The practice of mindfulness is outlined in the Pali canon and is contained within a Buddhist teaching entitled: Satipatthana, which is described as the direct path to realization. The English scholar Thomas William Rhys Davids first translated sati as mindfulness in 1881.
Thus, the English translation that we have used for Satipatthana is mindfulness. If we break the term into its roots, we will find two very important ideas:
1. Sati- the ability to remember, to recognize and to see clearly.
2. Thana- a ground or foundation.
Satipatthana- To remember, to recognize and to see clearly this ground, namely the impermanent, unreliable, stressful and self-less nature of experience itself. Learning to navigate with skill, the groundless ground of lived experience. This is accomplished by developing the four foundations of mindfulness.
Satipaṭṭhāna Sutta: The Foundations of Mindfulness
Thus have I heard. On one occasion the tathagata was living in the Kuru country where there was a town of the Kurus named Kammāsadhamma. There he addressed the bhikkhus thus: “Bhikkhus.”
—“Venerable sir,” they replied. The tathagata said this:
“Bhikkhus, this is the direct path for the liberation of beings, for the surmounting of sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of stress and grief, for the attainment of the true way, for the realization of Nibbāna—namely, the four foundations of mindfulness.
“What are the four? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu abides contemplating the (1.) body as a body, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, having put away desire and discontent in regards to the world. He abides contemplating (2.) feelings as feelings, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, having put away desire and discontent in regards to the world. He abides contemplating (3.) mental states as mental states, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, having put away desire and discontent in regards to the world. He abides contemplating (4.) mind-objects as mind-objects, ardent, fully aware, and mindful, having put away desire and discontent in regards to the world.
There is no limit to what can be said about the practice of mindfulness. New areas of science are emerging to study the effects of mindfulness meditation on the human brain. Buddhist scholars continue to put out new theories about how the mind was understood and practiced by the Buddha and his students some 2500 years ago. Despite the increasing diversity of views and opinions among different mindfulness communities, one thing remains clear: mindfulness has positive mental and emotional consequences for those who practice it.
Without a doubt, the practice of mindfulness has exploded into the mainstream over the last decade or so. The term mindfulness has made its way into our everyday vernacular. The number of articles in both popular and scholarly publications on the benefits of mindfulness practice is vast and on the rise. In secular circles, it has essentially been reduced to a science of trainings ones’ attention to reduce stress. But if we look further, and ask the right kinds of questions, mindfulness practice reveals the rich and fertile ground that we can build a life that supports awareness, empathy, creativity and authenticity.
So, what is Mindfulness?
In short, mindfulness is a skill. It is the ability to objectively monitor the arising and passing of thoughts, emotions, and sensations, within the framework of present-time awareness.
In truth, mindfulness requires a range of ideas and practices that need to be cultivated. By doing so it provides us the ability to view our lives from a new and much richer perspective. It challenges us to apply critical thinking and discernment, logic, empathy, ethics, and a willingness to question old ideas and core beliefs. It allows for personal change and transformation, and provides the needed inspiration to embrace our authenticity. It supports confidence and trust that we can overcome the challenges that we face and create a way of life that promotes long lasting well-being and true happiness. In a Buddhist context, mindfulness is taught as the direct path to liberation, a noble endeavor indeed.
Why should we practice Mindfulness?
In this attention deficit-disordered world, we seem to have a psychological disorder for just about every unpleasant mental state. We consume distraction. We’re addicted to it. It’s a multi-billion-dollar industry, and is the very fabric of our consumer culture. As the external world continues to demand so much of our attention it is no surprise that we find our inner life to feel empty. We experience disconnection while believing that we are so connected—a paradox of the modern era. It is only when people recognize they are burned out on distraction and external over-stimulation that they begin to consider that there may be an alternative. In fact, the reality is that our inner world may truly be the final frontier.
As we embrace and develop mindfulness practice we find that we learn to become honest about the difficulties in our lives. We take full responsibility for our unsuccessful denial strategies and we work to overcome them with effort and willingness. The experience of regret diminishes as we become aware of how and where we are causing it. This allows us to see clearly all the ways we are causing unnecessary suffering for ourselves and we begin to let go. We learn the power of empathy and compassion and promote positive change in our lives and in this world. As we do this we become more confident. We develop an optimistic attitude as we learn how to release ourselves from unnecessary suffering.