Succumbed to Breath

The jungle had caught fire, and it was swiftly spreading all over the wilderness. An elephant stood underneath a tree, because it felt safe. Then he decided to move ahead and lifted up one of its feet. A small rabbit, suddenly, ran for its life and took refuge under the elephant’s uplifted foot. The elephant knew that the rabbit was under its foot and to put this foot down would mean killing the rabbit. The elephant saved the rabbit’s life by standing in that position for a very long time, but, eventually, fell onto the other side and died himself.  As a merit for this selfless sacrifice, the elephant was born as a human in the next birth.

This popular story is from the Jataka Tales; stories depicting Buddha’s previous births in human and non-human forms. Buddha, a name synonymous to compassion, meditation and liberation is not unknown to any of us. Buddha Poornima, marks the birth anniversary of Lord Buddha. He was born more than two thousand years ago, but his life is as significant as ever in the present times.

One incident from his childhood is often narrated since years. When he was born, a hermit visited the royal palace and made a prophecy that this baby would either become a great king or a monk. He advised his parents to never expose him to death or old age, else, he would lose all interest in material life. Though his parents made several efforts to follow the hermit’s words, he was exposed to death and old age during his teenage years and decided to renounce his royal abode. According to popular belief, one day, after living the life of an ascetic for many years, he finally sat under the Bodhi tree, and practiced mindfulness breathing until he attained enlightenment. Thus, he succumbed to breath to reach the highest possible state of existence.

It is undeniable, that facing these times of crisis during the pandemic, has made us more compassionate and considerate than ever. People are generously donating to save lives and to provide oxygen cylinders to the ones who are suffering. Most of us have even started taking care of our health, and we have started paying attention to our breath, something which we rarely did earlier.

Buddha, was the propagator of breathing techniques, like the Anapanasati Sutta, which is a practice that uses awareness of breath as an initial focus for meditation. ‘Watching the breath’, is the most basic form of meditation according to Buddhist Tradition. A benefit of this meditation is that if you practice it for half an hour in the morning, you will automatically practice it throughout the day, as your attention will move to your breathing pattern as you experience various emotions during the daily events. However, that requires perseverance and practice.

One who has gradually practiced,
Developed and brought to perfection
Mindfulness of the in-and-out breath
As taught by the Enlightened One,
Illuminates the entire world
Like the moon when freed from clouds.
Theragatha 548 (A Buddhist Text)

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