Is mindfulness actually a power as claimed by the title?
- [DEFINITION: Mindfulness is "present moment bare-awareness," which means being here NOW without evaluating, judging, commenting, or discursively thinking about data presented to the six senses, which includes the mind and mental objects such as thoughts, memories, and imagination, but instead being awake-and-aware and equanimous about just what is happening right now.]
|Young German Ven. Nyanaponika, Sri Lanka|
Here, mindfulness means just "to watch one's steps" so that one may not stumble or miss a chance in the pursuit of one's aims. Only in the case of specific tasks and skills is mindfulness sometimes cultivated more deliberately, but here too it is still regarded as a subservient function, and its wider scope and possibilities are not recognized.
Even if one turns to the Buddha's Doctrine, the Dharma, taking only a surface view of the various classifications and lists of mental factors in which mindfulness appears, one may be inclined to regard this faculty just as "one among many."
Again one may get the impression that it has a rather subordinate place and is easily surpassed in significance by other faculties.
Mindfulness in fact has, if we may personify it, a rather unassuming character. Compared with it, mental factors such as energy, devotion, imagination, and intelligence are certainly more colorful personalities, making an immediate and strong impact on people and situations. Their conquests are sometimes rapid and vast, though often insecure.
|Mindfulness can be practiced all the time. For insight, it is best applied in peace and silence.|
One must know mindfulness well and cultivate its acquaintance before one can appreciate its value and its silent penetrative influence.
Mindfulness walks slowly and deliberately, and its daily task is of a rather humdrum nature. Yet, where it places its feet it cannot easily be dislodged, and it acquires and bestows true mastery of the ground it covers.
Mental faculties of such a nature, like actual personalities of a similar type, are often overlooked or underrated. In the case of mindfulness, it required a genius like the Buddha to discover the "hidden talent" in the modest garb and to develop the vast inherent power of that potent seed.
It is, indeed, the mark of a genius to perceive and to harness the power of the seemingly small. Here, truly, it happens that "what is little becomes much." A revaluation of values takes place.
The standards of greatness and smallness change. Through the master mind of the Buddha, mindfulness is finally revealed as the Archimedean point where the vast revolving mass of world suffering is levered out of its twofold anchorage in ignorance and craving.
The Buddha spoke of the power of mindfulness in a very emphatic way:
"Mindfulness, I declare, is all-helpful" (SN 46:59). "All things can be mastered by mindfulness" (AN 8:83).Further, there is that solemn and weighty utterance opening and concluding the Discourse on the Setting up of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (Satipatthana Sutra):
"This is the only [or the one straight] way, meditators, for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the destruction of pain and grief, for reaching the right path, for the attainment of nirvana, namely the four foundations of mindfulness."In ordinary life, if mindfulness, or bare attention, is directed to any object, it is rarely sustained long enough for the purpose of careful and factual observation. Generally, it is followed immediately by emotional reaction, discriminative thought, reflection, or purposeful action.
In a life and thought governed by the Buddha's Teachings, too, mindfulness (sati) is mostly linked with clear comprehension (sampajañña, "clear awareness of what one is currently doing") of the right purpose or suitability of an action and other considerations.
|Escapism is fun! Who needs bare attention?|
By bare attention we understand the clear and single-minded awareness of what actually happens to us and in us, at the successive moments of perception.
It is called "bare" because it attends to the bare facts of a perception without reacting to them by deed, speech, or mental comment.
Ordinarily, that purely receptive state of mind is, as was said, just a very brief phase of the thought process of which one is often scarcely aware.
But in the methodical development of mindfulness aimed at the unfolding of its latent powers, bare attention is sustained for as long a time as one's strength of concentration permits.
Bare attention then becomes the key to the systematic meditative practice of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, opening the door to mind's mastery and final liberation.
Bare attention is developed in two ways, as (1) a methodical meditative practice with selected objects and (2) applied, as far as practicable, to the normal events of the day, together with a general attitude of "mindfulness and clear comprehension."
The details of the practice have been described elsewhere, and need not be repeated here.*
- *See The Heart of Buddhist Meditation (Nyanaponika Thera)
|The Heart of Buddhist Meditation|
Particularly in an age like ours, with its superstitious worship of ceaseless external activity, there will be those who ask: "How can such a passive attitude of mind as that of bare attention possibly lead to the great results claimed for it?"
In reply, one may be inclined to suggest to the questioner not to rely on the words of others, but to put these assertions of the Buddha to the test of personal experience.
But those who do not yet know the Buddha's teaching well enough to accept it as a reliable guide may hesitate to take up, without good reasons, a practice that just on account of its radical simplicity may appear strange to them.
In the following a number of such "good reasons" are therefore proffered for the reader's scrutiny. They are also meant as an introduction to the general spirit of cultivating the Four Foundations of Mindfulness and as pointers to its wide and significant perspectives.
Furthermore, it is hoped that he who has taken up the methodical training will recognize in the following observations certain features of his own practice and be encouraged to cultivate them deliberately.
Four Sources of Power in Bare Attention
- the functions of "tidying-up" and "naming" exercised by bare attention,
- its non-violent, non-coercive procedure,
- the capacity of stopping and slowing down,
- the directness of vision bestowed by bare attention.
|Tidying and naming has to do an inner cleaning up not more busy-ness (Bankrate).|
|Great elder Ven. Nyanaponika, BPS Editor, Sri Lanka|
- Four Sources of Power in Bare Attention
- 1. The Functions of "Tidying" and "Naming"
- 2. The Non-coercive Procedure
- 3. Stopping and Slowing Down
- 4. Directness of Vision
- Further Reading