What is mindfulness?

Uncategorised Oct 24, 2019

I have found mindfulness profoundly challenging – because I had to wean the parts of my mind that were addicted to false supports.  In questioning the widespread development of modern mindfulness I came across this short introduction to mindfulness by Master Sheng-Yen, who was one of my teachers, which I think puts things into perspective. Internal Family Systems attempts to systematically recognise and identify the obstacles to mindfulness – trusting your deepest nature.
“What then, is mindfulness? A good way to answer this question is to refer to the Buddha’s teaching on the Sutra on Mindfulness (Sattipathana Sutta), otherwise known as the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. These are the four contemplations:
▪    contemplation of the body
▪    contemplation of sensations
▪    contemplation of the mind,
▪    contemplation of mental objects (dharmas).
(For more on the four foundations of mindfulness, see the Ashoka course The Buddha’s Teaching As It Is >>>)
In the contemplation practices that make up the Four Foundations, the mind that is caught up in the ordinary delusions of sentient life is gradually weaned, as it were, from its attachments to the body, to sensual longings, to emotions and feelings, and finally to fixed notions and ideas about reality. When the mind is thus gradually reduced of its myriad attachments, what remains is luminous awareness. This awareness can be called “mindfulness.”
For the practitioner of Chan, there is no meaningful distinction between practice and daily life: practice is daily life and daily life is practice. The distinctive quality of Chan mindfulness is not just being “here and now” but being here and now without distraction, vexation, or conflict. It is a quality of being wholly in the present, with no left over afflictions and impurities.
Cultivating mindfulness
Unfortunately, mindfulness is often seen as something to be achieved in itself, somewhat analogous to the idea of climbing Mt. Everest without also scaling its intermediate peaks. This leads to situations in which there can be much talk about mindfulness but little evidence of it. Therefore, from the Chan point of view, it is better to think of mindfulness not as practice in itself but as a fruit of practice, the rich harvest after diligent treading on the Path. In other words, one should cultivate mindfulness by practicing of the Path. And what is the practice of the Path? We have already discussed this as the Three Disciplines: precepts, meditation, and wisdom. Let’s briefly review them from the point of view of mindfulness.
Mindfulness and the precepts
When we practice and uphold the precepts, we are ensuring that our lives will be in accord with Buddhadharma, and that means that our lives will also be more harmonious with others, less afflicting to ourselves, and more conducive to serenity. Even in adversity, knowing that our life is righteous, we can face problems more calmly and deal with them as they really are, not as we imagine them. When we can depart from vexations in this manner, our minds become more spacious and receptive to the opportunities to experience the present as wholly “here” and vividly “now.”
Mindfulness and meditation
When we are meditating, we are effectively reducing the noise and fluctuations of a mind otherwise caught up with life and all its distractions. When we are fully engaged in a method of practice, whether it be following the breath, contemplating a huatou or gong’an (koan), the mind has no space for thoughts of the present or the future. The method is all there is.
At such times we are entirely in the present and the mind is given a chance to experience the awareness of “now.” Like the marathon runner training for the big race, when we meditate diligently for a long time, the mind becomes habituated to facing the daily clamor of life with equanimity and stamina, not being tossed and turned around by obstacles and events. The ability to stay on track, nurtured by meditation, contributes to one’s ability to be immersed in the present, and to deal with it effectively.
Mindfulness and cultivating wisdom
When we cultivate wisdom, we begin to learn how to distinguish the real from the illusory, the true from the false, and the precious from the useless. Like a sword cutting through the underbrush before us, wisdom allows us to find the middle way between craving everything life has to offer and being indifferent to it all; it is being able to invest our time and effort in only those things that benefit ourselves as well as others in accordance with the Dharma.
By cultivating wisdom we also cultivate compassion, the ability to empathize with the suffering of others and to respond without self-interest. Based on a foundation of loving-kindness, compassion in daily life is best practiced as a “hidden” virtue. It is simply there as a potential to think wholesome thoughts acts, speak kind words, and perform beneficent acts. As such, compassion is also mindfulness.”http://www.dharmanet.org/coursesM/26/chan5b.htm