[L. 29 | 36] 22 April 1963

There is nothing like the thought of the possibility of a sudden death, perhaps within a few hours, to keep one's attention securely fixed on the subject of meditation, and consequently concentration has very much improved during the past few days. Not only is no even remotely erotic thought allowed admittance, but also the Buddha himself has said that in one who consistently practises ānāpānasati there is agitation neither in mind nor in body[1] (and from what little that I have done of this, I know it to be true). And what better sedative could there be than that? Furthermore, if one succeeds in practising concentration up to the level of fourth jhāna, all breathing whatsoever ceases,[2] which means that the body must be very tranquil indeed. Of course, I know that if one takes enough barbiturates the same effect will ensue—the breathing will cease—; but if you stop the breathing with barbiturates there may be some difficulty in getting it started again, a difficulty that does not arise with fourth jhāna. ('Librium', incidentally, though it facilitates sleep, does not seem to be specifically hypnotic and does no harm to concentration.)

The question of coming to Colombo for a check-up has a certain comic aspect about it in the present circumstances. If I could be reasonably certain that after the check-up was ended I should be informed 'Your condition is hopeless—we do not expect you to last another week', I might work up some enthusiasm about it. But what I fear is that I shall be told 'Your condition is fine—absolutely nothing to worry about—carry on just as before'. What would Doctor __ think if, having told me this in a cheerful voice, I were to step outside his consulting room and there, on his front doorstep, in the middle of all his waiting patients, cut my throat—might he not wonder whether the check-up had really been worth while?

Editorial notes:

[29.1] no agitation: 'When mindfulness-of-breathing/mindfulness-of-breathing-concentration is developed and made much of, there is neither vacillation nor agitation of the body nor vacillation nor agitation of the mind.' (Ānāpānasati Samy. 7: v,316) In his previous letter the Ven. Ñānavīra had written that he had begun to experience palpitations of the heart, and inquired whether the condition was significant. ('In particular, I should be glad to know if there is any likelihood of a complete heart failure without any warning. This is important because one should, if possible, not be taken unawares by death. As I have told you, I shall not be heartbroken [or is that, medically speaking, exactly the wrong term?] if I died in the near future, but, like everybody else, I am anxious to avoid as much pain and discomfort as possible.') The palpitations seem to have ceased after about ten days, without complication. [Back to text]

[29.2] all breathing ceases: D. 34: iii,266; Vedanā Samy. 11: iv,217; A. IX,31: iv,409. [Back to text]