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The last tetrad of the Anapanasati Sutra

KeromeKerome Love, love is mysteryThe Continent Veteran

I’ve finally had some instances of meditation long enough to get to the final tetrad of contemplations of an Anapanasati Sutra meditation on breath, they are stated in Wikipedia as:

  1. On impermanence
  2. On the fading of desire
  3. On cessation
  4. On relinquishment

But I found Thich Nhat Hanh has done a beautiful translation which I wanted to share:

  1. Observing the impermanent nature of all dharmas: the concentration on impermanence is a deep and wonderful path of meditation. It’s a fundamental recognition of the nature of all that exists. Everything is in endless transformation and all things are without an independent self.
  2. Observing the disappearance of desire: Seeing the true nature of our desire and the objects of desire, we know that happiness doesn’t lie in attaining those objects or in our hopes for future accomplishments. We observe clearly the impermanent nature of all things, their coming into being and fading away.
  3. Observing cessation: Cessation means cessation of all the erroneous notions and ideas that keep us fromdirectlyexperiencing the ultimate reality, and cessation of the suffering that is born from ignorance. Then we can be in touch with the wonderful true nature of the way things are.
  4. Observing letting go: This exercise helps us look deeply (in)to give up desire and attachment, fear and anger. We don’t let go of reality, we let go of our wrong perceptions about reality. The more we let go, the happier we become.

It’s quite a series of contemplations to do in one sitting :)



  • Elaborations like his really bring to life an otherwise terse exposition. It is quite a series for a single sitting. I've moved away from a progressive approach to a fluid one, seeing it as a single, multidimentional state. Each tetrad is one dimension with four aspects. Attention can be shifted to any dimension or aspect any time, allowing them to be contemplated in different stages of concentration and levels of exclusion. So, for example, whenever my mind wants to contemplate impermanence, I don't have to tell it "No".

    To me the last sentence in each of TNH's 4 descriptions point to 4 aspects of the same thing. It appears most evident in the last sentences of the first two descriptions. Whenever there's the perception of impermanence, there's also the fading of desire for impermant things. It seems to me just a subtle shift of attention to a different aspect of the same state.

  • KeromeKerome Love, love is mystery The Continent Veteran

    That’s an interesting approach @Snakeskin — I may have to try it. Though I have to say I’m relatively new to the form and so I don’t have the form completely memorised yet.

    Thich Nhat Hanh gives the four tetrads and their fourth stages as

    1. Body... I calm my body
    2. Feelings... I calm my painful feeling
    3. Mind... I liberate my mind
    4. Contemplation of dharma ... I observe letting go

    He gives a different breathing in / breathing out phrase for each of the 4 stages of each tetrad. I find it quite resonant, and tricky to memorise!

    I find it quite relaxing to tackle the tetrads in sequence, I usually stay with a tetrad until I feel i’ve managed the fourth stage, such as calming the body. There comes a certain point in breath meditation where the body feels “at rest” and that’s my cue. Unfortunately feelings and mind are a lot trickier.

  • DairyLamaDairyLama Veteran
    edited January 2018

    In simple terms the four tetrads are a progression from samatha ( tranquillity ) to vipassana ( insight ).

    There are a number of commentaries on the four tetrads of anapanasati, this is the most comprehensive one I have found: https://www.buddhanet.net/pdf_file/anapanasati.pdf
    It's rather technical, but worth the effort.

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