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Samatha-Vipassana: Tranquillity and Insight, Hand-in-Hand

Anapanasati: step 3 – sabba kāya paṭisamvedī

In Theravada Buddhism, step 3 of anapanasati, namely, ‘sabbakāyapaṭisaṃvedī‘, is interpreted and translated in different ways. 

Examples of translations included: “sensitive to the entire body” (Thanissaro); “experiencing the whole body [of breath]” (Bhikkhu Bodhi); and “experiencing the whole (breath-) body” (Nyanasatta Thera).

These interpretations and translations are most likely inaccurate for the following reasons: 

(1) The whole body cannot be known in meditation, particularly at the beginning phase of meditation. Thanissaro’s assertion, for example, that “jhana is a state of whole-body awareness”, is obviously not related to step 3 since step 3 is not jhana. 

(2) Knowing the entire length of the breath was already instructed in steps 1 & 2. 

(3) Most crucially, unlike steps 1 & 2, and the same as every other step, step 3 begins with the instruction: “He trains himself“, which means training in the three trainings of higher morality (adhisīlasikkhā), higher concentration (adhicittasikkhā) and higher wisdom (adhipaññāsikkhā). Since only experiencing the whole breath or the whole body is only the practice of concentration, there is no higher morality & no higher wisdom training in such an experience.

The Thai monk  Buddhadasa Bhikkhu explained the word ‘sabba’ means ‘all’  rather than ‘whole’ (‘kevala’) and the term ‘sabba-kaya‘ means ‘all bodies’. In his book ‘Mindfulness with Breathing: Unveiling the Secrets of Life: a Manual for Serious Beginners’, Buddhadasa correctly discusses (per the definition in MN 44) how the breathing in & out is the ‘kaya-sankhara‘ or ‘body-conditioner’ and also explains that step 3 (‘experiencing all bodies’) is to experience the conditioning interrelationship between ‘two-bodies’, namely, the ‘breath body’ (‘the conditioner’) and the ‘flesh/physical body’ (‘the thing conditioned by the conditioner’). 

Buddhadasa’s explanation here follows the spirit of the Anapanasati Sutta because: 

(1) Experiencing a conditioning interrelationship between the breathing & the physical body fulfills the wisdom component of the three trainings; and 

​​​​​​​(2) The Anapanasati Sutta explicitly states there is more than one ‘body’ or ‘kaya’, when it states: “Bhikkhus, I say that the in-breaths and the out-breaths are certain bodies among all bodies“. 

However, there is probably an obvious incompleteness, inaccuracy or error in Buddhadasa’s explanation, namely, if step 3 of anapanasati was about experiencing the conditioning interrelationship between the ‘two bodies’ of the ‘breath body’ & the ‘flesh body’, the instruction in step 3 would be phrased ‘experiencing the kaya-sankhara‘, similar to how step 7 is phrased ‘experiencing the citta-sankhara‘. 

While Buddhadasa’s explanation certainly accords with the spirit of the teachings (namely, experiencing causes & effects pertaining to suffering & freedom from suffering), it is most likely the phrase ‘experiencing all bodies’ refers to experiencing a conditioning interrelation between three kaya (groups/bodies) rather than two kaya, namely, the ‘mind group’ (nama-kaya), ‘breath group (breath-kaya)’ and the ‘physical group’ (rupa-kaya).  There being more than two kaya is probably the reason for the term ‘sabba-kaya‘ being used rather than ‘kaya-sankhara‘. 

In experiencing clearly how the state or quality of mind directly conditions/determines the state or quality of the breathing, which in turn conditions/determines the state or quality of the physical body – both the trainings in higher morality & higher wisdom are fulfilled. Experiencing directly how an unwholesome (defiled) mind makes the breathing & physical body agitated & stressed (and visa versa) fulfills higher training for both morality and wisdom. 

In conclusion, the mostly likely meaning of the phrase ‘sabbakāyapaṭisaṃvedī‘ in the Anapanasati Sutta is ‘experiencing all groups’, namely, experiencing how the state or quality of the mind conditions the quality or state of the breathing, which in turn conditions the quality or state of the physical body. In short, this is a very direct & intimate insight into the Four Noble Truths. 
For him — infatuated, attached, confused, not remaining focused on their drawbacks — the clinging to the five aggregates head toward future accumulation. The craving that makes for further becoming — accompanied by passion & delight, relishing now this & now that — grows within him. His bodily disturbances & mental disturbances grow. His bodily torments & mental torments grow. His bodily distresses & mental distresses grow. He is sensitive both to bodily stress & mental stress. MN 149

RE: Anapanasati: step 3 – sabba kāya paṭisamvedī
9/9/16 9:43 AM as a reply to Nicky.
Very interesting, Nicky.  Thanks.

In your opinion, what comparisons, if any, can be drawn between the Anapanasati, and the Progress of Insight.  Are they parallel paths?  Does this help explain what Ajahn Buddhadasa meant when describing "Insight by the Nature Method" vs "Insight, by Organized Training?" 

RE: Anapanasati: step 3 – sabba kāya paṭisamvedī
9/9/16 2:12 PM as a reply to Noah D.
Thanks Noah. I am not fluent on the Progress of Insight however, from what I have browsed, both Anapanasati & the Progress of Insight naturally will have the same basic goals,namely, vipassana. Consistent with my original post, if step Step 3 is understood & experienced as Buddhadasa explained, it is taken to be a step of vipassana, since it is about experiencing 'sankhara' or 'inter-conditioning'. In Anapanasati, steps 3 & 7 are vipassana (experiencing inter-conditioning) and steps 4 & 8 are both vipassana (insight into how to calm sankhara) & samatha (actual calming of sankhara).

If using the Mahasi technique ('rising & falling' noting, etc) to seek the Progress of Insight, such a technique is an example of 'Organised Training', similar to how following the steps in the Visuddhimagga is probably another example of 'Organised Training'. Even the '5 Skilful Tricks' mentioned in Buddhadasa's book, when taken literally, is probably another example of 'Organised Training'. 

While rarely if ever mentioned by any commentators (I personally have not read or heard any), including Buddhadasa, Anapanasati is a form of 'Nature Method' when the instructions in the sutta are followed to the letter. This specifically refers to the end part of the instruction, which state the Factors of Enlightenment, including mindfulness, have a quality that culminates in 'Letting Go' ('vossagga'). For example, in SN 48.9, it is said the noble practitioner reaches jhana by making 'letting go' ('vossagga') the meditation object. 

Bhikkhus, a bhikkhu in this Training develops sati-sambojjhanga (mindfulness) that depends on viveka (solitude, aloneness), that depends on viraga. (fading away), that depends on nirodha (quenching), that leads to vossagga (dropping away, letting go). 

Anapanasati Sutta

The 'Organised Training' of Mahasi of noting rising & falling of the abdomen seems very useful for developing insight into impermanence. (I cannot comment on this from personal experience because, while I can practise this now for good results, I did not ever practise this as a beginner with an undeveloped mind). However, because this method is based strongly on intentional volition, such volitional intent (which is a thought process) may hinder the experience of step 3 as Buddhadasa describes. I think for Step 3 to be experienced thoroughly & clearly (as Buddhadasa describes), a very sensitive & natural mind (from letting go) is required. 

In conclusion, as you have mentioned, I think to experience Step 3 as Buddhadada & I have explained does accord to what Buddhadasa called the 'Nature Method'. 

Kind r​​​​egards