= around the mouth, around the nostrils, around the entrance (by which the air gets into the body).

This word is of foremost importance for understanding the instructions given by the Buddha regarding the practice of ānāpānassati.

Semantic analysis:

pari- is a prefix used with the connotation of around, about, all over, or that of completeness. Thus dhāvati means 'to run' and paridhāvati means 'to run about'; vajati - 'to go/ proceed' becomes paribbajati, 'to wander about', ie. 'to live the life of a religious mendicant'; carati - 'to walk' becomes paricarati - 'to walk around, ie. to serve, honour'; gaṇeti, 'to count' becomes parigaṇeti - 'to calculate'.

mukha means primarily and literally 'mouth', by extension 'face' and figuratively 'entrance', 'opening', 'brim', then in a more abstract meaning 'the front', 'the foremost' and finally 'that which is an entrance into something', ie. 'a mean', 'a cause'.

Strictly from the point of view of semantics (ie. neglecting contextual information), the following meanings could reasonably be derived from the juxtaposition of these two components: around the mouth, all over the mouth, completely on the mouth, around the face, all over the face, completely on the face, around the entrance, all over the entrance, completely on the entrance, around the front, all over the front, completely on the front.

A contextual analysis and some common sense will help choosing a proper interpretation.

Contextual analysis:

In the Sutta Piṭaka, the word appears almost only in the following formula:

(info·bubbles on all words:)
... nisīdati pallaṅkaṃ ābhujitvā

... he sits down folding the legs crosswise,
ujuṃ kāyaṃ paṇidhāya

setting kāya upright,
parimukhaṃ satiṃ upaṭṭhapetvā.

and setting sati parimukhaṃ.

This formula acts chiefly as an invariable introduction to the Nīvaraṇānaṃ Pahāna formula and the Ānāpānassati instructions. In the latter case, in order to observe the breath, and according to the semantic analysis made earlier, the meditator has to set up his awareness on an area situated 'in front' of the 'face', around the 'mouth', at the 'entrance' by which the air gets into the body (the nostrils), where he can naturally feel the sensations related to the flow of the breath and therefore observe it properly. The area between the upper lip and the entrance of the nostrils matches these characteristics.

This interpretation is confirmed in the Cūḷavagga of the Vinaya Piṭaka, where it is clear that parimukhaṃ is a part of the beard area, most likely the moustache area, in the following sentence:

'Na, bhikkhave, massu parimukhaṃ kārāpetabbaṃ'
the beard is not to be done [=cut/trimmed] parimukhaṃ

(ie. wearing a moustache is not allowed)

Definitions given in other texts:

1) The Vibhaṅga of the Abhidhamma Piṭaka also confirms this interpretation, in the following definition:

"Ayaṃ sati upaṭṭhitā hoti supaṭṭhitā
"This awareness is set up, well set up,

nāsik-agge vā mukhanimitte vā.
at the tip of the nose, or with the mouth as an object.

Tena vuccati: ‘parimukhaṃ satiṃ upaṭṭhapetvā’ ti".
This is called: 'setting up the awareness parimukhaṃ."

Here nāsikagge ([nāsika+agga], the tip of the nose) and mukhanimitte (the mouth as an object) both clearly refer to the same area around the mouth, at the entrance of the nostrils.

2) The Paṭisambhidāmagga of the Khuddaka Nikāya also confirms this interpretation, in the following definition:

'Parimukhaṃ satiṃ upaṭṭhapetvā' ti:
'setting up the awareness parimukhaṃ':

'Parī'ti pariggahaṭṭho. 'Mukha'nti niyyānaṭṭho. 'Satī'ti upaṭṭhānaṭṭho'
'Parī' means grasping, 'Mukha' means the outlet, 'Satī' means carefulness.

Here niyyāna (way out, outlet) refers again to the area where the air enters the body.

3) Another confirmation, following the Paṭisambhidāmagga explanation, is given in the Commentary (Aṭṭhakathā) to the Pārājikakaṇḍa of the Vinaya Piṭaka:

'Parimukhaṃ satiṃ upaṭṭhapetvā'ti
'setting up the awareness parimukhaṃ' means

kammaṭṭhānābhimukhaṃ satiṃ ṭhapayitvā.
installing sati towards the object of meditation

'Parī'ti pariggahaṭṭho. 'Mukha'nti niyyānaṭṭho. 'Satī'ti upaṭṭhānaṭṭho'
'Parī' means grasping, 'Mukha' means the outlet, 'Satī' means carefulness.

The exact same commentary occurs in the Visuddhimagga.

4) The case of the Cūḷavagga Aṭṭhakathā statement: regarding the passage of the Cūḷavagga above mentioned, which deals with dressing the beard into a moustache, the Commentary writes:

'Parimukhan'ti: ure loma-saṃharaṇaṃ'.
Parimukhaṃ means gathering/dressing the hair on the chest

Here, besides the fact that parimukhaṃ is inappropriately explained not as an area of the body but as an action, the beard (massu) is replaced without any apparent reason by the hair (loma) of the chest (ura). Speaking of dressing the hair of the chest, specially in the case of a recluse, does not really make sense; rather, that at some point some undisciplined bhikkhus may have decided to wear a moustache, which was a common thing at that time, is a much more expectable eventuality. Therefore, this curiously inappropriate statement, which goes against the common sense as well as the rest of the Pali litterature, can reasonably be ignored and classified as a mistake, whatever might be the reasons of its occurence.

In any case, there is no mention of parimukhaṃ as refering to the abdomen.

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