dealing with problems s 107
good,nicelycenteredonthebreath.Asitcontinues,however,the
pleasantfeelingsintensifyandtheydistractyourattentionfromthe
breath.Youstarttoreallyenjoythestateandyourmindfulnessgoes
way down.Yourattentionwinds s up p scattered, , drifting g listlessly
throughvaguecloudsofbliss.Theresultisaveryunmindfulstate,
sortofanecstaticstupor.Thecure,ofcourse,ismindfulness.Mind-
fullyobservethesephenomenaandtheywilldissipate.Whenbliss-
fulfeelingsariseacceptthem.Thereisnoneedtoavoidthem,but
don’tgetwrappedupinthem.Theyarephysicalfeelings,sotreat
themassuch.Observefeelingsasfeelings.Observedullnessasdull-
ness.Watchthemriseandwatchthempass.Don’tgetinvolved.
Youwillhaveproblemsinmeditation.Everybodydoes.Youcan
treatthemasterribletormentsoraschallengestobeovercome.If
youregardthemasburdens,yoursufferingwillonlyincrease.Ifyou
regardthemasopportunitiestolearnandtogrow,yourspiritual
prospectsareunlimited.
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131
CHAPTER 13
Mindfulness(Sati)
M
indfulnessistheEnglishtranslationofthePaliwordsati.
Satiisanactivity.Whatexactlyisthat?Therecanbenopre-
ciseanswer,atleastnotinwords.Wordsaredevisedbythesymbolic
levelsofthemind,andtheydescribethoserealitieswithwhichsym-
bolicthinkingdeals.Mindfulnessispresymbolic.Itisnotshackledto
logic.Nevertheless,mindfulnesscanbeexperienced—rathereasily—
anditcanbedescribed,aslongasyoukeepinmindthatthewords
areonlyfingerspointingatthemoon.Theyarenotthemoonitself.
Theactualexperienceliesbeyondthewordsandabovethesymbols.
Mindfulnesscouldbedescribedincompletelydifferenttermsthan
willbeusedhere,andeachdescriptioncouldstillbecorrect.
Mindfulnessisasubtleprocessthatyouareusingatthisvery
moment.Thefactthatthisprocessliesaboveandbeyondwords
doesnotmakeitunreal—quitethereverse.Mindfulnessisthereal-
itythatgivesrisetowords—thewordsthatfollowaresimplypale
shadowsofreality.Soitisimportanttounderstandthateverything
thatfollowshereisanalogy.Itisnotgoingtomakeperfectsense.It
willalwaysremainbeyondverballogic.Butyoucanexperienceit.
Themeditationtechniquecalledvipassana(insight)thatwasintro-
ducedbytheBuddhaabouttwenty-fivecenturiesagoisasetof
mentalactivitiesspecificallyaimedatexperiencingastateofunin-
terruptedmindfulness.
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132 mindfulness s in plain english
Whenyoufirstbecomeawareofsomething,thereisafleeting
instantofpureawarenessjustbeforeyouconceptualizethething,
beforeyouidentifyit.Thatisastateofawareness.Ordinarily,this
stateisshort-lived.Itisthatflashingsplitsecondjustasyoufocus
youreyesonthething,justasyoufocusyourmindonthething,just
beforeyouobjectifyit,clampdownonitmentally,andsegregateit
fromtherestofexistence.Ittakesplacejustbeforeyoustartthink-
ingaboutit—beforeyourmindsays,“Oh,it’sadog.”Thatflowing,
soft-focusedmomentofpureawarenessismindfulness.Inthatbrief
flashingmind-momentyouexperienceathingasanun-thing.You
experienceasoftlyflowingmomentofpureexperiencethatisinter-
lockedwiththerestofreality,notseparatefromit.Mindfulnessis
verymuchlikewhatyouseewithyourperipheralvisionasopposed
tothehardfocusofnormalorcentralvision.Yetthismomentofsoft,
unfocused,awarenesscontainsaverydeepsortofknowingthatis
lostassoonasyoufocusyourmindandobjectifytheobjectintoa
thing.Intheprocessofordinaryperception,themindfulnessstepis
sofleetingastobeunobservable.Wehavedevelopedthehabitof
squanderingourattentiononalltheremainingsteps,focusingon
theperception,cognizingtheperception,labelingit,andmostofall,
gettinginvolvedinalongstringofsymbolicthoughtaboutit.That
originalmomentofmindfulnessisrapidlypassedover.Itisthepur-
poseofvipassanameditationtotrainustoprolongthatmomentof
awareness.
Whenthismindfulnessisprolongedbyusingpropertechniques,
youfindthatthisexperienceisprofoundandthatitchangesyour
entireviewof the e universe.This s state e of f perception n has s to o be
learned,however,andittakesregularpractice.Onceyoulearnthe
technique,you willfind d that mindfulness has s many y interesting
aspects.
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mindfulness 133
TheCharacteristicsofMindfulness
Mindfulnessismirror-thought.Itreflectsonlywhatispresentlyhap-
peningandinexactlythewayitishappening.Therearenobiases.
Mindfulnessisnonjudgmentalobservation.Itisthatabilityofthe
mindtoobservewithoutcriticism.Withthisability,oneseesthings
withoutcondemnationorjudgment.Oneissurprisedbynothing.
Onesimplytakesabalancedinterestinthingsexactlyastheyarein
theirnaturalstates.Onedoesnotdecideanddoesnotjudge.One
justobserves.Pleasenotethatwhenwesay,“Onedoesnotdecide
anddoesnotjudge,”whatwemeanisthatthemeditatorobserves
experiencesverymuchlikeascientistobservinganobjectundera
microscopewithoutanypreconceivednotions,onlytoseetheobject
exactlyasitis.Inthesamewaythemeditatornoticesimpermanence,
unsatisfactoriness,andselflessness.
Itispsychologicallyimpossibleforustoobjectivelyobservewhat
isgoingonwithinusifwedonotatthesametimeaccepttheoccur-
renceofourvarious statesof mind.Thisisespeciallytruewith
unpleasantstatesofmind.Inordertoobserveourownfear,wemust
acceptthefactthatweareafraid.Wecan’texamineourowndepres-
sionwithoutacceptingitfully.Thesameistrueforirritationandagi-
tation,frustration,and allthoseotheruncomfortableemotional
states.Youcan’texaminesomethingfullyifyouarebusyrejectingits
existence.Whateverexperiencewemaybehaving,mindfulnessjust
acceptsit.Itissimplyanotheroflife’soccurrences,justanotherthing
tobeawareof.Nopride,noshame,nothingpersonalatstake—what
isthereisthere.
Mindfulnessisanimpartialwatchfulness.Itdoesnottakesides.It
doesnotgethungupinwhatisperceived.Itjustperceives.Mindful-
nessdoesnotgetinfatuatedwiththegoodmentalstates.Itdoes
nottrytosidestepthebadmentalstates.Thereisnoclingingtothe
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134 mindfulness s in plain english
pleasant,nofleeingfromtheunpleasant.Mindfulnesstreatsallexpe-
riencesequally,allthoughtsequally,allfeelingsequally.Nothingis
suppressed.Nothingisrepressed.Mindfulnessdoesnotplayfavorites.
Mindfulnessisnonconceptualawareness.AnotherEnglishterm
forsatiis“bareattention.”Itisnotthinking.Itdoesnotgetinvolved
withthoughtorconcepts.Itdoesnotgethunguponideasoropin-
ionsormemories.Itjustlooks.Mindfulnessregistersexperiences,
butitdoesnotcomparethem.Itdoesnotlabelthemorcategorize
them.Itjustobserveseverythingasifitwasoccurringforthefirst
time.Itisnotanalysisthatisbasedonreflectionandmemory.Itis,
rather,thedirectandimmediateexperiencingofwhateverishap-
pening,withoutthemediumofthought.Itcomesbeforethoughtin
theperceptualprocess.
Mindfulnessispresent-momentawareness.Ittakesplaceinthe
hereandnow.Itistheobservanceofwhatishappeningrightnow,
inthepresent.Itstaysforeverinthepresent,perpetuallyonthecrest
oftheongoingwaveofpassingtime.Ifyouarerememberingyour
second-gradeteacher,thatismemory.Whenyouthenbecomeaware
thatyouarerememberingyoursecond-gradeteacher,thatismind-
fulness.Ifyouthenconceptualizetheprocessandsaytoyourself,
“Oh,Iamremembering,”thatisthinking.
Mindfulnessisnonegotisticalertness.Ittakesplacewithoutref-
erencetoself.Withmindfulnessoneseesallphenomenawithout
referencestoconceptslike“me,”“my,”or“mine.”Forexample,sup-
posethereispaininyourleftleg.Ordinaryconsciousnesswouldsay,
“Ihaveapain.”Usingmindfulness,onewouldsimplynotethesen-
sationasasensation.Onewouldnottackonthatextraconcept“I.”
Mindfulnessstopsonefromaddinganythingtoperceptionorsub-
tractinganythingfromit.Onedoesnotenhanceanything.Onedoes
notemphasizeanything.Onejustobservesexactlywhatisthere—
withoutdistortion.
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mindfulness 135
Mindfulnessisawarenessofchange.Itisobservingthepassing
flowofexperience.Itiswatchingthingsastheyarechanging.Itis
seeingthebirth,growth,andmaturityofallphenomena.Itiswatch-
ing phenomena decay and die.Mindfulness is s watching g things
momentbymoment,continuously.Itisobservingallphenomena—
physical,mental,oremotional—whateverispresentlytakingplacein
themind.Onejustsitsbackandwatchestheshow.Mindfulnessis
theobservanceofthebasicnatureofeachpassingphenomenon.It
iswatchingthethingarisingandpassingaway.Itisseeinghowthat
thingmakesusfeelandhowwereacttoit.Itisobservinghowit
affectsothers.Inmindfulness,oneisanunbiasedobserverwhose
solejobistokeeptrackoftheconstantlypassingshowoftheuni-
versewithin.
Pleasenotethatlastpoint.Inmindfulness,onewatchestheuni-
versewithin.Themeditatorwhoisdevelopingmindfulnessisnot
concernedwiththeexternaluniverse.Itisthere,butinmeditation,
one’sfieldofstudyisone’sownexperience,one’sthoughts,one’s
feelings,andone’sperceptions.Inmeditation,oneisone’sownlab-
oratory.Theuniversewithinhasanenormousfundofinformation
containingthereflectionoftheexternalworldandmuchmore.An
examinationofthismaterialleadstototalfreedom.
Mindfulnessisparticipatoryobservation.Themeditatorisboth
participantandobserveratoneandthesametime.Ifonewatches
one’semotionsorphysicalsensations,oneisfeelingthematthat
verysamemoment.Mindfulnessisnotanintellectualawareness.It
isjustawareness.Themirror-thoughtmetaphorbreaksdownhere.
Mindfulnessisobjective,butitisnotcoldorunfeeling.Itisthe
wakefulexperienceof life,analert participationintheongoing
processofliving.
Mindfulness is extremely y difficult t to o define e in words—not
becauseitiscomplex,butbecauseitistoosimpleandopen.The
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136 mindfulness s in plain english
sameproblemcropsupineveryareaofhumanexperience.Themost
basicconceptisalwaysthemostdifficulttopindown.Lookatadic-
tionaryandyouwillseeaclearexample.Longwordsgenerallyhave
concisedefinitions,butshortbasicwordslike“the”and“be,”can
havedefinitionsapagelong.Andinphysics,themostdifficultfunc-
tionstodescribearethemostbasic—thosethatdealwiththemost
fundamentalrealities of f quantum mechanics.Mindfulness s is s a
presymbolicfunction.Youcanplaywithwordsymbolsalldaylong
andyouwillneverpinitdowncompletely.Wecanneverfullyexpress
whatitis.However,wecansaywhatitdoes.
ThreeFundamentalActivities
Therearethreefundamentalactivitiesofmindfulness.Wecanuse
theseactivitiesasfunctionaldefinitionsoftheterm:(a)mindfulness
remindsusofwhatwearesupposedtobedoing,(b)itseesthings
astheyreallyare,and(c)itseesthetruenatureofallphenomena.
Let’sexaminethesedefinitionsingreaterdetail.
Mindfulnessremindsyouofwhat
youaresupposedtobedoing
Inmeditation,youputyourattentionononeitem.Whenyourmind
wandersfromthisfocus,itismindfulnessthatremindsyouthatyour
mindiswanderingandwhatyouaresupposedtobedoing.Itismind-
fulnessthatbringsyourmindbacktotheobjectofmeditation.Allof
thisoccursinstantaneouslyandwithoutinternaldialogue.Mindful-
nessisnotthinking.Repeatedpracticeinmeditationestablishesthis
functionasamentalhabitthatthencarriesoverintotherestofyour
life.Aseriousmeditatorpaysbareattentiontooccurrencesallthe
time,dayin,dayout,whetherformallysittinginmeditationornot.
Thisisaveryloftyidealtowardwhichthosewhomeditatemaybe
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mindfulness 137
workingforaperiodofyearsorevendecades.Ourhabitofgetting
stuckinthoughtisyearsold,andthathabitwillhangoninthemost
tenaciousmanner.Theonlywayoutistobeequallypersistentinthe
cultivationofconstantmindfulness.Whenmindfulnessispresent,
youwillnoticewhenyoubecomestuckinyourthoughtpatterns.It
isthatverynoticingthatallowsyoutobackoutofthethoughtprocess
andfreeyourselffromit.Mindfulnessthenreturnsyourattentionto
itsproperfocus.Ifyouaremeditatingatthatmoment,thenyour
focuswillbetheformalobjectofmeditation.Ifyouarenotinformal
meditation,itwillbejustapureapplicationofbareattentionitself,
justapurenoticingofwhatevercomesupwithoutgettinginvolved—
“Ah,thiscomesup…andnowthis,andnowthis…andnowthis.”
Mindfulnessisatoneandthesametimebothbareattentionitself
andthefunctionofremindingustopaybareattentionifwehave
ceasedtodoso.Bareattentionisnoticing.Itreestablishesitself
simplybynoticingthatithasnotbeenpresent.Assoonasyouare
noticingthatyouhavenotbeennoticing,thenbydefinitionyouare
noticingandthenyouarebackagaintopayingbareattention.
Mindfulnesscreatesitsowndistinctfeelinginconsciousness.It
hasaflavor—alight,clear,energeticflavor.Bycomparison,con-
sciousthoughtisheavy,ponderous,andpicky.Buthereagain,these
arejustwords.Yourownpracticewillshowyouthedifference.Then
youwillprobablycomeupwithyourownwordsandthewordsused
herewillbecomesuperfluous.Remember,practiceisthething.
Mindfulnessseesthingsastheyreallyare
Mindfulnessaddsnothingtoperceptionanditsubtractsnothing.It
distortsnothing.Itisbareattentionandjustlooksatwhatevercomes
up.Consciousthoughtpastesthingsoverourexperience,loadsus
downwithconceptsandideas,immersesusinachurningvortexof
plansandworries,fearsandfantasies.Whenmindful,youdon’tplay
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138 mindfulness s in plain english
thatgame.Youjustnoticeexactlywhatarisesinthemind,thenyou
noticethenextthing.“Ah,this…andthis…andnowthis.”Itisreally
verysimple.
Mindfulnessseesthetrue
natureofallphenomena
Mindfulnessandonlymindfulnesscanperceivethatthethreeprime
characteristicsthatBuddhismteachesarethedeepesttruthsofexis-
tence.InPalithesethreearecalledanicca(impermanence),dukkha
(unsatisfactoriness),andanatta(selflessness—theabsenceofaper-
manent,unchangingentitythatwecallSoulorSelf).Thesetruths
arenotpresentedinBuddhistteachingasdogmasdemandingblind
faith.Buddhistsfeelthatthesetruthsareuniversalandself-evident
toanyonewhocarestoinvestigateinaproperway.Mindfulnessis
thatmethodofinvestigation.Mindfulnessalonehasthepowerto
revealthedeepestlevelofrealityavailabletohumanobservation.At
thislevelofinspection,oneseesthefollowing:(a)allconditioned
thingsareinherentlytransitory;(b)everyworldlythingis,intheend,
unsatisfying;and(c)therearereallynoentitiesthatareunchanging
orpermanent,onlyprocesses.
Mindfulnessworkslikeanelectronmicroscope.Thatis,itoper-
atesonsofinealevelthatonecanactuallydirectlyperceivethose
realities thatareat best theoreticalconstructs totheconscious
thoughtprocess.Mindfulnessactuallyseestheimpermanentchar-
acterofeveryperception.Itseesthetransitoryandpassingnatureof
everythingthatisperceived.Italsoseestheinherentlyunsatisfactory
natureofallconditionedthings.Itseesthatthereisnopointgrab-
bingontoanyofthesepassingshows;peaceandhappinesscannot
befoundthatway.Andfinally,mindfulnessseestheinherentself-
lessnessofallphenomena.Itseesthewaythatwehavearbitrarily
selectedacertainbundleofperceptions,choppedthemofffromthe
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mindfulness 139
restofthesurgingflowofexperience,andthenconceptualizedthem
as separate, enduring g entities. . Mindfulness actually sees these
things.Itdoesnotthinkaboutthem,itseesthemdirectly.
Whenitisfullydeveloped,mindfulnessseesthesethreeattributes
ofexistencedirectly,instantaneously,andwithouttheintervening
mediumofconsciousthought.Infact,eventheattributesthatwejust
coveredareinherentlyunified.Theydon’treallyexistasseparateitems.
Theyarepurelytheresultofourstruggletotakethisfundamentally
simpleprocesscalledmindfulnessandexpressitinthecumbersome
andinadequatethoughtsymbolsoftheconsciouslevel.Mindfulness
isaprocess,butitdoesnottakeplaceinsteps.Itisaholisticprocess
thatoccursasaunit:younoticeyourownlackofmindfulness;andthat
noticingitselfisaresultofmindfulness;andmindfulnessisbareatten-
tion;andbareattentionisnoticingthingsexactlyastheyarewithout
distortion;andthewaytheyareisimpermanent(anicca),unsatisfac-
tory(dukkha),andselfless(anatta).Italltakesplaceinthespaceofa
fewmind-moments.This does notmean,however,thatyouwill
instantlyattainliberation(freedomfromallhumanweaknesses)asa
resultofyourfirstmomentofmindfulness.Learningtointegratethis
materialintoyourconsciouslifeisquiteanotherprocess.Andlearn-
ingtoprolongthisstateofmindfulnessisstillanother.Theyarejoyous
processes,however,andtheyarewellworththeeffort.
Mindfulness(Sati)and
Insight(Vipassana)Meditation
Mindfulnessisthecenterofvipassanameditationandthekeytothe
wholeprocess.Itisboththegoalofthismeditationandthemeans
tothatend.Youreachmindfulnessbybeingevermoremindful.One
otherPaliwordthatistranslatedintoEnglishasmindfulnessisappa-
mada,whichmeansnon-negligenceorabsenceofmadness.One
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