Wednesday, July 17, 2019

What does pari-mukha mean exactly in 16 APS 🌬️ 😤 (Ānā-pāna-s-sati)

16 APS 🌬️ 😤 (Ānā-pāna-s-sati)

in-breath (&) out-breath remembering

4👑☸ →   STED →   16🌬️😤   🐘   🌄 (⤴)

SN 54.3 Suddhika

(0. preliminary steps )

[0.1] 🏞️ arañña-gato vā
[0.1] 🏞️ (to the) wilderness-(he)-went, or
🌲 rukkha-mūla-gato vā
🌲 (to the) tree-root-(he)-went, or
🏕️ suññā-(a)gāra-gato vā
🏕️ (to the) empty-dwelling-(he)-went, **
[0.2] nisīdati
[0.2] sits down
[0.3] 🧘 pallaṅkaṃ ābhujitvā
[0.3] 🧘 (into)-cross-leg-posture (he)-bends,
[0.4] 🏃📐 ujuṃ kāyaṃ paṇidhāya
[0.4] 🏃📐 straightened body (he)-aspires (to),
[0.5] 🌬️😤 pari-mukhaṃ satiṃ upaṭṭhapetvā.
[0.5] 🌬️😤 Near-(the)-mouth, remembrance he-establishes.
[0.6] 🐘 So sato-va assasati,
[0.6] 🐘 He, Always-a-rememberer, breathes in;
Sato-va passasati
Always-a-rememberer, breathes out.

Translation (from pali)

I've chosen the literal translation of near-the-mouth. In Theravada Pali Vinaya, pari-mukha is used in the context of facial hair or chest hair being in front of you. 

But what does it actually mean? 

To have 'sati' established 'near the mouth', or 'in front of you'?

Three logical possibilities

1) spatial coordinates only  (in front of you, near mouth, face, chest)
2) figurative only, not a literal interpretation of spatial coordinates, like "focusing on task at hand"
3) both one and two (it's possible the Buddha meant both, just like if you're using a cel phone, you're literally and figuratively focusing on the task in your hand)

So which one of the 3 is it?

From the Pali, it's ambiguous. For example, 
B. Bodhi in SN 54.1 has: "and set up mindfulness in front of him,"
B. Thanissaro: "and establishing mindfulness to the fore.", 
and his footnote for pari-mukha says:
2. To the fore (parimukhaṁ): The Abhidhamma takes an etymological approach to this term, defining it as around (pari-) the mouth (mukhaṁ). In the Vinaya, however, it is used in a context (Cv.V.27.4) where it undoubtedly means the front of the chest. There is also the possibility that the term could be used idiomatically as “to the front,” which is how I have translated it here.

Translation of pari-mukha from sanskrit to Chinese

In EBT of Chinese Agama, the ambiguity is also there, at least for this translator:
SA 803 is the first discourse in the collection to give a lengthy treatment to the practice of ānāpānasmṛti. This includes great detail about the manner in which one should start the practice of ānāpānasmṛti. The bhikṣu first enters a forest (入林中), or an empty room (閑房). He should be seated below a tree (樹下), or on the ground in a clear place (空露地). He adjusts his body and sits correctly (端身正坐), putting mindfulness before him (繫念面前). He then cuts off craving and affection (斷世貪愛), and develops purity apart from desires (離欲清淨). He then severs ill-will (瞋恚), drowsiness (睡眠), restlessness and remorse (掉悔), and doubt (疑). By cultivating these good dharmas (於諸善法), his mind attains resolve (心得決定). At this point he becomes far from the five obstructing afflictions of the mind (遠離五蓋煩惱於心) which cause one’s power of wisdom to weaken (令慧力羸), and which ultimately prevent one from going to Nirvāṇa (不趣涅槃). .
I've emailed the author asking or clarification on the ambiguity, with no response yet, but perhaps they were influenced by popular translations from Pali to English. 

But consulting Agama expert William Chu, and another knowledgable Agama and Ancient Chinese classical Chinese, they told me something very interesting. In the ancient Chinese, the parimukha "繫念面前" absolutely does not mean spatial coordinates, it exclusively means the figurative "make sati your first priority, your main priority." That's true not only in Chinese Buddhist sutras, but also in ancient Chinese literature from that time period.

So which of the 3 logical possibilities is it?

Any pali, sanskrit, Chinese, or other EBT expert care to comment?


parimukha: 57 occurrences in the pali suttas'

Re: What does pari-mukha mean in 16 APS anapana sati?

Post by frank k » Fri Jul 19, 2019 1:22 pm
Volo wrote: 
Fri Jul 19, 2019 11:56 am
Okay, one could say (as Ven Thanissaro did) that in some ceases parimukham had been used figuratively. May be also in the ānāpānasati instructions not a particular place on the body is meant. Or one even could say that there are some chances that it was referring to chest, etc. Although all these are speculations, still they might be considered. But to say it "cannot mean" is clearly biased, it's preaching not a study.
Even looking at the pali references alone, 57 occurrences which I've detailed with pail+english, is enough to see that parimukha can't be spatial location focus near the mouth. About 18 of the 57 are breath meditation, but almost all the rest are general meditation and other meditation subjects, such as brahma vihara, or even vipassana meditation. Explain why you would need to focus attention at the physical mouth area to do either of those meditations?

Now when you also take into consideration the EBT of the chinese agamas (including breath meditation), where it NEVER means spatial location, always the figurative meaning of making sati establishment (or another topic) your main priority. In Mahayana buddhism (such as pure land practices which have nothing to do with facial/mouth perception), and in contemporaneous chinese non-buddhist literature, that same expression used for pari-mukha in chinese is not spatial, it means the figurative "main priority".

Also, see B. Sujato's comments on the prati-mukha (vs. parimukha) and sanskrit EBT.

Taking all that into account, I have no doubt pari-mukha in sitting meditation is definitely not spatial face area focus.
Even the 57 pali sutta references alone is enough to establish that.
That's funny you would accuse me of a biased study.
If you look through the references in my study where I participated in forum discussions, you can see as early as 6 years ago, I was translating pari-mukha as (near the mouth), even though I felt in breath meditation both literal (spatial) and figurative meanings were intended.
It was after a friend kept complaining to me about my pari-mukha translation being wrong, that I did a detailed study, and came to a conclusion.
And this was after I queried the experts recently: ... in-16.html
Does that article sound like someone jumping to a biased conclusion?

All I care is about is truth and integrity. I translated it wrong for 6 years, and I admit it. I changed as soon as I was convinced I was wrong.

Re: What does pari-mukha mean in 16 APS anapana sati?

Post by frank k » Sat Jul 20, 2019 6:52 am
Volo wrote: 
Fri Jul 19, 2019 9:18 pm
Non biased researcher would agree there is no possibility to make a final solid conclusion purely on the Nikayas and Vinaya (although he might of course have his personal preferences).
You might want to examine yourself to see who really has the bias. I would be perfectly content to just translate pari-mukha as "in-front" without qualifications in square brackets. It's only because late Theravada has popularized a narrow, biased, wrong interpretation of parimukha that a corrective comment is necessary to keep people from going astray in their meditation practice.

My translation of pari-mukha as "in-front [, making it the main priority]", it's clear that the square brackets are adding comments not explicitly stated in the raw translation.

16 APS breath meditation is exquisitely designed, general purpose and versatile enough to allow for the late Theravada interpretation (among many valid ways of practicing 16APS). The problem is late Theravada deliberately misconstrues some of the key terms, such as pari-mukha,sabba kāya, etc, to take what is very versatile meditation, into a narrow interpretation that excludes the other more mainstream breath meditation practices. If you trace the devolution of 16 APS from EBT pali and agama, to KN Ps, to Vimt., to Vism., the Vism. interpretation of 16 APS is a completely grotesque disfigured animal compared to the noble versatile creature in the original.

Re: What does pari-mukha mean in 16 APS anapana sati?

Post by frank k » Sat Jul 20, 2019 7:06 am
A friend who was arguing that the literal (spatial) interpretation of parimukha in all contexts was a more natural ockham's razor approach to interpret parimukha, I don't agree. Here are some examples in English to show the figurative approach to interpret face/head/mouth is universal across time, cultures, languages.

face [mukha] the facts [Dharma].
con-front [mukha] the truth [Dharma].
tackle a problem head [mukha] on.
heads [mukha] up! {idiom for "be alert/sampajano!"}
In your face [mukha]! {you've just personally witnessed some dharma/truth you can't deny} example: In basketball, if someone slam dunks a basketball on your head, they might say that to taunt you.

Dhamma is what Sati remembers.
so establishing Sati is actually very close to the common English expressions:
face [mukha] the facts [Dharma].
con-front [mukha] the truth [Dharma].


  1. Premodern Chinese translators’ take:
    The way the corresponding expression is rendered into Chinese in non-Agama texts; some examples:
    正念現前 (Paramārtha and Bodhiruci)--“Right Mindfulness is brought to the fore/present”
    住對面念 (Xuanzang)—“Abiding in the mindfulness [that is like tackling something] face-on”
    正念而住 (Yijing)—“Abiding in/establishing Right Mindfulness”
    Virtually all these monks were familiar with the Indian ways of meditating

  2. Modern EBT experts’ take:
    Thorsten Fessel contrasts the expression with the Sanskrit expression “bahir mukha—averting one’s face,” and suggests that parimukham means “presence of mind as directed to the immediate environment”
    T.W. Rhys Davids has a similar idea: “to surround oneself with watchfulness of mind”
    Sujato Bhikkhu: “In the gradual training, sati and upatthana occur together in the common idiom parimukhaṃ satim upatthapeti…[Its] modern renderings usually use something vague like ‘in front’. However the phrase frequently occurs in contexts outside of anapanasati, making the interpretation ‘at the nose-tip’, or any literal spatial interpretation, unlikely. The Sanskrit has a different reading, pratimukha. This has many meanings, among which are ‘reflection’ and ‘presence’. Both of these would be appropriate in meditative context…I think here we have another example of that common feature of Pali or Sanskrit, a conjunction of synonyms for emphasis: literally, 'one makes present a presence of presence of mind', or more happily, 'one establishes presence of mindfulness’.”

  3. Scriptural evidence; all of the practices below cannot be undertaken when mindfulness is affixed at mouth-nose:
    EA17.1, the practice of contemplating on the inconstancy of the five aggregates is described, prefaced by the parimukham expression: “專精一心,念色無常,念痛、想、行、識無常”; “He diligently collects his mind, and contemplates on/brings to his mind that form, feeling, perception, fabrications, and consciousness are inconstant.”
    DN25 (iii49), MN39, AN9.40, speaks of the expression “parimukhaṃ satim upatthapeti” as in “overcoming hindrances”
    AN3.63, as in the “divine abodes”
    AN3.63, as in realizing that one’s defilements have been eradicated
    MN91, as in setting the mind on the welfare of oneself and others.
    SN54.7: Mahā-kappina was practicing anapanasati, with “parimukhaṃ satim upatthapeti.” He experienced the quaking, or spontaneous tremor of the body as a disturbance. The Buddha instructed him to practice “anapanasati: the contemplation on abandoning, with parimukhaṃ satim upatthapeti”
    Ud5.10: “And on that occasion Ven. Cūḷa Panthaka was sitting not far from the Blessed One, his legs crossed, his body held erect, with mindfulness established to the fore…With steady body, steady awareness—whether standing, sitting, or lying down—a monk determined on mindfulness gains one distinction after another. ”
    None of the above can be undertaken when attention is affixed at nose-mouth.
    Another interesting point: the “early of the early” seem to not include this “parimukha” instruction in the standard meditation formula altogether (Ud21, 42, 43, 46, 60, 71, 77)

  4. Mindfulness is not attention. Mindfulness is remembrance of one’s purpose, directionality, task…:
    AN7.63: “Just as the royal frontier fortress has a gate-keeper — wise, experienced, intelligent — to keep out those he doesn't know and to let in those he does, for the protection of those within and to ward off those without…In the same way a disciple of the noble ones is mindful, highly meticulous, remembering & able to call to mind even things that were done & said long ago. With mindfulness as his gate-keeper, the disciple of the ones abandons what is unskillful, develops what is skillful, abandons what is blameworthy, develops what is blameless, and looks after himself with purity. With this sixth true quality is he endowed.”
    To say that one should direct one’s mindfulness to a spatial location simply doesn’t make sense. Practitioners have to put the Teaching in front (mukha), i.e. invoke it in mind; It is akin to “gatekeeping” because the act of remembering the Dhamma is both to preserve it and to be preserved by it (śrutidharā). When one does mindfulness of the body, what one does is really not simply directing attention and affixing it to the body, but rather being mindful of body-related issues within the context of appropriate attention (e.g. practicing it with the purpose of preserving bodily ease, preventing bodily fever, and of inducing disenchantment…).