1) I never heard in V. Vimalaramsi instructions that the person should pay less attention to the rest of the "sixteen modes" of the anapanasati .
I wrote of Ven. Vimalaraṃsī treating the "tranquillizing bodily and mental formations" modes of ānāpānassati as being of "greater moment" — more consequential — than the the other modes. An example of this can be seen in his book on the Ānāpānassati Sutta. After quoting the lines: "He trains thus: 'I shall breath in tranquilizing the bodily formation'; he trains thus: 'I shall breath out tranquilizing the bodily formation.'"
the venerable remarks:
- This simple statement is the most important part of the meditation instructions. It instructs one to notice the tightness, which arises in the head with every arising of a consciousness, and let that tightness go, while on the in-breath and out-breath. Then one feels their mind open up, expand, relax and become tranquil.
So, the venerable maintains that tranquillizing the bodily formation is the "most important part
of the meditation instructions." If this is the "most important part", then it follows that the other parts are less important.
In the introduction to the same book, the venerable states:
- The method described here is taken directly from the Sutta itself and its results can be seen clearly and easily when one practices according to the instructions on the Sutta. The author would like to emphasize that the instructions in this book are not his "own opinion", but is actually the Lord Buddha's own instruction given in a clear and precise way. It can be called the "Undiluted Dhamma", because it comes directly from the Suttas themselves, without a lot of additions or free-lance ideas.
This is in contrast to Buddhaghosa, whom the venerable takes to task for introducing concepts such as access concentration, uggaha-nimitta, paṭibhāga-nimitta, etc., into his exposition of ānāpānassati:
- For example, the Visuddhi Magga talks about having a sign (nimitta in Pali, this can be a light or other visualized mind-made pictures) arise in the mind at certain times when one is practicing jhana meditation (absorption concentration [appana samādhi] or when one gets into access concentration [upacara samādhi] or even in momentary concentration [khanika samādhi]. With each type of 'concentration' a nimitta of some kind arises. When this happens one is practicing a 'concentration' type of meditation practice, which the Bodhisattva rejected as being the way to Nibbāna! However, if one were to check the Suttas, the description of nimittas arising in the mind has never been mentioned. And, if it were very important, it would be mentioned many times. The Lord Buddha never taught concentration techniques, having nimittas (signs) arising, or the chanting of mantras. These are forms of Hindu practices that have sneaked into Buddhism for a few hundred years. Their influences can be seen in the 'concentration practices' and in the Tibetan Buddhist styles of meditation, as well as, in other popular commentaries like the Visuddhi Magga. Thus, the current ways of practicing "concentration" do not conform to the descriptions given in the Suttas.
One must always honestly and openly investigate what is being said and then check it against the Suttas. It is best that one does this not with just part of the Sutta but the whole Sutta itself, because taking out one or two lines from various sections can cause confusion.
So, given that the venerable is taking his stand on the Suttas, deems it an error to introduce or to rely upon notions not found in the Suttas (preferably found "many times in the Suttas"), and assures his readers that he is not peddling any dodgy "opinions ... additions or free-lance ideas," who can doubt that his admirers will be overjoyed to see his own exposition of bhāvanā evaluated by the very same standards that he applies to that of Buddhaghosa?
Where, then, in the Suttas (preferably "many times in the Suttas") is "tranquillising the bodily formation" stated to be "the most important part" of ānāpānassati? The answer is that nowhere is such a thing stated. Hence my remark that this is just the venerable's opinion. It's "an addition", if you will. It's "a free-lance-idea".
In reply to my my second objection, you say:
2) While many times V. Vimalamrasi uses the word "relax" in the sense of "relaxing that which is tight or strained" (in the head, but not just in head, also in any other part of the body), he also use the word in the sense of "calming something that is agitated or disturbed" (specially when talking about calming mental states or restlessness-agitation in the body).
As "relaxing" doesn't fall within the semantic range of "passambhati", nor within the scope of the practical explanation of "tranquillizing the bodily formation" given in the Ānāpānakathā of the Paṭisambhidāmagga, I think it's a mistake on the venerable's part to introduce the idea at all, regardless of what other actions he might prescribe to supplement it. Or at least he cannot do so and still claim that his method is "not his "own opinion", but is actually the Lord Buddha's own instruction given in a clear and precise way . . . .the "Undiluted Dhamma", because it comes directly from the Suttas themselves, without a lot of additions or free-lance ideas."
As it is, it is the very first gloss that he offers when explaining "tranquillising the bodily formation." To quote again:
- [Tranquillising the bodily formation] instructs one to notice the tightness, which arises in the head with every arising of a consciousness, and let that tightness go, while on the in-breath and out-breath. Then one feels their mind open up, expand, relax and become tranquil.
By way of contrast, let's take a look at the oldest extant record (and the only canonical description we have) of what it means to tranquillise the bodily formation in ānāpānassati, the Ānāpānakathā of the Paṭisambhidāmagga. The author of this exposition, traditionally given as Sāriputta, begins very sensibly by defining the key term "bodily formation" (which, by the way, I notice Ven. Vimalaraṃsī has neglected to do):
- "'Tranquillising the bodily formation (passambhayaṃ kāyasaṅkhāraṃ), I shall breathe in,' thus he trains himself; 'tranquillising the bodily formation, I shall breathe out,' thus he trains himself."
"Bodily-formation (kāyasaṅkhāraṃ)": long in-breaths, long out-breaths, short in-breaths, short out-breaths, breathing in experiencing the whole body, breathing out experiencing the whole body — these things are bodily properties; being bound up with the body they are bodily formations.
In other words, "bodily formation" is to be understood as comprising all the modes of breath previously itemized in the first tetrad. Essentially this is a more expansive version of the short definition given by the bhikkhunī Dhammadinnā in the Cullavedalla Sutta (MN. 44):
- "But, lady, what is the bodily formation? ..."
"In-breathing and out-breathing, friend Visākha, are the bodily formation..."
"But, lady, why are in-breathing and out-breathing the bodily formation? ..."
"Friend Visākha, in-breathing and out-breathing are bodily, these are states bound up with the body; that is why in-breathing and out-breathing are the bodily formation." (MN. 44)
Sāriputta then offers a series of glosses on "tranquillizing" (passambhayaṃ
- He trains himself by tranquillising (passambhento), causing to cease (nirodhento), pacifying (vūpasamento), those bodily formations.
No mention of relaxing any "tight mental fists" in one's head or body or mind or anywhere else. No words that could by any stretch of the imagination have to do with relaxing anything.
The author then makes a distinction between gross and subtle bodily formations, according to whether or not the long breaths, short breaths, etc., are coarse enough to generate bodily motion:
- Such bodily formations whereby there is bending backward, sideways, all ways, forward, shaking, trembling, moving of the body — "'tranquillising the bodily formation, I shall breathe in,' thus he trains himself; 'tranquillising the bodily formation, I shall breathe out,' thus he trains himself."
Such bodily formations whereby there is no bending backward, sideways, all ways, forward, shaking, trembling, moving of the body — "'Tranquillising the quiet and subtle bodily formation, I shall breathe in,' thus he trains himself; 'tranquillising the quiet and subtle bodily formation, I shall breathe out,' thus he trains himself."
In the final part, which I won't quote (you can download Ñāṇamoli's translation from ATI) the author gives the simile of the gong to show how breathing can continue despite the tranquillizing of it, and then relates the tetrad to the three aggregates of training, sati and sampajañña, faculties, powers, factors of awakening, etc.
Anyways, since what is agitated or disturbed can be relaxed, and what is tight or strained can be taken as agitation, im lost in what would be the practical difference between those two.
In the Araṇavibhaṅga Sutta (MN. 139) the Buddha taught that for the sake of non-conflict his disciples ought not to override normal linguistic usage (samaññaṃ nātidhāveyya
If I'm holding a glass of water and my hand is shaking, the water will be disturbed. If I set the glass down on an immobile, non-vibrating surface, the water will become calm. I will have calmed the water. Or, the water's disturbance will have subsided. Its agitation will have been quelled. But what an eccentric and irregular locution to say: "Dhammanando has relaxed the water" or "Dhammanando has caused the water has relaxed itself" !
Likewise in Pali, as far as I can tell, it would be an "overriding of normal usage" to equate passambhati with any verbs that have to do with loosening or relaxing.
Could you please explain it a little more?
I hope this post will clarify matters.