The Application of Mindfulness
48 Questions and Answers
Questions 41- 48
41. Why does the Buddha say “Mindfulness to the extent necessary?” Shouldn’t we practice to be mindful in every single moment of the day?
The Buddha avoids making unreal expectations upon ourselves to be mindful all the time. As with everything else, mindfulness arises subject to conditions. It is not possible to ensure that these conditions remain on an unbroken, continuous basis. Have you ever met a single human being who shows mindfulness throughout the whole day, even in the most supportive of environments, such as the silent monastery, the cave or the intensive retreat? Mindfulness requires supportive factors – interest, energy, inquiry, intention and concentration. We require mindfulness to the extent necessary. The Buddha said “His (or her) mindfulness that ‘there is feeling’ becomes established up to the point of understanding and steady mindfulness, and he (or she) dwells not dependent and does not cling to anything in the world. Anissita is the Pali word for “not dependent.” The Pali Dictionary also states that the word also means “not hanging onto, not attached to, not relying on, not being founded on, not bent on.” We apply mindfulness to extent necessary for clear knowing of liberation, not to employ mindfulness simply for the reduction of stress. We develop like the lotus that may start in the mud and grow until it flowers and can rest on top of the water. The desire to be mindful every moment of the day can become an unhealthy ambition. The use of will power to stay in the here and now, rather than the use of appropriate effort at times, contributes to tension and possibly emotional, mental and physical disturbance. We practice mindfulness to the extent necessary to abide without dependency, including freedom from dependency on mindfulness. The reminder that we explore “mindfulness to the extent necessary” reveals a beautiful reminder to all of use about the validity of mindfulness without exaggerating its place.
42. The Buddha referred to practise seeing the body as loathsome. Doesn’t this encourage a
nihilistic attitude to life?
The Pali words is “asubha” literally means “not beautiful.” That is a more precise translation. Some translators have translated asubha as loathsome. The Buddha lists various parts of the body including shit, bile, phlegm, pus, sweat, snot and urine. It is hard to see such parts of the body, inner or outer, as beautiful. Mindfulness practice includes a genuine review of the various parts of the body so that we “know body as body” free from all the projections upon it. We live in a society obsessed with youth and beauty. There is a resistance to ageing. The cosmetic industry offers cheap and expensive products that claim to make us look younger and by implication happier. The meditation on the not beautiful parts of the body encourages us to “get real.” We have become stuck with seeing the body as “I” and “mine.” We practice to see the body as a collection of elements, earth, air, heat and water and space. “I am not the body. I am not these elements. The body is not mine. It is not a possession.” Consciousness, another element, supports the body. We apply mindfulness to the body to see it clearly without clinging, without any rejection without dependency. There is confirmation of earth element through hardness or softness. Movement confirms air element, such as breathing in and out. Warmth confirms heat element. Fluidity confirms water element such as blood in the veins. Mindfulness of the elements contributes to a wise and respectful relationship to the body. In my book, Mindfulness for Everyday Living, I referred to the application of
mindfulness to energy, sexual intimacy, dance, yoga and relationships.
43. Isn’t it morbid to meditate on death?
Desire has become the human way to avoid meditation on death. Desire is the denial of death. We desire more and better possessions. We desire security through life insurance policies. We may desire children for some sense of continuity after we die. We desire as long a life as possible. It is all too human. The more we hold onto, the more we fear to lose. Desire and clinging keep us from meditating on death. If we meditated on death, it would put our life, our basic needs and our activities into a perspective. If we develop mindfulness of death, it will contribute to curbing desire. Let us wisely co-exist with unfolding events including our emergence and departure from this strange planet. It is blindingly obvious that our existence in this human realm is short, very short. We sometimes wonder where the years have gone. I’ve just been reading Rude Awakening by Sucitto and Nick Scot (see reference in book list in this eNews) about their bold walk through Bihar, India. I remember we met at the Thai Monastery in Bodh Gaya. I thought the meeting took place just a few years ago. It was 21 years ago. It left me gobsmacked. Where did the time go? Meditate on death to live in harmony with life.
44. There are feelings pleasant, unpleasant and neither pleasant nor unpleasant. What is the significance of mindfulness of the third type of feeling, namely neither pleasant nor
Someone approaches you and says: “How do you feel?” You might shrug your shoulders. “Not pleasant. Not unpleasant.” It is deeply worthwhile to give attention to this feeling. It is common to all of us. Often referred to as a neutral feeling, it is vulnerable to rejection by others or ourselves. Identification with this neutral feeling feeds ignorance and blind spots. We might search for pleasurable sensations rather than exercise bare mindfulness with clear comprehension to this “neutral” feeling. We may reject this feeling neither pleasant nor unpleasant and instead grasp onto a painful memory or pleasurable fantasy. We practise to learn to stay steady with the three kinds of feelings. Our practice supports the discovery of wisdom to support the three kinds of feelings rather than feeding the desire to maximise the pleasant sensations at the expense of the unpleasant or painful. We walk the razor’s edge if we imprison ourselves to the pursuit of pleasure and avoidance of pain.
45. What do we have to be mindful of with regard to pleasant feelings?
Clearly, pleasant feelings contribute to the experience of peace of mind, happiness, love and numerous other expressions of our heart and mind. If we grasp onto the pleasant sensations, we want to repeat them. Remember all addictions begin with the pleasant experience such as alcohol, drugs, smoking, gambling, food, shopping, comfort and desire for another person. The initial experiences of the pleasant and the satisfying become the means to repeat the sensation. With the passage of time, the pursuit of the pleasant sensation becomes a habit and then becomes an addiction. The addiction converts the short time pleasure into the painful in the absence of contact with the object of desire. Then consciousness primarily becomes restricted to the limits of pleasurable and painful sensations.
46. What do we have to be mindful of with regard to unpleasant feelings?
If we grasp onto unpleasant feelings, such as painful physical sensations or unpleasant/painful feelings, thoughts and perceptions, we will intensify the unpleasant or painful aspect of the experience. If we grasp onto these experiences, we will enlarge the view of it into other areas of our life. We might end up with a very despairing view about life in general. If we grasp in such a way, we can inflate our view to believe all life is suffering. In the extreme of such a view, we may end up with the desire to negate our existence or the existence of somebody else to get relief from the painful experience that we cannot accommodate. It rarely goes that far. It goes as far as the intensity of grasping goes. If we grasp intensely after the experience of existence of pain, we will grasp after its non-existence or grasp after a different experience. At other times, our tendency to grasp a painful experience or situation generates a self-image or image of another that we dislike or hate. We burn up inside due to grasping whether we find fault with ourselves or other (s) or both. Mindfulness supports a practice of inquiry, of seeing and dissolving any grasping after any kinds of feelings. It is not a rejection, nor detachment from them, as this will lead to pressure and reaction in our emotional life later on. Is a situation, any situation, as bad as we think it is? Is the mode of thinking putting petrol on the fire of painful feelings and sensations?
47. The discourse on mindfulness refers to the four applications of mindfulness to body, feelings, states of mind and the Dharma. What is mindfulness of the Dharma?
I regard it as unskilful to drop this vitally important application of mindfulness from any teaching and practice. Is there some fear among some mindfulness teachers that if the Dharma, as a word, as a teaching, will become confused with Buddhism. Buddhism is a religion. The exclusion of Dharma, namely a comprehensive teaching of liberation and emptiness of self-existence keeps mindfulness application to a psychology. Mindfulness then focuses on some aspects of application of mindfulness to body, feelings and states of mind. There is great value here but we pay the greatest respect to human beings when we offer full and comprehensive teachings on enlightened engagement with dependent arising. Mindfulness of Dharma includes the aspect of mindfulness as reflection and recollection. It is worthwhile knowing and committing deeply to memory the four noble truths, noble eightfold path, characteristics of existence, factors of awakening, four divine abidings, five fold training and much else, including ethics, spiritual and conventional consciousness, form and formlessness. You pay respect to yourselves through unwavering commitment to ultimate matters.
48. Are mindfulness teachers teaching Dharma or psychological well being?
I have had many conversations with mindfulness teachers. I would say “yes” to both kinds of teachers. I know some mindfulness teachers who love the Dharma and bring in the Dharma, even without the word, at every opportunity. Such teachers truly recognise the infinite potential of human beings for full realisation and make it completely clear to their students and clients who attend their classes or courses that emotional well being is one step, an important one, towards a fully awakened way of life, unbound to birth and death. Other mindfulness teachers know very little about the depth of the Dharma. They communicate to the students and clients simple and effective instructions in stress reduction. That is the scope of their training. There is a spectrum of mindfulness teachers and mentors between the two examples of teachers mentioned above. I simply wish to make it clear that mindfulness is a tool of the Dharma, a mountain in the Himalayas of liberation.
May all beings live mindful lives
May all beings live with wisdom
May all beings know an awakened life