Buddhism - The Right Attentiveness Or Mindfulness

Buddha, the Founder of Buddhism

Compiled by Jayaram V

"And what is right mindfulness? There is the case where a monk remains focused on the body in and of itself — ardent, alert, and mindful — putting aside greed and distress with reference to the world. He remains focused on feelings in and of themselves... the mind in and of itself... mental qualities in and of themselves — ardent, alert, and mindful — putting aside greed and distress with reference to the world. This is called right mindfulness..."

"This is the direct path for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of pain and distress, for the attainment of the right method, and for the realization of Unbinding — in other words, the four frames of reference." Digha Nikaya 22


Right Attentiveness (or mindfulness) leads to the attainment of purity, overcoming of sorrow and lamentation, end of pain and grief, pursuit of right path and realization of Nirvana.

There are Four Fundamental Areas of Attentiveness, which a disciple should remember while contemplating. They are contemplation of the body, of the feelings, of the mind, and of the mind objects respectively. By doing so he becomes very attentive, and achieves liberation from worldly greed and grief.

I. How the Contemplation of the Body should be done

The disciple should retreat into a forest, sit cross legged, keeping the body erect and concentrate his attention on the incoming breath and out going breath. He should become attentive to how he is breathing, and while doing so, he should contemplate upon how the body comes into existence, and how it passes away. He should contemplate on how the body is there with no individual or being inside it. This will help him to become clear in his mind as to the nature of his body and helps him to become independent and detached from everything in the world.

He should then contemplate upon the bodily function such as sitting, standing or lying down. He should become aware of how the body is moving, bending, stretching, eating, drinking, chewing, tasting, discharging the waste, walking, standing, falling asleep, waking up or falling asleep or remaining silent. While doing so he should become conscious of his motives, his gains, his duty and the reality.

The disciple should then contemplate upon the body from the foot upward, or from the head downward, upon the skin, upon the impurities that exist in the body and should repeat to himself what the body contains and what it is actually.

He should also contemplate upon the elements of the body, namely the solid element, the liquid element, the heating element and the vibrating element, as if he is dissecting his body and finding these elements inside.

He should also contemplate upon a corpse, as it is thrown into the burial ground, as it is lying there swollen and decaying, eaten by crows or hawks or vultures or by other animals, till he realizes the true nature of the body, and that his body also cannot escape similar fate. Alternatively he should see the body becoming a heap of bones and arrive at the same conclusion.

By these methods he comes to understand how the body comes into existence and how it passes away and realizing thus becomes independent and unattached to anything in the world.

The Ten Blessings:

When a disciple contemplates upon the body repeatedly in manner described above and becomes firmly established in it, he may expect to receive the following ten blessings:

1. He develops mastery over Delight and Discontent

2. He conquers Fear and Anxiety.

3. He develops tolerance towards cold and heat, hunger and thirst, wind and sun, attacks by gadflies, mosquitoes and reptiles.

4. He develops endurance towards wicked and malicious speech and all kinds of bodily pains.

5. He enjoys at will the four trances and the happiness produced by the mind, without any difficulty or effort.

6. He may enjoy several magical powers, such as the "heavenly ear" with which he can hear both heavenly and earthly sounds.

7. He develop insight into the hearts of other people and beings.

8. He may develop awareness of his many previous births.

9. With his heavenly eye he may see beings disappearing and reappearing. He may see the beings in their true nature and how they are reborn according to their deeds.

10. He may through complete cessation of all passions come to know in this very life, the deliverance of the mind and deliverance of oneself through wisdom.

II. How the Contemplation of the Feelings is to be done

During the contemplation of the feelings the disciple should become conscious of indifferent, agreeable or disagreeable feelings, or of worldly agreeable feelings or worldly disagreeable feelings, or of unworldly agreeable feelings, or of unworldly disagreeable feelings, or of worldly indifferent feelings or of unworldly indifferent feelings.

While contemplating thus either upon his own feelings or of others, or of both, he sees how the feeling arise and how they pass away. He becomes clearly aware of the existence of feelings and develops independence and detachment.

He realizes that there is no such thing as "I feel", but that in the absolute sense, there are only feelings independent of ego, of any person or experience.

III. How the Contemplation of the Mind is to be done

The disciple should contemplate upon the mind so as to know the various states of his mind. He should be able to know the greedy mind as greedy, the not greedy mind as not greedy, the angry mind as angry, the not so angry mind as not angry, the deluded mind as deluded and the undeluded mind as undeluded.

He should know the narrow mind as narrow, the scattered mind as scattered, the developed mind as developed, the undeveloped mind as undeveloped, the conquerable mind as conquerable, the unconquerable mind as unconquerable, the concentrated mind as concentrated, the unconcentrated mind as unconcentrated, the freed mind as freed and unfreed mind as unfreed.

According to the Perfect One the mind is a collective name for the consciousness. It is not to be confused with thoughts and thinking, which are but the verbal operations of the mind. They are of secondary nature while consciousness is primary. They also do not exist in sensuous consciousness and also in the second, third and fourth Trances.

He should thus contemplate upon the mind either of his own or of others or both. He should see how the consciousness arises, how it passes away and while doing so should be clear in his mind as to what he is seeing. Because of his knowledge and mindfulness he becomes independent and detached from every thing in the world.

IV. How the Contemplation of the mind-objects is to be done

First the disciple should contemplate upon the five hindrances, which are lust, anger, torpor or drowsiness, restlessness of the mind or mental worry and the doubts he suffers from. As he contemplates he becomes aware of these hindrances as they arise and exist in him. He becomes aware of how they arise and how they are to be overcome. He also knows when these hindrances do not exist in him. He also knows how once they are overcome they do not arise in him again.

For example the hindrance of lust arises because of the unwise thinking on the agreeable and delightful. The Perfect One explains how the hindrance of lust can be overcome by the following six methods.

i. By fixing the mind upon an idea that causes disgust;

ii. By contemplating upon the loathsomeness of the body.

iii. By controlling one's six senses;

iv. By moderation in eating;

v. By doing friendship with wise and good men; and

vi. By right instruction.

After contemplating upon the five hindrances, the disciple should contemplate upon the five groups of existence. He should know what Corporeality, feelings, perception, mental formations and consciousness are, how they arise and how they pass away.

The disciple should then contemplate upon the phenomena of the six Subjective-Objective Sense-Bases, which are the eyes together with their visual objects, the ears with their sounds, the nose with its smells, the tongue with its tastes, the body with its touches and the mind with its mind objects. He should know how dependence upon these leads to bondage. He should also know how the bondage comes into existence, how it should be overcome and how the bondage so overcome does not rise again in future.

The disciple should then contemplate upon the seven Elements of Enlightenment and should know when these exist in him and when they do not. These seven elements are Attentiveness, Investigation of the Dhamma, Energy, Enthusiasm, Tranquility, Concentration and Equanimity. He should know how they arise and they are fully developed in a person.

The disciple should then contemplate upon the Four Noble Truths. He should know what suffering is, what the origin of suffering is, what the end of the suffering is, and which leads to the end of the suffering.

As he contemplates upon the phenomena either with in him or within others, he sees how they arise and how they pass away. While seeing thus, he develops knowledge and mindfulness and attains independence and detachment.

Attainment of Right Attentiveness through these four fundamentals is the only way to achieve purity, overcome sorrow and lamentation, end pain and grief, enter the right path and attain Nirvana.


Buddhist suttas on  mindfulness

Mindfulness here and now

"Suppose, monks, that a large crowd of people comes thronging together, saying, 'The beauty queen! The beauty queen!' And suppose that the beauty queen is highly accomplished at singing and dancing, so that an even greater crowd comes thronging, saying, 'The beauty queen is singing! The beauty queen is dancing!' Then a man comes along, desiring life and shrinking from death, desiring pleasure and abhorring pain. They say to him, 'Now look here, mister. You must take this bowl filled to the brim with oil and carry it on your head in between the great crowd and the beauty queen. A man with a raised sword will follow right behind you, and wherever you spill even a drop of oil, right there will he cut off your head.' Now what do you think, monks: Will that man, not paying attention to the bowl of oil, let himself get distracted outside?"

"No, lord."

"I have given you this parable to convey a meaning. The meaning is this: The bowl filled to the brim with oil stands for mindfulness immersed in the body. Thus you should train yourselves: 'We will develop mindfulness immersed in the body. We will pursue it, hand it the reins and take it as a basis, give it a grounding, steady it, consolidate it, and undertake it well.' That is how you should train yourselves."

— Samyutta Nikaya XLVII.20

Mindfulness being attentive to breathing

"Mindfulness of in-and-out breathing, when developed and pursued, is of great fruit, of great benefit. Mindfulness of in-and-out breathing, when developed and pursued, brings the four frames of reference to their culmination. The four frames of reference, when developed and pursued, bring the seven factors for Awakening to their culmination. The seven factors for Awakening, when developed and pursued, bring clear knowing and release to their culmination.

"Now how is mindfulness of in-and-out breathing developed and pursued so as to bring the four frames of reference to their culmination?

"There is the case where a monk, having gone to the wilderness, to the shade of a tree, or to an empty building, sits down folding his legs crosswise, holding his body erect, and setting mindfulness to the fore. Always mindful, he breathes in; mindful he breathes out.

"[1] Breathing in long, he discerns that he is breathing in long; or breathing out long, he discerns that he is breathing out long. [2] Or breathing in short, he discerns that he is breathing in short; or breathing out short, he discerns that he is breathing out short. [3] He trains himself to breathe in sensitive to the entire body, and to breathe out sensitive to the entire body. [4] He trains himself to breathe in calming the bodily processes, and to breathe out calming the bodily processes.

"[5] He trains himself to breathe in sensitive to rapture, and to breathe out sensitive to rapture. [6] He trains himself to breathe in sensitive to pleasure, and to breathe out sensitive to pleasure. [7] He trains himself to breathe in sensitive to mental processes, and to breathe out sensitive to mental processes. [8] He trains himself to breathe in calming mental processes, and to breathe out calming mental processes.

"[9] He trains himself to breathe in sensitive to the mind, and to breathe out sensitive to the mind. [10] He trains himself to breathe in satisfying the mind, and to breathe out satisfying the mind. [11] He trains himself to breathe in steadying the mind, and to breathe out steadying the mind. [12] He trains himself to breathe in releasing the mind, and to breathe out releasing the mind.

"[13] He trains himself to breathe in focusing on inconstancy, and to breathe out focusing on inconstancy. [14] He trains himself to breathe in focusing on dispassion [literally, fading], and to breathe out focusing on dispassion. [15] He trains himself to breathe in focusing on cessation, and to breathe out focusing on cessation. [16] He trains himself to breathe in focusing on relinquishment, and to breathe out focusing on relinquishment."

— Majjhima Nikaya 118

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