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Buddha Teaches Meditation

After he had reached Enlightenment, Buddha taught many other men and women how to meditate. He lived with four hundred of his followers, or bhikkus, in the middle of Eastern Park, which was a beautiful open space, dotted with trees, located in the city of Savatthi.

Every day, Buddha and all his followers got up and sat together to meditate. The more experienced bhikkus, the people who had lived with Buddha the longest, helped teach the newer bhikkus how to meditate. After the meditation time was over, all the bhikkus would take a bowl and head into town to beg for food. They would all come back to the retreat center before noontime. Before they ate, some of the older, more experienced bhikkus would give a lecture to any townspeople who came by. Then everyone would eat.

After lunch, Buddha and all the bhikkus would go find a cool shady grove of trees. They would all sit together in the shade of the trees, and Buddha would give a talk, telling them how to be better people. Sometimes, when the moon was full, they would all stay up late and Buddha would give another talk in the moonlight.

One day, hundreds more of Buddha’s followers traveled to the retreat center in Eastern Park in the town of Savatthi. Soon there were over a thousand bhikkus, over a thousand followers of Buddha, all gathered together. It was the time of the full moon, and that evening, all the bhikkus gathered together outside to hear Buddha tell them how to meditate. Of course, all the bhikkus were already learning how to meditate, and practicing meditation every day. But for the first time, Buddha described his whole system of meditation from start to finish.

Here’s what Buddha said:

“When it’s time for you to meditate, go out and sit at the foot of a tree; or if you can’t find a good tree, just find a nice quiet place where you won’t be disturbed.
“Then sit down on the ground. Sit in the lotus position, that is, sit with your left foot on your right thigh, and your right foot on your left thigh. Be sure you hold your body straight.

“As you sit, pay attention to your breathing. When you breathe in, know that you are breathing in. When you breathe out, know that you are breathing out.”

Buddha kept talking in his calm, peaceful voice, describing what to do when you meditate. He said:

“Breathe in and out, and be aware of your whole body.
“Breathe in and out, and let your breathing make your whole body calm and at peace.
“Breathe in and out, and let yourself be joyful.
“Breathe in and out, and be aware that your mind is full of thoughts.
“Breathe in and out, and let your mind become calm and peaceful.
“Breathe in and out, and let your mind become happy and peaceful.
“Breathe in and out, and concentrate so you can free your mind.”

Buddha kept talking in his calm, peaceful voice for over an hour. Everyone sat in stillness in the moonlight and listened. Everyone, all Buddha’s followers, felt calm and peaceful. This is how Buddha taught his followers how to meditate.

There are many people in the world today who still follow Buddha’s teachings; they are called Buddhists. We are not Buddhists, we are Unitarian Universalists; but we Unitarian Universalists have learned a lot about meditation from Buddha. Many Unitarian Universalists meditate every day, so they can feel peaceful and happy.


Source: based on Thich Nhat Hanh’s translation and exegesis of Anapanasati Sutta, as set forth in his book The Full Awareness of Breathing, with reference to other modern translations of the suttra.