Now we come to the Way of Mindfulness (Satipatthana in the ancient Pali language), the Buddha’s great meditation that directly led to his all-encompassing enlightenment 2500 years ago. Only one man in historical times has been called Buddha, meaning Fully Enlightened One. Other epithets have been coined to show the Buddha’s perfection, such as Tathagata (One who has thus come, or alternatively, One who has thus gone) and Bhagavan (Lord). It must be remembered that the Buddha was not born with this great enlightenment, nor did he claim he was a god, or that he received Divine Revelation. A prince of the ancient Shakya republic in northwest India, he left his wife and child, as well as his patrimony (which would have made him King), out of compassion for the suffering of all beings, and became a wandering mendicant in order to achieve enlightenment and to use it for the benefit of all. After almost starving to death, he reached his goal under the Bodhi tree (at Bodh Gaya), emerging from the four meditative absorptions to the full realization of life everywhere, in all possible worlds. It is said that he sat immersed in bliss for 49 days before being persuaded (by the god Brahma) to use his great attainment for the benefit of all beings.
Among the Buddha’s postulations, based on his deep experience, was the Noble Eight-Fold Path. And mindfulness is the first of the seven Factors of Enlightenment as taught by the Buddha. From this it can be seen how important mindfulness is on the path to perfection.
As a meditation, the Satipatthana encompasses more than any of the others we talk about in this book. It is a complete psychological system of self-discovery, and its power will make an impact on the practitioner’s life 24 hours of the day.
At first our practice of the Satipatthana will be performed at regular sittings (cross-legged or in a chair) with this exception: we will be asked to frequently scrutinize our posture and our state of mind during the day, not to correct them in any way, but just to be aware of them.
So much of our busy life is lived unconsciously. While we brush our teeth, we are daydreaming; when shaving, we are making plans, and often do not remember afterward whether or not we have shaved. And when we do remember, how much we add to the memory, embellishing the bare facts until they are unrecognizable. Zen says, “When eating, there should be only the eating. When thinking, there should be only the thought,” and adds, “When hungry we eat, when tired we sleep.” Isn’t this what we all do? No, a thousand times no. When eating we do not even taste because the mind is wandering.
And one thought leads endlessly to other thoughts, beginning long chains of association that end in attachment and clinging, bringing misery in their wake. In this unknowing way we create our karma, the inevitable reactions that follow actions and result in ill health, among other things. When Krishnamurti speaks of “choiceless awareness,” he means perception without reaction – just being aware of what is happening. To experience such awareness, we must be temporarily motiveless, whereas the panting heart, full of wishes and desires, running after every desirable object, sees everything through a screen of self-interest.
The Satipatthana encourages, even forces, awareness of what is happening inside as well as in the world around. We simply note it, without condemnation or approval. If the mind finds it pleasing, we make a note of such; that’s all. And yet, within the four categories (which gradually contract to become one all-enveloping classification), all things are included – our thoughts, reactions and sensations.
After a while, our regular Satipatthana sittings become almost unnecessary. We are doing the meditation all the time.
This is not a meditation that will lead to trance-states. It will greatly enhance our feeling of here and now – as we unavoidably learn what makes us tick, what tricks the mind plays and how we really react to the world each day and night. It may change our mistaken self-image. In short, it does away with delusion and illusion.
Bare awareness is the foundation of the Satipatthana, and it is a completely new approach for most of us. Whether we are seeking merely the healing effects of such an all-encompassing meditation, or whether we welcome the enlightening effects that come with it, there is no more beneficial practice we can follow.
We begin practice by watching our state of mind and becoming aware of our posture, without correcting it, during the day and night. Soon we notice that there is a definite relationship between the two. It is easy to see how the state of mind affects the posture; the harassed man hurries around all bent over without being aware of it. It is a little more difficult to realize that the way we sit, stand and walk will affect our attitude and state of mind.
Zen practice puts the greatest emphasis on posture during zazen (Zen sitting or meditation) and, in a temple, a monk walks around with a big stick called the keisaku to make sure the sitter remembers to sit properly. It is an apt reminder. Zen says that, when you are slumped over, you are probably daydreaming; Zen practice is an exercise in nowness. Obviously much of Zen, in the early days, was derived from the Satipatthana, the Way of Mindfulness. A brief story might illustrate this:
After studying with his Zen master fifteen years, a Zen monk was given full approval (inka) and allowed to go out on his own to teach. Returning to visit his master one rainy day, he placed his umbrella and wooden clogs (the Japanese do not wear rubber boots to keep out the water, they walk over the it on clogs) neatly on the floor in the anteroom before entering the room where his master was waiting.
“Did you place your umbrella on the right side of your clogs or on the left?” was the master’s greeting to his visitor.
Thunderstruck, the new teacher tried desperately to remember and could not do so. He had lost his 24-hour awareness, so vital in Zen. As a result, he gave up his own students and returned to study with his old master ten more years.
This is a dramatic excursion into the meaning of true awareness. Not all of us are aiming at Zen enlightenment, though it might not be a bad idea, but our health and well-being depend, to a considerable extent, on whether we are the master of one’s self or just a piece of flotsam tossed aimlessly hither-and-yon.
As a preliminary, at intervals during the day, we are to watch our posture and our state of mind; in the beginning, the latter may be more difficult to determine than is supposed.
Then, when we are ready to commence formal sittings, we take our seat (cross-legged or in a chair) and spend a length of time (10 minutes, perhaps) on each of the following four categories:
MINDFULNESS OF THE BODY
We watch the rise and fall of the diaphragm in breathing, thus becoming mindful of the body. We breathe naturally without counting the breaths. The diaphragm rises and falls; we are breathing, or being breathed. Sometimes it is a long breath, sometimes it is a short one. As the teachers say, “If it is a long breath, so be it. If a short breath, well and good.” We change nothing; we are just aware of our breathing. And during the day we note our posture, being mindful of the body in this way.
MINDFULNESS OF SENSATION
Now we turn our attention (for another ten minutes) to the sensations, inner and outer, we experience. Noting the feel of the backside touching the chair, we become aware of a slight sourness in the stomach. A light breeze touches the cheek, and we note it. All sensation or feeling is merely noted.
And each time we are aware of a sensation, we also make a note of whether the reaction is pleasant, unpleasant or merely neutral. This is how the mind works; it classifies. Therefore, we watch it classifying. Doing this, one day we may have the sudden insight that thoughts have a life of their own; we watch them and realize we are not the thoughts. This will make quite an impact.
MINDFULNESS OF THE STATE OF MIND
This is the most difficult of the four categories. For about ten minutes we introspect our state of mind, which is constantly shifting. A motorcycle makes a loud noise outside, startling us, and we note: mind with annoyance.
We become restless, feeling that the meditation will never end, and we merely make a note: impatient mind. We may even wonder whether all this practice has any meaning, so we note: doubting mind. Nothing escapes us. And we try to watch our state of mind during the day, along with our posture. It is a practice that really leads to nonattachment, even to our own thoughts and moods.
OBJECTS OF MIND
We sit another ten minutes practicing this most inclusive category. This is closest to Zen practice, and it appeals more than the other categories to those of intellectual bent.
Actually, all perceptions and all thoughts are “objects of mind.” We hear a noise outside, and we note it. Seeing the rug in front of us, we are consciously mindful of it. A sudden memory flashes through the mind, and we observe it. If we consider the mind as the sixth sense in Buddhist fashion, then whatever comes to us through the senses is an “object of mind.” It is not easy to make a note of every perception, let alone thought, but with practice, we will be able to do so.
It will be noted that Mindfulness of Sensation and Objects of Mind overlap somewhat. In combined practice we will make these one, not only noting the sensations, but the sense perceptions and thoughts as well and, each time, noting if the reaction is pleasing, displeasing or neutral.
Having become familiar with the four categories separately, we now will seek to combine them in the real Satipatthana practice. We will sit 40 minutes or an hour.
Our basic focus will be on the breath, the rising and falling of the diaphragm, and we will come back to it each time there is, temporarily, no other Mindfulness operating.
Sitting watching the breath, and being aware of the posture, the mind is ready to receive any other impression. A thought comes, and we note it as “objects of mind” and, since it stimulates the mind quite a bit in this instance, we look at the state of mind, which we find to be one of expectancy. “Expectant mind” or “eager mind,” we note. A draft from the window sends a chill through our system, and we note the feeling and the fact that it is unpleasant. Who was fool enough to leave the window open? We make a note: mind with resentment – our feeling toward the unknown perpetrator. We have decided, in advance, to sit for one hour, but only fifteen minutes have passed and we are beginning to be uncomfortable. Making a note of the discomfort and the fact that it is displeasing, we slightly shift our position, feeling guilty that we are doing so: mind with guilt. Then back to watching the breath rise and fall, our basic meditation.
And so it goes, never stopping. Eventually we will carry out these categories automatically night and day – and they may influence our dreams as well. Regular sittings are helpful, but the Satipatthana meditation goes on all the time.
The effects of Satipatthana practice are startling. For the first time we see how we actually operate; for the first time we have self-knowledge. This meditation, in the beginning, can hit one like a bombshell. One student of the author’s declared that, suddenly, he saw his whole life going by in front of his eyes like a speeded-up newsreel. Big changes were to shortly take place in the student’s life.
Psychologically, all sorts of unconscious neurosis may disintegrate with this practice. The author has heard students tell how their allergies all disappeared, and their fears, too. A strong realization of impermanence may be gained; unwillingness to recognize this impermanency is a great source of suffering. We may even become aware of our own disagreeableness, our sudden moods and our constant judgment of everything that occurs. One Gestalt psychologist who studied with the author says he is now using the Satipatthana in his practice. It would seem to have great validity in the fields of psychiatry and psychology.
This meditation helps to heal the sick mind. Delusion brings craving, followed by jealousy or hatred in some form, so relief from delusion is greatly to be desired. The author believes the Satipatthana, in many ways, is the king of meditations, and completely practical for our mundane everyday lives. Accordingly, it is probable that all prospective meditators will find something of value in it, even if they intend to concentrate on other meditations.
This article is published in Meditation for Healing.