Mindfulness ‘of the mind’?

When light, sound, food, touch etc contacts the body, the corresponding (eye, ear, tongue, etc..) sense organs pick up these stimuli, and the electrical stimulus is sent via a nerve to the brain. The brain then unpacks that electrical signal, much like a TV unlocks the electrical signal of cables, and converts it into an image. These ‘electrical images’ are presented to us much like ghosts or echoes of some event which happened a few moment ago. i.e. we cannot ever capture the true ‘present moment’ and we are alive slightly to the past. Not being in the ‘true’ present moment is never a problem, as we live in our created bubbles, as does everyone else, thereby ‘in-sync’ with everything.

Even though we think we are aware of our surroundings, what we are truly aware of, is the mind created ‘world’. The world which is ‘out-there’ sends a signal internally, so this gives rise to the process of creating the world. That is, the process isn’t entirely divorced of some external reality, but causes and effects starting from this ‘external world’ end up giving rise to a reality inside. It wouldn’t be taking it too far to say that external stimuli gives rise to the Mind. The mind only comes into existence, if it is stimulated either externally from the external environment or internally from memories, which are also derived ultimately from the external environment, and reactions to it.

Mindfulness of breath, continued

Mindfulness of breathing is  a very blissful process: however this does not mean the bliss lasts. At deep levels of the practice, after states of mystic absorption call ‘jhana‘ the bliss can extend up to an hour or so after the state has ended, leaving one with a feeling of complete peace, afterwards. It might last even longer in a retreat setting. This bliss is qualitatively different from say, eating ice cream, though that is a pleasant experience. Enjoying something more pleasurable, is just that – pleasure. A more subtler form of enjoyment is rapture (piti) that arises from the inward seclusion and practice of mindfulness of breath, but not limited to that. An even more subtler form is bliss itself (sukha),. Its important to understand that all kinds of pleasure and bliss eventually come to an end. Having said that they all have their uses, like a plank of wood has in building a raft to go beyond ‘to the other shore’; to enlightenment. The wood has no further use upon reaching the other shore. The Seven factors of enlightenment (sapta bojjhanga) are filled with essentials like rapture, bliss, gladness, unification and equanimity.

Mindfulness of Breath, or ‘Anapanasati’

Mindfulness of Breath, is the classic mindfulness meditation since ancient times, it would seem. It is considered one of the ‘body’ meditations in ancient Buddhism, and the old scriptures capture mentions of various supernormal powers, and attainments which were accessed by the Indian ascetics predating the Buddha. These were ‘divine eye’ a paranormal ability to see the movements of the gods, upon which entire philosophies grew around. Also the leader Nigantanataputta and his followers were able to reach the third jhana. The Buddha’s original teachers Uddakaramaputta and Alarakalama may have also used mindfulness of breath, but not clearly recorded. It is known that he tried various extreme breath controlling (now known as Prana) methods when he was trying to find enlightenment, which he later abandoned in the original form, but maybe present in a subtle way, as mentioned in ‘guiding the breath’ in the Mindfulness of breath sutra.

Mindful meditation

With mindfulness becoming very popular in the last couple of decades, it has become divorced from its’ beginnings. In its journey to the West it had to shed some baggage as well as some babies in the bathwater, which has left it ‘refreshing’ and rather ‘lite’, simultaneously. While popularity, and its marketing appeal will set people in motion to explore and investigate it in great depth, my sincere wish is that it becomes a tracer round leading people to investigate in depth, and set down lasting roots into the ground, rather than die the natural death of a ‘product’, only to be replaced by the next new trend.

The ‘trend’ of mindfulness as lasted 2600 years, and its journey to the West (and indeed to the far East) has be eventful. What has served it well is that it has a certain simplicity which cannot be distorted. And therefore it is resilient. But it can be ‘stripped down’ of its travelling companions, the other seven factors of the Noble Eightfold Path.

Meditating under a tree

In the Satipatthana sutta, only Mindfulness of in-and-out breathing describe going to the ‘wilderness, or to the root of a treee, or an empty hut’: ‘araññagato vā rukkhamūlagato vā suññāgāragato vā‘. Does this mean that other meditation methods do not require this degree of physical seclusion?

Being secluded, in a retreat, is helpful to manage the business of the mind. Arguably this is a particular need for mindfulness of breath. It’s object, the breath, is a very subtle one, requring to be away from distractions. Even the other methods of meditation, like foulness of the body and midfulness of postures would be easier to carry out in a secluded setting.

This need for seclusion is reflected in the Girimananda sutta, where nine other insight oriented reflections are placed in a forest setting. A sutta called ‘authorities/governing principles’ a monk reflects that he has relinquished everything, and taken up the homeless life, and is now suffering and is trying to find a way out of it. He finds the homeless life suitable for removing that which is unwholesome and developing that which is wholesome. This sutta places the entirety of the Buddhist practice, as being suitable for someone in seclusion. However we also know reliably that lay buddhists also practiced upto anagami (non-returner) stages where they were able to overcome their sensual cravings and aversions. Could they have spent time in retreat settings? While suttas about lay people are scarce, in one Anathapindika is asked to seclude himself by Ven Sariputta. In another Pessa the Elephant herder’s son is heard saying that he practiced the satipatthana, in seclusion, from time to time. This leads to the issues of what unsuitable environments can be said to give rise to in meditation, and if meditators only experience such environments, what they would end up believing about what they themselves can achieve.

Faith (Saddhā)

Faith is an emotional connection, with someone or something of religious affiliations. Or it could mean a connection with someone or something in a secular sense, as well. Religious faith is transcendental, and promotes unquestioning devotion while secular faith is derived from the testing the waters and then developing faith, or better put, confidence as a result. Confidence, in this way, allows for greater openness to what the Buddha’s teachings bring. Religious faith leads to practicing blind rituals (silabbataparamasa) where one believes, salvation lies.

As a practitioner cannot know right from the start if they can face deeper challenges in the Path, confidence or saddha allows one to take up the those challenges, in good faith. It is said in the commentary, that those with faith have little intelligence, and vice versa. This likely to be referring to religious or ‘faith without evidence’, and perhaps referring to the suggestibility, in such a person. Stream entry (or Sotapatti) is the first milestone where faith plays a significant role, in breaking the fetters (samyojana), for reaching nibbana. The first steps of faith-follower and dhamma-follower lead up to stream entry. It shows the significance of faith in developing insight into the dhamma, and also shows how ego, disturbs the path into insight, as it sides with ignorance (avijja), which then shows up as lack of faith. The meditator will then have to take a longer trek in to insight. Faith’s real contribution, in reaching nibbana, is overcoming doubt, accepting what is presented the meditator, in their meditation and being a wholesome mental state, clearing the mind of the hindrances like cravings, aversions, restlessness, regret, drowsiness, laziness and doubt (the five hindrances). If disbelieving some may not want to accept, that what is arising is not ‘self’ and that everything in the world is just fleeting phenomena. This maybe an issue if someone is strongly wedded to the idea of a Soul or Creation in Christianity.

Insight meditation takes a deep look into the true nature of existence, and only see rapid arising and passing away of fleeting experiences. This can be delightful, if prepared or difficult, if the mind is unprepared, through instructions. Part of the preparation is that they are expected to practice contemplations which increase faith in the Buddha, dhamma and Sangha, the triple gem. It’s also practiced during the process of developing insight.

Those ‘released through insight’, upon attaining stream entry, are given a specific name: saddhavimutta. Going further, in to the path faith is said to increases along with the five faculties of faith, effort, mindfulness, unification of mind, and insight. The faculty (indriya) of faith becomes the power (bala) of faith. It can allow the meditator to even overcome all bonds to lay life, become ordained and nourish him till he reaches full enlightenment. The person who reaches full enlightenment, the arahanth, has developed great insight with all delusion about the world discarded. He doesn’t believe in beings, but sees only aggregates, sense bases and elements. How to have faith in those? He fully understands the true nature of ‘teachers’, ‘the teachings’ and ‘the student’ and sees theIr conventional nature and that in ultimate reality these are merely fleeting phenomena, and are ultimately unsatisfying. The word ‘faithless’ or ‘assaddhaka’ is used, for Arahants, in this context.

The path begins it is said, in the Upanissa sutta when someone who has suffered, seeks a teacher and finding one, listens to them and faith is born.


Mindfulness and remembering everything

Mindfulness is supposed to be focused on the Four foundations of mindfulness, for purposes of traditional mindfulness practice. Mindfulness limits our awareness to a narrower set of objects of awareness. So the idea that a person being mindful must recall everything said and done perfectly and cannot forget anything, is a myth. We can forget things but be aware of the present moment, despite being able to remember the past, and plan for the future, when we stop being powerfully aware of the present.

It’s true that remembering the past and thinking of the future are different to being mindful in the present.