Right Mindfulness

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The focus of your thoughts will determine experience. Thoughts preoccupied with clinging, craving and aversion will lead to more confusion and stress. Thoughts well-concentrated on mindfulness of the Dhamma will bring lasting peace and happiness.

Distracted thoughts focused on fleeting desires, achievements, and acquisitions can only lead to more confusion and stress. Thoughts and actions that create additional self-identities, even altruistic self-identities, can only lead to more confusion and stress. Thoughts that establish and reinforce the ego-personality in any manner, in any realm ,can only lead to more distraction, confusion and stress.

This includes the modern “Buddhist” concepts of an inner Buddha-nature, achieving Buddhahood, or rituals and practices engaged in with the intention for more favorable experiences and rebirths.

These are concepts introduced in the later-developed Buddhist religions that adapted the Buddha’s teachings to accommodate individual and cultural influences. Often, continued establishment of the ego-self, continued I-making, is the result of these accommodations.

Mindfulness in the context of The Four Noble Truths is to abandon the distraction of stress arising from craving clinging, and remain focused on The Eightfold Path. Mindfulness of the entire Eightfold Path develops understanding that will end the confusion and suffering born of ignorance of The Four Noble Truths.

Many useful applications of mindfulness have been developed. Some applications of mindfulness techniques have greatly enhanced the health field in dealing with pain and stress. There is no need to abandon any mindfulness technique for specific health issues as long as they do not reinforce your ego-personality.

It is not skillful to equate the mindfulness of the Dhamma with modern applications of mindfulness. The generally stated purpose of modern mindfulness techniques is to manage mental and physical pain, and stress. Mindfulness techniques when applied in this context are often successful in achieving this purpose.

The mindfulness of the Dhamma is to develop understanding of The Four Noble Truths and the complete cessation of stress.

Right Mindfulness

Mindfulness is to recollect or to hold in mind.

  • Be mindful to abandon wrong view and enter and remain in Right View
  • Be mindful to abandon wrong intention and enter and remain in Right Intention
  • Be mindful to abandon wrong speech and enter and remain in Right Speech
  • Be mindful to abandon wrong action and enter and remain in Right Action
  • Be mindful to abandon wrong livelihood and enter and remain in Right Livelihood
  • Be Mindful to abandon wrong effort and enter and remain in Right Effort
  • Be mindful to abandon wrong mindfulness and enter and remain in Right Mindfulness
  • Be Mindful to abandon wrong meditation and enter and remain in Right Meditation [1]

The refined mindfulness that is so effective in developing the entire Eightfold Path is simply to remain mindful of the Eightfold Path as your life unfolds, moment by moment.

Holding in mind the Eightfold Path is bringing the framework of the Eightfold Path into your life. As the path becomes integrated into your life, your life becomes an expression of heightened wisdom, heightened virtue, and heightened concentration.

The result of your Right Effort is a life of lasting peace and happiness.

In the Satipatthana Sutta the Buddha teaches the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. A practice of mindfulness without this foundation can often lead to confusion and distraction. Right Mindfulness is the seventh factor of The Eightfold Path. It is part of a practice of ending stress and unhappiness, rather than simply reducing or managing stress.

Mindfulness used to manage the stress of modern life in the phenomenal world can and does bring great benefit to human health. Mindfulness with the intention to manage or reduce stress does not have the same intention, known as Right Intention or Right Resolve, as what the Buddha taught. Holding in mind Right Intention determines the ensuing result of any action or activity.

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness is taught to bring immediate mindfulness of what is occurring during shamatha-vipassana meditation. Mindfulness is the quality of mind that supports developing lasting peace and happiness. Practicing mindfulness within the framework of The Four Noble Truths is straightforward, accessible and easily understood and practiced. The Four Foundations of Mindfulness are:

1. Being mindful of the breath in the body

2. Being mindful of feelings arising from the six-sense base. (explained below)

3. Being mindful of thoughts arising from the six-sense base.

4. Being mindful of the present quality of mind .(explained  below)

The six-sense base are your five physical senses and conscious thought. It is through the six-sense base that self-referential contact and self-identification (attachment) with phenomenon is established. The six-sense base is explained in additional detail in week eight.

The first foundation of mindfulness, being mindful of the breath in the body, is the same mindfulness practiced in shamatha-vipassana meditation. In shamatha-vipassana meditation, you begin to quiet your mind by putting aside thoughts as thoughts arise and becoming mindful of your breathing, preferably the sensation of breathing through the nose.

You are using mindfulness of your breath in the body to cease being distracted by your thoughts and to begin developing concentration. This is the essence of mindfulness. Mind in a distracted state is focused outside the physical body. You must understand where your mind is focused in order to free yourself of a mind distracted by clinging, craving, aversion, and discursive and compulsive thinking.

Being mindful of what is occurring in relation to The Eightfold Path through holding in mind your breath in the body is the foundation of developing understanding of The Four Noble Truths.

Being mindful of your breath in your body interrupts outer-focused clinging conditioned thinking and begins to quiet your mind with directed inner mindfulness.

The second foundation of mindfulness, being mindful of feelings, becomes possible once your mind has quieted enough to be able to hold in mind your breath in you body for a few moments. Once a tranquil mind state has been achieved and mindfulness of the breath is maintained, notice any feelings, emotional or physical, that arise. If you become mindful of an emotion such as frustration, anger, fear, resentment, etcetera, simply recognize that a feeling has arisen, and, while maintaining mindfulness of your breath, put aside any thoughts in reference to the feeling.

You may want to begin to blame yourself or others to justify the feeling. Put these thoughts aside. You may be drawn to analyze the feeling in some other way. You may ask yourself where did the feeling come from, what circumstances took place to bring a rise to the feeling? Put these thoughts aside. It is enough to recognize the feeling for what it is while maintaining mindfulness of your breath. With mindfulness of your breath let go of the feeling. Let go of the judgment attached to the emotion. An emotion is a reaction to an event, judging an event in some way. The reaction caused by judgment further intensifies the feeling and further conditions your conditioned mind.

Notice that it is a reaction to an external event that was perceived through one or more of your six senses that initiated the feeling. It is at the point of contact with the external experience that a personal, self-referential, attachment is made. By developing mindfulness of this process you will gain insight and understanding of the subtle but pervasive and continual establishment of a self that is prone to confusion and suffering. This is the ongoing process of “I-making” also know as conceit.

Recognition of the initiation of I-making develops the ability to bring continued I-making to cessation.

Mindfulness is a dispassionate focused awareness on whatever is arising in the present moment without being distracted by any judgments or discriminating thoughts. Being mindful of feelings as feelings arise allows the feeling to dissipate and allows a deeper tranquility to develop.

If a physical sensation arises such as pain or discomfort in some area of your body, remain mindful of the sensation of breathing. Note the physical sensation and the immediate self-identification. Again, do not judge the physical sensation in any way. Do not wish that you are not having the experience of discomfort. Simply note the experience while maintaining mindfulness of your breath.

Being mindful of physical sensations without further judgment often will minimize the sensation.  Returning your mindfulness to your breath interrupts your reaction to physical and emotional feelings.

This is the second foundation of mindfulness: being mindful that through the five physical senses and consciousness, feelings arise within. Being mindful of feelings, being ardent and aware of feelings as feelings arise, begins to de-condition conditioned mind by interrupting the discursive and self-perpetuating judgment and analysis of feelings.

Simply and dispassionately be mindful of feelings as feelings arise while maintaining mindfulness of the breath.

The third foundation of mindfulness is being mindful of your thinking process. With dispassionate mindfulness notice how your thoughts evaluate impermanent qualities of your mind. Notice if your mind is agitated or peaceful. Notice if your mind is constricted or spacious. Dispassionately notice your thoughts attached to the quality of your mind, often driven by feelings. This begins to develop insight into how your thoughts have created confusion and suffering. With insight you can begin to incline your mind towards release from clinging conditioned mind.

Remember that shamatha-vipassana meditation is primarily used to develop unwavering concentration. This entire process of noting feelings and thoughts is done with dispassionate mindfulness. Feelings arise that take your attention. Note that a feeling has your attention and return your mindfulness to your breathing. When you find that you are distracted by discriminating thoughts related to the changing quality of your mind simply note the quality of your mind and return your mindfulness to your breath.

Mindfulness is holding in mind. Being mindful that thoughts are flowing develops your innate ability to control thoughts. Being mindful of thoughts is recognizing that thinking is taking place. Unless concentration is developed, thoughts tend to feed themselves from conditioned thought patterns. This is discursive thinking and is an aspect of clinging mind. Through mindful awareness it becomes clear that thoughts are an ongoing judgement of feelings and mental states. Left unchecked this can lead to ever intensifying emotions that can result in depression and anxiety, or other mental disease.

Being mindful of thoughts without attachment, dispassionately remaining ardent and aware of thinking while maintaining mindfulness of the breath in the body will interrupt discursive thinking, allowing your mind to quiet and allowing your mind to remain at peace. As mindfulness and concentration develops, the afflictions caused by discursive thinking subside and a mind of equanimity, a non-reactive mind, is maintained.

The fourth foundation of mindfulness is being mindful of the present (but impermanent) quality of your mind. Is your present quality of mind inclined towards craving, clinging, and the continuation of stress? Is your present quality of mind inclined towards developing wisdom and release from craving and clinging?

This is a broader type of mindfulness that notices the quality of your mind that has developed from defining yourself through self-referential experiences driven by feelings and conditioned thinking.  Notice when your mind seeks further sensual stimulation. Notice when your mind is distracted by ill-will. Notice when your mind is dull or restless or anxious or distracted by uncertainty.

This is developing mindfulness of The Five Hindrances.

Remember that this is a dispassionate “noticing” that develops an understanding of your clinging conditioned mind. When any of these qualities are noted return your mindfulness to your breath.

As concentration deepens and mindfulness broadens notice the development of the qualities of Right Effort, Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration, serenity, and equanimity.

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness is also known as “The Four Frames of Reference.” You are developing mindfulness (and concentration) in the context of the Four Noble Truths.

What this means is that as you continue to develop concentration and mindfulness you begin to integrate the Four Noble Truths more deeply into your life. You will begin to understand stress and how the quality of your mind is either inclined towards continuing stress or developing release from craving, clinging and the cessation of stress.

Through a true practice of mindfulness within the framework of The Eightfold Path, you gain the ability to understand that the state of your mind, the mental quality of your mind in the present moment is dependent on, and caused by, your previous mind-states. At first simply being mindful of whatever quality your mind is experiencing is enough. As mindfulness of breath, feeling, and thought develops, and understanding and awareness of the quality of mind develops, you gain the ability to put away greed & distress with reference to the world. This is called Right Mindfulness.

With Right Mindfulness you gain an understanding of mind as the vehicle of perception. Right Mindfulness is recognizing and abandoning craving and clinging arising from ignorance. Having put aside all afflictions, this is the mind of equanimity, a mind fully engaged in the phenomenal world without discriminating or discursive thinking, a mind completely free of reaction.

As noted previously, Right Mindfulness is the seventh factor of The Eightfold Path and directly precedes the teaching on Right Meditation in order to emphasize the necessity to develop right mindfulness. Right Mindfulness is the foundation for an authentic and effective meditation practice, all within the Right Understanding of The Four Noble Truths.

Mindfulness truly is the foundation of all of the teachings of the Buddha. By practicing mindfulness within the context of The Four Noble Truths, you can free yourself of the stress and suffering caused by mindlessness. Mindfulness within the context of The Four Noble Truths will develop an awakened mind, a mind of pure equanimity.

The Buddha concluded his teaching on The Four Foundations of (Right) Mindfulness with a promise: “‘This is the direct path for the purification of beings, for the overcoming of sorrow & lamentation, for the disappearance of pain & distress, for the attainment of the right method, & for the realization of Unbinding — in other words, the four frames of reference.’ Thus was it said, and in reference to this was it said.” [1]

Right Mindfulness is a refined mindfulness that supports refined thinking and deepening concentration.

 

  1. Majjhima Nikaya 117

My Dhamma articles and talks are based on the Buddha's teachings  (suttas) as preserved in the Sutta Pitaka, the second book of the Pali Canon. I have relied primarily on Thanissaro Bhikkhu’s excellent and insightful translation of the Pali generously made freely available at his website Dhammatalks.org, as well as the works of Nyanaponika Thera, John Ireland and Maurice Walsh, among others, as preserved at Access To Insight.

Also, I have found Bhikkhu Bodhi's translations from Wisdom Publications Pali Canon Anthologies to be most informative and an excellent resource.

I have made contextual edits to the suttas from these sources for further clarity, to modernize language, to minimize repetition, and maintain relevance to Dependent Origination and Four Noble Truths.

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