Congratulations to Ashwin Ramaswami, the recipient of the 2020–21 Best Undergraduate Paper in Buddhist Studies!
"Breath Control and Conceptions of Self: Different Hindu and Buddhist Approaches to the Breath"
Mindfulness of breathing, or ānāpānasati, is a typically Buddhist practice that is mentioned both in numerous suttas and guides to meditation. But Buddhism did not grow up in a vacuum; many of its practices were based on, or created in reaction to, prevailing currents of religion and spirituality at the time. Where does ānāpānasati come from? In this paper, I examine how ānāpānasati compares to Brahmanic conceptions of the breath at the time and how differences in conceptions of the breath serve to reflect fundamental differences in worldview between the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. While Hinduism encourages the control of breath, or prāṇa, through prāṇāyāma, reflecting a conception of breath as something that can be controlled and directly related to one’s self, Buddhist conceptions of the breath as non-self and inherently empty lead to a practice of merely observing, rather than controlling, the breath through ānāpānasati. Although these boundaries are not entirely rigid, even the examples that demonstrate overlap between control of breath and watchfulness of breath in Hinduism and Buddhism still reflect this fundamental distinction in the philosophy of breath of both traditions.
Ashwin Ramaswami is a graduate of the Class of 2021 and received an undergraduate degree in Computer Science. He is from Johns Creek, GA, and is interested in philosophy and religious studies.