Friday, May 4, 2018

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness!

Ven. Nyanatiloka; Dhr. Seven, Ananda M. (D.M.I.), Amber Larson (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly
Where can I learn to PRACTICE this liberating-wisdom? Dharma Meditation Initiative

Sati-upatthāna, literally "awareness of mindfulness" or "the fourfold setting up of mindfulness" means the systematic contemplation of:
  1. body
  2. feelings
  3. mind
  4. mind-objects.
A detailed treatment of this subject crucial in the practice of Buddhist mental development, is given in the two Satipatthāna Sutras (DN 22, MN 10), which at the start and again for emphasis at the conclusion, proclaim the weighty promise:

"The only [or one direct] 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 nirvana is [the development of] the four foundations of mindfulness."

After these introductory words, the question of what the four are, it is said that the meditator dwells contemplating the body, the feelings (sensations), the mind, and mind-objects, "ardent, clearly conscious and mindful, after setting aside greed and grief with regard to the world."
These four contemplations are in reality not taken as separate exercises. But on the contrary, in many cases, especially in the absorptions/jhanas, as constituents inseparably associated with each other.

The Satipathāna Sutra forms an illustration of the way in which these four contemplations relating to the Five Groups of Existence or the Five Aggregates Clung to as Self (khandha) simultaneously come to be realized and finally lead to direct insight into the impersonal nature of all existence.

Four Foundations
(1) Contemplation of the body (kāya-anupassanā) consists of the following exercises:
(2) All feelings (vedanā-anupassanā) that arise in the meditator one clearly perceives, namely:
  • agreeable and disagreeable (pleasing and displeasing) sensation of body and mind
  • sensual and super-sensual sensations
  • indifferent (neutral) sensation.
(3) One further clearly perceives and understands any state of mind or consciousness (cittā-anupassanā), whether it is:
  • greedy or nongreedy (generous, letting go, giving)
  • hateful or nonhateful (forgiving, loving, friendly)
  • deluded or nondeluded (right view, knowing, wise)
  • cramped or distracted
  • developed or undeveloped
  • surpassable or unsurpassable
  • concentrated or unconcentrated
  • liberated or unliberated.
(4) Concerning the mind-objects (dhammā-anupassanā),
  • One knows whether one of the Five Hindrances (nīvarana) is present or not, knows how it arises, how it is overcome, and how it does not arise in the future.
  • One knows the nature of each of the Five Aggregates (khandha), how they arise, and how they are dissolved.
  • One knows the 12 bases of all mental activity (āyatana): the eye and the visual object, the ear and the audible object...mind and mind-object
  • One knows the bonds/fetters (samyojana) based on them, knows how they arise, how they are overcome, and how they do not arise in the future.
  • One knows whether one of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment (bojjhanga) is present or not, knows how it arises, and how it is brought to full development.
  • One understand each of the Four Noble Truths (sacca) according to reality.
When one knows-and-sees, one is free
The four contemplations comprise several exercises, but the Satipatthāna Sutra should not therefore be thought of as an assortment of meditation subjects, any one of which might be taken out and practiced alone.

Although most of the exercises also appear elsewhere in the Buddhist texts, in the context of this sutra they are chiefly intended for the cultivation of mindfulness and liberating insight, as indicated by the repetitive passage concluding each section of the sutra (shown below).

The four contemplations cover all of the Five Aggregates (khandha), because mindfulness is meant to encompass the whole personality or "self."

Hence, for the full development of mindfulness, the practice encompasses all four types of contemplation, although not every single exercise mentioned under these four headings needs be taken up.

A methodical practice of satipatthāna must start with one of the exercises out of the first group, "contemplation of the body," which will serve as the primary and regular subject of meditation:

The other exercises of the group and the other three contemplations are to be cultivated when occasion for them arises during meditation and in everyday life.
After each contemplation it is shown how it finally leads to insight-knowledge:
  • "Thus, with regard to one's own body, one contemplates the body;
  • with regard to the bodies of others, one contemplates the body;
  • with regard to both, one contemplates the body.
  • One beholds how the body arises and how it passes away;
  • one beholds the arising and passing away of the body [simply as],
  • "A body is there" (but no living being, no individual, no woman, no man, no self, and nothing that belongs to a self, neither a person, nor anything belonging to a person).
Commentary: Thus, one has established attentiveness as far as it serves one's knowledge and mindfulness, and [now] one lives independent, no longer clinging to anything in the world.''
In the same way, one contemplates feelings, mind, and mind-objects.
In MN 118 it is shown how these Four Foundations of Mindfulness may be brought about by the exercise of mindfulness on in-and-out breathing (ānāpāna-sati).


  • The Way of Mindfulness, translation of sutra and commentary by Soma Thera (3rd ed, Kandy 1967,
  • The Heart of Buddhist Meditation by Nyanaponika Thera (3rd ed.; London, Rider & Co.)
  • The Foundations of Mindfulness (translation of MN 10) by Nyanasatta Thera (Wheel 19,
  • The Satipatthāna Sutta and its Application to Modern Life by V. F. Gunaratna (Wheel 60,
  • The Power of Mindfulness by Nyanaponika Thera (Wheel 121/122)

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