Category: Buddhist Enlightenment
Satipatthana or “foundation of mindfulness” refers to the systematic method used in Buddhism for the development of Sati or “mindfulness.” Mindfulness is a state of mind that is firmly grounded in the present with attentive awareness of events as they unfold from moment to moment. It is the 7th limb of the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path, one of the Five Spiritual Faculties, and also one of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment.
It is said that in order to become enlightened beings, we first need to know the basic elements that create our experience of this world. In other words, we need to sort out what belongs to the realm of the body (physical) and what belongs to the realm of the mind (mental). The development of mindfulness allows us to do this. Cattāro satipaṭṭhānā means “four foundations of mindfulness.” These are the key areas wherein we should establish mindfulness.
The Four Foundations of Mindfulness are:
1. Mindfulness of the Body (Kāya) – refers to your physical body
2. Mindfulness of Feelings (Vedanā) – refers to the pleasant, unpleasant, and neutral sensations in your body
3. Mindfulness of the Mind (Citta) – refers to your consciousness
4. Mindfulness of Mental Objects (Dhamma) – refers to your thoughts and perceptions
Developing Wisdom and Concentration
People who follow the Buddhist path consider the practice of mindfulness to be of great value for it develops the mental factors of Vipassana (insight) and Samatha (serenity). Thus, if you want to attain both wisdom (by developing insight) and concentration (by developing serenity), there is only one thing you should do, i.e., practice mindfulness.
The Buddha taught that we should establish mindfulness in our day-to-day activities because not only can it allow us to see the true nature of the things that happen within and around us, but it can also lead us directly to Enlightenment. To quote the Buddha:
"Now, if anyone would develop these four frames of reference in this way for seven years, one of two fruits can be expected for him: either gnosis right here & now, or — if there be any remnant of clinging/sustenance — non-return*.*"Non-return" is the third stage of enlightenment.
"Let alone seven years. If anyone would develop these four frames of reference in this way for six years... five... four... three... two years... one year... seven months... six months... five... four... three... two months... one month... half a month, one of two fruits can be expected for him: either gnosis right here & now, or — if there be any remnant of clinging/sustenance — non-return.
"Let alone half a month. If anyone would develop these four frames of reference in this way for seven days, one of two fruits can be expected for him: either gnosis right here & now, or — if there be any remnant of clinging/sustenance — non-return.
"'This is the direct path for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow & lamentation, for the disappearance of pain & distress, for the attainment of the right method, & for the realization of Unbinding — in other words, the four frames of reference.' Thus was it said, and in reference to this was it said."
— Majjhima Nikaya, Satipatthana Sutta
The Practice of Mindfulness
Mindfulness meditation is probably one of the best (if not the most) effective ways to gain insight into the nature of existence, but it may seem quite technical for beginners. Here are some guidelines in order to help you practice mindfulness meditation effectively:
1. Work on all four foundations. Mindfulness meditation is meant to cover the entire range of conditions that create the sense of our so-called “Self.” If you want to fully develop mindfulness, you should try to work on all of the four foundations mentioned earlier.
2. Familiarize yourself with one method first then try out different ones. The most popular is Anapanasati or “mindfulness of breathing” (I'll give the link when we go to this topic). If you are not familiar with any kind of method, you can start with Anapanasati. When you feel that you have a sufficient degree of mastery with this method, you may then try out a different technique depending on your objective.
3. Concentrate on a subject that suits you most. You may find several meditation subjects and exercises in each of the four foundations of mindfulness, but that doesn’t necessarily mean you should practice them all. In fact, some of the exercises may only be practiced when the opportunity arises.
4. Try to study Buddhist philosophy and their maps/models of consciousness. In any kind of training, you need to learn not only the techniques, but the theories as well. The techniques tell you “how” to get to your destination; the theories tell you “where” it is and “why” you should go there.
5. Live and breathe mindfulness. Improvement only becomes apparent when you dedicate most of your time to your training. If you are really serious about accomplishing something, you need to make a few sacrifices.
6. Systematize your practice. One way to do this is to dedicate a certain amount of time to each of the exercises. Another one is to find a way to integrate them into every aspect of your waking life, i.e., your daily routines. In the case of the latter, even if you don’t have time to sit for long hours, you are still essentially practicing mindfulness.
The Four Foundations of Mindfulness
All the instructions I quoted below were taken from the English translations of the Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta and the Mahāsatipaṭṭhāna Sutta by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. These are considered two of the Buddha’s most valuable teachings regarding mindfulness meditation.
1. Mindfulness of the Body (Kāya)
Body (kāya) refers to any physical body formed through the combination of the properties of earth, water, fire, and wind. It includes bodies that have and do not have consciousness directing them. There are three aspects of the body:
1. The inner body – refers to your own body.
2. Outer bodies – refers to the bodies of other people.
3. The body in and of itself – refers to any part of the body, like the breath, which is an aspect of one of the four properties mentioned above.
The practice of mindfulness of the body is intended to help you see the true nature of the physical body. This allows you to become unattached to it so that it would be easier for your mind to remain steady and become absorbed in concentration. The basic rule here is to always stay aware and fully conscious of every aspect of the body day-in and day-out.
The practice of mindfulness of the body is composed of six exercises:
1. Mindfulness of Breathing
“Ever mindful he breathes in, mindful he breathes out. Breathing in a long breath, he knows, "I am breathing in a long breath"; breathing out a long breath, he knows, "I am breathing out a long breath"; breathing in a short breath, he knows, "I am breathing in a short breath"; breathing out a short breath, he knows, "I am breathing out a short breath."As I mentioned earlier, Anapanasati (mindfulness meditation on the breath) is the most common method used in the development of mindfulness. The Anapanasati method is composed of sixteen steps which guide you through all of the four foundations of mindfulness while keeping your awareness fixed on the breath. This method will give you a clear picture on how to do the rest of the exercises in this article.
2. Mindfulness of Postures
“And further, monks, a monk knows, when he is going, "I am going"; he knows, when he is standing, "I am standing"; he knows, when he is sitting, "I am sitting"; he knows, when he is lying down, "I am lying down"; or just as his body is disposed so he knows it.”Mindfulness of postures involves paying attention to four types of movements/positions: walking, standing, sitting, and lying down. Oftentimes we get so preoccupied by the thoughts running inside our head that we tend to neglect our posture. Maintaining mindful awareness of the body allows us to correct our postures and this helps us to facilitate our breathing, increase our concentration, and avoid health complications. Remember, a body in good physical condition is equivalent to a good state of mind.
3. Clear comprehension
“And further, monks, a monk, in going forward and back, applies clear comprehension; in looking straight on and looking away, he applies clear comprehension; in bending and in stretching, he applies clear comprehension; in wearing robes and carrying the bowl, he applies clear comprehension; in eating, drinking, chewing and savoring, he applies clear comprehension; in walking, in standing, in sitting, in falling asleep, in waking, in speaking and in keeping silence, he applies clear comprehension.”Clear comprehension involves maintaining mindfulness in our daily or regular activities. This can be divided into four aspects: 1) purpose - you refrain from activities irrelevant to the path, 2) suitability - you pursue activities in an ethical manner, 3) domain – you restrain the senses or keep away from self-indulgence, and 4) non-delusion – you constantly remind yourself of the nature of reality (impermanence, suffering, and non-self).
4. Reflection on the Repulsiveness of the Body
“And further, monks, a monk reflects on this very body enveloped by the skin and full of manifold impurity, from the soles up, and from the top of the head-hairs down, thinking thus: "There are in this body hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, sinews, bones, marrow, kidney, heart, liver, midriff, spleen, lungs, intestines, mesentery, gorge, feces, bile, phlegm, pus, blood, sweat, fat, tears, grease, saliva, nasal mucus, synovial fluid, urine."Reflection on the repulsiveness of the body involves the investigation of the disgusting, foul, unattractive, and unpleasant aspects of the body. All of us take care of our body making sure that it stays clean and healthy, but if you haven’t noticed, the body contains a motley assortment of vile stuff (glandular secretions, waste gases, excretory wastes, bacteria, and whatnot) that will never cease to exist as long as you are alive. The purpose of this practice is to eliminate the hindrance of sensual desire (kamacchanda).
5. Reflection on the Four Physical Elements
“And further, monks, a monk reflects on this very body, however it be placed or disposed, by way of the material elements: "There are in this body the element of earth, the element of water, the element of fire, the element of wind."Reflection on the four physical elements involves the investigation of the elements of earth, water, fire, and wind. The solid parts of the body belong to earth, the liquid parts belong to water, the heat of the body belongs to fire, and the air inside the body belongs to wind. According to chemists, these are molecules in a state of constant flux forever flowing throughout the natural world. According to physicists, these are the atoms we can only see using powerful instruments that aid our sense of sight. According to the Buddha, these things are actually empty. Ponder on that for a moment.
6. Cemetery Meditations
“And further, monks, as if a monk sees a body dead one, two, or three days; swollen, blue and festering, thrown in the charnel ground, he then applies this perception to his own body thus: "Verily, also my own body is of the same nature; such it will become and will not escape it."Cemetery meditations involve the contemplation on the ten stages in the decomposition of a corpse. The primary purpose of this exercise is to reduce sensual lust by gaining a clear perception of the repulsiveness of the body. Accordingly, there are ten subjects that you can investigate if you want to do this type of meditation. These subjects are: a swollen corpse, a blue-black corpse, a festering corpse, a dismembered corpse, a corpse hewed and scattered by animals, a cut-up scattered corpse, a cut and dismembered corpse, a bleeding corpse, a worm-infested corpse, and a skeleton. This exercise can allow you to reach the first state of Jhana.
2. Mindfulness of Feelings (Vedanā)
Feelings (vedanā) refer to the sensations that arise within the body and mind. These are the emotions that we consciously experience. Since we rarely pay close attention to our feelings, they sometimes appear all mixed up. For example, sometimes you feel pleasure both in body and mind, sometimes pain both in body and mind, sometimes physical pleasure but with mental discomfort, or sometimes physical pain but with mental satisfaction.
Feelings are classified into five types:
1. Agreeable feelings of the body - pleasure or delight in objects of the six senses: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations and thoughts; becoming attracted to these things as they come into contact with the mind.
2. Disagreeable feelings of the body - displeasure or discontent that arises from contact with objects of the senses (sights, sounds, smells, tastes, etc.) that appear to you as unsatisfactory or undesirable.
3. Agreeable feelings of the mind - good moods; a carefree sense of ease or well-being in the mind.
4. Disagreeable feelings of the mind - bad moods; a feeling of depression, sorrow, annoyance, or discouragement.
5. Indifferent feeling – a neutral mood (during intervals when happiness and sadness are absent) or a feeling of indifference or neutrality as one comes into contact with sights, sounds, etc.
“And how, monks, does a monk live contemplating feelings in feelings? Herein, monks, a monk when experiencing a pleasant feeling knows, "I experience a pleasant feeling"; when experiencing a painful feeling, he knows, "I experience a painful feeling"; when experiencing a neither-pleasant-nor-painful feeling," he knows, "I experience a neither-pleasant-nor-painful feeling." When experiencing a pleasant worldly feeling, he knows, "I experience a pleasant worldly feeling"; when experiencing a pleasant spiritual feeling, he knows, "I experience a pleasant spiritual feeling"; when experiencing a painful worldly feeling, he knows, "I experience a painful worldly feeling"; when experiencing a painful spiritual feeling, he knows, "I experience a painful spiritual feeling"; when experiencing a neither-pleasant-nor-painful worldly feeling, he knows, "I experience a neither-pleasant-nor-painful worldly feeling"; when experiencing a neither-pleasant-nor-painful spiritual feeling, he knows, "I experience a neither-pleasant-nor-painful spiritual feeling."Mindfulness of feelings is maintaining attentive awareness of each of the various kinds of feelings mentioned above, examining them closely, and observing them each time they rise and fade away.
Let’s say, for example, that you are meditating on the breath and suddenly the feeling of pleasure arises. Try to keep your attention on this feeling. Don't let your mind wander to avoid other thoughts from interfering with your investigation. Keep on observing pleasure until you know its true nature. Of course, there will be moments when your mind will get distracted. In that case, just make a mental note of whatever it is that enters your mind and go back to investigating pleasure.
This practice will allow you to see that feelings also bear the Three Marks of Existence (impermanence, suffering, and non-self).
3. Mindfulness of the Mind (Citta)
Mind (citta) refers to our state of mind/consciousness or the quality of our mental processes as a whole. Our thoughts, words, and actions are sometimes associated with our state of mind, so it is important to always keep the mind in check. Failing to do so is just like walking an untrained dog on a leash; it will just drag you wherever it wants to go if it doesn’t know how to obey you. Developing mindfulness brings calmness and clarity to the mind and this allows you to take control of it.
All of us experience many different states of mind. The table below shows 16 different kinds of states.
- For numbers 1-8, please study the Unwholesome Roots and Ten Defilements (Kleśas).
- For numbers 9-16, please study the States of Meditative Absorption (Jhanas).
|States of Mind||Description|
|1. The state of mind with lust||A mental state infused with desire or passion. Sensual desire. Craving for pleasure to the senses.|
|2. The state of mind without lust||A mental state devoid of sensual desire or craving.|
|3. The state of mind with hate||A sense of inner irritation and displeasure. Anger or ill-will. Feelings of malice directed toward others.|
|4. The state of mind without hate||A mental state devoid of anger or ill-will.|
|5. The state of mind with ignorance||A cloudy, murky, confused state of mind. Delusion. The mind not clearly or truly understanding its objects. Example: seeing beauty in things that aren't beautiful, constancy in things that are inconstant, pleasure in things that are painful, and self in things that are not-self.|
|6. The state of mind without ignorance||A state of mind devoid of delusion; one that see things clearly.|
|7. The shrunken state of mind||A state of mind fallen into sloth and torpor. Also called the shriveled or contracted state of mind.|
|8. The distracted state of mind||A state of mind accompanied by agitation or restlessness. Also called the dissipated mind.|
|9. The developed state of mind||Any state of mind belonging to the plane of forms (rūpāvacara) and formless planes (arūpāvacara).|
|10. The undeveloped state of mind||Any state of mind belonging to the plane of existence of sense-experience/world of desire (kamaloka).|
|11. The state of mind with some other mental state superior to it||Any state of mind belonging to the plane of sense-experience.|
|12. The state of mind without some other mental state superior to it||Any state of mind belonging to the higher plane of forms (rūpāvacara) and formless planes (arūpāvacara).|
|13. The concentrated state of mind||The state of mind of a person who has full or partial absorption.|
|14. The unconcentrated state of mind||The state of mind of a person without either full or partial absorption.|
|15. The freed state of mind||The state of mind of a person who is partially free from defilements through systematic or radical reflection or through the suppression of defilements in absorption. Both these states are temporary.|
|16. The unfreed state of mind||Any state of mind without either kind of temporary emancipation.|
“And how, monks, does a monk live contemplating consciousness in consciousness? Herein, monks, a monk knows the consciousness with lust, as with lust; the consciousness without lust, as without lust; the consciousness with hate, as with hate; the consciousness without hate, as without hate; the consciousness with ignorance, as with ignorance; the consciousness without ignorance, as without ignorance; the shrunken state of consciousness, as the shrunken state; the distracted state of consciousness, as the distracted state; the developed state of consciousness as the developed state; the undeveloped state of consciousness as the undeveloped state; the state of consciousness with some other mental state superior to it, as the state with something mentally higher; the state of consciousness with no other mental state superior to it, as the state with nothing mentally higher; the concentrated state of consciousness, as the concentrated state; the unconcentrated state of consciousness, as the unconcentrated state; the freed state of consciousness, as the freed state; and the unfreed state of consciousness as the unfreed state.”
Mindfulness of feelings is maintaining attentive awareness of the state of your own mind and examining it carefully. During practice, your state of mind may enter any of the sixteen states given on the table, so it would be helpful if you become familiar with them conceptually. If you read my article on the states of Jhana and do further research, you will find some pretty amazing stuff about the various states of mind that meditators enter during their practice. Just remember, like everything else you find in reality, the nature of these states is to arise for a moment and then fade away, thus they are impermanent. Focus on investigating any kind of mental state you find yourself in until you know its true nature.
4. Mindfulness of Mental Objects (Dhamma)
Mental objects (dhamma) refer to the multitude of conditions that occur mixed together in the mind. These conditions are links of interrelated causes and effects which serve as the underlying factors of human experience. According to Buddhists, mental objects are "momentary elements of consciousness" that exist independent from an observer-agent (you). In other words, they do not “belong to” you and they are not “a part of” you. They are simply there and you can only observe them. Our ignorance of the true nature of these objects creates the condition of clinging and it is our attachment to them that binds us to the world of suffering and traps us in the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.
The purpose of establishing mindfulness of mental objects is to be able to see the Three Marks of Existence (impermanence, suffering, and non-self) in them. For this, you need to do four essential things based on the principle of the Four Noble Truths:
1. Focus on impermanence – Try to know the cause and observe carefully the actual arising and passing away (impermanence) of the mental object you are investigating. With this, you gain the awareness that its nature is [suffering]; it cannot provide complete satisfaction.
2. Focus on dispassion – Once you see that the mental object is a cause of suffering, you will then become detached from your wrong views about it. You will understand that your desire for experience is the main cause for the arising of the object. No mental object belongs to you or a part of you and they don’t have any real substance (non-self).
3. Focus on cessation – By perceiving the actual fading away of the mental object and becoming unattached to it, you eventually stop craving for it.
4. Focus on relinquishment – Relinquishment means “giving up” or “abandoning” something. Upon gaining insight into the nature of the object, wisdom arises. You need this wisdom in order to completely abandon any object that defiles the mind and therefore make it pure; it’s the reason for following the path in the first place.
Mindfulness of mental objects can be practiced using the following exercises:
1. Contemplation on the Five Hindrances To Meditation
“How, monks, does a monk live contemplating mental objects in the mental objects of the five hindrances? Herein, monks, when sense-desire is present, a monk knows, "There is sense-desire in me," or when sense-desire is not present, he knows, "There is no sense-desire in me." He knows how the arising of the non-arisen sense-desire comes to be; he knows how the abandoning of the arisen sense-desire comes to be; and he knows how the non-arising in the future of the abandoned sense-desire comes to be.”The Five Hindrances to Meditation are the forces which disturb the mind and prevent sentient beings from attaining meditative states of full or partial absorption. The five hindrances to meditation are sensual desire, anger or ill-will, restlessness and worry, sloth and torpor, and doubt. Suppressing and eliminating these hindrances are necessary because their absence allows you to reach states of intense concentration which is an essential skill that you can use for investigating the nature of events.
2. Contemplation on the Five Aggregates
“How, monks, does a monk live contemplating mental objects in the mental objects of the five aggregates of clinging? Herein, monks, a monk thinks, "Thus is material form; thus is the arising of material form; and thus is the disappearance of material form. Thus is feeling; thus is the arising of feeling; and thus is the disappearance of feeling. Thus is perception; thus is the arising of perception; and thus is the disappearance of perception. Thus are formations; thus is the arising of formations; and thus is the disappearance of formations. Thus is consciousness; thus is the arising of consciousness; and thus is the disappearance of consciousness."The Five Aggregates (Skandhas) are the five groups in which the Buddha categorized all the physical and mental phenomena of existence. They are also called the “groups of clinging.” The five aggregates are forms, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. According to the Buddha, life as we know it is nothing but a process of these physical and mental phenomena. They neither individually or collectively represent an ego, personality, self, or soul nor is there to be found any ego, personality, self, or soul apart from them.
3. Contemplation on the Six Sense Bases
“How, monks, does a monk live contemplating mental objects in the mental objects of the six internal and the six external sense-bases? Herein, monks, a monk knows the eye and visual forms and the fetter that arises dependent on both (the eye and forms); he knows how the arising of the non-arisen fetter comes to be; he knows how the abandoning of the arisen fetter comes to be; and he knows how the non-arising in the future of the abandoned fetter comes to be.”The Six Sense Bases are the foundations of all mental activity. There are six internal sense bases (eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind) and six external sense bases (visual objects, sounds, odors, flavors, tactile objects, and mental objects). Craving (the “fetter” mentioned in the instruction above) arises from sensations that result from contact between an internal sense base (e.g. the eyes) and its corresponding external sense base (e.g. visual objects). To overcome craving, you need to gain insight into the nature of these sense bases.
4. Contemplation on the Seven Factors of Enlightenment
“How, monks, does a monk live contemplating mental objects in the mental objects of the seven factors of enlightenment? Herein, monks, when the enlightenment-factor of mindfulness is present, the monk knows, "The enlightenment-factor of mindfulness is in me," or when the enlightenment-factor of mindfulness is absent, he knows, "The enlightenment-factor of mindfulness is not in me"; and he knows how the arising of the non-arisen enlightenment-factor of mindfulness comes to be; and how perfection in the development of the arisen enlightenment-factor of mindfulness comes to be.”The Seven Factors of Enlightenment are the wholesome qualities that allow you to enter the path to enlightenment. The purpose of practicing mindfulness meditation is to bring these seven factors to the peak of their development. The seven factors of enlightenment are mindfulness, investigation, energy, rapture, tranquility, concentration, and equanimity.
5. Contemplation on the Four Noble Truths
“How, monks, does a monk live contemplating mental objects in the mental objects of the four noble truths? Herein, monks, a monk knows, "This is suffering," according to reality; he knows, "This is the origin of suffering," according to reality; he knows, "This is the cessation of suffering," according to reality; he knows "This is the road leading to the cessation of suffering," according to reality.”The Four Noble Truths are the four principles which contain the quintessence of the Buddha's teachings. It basically states that suffering exists (first noble truth), suffering arises because of craving (second noble truth), suffering disappears when craving ceases (third noble truth), and the cessation of suffering is achieved by following the Noble Eightfold Path (fourth noble truth). Just replace the word “suffering” with the words “mental objects” and you will get the whole idea.
So there you go. These are the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. I hope this article helps you on your way to enlightenment. See you in Nirvana. Remember, "There is no spoon!"