In this post we will look into one of the original teachings of Gautama Buddha on the topic of “Mindfulness”.
Initially, we might ask what is the main purpose for taking up the practice of Mindfulness? Gautama Buddha gives a brief answer: “for the development of true happiness”. The context of the statement at the time, and how it might be interpreted in today’s world, would depend on what is meant by “true happiness”. But without looking into this question presently, let us continue.
Today in the mainstream media & popular discussion ‘Mindfulness’ has become the poster child of psychology, therapy, and a whole range of new age supplications to overcoming life stress. Always there is a failure to acknowledge, or an outright denial, that Mindfulness has any religious or philosophic background or origin. Why the pundits deny the origin of Mindfulness is known perhaps only to them, however because today religion has been pilloried as archaic and anachronistic, it is expedient (to the pundits) to disband with something that is not understood, and for which time and effort would be required to make it understood.
For purposes here we will say that Religion is to do with ‘feeling’ and ‘faith’, and Philosophy is to do with ‘clear logical thought’ and the ‘systems which derive’. Although clear logical thought can be packaged up into what is called ‘reason’ for which there are some mind focussed adherents, ‘faith’ and ‘feeling’ are ontologically non-definitional, and in fact produce no ‘hard’ scientific evidence, and as such are not meant to be hard and scientific We will write more about the context of Religion & Philosophy elsewhere, but it is a truism that today ‘Science’ is the method of the present, the Religion and Philosophy of our Time, and to many Philosophy and Religion per se do not currently belong, despite the fact that they were all anciently combined into Natural Philosophy as one ‘complete discipline’.
Let us see if we can give a brief summary to the process of Mindfulness as given by Gautama Buddha without too much oversimplification.
Gautama Buddha’s teaching on Mindfulness comes from the Satipatthana Sutta and is translated from the Pali into English as sati ‘attentiveness’ and upatthana (not patthana as is usually translated) ‘establishment’. Sutta is a sutra, a thread of information which may be explicated into a practice. In our present analysis we can come to a useful interpretation by saying that what is translated as Mindfulness is ‘establishment of attentiveness’. Of course, because Buddhism is a ‘rationalisation’ or ‘mind’ tradition, the term attentiveness is often translated into the term mindfulness, like when we say “mind your step” as a warning not to trip or fall when walking on an unever surface. Attentiveness is a process of ‘stretching, bending or tying of awareness’ (awareness essentially being in-finite & disbursed) into a defined zone. We can then say that when this defined zone has no objective content it is called the ‘mind space’, outside of which is merely ‘space’.
Let us illustrate this geometrically to make it a little clearer.
Imagine a sphere or a large ball.
Inside the sphere is called ‘mind space’.
Outside of the sphere is called ‘space’, or ‘in-finite space’.
The mind space may have objective content, or
it may be empty & without content.
When the mind space has objective content, let us say a cube suspended inside the sphere, inside the ball, we now say that “awareness has something in mind”; something is in the mind space.
Then when the mind space has become established (‘to make firm’) as ‘full’ of content we may use the term ‘mindfulness’.
When Satipatthana is translated as ‘establishment of attention’, we are saying it is a process of ‘confining attention within the particular zone of space’ which space is called the Mind.
By extension we may say attention, awareness is confined to the contents, to particular objects, things, events & relations within the mind space.
So ‘Mindfulness’ is a kind of ‘concentration’ process upon contents within the mind space.
Now let us see what Gautama Buddha says in his teaching, his approach and procedure, and later perhaps reconsider what has been outlined above if required.
The following is a skeleton summary of the teaching only, and requires many practical exercises before an individual may arrive at ‘establishment of attentiveness’.
- Being alert, aware, conscious.
- Observing whatever things, events, and relationships that arise in the mind space.
- Knowing how to take up, establish, maintain & improve concentrated attention, and dialectically how to break identification with whatever causes loss of attention.
Buddha is speaking to some monks and says in outline here…
The Purpose of the teaching is for the development of true happiness by means of:
- purification of the mind and mental modifications in order to attain mental clarity
- overcoming emotional states of the psyche
- relieving pain and resistance in the physical body
- breaking identification with, and letting go of, limitations and modifications of awareness (physical, emotional, mental) in order to attain Nirvana.
The process proceeds in Stages & is attained by ‘focus of attention’, by ‘establishment of attentiveness’, upon: –
- the physical body and its functions
- emotional states and modifications of feeling
- the mind and the mind’s content of ideas and things
- the mental modifications – events and relationships within the mind
In practice, establishment of attentiveness is by means of seeing (bringing awareness to) what is; in body, in emotion, in the mind.
It goes further and says that awareness is increased by breaking identification with things, events, and relationships within the mind.
There is a sequence of stages and a logical differentiation to the practice.
In outline it is as follows.
Establishment of Awareness of: –
- Physical Body – form (objective physical body and components), function (breathing), force (activity)
- Emotional and Feeling states – pleasure or pain in varying degree
- Mind – aspects of the ideas, forms, shapes, and objects of the mind
- Mind Modifications – logical differentiation of the internal functions: where Logic says there is A, Not A, Neither A or Not A, & Not Neither A nor Not A.
As a first-time observer and practitioner in the process of “Mindfulness” we might give our motivation to be that
‘by seeing what is’ we are able to ‘see what is for what it is’.
But let us see how Gautama Buddha differentiates the different levels and what is required to be seen.