Bloedel Hall at St. Mark's Cathedral | Jan 2010
The Satipatthana sutta is the fundamental teaching by the Buddha, revered by all Buddhist traditions, on the application of mindfulness. Mindulness is the the basic teaching that connects the isolated individual to his/her internal and external environments. Through a steady integration of mindfulness our unconscious tendencies become conscious, and we discover a preexisting awareness and interconnectedness to life that changes everything. The four applications of mindfulness (body, feelings, mind, and mind objects), as well as the underlying principles behind it, are explored thoroughly through talks, discussions, dyads, and homework.
The Satipatthana Sutta is the application of the Buddha's teaching. After the view has been offered and an intention has been aroused, it answers the question, "What do I do now?"
Let the application of the teaching be informed by the root principle of selflessness and each mindful exercise manifest that selflessness through bare attention and total acceptance.
Guiding the application of the teaching from the sense of self and not the true principle of selflessness is the single greatest mistake made in Buddhist practice and distorts all the revelations.
It is important to learn the meditation technique, but to adhere too strictly to the form of the practice can mask self-doubt. Risking doing it wrong begins the “art” of practice, and insight develops within the art of quiet observation free from the pressure of failure.
Mindfulness is at the heart of the Buddha’s teaching, but few people understand how it evolves from the simple practice of being mindful into a mature, full-embodied awareness.
Mindfulness is the tool, awareness is the result. All we need to do to convert the tool into the result is get out of the way.
The body is a residing stranger to most of us. We think we know what it is, but we have not given ourselves to it thoroughly so that it reveals its secrets.
We continually misrepresent the body by forcing it to be governed, controlled, and defined by the mind. When we set the body free from imposed boundaries we find a natural and intelligent life energy that knows its way.
Movement integrates our insights into living reality rather than theoretical assumptions. When the insights become part of the living tissue of our body, a natural spontaneity arises.
Once we have accepted the fact that we cannot control the dharma, our practice opens up to the full catastrophe of living. We open first by backing away from our egoic demands and then by infusing our actions with the wisdom of the body.
We start with an aversive or attractive response to the body or body part, and quickly an emotional attitude arises that fixates upon the appearance; a story is formed, an opinion is held, and our body is made into something it never was. To love the whole of the body requires an intentional reversal of stepping out of those perceptual fixations and embracing the pleasant and unpleasant components in totality.
The Buddha seems to be encouraging an exploration of the themes of death and the body in this passage of the Satipatthana Sutta. Though all of us know we are going to die, few of us realize that fact as a living truth. This passage is meant to release us from our denial that fixates on permanency and continuity.
As we explore the body from this sutta, we realize the inevitability of loss and begin to see death everywhere. Death takes us through various stages of realization, altering our life and changing it forever. We learn to live consciously with all beginnings and endings.
How do the mind and body relate and does this tell us something regarding our identification with the processes involved? How does "mine and yours" become established within this relationship of mind/body?
Feelings are the first conditioned reference we offer the moment. Through our feelings we are prepared to turn away, ignore, or grasp the experience at hand. Feelings set up our attitudes, personal story, and character to carry us forward in a predisposed way.
The Second Foundation of Feelings is most easily held within the First Foundation of Body. The body gives clues to the mind's feelings. Postures such as physically leaning toward, away, or wandering in confusion show that the body is moving in alignment to a conditioned reference.
Once pleasure becomes a determined pursuit, the world divides itself into a pleasure/pain polarity. We now pursue pleasure, both to sustain a pleasant feeling and to avoid the discontent of pain.
Once a moment is avoided, a world view of division and separation springs forth, accompanied by a compelling narrative that justifies the aversion. Now we are in full armor with the world as our adversary, tying us to a ceaseless argument with it.
Neutral feelings pervade our life when we try to maintain a high level of intensity for our life's purpose and meaning. Busyness is an indication of this dependency, but as soon as the energy decreases below an established threshold, our mind wonders, and we become dull, listless, and uninterested. Awareness has not waned in the slightest, but we have been conditioned to stop paying attention.
Feelings move quickly into a narrative that captures our attention and promotes further images, all with their own feelings and further story. The sense of "I" arises, and we are surrounded by feelings and reactions to feelings, giving us a sense of ourselves in time and space. We call this life.
Equanimity does not empower feelings to drive thoughts. It holds a feeling as a feeling and does not extend the feeling into a narrative on why this feeling is important. It does not add anything to the moment, allowing the moment to bloom on its own.
Mindfulness of the body gave us stability of focus and mindfulness of feelings gave us the mechanism for how we project ourselves onto the world. Now we are sufficiently prepared to look at the mind itself.
As we study the Third Foundation of the Satipatthana Sutta we ask what is the mind and how does it seem to create a sense of self having the experience of an external world?
Desire forms the sense of self by fracturing the mind into what it wants compared to what it has. In moving with what it wants, it has to dismiss or resist reality (what it has) and form its own imaginative response. The sense of self is part of that fantasy buildup and has a central role in keeping it going.
Aversion and desire work together to entrap the mind within its own projections and divide the whole into parts. The opposite of what I desire is feared and visa versa. Because the mind is a single whole, when we pit what we like against what we do not, repetitive aversive and desiring images noisily dance through the mind in opposition to the contentment of the abiding wholeness.
Fear divides the mind by convincing us that the present is in the crosshairs of an approaching disaster. We therefore need to harness the power of our thinking and take flight physically and mentally away from now. If presence is maintained, fear has no way to access the moment except by projecting into the future.
The mind finds endless reasons to energetically split itself in two. "Shoulds," denials, rationalizations, resentments, and countless other states are energetic divisions, where the mind is trying to have what it wants while hiding from its assumed reality. Doubt is perhaps the most common expression of this pattern. Doubt reaches for what it wants with half a heart because it fears the repercussions of being a failure.
Anger is often unconsciously encouraged because it clears away the doubting mind. "I know why I feel this way, and I am right," says anger. Spiritually we can only approach and understand anger from humility, the opposite direction of righteousness. Anger usually arises as a component of grief where something you cared about was blocked or diverted away from you. If we can see anger as grief, humility is more easily accessed.
While we may have guilt over an incident or a series of mishaps, shame is the accompanying attitude about oneself and can therefore be far more disruptive. Life becomes an uphill battle against our destructive inward narrative. Its variations go from feeling lesser and smaller than to being an obstacle and ultimately better off not existing. Confronting our conclusion around shame is taking on our emotional posture to life itself.
Judgment is seeing the world in quantifiable terms. There a holistic way of seeing that is not partial and comparative but becomes inaccessible when we believe in judgment. Let the presence of judgment remind you that your thinking and emoting is arising from an incomplete perception. Quiet yourself to the inward narrative and allow the whole mind, undivided by judgment, to arise.
Worry attempts to protect us from every contingency. It becomes a pattern and view of life where I am the guardian and protector of my security. Worry is actually a process of self-affirmation because we keep affirming our power over what life brings forth. If I let down my guard, life would be chaotic and out of control, and therefore I need to worry to have everything turn out as I wish. Worry and planning elevates us to the status of a god while we are actually being controlled by fear.
Boredom tries to convince you that you must wait for life to be interesting enough to live and that now is not worth paying attention to. Boredom has you bypass the present for the excitement of a future possibility. Ask yourself when boredom arises, "When is life better than now?"
Arrogance is a remnant from the pain of the self that wants to be seen and heard as special and privileged. It is our spiritual work to watch not only the subtle grasping and aversive formations of self but its gross manifestations like arrogance as well. What is the pain behind this mental display, and what are the assumptions that move arrogance forward?
The personal evolves into the impersonal with time and exposure to awareness. The less "you" do about this process, the quicker it happens on its own. Simply say when a state of mind arises, "Is this about me?" In one way it is, in another way it is not. Be willing to see both tendencies and investigate each.
The Fourth Foundation of Mindfulness is the ability to discern what limits freedom and to see the value of open awareness when it is not limited. It encourages a complete examination and investigation of mind until there is existence without obstructions.
A quality of awareness is discernment, which can be active or passive. Passive discernment is seeing, "just this" without doing anything about it, while active discernment is uncovering what is hidden and unconscious. It uses an energetic and curious probing to broaden the expanse of awareness and welcome it beyond its egoic boundaries.
Accessing the Fourth Foundation is as easy as abiding in wonder. A question that is interesting to you but does not immediately resolve itself into an answer holds that wonder. When you hold a question without trying to immediately find the answer, you will feel the pull of form (needing to know the answer) in conflict with the formless (the wonder within the mystery of the question itself).
The Kalama sutta fits very nicely into the discussion on freeing awareness completely from any inward or outward authority. In the most radical statement possible the Buddha severs all ties from any dependency, essentially saying that freedom is not possible if one leans in any direction whatsoever.
Questions are the life's blood of the dharma. If we are willing to follow wherever the question takes us, then the question will take us out of our beliefs and opinions into something new and unexplored. Something will end in us and will not arise again in the same way.
What is a skillful or unskillful state of mind? What do those terms mean--skillful for what purpose? Even to know something at this most basic level requires active discernment. The Buddha may have said certain states were skillful or unskillful, but that does nothing for your practice. You have to see its effect on you and know its impact directly.
Applying discernment requires an honesty of intent. That honesty is the discernment at work. If you need skillful means to help balance the energy, use it. It can be helpful to back up to the First Foundation and see how the state of mind is affecting the body. Next, move to the Second Foundation and catch the feeling tone and the accompanying story. Moving onto the Third Foundation, settle to see just what this state is in essence. Finally, apply discerning questions that pick apart the solidity and truth of the state of mind such as, "Is there space for this too?" "Where is the "me" in this state?"
Struggling with the hindrances draws us back into form. Each hindrance has to be thoroughly understood so that when it arises we no longer invest reality into its appearance. Discernment is the only tool that can reveal the truth of its emptiness. In seeing the true nature of the hindrance, we see our own and the struggle ends. All other applications of practice reinvest thought into the form and make it more than what it is.
Discernment must ultimately understand the nature of self completely. Awareness saw in the Third Foundation how the self was born from a feeling and elaborated on with thought forming the story and image of "I." Even though that process is now understood (wisdom), still, because of its tremendous momentum, there may be a residual belief in the self when it arises. Discernment wears down that residual belief by tracking the sense of self through all its manifestations until there is no longer the belief in self even though there is the occasional arising of self.