The Four Foundations of Mindfulness
“Mindfulness, monks, I say is always useful – it is desirable everywhere, like salt which enhances the flavour of all curries, or a versatile prime minister who accomplishes all the tasks of state.” (S 46.53)
In the Satipatthana Sutta (the foundation text on mindfulness), mindfulness is called ‘ekayana magga’, traditionally translated as ‘the direct path’, but also translated as ‘the path to unification or oneness’. Mindfulness is popular as a secular discipline in the context of health, therapeutic process and even business. While mindfulness enables reduction of stress and increased functionality in daily life, it is also a central practice for the realization of nibbana. (Nibbana is the Pali translation of Sanskrit Nirvana, a term for ‘the deathless’ which has the taste of freedom and peace.) So what is mindfulness? How can it enhance well being and increased skill in negotiating daily life as well as insight into the most subtle aspect of the Buddha’s teaching?
During the program we will look at this essential tool of all spiritual work via its four classical dimensions:
- Exploring the body / both inner experience of body and outer perceptions around body.
- Exploring feeling / the connection between feeling and emotion & working with emotion.
- Exploring the mind / what is mind and how do we experience it?
- Exploring the reality of experience / factors of awakening, hindrance, form and emptiness.
The Four Noble Truths
“It is because of not understanding and not penetrating the Four Noble Truths that you and I have roamed and wandered for so long through the endless cycles of samsara.” (S 56.21)
As mindfulness increases we become more aware of suffering. The Buddha used the presence of suffering/dis-ease/dukkha as the starting point and central feature of his teaching. He was known as “The Doctor of the World” (Bhesaja-guru) since he focused upon the practicalities of healing this fundamental spiritual/psychological disease. In doing so he cast the explanation of his primary insight into this universal human problem in the form of a classical (ayurvedic) medical diagnosis:
- The symptom: ”There is the experience of dissatisfaction.”
- The cause: ”Self-centered and sensory craving; compulsive desires; the primary confusion of self that seeks to become something or wishes not to exist.”
- The prognosis: ”It is curable; contentment, happiness and peace are possible.”
- The treatment: “Ethics, collectedness (concentration) and understanding in accordance with reality (wisdom).”
We will explore the Four Foundations of Mindfulness and the Four Noble Truths and how they weave together throughout the course. Our exploration will include explanations, guided meditations, practice sessions, use of chanting to support gathering of body, mind and heart energies and discussion.
This course will begin by reflecting on the Triple Jewel, the three sources of inspiration that the Buddha offered as trustworthy refuges for those interested in awakening. Without cultivating confidence or trust in these essential qualities, we have trouble finding the energy to persevere with the difficulties encountered on the Path. Have we explored where we place our trust?
In terms of the Four Noble Truths: we will develop and explore the balance of samadhi (concentration supported by the 5 jhana factors) and vipassana (investigation and insight). In particular we look at how meditation practice enables a letting go of self-centered grasping and the realization of Nibbana, that which is truly peaceful.
In terms of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness: we will develop the role of insight meditation, particularly as it applies to mindfulness of the body and the investigation of the power of emotions in shaping our world. For example, when our letting go is really disguised aversion, we need to meet that tendency with a patient willingness to be in contact with our experience. Form and emptiness are not found in different places. Wisdom and compassion manifest in this one mind. This non dual perspective will inform practices that help us to maintain emotional balance in the midst of life’s ever changing appearances.
In this program we contemplate the integration of these teachings into everyday life, and also reflect how they relate to other spiritual disciplines, such as hatha yoga in particular.