Why Buddhism Is True. The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment – Robert Wright * The Foundations of Mindfulness: Satipatthana Sutta * The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English – Bhante Gunaratana.

A Note to Readers.

Robert Wright.

Any book with a title like Why Buddhism Is True should have some careful qualification somewhere along the way. We might as well get that over with:

1. I’m not talking about the “supernatural” or more exotically metaphysical parts of Buddhism—reincarnation, for example—but rather about the naturalistic parts: ideas that fall squarely within modern psychology and philosophy. That said, I am talking about some of Buddhism’s more extraordinary, even radical, claims—claims that, if you take them seriously, could revolutionize your view of yourself and of the world. This book is intended to get you to take these claims seriously.

2. I’m of course aware that there’s no one Buddhism, but rather various Buddhist traditions, which differ on all kinds of doctrines. But this book focuses on a kind of “common core”—fundamental ideas that are found across the major Buddhist traditions, even if they get different degrees of emphasis, and may assume somewhat different form, in different traditions.

3. I’m not getting into super-fine-grained parts of Buddhist psychology and philosophy. For example, the Abhidhamma Pitaka, a collection of early Buddhist texts, asserts that there are eighty-nine kinds of consciousness, twelve of which are unwholesome. You may be relieved to hear that this book will spend no time trying to evaluate that claim.

4. I realize that true is a tricky word, and asserting the truth of anything, certainly including deep ideas in philosophy or psychology, is a tricky business. In fact, one big lesson from Buddhism is to be suspicious of the intuition that your ordinary way of perceiving the world brings you the truth about it. Some early Buddhist writings go so far as to raise doubts about whether such a thing as “truth” ultimately exists. On the other hand, the Buddha, in his most famous sermon, lays out what are commonly called “The Four Noble Truths,” so it’s not as if the word true has no place in discussions of Buddhist thought. In any event, I’ll try to proceed with appropriate humility and nuance as I make my argument that Buddhism’s diagnosis of the human predicament is fundamentally correct, and that its prescription is deeply valid and urgently important.

5. Asserting the validity of core Buddhist ideas doesn’t necessarily say anything, one way or the other, about other spiritual or philosophical traditions. There will sometimes be logical tension between a Buddhist idea and an idea in another tradition, but often there won’t be. The Dalai Lama has said, “Don’t try to use what you learn from Buddhism to be a better Buddhist; use it to be a better whatever-you-already-are.” —Robert Wright

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1 Taking the Red Pill

At the risk of overdramatizing the human condition: Have you ever seen the movie The Matrix? It’s about a guy named Neo (played by Keanu Reeves), who discovers that he’s been inhabiting a dream world. The life he thought he was living is actually an elaborate hallucination. He’s having that hallucination while, unbeknownst to him, his actual physical body is inside a gooey, coffin-size pod—one among many pods, rows and rows of pods, each pod containing a human being absorbed in a dream.

These people have been put in their pods by robot overlords and given dream lives as pacifiers. The choice faced by Neo—to keep living a delusion or wake up to reality—is famously captured in the movie’s “red pill” scene.

Neo has been contacted by rebels who have entered his dream (or, strictly speaking, whose avatars have entered his dream). Their leader, Morpheus (played by Laurence Fishburne), explains the situation to Neo: “You are a slave, Neo. Like everyone else, you were born into bondage, into a prison that you cannot taste or see or touch—a prison for your mind.”

The prison is called the Matrix, but there’s no way to explain to Neo what the Matrix ultimately is. The only way to get the whole picture, says Morpheus, is “to see it for yourself.” He offers Neo two pills, a red one and a blue one. Neo can take the blue pill and return to his dream world, or take the red pill and break through the shroud of delusion. Neo chooses the red pill.

That’s a pretty stark choice: a life of delusion and bondage or a life of insight and freedom. In fact, it’s a choice so dramatic that you’d think a Hollywood movie is exactly where it belongs—that the choices we really get to make about how to live our lives are less momentous than this, more pedestrian.

Yet when that movie came out, a number of people saw it as mirroring a choice they had actually made. The people I’m thinking about are what you might call Western Buddhists, people in the United States and other Western countries who, for the most part, didn’t grow up Buddhist but at some point adopted Buddhism. At least they adopted a version of Buddhism, a version that had been stripped of some supernatural elements typically found in Asian Buddhism, such as belief in reincarnation and in various deities.

This Western Buddhism centers on a part of Buddhist practice that in Asia is more common among monks than among laypeople: meditation, along with immersion in Buddhist philosophy. (Two of the most common Western conceptions of Buddhism—that it’s atheistic and that it revolves around meditation—are wrong; most Asian Buddhists do believe in gods, though not an omnipotent creator God, and don’t meditate.)

These Western Buddhists, long before they watched The Matrix, had become convinced that the world as they had once seen it was a kind of illusion—not an out-and-out hallucination but a seriously warped picture of reality that in turn warped their approach to life, with bad consequences for them and the people around them. Now they felt that, thanks to meditation and Buddhist philosophy, they were seeing things more clearly.

Among these people, The Matrix seemed an apt allegory of the transition they’d undergone, and so became known as a “dharma movie.” The word dharma has several meanings, including the Buddha’s teachings and the path that Buddhists should tread in response to those teachings. In the wake of The Matrix, a new shorthand for “I follow the dharma” came into currency: “I took the red pill.”

I saw The Matrix in 1999, right after it came out, and some months later I learned that I had a kind of connection to it. The movie’s directors, the Wachowski siblings, had given Keanu Reeves three books to read in preparation for playing Neo. One of them was a book I had written a few years earlier, The Moral Animal: Evolutionary Psychology and Everyday Life. I’m not sure what kind of link the directors saw between my book and The Matrix. But I know what kind of link I see.

Evolutionary psychology can be described in various ways, and here’s one way I had described it in my book: It is the study of how the human brain was designed—by natural selection—to mislead us, even enslave us. Don’t get me wrong: natural selection has its virtues, and I’d rather be created by it than not be created at all—which, so far as I can tell, are the two options this universe offers.

Being a product of evolution is by no means entirely a story of enslavement and delusion. Our evolved brains empower us in many ways, and they often bless us with a basically accurate view of reality. Still, ultimately, natural selection cares about only one thing (or, I should say, “cares”—in quotes—about only one thing, since natural selection is just a blind process, not a conscious designer). And that one thing is getting genes into the next generation.

Genetically based traits that in the past contributed to genetic proliferation have flourished, while traits that didn’t have fallen by the wayside. And the traits that have survived this test include mental traits—structures and algorithms that are built into the brain and shape our everyday experience. So if you ask the question “What kinds of perceptions and thoughts and feelings guide us through life each day?” the answer, at the most basic level, isn’t “The kinds of thoughts and feelings and perceptions that give us an accurate picture of reality.” No, at the most basic level the answer is “The kinds of thoughts and feelings and perceptions that helped our ancestors get genes into the next generation.”

Whether those thoughts and feelings and perceptions give us a true view of reality is, strictly speaking, beside the point. As a result, they sometimes don’t. Our brains are designed to, among other things, delude us. Not that there’s anything wrong with that! Some of my happiest moments have come from delusion—believing, for example, that the Tooth Fairy would pay me a visit after I lost a tooth.

But delusion can also produce bad moments. And I don’t just mean moments that, in retrospect, are obviously delusional, like horrible nightmares. I also mean moments that you might not think of as delusional, such as lying awake at night with anxiety. Or feeling hopeless, even depressed, for days on end. Or feeling bursts of hatred toward people, bursts that may actually feel good for a moment but slowly corrode your character. Or feeling bursts of hatred toward yourself. Or feeling greedy, feeling a compulsion to buy things or eat things or drink things well beyond the point where your well-being is served.

Though these feelings—anxiety, despair, hatred, greed—aren’t delusional the way a nightmare is delusional, if you examine them closely, you’ll see that they have elements of delusion, elements you’d be better off without. And if you think you would be better off, imagine how the whole world would be. After all, feelings like despair and hatred and greed can foster wars and atrocities.

So if what I’m saying is true—if these basic sources of human suffering and human cruelty are indeed in large part the product of delusion—there is value in exposing this delusion to the light.

Sounds logical, right? But here’s a problem that I started to appreciate shortly after I wrote my book about evolutionary psychology: the exact value of exposing a delusion to the light depends on what kind of light you’re talking about. Sometimes understanding the ultimate source of your suffering doesn’t, by itself, help very much.

An Everyday Delusion

Let’s take a simple but fundamental example: eating some junk food, feeling briefly satisfied, and then, only minutes later, feeling a kind of crash and maybe a hunger for more junk food. This is a good example to start with for two reasons. First, it illustrates how subtle our delusions can be. There’s no point in the course of eating a six-pack of small powdered-sugar doughnuts when you’re believing that you’re the messiah or that foreign agents are conspiring to assassinate you. And that’s true of many sources of delusion that I’ll discuss in this book: they’re more about illusion—about things not being quite what they seem—than about delusion in the more dramatic sense of that word.

Still, by the end of the book, I’ll have argued that all of these illusions do add up to a very large-scale warping of reality, a disorientation that is as significant and consequential as out-and-out delusion.

The second reason junk food is a good example to start with is that it’s fundamental to the Buddha’s teachings. Okay, it can’t be literally fundamental to the Buddha’s teachings, because 2,500 years ago, when the Buddha taught, junk food as we know it didn’t exist. What’s fundamental to the Buddha’s teachings is the general dynamic of being powerfully drawn to sensory pleasure that winds up being fleeting at best.

One of the Buddha’s main messages was that the pleasures we seek evaporate quickly and leave us thirsting for more. We spend our time looking for the next gratifying thing—the next powdered-sugar doughnut, the next sexual encounter, the next status-enhancing promotion, the next online purchase. But the thrill always fades, and it always leaves us wanting more.

The old Rolling Stones lyric “I can’t get no satisfaction” is, according to Buddhism, the human condition. Indeed, though the Buddha is famous for asserting that life is pervaded by suffering, some scholars say that’s an incomplete rendering of his message and that the word translated as “suffering,” dukkha, could, for some purposes, be translated as “unsatisfactoriness.”

So what exactly is the illusory part of pursuing doughnuts or sex or consumer goods or a promotion? There are different illusions associated with different pursuits, but for now we can focus on one illusion that’s common to these things: the overestimation of how much happiness they’ll bring.

Again, by itself this is delusional only in a subtle sense. If I asked you whether you thought that getting that next promotion, or getting an A on that next exam, or eating that next powdered-sugar doughnut would bring you eternal bliss, you’d say no, obviously not. On the other hand, we do often pursue such things with, at the very least, an unbalanced view of the future. We spend more time envisioning the perks that a promotion will bring than envisioning the headaches it will bring. And there may be an unspoken sense that once we’ve achieved this long-sought goal, once we’ve reached the summit, we’ll be able to relax, or at least things will be enduringly better.

Similarly, when we see that doughnut sitting there, we immediately imagine how good it tastes, not how intensely we’ll want another doughnut only moments after eating it, or how we’ll feel a bit tired or agitated later, when the sugar rush subsides.

Why Pleasure Fades

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to explain why this sort of distortion would be built into human anticipation. It just takes an evolutionary biologist—or, for that matter, anyone willing to spend a little time thinking about how evolution works. Here’s the basic logic. We were “designed” by natural selection to do certain things that helped our ancestors get their genes into the next generation—things like eating, having sex, earning the esteem of other people, and outdoing rivals. I put “designed” in quotation marks because, again, natural selection isn’t a conscious, intelligent designer but an unconscious process.

Still, natural selection does create organisms that look as if they’re the product of a conscious designer, a designer who kept fiddling with them to make them effective gene propagators. So, as a kind of thought experiment, it’s legitimate to think of natural selection as a “designer” and put yourself in its shoes and ask: If you were designing organisms to be good at spreading their genes, how would you get them to pursue the goals that further this cause?

In other words, granted that eating, having sex, impressing peers, and besting rivals helped our ancestors spread their genes, how exactly would you design their brains to get them to pursue these goals?

I submit that at least three basic principles of design would make sense:

1. Achieving these goals should bring pleasure, since animals, including humans, tend to pursue things that bring pleasure.

2. The pleasure shouldn’t last forever. After all, if the pleasure didn’t subside, we’d never seek it again; our first meal would be our last, because hunger would never return. So too with sex: a single act of intercourse, and then a lifetime of lying there basking in the afterglow. That’s no way to get lots of genes into the next generation.

3. The animal’s brain should focus more on (1), the fact that pleasure will accompany the reaching of a goal, than on (2), the fact that the pleasure will dissipate shortly thereafter. After all, if you focus on (1), you’ll pursue things like food and sex and social status with unalloyed gusto, whereas if you focus on (2), you could start feeling ambivalence. You might, for example, start asking what the point is of so fiercely pursuing pleasure if the pleasure will wear off shortly after you get it and leave you hungering for more. Before you know it, you’ll be full of ennui and wishing you’d majored in philosophy.

If you put these three principles of design together, you get a pretty plausible explanation of the human predicament as diagnosed by the Buddha. Yes, as he said, pleasure is fleeting, and, yes, this leaves us recurrently dissatisfied. And the reason is that pleasure is designed by natural selection to evaporate so that the ensuing dissatisfaction will get us to pursue more pleasure.

Natural selection doesn’t “want” us to be happy, after all; it just “wants” us to be productive, in its narrow sense of productive. And the way to make us productive is to make the anticipation of pleasure very strong but the pleasure itself not very long-lasting.

Scientists can watch this logic play out at the biochemical level by observing dopamine, a neurotransmitter that is correlated with pleasure and the anticipation of pleasure. In one seminal study, they took monkeys and monitored dopamine-generating neurons as drops of sweet juice fell onto the monkeys’ tongues. Predictably, dopamine was released right after the juice touched the tongue. But then the monkeys were trained to expect drops of juice after a light turned on. As the trials proceeded, more and more of the dopamine came when the light turned on, and less and less came after the juice hit the tongue.

We have no way of knowing for sure what it felt like to be one of those monkeys, but it would seem that, as time passed, there was more in the way of anticipating the pleasure that would come from the sweetness, yet less in the way of pleasure actually coming from the sweetness.

To translate this conjecture into everyday human terms: If you encounter a new kind of pleasure—if, say, you’ve somehow gone your whole life without eating a powdered-sugar doughnut, and somebody hands you one and suggests you try it—you’ll get a big blast of dopamine after the taste of the doughnut sinks in. But later, once you’re a confirmed powdered-sugar-doughnut eater, the lion’s share of the dopamine spike comes before you actually bite into the doughnut, as you’re staring longingly at it; the amount that comes after the bite is much less than the amount you got after that first, blissful bite into a powdered-sugar doughnut.

The pre-bite dopamine blast you’re now getting is the promise of more bliss, and the post-bite drop in dopamine is, in a way, the breaking of the promise—or, at least, it’s a kind of biochemical acknowledgment that there was some overpromising. To the extent that you bought the promise—anticipated greater pleasure than would be delivered by the consumption itself—you have been, if not deluded in the strong sense of that term, at least misled.

Kind of cruel, in a way—but what do you expect from natural selection? Its job is to build machines that spread genes, and if that means programming some measure of illusion into the machines, then illusion there will be.

Unhelpful Insights

So this is one kind of light science can shed on an illusion. Call it “Darwinian light.” By looking at things from the point of view of natural selection, we see why the illusion would be built into us, and we have more reason than ever to see that it is an illusion. But—and this is the main point of this little digression—this kind of light is of limited value if your goal is to actually liberate yourself from the illusion.

Don’t believe me? Try this simple experiment:
(1) Reflect on the fact that our lust for doughnuts and other sweet things is a kind of illusion—that the lust implicitly promises more enduring pleasure than will result from succumbing to it, while blinding us to the letdown that may ensue. (2) As you’re reflecting on this fact, hold a powdered-sugar doughnut six inches from your face. Do you feel the lust for it magically weakening? Not if you’re like me, no.

This is what I discovered after immersing myself in evolutionary psychology: knowing the truth about your situation, at least in the form that evolutionary psychology provides it, doesn’t necessarily make your life any better. In fact, it can actually make it worse. You’re still stuck in the natural human cycle of ultimately futile pleasure-seeking—what psychologists sometimes call “the hedonic treadmill”—but now you have new reason to see the absurdity of it. In other words, now you see that it’s a treadmill, a treadmill specifically designed to keep you running, often without really getting anywhere—yet you keep running!

And powdered-sugar doughnuts are just the tip of the iceberg. I mean, the truth is, it’s not all that uncomfortable to be aware of the Darwinian logic behind your lack of dietary self-discipline. In fact, you may find in this logic a comforting excuse: it’s hard to fight Mother Nature, right?

But evolutionary psychology also made me more aware of how illusion shapes other kinds of behavior, such as the way I treat other people and the way I, in various senses, treat myself. In these realms, Darwinian self-consciousness was sometimes very uncomfortable.

Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche, a meditation teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, has said, “Ultimately, happiness comes down to choosing between the discomfort of becoming aware of your mental afflictions and the discomfort of being ruled by them.” What he meant is that if you want to liberate yourself from the parts of the mind that keep you from realizing true happiness, you have to first become aware of them, which can be unpleasant.

Okay, fine; that’s a form of painful self-consciousness that would be worthwhile—the kind that leads ultimately to deep happiness. But the kind I got from evolutionary psychology was the worst of both worlds: the painful self-consciousness without the deep happiness. I had both the discomfort of being aware of my mental afflictions and the discomfort of being ruled by them.

Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life.” Well, with evolutionary psychology I felt I had found the truth. But, manifestly, I had not found the way. Which was enough to make me wonder about another thing Jesus said: that the truth will set you free. I felt I had seen the basic truth about human nature, and I saw more clearly than ever how various illusions imprisoned me, but this truth wasn’t amounting to a Get Out of Jail Free card.

So is there another version of the truth out there that would set me free? No, I don’t think so. At least, I don’t think there’s an alternative to the truth presented by science; natural selection, like it or not, is the process that created us.

But some years after writing The Moral Animal, I did start to wonder if there was a way to operationalize the truth—a way to put the actual, scientific truth about human nature and the human condition into a form that would not just identify and explain the illusions we labor under but would also help us liberate ourselves from them. I started wondering if this Western Buddhism I was hearing about might be that way.

Maybe many of the Buddha’s teachings were saying essentially the same thing modern psychological science says. And maybe meditation was in large part a different way of appreciating these truths—and, in addition, a way of actually doing something about them.

So in August 2003 I headed to rural Massachusetts for my first silent meditation retreat—a whole week devoted to meditation and devoid of such distractions as email, news from the outside world, and speaking to other human beings.

The Truth about Mindfulness

You could be excused for doubting that a retreat like this would yield anything very dramatic or profound. The retreat was, broadly speaking, in the tradition of “mindfulness meditation,” the kind of meditation that was starting to catch on in the West and that in the years since has gone mainstream.

As commonly described, mindfulness—the thing mindfulness meditation aims to cultivate—isn’t very deep or exotic. To live mindfully is to pay attention to, to be “mindful of” what’s happening in the here and now and to experience it in a clear, direct way, unclouded by various mental obfuscations. Stop and smell the roses. This is an accurate description of mindfulness as far as it goes. But it doesn’t go very far.

“Mindfulness,” as popularly conceived, is just the beginning of mindfulness. And it’s in some ways a misleading beginning. If you delve into ancient Buddhist writings, you won’t find a lot of exhortations to stop and smell the roses—and that’s true even if you focus on those writings that feature the word sati, the word that’s translated as “mindfulness.”

Indeed, sometimes these writings seem to carry a very different message. The ancient Buddhist text known as The Four Foundations of Mindfulness—the closest thing there is to a Bible of Mindfulness—reminds us that our bodies are “full of various kinds of unclean things” and instructs us to meditate on such bodily ingredients as “feces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, skin-oil, saliva, mucus, fluid in the joints, urine.” It also calls for us to imagine our bodies “one day, two days, three days dead—bloated, livid, and festering.”

I’m not aware of any bestselling books on mindfulness meditation called Stop and Smell the Feces. And I’ve never heard a meditation teacher recommend that I meditate on my bile, phlegm, and pus or on the rotting corpse that I will someday be.

What is presented today as an ancient meditative tradition is actually a selective rendering of an ancient meditative tradition, in some cases carefully manicured. There’s no scandal here. There’s nothing wrong with modern interpreters of Buddhism being selective—even, sometimes, creative—in what they present as Buddhism. All spiritual traditions evolve, adapting to time and place, and the Buddhist teachings that find an audience today in the United States and Europe are a product of such evolution.

The main thing, for our purposes, is that this evolution—the evolution that has produced a distinctively Western, twenty-first-century version of Buddhism—hasn’t severed the connection between current practice and ancient thought. Modern mindfulness meditation isn’t exactly the same as ancient mindfulness meditation, but the two share a common philosophical foundation.

If you follow the underlying logic of either of them far enough, you will find a dramatic claim: that we are, metaphorically speaking, living in the Matrix. However mundane mindfulness meditation may sometimes sound, it is a practice that, if pursued rigorously, can let you see what Morpheus says the red pill will let you see. Namely, “how deep the rabbit hole goes.”

On that first meditation retreat, I had some pretty powerful experiences—powerful enough to make me want to see just how deep the rabbit hole goes. So I read more about Buddhist philosophy, and talked to experts on Buddhism, and eventually went on more meditation retreats, and established a daily meditation practice.

All of this made it clearer to me why The Matrix had come to be known as a “dharma movie.” Though evolutionary psychology had already convinced me that people are by nature pretty deluded, Buddhism, it turned out, painted an even more dramatic picture. In the Buddhist view, the delusion touches everyday perceptions and thoughts in ways subtler and more pervasive than I had imagined. And in ways that made sense to me. In other words, this kind of delusion, it seemed to me, could be explained as the natural product of a brain that had been engineered by natural selection.

The more I looked into Buddhism, the more radical it seemed, but the more I examined it in the light of modern psychology, the more plausible it seemed. The real-life Matrix, the one in which we’re actually embedded, came to seem more like the one in the movie—not quite as mind-bending, maybe, but profoundly deceiving and ultimately oppressive, and something that humanity urgently needs to escape.

The good news is the other thing I came to believe: if you want to escape from the Matrix, Buddhist practice and philosophy offer powerful hope. Buddhism isn’t alone in this promise. There are other spiritual traditions that address the human predicament with insight and wisdom. But Buddhist meditation, along with its underlying philosophy, addresses that predicament in a strikingly direct and comprehensive way. Buddhism offers an explicit diagnosis of the problem and a cure. And the cure, when it works, brings not just happiness but clarity of vision: the actual truth about things, or at least something way, way closer to that than our everyday view of them.

Some people who have taken up meditation in recent years have done so for essentially therapeutic reasons. They practice mindfulness-based stress reduction or focus on some specific personal problem. They may have no idea that the kind of meditation they’re practicing can be a deeply spiritual endeavor and can transform their view of the world. They are, without knowing it, near the threshold of a basic choice, a choice that only they can make. As Morpheus says to Neo, “I can only show you the door. You’re the one that has to walk through it.”

This book is an attempt to show people the door, give them some idea of what lies beyond it, and explain, from a scientific standpoint, why what lies beyond it has a stronger claim to being real than the world they’re familiar with.

2 Paradoxes of Meditation

I’m not supposed to tell you about my first big success at meditating. The reason is that there isn’t supposed to be success at meditating. As any good meditation teacher will tell you, if you talk about meditation in terms of success or failure, you’re misunderstanding what meditation is.

Here I must depart from orthodoxy. I wouldn’t advocate meditation if I didn’t think there was something people could achieve by it. And if people don’t achieve that something, well, that would constitute failure, right? As in: the opposite of success. Granted, it may be best for people who are meditating to not think about succeeding, but that’s because thinking about succeeding gets in the way of success! And, granted, if you do achieve meditative “success,” that may lead to a new frame of mind that is less caught up in the pursuit of success than your old frame of mind—less relentlessly focused on achieving certain kinds of distant material goals, more aware of the here and now.

In sum: you can best achieve success at meditation by not pursuing success, and achieving this success may mean caring less about success, at least as success is conventionally defined. If this sounds unbearably paradoxical, maybe you should quit reading here, because this won’t be the last time we find paradox in Buddhist practice or Buddhist teachings. Then again, there’s paradoxical stuff in modern physics (an electron is both a particle and a wave), and modern physics works fine. So you might as well keep reading.

Anyway, before I violate protocol by telling you about my first big “success” as a meditator, I have to commit another violation of protocol by noting what a naturally bad meditator I am. That you shouldn’t talk about how bad you are at meditating is a straightforward corollary of the axiom that there’s no such thing as succeeding or failing at meditating. And if I’m violating the axiom, I might as well violate its corollary, so here goes.

Suppose you ranked all the people in the world in terms of their likelihood of picking up mindfulness meditation easily—sitting down, focusing on the breath, and slowly sinking into a state of calm, dispassionate observation. At one end of the spectrum you’d have Bobby Knight—the college basketball coach famous for his red, furious face and for once flinging a chair onto a basketball court. At the other end you’d have, I don’t know, the Dalai Lama or maybe the late Mister Rogers. On this spectrum, I would be much closer to Bobby Knight than to the Dalai Lama or Mister Rogers. I’ve never thrown a chair onto a basketball court, but I threw a chicken leg at a dinner guest when I was four and a baseball bat at a brother-in-law when I was twelve.

Happily, my penchant for throwing things at people has waned with age, but the underlying volatility hasn’t entirely disappeared. And volatility doesn’t smooth the path toward mindfulness.

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from

Why Buddhism Is True. The Science and Philosophy of Meditation and Enlightenment

by Robert Wright

get it at Amazon.com

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The Foundations of Mindfulness: Satipatthana Sutta

Introduction

The philosophy of Buddhism is contained in the Four Noble Truths.

The truth of suffering reveals that all forms of becoming, all the various elements of existence comprised in the “five aggregates” or groups of existence — also called the “five categories which are the objects of clinging” (pañc’upadana-kkhandha) — are inseparable from suffering as long as they remain objects of grasping or clinging. All corporeality, all feelings and sensations, all perceptions, all mental formations and consciousness, being impermanent, are a source of suffering, are conditioned phenomena and hence not-self (anicca, dukkha, anatta). Ceaseless origination and dissolution best characterize the process of existence called life, for all elements of this flux of becoming continually arise from conditions created by us and then pass away, giving rise to new elements of being according to one’s actions or kamma.

All suffering originates from craving, and our very existence is conditioned by craving, which is threefold: the craving for sense pleasures (kama-tanha), craving for continued and renewed existence (bhava-tanha), and craving for annihilation after death (vibhava-tanha). This is the truth of the origin of suffering.

The attainment of perfect happiness, the breaking of the chain of rebirths and suffering through the realization of Nibbana, is possible only through the utter extirpation of that threefold craving. This is the truth of suffering’s cessation.

The methods of training for the liberation from all suffering are applied by following the Noble Eightfold Path of Right Understanding, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Living, Right Exertion, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration of Mind. The Noble Eightfold Path consists of three types of training summed up in: virtuous conduct (sila), concentration (samadhi) and wisdom (pañña). This is the truth of the way that leads to the cessation of suffering.

The prevalence of suffering and absence of freedom and happiness is due to man’s subjection to the three roots of all unskill and evil, and all unwholesome actions (akusalakamma), viz. lust, hatred and delusion (lobha, dosa, moha).

Virtuous conduct casts out lust. The calm of true concentration and mental culture conquers hatred. Wisdom or right understanding, also called direct knowledge resulting from meditation, dispels all delusion. All these three types of training are possible only through the cultivation of constant mindfulness (sati), which forms the seventh link of the Noble Eightfold Path. Mindfulness is called a controlling faculty (indriya) and a spiritual power (bala), and is also the first of the seven factors of enlightenment (satta bojjhanga).[2] Right Mindfulness (samma-sati) has to be present in every skillful or karmically wholesome thought moment (kusalacitta). It is the basis of all earnest endeavor (appamada) for liberation, and maintains in us the sense of urgency to strive for enlightenment or Nibbana.

The Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness, the Satipatthana Sutta, is the tenth discourse of the Middle Length Collection (Majjhima Nikaya) of the Discourses of the Enlightened One. It is this version which is translated in the present publication. There is another version of it, in the Collection of Long Discourses (Digha Nikaya No.22), which differs only by a detailed explanation of the Four Noble Truths.

The great importance of the Discourse on Mindfulness has never been lost to the Buddhists of the Theravada tradition. In Sri Lanka, even when the knowledge and practice of the Dhamma was at its lowest ebb through centuries of foreign domination, the Sinhala Buddhists never forgot the Satipatthana Sutta. Memorizing the Sutta has been an unfailing practice among the Buddhists, and even today in Sri Lanka there are large numbers who can recite the Sutta from memory. It is a common sight to see on full-moon days devotees who are observing the Eight Precepts, engaged in community recital of the Sutta. Buddhists are intent on hearing this Discourse even in the last moments of their lives; and at the bedside of a dying Buddhist either monks or laymen recite this venerated text.

In the private shrine room of a Buddhist home, the book of the Satipatthana Sutta is displayed prominently as an object of reverence. Monastery libraries of palm-leaf manuscripts have the Sutta bound in highly ornamented covers.

One such book with this Discourse written in Sinhala script on palm-leaf, has found its way from Sri Lanka as far as the State University Library of Bucharest in Rumania. This was disclosed while collecting material for the Encyclopaedia of Buddhism, when an Esperantist correspondent gave us a list of a hundred books on Buddhism found in the Rumanian University Libraries.

Mindfulness of Breathing (Anapana-sati)

The subjects dealt with in the Satipatthana Sutta are corporeality, feeling, mind and mind objects, being the universe of right Buddhist contemplation for deliverance. A very prominent place in the Discourse is occupied by the discussion on mindfulness of breathing (anapana-sati). To make the present publication of greater practical value to the reader, an introductory exposition of the methods of practicing that particular meditation will now be given.

Mindfulness of breathing takes the highest place among the various subjects of Buddhist meditation. It has been recommended and praised by the Enlightened One thus: “This concentration through mindfulness of breathing, when developed and practiced much, is both peaceful and sublime, it is an unadulterated blissful abiding, and it banishes at once and stills evil unprofitable thoughts as soon as they arise.” Though of such a high order, the initial stages of this meditation are well within the reach of a beginner though he be only a lay student of the Buddha-Dhamma. Both in the Discourse here translated, and in the 118th Discourse of the same Collection (the Majjhima Nikaya), which specifically deals with that meditation, the initial instructions for the practice are clearly laid down:

Herein, monks, a monk, having gone to the forest or the root of a tree or to an empty place, sits down with his legs crossed, keeps his body erect and his mindfulness alert. Ever mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out. Breathing in a long breath, he knows, “I am breathing in a long breath”; breathing out a long breath, he knows, “I am breathing out a long breath.” Breathing in a short breath, he knows, “I am breathing in a short breath”; breathing out a short breath, he knows, “I am breathing out a short breath.” “Experiencing the whole (breath) body, I shall breathe in,” thus he trains himself. “Experiencing the whole (breath-) body, I shall breathe out,” thus he trains himself. “Calming the activity of the (breath-) body, I shall breathe in,” thus he trains himself. “Calming the activity of the (breath-) body, I shall breathe out,” thus he trains himself.

These are instructions given by the Enlightened One to the monks who, after their alms round, had the whole remaining day free for meditation. But what about the lay Buddhist who has a limited time to devote to this practice? Among the places described as fit for the practice of meditation, one is available to all: suññagara, lit. “empty house,” may mean any room in the house that has no occupant at that moment, and one may in the course of the twenty-four hours of the day find a room in one’s house that is empty and undisturbed. Those who work all day and feel too tired in the evening for meditation may devote the early hours of the morning to the practice of mindfulness of breathing.

The other problem is the right posture for meditation. The full “lotus posture” of the yogi, the padmasana, as we see it in the Buddha statues, proves nowadays rather difficult to many, even to easterners. A youthful meditator, however, or even a middle-aged one, can well train himself in that posture in stages. He may, for instance, start with sitting on a low, broad chair or bed, bending only one leg and resting the other on the floor; and so, in gradual approximation, he may finally master that posture. There are also other easier postures of sitting with legs bent, for instance the half-lotus posture. It will be worth one’s effort to train oneself in such postures; but if one finds them difficult and uncomfortable at the outset it will not be advisable to delay or disturb one’s start with meditation proper on that account. One may allow a special time for sitting-practice, using it as best as one can for contemplation and reflection; but for the time being, the practice of meditation aiming at higher degrees of concentration may better be done in a posture that is comfortable. One may sit on a straight backed chair of a height that allows the legs to rest comfortably on the floor without strain. As soon however, as a cross-legged posture has become more comfortable, one should assume it for the practice of mindfulness of breathing, since it will allow one to sit in meditation for a longer time than is possible on a chair.

The meditator’s body and mind should be alert but not tense. A place with a dimmed light will be profitable since it will help to exclude diverting attention to visible objects.

The right place, time and posture are very important and often essential for a successful meditative effort.

Though we have been breathing throughout our life, we have done so devoid of mindfulness, and hence, when we try to follow each breath attentively, we find that the Buddhist teachers of old were right when they compared the natural state of an uncontrolled mind to an untamed calf. Our minds have long been dissipated among visible data and other objects of the senses and of thought, and hence do not yield easily to attempts at mind-control.

Suppose a cowherd wanted to tame a wild calf: he would take it away from the cow and tie it up apart with a rope to a stout post. Then the calf might dash to and fro, but being unable to get away and tired after its effort, it would eventually lie down by the post. So too, when the meditator wants to tame his own mind that has long been reared on the enjoyment of sense objects, he should take it away from places where these sense objects abound, and tie the mind to the post of in-breaths and out-breaths with the rope of mindfulness. And though his mind may then dash to and fro when deprived of its liberty to roam among the sense objects, it will ultimately settle down when mindfulness is persistent and strong.

When practicing mindfulness of breathing, attention should be focused at the tip of the nose or at the point of the upper lip immediately below where the current of air can be felt. The meditator’s attention should not leave this “focusing point” from where the in-coming and out-going breaths can be easily felt and observed. The meditator may become aware of the breath’s route through the body but he should not pay attention to it. At the beginning of the practice, the meditator should concentrate only on the in-breaths and out-breaths, and should not fall into any reflections about them. It is only at a later stage that he should apply himself to the arousing of knowledge and other states connected with the concentration.

In this brief introduction, only the first steps of the beginner can be discussed. For more information the student may refer to the English translation of the Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purification, chap. VIII) by Bhikkhu Ñanamoli, or to Mindfulness of Breathing by Bhikkhu Ñanamoli, and to The Heart of Buddhist Meditation by Nyanaponika Thera.[3]

The lay Buddhist who undertakes this practice will first take the Three Refuges and the Five Precepts; he will review the reflections on the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, transmit thoughts of loving-kindness (metta) in all directions, recollect that this meditation will help him to reach the goal of deliverance through direct knowledge and mental calm; and only then should he start with the mindfulness of breathing proper, first by way of counting.[4]

Counting

The Buddhist teachers of old recommend that a beginner should start the practice by counting the breaths mentally. In doing so he should not stop short of five or go beyond ten or make any break in the series. By stopping short of five breaths his mind has not enough room for contemplation, and by going beyond ten his mind takes the number rather than the breaths for its objects, and any break in the series would upset the meditation.

When counting, the meditator should first count when the in-breath or the out-breath is completed, not when it begins. So taking the in-breath first, he counts mentally ‘one’ when that in-breath is complete, then he counts ‘two’ when the out-breath is complete, ‘three’ after the next in-breath, and so on up to ten, and then again from one to ten, and so he should continue.

After some practice in counting at the completion of a breath, breathing may becoming faster. The breaths, however, should not be made longer or shorter intentionally. The meditator has to be just mindful of their occurrence as they come and go. Now he may try counting ‘one’ when he begins to breathe in or breathe out, counting up to five or ten, and then again from one to five or ten. If one takes both the in-breath and out-breath as ‘one,’ it is better to count only up to five.

Counting should be employed until one can dispense with it in following the sequence of breaths successively. Counting is merely a device to assist in excluding stray thoughts. It is, as it were, a guideline or railing for supporting mindfulness until it can do without such help. There may be those who will feel the counting more as a complication than a help, and they may well omit it, attending directly to the flow of the respiration by way of “connecting the successive breaths.”

Connecting

After the counting has been discarded, the meditator should now continue his practice by way of connecting (anubandhana); that is, by following mindfully the in and out breaths without recourse to counting, and yet without a break in attentiveness. Here too, the breaths should not be followed beyond the nostrils where the respiratory air enters and leaves. The meditator must strive to be aware of the whole breath, in its entire duration and without missing one single phase, but his attention must not leave the place of contact, the nostrils, or that point of the upper lip where the current of air touches.

While following the in-breaths and out-breaths thus, they become fainter and fainter, and at times it is not easy to remain aware of that subtle sensation of touch caused by the respiration. Keener mindfulness is required to keep track of the breaths then. But if the meditator perseveres, one day he will feel a different sensation, a feeling of ease and happiness, and occasionally there appears before his mental eye something like a luminous star or a similar sign, which indicates that one approaches the stage of access concentration. Steadying the newly acquired sign, one may cultivate full mental absorption (jhana) or at least the preliminary concentration as a basis for practicing insight.

The practice of mindfulness of breathing is meant for both mental calm and insight (samatha and vipassana). Direct knowledge being the object of Buddhist meditation, the concentration gained by the meditative practice should be used for the clear understanding of reality as manifest in oneself and in the entire range of one’s experience.

Though penetrative insight leading to Nibbana is the ultimate object, progress in mindfulness and concentration will also bring many benefits in our daily lives. If we have become habituated to follow our breaths for a longer period of time and can exclude all (or almost all) intruding irrelevant thoughts, mindfulness, self-control and efficiency are sure to increase in all our activities. Just as our breathing, so also other processes of body and mind, will become clearer to us, and we shall come to know more of ourselves.

It has been said by the Buddha: “Mindfulness of breathing, developed and repeatedly practiced, is of great fruit, of great advantage, for it fulfills the four foundations of mindfulness; the four foundations of mindfulness, developed and repeatedly practiced, fulfill the seven enlightenment factors; the seven enlightenment factors, developed and repeatedly practiced, fulfill clear-vision and deliverance.” Clear vision and deliverance, or direct knowledge and the bliss of liberation, are the highest fruit of the application of mindfulness.

Satipatthana Sutta

Thus have I heard. At one time the Blessed One was living among the Kurus, at Kammasadamma, a market town of the Kuru people. There the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhu thus: “Monks,” and they replied to him, “Venerable Sir.” The Blessed One spoke as follows:

This is the only way, monks, for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the destruction of suffering and grief, for reaching the right path, for the attainment of Nibbana, namely, the four foundations of mindfulness. What are the four?

Herein (in this teaching) a monk lives contemplating the body in the body,[1] ardent, clearly comprehending and mindful, having overcome, in this world, covetousness and grief; he lives contemplating feelings in feelings, ardent, clearly comprehending and mindful, having overcome, in this world, covetousness and grief; he lives contemplating consciousness in consciousness,[2] ardent, clearly comprehending and mindful, having overcome, in this world, covetousness and grief; he lives contemplating mental objects in mental objects, ardent, clearly comprehending and mindful, having overcome, in this world, covetousness and grief.

I. The Contemplation of the Body

1. Mindfulness of Breathing

And how does a monk live contemplating the body in the body?

Herein, monks, a monk, having gone to the forest, to the foot of a tree or to an empty place, sits down with his legs crossed, keeps his body erect and his mindfulness alert.[3]

Ever mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out. Breathing in a long breath, he knows, “I am breathing in a long breath”; breathing out a long breath, he knows, “I am breathing out a long breath”; breathing in a short breath, he knows, “I am breathing in a short breath”; breathing out a short breath, he knows, “I am breathing out a short breath.”

“Experiencing the whole (breath-) body, I shall breathe in,” thus he trains himself. “Experiencing the whole (breath-) body, I shall breathe out,” thus he trains himself. “Calming the activity of the (breath-) body, I shall breathe in,” thus he trains himself. “Calming the activity of the (breath-) body, I shall breathe out,” thus he trains himself.

Just as a skillful turner or turner’s apprentice, making a long turn, knows, “I am making a long turn,” or making a short turn, knows, “I am making a short turn,” just so the monk, breathing in a long breath, knows, “I am breathing in a long breath”; breathing out a long breath, he knows, “I am breathing out a long breath”; breathing in a short breath, he knows, “I am breathing in a short breath”; breathing out a short breath, he knows, “I am breathing out a short breath.” “Experiencing the whole (breath-) body, I shall breathe in,” thus he trains himself. “Experiencing the whole (breath-) body, I shall breathe out,” thus he trains himself. “Calming the activity of the (breath-) body, I shall breathe in,” thus he trains himself. “Calming the activity of the (breath-) body, I shall breathe out,” thus he trains himself.

Thus he lives contemplating the body in the body internally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body externally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body internally and externally.[4] He lives contemplating origination factors[5] in the body, or he lives contemplating dissolution factors[6] in the body, or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution factors[7] in the body. Or his mindfulness is established with the thought: “The body exists,”[8] to the extent necessary just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives detached,[9] and clings to nothing in the world. Thus also, monks, a monk lives contemplating the body in the body.

2. The Postures of the Body

And further, monks, a monk knows, when he is going, “I am going”; he knows, when he is standing, “I am standing”; he knows, when he is sitting, “I am sitting”; he knows, when he is lying down, “I am lying down”; or just as his body is disposed so he knows it.

Thus he lives contemplating the body in the body internally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body externally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body internally and externally. He lives contemplating origination factors in the body, or he lives contemplating dissolution factors in the body, or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution factors in the body.[10] Or his mindfulness is established with the thought: “The body exists,” to the extent necessary just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives detached, and clings to nothing in the world. Thus also, monks, a monk lives contemplating the body in the body.

3. Mindfulness with Clear Comprehension

And further, monks, a monk, in going forward and back, applies clear comprehension; in looking straight on and looking away, he applies clear comprehension; in bending and in stretching, he applies clear comprehension; in wearing robes and carrying the bowl, he applies clear comprehension; in eating, drinking, chewing and savoring, he applies clear comprehension; in walking, in standing, in sitting, in falling asleep, in waking, in speaking and in keeping silence, he applies clear comprehension.

Thus he lives contemplating the body in the body…

4. The Reflection on the Repulsiveness of the Body

And further, monks, a monk reflects on this very body enveloped by the skin and full of manifold impurity, from the soles up, and from the top of the head-hairs down, thinking thus: “There are in this body hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, marrow, kidney, heart, liver, midriff, spleen, lungs, intestines, mesentery, gorge, feces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, saliva, nasal mucus, synovial fluid, urine.”

Just as if there were a double-mouthed provision bag full of various kinds of grain such as hill paddy, paddy, green gram, cow-peas, sesamum, and husked rice, and a man with sound eyes, having opened that bag, were to take stock of the contents thus: “This is hill paddy, this is paddy, this is green gram, this is cow-pea, this is sesamum, this is husked rice.” Just so, monks, a monk reflects on this very body enveloped by the skin and full of manifold impurity, from the soles up, and from the top of the head-hairs down, thinking thus: “There are in this body hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, marrow, kidney, heart, liver, midriff, spleen, lungs, intestines, mesentery, gorge, feces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, saliva, nasal mucus, synovial fluid, urine.”

Thus he lives contemplating the body in the body…

5. The Reflection on the Material Elements

And further, monks, a monk reflects on this very body, however it be placed or disposed, by way of the material elements: “There are in this body the element of earth, the element of water, the element of fire, the element of wind.”[11]

Just as if, monks, a clever cow-butcher or his apprentice, having slaughtered a cow and divided it into portions, should be sitting at the junction of four high roads, in the same way, a monk reflects on this very body, as it is placed or disposed, by way of the material elements: “There are in this body the elements of earth, water, fire, and wind.”

Thus he lives contemplating the body in the body…

6. The Nine Cemetery Contemplations

(1) And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body dead one, two, or three days; swollen, blue and festering, thrown in the charnel ground, he then applies this perception to his own body thus: “Verily, also my own body is of the same nature; such it will become and will not escape it.”

Thus he lives contemplating the body in the body internally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body externally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body internally and externally. He lives contemplating origination-factors in the body, or he lives contemplating dissolution factors in the body, or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution-factors in the body. Or his mindfulness is established with the thought: “The body exists,” to the extent necessary just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives detached, and clings to nothing in the world. Thus also, monks, a monk lives contemplating the body in the body.

(2) And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body thrown in the charnel ground, being eaten by crows, hawks, vultures, dogs, jackals or by different kinds of worms, he then applies this perception to his own body thus: “Verily, also my own body is of the same nature; such it will become and will not escape it.”

Thus he lives contemplating the body in the body…

(3) And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body thrown in the charnel ground and reduced to a skeleton with some flesh and blood attached to it, held together by the tendons…

(4) And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body thrown in the charnel ground and reduced to a skeleton blood-besmeared and without flesh, held together by the tendons…

(5) And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body thrown in the charnel ground and reduced to a skeleton without flesh and blood, held together by the tendons…

(6) And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body thrown in the charnel ground and reduced to disconnected bones, scattered in all directions_here a bone of the hand, there a bone of the foot, a shin bone, a thigh bone, the pelvis, spine and skull…

(7) And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body thrown in the charnel ground, reduced to bleached bones of conchlike color…

(8) And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body thrown in the charnel ground reduced to bones, more than a year-old, lying in a heap…

(9) And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body thrown in the charnel ground, reduced to bones gone rotten and become dust, he then applies this perception to his own body thus: “Verily, also my own body is of the same nature; such it will become and will not escape it.”

Thus he lives contemplating the body in the body internally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body externally, or he lives contemplating the body in the body internally and externally. He lives contemplating origination factors in the body, or he lives contemplating dissolution factors in the body, or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution factors in the body. Or his mindfulness is established with the thought: “The body exists,” to the extent necessary just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives detached, and clings to nothing in the world. Thus also, monks, a monk lives contemplating the body in the body.

II. The Contemplation of Feeling

And how, monks, does a monk live contemplating feelings in feelings?

Herein, monks, a monk when experiencing a pleasant feeling knows, “I experience a pleasant feeling”; when experiencing a painful feeling, he knows, “I experience a painful feeling”; when experiencing a neither-pleasant-nor-painful feeling,” he knows, “I experience a neither-pleasant-nor-painful feeling.” When experiencing a pleasant worldly feeling, he knows, “I experience a pleasant worldly feeling”; when experiencing a pleasant spiritual feeling, he knows, “I experience a pleasant spiritual feeling”; when experiencing a painful worldly feeling, he knows, “I experience a painful worldly feeling”; when experiencing a painful spiritual feeling, he knows, “I experience a painful spiritual feeling”; when experiencing a neither-pleasant-nor-painful worldly feeling, he knows, “I experience a neither-pleasant-nor-painful worldly feeling”; when experiencing a neither-pleasant-nor-painful spiritual feeling, he knows, “I experience a neither-pleasant-nor-painful spiritual feeling.”

Thus he lives contemplating feelings in feelings internally, or he lives contemplating feelings in feelings externally, or he lives contemplating feelings in feelings internally and externally. He lives contemplating origination factors in feelings, or he lives contemplating dissolution factors in feelings, or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution factors in feelings.[12] Or his mindfulness is established with the thought, “Feeling exists,” to the extent necessary just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives detached, and clings to nothing in the world. Thus, monks, a monk lives contemplating feelings in feelings.

III. The Contemplation of Consciousness

And how, monks, does a monk live contemplating consciousness in consciousness?

Herein, monks, a monk knows the consciousness with lust, as with lust; the consciousness without lust, as without lust; the consciousness with hate, as with hate; the consciousness without hate, as without hate; the consciousness with ignorance, as with ignorance; the consciousness without ignorance, as without ignorance; the shrunken state of consciousness, as the shrunken state;[13] the distracted state of consciousness, as the distracted state;[14] the developed state of consciousness as the developed state;[15] the undeveloped state of consciousness as the undeveloped state;[16] the state of consciousness with some other mental state superior to it, as the state with something mentally higher;[17] the state of consciousness with no other mental state superior to it, as the state with nothing mentally higher;[18] the concentrated state of consciousness, as the concentrated state; the unconcentrated state of consciousness, as the unconcentrated state; the freed state of consciousness, as the freed state;[19] and the unfreed state of consciousness as the unfreed state.

Thus he lives contemplating consciousness in consciousness internally, or he lives contemplating consciousness in consciousness externally, or he lives contemplating consciousness in consciousness internally and externally. He lives contemplating origination factors in consciousness, or he lives contemplating dissolution-factors in consciousness, or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution factors in consciousness.[20] Or his mindfulness is established with the thought, “Consciousness exists,” to the extent necessary just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives detached, and clings to nothing in the world. Thus, monks, a monk lives contemplating consciousness in consciousness.

IV. The Contemplation of Mental Objects

1. The Five Hindrances

And how, monks, does a monk live contemplating mental objects in mental objects?

Herein, monks, a monk lives contemplating mental objects in the mental objects of the five hindrances.

How, monks, does a monk live contemplating mental objects in the mental objects of the five hindrances?

Herein, monks, when sense-desire is present, a monk knows, “There is sense-desire in me,” or when sense-desire is not present, he knows, “There is no sense-desire in me.” He knows how the arising of the non-arisen sense-desire comes to be; he knows how the abandoning of the arisen sense-desire comes to be; and he knows how the non-arising in the future of the abandoned sense-desire comes to be.

When anger is present, he knows, “There is anger in me,” or when anger is not present, he knows, “There is no anger in me.” He knows how the arising of the non-arisen anger comes to be; he knows how the abandoning of the arisen anger comes to be; and he knows how the non-arising in the future of the abandoned anger comes to be.

When sloth and torpor are present, he knows, “There are sloth and torpor in me,” or when sloth and torpor are not present, he knows, “There are no sloth and torpor in me.” He knows how the arising of the non-arisen sloth and torpor comes to be; he knows how the abandoning of the arisen sloth and torpor comes to be; and he knows how the non-arising in the future of the abandoned sloth and torpor comes to be.

When agitation and remorse are present, he knows, “There are agitation and remorse in me,” or when agitation and remorse are not present, he knows, “There are no agitation and remorse in me.” He knows how the arising of the non-arisen agitation and remorse comes to be; he knows how the abandoning of the arisen agitation and remorse comes to be; and he knows how the non-arising in the future of the abandoned agitation and remorse comes to be.

When doubt is present, he knows, “There is doubt in me,” or when doubt is not present, he knows, “There is no doubt in me.” He knows how the arising of the non-arisen doubt comes to be; he knows how the abandoning of the arisen doubt comes to be; and he knows how the non-arising in the future of the abandoned doubt comes to be.

Thus he lives contemplating mental objects in mental objects internally, or he lives contemplating mental objects in mental objects externally, or he lives contemplating mental objects in mental objects internally and externally. He lives contemplating origination factors in mental objects, or he lives contemplating dissolution factors in mental objects, or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution factors in mental objects.[21] Or his mindfulness is established with the thought, “Mental objects exist,” to the extent necessary just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives detached, and clings to nothing in the world. Thus also, monks, a monk lives contemplating mental objects in the mental objects of the five hindrances.

2. The Five Aggregates of Clinging

And further, monks, a monk lives contemplating mental objects in the mental objects of the five aggregates of clinging.[22]

How, monks, does a monk live contemplating mental objects in the mental objects of the five aggregates of clinging?

Herein, monks, a monk thinks, “Thus is material form; thus is the arising of material form; and thus is the disappearance of material form. Thus is feeling; thus is the arising of feeling; and thus is the disappearance of feeling. Thus is perception; thus is the arising of perception; and thus is the disappearance of perception. Thus are formations; thus is the arising of formations; and thus is the disappearance of formations. Thus is consciousness; thus is the arising of consciousness; and thus is the disappearance of consciousness.”

Thus he lives contemplating mental objects in mental objects internally, or he lives contemplating mental objects in mental objects externally, or he lives contemplating mental objects in mental objects internally and externally. He lives contemplating origination factors in mental objects, or he lives contemplating dissolution factors in mental objects, or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution factors in mental objects.[23] Or his mindfulness is established with the thought, “Mental objects exist,” to the extent necessary just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives detached, and clings to nothing in the world. Thus also, monks, a monk lives contemplating mental objects in the mental objects of the five aggregates of clinging.

3. The Six Internal and External Sense Bases

And further, monks, a monk lives contemplating mental objects in the mental objects of the six internal and the six external sense-bases.

How, monks, does a monk live contemplating mental objects in the mental objects of the six internal and the six external sense-bases?

Herein, monks, a monk knows the eye and visual forms and the fetter that arises dependent on both (the eye and forms);[24] he knows how the arising of the non-arisen fetter comes to be; he knows how the abandoning of the arisen fetter comes to be; and he knows how the non-arising in the future of the abandoned fetter comes to be.

He knows the ear and sounds… the nose and smells… the tongue and flavors… the body and tactual objects… the mind and mental objects, and the fetter that arises dependent on both; he knows how the arising of the non-arisen fetter comes to be; he knows how the abandoning of the arisen fetter comes to be; and he knows how the non-arising in the future of the abandoned fetter comes to be.

Thus he lives contemplating mental objects in mental objects internally, or he lives contemplating mental objects in mental objects externally, or he lives contemplating mental objects in mental objects internally and externally. He lives contemplating origination factors in mental objects, or he lives contemplating dissolution factors in mental objects, or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution factors in mental objects.[25] Or his mindfulness is established with the thought, “Mental objects exist,” to the extent necessary just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives detached, and clings to nothing in the world. Thus, monks, a monk lives contemplating mental objects in the mental objects of the six internal and the six external sense-bases.

4. The Seven Factors of Enlightenment

And further, monks, a monk lives contemplating mental objects in the mental objects of the seven factors of enlightenment.

How, monks, does a monk live contemplating mental objects in the mental objects of the seven factors of enlightenment?

Herein, monks, when the enlightenment-factor of mindfulness is present, the monk knows, “The enlightenment-factor of mindfulness is in me,” or when the enlightenment-factor of mindfulness is absent, he knows, “The enlightenment-factor of mindfulness is not in me”; and he knows how the arising of the non-arisen enlightenment-factor of mindfulness comes to be; and how perfection in the development of the arisen enlightenment-factor of mindfulness comes to be.

When the enlightenment-factor of the investigation of mental objects is present, the monk knows, “The enlightenment-factor of the investigation of mental objects is in me”; when the enlightenment-factor of the investigation of mental objects is absent, he knows, “The enlightenment-factor of the investigation of mental objects is not in me”; and he knows how the arising of the non-arisen enlightenment-factor of the investigation of mental objects comes to be, and how perfection in the development of the arisen enlightenment-factor of the investigation of mental objects comes to be.

When the enlightenment-factor of energy is present, he knows, “The enlightenment-factor of energy is in me”; when the enlightenment-factor of energy is absent, he knows, “The enlightenment-factor of energy is not in me”; and he knows how the arising of the non-arisen enlightenment-factor of energy comes to be, and how perfection in the development of the arisen enlightenment-factor of energy comes to be.

When the enlightenment-factor of joy is present, he knows, “The enlightenment-factor of joy is in me”; when the enlightenment-factor of joy is absent, he knows, “The enlightenment-factor of joy is not in me”; and he knows how the arising of the non-arisen enlightenment-factor of joy comes to be, and how perfection in the development of the arisen enlightenment-factor of joy comes to be.

When the enlightenment-factor of tranquillity is present, he knows, “The enlightenment-factor of tranquillity is in me”; when the enlightenment-factor of tranquillity is absent, he knows, “The enlightenment-factor of tranquillity is not in me”; and he knows how the arising of the non-arisen enlightenment-factor of tranquillity comes to be, and how perfection in the development of the arisen enlightenment-factor of tranquillity comes to be.

When the enlightenment-factor of concentration is present, he knows, “The enlightenment-factor of concentration is in me”; when the enlightenment-factor of concentration is absent, he knows, “The enlightenment-factor of concentration is not in me”; and he knows how the arising of the non-arisen enlightenment-factor of concentration comes to be, and how perfection in the development of the arisen enlightenment-factor of concentration comes to be.

When the enlightenment-factor of equanimity is present, he knows, “The enlightenment-factor of equanimity is in me”; when the enlightenment-factor of equanimity is absent, he knows, “The enlightenment-factor of equanimity is not in me”; and he knows how the arising of the non-arisen enlightenment-factor of equanimity comes to be, and how perfection in the development of the arisen enlightenment-factor of equanimity comes to be.

Thus he lives contemplating mental objects in mental objects internally, or he lives contemplating mental objects in mental objects externally, or he lives contemplating mental objects in mental objects internally and externally. He lives contemplating origination-factors in mental objects, or he lives contemplating dissolution-factors in mental objects, or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution-factors in mental objects.[26] Or his mindfulness is established with the thought, “Mental objects exist,” to the extent necessary just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives detached, and clings to nothing in the world. Thus, monks, a monk lives contemplating mental objects in the mental objects of the seven factors of enlightenment.

5. The Four Noble Truths

And further, monks, a monk lives contemplating mental objects in the mental objects of the four noble truths.

How, monks, does a monk live contemplating mental objects in the mental objects of the four noble truths?

Herein, monks, a monk knows, “This is suffering,” according to reality; he knows, “This is the origin of suffering,” according to reality; he knows, “This is the cessation of suffering,” according to reality; he knows “This is the road leading to the cessation of suffering,” according to reality.

Thus he lives contemplating mental objects in mental objects internally, or he lives contemplating mental objects in mental objects externally, or he lives contemplating mental objects in mental objects internally and externally. He lives contemplating origination-factors in mental objects, or he lives contemplating dissolution-factors in mental objects, or he lives contemplating origination-and-dissolution-factors in mental objects.[27] Or his mindfulness is established with the thought, “Mental objects exist,” to the extent necessary just for knowledge and mindfulness, and he lives detached, and clings to nothing in the world. Thus, monks, a monk lives contemplating mental objects in the mental objects of the four noble truths.

Verily, monks, whosoever practices these four foundations of mindfulness in this manner for seven years, then one of these two fruits may be expected by him: highest knowledge (arahantship) here and now, or if some remainder of clinging is yet present, the state of non-returning.[28]

O monks, let alone seven years. Should any person practice these four foundations of mindfulness in this manner for six years… five years… four years… three years… two years… one year, then one of these two fruits may be expected by him: highest knowledge here and now, or if some remainder of clinging is yet present, the state of non-returning.

O monks, let alone a year. Should any person practice these four foundations of mindfulness in this manner for seven months… six months… five months… four months… three months… two months… a month… half a month, then one of these two fruits may be expected by him: highest knowledge here and now, or if some remainder of clinging is yet present, the state of non-returning.

O monks, let alone half a month. Should any person practice these four foundations of mindfulness in this manner for a week, then one of these two fruits may be expected by him: highest knowledge here and now, or if some remainder of clinging is yet present, the state of non-returning.

Because of this it was said: “This is the only way, monks, for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the destruction of suffering and grief, for reaching the right path, for the attainment of Nibbana, namely the four foundations of mindfulness.”

Thus spoke the Blessed One. Satisfied, the monks approved of his words.

***

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English
by Bhante Gunaratana.

Preface

THERE ARE several books on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. Some of them are direct translations of the original Pali discourse of the historical Buddha, some explain the sutta in great detail with commentaries and subcommentaries, some are rich scholarly treatises. And if you are interested in improving your theoretical knowledge of meditation, any of these books can be highly recommended.

When I teach meditation I always try to make sure the listeners can receive the message easily and put it into practice even without a teacher around to consult; as always, my concern in this book is the actual practice, right here in our lives. And when I write, I strive to write everything in plain English. Meditation is becoming very popular these days for many good reasons.

Unfortunately, there are not enough accessible teachers to fully meet the demand of these burgeoning explorers. Some would-be students read good meditation books, some attend meditation retreats, and some listen to many good talks on meditation. After reading books on meditation, listening to talks on meditation, and attending meditation retreats, quite a number of students of meditation write me at the Bhavana Society with questions on matters they would like clarified. I thought of writing this book to answer some, not all, of the questions.

Of course, nobody can write one book or series of books answering all the questions people ask! And what’s more, as people delve more deeply, their enthusiasm prompts them to ask more questions. The present book is my humble attempt to answer some of the questions related to meditation.

I sincerely thank Ajahn sona, one of our students at the Bhavana Society, for his valuable help in getting this book started. I am grateful to Josh Bartok and Laura Cunningham at Wisdom Publications for making many valuable suggestions to complete this book and for shepherding it to completion, and to Brenda Rosen who contributed enormous time and effort to develop the manuscript.

Bhante Henepola Gunaratana
Bhavana Society
High View, West Virginia

Introduction

THE FOUR FOUNDATIONS OF MINDFULNESS is a talk or perhaps a collection of talks said to have been given by the historical Buddha.

Mindfulness or insight meditation is based on the Four Foundations. Now very well known in the West, this comprehensive set of meditation topics and techniques is probably the preeminent style of meditation taught today in the Theravada Buddhist world. Mindfulness has also been the focus of my books. In Mindfulness in Plain English, I present a practical step-by-step guide to mindfulness meditation. If you are new to insight practice, this book is a good place to start. In Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness, I show how mindfulness is used to progress along the Buddha’s eight-step path to happiness.

You could say that the Four Foundations are the details of the seventh step of the Buddha’s path. In fact, the last three steps—effort, mindfulness, and concentration, which we in the West call “meditation”—are all covered in the Four Foundations. In Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English, I explain the principles and techniques of deep concentration meditation. Concentration meditation or samatha is parallel and complementary to mindfulness meditation or vipassana, since the Four Foundations are the basis of all concentration.

Now, in this book, I write directly about the Four Foundations, the underlying principles of mindfulness practice. In simple and straightforward language, I share what the Buddha said about mindfulness in his instructional talks or suttas and how we can use these principles to improve our daily lives, deepen our mindfulness, and move closer to our spiritual goals.

The basic premise of mindfulness is simple. The body does many things without our awareness. When germs invade, our white blood cells attack the invaders without our knowledge. However, we can train ourselves to become aware of the things we do consciously with the body, such as walking, standing, talking, eating, drinking, writing, reading, playing, and other physical activities. We can also develop moment-to-moment awareness of our emotions, sensations, thoughts, and other mental activities.

Mindfulness trains us to do everything we do with full awareness. You may be wondering, “Why is full awareness important?” As anyone who tries mindfulness practice quickly discovers, the more aware we are of our actions and of the feelings, thoughts, and perceptions that give rise to them, the more insight we have into why we are doing what we are doing. Awareness allows us to see whether our actions spring from beneficial or harmful impulses.

Beneficial motivations include generosity, friendliness, compassion, and wisdom; harmful actions are caused primarily by greed, hatred, and delusion. When we are mindful of the deep roots from which our thoughts, words, and deeds grow, we have the opportunity to cultivate those that are beneficial and weed out those that are harmful. The Buddha is very clear that the primary aim of all his teachings is “the end of suffering.”Mindfulness helps us to recognize that beneficial actions bring peace of mind and happiness to our everyday lives.

They also help us progress on the Buddha’s path toward nibbana—liberation, complete freedom from suffering. Similarly, mindfulness teaches us that actions motivated by greed, hatred, and delusion make us miserable and anxious. They imprison us in samsara, the life-after-life cycle of repeated suffering.

When we practice mindfulness, before we speak we ask ourselves: “Are these words truthful and beneficial to me and to others? Will they bring peace, or will they create problems?” When we think mindfully, we ask: “Does this thought make me calm and happy, or distressed and fearful?” Before we act, we ask: “Will this action cause suffering for me and for others?” Being mindful gives us the opportunity to choose: “Do I want joy and contentment or misery and worry?”

Mindfulness also trains us to remember to pay attention to the changes that are continually taking place inside our body and mind and in the world around us. Normally, we forget to pay attention because the countless things that are happening simultaneously distract our minds. We get carried away by the superficial and lose sight of the flow. The mind wants to see what is next, what is next, and what is next. We get excited by the show and forget that it is, indeed, simply a show.

The Buddha taught: “That which is impermanent is suffering.” The truth of these words becomes clear when we simply pay attention. Eventually, the mind gets tired of moving from one impermanent thing to the next. Losing interest in the futile pursuit, the mind rests and finds joy. In Pali, the word for “to remember” is sati, which can also be translated as “mindfulness.”

Remembering is simply paying direct, non-verbal attention to what is happening from one moment to the next. Resting comfortably in awareness, we relax into things as they are right now in this very moment, without slipping away into what happened in the past or will happen in the future. Normally, because we do not understand, we tend to blame the world for our pain and suffering. But with sati, mindful remembering, we understand that the only place to find peace and freedom from suffering is this very place, right here in our own body and mind.

Memory is very natural to our body, almost automatic. Our hearts pump blood without our reminding them to do so. The mind can also be taught to act the same way. Training the faculty of mindfulness is like breathing oxygen continuously to remain alive. As mental events occur, mindfulness helps us see whether they hurt our mind and body.

We have the choice: Do we merely suffer from pain, or do we examine the pain to understand why it arises? If we ignore the causes, we continue to suffer. Living with awareness requires effort, but following the Buddha’s example, with practice anyone can master it. Mindfulness practice has deep roots in Buddhist tradition.

More than 2,600 years ago, the Buddha exhorted his senior bhikkhus, monks with the responsibility of passing his teachings on to others, to train their students in the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. “What four?” he was asked. “Come, friends,” the Buddha answered. “Dwell contemplating the body in the body, ardent, clearly comprehending, unified, with concentrated one-pointed mind, in order to know the body as it really is. Dwell contemplating feeling in feelings …in order to know feelings as they really are. Dwell contemplating mind in mind …in order to know mind as it really is. Dwell contemplating dhamma in dhammas …in order to know dhammas as they really are.”

The practice of contemplating (or as we might say, meditating on) the Four Foundations—mindfulness of the body, feelings, mind, and dhammas (or phenomena)—is recommended for people at every stage of the spiritual path. As the Buddha goes on to explain, everyone—trainees who have recently become interested in the Buddhist path, monks and nuns, and even arahants, advanced meditators who have already reached the goal of liberation from suffering, “should be exhorted, settled, and established in the development of these Four Foundations of Mindfulness.”

In this sutta, the Buddha is primarily addressing the community of bhikkhus, monks and nuns who have dedicated their lives to spiritual practice. Given this, you might wonder whether people with families and jobs and busy Western lives can benefit from mindfulness practice. If the Buddha’s words were meant only for monastics, he would have given this talk in a monastery. But he spoke in a village filled with shopkeepers, farmers, and other ordinary folk.

Since mindfulness can help men and women from all walks of life relieve suffering, we can assume that the word “bhikkhu” is used to mean anyone seriously interested in meditation. In that sense, we are all bhikkhus.

Let’s look briefly at each of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness as a preview of things to come.

By asking us to practice mindfulness of the body, the Buddha is reminding us to see “the body in the body.” By these words he means that we should recognize that the body is not a solid unified thing, but rather a collection of parts. The nails, teeth, skin, bones, heart, lungs, and all other parts—each is actually a small “body” that is located in the larger entity that we call “the body.”

Traditionally, the human body is divided into thirty-two parts, and we train ourselves to be mindful of each. Trying to be mindful of the entire body is like trying to grab a heap of oranges. If we grab the whole heap at once, perhaps we will end up with nothing! Moreover, remembering that the body is composed of many parts helps us to see “the body as body”—not as my body or as myself, but simply as a physical form like all other physical forms. Like all forms, the body comes into being, remains present for a time, and then passes away. Since it experiences injury, illness, and death, the body is unsatisfactory as a source of lasting happiness.

Since it is not myself, the body can also be called “selfless.” When mindfulness helps us to recognize that the body is impermanent, unsatisfactory, and selfless, in the Buddha’s words, we “know the body as it really is.” Similarly, by asking us to practice mindfulness of feelings, the Buddha is telling us to contemplate “the feeling in the feelings.” These words remind us that, like the body, feelings can be subdivided.

Traditionally, there are only three types—pleasant feelings, unpleasant feelings, and neutral feelings. Each type is one “feeling” in the mental awareness that we call “feelings.” At any given moment we are able to notice only one type. When a pleasant feeling is present, neither a painful feeling nor a neutral feeling is present. The same is true of an unpleasant or neutral feeling. We regard feelings in this way to help us develop a simple non-judgmental awareness of what we are experiencing—seeing a particular feeling as one of many feelings, rather than as my feeling or as part of me.

As we watch each emotion or sensation as it arises, remains present, and passes away, we observe that any feeling is impermanent. Since a pleasant feeling does not last and an unpleasant feeling is often painful, we understand that feelings are unsatisfactory. Seeing a feeling as an emotion or sensation rather than as my feeling, we come to know that feelings are selfless. Recognizing these truths, we “know feelings as they really are.”

The same process applies to mindfulness of mind. Although we talk about “the mind” as if it were a single thing, actually, mind or consciousness is a succession of particular instances of “mind in mind.” As mindfulness practice teaches us, consciousness arises from moment to moment on the basis of information coming to us from the senses—what we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch—and from internal mental states, such as memories, imaginings, and daydreams.

When we look at the mind, we are not looking at mere consciousness. The mind alone cannot exist, only particular states of mind that appear depending on external or internal conditions. Paying attention to the way each thought arises, remains present, and passes away, we learn to stop the runaway train of one unsatisfactory thought leading to another and another and another. We gain a bit of detachment and understand that we are not our thoughts.

In the end, we come to know “mind as it really is.”By telling us to practice mindfulness of dhammas, or phenomena, the Buddha is not simply saying that we should be mindful of his teachings, though that is one meaning of the word “dhamma.”He is also reminding us that the dhamma that we contemplate is within us. The history of the world is full of truth seekers. The Buddha was one of them. Almost all sought the truth outside themselves. Before he attained enlightenment, the Buddha also searched outside of himself. He was looking for his maker, the cause of his existence, who he called the “builder of this house.” But he never found what he was looking for. Instead, he discovered that he himself was subject to birth, growth, decay, death, sickness, sorrow, lamentation, and defilement.

When he looked outside himself, he saw that everyone else was suffering from these same problems. This recognition helped him to see that no one outside himself could free him from his suffering. So he began to search within. This inner seeking is known as “come and see.” Only when he began to search inside did he find the answer. Then he said: Many a birth I wandered in samsara, Seeking but not finding the builder of this house. Sorrowful is it to be born again and again. Oh! House builder thou art seen. Thou shall not build house again. All thy rafters are broken. Thy ridgepole is shattered. The mind has attained the unconditioned.

The great discovery of the Buddha is that the truth is within us. The entire Dhamma that he taught is based on this realization. When we look inside, we come to understand the significance of the Four Noble Truths—the Buddha’s essential first teaching.

Where do we find suffering? We experience it within ourselves. And where is the cause of our suffering, craving? It, too, is within us. And, how can we reach the end of it, the cessation of suffering? We find the way within ourselves. And where do we develop skillful understanding, thinking, speech, action, livelihood, effort, mindfulness, and concentration, the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path—the method for ending suffering? We develop all of these qualities within our own body and mind.

The roots of suffering are within us. And the method for eliminating suffering is within us as well. When we practice mindfulness, we follow the Buddha’s example and look inside. We become aware that our own greed, hatred, and delusion are the causes of our unhappiness. When we replace these poisons with generosity, loving-friendliness, compassion, appreciative joy, patience, cordiality, gentleness, and wisdom, we find the happiness and peace of mind we have been seeking. As I always remind my students, “The meditation you do on the cushion is your homework. The rest of your life is your fieldwork. To practice mindfulness, you need both.”

The other meaning of dhammas is simply “phenomena.”When we follow the Buddha’s advice and “dwell contemplating dhamma in dhammas,”we come to understand that each individual phenomenon within reality as we experience it, including physical objects, feelings, perceptions, mental activities, and consciousness, comes into being, remains, and then passes away. In the same way, the deep-rooted negative habits of the unenlightened mind that bind us to one unsatisfactory life after another, known as the fetters, are impermanent. With effort, each fetter—including greed, hatred, and belief in the existence of a permanent self or soul—can be recognized and removed.

In essence, the dhamma path is quite straightforward. We eliminate our harmful habits one by one and cultivate beneficial qualities based on our understanding of each of the Buddha’s teachings. In the end, the last fetter falls away, and we achieve liberation from suffering. So how do we get started with mindfulness meditation? I always recommend meditation focused on the breath as the best way to begin mindfulness training.

In Mindfulness in Plain English, I explain the basics of breath meditation and other essential mindfulness practices. Similar instructions for sitting meditation and walking meditation can be found in this book in the chapters on mindfulness of the body.

In the section that follows this introduction, I suggest ways to include the Buddha’s Four Foundations of Mindfulness Sutta in a simple daily practice. While many people are drawn to meditation because of its wonderful benefits for relaxation, relief from stress and pain, and the general health of the body and mind, in the context of the Four Foundations, it’s important to keep another set of goals in mind.

With dedicated effort and regular practice, we can look forward to five significant spiritual accomplishments: First, meditation helps us become fully aware of what is going on in the mind and body here and now. All too often, we sleepwalk through our days, musing about the past or daydreaming about the future. Mindfulness teaches us to cut through the fog and bring our focus to the present moment.

*

from

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness in Plain English

by Bhante Gunaratana

get it at Amazon.com

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