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8x Path - Mindfulness

this is...
Mindfulness (sati) is the second of the meditation group (effort + concentration). It is a mental factor inseparably associated with all karmically wholesome consciousness. Sometimes translated as 'recollection' it has direct connection with the (improved) faculty of memory - a result related to the clarity and coherence of the awake, aware mind.
        Some general thoughts...
I think we are too inclined to compartmentalise our experience, our reality. We look for precise definition, as if by naming things we know them, we have them - neat and tidy in a box. Exploring Buddhism you find endless lists of categories, of names for things. This can be very useful - like having a map - but the names of places on the map are not those places. The land is as it is - wether on the map or not. The mind is the mind - as you experience it! - not as you read about it.
So, we have the mind.
In essence the mind is empty. It is like water - it has no shape, no colour, no odour, etc. When we add salt to the water, we call it "salty water" - but the water is not salty, it just reflects the quality it contains. If I add a loving thought to my mind (we can do this [see: 4 brahma viharas   ] my mind is loving. Someone throws abuse into my ear - my mind usually catches it - and becomes angry. The mind is not angry - it just contains that quality. That energy eventually fades and the mind becomes empty again. Except we are mostly in the habit of keeping it filled up. This is quite tiring.
So, the mind is the mind - as you experience it...
But how much of your experience do you actually experience? Often things are moving so quickly that we only get glimpses or there is so much data that our ability to pay attention is limited. Generally, meditation is a training in the ability to sustain attention, to remain awake, to notice what is going on - with clarity, without proliferation. The ultimate truth, the Dhamma, is not something mysterious and remote, but simply the truth of our own experience.

So, sati is about knowing - not naming. Yes, it is difficult to just observe - without the commentary. I like to imagine a child seeing something for the first time. There is no history, no name, no value - just what is to be seen. We can do this but it takes practice to not get entangled in the dense layers of ideas and views. In one sutta the Buddha gives teachings to Bahiya:
""When, Bahiya, for you in the seen is merely what is seen... in the cognized is merely what is cognized, then, Bahiya, you will not be 'with that.' When, Bahiya, you are not 'with that,' then, Bahiya, you will not be 'in that.' When, Bahiya, you are not 'in that,' then, Bahiya, you will be neither here nor beyond nor in between the two. Just this is the end of suffering."
       Udana I.10

The most important quality of sati is that it anchors the mind securely in the present moment. When mindfulness is strong, the mind stays with its object and penetrates its characteristics. This penetration is called insight - vipassana [see:   ] Mindfulness is the 'guard' whose responsibility is making sure that the mind does not wander away from the chosen object to lose itself in random undirected thoughts. The practice of concentration strengthens our ability to sustain attention in this way.

The energy of the mind can be compared to a beam of light. It can be cast quite widely, held steady, illuminating many objects. Think of this as the general state of mindfulness. When cast more directly, focussed in a relatively narrow beam, we can talk of the concentrated mind with only one object 'illuminated.' It is the same energy in both cases - just applied in different modes. The distinction between mindfulness and concentration can sometimes be difficult to determine.

The classic teaching on mindfulness is the Satipatthana Sutta and it opens with the words:
"The only way that leads to the attainment of purity, to the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, to the end of pain and grief, to the entering of the right path, and to the realization of Nibbana is the four foundations of mindfulness."
          Majjhima 10

The 'only way' has a dogmatic edge for some but, even considering faith aspects, without objective, reflective clarity of mind we are just victims of our conditioning. It certainly reflects the importance that the Buddha gave to this teaching. Mucho!
The sutta goes on to say:
"...the monk dwells in contemplation of the body (rupa), the feelings (vedana), the mind (citta), and the mind-objects (dhamma), ardent, clearly conscious and mindful, after putting away worldly greed and grief."


ready to go

kind of.....

The Satipatthana Sutta is dealt with in detail elsewhere [  ] but here are a few points in summary.
A training in mindfulness need not be a lineal progression through the sutta but it is with good reason that the Buddha begins with mindfulness of the body. Our physical form is visible, tangible and you have to be pretty scattered to not notice that you have a body. The other three 'foundations' are primarily mental and more subtle on account. First on the 'body-awareness' list is mindfulness of breathing (anapanasati). This is a widely used meditation technique [meditate] and has a sutta of its own [read]. Mindfulness of breathing can lead to all stages of the path culminating in full awakening and it was this that the Buddha used on the night of his own enlightenment.
The remaining body-objects are:
the 4 postures (sitting, standing, walking, lying down)
mindfulness and clarity of consciousness
the 32 parts of the body
analysis of the 4 physical elements
cemetery meditations
The overall intention is to bring full awareness to the body in all modes - internal, external, gross and subtle.
Mindfulness of feelings (not to be confused with emotions [see vedana   ]) looks at:
pleasant and unpleasant feelings of body and mind
neutral feeling.
Feeling here is pure sensation resulting from contact. It is our experience of objects prior to perception and evaluation (all that thinking and naming). If you find it too difficult as a meditation you can try 'back tracking' with experience. When you notice an emotion try simplifying it into pleasant or unpleasant. Step back from the joy or the anger and explore the feeling - joy is pleasant, this is what pleasant feeling is like. Etc. From here notice the strong tendency to follow (add, extend, proliferate) the pleasant - and the reverse. Developing the ability to notice, to be aware of various movements of mind extends our objectivity and our ability to choose. It all starts in a simple way.

We then have mindfulness of the actual mind states - whether the mind is:
greedy or not, hateful or not, deluded or not, cramped or distracted, developed or undeveloped, surpassable or unsurpassable, concentrated or unconcentrated, liberated or unliberated.
Lets.... spot the mind state. A game the whole family can play.

Lastly, mindfulness of mind-objects.
one knows if one of the five hindrances is present or not, knows how it arises, how it is overcome.
one knows the nature of each of the five khandha, how they arise, and how they are dissolved.
one knows the 12 bases of all mental activity (ayatana).
one knows the fetters (samyojana) based on them, knows how they arise, how they are overcome, and how in future they do no more arise. one knows if one of the seven factors of enlightenment is present or not, knows how it arises, and how it comes to full development.
each of the Four Noble Truths is understood.

That should keep you busy for the afternoon :)