The Ānāpānasmṛti Sūtra, as the text was known to Sanskritic early Buddhist schools in India, exists in several forms. There is a version of the Ānāpānasmṛti Sutra in the Ekottara Āgama preserved in the Chinese Buddhist canon. This version also teaches about the Four Dhyānas, recalling past lives, and the Divine Eye. The earliest translation of Ānāpānasmṛti instructions, however, was by An Shigao as a separate sutra (T602) in the 2nd century CE.[5] It is not part of the Sarvastivada Madhyama Āgama, but is instead an isolated text, although the sixteen steps are found elsewhere in the Madhyama and Samyukta Āgamas.[6] The versions preserved in the Samyukta Agama are SA 815, SA 803, SA 810–812 and these three sutras have been translated into English by Thich Nhat Hanh.[7]

Discourse summary[edit]


The Buddha states that mindfulness of the breath, "developed and repeatedly practiced, is of great fruit, great benefit."[8] Ultimately, it can lead to "clear vision and deliverance."[9] The path by which this occurs is that:

  • Breath mindfulness (Pali: anapanasati) development leads to the perfection of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (satipatthana).[10]
  • The Four Foundations of Mindfulness development leads to the perfection of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment (bojjhanga).
  • The Seven Factors of Enlightenment development leads to clear vision and deliverance.

Preparatory instructions[edit]

Prior to enumerating the 16 steps, the Buddha provides the following preparatory advice (which the Chinese version of this sutta includes as part of the first object):[11]

  1. seek a secluded space (in a forest or at the foot of a tree or in an empty place)
  2. sit down
  3. cross your legs
  4. keep your body erect
  5. establish mindfulness in front (parimukham)[12][note 1]

Core instructions[edit]

Next, the 16 objects or instructions are listed, generally broken into four tetrads. These core sixteen steps are one of the most widely taught meditation instructions in the early Buddhist texts. They appear in various Pali suttas like the Ananada sutta not just the Anapanasati sutta. They also appear in various Chinese translations of the Agamas (such as in a parallel version of the Ananada sutta in the Samyukta-Agama, SA 8.10) with minor differences as well as in the Vinayas of different schools. They are as follows:[13][14]

  1. First Tetrad: Contemplation of the Body (kāya)
    1. Discerning the in and out breathing (SA 8.10 begins with "he trains" in the first step)
    2. Discerning long or short breaths (Ekottarika Agama 17.1 version adds "warm" and "cool" breaths)
    3. Experiencing the whole body (sabbakāya). Pali versions add "he trains" in this step. Some Samyukta-Agama sutras meanwhile have "bodily-formations" in this step.[13]
    4. Calming bodily formations (kāya-saṃskāra)
  2. Second Tetrad: Contemplation of the Feeling (vedanā)
    1. Experiencing rapture (pīti)[15]
    2. Experiencing pleasure (sukha)
    3. Experiencing mental fabrication (citta-saṃskāra)
    4. Calming mental fabrication
  3. Third Tetrad: Contemplation of the Mind (citta)
    1. Experiencing the mind
    2. Satisfying the mind
    3. Steadying the mind (samādhi)
    4. Releasing the mind
  4. Fourth Tetrad: Contemplation of the Mental Objects (dhammā)
    1. Dwelling on impermanence
    2. Dwelling on dispassion (virāga). SA 8.10 instead has 'eradication'.
    3. Dwelling on cessation (nirodha). SA 8.10 instead has 'dispassion'.
    4. Dwelling on relinquishment (paṭinissaggā). SA 8.10 instead has 'cessation'.

Seven factors of awakening[edit]

The rest of the sutra explains how the four tetrads fulfill the four satipatthanas and then explains how the practice of the four tetrads of anapanasati fulfill the seven factors of awakening which themselves bring "clear knowing" and release.

Related canonical discourses[edit]

Breath mindfulness, in general, and this discourse's core instructions, in particular, can be found throughout the Pali Canon, including in the "Code of Ethics" (that is, in the Vinaya Pitaka's Parajika)[16] as well as in each of the "Discourse Basket" (Sutta Pitaka) collections (nikaya). From these other texts, clarifying metaphors, instructional elaborations and contextual information can be gleaned. These can also be found throughout the Chinese Agamas.

Pali suttas including the core instructions[edit]

In addition to being in the Anapanasati Sutta, all four of the aforementioned core instructional tetrads can also be found in the following canonical discourses:

  • the "Greater Exhortation to Rahula Discourse" (Maha-Rahulovada Sutta, MN 62);[17]
  • sixteen discourses of the Samyutta Nikaya's (SN) chapter 54 (Anapana-samyutta): SN 54.1, SN 54.3–SN 54.16, SN 54.20;[18]
  • the "To Girimananda Discourse" (Girimananda Sutta, AN 10.60); and,[19]
  • the Khuddaka Nikaya's Patisambhidamagga's section on the breath, Anapanakatha.[20]

The first tetrad identified above (relating to bodily mindfulness) can also be found in the following discourses:

  • the "Great Mindfulness Arousing Discourse" (Mahasatipatthana Sutta, DN 22)[21] and, similarly, the "Mindfulness Arousing Discourse" (Satipatthana Sutta, MN 10),[22] in the section on Body Contemplation; and,
  • the "Mindfulness concerning the Body Discourse" (Kayagatasati Sutta, MN 119) as the first type of body-centered meditation described.[23]

Chinese sutras with the core steps[edit]

The Saṃyukta Āgama contains a section titled Ānāpānasmṛti Saṃyukta (安那般那念相應) which contains various sutras on the theme of anapanasati including the sixteen steps.[24]


Hot-season rain cloud[edit]

In a discourse variously entitled "At Vesali Discourse"[25] and "Foulness Discourse"[26] (SN 54.9), the Buddha describes "concentration by mindfulness of breathing" (ānāpānassatisamādhi)[27] in the following manner:

"Just as, bhikkhus, in the last month of the hot season, when a mass of dust and dirt has swirled up, a great rain cloud out of season disperses it and quells it on the spot, so too concentration by mindfulness of breathing, when developed and cultivated, is peaceful and sublime, an ambrosial pleasant dwelling, and it disperses and quells on the spot evil unwholesome states whenever they arise...."[28]

After stating this, the Buddha states that such an "ambrosial pleasant dwelling" is achieved by pursuing the sixteen core instructions identified famously in the Anapanasati Sutta.

The skillful turner[edit]

In the "Great Mindfulness Arousing Discourse" (Mahasatipatthana Sutta, DN 22) and the "Mindfulness Arousing Discourse" (Satipatthana Sutta, MN 10), the Buddha uses the following metaphor for elaborating upon the first two core instructions:

Just as a skillful turner[29] or turner's apprentice, making a long turn, knows, "I am making a long turn," or making a short turn, knows, "I am making a short turn," just so the monk, breathing in a long breath, knows, "I am breathing in a long breath"; breathing out a long breath, he knows, "I am breathing out a long breath"; breathing in a short breath, he knows, "I am breathing in a short breath"; breathing out a short breath, he knows, "I am breathing out a short breath."[30]

Expanded contexts[edit]

Great fruit, great benefit[edit]

The Anapanasati Sutta refers to sixteenfold breath-mindfulness as being of "great fruit" (mahapphalo) and "great benefit" (mahānisaṃso). "The Simile of the Lamp Discourse" (SN 54.8) states this as well and expands on the various fruits and benefits, including:

  • unlike with other meditation subjects, with the breath one's body and eyes do not tire and one's mind, through non-clinging, becomes free of taints[31]
  • householder memories and aspirations are abandoned[32]
  • one dwells with equanimity towards repulsive and unrepulsive objects
  • one enters and dwells in the four material absorptions (rupajhana) and the four immaterial absorptions (arupajhana)
  • all feelings (vedana) are seen as impermanent, are detached from and, upon the death of the body, "will become cool right here."[33]

Traditional commentaries[edit]

Pali commentaries[edit]

In traditional Pali literature, the 5th-century CE commentary (atthakatha) for this discourse can be found in two works, both attributed to Ven. Buddhaghosa:

  • the Visuddhimagga provides commentary on the four tetrads, focusing on "concentration through mindfulness of breathing" (ānāpānassati-samādhi).[34]
  • the Papañcasūdanī provides commentary on the remainder of this discourse.[35]

The earlier Vimuttimagga also provides a commentary on Anapanasati, as does the late canonical Pali Paṭisambhidāmagga (ca. 2nd c. BCE).

Likewise, the sub-commentary to the Visuddhimagga, Paramatthamañjusā (ca. 12th c. BCE), provides additional elaborations related to Buddhaghosa's treatment of this discourse. For instance, the Paramatthamañjusā maintains that a distinction between Buddhists and non-Buddhists is that Buddhists alone practice the latter twelve instructions (or "modes") described in this sutta: "When outsiders know mindfulness of breathing, they only know the first four modes [instructions]" (Pm. 257, trans. Ñāṇamoli).[36]

Sanskrit commentaries[edit]

The Śrāvakabhūmi chapter of the Yogācārabhūmi-śāstra and Vasubandhu's Abhidharmakośa both contain expositions on the practice outlined in the Ānāpānasmṛti Sūtra.

Chinese commentaries[edit]

The Chinese Buddhist monk An Shigao translated a version of the Ānāpānasmṛti Sūtra into Chinese (148-170 CE) known as the Anban shouyi jing (安般守意經, Scripture on the ānāpānasmŗti) as well as other works dealing with Anapanasati. The practice was a central feature of his teaching and that of his students who wrote various commentaries on the sutra.[37]

One work which survives from the tradition of An Shigao is the Da anban shouyi jing (佛說大安般守意經, Taishō Tripitaka No.602) which seems to include the translated sutra of anapanasmrti as well as original added commentary amalgamated within the translation.[37]

Modern expositions available in English[edit]


Different traditions (such as Sri Lankan practitioners who follow the Visuddhimagga versus Thai forest monks) interpret a number of aspects of this sutta in different ways. Below are some of the matters that have multiple interpretations:

  • Are the 16 core instructions to be followed sequentially or concurrently (Bodhi, 2000, p. 1516; Brahm, 2006, pp. 83–101; Rosenberg, 2004)?
  • Must one have reached the first jhana before (or in tandem with) pursuing the second tetrad (Rosenberg, 2004)?
  • In the preparatory instructions, does the word "parimukham" mean: around the mouth (as favored by Goenka, 1998, p. 28), in the chest area (as supported by a use of the word in the Vinaya), in the forefront of one's mind (as favored at times by Thanissaro) or simply "sets up mindfulness before him" (per Bodhi in Wallace & Bodhi, 2006, p. 5) or "to the fore" (Thanissaro, 2006d) or "mindfulness alive" (Piyadassi, 1999) ?
  • In the first tetrad's third instruction, does the word "sabbakaya" mean: the whole "breath body" (as indicated in the sutta itself [Nanamoli, 1998, p. 7: "I say that this, bhikkhus, is a certain body among the bodies, namely, respiration."], as perhaps supported by the Patisambhidamagga [Nanamoli, 1998, p. 75], the Visuddhimagga [1991, pp. 266–267], Nyanaponika [1965, pp. 109–110], Buddhadasa [1988, p. 35], and Brahm [2006, p. 84]) or the whole "flesh body" (as supported by Bhikkhu Bodhi's revised second translation of the sutta [in Nanamoli & Bodhi, 2001, see relevant footnote to MN 118], Goenka [1988, pp. 29–30], Nhat Hanh [1988, p. 26] and Rosenberg [1998, pp. 40, 43]), and the commentary, which explains that the "body among bodies" refers to the wind element as opposed to other ways of relating to the body?

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Analayo 2006, p. 123-124 notes that "in front" can be taken lietral, or figuratively. Mukha may refer to "mouth" and "face," but also to "front" and "top." More literally, according to Anayola, it refers to focusing on the nostril area to pay attention to the breath. More figuratively, "in front" refers to sati (mindfulness) being ahead of meditative composture and attention. While the Abidhamma takes it literal, in the Suttas a more figurative meaning prevails, as when mindfulness precedes overcoming the five hindrances or developing the divine abodes. (Not mentioned by Analoya is right effort, which is also aided by mindfulness.)


  1. ^ Thanissaro Bhikkhu. The Steps of Breath Meditation. November, 2002
  2. ^ Sujato, Bhante (2012), A History of Mindfulness (PDF), Santipada, p. 149, ISBN 9781921842108
  3. ^ For instance, in Southeast Asian countries, "Anapanasati Day" is the full-moon sabbath (uposatha) day in the eighth lunar month of Kattika (usually in November) (e.g., see Bullitt, 2005).
  4. ^ A Romanized Pali version of this sutta can be found at http://www.metta.lk Archived 2018-08-09 at the Wayback Machine (SLTP, n.d.). Examples of English translations are Nanamoli (1998), Nanamoli & Bodhi (2001), Nhat Hanh (1988) and Thanissaro (2006a).
  5. ^ "The Relationships Between Traditional And Imported Thought And Culture In China: From The Standpoint of The Importation Of Buddhism" by Tang Yijie. Journal of Chinese Philosophy 15 (1988) pp.415-424
  6. ^ Sujato, Bhante (2012), A History of Mindfulness (PDF), Santipada, p. 148, ISBN 9781921842108
  7. ^ Nhat Hanh, Awakening of the Heart: Essential Buddhist Sutras and Commentaries.
  8. ^ Nanamoli (1998), p. 5, translation. See also Thanissaro (2006a) for similar wording.
  9. ^ Nanamoli (1998), p. 5, translation. The Pali phrase being translated here as "clear vision and deliverance" is: vijjā-vimuttiṃ. Vijja is the literal Pali antonym for avijja, traditionally translated as "ignorance" or "delusion" and canonically identified as the root of suffering (dukkha, cf. "Twelve Nidānas").
  10. ^ The Pali is: Ānāpānasati bhikkhave bhāvitā bahulīkatā cattāro satipaṭṭhāne paripūreti. SN 54.13 states: Ānāpānasatisamādhi kho ānanda, eko dhammo bhāvito bahulīkato cattāro satipaṭṭhāne paripūreti (underscore added). That is, the latter discourse identifies that it is the concentration (samādhi) associated with anapanasati practice that leads to fulfillment of the four satipatthana.
  11. ^ The preparatory and core instructions are also detailed in the "Arittha Sutta" ("To Arittha," SN 44.6)[1].
  12. ^ Analayo 2006, p. 123.
  13. ^ a b Analayo, Mindfulness of Breathing in the Samyukta-agama. Buddhist Studies Review 24(2) 2007,137-50 doi: 10.1558/bsrv.v24i1.l37
  14. ^ This enumeration of the core instructions is largely based on Thanissaro (2006a) and Nanamoli (1998). The basis for mapping each of the tetrads to one of the four satipatthana is that, in the Anapanasati Sutta, after what is here identified as the "core instructions," the Buddha explicitly identifies each tetrad as related to a particular satipatthana.
  15. ^ The arising of pīti suggests the arising of the first jhanic state.
  16. ^ Vin.iii,70 (e.g., see Buddhaghosa, 1999, p. 259, VIII.145).
  17. ^ Thanissaro (2006d)
  18. ^ For this entire chapter (SN 54), see Bodhi, 2000, pp. 1765-1787. For a few of this chapter's individual discourses, see SN 54.6 (Thanissaro, 2006b), SN 54.8 (Thanissaro, 2006c) and SN 54.13 (Thanissaro, 1995).
  19. ^ Piyadassi (1999).
  20. ^ See, for instance, Nanamoli (1998), Part III.
  21. ^ See, e.g., Thanissaro (2000).
  22. ^ Nyanasatta (1994).
  23. ^ Thanissaro (1997).
  24. ^ Ānāpānasmṛti in the Chinese Āgamas, https://lapislazulitexts.com/articles/anapanasmrti_in_the_agamas
  25. ^ Vesālīsuttaṃ, in the Burmese Chaṭṭha Saṇgayana edition of the Pali Canon (see http://www.tipitaka.org/romn/cscd/s0305m.mul9.xml). This edition is the basis for Bodhi (2000), pp. 1773-74.
  26. ^ Asubhasuttaṃ, in the Sinhala Sri Lanka Tripitaka Project (SLTP) edition of the Pali Canon (see http://www.metta.lk/tipitaka/2Sutta-Pitaka/3Samyutta-Nikaya/Samyutta5/53-Anapana-Samyutta/01-Ekadhammavaggo-p.html). The basis for this SLTP title is that it starts with the Buddha providing a talk about meditating on "foulness" (asubha, e.g., see Patikulamanasikara). (Traditionally, the intent of such a meditation is primarily to diminish one's attachment to their own or another's body.)
  27. ^ In the Samyutta Nikaya (SN) chapter on breath-mindfulness, over half the discourses (SN 54.7 to 54.20) emphasize the concentration (samādhi) resulting from breath-mindfulness over breath-mindfulness per se. This is consistent with several enumeratons of Enlightenment factors (i.e., Five Faculties, Five Powers, Seven Factors of Enlightenment and Noble Eightfold Path) where the factor of mindfulness precedes that of concentration (Bodhi, 2000, pp. 1516-17).
  28. ^ Bodhi (2000), p. 1774.
  29. ^ The Pali word translated as "turner" here is bhamakāro, literally, "one who makes spin," usually referring to the spinning of a wheel (see, e.g., Rhys Davids & Stede, 1921-25, p. 498, entry for "Bhamati" at [2], retrieved 2007-11-08). In addition, the Pali word translated here as "turn" is añchanto, whose definition includes "to turn on a lathe" (see, e.g., Rhys Davids & Stede, 1921-25, p. 13, entry for "Añchati" at [3], retrieved 2007-11-08).
  30. ^ Satipatthana Sutta (MN 10) (Nyanasatta, 1994).
  31. ^ According to the Samyutta Nikaya post-canonical commentary, other meditation subjects such as the four elements fatigue the body, while still others, such as kasina objects, strain the eyes (Bodhi, 2000, p. 1950, n. 296).
  32. ^ This benefit, the abandoning of householder memories and aspirations, is identified as common to each type of body-centered-mindfulness meditation identified in the Kayagata-sati Sutta (MN 119) (Thanissaro, 1997).
  33. ^ Bodhi (2000), pp. 1770-73.
  34. ^ Ñāṇamoli (1999 ed.), pp. 259-285; Vsm. VIII, 145-244. In order to address ānāpānassati in terms of samādhi, Buddhaghosa quotes material from SN 54.9 and Vin. iii, 70.
  35. ^ Nanamoli (1998), p. 13.
  36. ^ Ñāṇamoli (1999 ed.), p. 783, n. 39.
  37. ^ a b Stefano Zacchetti. Translation or commentary? On the Nature of the Da anban shouyi jing (大安般守意經) T 602, Università Ca’ Foscari di Venezia, Dipartimento di studi sull’Asia Orientale


External links[edit]

Root texts
Online translations
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