Friday, March 13, 2020

"The Way of Mindfulness" (Soma Thera)

Bhikkhu Bodhi (born Jeffrey Block), intro to The Way of Mindfulness: The Satipatthana Sutta and Its Commentary by Soma Thera; Dhr. Seven, Pat Macpherson (eds.), Wisdom Quarterly
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The Satipatthana Sutra, the "Discourse on the Foundations of Mindfulness," is generally regarded as the canonical Buddhist text with the fullest instructions on the system of meditation unique to the Buddha's dispensation.

The practice of satipatthana meditation centers on the methodical cultivation of one simple mental faculty readily available to all of us at any moment. This is the faculty of mindfulness, the capacity for attending to the content of our experience [without the overlays of grasping, resisting, or confusion] as it becomes manifest in the immediate present.

What the Buddha shows in the sutra is the tremendous, but generally hidden, power inherent in this simple mental function, a power that can unfold all the mind's potentials [for direct insight] culminating in final deliverance from suffering.

To exercise this power, however, mindfulness must be cultivated systematically. This sutra shows exactly how this is to be done. The key to the practice is to combine energy, mindfulness, and clear comprehension in attending to the phenomena of mind-and-body summed up in the "four rousings [or foundations] of mindfulness":
  1. body
  2. feelings
  3. consciousness
  4. mental objects.
Most contemporary meditation teachers explain satipatthana meditation as a means of generating insight (vipassana). While this is certainly a valid claim, we should also recognize that satipatthana meditation also generates concentration (samadhi).

Unlike the forms of meditation that cultivate concentration and insight sequentially, satipatthana brings both of these faculties into being together. Naturally, in the actual process of development, concentration will have to gain a certain degree of stability before insight can exercise its penetrating function.

In satipatthana, the act of attending to each occasion of experience as it occurs in the moment fixes the mind firmly on the object. The continuous attention to the object, even when the object itself is constantly changing, stabilizes the mind in concentration, while the observation of the object in terms of its qualities and characteristics brings into being the insight-knowledges.

To practice satipatthana successfully a trainee will generally require a sound theoretical knowledge of the practice along with actual training, preferably under the guidance of a qualified teacher. The best source of theoretical knowledge, indeed the indispensable source, is the Satipatthana Sutra itself.

However, although the sutra is clear and comprehensible enough as it stands, the instructions it offers are extremely concise, often squeezing into a few simple guidelines directions that might need several pages to explain in a way adequate for successful practice.

For this reason, from an early period, the ancient masters of Buddhist meditation began to supply more detailed instructions based on their own practical experience. These instructions eventually evolved into a lengthy commentary on the Satipatthana Sutra, which was then incorporated into the complete commentaries on the two collections in which the sutra appears, namely, the Long Discourse Collection (Digha Nikaya) and Middle-Length Discourse Collection (Majjhima Nikaya).

The two commentaries that have come down to us today, based on the older Sinhalese [Sri Lankan] commentaries, are called the Sumangala-vilasini (on the Digha Nikaya) and the PapaƱca-sudani (on the Majjhima Nikaya). These commentaries are ascribed to Ven. Buddhaghosa, an Indian Buddhist monk who worked in Sri Lanka in the 5th century A.C., but are securely based on the old commentaries, which record the explanations devised by the ancient masters of the Dharma.

The commentary has in turn been further elucidated by a sub-commentary, or tika, by Acariya Dhammapala, who worked in South India, near Kancipura, perhaps a century or two after the time of Buddhaghosa.

This book, The Way of Mindfulness, contains all of the authorized instructions on satipatthana meditation passed down in the Theravada Buddhist tradition: the Satipatthana Sutra stemming from the Buddha himself (in the more concise version of the Majjhima Nikaya, which omits the detailed analysis of the Four Noble Truths found in the Digha Nikaya's Maha Satipatthana Sutra), the commentary by Buddhaghosa, and selections from the sub-commentary by Dhammapala.

While the volume of material found here will certainly exceed the amount a beginner needs to start the practice, the book will prove itself useful at successive stages and will eventually become a trusted friend and advisor in all its manifold details.

Readers should not be intimidated by the detail and the sometimes formidable technical terminology, but should continue reading, selecting whatever material is found useful and leaving until later whatever presently seems difficult to grasp.

The book was originally compiled in the late 1930s by Ven. Soma Thera (1898-1960), a monk from Sri Lanka, and has been maintained in print since the early 1940s. The Buddhist Publication Society in Kandy has published the work since 1967 in several editions. This latest version contains several minor changes in terminology authorized by the present writer.

Proofreaders of the Pali texts Christine Chan and her friends in the Buddhist communities of Malaysia as well as Rev. Suddhinand Janthagul from Thailand deserve appreciation for their hard work in transcribing the book and for making it available for free distribution. I am sure this book will prove a valuable road map for everyone who has entered the steep and rugged road of satipatthana meditation, leading to final release from all suffering. More

Message by Bhikkhu Bodhi
Foreword by Dr. Cassius A. Pereira
Translator's Note
Introduction by the Translator
The Discourse on the Arousing of Mindfulness
The Commentary to the Discourse on the Arousing of Mindfulness
The Section of the Synopsis
The Contemplation of the Body
The Section on Breathing
The Section on the Modes of Deportment
The Section on the Four Kinds of Clear Comprehension
  • 1. Clear comprehension in going forwards and backwards
  • 2. Clear comprehension in looking straight on and in looking away from the front
  • 3. Clear comprehension in the bending and the stretching of limbs
  • 4. Clear comprehension in wearing shoulder-cloak and so forth
  • 5. Clear comprehension in the partaking of food and drink
  • 6. Clear comprehension of cleansing the body
  • 7. Clear comprehension of walking and so forth
The Section of Reflection on Repulsiveness
The Section of the Reflection on the Modes of Materiality
The Section on the Nine Cemetery Contemplations
The Contemplation of Feeling
The Contemplation of Consciousness
The Contemplation of Mental Objects
The Five Hindrances
  • 1. Sensuality
  • 2. Anger
  • 3. Sloth and torpor
  • 4. Agitation and worry
  • 5. Doubts
The Aggregates
The Sense-bases
The Factors of Enlightenment
  • 1. Mindfulness
  • 2. Investigation of mental objects
  • 3. Energy
  • 4. Joy
  • 5. Calm
  • 6. Concentration
  • 7. Equanimity
The Four Truths

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