Thursday, June 30, 2011

What is the definition of right mindfulness?

What is the definition right mindfulness?

The term mindfulness and mindfulness meditation is now being used commonly and is becoming a popular term in research and treatment modalities such as mindfulness based stress reduction(MBSR) and mindfulness based cognitive therapy (MBCT). The purpose of this post is to revisit the true meaning of mindfulness as taught by the Buddha and in Buddhist texts. This is called the right mindfulness.

Mindfulness is generally defined as a technique in which a person becomes intentionally aware of his or her thoughts and actions in the present moment, non-judgmentally.

There have been definitions of mindfulness given by several different authors in recent years. Here are some examples:

“Bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis” (Marlatt & Kristeller,1999) and as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally(Kabat-Zinn, 1994).-Mindfulness Training as a Clinical Intervention: A Conceptual and Empirical Review :Ruth A. Baer, University of Kentucky

"We propose a two-component model of mindfulness. The first component involves the self-regulation of attention so that it is maintained on immediate experience, thereby allowing for increased recognition of mental events in the present moment. The second component involves adopting a particular orientation toward one’s experiences in the present moment, an orientation that is characterized by curiosity, openness, and acceptance."- "Mindfulness: A proposed operational definition [Scott R Bishop, et.,al.,Clin Psychol Sci Prac 11: 230–241, 2004]

Introduction of right mindfulness and mindfulness meditation by the Buddha dates back 2600 years. In Buddhist practice however, in right mindfulness there is judgement of perception, feelings, thoughts as well as mental phenomena for what is skillful and what is not. We judge to leave out the unskilful and cultivate the skillful ones. Buddha compared this to a gate-keeper at a well guarded city.

"Just as the royal frontier fortress has a gate-keeper — wise, experienced, intelligent — to keep out those he doesn't know and to let in those he does, for the protection of those within and to ward off those without; in the same way a disciple of the noble ones is mindful, highly meticulous, remembering & able to call to mind even things that were done & said long ago. With mindfulness as his gate-keeper...

Therefore in right mindfulness we are being ardent with right effort and alert (with clear comprehension) on the workings of the mind and skillfully removing roots of unwholesomeness. One simile Buddha gave on this was "like a skilled carpenter removing a rusty nail". Therefore there is a certain element of wisdom that has to be in place in the form of right view for right mindfulness. According to the generic definitions of mindfulness stated above, you accept every thought that arises with openness, non-judgmentally. The danger here is you allow any thought that may arise. These could be skillful thoughts or unskillful thoughts such as greed, anger, etc. So we may end up with wrong mindfulness in the wrong path leading to adverse results that may even harm us. Skillful thoughts belong to right intention in the noble eightfold path. Buddha also taught us the importance of abandoning wrong intention (unskillful thoughts) and cultivating the right intention (skillful thoughts) in a sutta based on the two kinds of thoughts.

According to Thanissaro Bhikkhu* "Buddha himself defined sati as the ability to remember, illustrating its function in meditation practice with The Four Satipatthanas (The four foundations of mindfulness/ frames of reference), or establishings of mindfulness.

“And what is the faculty of sati? There is the case where a monk, a disciple of the noble ones, is mindful, highly meticulous, remembering & able to call to mind even things that were done & said long ago. (And here begins the satipatthana formula:) He remains focused on the body in & of itself — ardent, alert, & mindful — putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world. He remains focused on feelings in & of themselves... the mind in & of itself... mental qualities in & of themselves — ardent, alert, & mindful — putting aside greed & distress with reference to the world.”—SN 48:10

Mindfulness Defined-

Thanissaro Bhikkhu

If we are within the Four frames of mindfulness we become very skillful in avoiding any danger that causes unhappiness or stress. This is also illustrated in a sutta in the Pali Canon by the buddha in the simile of the quail. The difficulty of being mindful within these four frames is also illustrated in the Canon by the simile of the person who is carrying a bowl of oil. How you train your senses to be mindful of the body is also illustrated in the sutta in the simile of the six animals.

1. Mindfulness of the body - One example is mindfulness of the breath and initially this is the perception of the breath. For example, long breath, short breath, whole body of the breath (breath immersed in the body).

2. Mindfulness of feeling- pleasant, painful and neither-pleasant-nor-painful feeling

3. Mindfulness of mind- these are mainly thoughts/intentions

4. Mindfulness of mental phenomena/ mental qualities/ mental objects- This to me is mainly the mechanism of how the six senses work and is the source or the origin of all perceptions, feelings and thoughts. This is where everything starts and Buddha called this "the all." In practice of right mindfulness according to satipatthana is like stating at a base of a pyramid and climbing up gradually

(working through body perception, feeling, thoughts)

to the pinnacle (mental phenomena) of it. At the pinnacle you see everything. This is insight.

Therefore mindfulness should be defined as

a technique in which a person becomes intentionally aware of his or her perceptions, feelings, thoughts and mental phenomena in the present moment, skillfully.

*Also please listen to this excellent talk called "The Boundaries of Mindfulness" by Thanissaro Bhikkhu which inspired me to write this post. Here is the link:"The Boundaries of Mindfulness"

Monday, June 27, 2011

The "real pirates" of the mind

Imagine there is an anchored ship that is about to be hijacked by pirates. There are six pirate ships competing against each other to hijack the ship and bring it to their respective island. If the ship is not anchored well, it will be hijacked by the strongest pirate ship. However, if the ship is anchored very well the pirate ships are going to get exhausted and will eventually give up.

This is like what happens when we sit to meditate. If you do not anchor your breath well to the your whole body (breath fully immersed in the body*) your senses will "hijack" you. The ear may "hijack" you to the sound. Alternatively, our mind will "hijack" you to ideas (thoughts). The same may apply to the other senses too.
** Whatever the strongest sense may be, it will hijack the perception of your breath. If you anchor the breath to your body strongly enough, eventually the senses will give up. This is one of the tasks in the early stages of breath meditation.

Buddha used a beautiful simile on this about the
six animals in Chappana Sutta -The Six Animals.

Thanissaro Bhikkhu explains this well in few of his talks. Here are some links:Mind on a leash, The Breath All the Way (16 Steps), Breath Training, Animals in the Mind

*The breath "anchored" to whole body (breath fully immersed in the body)
In Buddhas words:
"He trains himself, 'I will breathe in sensitive to the entire body.' He trains himself, 'I will breathe out sensitive to the entire body."
"'Experiencing the whole body, I shall breathe in,' thinking thus, he trains himself. 'Experiencing the whole body, I shall breathe out,' thinking thus, he trains himself."

**In formal sitting breath meditation usually mind/ideas, ears/sounds, nose/smells and body/sensations will distracts you the most as your eyes are closed (no eyes/objects) and there is no activity of the tongue/tastes. However in usual day to day life activities too we could apply this method of anchoring the breath when we are challenged with our senses, to prevent the mind getting agitated or stressed. Perhaps we already use this method instinctively without any formal training by "taking a deep breath" when we are stressed. However if you train yourself with formal breath meditation it will be much easier to anchor senses to the breath, restraining the senses and ultimately calming the mind more effectively.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

What is clinging? A Buddhist take on it.

We often hear about the word clinging in Buddhism, especially when we discuss the dependent origination. Clinging can also be translated as "sustenance" or "feeding". Feeding what? Feeding the mind with "mental food" (as thoughts). 

As Thanissaro Bhikkhu says in one of his talks "the mind has no 'hands' to cling". So how does the mind cling to things? Here we will explore the mechanism of clinging by using the mind works model. Clinging to sensual desire is discussed in this post.

We have already discussed how the mind performs "multi tasking" using cognitive series in a previous post called: Are we really "multi tasking"or is it just another sophisticated function of the mind?

Before we explore the main topic of clinging, we will examine the difference between seeing and looking*. We will take the same driving example here as in a previous posts. When we see a car in front of us, while driving, we just see it. We keep driving without thinking about it. We see the traffic light changing. We stop and then go again without thinking about it. Now supposing you see a car you have never seen before in front of you and you like it, you will see it first and then look at it. Think about it.

Now there is a difference between seeing and looking. In the initial seeing of the car only the primary cognitive series is used. This is the mere perception of the car. This generates the first thought about it. The thoughts from then on are a product of your active will, which is present and can shape your experience about the new car. Your feeling and memory will play a part in these thoughts as discussed in a previous post as secondary, tertiary and quaternary cognitive series to add more information about the car (Figure 1). The mechanism of this was discussed in a previous post called: Are we really "multi tasking"or is it just another sophisticated function of the mind?

Figure 1

When we look, an active thought process occurs. There is will present here. Now you are "locking on" to the object because the craving for the object that is present. In this example it is the new car. As long you have craving to look at the object you can keep the attention and a countless number of cognitives series (primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary) are generated at a rapid speed (Figure 2). Now the flow of incoming sensory information from the object may be called taints or fermentations (asava) and we will examine this in detail in the next post.

Figure 2

Now where does craving arise and where does it dwell when we look at a object? Figure 3 below shows where craving is generated and dwells using the mind works model.

Figure 3

When you "lock on" to an object you desire, as said before, there are a countless number of cognitives series (primary, secondary, tertiary and quaternary) generated. There is craving that arises at each step during the process. This is really what is known as clinging (Figure 4 below). The mind is functionally clinging to the object with numerous thoughts at a very rapid speed. This could also be regarded as mental proliferation of the mind in the present.

Figure 4

So this is where craving leads to clinging in the dependent origination or dependent co-arising. Here what is shown is the clinging is to sensual desires. This clinging will be present until the next moment you see another object and the attention changes.

The other five senses and their respective stimuli behave exactly the same. Therefore Mind is like a "working of a radio" changing its six channels tuning in to the channel we desire and clinging at times due to the craving.

All these thoughts that are generated in this clinging is what is called Becoming (Bhava) or kamma that will make a result in the future result (Vipaka). This is the link where clinging that will lead to Becoming. At the end our last thought will become the rebirth kamma that will shape our rebirth consciousness and birth and was discussed in a the post Rebirth: How does it work? A model based on the dependent origination.

All these thing happen in the background of ignorance and we have discussed this topic in other posts. Training our mind only to see, when you see (not looking), only to hear, when you hear (not listening)..., (same applies to the other senses) should be our training. Interestingly this was the brief instructions Buddha gave to Bahiya in the famous Bahiya Sutta
and he attained full enlightenment contemplating on this alone.

Clinging to identify things as mine is an innate desire or craving of all human beings. Clinging to our body (form), feelings, perceptions, thoughts and consciousness (the five aggregates) as mine
is called Personality view or self Identity view (sakkaya-ditthi[sakkaaya-di.t.thi and we have discussed this in other posts.

*Seeing and looking in this post:
Seeing is passive here. You are just the observer, no craving or clinging is present here.
Looking is active here. You are actively involved in looking and seeking some object. There is craving and clinging present here. The same applies to hearing/listening and of other senses.