B. Alan Wallace, 28 Aug 2012

Meditation: mindfulness of breathing at the abdomen using counting of breaths as a support. Counting does break the flow of mindfulness, so use it only if it helps stem rumination. Keep the counting staccato and as before, use introspection to detect any laxity or excitation.

Meditation starts at 2:36

Download (MP3 / 15 MB)


This morning we’ll return to refining the attention, balancing the attention with the emphasis on stability without losing relaxation. We’ll focus again on the rise and fall of the abdomen, and this time I will introduce a little bit more: the counting of breaths. I’m quoting Asanga here, he says, “if you find the counting helpful, go for it, and if you find it unhelpful, forget it, no problem. People with sharp faculties don’t need it”.

I immediately think, oh, then I must need it, I must need it, because I always fall under the dull faculty. Wherever it is, oh, there I am. I’m always at the bottom. It’s true, it’s not humility, it’s actually the way the things are. So I’m used to that, but the real point here is completely pragmatic and that is, if you do count the breaths, it of course interrupts the flow of mindfulness a little bit. I think the closest analogy I can think of is the speed bumps, like we have out on this road here. It’s there just in case you start getting carried away in rumination, it’s just there to go “ping… ping…” just to break it up and bring you back to the present moment, to mindfulness of breathing.

In economics I think it’s called the cost-benefit analysis. It’s going to cost you something to break the flow of your mindfulness to do the counting and having to remember what count, seven, eight, I mean it’s so boring! It’s unbelievably boring. Seven comes after six, and gosh, after seven… what was it? Oh yeah, eight. It’s kind of drudgery, it’s tedious, but if that helps to break up this ongoing flow of rumination, then that’s where the benefits lies. On the other hand if you can maintain that flow [of mindfulness] without the counting, all the better.

So then I’ll introduce this and it’s really crucial that it’s a staccato count. What happens very easily when people count breaths is they go, “oneeee, twoooooo, threeee”, you know, mentally. So they’re no longer practicing mindfulness of breathing, they’re practicing moronic counting! Which is really much cruder. It’s supposed to be just, “One. Two. Three.” Just staccato, like a little fairy dancing on a tip of a needle. Just [tap] like that. Just a little tiny speed bump. Not one of those tank blockades. Tank barriers. So there’s one point, staccato, a very brief count at the end of each inhalation. Second point: introspection [to detect any laxity or excitation], relax, release, return [to counteract excitation] and refresh, refocus, retain [to counteract laxity].

Let’s jump in. Find a nice posture.


Settle your body in its natural state and the respiration in its natural rhythm.

Allow yourself the freedom for this short session to release all concerns, all cogitations, all ruminations about the future and the past, and in silence let your awareness come to rest in stillness in the present moment. And for just a little while, be aware of your whole body breathing, the sensations throughout the entire field associated with the in- and out-breath, quietly, non-discursively. Immerse your awareness in this non-conceptual, non-verbal domain of experience in which there’s nothing to think about, just be present, knowingly, recognizing [when] the breath is short or the breath is long.

Now focus more narrowly, directing your attention downwards which helps to stabilize the attention. Focus on the bare tactile sensations of the rise and fall of the abdomen and again, ever so simply, non-discursively recognizing the long in-breath as being long, the long out-breath is long. As your system calms down, the volume of air you need decreases. Note as you breathe in short that it is short and when you breathe out short that it is short.

Then experiment with counting. One brief staccato count at the very end of each inhalation. Relax deeply as you breathe out, releasing any thoughts that come up; arouse your attention as you breathe in, again a staccato count. You may count one through ten, one through ten, or simply continue counting - but experiment. You can only know through your own experience whether this turns out to be beneficial or simply clutters the flow of mindfulness. You must see for yourself.

The primary engine that drives the practice of shamatha is mindfulness: the non-forgetting, the non-distracted mind that continually engages with this meditative object. But in order to refine the mindfulness, to avoid pitfalls of excitation and laxity, it’s imperative to utilize and refine your faculty of introspection, monitoring the flow of attention, recognizing as quickly as possible the occurrence of excitation, in response to which relax, release and return. Then [when] falling into laxity, dullness, becoming spaced out, as soon as you see it, refresh your interest, refocus your attention and then retain the flow of mindfulness. In this way, prepare your mind to be a serviceable vessel for the practice of vipashyana and all other types of meditative practices. Let’s continue practicing now in silence.

Transcribed by Rafael Carlos Giusti

Revised by Jim Parsley

Final edition by Alma Ayon


Ask questions about this lecture on the Buddhism Stack Exchange or the Students of Alan Wallace Facebook Group. Please include this lecture’s URL when you post.