Breathe You are Alive! The Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing – Thich Nhat Hanh

Discourse on the Full Awareness of Breathing | Plum Village

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, a Master of the Zen philosophy, is also a universally acclaimed global spiritual leader, poet, and peace activist. Author of more than 100 books, Thich Nhat Hanh, after turning 94 on October 11, 2020, voluntarily ceased eating in preparation for the shedding of his mortal coil. Renowned for his powerful teachings and bestselling writings on mindfulness and peace, Thich Nhat Hanh was hailed by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as “an Apostle of peace and nonviolence”. Founder of the Van Hanh Buddhist University in Saigon, La Boi publishing House, and an influential peace activist magazine, Thich Nhat Hanh also taught Comparative Religion at Princeton University and Buddhism at Columbia University. He was exiled from both North and South Vietnam for a period of 39 years.

In this powerful book, “Breathe You are Alive!”, the Buddhist philosopher educates his readers on what he terms, “The Full Awareness of Breathing.” Popularly known as the Anapanasati Sutta, the techniques and methods propounded in this book derive directly from the teachings of the Buddha. The primary essence underlying these techniques being transforming the negative emotions of fear, despair, anger and craving. Compartmentalizing the practice of breathing into seven different ‘ways’, Thich Nhat Hanh strives to usher in the realization that “The Buddha is not a person outside of us, but the energy of mindfulness, concentration and insight in us…The Buddha is always there within you, and you can touch the Buddha anytime you like. One of the ways to reach the Buddha, anytime and anywhere, is through your breath.”

The seven sections referred to above are broadly:

  • Following the Breath in Daily Life
  • Awareness of the Body
  • Realizing the Unity of Body and Mind
  • Nourishing Ourselves with Joy and Happiness
  • Observing Our Feelings
  • Caring For and Liberating the Mind
  • Looking Deeply in Order to Shed Light on the True Nature of All Dharmas

Each of these sections conflate the physical processes of inhalation and exhalation with the spiritual and conscious process of awareness and equanimity. There is advocated a series of silence exhortations and affirmations to aid and assist the triggering of mindfulness and to eliminate unwarranted, yet inevitable distractions that assail the meditator/practioner such in an irritable and unceasing manner. Writing in a practical manner, the learned author acknowledges that a predominant section of the world populace does not inhabit the serene settings of a monastery. Most of us are sucked into the eddies and currents that represent the hustle and bustle of everyday living. The author asserts that these practices may be accomplished and executed even as we go about out daily routine and without sacrificing our beholden duties and responsibilities. “For example, when we are carrying a pot of boiling water or doing electrical repairs, we can be aware of every movement of our hands, and we can nourish this awareness by means of our breath. ‘Breathing in, I am aware my hands are carrying a pot of boiling water.’ ‘Breathing out, I am aware that my right hand is holding an electrical wire. ‘Breathing in, I am aware, I am passing another car.’ ‘Breathing out, I know the situation is under control.’ We can practice like this.”

This has a resounding similarity to the philosophy of Karma-Yoga as taught by Lord Krishna to the valorous archer Arjuna, in the Bhagavad Gita, just before the onset of the Mahabharata war on the righteous battlefield of Kurukshetra.

“Breathe, You are Alive!” is an indispensable book for anyone who is inclined to practice the art of Anapanasati

5 thoughts on “Breathe You are Alive! The Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing – Thich Nhat Hanh

  1. I believe these are the techniques I learned years upon years ago in my late teens and which, in essence, have never left me. And while these days I do not use Buddha when referring, yet my beliefs hold firm. Of course, some just call me an ageing hippy, and they’re right. But what I learned in those days have seen me through

    Liked by 1 person

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