Engaging the Four Foundations of Mindfulness — Awareness in Buddhist Practice
by Ven. Wayne Hughes (Ren Cheng)
In the Maha-satipatthana Sutra (Digha Nikaya) the Buddha speaks about the Four Foundations of Mindfulness and how to cultivate the focus and awareness that can allow us to be deeply present in our lives.
Thus I have heard,
“In this way he remains focused internally on the body in and of itself, or externally on the body in and of itself, or both internally and externally on the body in and of itself. Orhe remains focused on the phenomenon of origination with regard to the body, on the phenomenon of passing away with regard to the body, or on the phenomenon of origination and passing away with regard to the body. Or his mindfulness that ‘There is a body’ is maintained to the extent of knowledge and remembrance. And he remains independent, unsustained by (not clinging to) anything in the world.”
The Buddha is teaching here that by being mindful of how the bodymind is internally, and how our experiences externally can affect it; by being mindful that the causal process of the Universe will result in arising and passing away, and by being mindful that through our knowledge and practice we can develop mindfulness to the extent that we can avoid the cravings and clinging that leads to suffering.
I – Mindfulness of the Body
1 – Mindfulness of Breathing
There are many variations of this meditation exercise. “Watching the breath” in zazen to Dynamic Breathing meditation practices.
2 – Postures of the Body
The four basic postures are walking, standing, sitting and lying. It is part of practice to develop and maintain awareness of the positions of the body so that we don’t become complacent about how we are.
3 – Clear Comprehension. A combination of intent, perception and awareness.
–of Purpose- Be mindful of why we take the actions we do? This requires development of awareness of intent.
–of Suitability- Is the action(s) we take appropriate and skillful to the situation? This requires development of perception.
–of Meditation- Can the action learned become part of meditative practice? Importantly, can that practice become actions we can incorporate into life’s experiences? This requires development of awareness.
–of Reality- Realize the Three Characteristics of Existence. (i.e. impermanence, suffering and not-self). This requires development of intent, perception and awareness of a deep mindfulness of how we are.
4 – Reflection on the Reality of the Bodymind
To realize that the bodymind is a collection of impermanent parts.
5 – Reflection on the Material Elements
To realize that the bodymind is part of causal process of the Universe along with all other things.
II – Contemplation of the Feelings
Feelings are not the same as the more complex mental functions named “emotions”. Feelings manifest as the result of an action or experience. Emotions are also, but can also can be generated by the consciousness (thinking about the past, or fondling the future).
–pleasant, neutral, unpleasant
–of the body, of the mind
–worldly, unworldy – Worldly pleasant feelings in traditional practice are generated by physical phenomena such as food, sex, etc. and an unpleasant one is being angry at getting our way. Unworldly is traditionally viewed as joy/serenity arising from meditative practice for pleasant, and worry at lack of progress in meditative practice in unpleasant.
In contemporary practice, from a pragmatic view dividing feelings into worldly/unworldy results in a dualistic approach. Feelings just ARE a phenomena that we realize are impermanent and result from the causal process. Unseen pleasant feelings can lead to craving, unrecognized unpleasant feelings lead to ill-will toward others, and unrecognized neutral feelings lead to ignorance. Realizing the link between feelings – cravings is part of the process of transcending them and discovering the freedom that empowers us with.
III – Contemplation of the Mind
How are you, not who are you? Are you practicing rigorous self-honesty? Are you viewing the world as it is, or how you want it to be? This is how to determine a major component of our worldview, the level of our awareness being practiced.
IV – Contemplation of Mind Objects
Five Hindrances, dispositions that hamper progress in meditative practice leading to mindfulness:
sense-desire, anger, sloth/laziness, worry and flurry, skeptical doubt.
These to be countered as follows;
–sense-desire / bodymind meditation
–anger / loving-kindness
–sloth or laziness / change of posture, perception of light
–worry / mindfulness of breathing
–doubt /study the situation, ask questions of self and others
Five Aggregates of Clinging
The five phenomena that we can view to eliminate the idea of self (atman) and realize the impermanent not-self (anatman)
All consciousness arises through one or the other of these doors;
Seven factors of Enlightening Moments
Investigation of dharma (this applies to all knowledge)
Bringing our focus to the first three can aid us when our bodymind is dull and bored. The final three can help us achieve and maintain balance during times of stress.
Four Ennobling Truths
Ennobling Truth of Suffering is birth, sickness, old age, death, not getting what you want, or the Five Aggregates of Clinging are real.
Ennobling Truth of the Origin of Suffering is that craving is cause of unsatisfactoriness and anguish.
Ennobling Truth of the Cessation of Suffering is that we can alleviate craving through
commitment and effort.
Ennobling Truth of the Cessation of Suffering is that the Eightfold Path can be a guide for our commitment and effort.Engaging the Four Foundations
Engaging the various levels of practices within the Four Foundations of Mindfulness will take effort and commitment. The key, when contemplating them is to recall that the Buddha realized and taught that learning is gradual; and, one of the first things to be aware of is the organic and interconnected aspect of the FFM. Like the Eightfold Path, the Three Pure Precepts and other guides for Buddhist philosophy one aspect of practice is connected to the others. A couple of examples: when focusing on the mindfulness of breathing the bodymind will naturally lead to an alleviation of worry and anxiety (one of the Five Hindrances); when contemplating the mind we’ll uncover the feelings of pleasant, unpleasant and neutral and the effects they are having on how we are.