Theravāda in the 21st century - modern applications of ancient wisdom
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The Four Foundations of Mindfulness
[By Dr. David N. Snyder]The Four Foundations of Mindfulness are:
1. Contemplation of the body
2. Contemplation of the feelings
3. Contemplation of the mind
4. Contemplation of the mind objects (Dhamma)The Buddha‘s discourse on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness is like the meditation
instructions for vipassana. An abbreviated form of the discourse can be found in chapter 18.
The discourse covers instructions for meditation on the breath, the physical sensations, the mind,
and the Dhamma. This chapter will go over all four of these meditation subjects of vipassana
and a fifth subject not discussed very much in other Dhamma books.Meditation is the ―lab coat‖ experience that can show us the way to reality and provide us with
relaxation and wisdom. It is an experiential event, analyzing ultimate reality and experimenting
just like a traditional scientist with a lab coat in a laboratory. Meditation is not simply a
relaxation technique and can actually give us answers to life‘s mysteries. It is not a form of
sleep. Meditators who become sleepy during meditation are simply lacking in rest and need to
take a break and get some sleep. Meditation is a fully awake event that requires full
concentration, mindfulness, and awareness to everything, including the meditation subject and all
sounds and noises in the room and background. The meditator does not ―block out‖ the rest of
the world and in fact becomes more ―one‖ with the rest of the world.Another myth about meditation is that it is a form of hypnosis. Actually, we could say that
meditation is a form of ―de-hypnosis.‖ As members of a certain country and culture we have
been largely ―programmed‖ to act a certain way and even think a certain way. Meditation
teaches us not to follow or simply accept something as true. We discover the truth by ourselves.
It is not ―brain-washing‖ and if anything teaches us not to simply accept society‘s rules and
traditions until we have seen the merit for ourselves.Awareness of BreathFocus your attention, your awareness, your mindfulness at the tip of your nose where the breath
comes in and out at the tip. Try to keep your mouth closed, but if you need to open it for better
breathing, that is okay. Keep your eyes closed, not tight, just in a relaxed closed state. This
helps to center your attention inward. If you feel that you are falling over or that you might be
leaning too much to one side, that is okay, it is normal. Just open your eyes slightly and if you
feel comfortable in closing them again then do so. It is important not to ―push‖ things or to
try ―too hard,‖ just let things happen. Notice your breaths, such as a long breath, notice it as a
long breath, a short breath as a short breath, etc.Since we keep our eyes closed to help us turn inward, another technique you may want to try is
to wear industrial ear phones or muffs. They block out the noise to your ears. They can be
found in hardware stores. Construction workers wear them to block out the very loud noises.
This helps your mind to turn inward too in the same way closing your eyes works. Wear the
muffs only when you meditate by yourself at home. At a Dhamma center, you may need to hear
the gong for the end of the sitting session. Some famous writers have been known to use the
industrial muffs so that they can concentrate on their writing. Another benefit to wearing the ear
muffs is that you can hear your long breaths from inside your body and it can really help you
focus on each breath.The Buddha describes the great benefits from mindfulness of breathing as being very relaxed,
that one ―gains at will, without trouble or difficulty, that concentration through the development
and cultivation of which no shaking or trembling occurs in the body, and no shaking or
trembling occurs in the mind.‖ Samyutta Nikaya 54.7Awareness of Feelings (Sensations)Notice if you have any physical sensations in the body, any painful sensations such as in your
legs or stomach or arms. Just notice the sensations. Do not push the unpleasant sensations away,
just watch (observe with the mind) them. If you have a pleasant sensation (physical feeling) just
watch it, do not cling to it. Inevitably you might cling on to some pleasant sensations, you will
see the inherent suffering in that when you ―miss‖ the sensation as it leaves. The practice is
awareness and equanimity (balanced mind clinging to nothing). You will notice the
impermanent nature of all these sensations.A typical sensation based technique is to focus your mind in a sweeping form from head to toe
and then back again from toe to head. You imagine a small area, like a microscope and check
for sensations starting at the top of your head. You just watch the sensations and do not jump
around the body with your examination. You slowly move from the head to the toe with your
examination with the mind, looking for sensations.
You will also notice that there is no permanent self to be found in your mind-body analysis
through the contemplation of sensations. Thus, the meditator discovers reality for himself /
herself.Awareness of the MindYou might also notice some emotions arising or some thoughts. Just let the thoughts come and
go. Do not cling to any and do not push any away. You will notice that the mind tends to
wander off in thoughts quite often. This is normal. Just watch the thoughts and see how they
come and go, not lasting for very long. If the mind wanders away in thoughts and it starts to
bother you, then just bring the attention back to the breath.You might notice some thoughts of anger coming to you. Maybe you remember something or
someone that makes you angry. This anger eats at you inside. As you sit in meditation you can
feel the heated sensations. You may feel your heartbeat going faster. You see how this is
hurting you. You realize that these negative emotions hurt you first instead of whom your anger
is directed towards. This is a form of realization. You can discover the truths of the Buddha‘s
teachings for yourself. It is impossible to be angry at someone without hurting yourself first.
Therefore, you aim to have more peaceful thoughts and feelings toward yourself and others.
Anger is sometimes believed to be good, as something that needs to be ―released‖ to make you
feel better. The sensations of heat that come with anger only worsen while you are in a rage.
The ―release‖ only becomes an escalation of negative feelings and sensations. The anger
worsens the situation for the one with the anger and the one who is on the receiving end. We do
not need to suppress our anger, we just need to have more equanimity, compassion,
sympathetic joy, and loving-kindness so that there will be no anger to ―release‖ or suppress.
The result will be an inner peace free of negativity and free of painful sensations for you and
others.Eventually in the practice you might experience some states of great joy, bliss, contentment, utter
peacefulness, or even a state where you no longer ―feel‖ any of your senses. Do not get fooled,
these are not enlightenment experiences, but they are very pleasant experiences that may be
―stepping-stones‖ on the Path to enlightenment. Do not cling to these experiences or try to
make them happen. If you do they will NOT come or will NOT stay. Just watch these
experiences.PostureChoose a posture that is comfortable to sit in for 45 minutes to an hour. Do not force yourself to
sit in one of the lotus postures if it is too painful. ―If pain was our goal we would be sitting on a
bed of nails.‖ (S. N. Goenka, in Hart, 1987) Pain is one of the meditator‘s chief obstacles, so
don‘t encourage it. Acceptable postures include full, half, and quarter lotus, American Indian,
Burmese, kneeling, or in a chair. The goal of practice is to obtain mindfulness / awareness /
equanimity during everyday life, 24 hours a day, every day. Thus, eventually there will be
mindfulness / awareness / equanimity even when we are not sitting, when we are working,
eating, walking, etc. Therefore, clinging to a particular posture as the ―one and only right way‖
is not necessary.You may place your hands in your lap or wherever is comfortable. The point is to be relaxed and
not in a tense position with the legs, hands, or the body. A common placement of hands that is
popular is to put your right hand, palm up, under your left hand, palm up, and have the thumbs
lightly touching each other.
Don‘t struggle with pain when it arises in the legs. Observe the pain and do not put any
resistance to it. If the pain is still too strong, change your posture. It is okay to change your
posture in the meditation hall during the sitting, just mindfully note the change in posture and
then make the change in your body position.Walking MeditationDuring the walking meditation periods at a Dhamma center you can continue sitting if you like
or continue the meditation with walking. Walking meditation is done in the ―rows‖ of the hall,
horizontally. Choose a position in the hall on one side and walk back and forth in a straight line
in that row. You walk at your own pace by yourself in your row. Walking meditation is done at
a slower pace than normal walking. This is to strengthen our mindfulness of each step or
movement. Place your awareness to each step or if you can to each movement of lifting,
moving, and placement of each foot.As with all types of meditation, maintain awareness and equanimity. Notice the sensations of
each movement of your feet and body and maintain a balanced mind to these sensations.
----------------to be continued--------------
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Once Thera Poot invited Tep/I to go up on the mountain to his Wat Poo Kaew(Crystal Mountain)/Meditation Center, every week schools would let kids who love to meditate to come to meditate for 1 hour at this Meditation Center. There was a pupil, 7 yrs old, who sat meditation with 22 pupils. Everybodyelse left the center, but this boy sat there still with eyes closed. Thera Poot told the teacher to leave him there under his care. At night the boy opened his eyes, seeing Thera Poot and his parents sitting beside him...he said that a monk took him to a beautiful heaven where he saw many angels floating by/beautiful vimanas/trees/flowers that much more pretty than the ones on earth. Later on the boy asked to be ordained as a samanera study tipitaka!!
I wonder how is that boy today..he must be a bhikkhu by now.
David N. Snyder
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I wonder how is that boy today..he must be a bhikkhu by now.
Sadhu! And probably a very good bhikkhu too.
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Sabbe dhamma anatta
We are not concurents...
I'am sorry for my english
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