The Mindfulness of Mindfulness Practice

The Mindfulness of Mindfulness Practice

Discussion date: Thu, Sep 02, 2010 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

What is the mindfulness of mindfulness practice?

When I started teaching I explained mindfulness by saying, “Mindfulness is present moment awareness. We are mindful when we are not obsessing over the past, not worrying about the future.” I liked this phrasing; it emphasizes that we can only directly experience life in the present moment. Mindfulness practice aids us in becoming more awake and alive. Regularly, however, a student would say something like, “If I’m watching a horror movie, I am in the present moment, therefore I am being mindful. Right?”

That didn’t seem right to me. If I’m watching a horror movie, I’m probably being swept away by it. Over time I learned to add that mindfulness also includes a sense of presence. I am in the present moment and I am aware of being present. I am not just walking, or cold, or afraid, I am aware that I am walking, or cold, or afraid. When I am mindful I am able to see things as they are, without reactivity or judgment. This understanding of mindfulness highlights the freedom it gives us. We are no longer held captive by our habits and misperceptions.

However, students in my classes saw a problem here, too. This explanation offers no ethical direction, no dynamic for transformation. I can be clearly present and observing, and eat the 6th cookie, or the 12th cookie. I can be the mindful assassin, aware of my self and my surroundings, calmly waiting for my victim to appear.

In the mindfulness of mindfulness practice, in the mindfulness of the Buddha, another element is needed: the sincere desire to reduce suffering. The desire to reduce suffering becomes a context for our actions. When we become aware that what we are doing is creating suffering for ourselves and others, we desist. When we become aware that it is reducing suffering for ourselves and others, we continue.

When the Buddha talked with the Kalamas of Kesaputta he stressed that their actions should be guided by whether suffering was reduced.

when you know for yourselves, ‘These things are unwholesome, these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; these things, if undertaken and practised, lead to harm and suffering,’ then you should abandon them…

when you know for yourselves, ‘These things are wholesome, these things are blameless; these things are praised by the wise; these things, if undertaken and practised, lead to welfare and happiness,’ then you should engage in them.

In our discussion this Thursday evening, we will explore these three ways of explaining mindfulness and reflect on our own experiences.

You are invited to be with us.

An except from the Sutra To the Kalamas is below.

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher



Excerpts from To the Kalamas (Anguttara Nikaya, 3:65)
Translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi

“There are, Lord, some ascetics and brahmins who come to Kesaputta. They explain and elucidate their own doctrines, but disparage, debunk, revile and vilify the doctrines of others. But then some other ascetics and brahmins come to Kesaputta, and they too explain and elucidate their own doctrines, but disparage, debunk, revile and vilify the doctrines of the others. For us, Lord, there is perplexity and doubt as to which of these good ascetics speak truth and which speak falsehood.”

“It is fitting for you to be perplexed, Kalamas, it is fitting for you to be in doubt. Doubt has arisen in you about a perplexing matter. Come, Kalamas. Do not go by oral tradition, by lineage of teaching, by hearsay, by a collection of scriptures, by logical reasoning, by inferential reasoning, by reflection on reasons, by the acceptance of a view after pondering it, by the seeming competence of a speaker, or because you think, ‘The ascetic is our teacher.’ But when you know for yourselves, ‘These things are unwholesome, these things are blamable; these things are censured by the wise; these things, if undertaken and practised, lead to harm and suffering,’ then you should abandon them.

“What do you think, Kalamas? When greed, hatred and delusion arise in a person, is it for his welfare or harm?” – “For his harm, Lord.” – “Kalamas, a person who is greedy, hating and deluded, overpowered by greed, hatred and delusion, his thoughts controlled by them, will destroy life, take what is not given, engage in sexual misconduct and tell lies; he will also prompt others to do likewise. Will that conduce to his harm and suffering for a long time?” – “Yes, Lord.”

“What do you think, Kalamas? Are these things wholesome or unwholesome? –“Unwholesome, Lord.” – “Blamable or blameless?” – “Blamable, Lord.” – “Censured or praised by the wise?” – “Censured, Lord.” – “Undertaken and practised, do they lead to harm and suffering or not, or how is it in this case?” – “Undertaken and practised, these things lead to harm and suffering. So it appears to us in this case.”

“It was for this reason, Kalamas, that we said: Do not go by oral tradition.…

“Come, Kalamas. Do not go by oral tradition, by lineage of teaching, by hearsay, by a collection of scriptures, by logical reasoning, by inferential reasoning, by reflection on reasons, by the acceptance of a view after pondering it, by the seeming competence of a speaker, or because you think, ‘The ascetic is our teacher.’ But when you know for yourselves, ‘These things are wholesome, these things are blameless; these things are praised by the wise; these things, if undertaken and practised, lead to welfare and happiness,’ then you should engage in them.

“What do you think, Kalamas? When non-greed, non-hatred and non-delusion arise in a person, is it for his welfare or harm?” – “For his welfare, Lord.” – “Kalamas, a person who is without greed, without hatred, without delusion, not overpowered by greed, hatred and delusion, his thoughts not controlled by them, will abstain from the destruction of life, from taking what is not given, from sexual misconduct and from false speech; he will also prompt others to do likewise. Will that conduce to his welfare and happiness for a long time?” – “Yes, Lord.”

“What do you think, Kalamas? Are these things wholesome or unwholesome? – “Wholesome, Lord.” – “Blamable or blameless?” – “Blameless, Lord.” – “Censured or praised by the wise?” –“Praised, Lord.” – “Undertaken and practised, do they lead to welfare and happiness or not, or how is it in this case?” – “Undertaken and practised, these things lead to welfare and happiness. So it appears to us in this case.”

 

 

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Sep 02, 2010


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