All of us are aware that we breathe our breath in and out. But few, if any, know the true origin or source of the breath. We take our breathing, in other words, for granted. So, why bother with being aware of breaths true origin or source?
This is the reflection of people who are attached to their physical body. They have no idea who the breather is who is connected with their breathing. If they did know, they would have direct knowledge of the difference between what is spiritual and the body of our birth which depends upon the spiritual to animate it.
There is much more to breathing our breath in and out. Who is the breather? It’s the same as asking, “What moves our hands and feet?” Some might call it the ‘life force’, but this is just a word. Words can be like a compass. Still, the compass doesn’t take us to our destination like a magic carpet. We have to make a personal effort of getting to our destination.
By looking within we have to admit that the mysterious breather is before the breathing process which is part of the five skandha system which is never other than conditioned and incapable of deliverance. In a way, our awareness of breathing in and out, to a degree, precedes breathing. This awareness (sati) embraces (pari) the source (mukhaṃ) of the breathing according to the commentary to the Udana. The source is also the original cause or source of the action of breathing. This also suggests that we shouldn’t be so much aware of following the breath but, instead, be before the in and out breath as much as possible. Whatever the breath does, we are before it.
However, for some people, they cannot make such a distinction. They are attached to the idea that awareness and breathing occur at the same time or in some odd cases, that awareness follows the breath!
The problem with awareness (sati) the beginner faces, is somewhat like facing a painting, going so far as to even put your nose on it as if to see it. Can you see it? No, of course not. You can only see the details of the painting if you back away from it. For our awareness to be before the breath implies a backing away from it so that there is a distinction between awareness and breathing. The nature of awareness, I hasten to add, is not the same as the nature of breathing. Just because our awareness is coordinate with breathing we should not assume that awareness is the same or comes after the in and out breath.