issue 17 winter 01
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Breath by Breath

Larry Rosenberg

UK: Thorsons, 2001, £8.99 p/b US: Shambhala, 1998, $14.95 p/b

The breath is one of the simplest objects of meditation. But, as Larry Rosenberg points out in Breath by Breath, its very simplicity means that we can undervalue it. The book follows the structure of the Anapanasati Sutta, and points out that the Sutta 'starts with the most basic aspect of practice - following the in and out breath - and goes all the way to full liberation'.

The book is accessible and direct, and rooting it so faithfully in the Sutta gives it a welcome clarity and rigour. Rosenberg is one of the leading teachers of the Insight Meditation Movement, and his experience shows in his practical approach. He concentrates on 16 verses of the Sutta, and groups them into four sections of four. These direct our attention firstly to the breath 'as it is experienced in our body'; secondly to feelings; thirdly to the mind, the mental formations and the emotions. Finally a fourth group of verses makes the Insight dimension of the Mindfulness of Breathing practice more explicit. We're invited to notice impermanence, not as an abstract reflection, but as an experience as concrete and direct as the breath itself. As Rosenberg says, 'Impermanence is not exactly big news ... the question is: how do you practise with it?'

Breath by Breath evokes the depth that this simple practice points us towards, and shows the precision of the Buddha's instructions on how to see it for ourselves. 'The seeing is what brings suffering to an end, which is the whole purpose of the Buddha's teaching. He wasn't trying to be philosophical, he was eminently practical.' This is a practical book.