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17 million words and counting!
Kuladharini, Glasgow, UK
Sanghajivini, Newcastle, UK
Candradasa, FBA Team
Kalyanavaca, London, UK
Vajratara, Sheffield, UK
Candradasa, FBA Team
Sheila Groonell, Aryaloka, USA
Sravaniya, Boston, USA
... for addiction.
So what has come out of all this, which is just a sort of overview of Buddhism and
meditation used therapeutically, is that mindfulness in particular seems to have come out
as being something that is very important, or very useful, as a therapeutic tool. And it
seems to be more specific than just meditation in general, which might have a calming or
If we now turn to the Buddhist tradition and have a look at mindfulness there, we find
that mindfulness is very important in the Buddhist tradition. You get it as one of the
aspects of the Noble Eightfold Path; it is one of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment...
(Buddhists like lists, as many of you I am sure will know) ...it is one of the Five Spiritual
Faculties – the central one of those, that harmonises the others – and it particularly occurs
in something called the Satipatthana Sutta, which is the central sutta that really talks a lot
about mindfulness, and which I will be referring to quite a bit. Two very good
commentaries came out in 2003: one by Sangharakshita called 'Living with Awareness'
(which is probably in your bookshop), and one by Bhikku Analayo, which again is a very
good commentary on it (which might also be in the bookshop).
I'll just say a few words about this sutta. Quite often in Buddhist suttas you have a whole
story before you get on to the main teaching, but in this one the Buddha just goes straight
to the point: he gets the monks' attention, and then he says to them:
'Monks – this is the direct path for the purification of beings, for the surmounting of
sorrow and lamentation, for the disappearance of pain and grief, for the attainment of the
true way, for the realisation of Nirvana – namely, the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.'
Actually the Buddha is making a very big claim here. He is saying it is the 'direct way'.
Other translations translate it as the 'only way', although that probably isn't correct – it's
more that it takes you straight there, straight to Enlightenment, rather than being the
exclusive way of getting there.
So, let's have a look at what mindfulness is. There are two main words to use to translate
mindfulness, and they are used a bit synonymously but they have slightly different
meanings: one is sati and the other is sampajanya.
Sati particularly refers to awareness of the present moment, or 'bare awareness' as it is
sometimes talked about; but it also has the meaning of 'recollection' or 'memory'. In other
words, you understand what is going on in the present partly because you are able to
recollect the past, and particularly you understand the ethical significance of what you are
And then there is sampajanya, which means 'mindfulness of purpose', or clear
comprehension, and this is more future-regarding – in particular it is mindfulness with
respect to what you are trying to do, what your goal is (which might be to gain
Enlightenment, for example).
Sometimes the two are put together – they are in the ‘Satipatthana Sutta’ quite a bit as
sati-sampajanya, which is usually translated as 'mindfulness and clear knowledge' – in
other words, it is knowing what you are doing and why you are doing it. You are
completely and fully and utterly present, but you also know what you are about – where
you are off to – and you also deeply understand the significance of what you are doing. A
very rich word.
In the suttas you get various analogies for sati, or mindfulness, and I'll talk you through a
few of those...
One is the idea of climbing a tower. You go up this tower and you get perspective – you
can see. You know, like climbing Half Dome or something like that (I was in Yosemite
yesterday!). You get up really high and you can see a long way. There is also a sense of
detachment inherent in that analogy as well.
Then there is the idea of 'the surgeon's probe'. The surgeon's probe is going into things to
gather information, to find out, 'is that a cyst? Is that a hard tumour? What's going on
Then there are a couple more to do with the idea of balance. One is 'a skilled charioteer',
and one is 'carrying a bowl of oil on your head'; the idea of not spilling a drop of this
perfectly full... you know... you're probably walking on a tightrope as well...
...Then another one is 'the gatekeeper of a town'. The idea of the gatekeeper is that they
allow bona-fide citizens in but they keep out unwanted individuals – so this is the idea of
guarding the mind, and having a bit of an overview of the mind.
Finally, another analogy is having wild animals tied to a strong post. This is the idea that
[mindfulness] has a stabilising effect; an 'unshakeable' effect.
So there are lots of rich associations with this idea of mindfulness.
If we look at the Satipatthana Sutta, it covers mindfulness in four main areas usually
referred to as 'Foundations', which are:
2. Feeling (in the sense of whether something is pleasurable or unpleasurable)
3. Mental States (like anger, jealousy, love...)
4. Doctrinal Formulations (referred to as 'dhammas' – such things as the 'Four Noble
And it covers, particularly, applying those doctrinal formulations to your mind – using
them as a guide to get a sense of what is going on in your mind.
After each bit of description of these Foundations, the Buddha says this:
'In this way, in regard to the body [...or the feeling, or whichever one it is...] he abides
contemplating the body internally, externally, both internally and externally. He abides
contemplating the nature of arising, of passing away, of both arising and passing away in
the body. Mindfulness that there is a body is established in him to the extent necessary for
bare knowledge and continuous mindfulness, and he abides independent, not clinging to
anything in the world. That is how, in regard to the body, he abides contemplating the
...So there are quite a few little bits there, which I'll run through:
First of all, he contemplates it internally, externally, or both... so in other words, when we
are practicing mindfulness we are aware of ourselves but we're also aware of other people
– so we're aware 'internally' and 'externally' – and perhaps the latter is the bit that's not
being explored so much in contemporary Dharmic practice.
And then the advice is to contemplate the nature of arising, passing away, and both. In
other words it's looking at what brings things into being, and what leads to things going
away – how come something comes into our experience? How come it goes away from
And then there is awareness just for the sake of knowledge and continued mindfulness. I
think what this is getting at is about not getting lost in lots of associations (which, again, I
will come back to later).
And then finally, 'abiding independently'; not clinging to anything in the world. In a way
this is where it all leads to, from the Buddhist point of view – the eventual state of
complete detachment and freedom – whereas the first three are methods of how to get
So, that's a bit of a background on mindfulness from the Buddhist tradition; I now want to
move on to looking at how this is useful therapeutically. Basically, I think you can think
of it in terms of being four main areas, or four aspects of mindfulness that are helpful:
1. Clocking what is going on
2. Staying with experience
3. Having a bigger perspective
1. Clocking what is going on
When we're doing mindfulness meditation – particularly if I'm teaching mindfulness for
depression or addiction – the instruction is that each time you get distracted (because of
course the mind wanders off all the time) just to gently note where the mind has gone to,
and then bring it back to whatever the object of the meditation is, whether that is the body
or the breath.
So, in doing that, it's like you are just noting where the mind has gone – so you start
getting a hang of where your mind habitually goes off to. But then, each time you come
back to the breath or the body, you are stepping out of just getting caught up in whatever
is going on.
A lot of the time we run around on automatic pilot. I don't know if you have had the
experience of driving home, and you were going to stop at the supermarket, and you find
yourself already gone past the supermarket because you went on the habitual route
home... or you walk into the sitting room and you can't remember what on earth it was
you were going to very importantly get there... I see one or two nods there...
In a sense it's great, isn't it, that we can do things on automatic pilot? It's fantastic.
Remember what it was like (those of you who drive) when you first learned to drive? It
was just like... [DEMONSTRATES!] ...I felt a bit like that only a few days ago when I
was pulling out of the car-hire in ...