Right Breath Regulation


ii.49-52 Right Breath Regulation

2.49 Pranayama is mastering the flow of the life-force (Prana/Qi) through proper Breath Regulation.

This commentary was covered under Yoga’s Eight Limbs: Pranayama (Right Breath Regulation); Pratyahata (Right Control—mastery over the senses.

2.50 Proper Regulation of the Retention and Flow of Prana/Qi*

*The following is a helpful guide to this *advanced* procedure; one does need to be extra-cautious concerning “breath-retention”, what may work for one person does not necessarily apply for another:

Generally, our breath rotates between three different movements in relation to the body: toward it, away from it, and fixed (the breathing mechanisms become still). Space refers to the point of mental focus during the practice. Where the attention goes, the prana flows. The attention is directed either to areas such as the base of the spine or between the eyebrows, or perhaps, when healing is intended, to where the practitioner feels there is a lack of prana. Time means the length of time for the inhalation, exhalation, and retention of the breath. Number refers to the number of repetitions and rounds of the specific practice. The three modifications that the breath takes— inhalation, exhalation, and retention— can be manipulated and regulated to foster progress in pranayama practice.

Note: the advanced practice of pranayama, especially breath retention, should be learned and practiced under the guidance of a qualified teacher.

[Carrera, Jaganath (2012-06-22). Inside The Yoga Sutras: A Comprehensive Sourcebook for the Study and Practice of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (p. 155) BookMasters. Kindle Edition.]

2.51 There is a fourth kind of pranayama that transcends any movement of inner or outer.

While Patañjali here doesn’t provide any explicit details on the exact nature of what this procedure entails, it certainly emphasizes extending one’s meditation beyond the senses; this includes both inhalation/exhalation of breath. Once again, Zenmar’s procedure of “being prior-to the breath” is an excellent standard to keep in mind. The origin of this technique revolves around “The Sutta on Antecedentness by Breath“, as translated by Ven. Shakya Aryanatta in a now out-of-print pamphlet/manual 2001: The Authorized Dark Zen Meditation Manual of Buddhism, Darkstar Publications, pg. 15:

Breathing in long in-breaths he so discerns, “These are but only long in-breaths.” Breathing long out-breaths he so discerns, “These are but only long out-breaths.” Breathing in short in-breaths he so discerns, “These are only short in-breaths.” Breathing short out-breaths he so discerns, “There are but only short out-breaths. He trains thusly, “I shall breathe in supremely beholding the entire body in recollective antecedentness to it.” He wisely trains thusly, “I shall breathe out supremely beholding the entire body in recollective antecedentness to it.” He wisely trains thusly, “I shall breathe in beholding that which lies before the arising of the body’s formation.” He wisely trains thusly, “I shall breathe out beholding that which lies before the arising of the body’s formation.” He wisely trains thusly, “I shall breathe in/out supremely beholding exquisite joyousness in recollective antecedentness.” 

Zenmar then comments on these passages:

The object here is to conquer the sensory body by recollecting that which is prior to its workings and sufferings. In the case of the above, the thorough antecedentness is the target of the exercise, not the breath. Nowhere in the sutta is “breath following” indicated. Buddhists and non-Buddhists who engage in “breath following” are following other than a Buddhist practice. (ibid, pg.17)

I have come to know this through my own experience as when the Tathagatas breathe through you.

2.52 In successful Right Breath Regulation, the dark veil over the Light of the Unborn is dissolved.

This is a highly mystically-charged assertion that the dark veil of sensate phenomena no longer obscures or prevents the Primordial Unborn Light from Shining-through in Absolute Stature. Technically, Patañjali would assert this as follows:

The citta (Mind) has, within its own nature, all-encompassing Gnosis. It is made of sattva (Bodhi-Being) Substance, but is covered by rajas (restless activity) and tamas (dullness or inertia) [subversive] elements; thus by pranayama this covering is dissolved.

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9 Responses to Right Breath Regulation

  1. Neti-Neti Yeti says:

    On 2.52 what seems to be going on here is the realization of the dharmakaya, no? What others call gnosis I call unknowing, but I mean a specific kind of unknowing.

    As it was written by an anonymous medieval European mystic in the treatise Cloud of Unknowing (chapter 7, which deals with the problems of thought), I believe this is similar to the sense of gnosis Patañjali would have us recognize:

    “AND if any thought rise and will press continually above thee betwixt thee and that darkness, and ask thee saying, “What seekest thou, and what wouldest thou have?” say thou, that it is God that thou wouldest have. “Him I covet, Him I seek, and nought but Him.”

    I believe the writer was suggesting a letting go of the desire to know in a conditioned way and thereby to experience the veil of conditioned knowledge lifting to reveal the absolute. In other words releasing our mundane knowing to allow space for the consciousness to enter the mystical and eternal knowing of gnosis and dharmakaya.

    But perhaps I am just muddying the waters.

    • Vajragoni says:

      Yes, this is akin to the Self-Realization of the Dharmakaya devoid of any adventitious outflows. I’m also very familiar with the author of the “Cloud of Unknowing”; the sense is that he was a Carthusian monk. One needs to be cautious with the unknowing-apopothatic thing, because what they try to do is to negate phenomena “twice”—since phenomena is already self-empty, devoid of Substance in itself, why attempt to negate what is already negated?

      Also, I’m wary of using anthropocentric terminology like “God”, because it brings to mind the notion of a “Creator God”, something not akin to Buddhism.

  2. Neti-Neti Yeti says:

    (Addendum: I have no real doctrinal problem calling the absolute “God”, and it is probably a better term than most coming from a western mentality. It encompasses the devotional and faith aspects of practice which I find lacking in some approaches to Buddhism.)

  3. Neti-Neti Yeti says:

    If the thing we are calling absolute could support a name, we wouldn’t have to refer to it by so many confusing names in so many forms of practice. Though agreed, the idea of a Creator God has always seemed a bit of an oversimplification because that is the way our society is ordered, along conditions of power and authority. And of course from these creeds spring the imposition of belief and holy wars and it thusly gets away from the primary impetus of spiritual practice which, for me at least, is soteriological and guided by liberation and self realization.

    For this reason I prefer unknowing to gnosis. I think some people get confused when I refer to unknowing in this way, either thinking it too drastic or too simplistic, or misinformed. It is neither gnosis nor agnosis I refer to, neither knowing nor not knowing.

    This unknowing is, in a sense, the complete negation of the known, but is also the transcending of the known, because I find, as did the Cloud author, and others have, such as Krishnamurti, who inspires me, that knowing only gets you so far.

    As I am firmly convinced the primordial problem of existence is the content of mind, the search for knowing simply confuses me when I peel it away to the deepest depths of this idea about whether anything can ever be known of itself; and yet, how can the puny human mind know all?

    Just as the caution given in the Lankavatara sutra, about not just emptying the mind and stopping there, I feel that through this process of negation and release of there needing to be the known, it is possible to know. This knowing for me is called faith. It is knowing through not-knowing. It could also be called liberation. It could also be called delusion or heresy or a bunch of things, which is why I don’t get to caught up on the terminology or even try to convince anyone. The _affirmation_ of knowledge is just of course another trick of mind, of appearances.

    So an objective God is not what I mean, but a kind of window into the benevolent infinite. A kind of trust in things, a sense that everything is alright, despite the endless mind stream of appearances. This is what I would call God, a birthless and deathless being — not being as an entity, but being in the active sense of a verb — of one absolute universal essence.

    But again I don’t know. You see, I almost bit the hook. 🙂

    • Vajragoni says:

      “This unknowing is, in a sense, the complete negation of the known, but is also the transcending of the known, because I find, as did the Cloud author, and others have, such as Krishnamurti, who inspires me, that knowing only gets you so far.”

      This is the crux of the dilemma. The Buddha-gnosis of the Tathagatas is not knowing in the pejorative sense that the Lankavatara Sutra refers to as the knowledge of the philosophers, but rather that which is realizable through the Self-Realization of Noble Wisdom, which, of course, is only realizable within one’s inmost-self. In a very real sense, “the act of negating and/or transcending the known” will only get you so far because you continue to be the agent who’s engaging in this action. Within Buddha-gnosis the purported “you” needs to get out of the way because it makes a mess of things as the act of unknowing can go on infinitum. Just remember to ask, “Who’s” engaging in this unknowing business? As Patañjali would say, “it is the watcher” or observer who engages in this unknowing, and Mind (as stated in the series) IS NOT the watcher. The Lanka further expresses it this way:

      “Mahamati, what are these erroneous teachings accepted generally by the philosophers?
      Their error lies in this: that they do not recognize an objective world to be of Mind itself
      which is erroneously discriminated; and, not understanding the nature of the Vijnanas
      which are also no more than manifestations of Mind, like simple-minded ones that they are, they cherish the dualism of being and non-being where there is but one self-nature and one first principle.”

      So, why discriminate some-thing that needs to be unknown? Rather, like Ravana in the Lanka, listen to that mystical-voice that stated…Just abide in the Buddha-gnosis as “It is to be known by one’s inmost Self alone.”

  4. Neti-Neti Yeti says:

    I can see no difference between the state of knowing and not knowing at the seat of consciousness.

    • Vajragoni says:

      “I can see no difference between the state of knowing and not knowing at the seat of consciousness.”

      At the seat of Skandhic Consciousness “the state of knowing and not knowing” is one continuous amalgam that creates a state within a state.

      At the seat of Amala Consciousness there is not a state, or condition of any kind involved. That’s why the expedient term Buddha-gnosis is utilized. It is what the Tathagatas intuit within the very statelessness of Tathata (Suchness) Itself. It is neither knowing nor non-knowing (Neti, Neti—neither this, nor that—your own handle my good man.) 🙂

  5. Tozen says:

    For those attuned to the mysterious light of the Unborn Mind, a light not different by what is offered by the great spiritual sage known in the Saha-world as “Patanjali”, the knowledge found therein leaves no room for speculation, doubt, or any sense of in-completeness.

    In my youth I trained vigorously and passionately, not only the japanese martial arts, but also the psychophysical arts of Hatha Yoga and Raja Yoga (and that is what they are and no more). Later on, when I wised up, I abandoned them all when I met my own Rinzai Zen master who introduced me to this mysterious light of lights, permeating all things and all directions in the great body of the One Mind.

    I cultivated that light for a few years before I one day awoke to its full glory and power that cannot be touched by any thought, word or image. Today very few seek this light, because deeply inside they fear it, as it is a destroyer of any worldly bonds (and attachment to any arised things or kin in the mind field of a pure spirit).

    A very good definition of mysticism is found in the new Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia 1994);

    “Mysticism in general refers to a direct and immediate experience of the sacred, or the knowledge derived from such an experience…

    First, the experience is immediate and overwhelming, divorced from the common experience of reality. Second, the experience or the knowledge imparted by it is felt to be self-authenticating, without need of further evidence or justification.

    Finally, it is held to be ineffable, its essence incapable of being expressed or understood outside the experience itself… the experience itself is always of an Absolute that transcends the human efforts or methods of achieving it.”

  6. Neti-Neti Yeti says:

    Yes, deep gratitude to all for these invigorating and lively comments, which seek the heart of the matter.

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