Monday, April 18, 2016

Setting up the Four Foundations of Mindfulness

Ven. Nyanatiloka ( edited by Dhr. Seven, Amber Larson, Wisdom Quarterly

The "Four Foundations of Mindfulness," satipatthāna (lit. "awareness of mindfulness," sati-upatthāna), are the contemplation of:
  1. body
  2. feeling (sensations)
  3. mind
  4. mind-objects.
A detailed treatment of this subject, vital for the practice of Buddhist meditation leading to enlightenment in this very life, is given in the two Satipatthāna Sutras (DN 22 and MN 10). These discourses begin and end with the weighty proclamation:

"The one and only way [or the direct way] that leads to the of purification of beings, to the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, to the end of all pain and grief, to the entering of the right path [to enlightenment], and to the realization of nirvana is the Four Foundations of Mindfulness."
After these introductory words, in answer to the question what the four are, the sutra says that the meditator dwells in contemplation (anussati) of the body, feelings, mind, and mind-objects -- all of which are explained in detail with no need for the practitioner to assume or guess what is meant by each and every term.
One practices "ardent, clearly conscious, and mindful, after setting aside worldly greed and grief [hankering after and dejection from]."
These four contemplations are in reality not separate exercises but, on the contrary, especially in the meditative absorptions (jhanas), as things inseparably associated with one another.

So the Satipathāna Sutra forms an illustration of the way in which these contemplations relate to the Five Aggregates of Clinging (khandha) simultaneously come to be directly realized to finally lead to liberating-insight into the impersonality (anatta) of all states of existence.
What are the four?
(1) The contemplation of the body (kāya-anupassanā) consists of the following exercises:
(2) All feelings (vedanā-anupassanā) that arise in the meditator are clearly perceived, namely:
  • agreeable and disagreeable sensations of body and mind,
  • sensual and super-sensual feelings,
  • indifferent (neutral) feeling.
(3) Further more, one clearly perceives and understands any state of consciousness or mind (cittā-anupassanā), whether it 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.
(4) Concerning 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 in future it no more arises.
  • 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 fetters (bonds, samyojana) based on them, knows how they arise, how they are overcome, and how in future they no more arise.
  • One knows whether one of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment (bojjhanga) is present or not, knows how it arises, and how it comes to full development.
  • Each of the Four Noble Truths (sacca) he understands according to reality.
The four contemplations are comprised of several exercises. But the Satipatthāna Sutra should not therefore be thought of as a collection of meditation subjects where any subject can be taken out and practiced alone.

Though most of the exercises also appear elsewhere in the Buddhist texts, in the context of this sutra they are intended for the cultivation of mindfulness and insight, as indicated by the repetitive passage concluding each section of the sutra (see below). 
The contemplations cover all of the Five Aggregates because mindfulness is meant to encompass the whole personality. So for the full development of mindfulness, the practice extends to all four types of contemplation. But not every single exercise mentioned under these four headings needs to be taken up.

A methodical practice of has to start with one of the exercises out of the 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 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 [on an atomic level from moment to moment] and how it passes away, beholds the arising and passing away of the body.

"A body is there" (but no living being, no individual, no self, 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 knowledge and mindfulness, and one lives independent, unattached to anything in the world.''
In the same way one contemplates feeling, mind, and mind-objects.
In MN 118 it is shown how these Four Foundations of Mindfulness may be brought about by the meditation exercise of mindfulness on in-and-out breathing (ānāpāna-sati).
  • The Way of Mindfulness, translation of the sutra and commentary, by Soma Thera (3rd ed.,
  • The Heart of Buddhist Meditation, Nyanaponika Thera (3rd ed.; London. Rider & Co.)
  • The Foundations of Mindfulness (translation of MN 10), Nyanasatta Thera (Wheel 19)
  • The Satipatthāna Sutta and its Application to Modern Life, V. F. Gunaratna (Wheel 60)
  • The Power of Mindfulness, Nyanaponika Thera (Wheel 121/122)

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