you first become aware of something, there is a fleeting
instant of pure awareness just before you conceptualize
the thing, before you identify it. That is a stage of
Mindfulness. Ordinarily, this stage is very short. It
is that flashing split second just as you focus your
eyes on the thing, just as you focus your mind on the
thing, just before you objectify it, clamp down on it
mentally and segregate it from the rest of existence.
It takes place just before you start thinking about
it--before your mind says, "Oh, it's a dog." That flowing,
soft-focused moment of pure awareness is Mindfulness.
In that brief flashing mind-moment you experience a
thing as an un-thing. You experience a softly flowing
moment of pure experience that is interlocked with the
rest of reality, not separate from it. Mindfulness is
very much like what you see with your peripheral vision
as opposed to the hard focus of normal or central vision.
yet this moment of soft, unfocused, awareness contains
a very deep sort of knowing that is lost as soon as
you focus your mind and objectify the object into a
thing. In the process of ordinary perception, the Mindfulness
step is so fleeting as to be unobservable. We have developed
the habit of squandering our attention on all the remaining
steps, focusing on the perception, recognizing the perception,
labeling it, and most of all, getting involved in a
long string of symbolic thought about it. That original
moment of Mindfulness is rapidly passed over. It is
the purpose of the above mentioned Vipassana (or insight)
meditation to train us to prolong that moment of awareness.
this Mindfulness is prolonged by using proper techniques,
you find that this experience is profound and it changes
your entire view of the universe. This state of perception
has to be learned, however, and it takes regular practice.
Once you learn the technique, you will find that Mindfulness
has many interesting aspects.
is mirror-thought. It reflects only what is presently
happening and in exactly the way it is happening. There
are no biases.
is non-judgmental observation. It is that ability of
the mind to observe without criticism. With this ability,
one sees things without condemnation or judgment. One
is surprised by nothing. One simply takes a balanced
interest in things exactly as they are in their natural
states. One does not decide and does not judge. One
is psychologically impossible for us to objectively
observe what is going on within us if we do not at the
same time accept the occurrence of our various states
of mind. This is especially true with unpleasant states
of mind. In order to observe our own fear, we must accept
the fact that we are afraid. We can't examine our own
depression without accepting it fully. The same is true
for irritation and agitation, frustration and all those
other uncomfortable emotional states. You can't examine
something fully if you are busy reflecting its existence.
Whatever experience we may be having, Mindfulness just
accepts it. It is simply another of life's occurrences,
just another thing to be aware of. No pride, no shame,
nothing personal at stake--what is there, is there.
is an impartial watchfulness. It does not take sides.
It does not get hung up in what is perceived. It just
perceives. Mindfulness does not get infatuated with
the good mental states. It does not try to sidestep
the bad mental states. There is no clinging to the pleasant,
no fleeing from the unpleasant. Mindfulness sees all
experiences as equal, all thoughts as equal, all feelings
as equal. Nothing is suppressed. Nothing is repressed.
Mindfulness does not play favorites.
is nonconceptual awareness. Another English term for
Sati is 'bare attention'. It is not thinking. It does
not get involved with thought or concepts. It does not
get hung up on ideas or opinions or memories. It just
looks. Mindfulness registers experiences, but it does
not compare them. It does not label them or categorize
them. It just observes everything as if it was occurring
for the first time. It is not analysis which is based
on reflection and memory. It is, rather, the direct
and immediate experiencing of whatever is happening,
without the medium of thought. It comes before thought
in the perceptual process.
is present time awareness. It takes place in the here
and now. It is the observance of what is happening right
now, in the present moment. It stays forever in the
present, surging perpetually on the crest of the ongoing
wave of passing time. If you are remembering your second-grade
teacher, that is memory. When you then become aware
that you are remembering your second-grade teacher,
that is mindfulness. If you then conceptualize the process
and say to yourself, "Oh, I am remembering", that is
is non-egoistic alertness. It takes place without reference
to self. With Mindfulness one sees all phenomena without
references to concepts like 'me', 'my' or 'mine'. For
example, suppose there is pain in your left leg. Ordinary
consciousness would say, "I have a pain." Using Mindfulness,
one would simply note the sensation as a sensation.
One would not tack on that extra concept 'I'. Mindfulness
stops one from adding anything to perception, or subtracting
anything from it. One does not enhance anything. One
does not emphasize anything. One just observes exactly
what is there--without distortion.
is goal-less awareness. In Mindfulness, one does not
strain for results. One does not try to accomplish anything.
When one is mindful, one experiences reality in the
present moment in whatever form it takes. There is nothing
to be achieved. There is only observation.
is awareness of change. It is observing the passing
flow of experience. It is watching things as they are
changing. it is seeing the birth, growth, and maturity
of all phenomena. It is watching phenomena decay and
die. Mindfulness is watching things moment by moment,
continuously. It is observing all phenomena--physical,
mental or emotional--whatever is presently taking place
in the mind. One just sits back and watches the show.
Mindfulness is the observance of the basic nature of
each passing phenomenon. It is watching the thing arising
and passing away. It is seeing how that thing makes
us feel and how we react to it. It is observing how
it affects others. In Mindfulness, one is an unbiased
observer whose sole job is to keep track of the constantly
passing show of the universe within. Please note that
last point. In Mindfulness, one watches the universe
within. The meditator who is developing Mindfulness
is not concerned with the external universe. It is there,
but in meditation, one's field of study is one's own
experience, one's thoughts, one's feelings, and one's
perceptions. In meditation, one is one's own laboratory.
The universe within has an enormous fund of information
containing the reflection of the external world and
much more. An examination of this material leads to
is participatory observation. The meditator is both
participant and observer at one and the same time. If
one watches one's emotions or physical sensations, one
is feeling them at that very same moment. Mindfulness
is not an intellectual awareness. It is just here. Mindfulness
is objective, but it is not cold or unfeeling. It is
the wakeful experience of life, an alert participation
in the ongoing process of living.
is an extremely difficult concept to define in words-
-not because it is complex, but because it is too simple
and open. The same problem crops up in every area of
human experience. The most basic concept is always the
most difficult to pin down. Look at a dictionary and
you will see a clear example. Long words generally have
concise definitions, but for short basic words like
'the' and 'is', definitions can be a page long. And
in physics, the most difficult functions to describe
are the most basic--those that deal with the most fundamental
realities of quantum mechanics. Mindfulness is a pre-symbolic
function. You can play with word symbols all day long
and you will never pin it down completely. We can never
fully express what it is. However, we can say what it
are three fundamental activities of Mindfulness. We
can use these activities as functional definitions of
the term: (1) Mindfulness reminds us of what we are
supposed to be doing; (2) it sees things as they really
are; and (3) it sees the deep nature of all phenomena.
Let's examine these definitions in greater detail.
reminds you of what you are supposed to be doing.
In meditation, you put your attention on one item. When
your mind wanders from this focus, it is Mindfulness
that reminds you that your mind is wandering and what
you are supposed to be doing. It is Mindfulness that
brings your mind back to the object of meditation. All
of this occurs instantaneously and without internal
dialogue. Mindfulness is not thinking. Repeated practice
in meditation establishes this function as a mental
habit which then carries over into the rest of your
life. A serious meditator pays bare attention to occurrences
all the time, day in, day out, whether formally sitting
in meditation or not. This is a very lofty ideal towards
which those who meditate may be working for a period
of years or even decades. Our habit of getting stuck
in thought is years old, and that habit will hang on
in the most tenacious manner. The only way out is to
be equally persistent in the cultivation of constant
Mindfulness. When Mindfulness is present, you will notice
when you become stuck in your thought patterns. It is
that very noticing which allows you to back out of the
thought process and free yourself from it. Mindfulness
then returns your attention to its proper focus. If
you are meditating at that moment, then your focus will
be the formal object of meditation. If your are not
in formal meditation, it will be just a pure application
of bare attention itself, just a pure noticing of whatever
comes up without getting involved--"Ah, this comes up...and
now this, and now this... and now this".
is at one and the same time both bare attention itself
and the function of reminding us to pay bare attention
if we have ceased to do so. Bare attention is noticing.
It re- establishes itself simply by noticing that it
has not been present. As soon as you are noticing that
you have not been noticing, then by definition you are
noticing and then you are back again to paying bare
creates its own distinct feeling in consciousness. It
has a flavor--a light, clear, energetic flavor. Conscious
thought is heavy by comparison, ponderous and picky.
But here again, these are just words. Your own practice
will show you the difference. Then you will probably
come up with your own words and the words used here
will become superfluous. Remember, practice is the thing.
sees things as they really are. It adds nothing
to perception and it subtracts nothing. It distorts
nothing. It is bare attention and just looks at whatever
comes up. Conscious thought pastes things over our experience,
loads us down with concepts and ideas, immerses us in
a churning vortex of plans and worries, fears and fantasies.
When mindful, you don't play that game. You just notice
exactly what arises in the mind, then you notice the
next thing. "Ah, this...and this...and now this." It
is really very simple.
sees the true nature of all phenomena. Mindfulness
and only Mindfulness can perceive the three prime characteristics
that Buddhism teaches are the deepest truths of existence.
In Pali these three are called Anicca (impermanence),
Dukkha (unsatisfactoriness), and Anatta (selflessness--the
absence of a permanent, unchanging, entity that we call
Soul or Self). These truths are not present in Buddhist
teaching as dogmas demanding blind faith. The Buddhists
feel that these truths are universal and self-evident
to anyone who cares to investigate in a proper way.
Mindfulness is the method of investigation. Mindfulness
alone has the power to reveal the deepest level of reality
available to human observation. At this level of inspection,
one sees the following: (a) all conditioned things are
inherently transitory; (b) every worldly thing is, in
the end, unsatisfying; and (c) there are really no entities
that are unchanging or permanent, only processes.
works like and electron microscope. That is, it operates
on so fine a level that one can actually see directly
those realities which are at best theoretical constructs
to the conscious thought process. Mindfulness actually
sees the impermanent character of every perception.
It sees the transitory and passing nature of everything
that is perceived. It also sees the inherently unsatisfactory
nature of all conditioned things. It sees that there
is no sense grabbing onto any of these passing shows.
Peace and happiness cannot be found that way. And finally,
Mindfulness sees the inherent selflessness of all phenomena.
It sees the way that we have arbitrarily selected a
certain bundle of perceptions, chopped them off from
the rest of the surging flow of experience and then
conceptualized them as separate, enduring, entities.
Mindfulness actually sees these things. It does not
think about them, it sees them directly.
it is fully developed, Mindfulness sees these three
attributes of existence directly, instantaneously, and
without the intervening medium of conscious thought.
In fact, even the attributes which we just covered are
inherently arbitrary. They don't really exist as separate
items. They are purely the result of our struggle to
take this fundamentally simple process called Mindfulness
and express it in the cumbersome and inherently unsuitable
thought symbols of the conscious level. Mindfulness
is a process, but it does not take place in steps. It
is a holistic process that occurs as a unit: you notice
your own lack of Mindfulness; and that noticing itself
is a result of Mindfulness; and Mindfulness is bare
attention; and bare attention is noticing things exactly
as they are without distortion; and the way they are
is Anicca, Dukkha, and Anatta (impermanent, unsatisfactory,
and self-less). It all takes place in the space of a
few mind-moments. This does not mean, however, that
you will instantly attain liberation (freedom from all
human weaknesses) as a result of your first moment of
Mindfulness. Learning to integrate this material into
your conscious life is another whole process. And learning
to prolong this state of Mindfulness is still another.
They are joyous processes, however, and they are well
worth the effort.
(Sati) and Insight (Vipassana) Meditation
is the center of Vipassana Meditation and the key to
the whole process. It is both the goal of this meditation
and the means to that end. You reach Mindfulness by
being ever more mindful. One other Pali word that is
translated into English as Mindfulness is Appamada,
which means non-negligence or an absence of madness.
One who attends constantly to what is really going on
in one's mind achieves the state of ultimate sanity.
Pali term Sati also bears the connotation of
remembering. It is not memory in the sense of ideas
and pictures from the past, but rather clear, direct,
wordless knowing of what is and what is not, of what
is correct and what is incorrect, of what we are doing
and how we should go about it. Mindfulness reminds the
meditator to apply his attention to the proper object
at the proper time and to exert precisely the amount
of energy needed to do the job. When this energy is
properly applied, the meditator stays constantly in
a state of calm and alertness. As long as this condition
is maintained, those mind-states call 'hindrances' or
'psychic irritants' cannot arise--there is no greed,
no hatred, no lust or laziness. But we all are human
and we do err. Most of us are very human and we err
repeatedly. Despite honest effort, the meditator lets
his Mindfulness slip now and then and he finds himself
stuck in some regrettable, but normal, human failure.
It is Mindfulness that notices that change. And it is
Mindfulness that reminds him to apply the energy required
to pull himself out. These slips happen over and over,
but their frequency decreases with practice. Once Mindfulness
has pushed these mental defilements aside, more wholesome
states of mind can take their place. Hatred makes way
for loving kindness, lust is replaced by detachment.
It is Mindfulness which notices this change, too, and
which reminds the Vipassana meditator to maintain that
extra little mental sharpness needed to keep these more
desirable states of mind. mindfulness makes possible
the growth of wisdom and compassion. Without Mindfulness
they cannot develop to full maturity.
buried in the mind, there lies a mental mechanism which
accepts what the mind perceives as beautiful and pleasant
experiences and rejects those experiences which are
perceived as ugly and painful. This mechanism gives
rise to those states of mind which we are training ourselves
to avoid--things like greed, lust, hatred, aversion,
and jealousy. We choose to avoid these hindrances, not
because they are evil in the normal sense of the word,
but because they are compulsive; because they take the
mind over and capture the attention completely; because
they keep going round and round in tight little circles
of thought; and because they seal us off from living
hindrances cannot arise when Mindfulness is present.
Mindfulness is attention to present time reality, and
therefore, directly antithetical to the dazed state
of mind which characterizes impediments. As meditators,
it is only when we let our Mindfulness slip that the
deep mechanisms of our mind take over--grasping, clinging
and rejecting. Then resistance emerges and obscures
our awareness. We do not notice that the change is taking
place --- we are too busy with a thought of revenge,
or greed, whatever it may be. While an untrained person
will continue in this state indefinitely, a trained
meditator will soon realize what is happening. It is
Mindfulness that notices the change. It is Mindfulness
that remembers the training received and that focuses
our attention so that the confusion fades away. And
it is Mindfulness that then attempts to maintain itself
indefinitely so that the resistance cannot arise again.
Thus, Mindfulness is the specific antidote for hindrances.
It is both the cure and the preventive measure.
developed Mindfulness is a state of total non-attachment
and utter absence of clinging to anything in the world.
If we can maintain this state, no other means or device
is needed to keep ourselves free of obstructions, to
achieve liberation from our human weaknesses. Mindfulness
is non-superficial awareness. It sees things deeply,
down below the level of concepts and opinions. This
sort of deep observation leads to total certainty, and
complete absence of confusion. It manifests itself primarily
as a constant and unwavering attention which never flags
and never turns away.
pure and unstained investigative awareness not only
holds mental hindrances at bay, it lays bare their very
mechanism and destroys them. Mindfulness neutralizes
defilements in the mind. The result is a mind which
remains unstained and invulnerable, completely unaffected
by the ups and downs of life.