Thursday, December 31, 2009

Amritayana Pranayama

There are three basic kinds of Buddhist meditation: (1) Samatha or calming meditation, (2) Vipassana or insight meditation, and (3) Bhavana or cultivation meditation. These three form a unity in that all three are always present in every meditation that we do. In the beginning, we focus on calming the mind, then having insight into the nature of the mind, and then evolving ourselves beyond the grip of sorrow and actualizing the potentiality of our true nature (evolution). The reason for starting with mental calm is likened to a bowl of water that is constantly stirred up and has waves on its surface. Because the water is not calm, it cannot reflect reality in any clear way. But when the surface is calm, it can perfectly reflect a full moon like a mirror would. When the mind is calm enough to reflect everything as it is, then insight meditation begins. This is about learning to look at the nature of reality, simply look, without interpretation, without identification, without clinging and without resistance. We learn to let go of the "analyzer", the "judge", and the "interpreter". We learn to look with a silent, sensitive, and curious mind, like the mind of a child when it is curious about a flower, a book, a bug, or a tree. The interpreter is our thinking mind that feels a need to do a run on commentary about everything that we see. At a certain point in our lives, we start to look at everything through a screen of words, through a screen of interpretations, and through a screen of everything labeled and catagorized in such a way that the mind thinks it knows everything. Yet there is another kind of knowing that is not dependent on the interpreting and thinking mind. In the beginning, we simply spend time looking at everything in silence, being with everything in silence, and even looking at the habitual flow of thoughts in silence. Even when we are looking at thoughts, we are not adding thoughts to thoughts. We are merely looking at how our thoughts usually flow. This may be hard to do in the beginning. It is easy to have thoughts about thoughts. The Tibetan Buddhists call this "the spreading out of thought". It is where thoughts multiply upon itself, having a meta-commentary about its commentary and even a meta-meta-commentary about its commentary. We learn that we have to keep it simple, make our interpretations very minimal, like saying, "this is an angry thought", "this is a lustful thought", "this is a fearful thought", or "this is a sad thought". To merely label things this way does not get us entangled into a complex situation. It makes us a little more conscious about what is happening inside us. We are often flowing with all kinds of thoughts and do not notice how each thought wave is being replaced by another thought wave. Sometimes our minds are running thoughts so fast that others who are trying to listen to us can barely follow what we are saying. If they are having trouble following our thoughts, chances are we are going to have trouble remembering what we are saying. If we do not cultivate a level of awareness about what is happening, start noticing what is happening in our minds in present time, then we cannot really learn about the nature of thought and the nature of reality. We are just accumulating more opinions and having opinions about those opinions. If these opinions are not grounded in some direct experience, then we are getting more deluded. The mind becomes the merely a clever guesser about what is out there. Even if the guesses are correct, it is not the same as directly experiencing and noticing what is.

Vipassana meditation is about "staying with the sensation". When we clap our hands together and feel our hands tingle, then this tingling is a sensation. When we tighten a muscle in our body, we produce a sensation. When a person says some words that sting inside us and make our belly feel tight, this is also a sensation. When a person smiles and a pleasant wave goes over our bodies, this is also a sensation. All the body senses produce sensations. They are more basic than even emotions. Sensations can be pleasant, unpleasant, and dull. Our usual approach to them is to cling to pleasant sensations, resist unpleasant sensations, and be unconscious of dull sensations. These eventually develop into the three poisons of the mind which are the sources of all our sorrows. Clinging becomes craving for repetition of pleasant sensations, resisting unpleasant sensations becomes negativity, and being unconscious of dull sensations becomes delusion. In a more complex development, when we crave something and then find it, then we will cling to it and form an attachment. We will feel sad when we lose what we are attached to. We will feel afraid when our attachment is threatened. We will feel angry when we mobilize energy to protect our attachments. When anger reacts to the threat it sees to its attachment and its security, then we have "impulses to do" arise and which in turn create karmas, samskaras, and habitual tendencies (vashanas). Since behind them is the desire to repeat a pleasant sensation or a desire to not repeat an unpleasant sensation, we are caught in a subtle wheel of repetition in our lives. Our present lifetime becomes like our past lifetimes and our future is not really the ever unfolding newness that it could be.

The Buddha mapped out the "wheel of sorrow" in Bhavachakra. The Tibetans made this chart into a beautiful visual memory of his whole teaching on the subject. In the Abhidharma the Buddha maps out about 100 different factors that interplay with each other to create our sorrow and also to create a peaceful way of life. This gets simplied down to 12 interdependent factors, but this summary is only a loose description of a living process that we need to get in touch with and feel inside ourselves in meditation. 12 signposts is enough to get a basic feeling of what is happening inside us. In the above paragraph, I am painting a similar map and showing some more details than the usual presentation. I am extending the map so that emotions can be seen emerging from our interpretations on one side and our direct experience of sensations on the other side. The descriptions do have some value, because the chain reaction of sorrow moves so fast that by the time we notice what has happened we are already suffering. A body sensation is felt, we experience a pleasant, unpleasant, or dull sensation, something inside us reacts to the sensation by clinging, resistance, or delusion, then a samskara (conditioned response) leads to an impulse to do. If we carry this out, we are likely to repeat a karmaic pattern in our lives and continue to suffer. There are many gates beyond sorrow. The Buddha mapped out three places where we can stop the flow of sorrow. The most basic is "remaining with the sensation". We can also resist the impulse to do and practice "ksanti parmita" (patience, endurance, and humility). We can become conscious of our thoughts and simply let them flow without getting caught in them.

In the beginning, we do not try to change ourselves, because any impulse to do is merely reacting to what is, rather than producing a lasting change. One of the phrases in A COURSE IN MIRACLES is "I need do nothing". We learn that we do not have to do anything in order to feel happiness and peace. Sorrow is an activity than can come to an end. Peace is simply being with life as it is. Without trying to change what is, we start to change. Acceptance of what is catalyzes the transformation, because it ends the activity of sorrow.

The Buddha taught a pranayama, a breathing method, that he called "anapannasati yoga". This yoga involves watching the breath and letting throughts flow inside us without getting entangled in them. In this yoga, you watch the breathing without trying to control it in any way.

If you create a chart of some basic breathing techniques, you can map some of them like this:

anapannasati yoga (inhale unintentional, pauses unintentional, exhale unintentional, space breathing)
breath of fire (inhale unintentional, pauses very short, exhale intentional and forceful, fire breathing)
rebirthing breathing (inhale intentional and full, no pauses between inhale and exhale, exhale unintentional and soft, water breathing)
kumbhaka (inhale intentional and long, pauses intentional and long, exhale intentional and long, earth breathing)
ujjayi breathing (exhale soft with a whisper "ha" sound, inhale soft with a whisper "eh" sound, smooth transition pauses, air breathing)

The yoga that Buddha taught is somewhat hard to do. We usually do not notice how much we are always controlling our breath, inhibiting it, making it too shallow to deeply feel our emotions. When I am doing a class on breathing and ask people to pay attention to their breathing, people automatically change the breathing. To notice something without changing it takes some time. When we stop controlling our breathing, then many things spontaneously happen. We start gathering our energy, not leaking energy out of ourselves (asava), our breathing quiets down and becomes very subtle. It becomes so thin and imperceptible that our ego panics and tries to gasp for air, tries to anxiously control the breathing in order to survive. But if we persist in not controlling the breathing, then the ego vanishes and we are left with "anatta" or no self, a vast peaceful empty aware space that has no thought created identity. In the pauses between the breaths, the small self vanishes and we are free from its grip on our lives.

The other forms of breathing have their evolutionary logic to them also. Mastering breathing (pranayama) is a very large subject. I am still learning about the breath after practicing every day for over 27 years. What happens over this time is that you feel "the unity of thought and prana" which is the basis of the psychic heat yoga of Tibetan Buddhism. It is a key to regenerating the physical body. The feeling of air becomes a feeling of prana. You learn what is means to breathe, from feeling, in such a way that you draw in fresh prana and hold it in our body, rather than let it dissipate out (asava). There is a strange parable that Jesus mentions in the Gospel according to Saint Thomas (a sacred gospel that was respected in early Christianity as scripture in many Christian churches, but did not become part of the Nicene Canon) where a person is carrying a bag of flour and it is leaking, leaving a trail behind, until the bag is empty. This parable is about how our cravings make our energy leak from us and eventually causes us to die. It is something done silently below the surface in our daily lives. Flour is a symbol of very refined nutrition, yet it is not yet "bread". In other words, there are a few alchemical stages yet to process and use this energy inside us that correspond to "yeast" (leaven, starter, enzymes), "water", "heat" and "oven"(container). Creating the right kind of seal so that we do not lose energy is important. Some of the stages, like fermentation, happen automatically as long as we do our part (circulation/water, maintaining concentration aka heat, and starting with the small feeling of energy and letting it spread aka yeast). Bread is a very important symbol in the New Testament and starts with Jesus being born in Bethlehem (literally "house of bread").

What also happens is that you start to feel a "spinal pulse" and then a spinal wave. If we are breathing deeply, smoothly, and fully, then we will notice that our spine is responding. We will feel some parts of the spine are stiff and do not oscillate with the breathing and other parts will do a micro-movement, a small energy wave, and pulse up the spine. At first the breathing is done with a belly movement, then it is done with the chest expanding and relaxing with each inhale and exhale. Every exhale is a micro-surrender into the universal prana (Mahavairocana Buddha). The stiff parts of the spine hold karmas that usually have to be processed. The lower vertebra tend to hold karmas from our earlier life and the higher vertebra from our later life, though sometimes the karmas are related to lower belly holding fear/trust issues, upper belly holding anger/boundary issues, lungs holding grief/letting go issues, throat/jaw holding expression, creativity, control, and repression issues, and third eye and two eyes holding willingness to see the truth about something issues. Opening up the breathing so that the prana can flow through the chakra system enliven all these areas is helpful and necessary. There are emotions that need to be relived, completed, and released along the way. They are buried in the tissues of our bodies. When prana floods into those tissues, the emotions get enough energy to be felt again. We will be tempted to push down those emotions and move our attention away from those areas and we need to commit to being present for those emotions until they process completely through and get integrated. They become a kind of wisdom energy in the end and get absorbed into our understanding of life. Then they dissolve "back into emptiness" and become a part of us.

There are three emotions that we need to integrate, they are anger, fear, and sadness. These become the three higher emotions of creativity, wisdom, and love. Our culture does not see creativity and wisdom as emotions, but they are. We cannot be wise and creative without being "emotionally connected". When wisdom is present, there is a warm feeling also present. It illuminates and connects us with life, just as emotions do. Wisdom has an intuitive and creative side, and allows love to be more deeply present. Creativity needs the support of wisdom to guide it. Love, wisdom and creativity synergize and are always found together, though one can be dominant in different situations. The same is true for anger, fear, and sadness, they are usually found together as well, though one can be dominant in different situations. I have found that the emotion that a person is not talking about is being repressed and holds the key to integrating a specific emotional activation.

Amritayana Pranayama differs from the usual Buddhist meditation is several respects. The physical body is considered the basis for meditation, practice, and enlightenment. The mind, heart, and body unity is worked with. Although this principle is implicit in all forms of Buddhist meditation, because interdependence is the key to Buddhist physics and psychology, Amritayana Buddhism sees that aging and death must be reflected in our mind and heart. It has a clearer understanding of the depth of our psychosomatic unity and treats aging and death as psychosomatic illnesses that can be cured. Aging and death are "emptiness" in the sense that they happen due to a vast number of interconnected and interdependent processes. There is "no thing" called aging and death inside us. If we look within, we will not see any kind of thing called "aging" and any kind of thing called "death". We will see all kinds of processes happening inside us and none of them can be isolated to be called aging or death. All the processes that cause aging and death can be shifted. Aging and death are more about stresses on natural processes, unnatural emotional repressions disrupting our regenerative processes, lack of good nutrition and wise eating habits, lack of taking care of our bodies, lack of keeping all our meridians open and flowing, lack of pranic breathing, karmas like accidents, fights, and diseases, and so on, and also harboring certain kinds of thoughts about life and others. Even the thought of simply not wanting to live forever.

I find the last item interesting, because a lot of people I know do not want to live forever in such a horrible place as Earth. This reveals a lot about why people want to die. Earth has gone through some rough patches, but it is part of our karma that we ended up here. As we heal our karma, Earth will be uplifted with us. This planet is a very beautiful planet and has even more mysteries to reveal to us. It has been regenerating and healing even with all kinds of corporations foolishly dumping pollutants into the environment. Earth is cleaning it up as fast as it can, but there is a time lag involved and toxins can build up in the time lag. But just as we do not have to die as individuals, we do not have to let this planet die either. All the processes that are making Earth die are very controllable as humans beings start acting more wisely, lovingly, and creatively with each other and the Earth. It starts with breathing.

When I talk to a number of friends, they all believe that when they die they go to a better place. They plan to escape the Earth. Yet many of them are remembering countless past life times on Earth. It is interesting to see them not "make the connection". It is clear from those memories that they had intended before to go to a better place and ended up back here, and they are doing it again. Whatever karmas that are killing off their bodies is also making them reincarnate where ever they are going. I find it curious that my friends feel out of control about when, where, and how they are going to age and die, but in control about where they are going after they die. There is a lot of food for meditation and contemplation in all this.

Part of Amritayana Buddhism is to "accept karma". I might end up aging and dying anyway. I am not fighting aging and death. I am taking responsibility and nourishing my life force, and learning an enormous amount through this commitment and intention. I am exploring how my life forms, what regenerates it, what stresses it, and what I can do about it. The process feels open ended. I do feel that if I age and die that I will reincarnate with all the gains of having grown in wisdom about how to live. I do feel that, at the very least, the process will have helped me to gain more years of healthy, happy, and compassionate living. There is also a good chance the process will simply continue indefinately, in the body, and keep on moving forward. But if I do age and die, I will not blame some mysterious external force for killing me off or assume some god is killing me, and if I decide to let go of this body to go to another dimension, it will not be because of having damaged the body so badly that it can no longer be used. I will "gently lay it aside" having been thankful for all that it did for me or take the body with me by letting it partcipate in the vibrational shift needed to go to another dimension. Much will depend on how much mastery I gain over my life processes.


  1. THE YOGA OF LIGHT by Hans-Ulirch Reiker, Dawn Horse Press 1983, ISBN 0-913922-07-2, page 84 (quoting the "Hatha Yoga Pradipika"): "(37) Some teachers say that all impurities can be removed through pranayama alone, with nothing else." Notes: The impurities relate to everything that could cause the body to age and die, but specifically to impurities in the "nadis" or meridians. The Hindu term "nadi" is interesting, because it seems related to "nada" which means "sound". It suggests these are channels for vibration and that it may be possible to purify them with chanting (toning, sound work).

  2. Intriguing. Could you talk a bit about ways to create the right kind of vessel & seal so that we do not lose the prana energy?
    Hum, hints about cleansing....
    What do you think are some of the major lessons we need to incorporate before we step off the karma wheel?

  3. Dear Deb, both questions deserve substantial answers, but I can summarize some. In order to create the kind of seal so that prana does not leak at all takes some time. One name for cravings ("tanha") is also "asava" (outflows). Whenever we have an addictive craving, we are flowing energy out of ourselves and dying. An energy has to reach out of ourselves in order to pick something up and bring it back. When we get more aware we can feel this aspect of our cravings and of our energy. It can be seen sometimes as tentacles in the aura latching on to things in the outside world. Many people who are in lust towards someone will send out tentacles and cop a feel through them. It creates that "icky" feeling in the target. Visualizing a ring of fire around oneself can burn the tentacle tips of this extensions and throw the asava back to the perpetrator. Also when we are angry with someone, we are output a lot of anger out to the target of our anger. There are a few rare people who can latch on to someone's anger for them and feed off of it, and even drain the angry person until they are worn out. Fear can pour our energy into a void and just have it be lost. In the moment, we can "renounce" trying to find happiness outside ourselves and pull our energy in. Later on, we can emanate love towards others that expects nothing in return. Even though this energy is sent out, it never exhausts itself.

    The karma wheel is repetition. Noticing our habits is the start of stepping off the wheel. One simple process is to "use the law of karma" by doing simple loving good deeds and having life mirror back what we put out. If I feel stuck in my meditation process, I have always found that doing a good deed, even if as simple as giving a dollar or an apple to a homeless person, releases the stuckness. Although simple, the cause and effect chain is subtle and hard to see. I think it is because when we are stuck we are too preoccupied with ourselves to release ourselves, and giving selflessly to another sentient being very easily and naturally releases this core.

  4. If you place your hands about six inches apart and breathe in a slow, full, and continuous cycle of breathing, you will soon feel something like a "magnetic pulsation". If you move your hands toward each other, it is like two bubbles pushing against each other. The pulsation usually happens on the exhale. The inhale gathers the prana and the exhale emanates through out our energy system. Some ways of breathing keep strengthening this magnetic pulse and some ways of breathing weaken it. Taking ionic minerals (as with a product called "Ionic Fizz" will help keep this pulsation strong) helps the body-as-battery hold the charge longer. Certain foods deplete this charge. There is a point where we feel our breath more energetically and can feel the prana without having to position our hands in sensory mode. We can then feel the energy leaks more directly and some of the above will make more sense. When we do not want to feel our emotions, we weaken our energy. When we are into craving something outside ourselves for fulfillment, then we weaken our energy. When we are in a chronic anger state with our thoughts flowing energy toward the object of our anger, then we weaken our energy. When we are afraid we weaken our energy. All this can be felt energetically when our sensitivity reaches a certain point. It is not hard to get to this point.

  5. Thanks for the great information! In my book, Father and Son, East is West: The Buddhist sources to Christianity and their influence on medieval myths, I believe I've shown the Buddhist sources to this gospel which also fits the criteria to be the theorized "Q" text. The illustration you point to in Thomas is also found in several Jatakas. The Thomas of this text may have been called a "twin" and also the "Doubting Thomas", Buddha also had a follower called "twin (Yamaka)" who was known as a doubter. Also from this Thomas gospel a type of Greco-Buddhist sophistry is used. In the related Infancy Gospel of Thomas, of which the Buddhist sources have been pointed out by many scholars (Buddha & Christ Thundy)others have not been found. In this gospel Jesus breaks a pot and cannot put it together (Found in the Lankavatara sutra and Pali texts), next he forgets the pot and uses a shirt to gather and hold all the water without leaking which answers the previous Greek Philosophers who said such a thing was impossible. Also, regarding the bread,in John, Jesus says My "father" gives you true bread and the philologist agree that, like in many acient languages, bread stands for "sustenance". In the same way, Buddha first had a "father" with a name that meant "true-rice", or, "true sustenance"

    Regarding smrti meditation In the early Buddhist texts there is the idea that sati (Sans. Smrti) can greatly aid one facing a severe disease. One instance of this is when Sariputra gives the sick Anathapindika a discourse on samma-ditta (correct-view rel. Sans. samyak-smrti) after which he quickly recovers. Another well known instance of this sort is found in the Mahaparinibbana sutta where the Buddha eats the Sukara-maddavva which gives him perhaps dysentery which he overcomes with the aid of sati. Before Buddha's fake death (parinirvanam), he refuses a drink two times before excepting, same said of Jesus