The Gelug Tradition of Breath Practice

Book coverGe-luk presentations do not explain why the exhalation and inhalation of the breath is considered the best object of observation for “purifying” discursiveness. Simply, it works; the choice seems to be an empirical one, based on a long tradition of Buddhist practice. The governing principle seems to be that in systems asserting six consciousnesses, different conceptual consciousnesses of a similar type cannot operate simultaneously in the mental continuum of one person. Therefore, meditation on the inhalation and exhalation of the breath is able to pacify discursiveness, even though it is “not an actual antidote” to discursiveness and, thus, cannot eradicate it. Meditation on the exhalation and inhalation of the breath pacifies discursiveness because it causes “all other minds” to “settle down into a neutral (lung du ma bstan pa, avyakrta) state”; from that ethically neutral state, “it becomes easy [for the meditator] to develop a virtuous attitude.”

As a basic explanation for beginners, Lati Rinpoche gives a simplified presentation of breath meditation similar to the one Gedün Lodrö gives under the topic “the settling down of the winds.” However, Gedün Lodrö presents the settling down of the winds as a three-stage process in which the first two stages are watching and counting, whereas Lati Rinpoche distinguishes between watching and counting according to the faculties of the meditator; according to him, meditators of dull faculties have to count, whereas meditators of sharp faculties are able to watch the breath without counting. Both Gedün Lodrö’s and Lati Rinpoche’s explanations are intended to serve not only as introductory presentations of the Ge-luk system according to their respective colleges’ textbooks but also as practical instruction for beginning meditators.

—Adapted from Study and Practice of Meditation

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