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The Breath of Life
The Practice of Breath Meditation According to
Hindu, Buddhist, Taoist, Jewish and Christian Traditions
Abbot George Burke
“He who breathes in with your breathing in is your Self. He who breathes out with your breathing out is your Self…The breaths are the
Real, and their Reality is the Self.” (Brihadaranyaka Upanishad)
“One thing, developed and repeatedly practiced, leads to to direct knowledge, to enlightenment, to nirvana. What is this one thing?
Respiration-mindfulness.” (Buddha, in the Anguttara Nikaya)
“When one gives undivided attention to the breath, and brings it to the utmost degree of pliancy, he can become as a babe.…he can become
without a flaw.” (Tao Teh King)
“God breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.” (Genesis 2:7)
“He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Spirit.” (John 20:22)
© 2012 by Light of the Spirit Monastery
Foreword Chapter One: The Breath of Life: The Practice of Breath Meditation Chapter Two: The Meditation Word Chapter Three: The Hindu Tradition Chapter Four: The Buddhist Tradition Chapter Five: The Taoist Tradition Chapter Six: The Jewish Tradition Chapter Seven: The Christian Tradition Afterword: It Is All Up To You Bibliography Glossary
Breath is the universal factor of life. We are born the first time we inspire, and we die the last time we expire. Breath is life itself. In Sanskrit the same word–prana–means both breath and life.
All that lives, breathes–even plants and the bacteria that make bread rise. The process of breath is identical in all, consisting of inhalation and exhalation. It is the most immaterial factor of our existence, being a link-manifestation of the mind/spirit that dwells in all. For this reason, the breath is the natural and logical basis for meditation, the attempt to “enter into life.” The breath is the key to the cultivation of pure consciousness.
Life causes us to breathe, and breath causes us to live. Usually breath leads us into the outer life, but it can lead us into the inner life– to the principle of Life itself. Therefore meditation on the breath is found in the spiritual practices of many religions, particularly in Buddhism, where it is known as Anapanasati, awareness of the inhaling and exhaling breaths, and is the meditation technique practiced and taught by the Buddha.
In this book I first present the actual technique of Breath Meditation, and in subsequent chapters present the teachings of Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Judaism, and Christianity regarding its practice.
My hope is that the contents of this book will aid its readers in the successful practice of Breath Meditation and the attaining of its goal: supreme enlightenment.
Abbot George Burke Light of the Spirit Monastery Cedar Crest, New Mexico email@example.com
Chapter One The Breath of Life:
The Practice of Breath Meditation
Why we meditate Meditation is all about freedom. Only a fraction of the world’s population is formally imprisoned, but the entire human race is imprisoned in the body and the earth itself. None are free from the inevitability of sickness, age, and death, however free of them they may be at the moment. The human condition is subject to innumerable limitations. Who really controls his life fully, attains all his goals, and knows no setbacks of any kind? No one.
Our real self, the spirit, is ever perfect and free. But we have forgotten that. So we identify with our present experience of bondage and consequently suffer in countless ways. Our situation is like someone who is asleep and dreaming that he is being tortured and beaten. In reality he is not being touched at all; yet he is experiencing very real pain and fear. He need not placate, overpower, or escape his torturers. He needs only to wake up. Meditation is the way of self- awakening, the way to freedom from suffering and limitation.
Meditation is the way of remembrance and restoration. A person suffering from amnesia has not ceased to be who he really is, but he needs to regain his memory. The memory block from which we suffer is the condition of the various levels on which we presently function, especially the mind. It is also a matter of the dislocation of our consciousness from its natural center.
Meditation is the process of re-centering our awareness in the principle of pure consciousness which is our essential being. We have lost awareness of our true Self through awareness of external objects, and become habituated–even addicted–to objective consciousness. Rather than disperse our consciousness through objects that draw us outward, away from the center of our being, we can take an object that will have the opposite effect, present it to the mind, and reverse our consciousness. That object is the breath, which is the meeting place of body, mind, and spirit.
The breath and the body are interconnected, as is seen from the fact
that the breath is calm when the body is calm, and agitated or labored when the body is agitated or labored. The heavy exhalation made when feeling exhausted and the enthusiastic inhalation made when feeling energized or exhilarated establish the same fact.
The breath and the emotions are interconnected, as is seen from the fact that the breath is calm when the emotions are calm, and agitated and labored when the emotions are agitated or out of control. Our drawing of a quick breath when we are surprised, shocked, or fearful, and the forceful exhalation done when angry or annoyed demonstrate this.
The breath and the mind are interconnected, as is seen from the fact that the breath is calm when the mind is calm, and agitated, irregular, and labored when the mind is agitated or disturbed in any way. Our holding of the breath when attempting intense concentration also shows this.
Breath, which exists on all planes of manifestation, is the connecting link between matter and energy on the one hand and consciousness and mind on the other. By sitting with closed eyes and letting the mind become easefully absorbed in observing and experiencing the movements of the breath we enter into the consciousness from which it arises–the eternal Witness Consciousness.
We start with awareness of the ordinary physical breath, but that awareness, when cultivated correctly, leads us into higher awareness which enables us to perceive the subtle movement behind the breath. Ultimately, we come into contact with the Breather of the breath, our own Spirit-Self.
In many spiritual traditions the same word is used for both breath and spirit, underscoring the esoteric principle that in essence they are the same, though we naturally think of spirit as being the cause of breath(ing). The word used for both breath and spirit is: In Judaism: Ruach. In Eastern Christianity (and ancient Greek religion): Pneuma. In Western Christianity (and ancient Roman religion): Spiritus (which comes from spiro: “I breathe”). In Hinduism and Buddhism: Atma (from the root word at which means “to breathe”), and Prana. Meditation on the breath is meditation on spirit, on consciousness itself.
Back to the Source We are without origin, for we are eternal, without beginning or end.
Yet we are not without a Source, for we are rooted in the Being that is called Brahman, Dharmakaya (Original Nature), Tao, or God. The names matter little, but the Reality is everything–including us.
Originally we were unmanifest, as transcendental as our Source. But just as the Source expanded into relative manifestation, so did we. In our undifferentiated being, the state of perfect unity, there manifested a single point. This did not upset or disrupt the original unity but it stressed it. Then, so imperceptibly and subtly as to hardly have even occurred, that stress point began to move internally, producing a magnetic duality so subtle it was really more an idea than an actual state. This was the Original Breath. Then the halves or poles of that duality began alternating in dominance, and a cycling or circling began. This cycling expanded outward, manifesting as embodiment in increasingly more objective body-vehicles, until at last the full state of relativity was reached. Like the bit of grit in an oyster, the Original Breath had become or produced everything we call “us.” The same thing had already happened to our Source on a cosmic level. So through the permutations of the Cosmic Breath we found a virtually infinite environment for our manifestation. This is the process known as samsara.
This had a practical purpose. The breath is the evolutionary force which causes us to enter into relative existence and manifest therein until–also through the breath–we evolve to the point where we are ready to return to our original status. To turn back from the multiplicity of relativity and return to our original unity we must center our awareness in that primal impulse to duality which is manifesting most objectively as the process of our physical inhaling and exhaling. These seemingly two movements are in reality one, inseparable from one another, and together are capable of leading us back to their–and our– source. Through our full attention focused on the entire process of inhalation and exhalation, we become immersed in the subtler levels of that