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Mindfulness in the Three Trainings

by Tejananda

Mindfulness in the Three Trainings

by Tejananda

Given at the UK Men’s National Order Weekend, Wymondham College, 4th August 2002


In this talk I’m going to be looking at some quite familiar areas. What I’m hoping to
achieve is some kind of a synthesis, or if that’s too grand a term, a bringing together of
various areas of our practice under the general term of ‘mindfulness’. In particular, I want
to explore, explicitly or implicitly, the question: what is mindfulness, really?

Let’s start with some views about mindfulness. And unmindfulness. In some of his talks,
Bhante approaches the question of what mindfulness is by giving a vivid description of
unmindfulness – I’m sure you’re all familiar with those talks and I’m sure all of us very
familiar with the kinds of disastrous unmindfulness scenarios that Bhante paints (in
others, of course)!

A general impression that one picks up sometimes is that we’re not very good at
mindfulness in the Order and FWBO. Mindfulness is not our strongest point. We’re very
good at friendship, kalyana mitrata, right livelihood, making the Dharma relevant to
modern culture and so on ... but we’re not so very good at mindfulness. This impression
doesn’t just come from Order members – it comes from Bhante too; Again and again I’ve
heard him talking about people’s lack of general, everyday mindfulness. This often seems
to concern the area of awareness of and consideration for others.

Now, I’m not questioning at all the likelihood that we could be much more mindful in
many different ways – or that when Bhante and others comment on unmindfulness there
is really something that needs to be worked on. There’s always a huge amount of work to
do in this area. But I can’t help noticing (and this isn’t just a rationalisation!) that when
someone accuses me of being unmindful – or us in general of being unmindful – they
often seem to have a rather narrow or particular idea of mindfulness in view.

In my more jaded moments I sometimes think that people have a tacit definition
something like: ‘unmindfulness is anything that anyone else keeps doing which I find
particularly irritating’. Now, it’s perfectly natural to think in this way – well, perfectly
natural in a reactive sort of way – but it’s not a very good starting point for a definition of
mindfulness. So let’s broaden out our view of mindfulness, if we can.

In fact I don’t’ think that that we’re so very bad at mindfulness in the Movement. It’s just
that some of the areas we are pretty good at we tend not to think of as ‘mindfulness’. For
instance, friendliness, the expression of metta, kalyana mitrata, right livelihood and so on
are all very much aspects of the application of mindfulness. So we need to have a broader
perspective on mindfulness so that we can get a more realistic view of what it really
consists of and consequently what we need to strengthen or develop in terms of our own
As you probably know, a point that Bhante has made about vipassana meditation (in the
sense of ‘the vipassana school’) is that he believes some of these approaches use too
limited a definition of ‘mindfulness’. It’s not that what they teach isn’t mindfulness but
rather that it’s an aspect of mindfulness and he feels that other important aspects don’t get
enough emphasis – particularly the ethical dimensions of mindfulness.

But this isn’t a matter of pointing the finger at other movements: the same point has been
made about our own approach to mindfulness as well. For instance, Subhuti was recently
reported as saying: ‘In the FWBO [mindfulness] often tends to be reduced to mindfulness
of the breath, and of the body and its movements.’ So that is a general impression –
obviously it doesn’t apply to everybody. Nevertheless, as I’ve already said, I think that
we all do generally need to develop a fuller understanding of the scope of mindfulness –
both from the point of view of our own practice and from the point of view of how we
teach it.

Subhuti put what I’m getting at quite succinctly at the Madhyamaloka-Vajraloka
meditation colloquium two years ago: ‘Mindfulness is a term whose denotations and
connotations cover almost the whole of the spiritual life .... Our teaching needs to take
into account not only smriti and samprajanya, but also the implications of apramada,
which brings out the ethical dimension of mindfulness.’

And Bhante commented on this: ‘there needs to be a much greater awareness of
mindfulness in a general, ordinary sense [in the Movement]. I notice still that people are
very unmindful in everyday activities ... we need to put much, much more emphasis on
this. One should be able to see the difference, [in the deportment of Order members] –
there should be no gross unawareness or unmindfulness. Especially at centres, Order
members should take care of how they speak, move and behave.’

So a lot of what I’ve got to say is an expansion on these comments by Bhante and

Developing and embodying the faculty of mindfulness

The approach to mindfulness that I want to talk about mainly comes down to looking at
things in a slightly different way. That’s to say, rather than thinking about mindfulness as
an aspect of our Dharma practice, it means seeing it as the essence. I suggest that we
need to move away from thinking of mindfulness as a sort of separate practice – one
among others. And I think we especially need to get away from thinking of mindfulness
as something we can only give proper attention to occasionally, e.g. when we’re on

I’ve often found, at Vajraloka, that it’s not that easy to get people thinking in terms of
overall mindfulness practice, rather than just their meditation. I thought that this point
needed highlighting, so we’ve recently changed from having ‘meditation interviews' to
‘practice reviews’ – I hoped this would bring out that we want people to review their
mindfulness practice as a whole – not just what happens when sitting down inside the
shrine room. But it always seems to be an uphill struggle. Nine times out of ten – unless
they’re prompted – people will only talk about what’s going on when they’re sitting in
the shrine room with their eyes closed.

Obviously, we’re all aware that mindfulness and meditation are not two separate things –
we know that mindfulness in daily life comes out of our meditation, and feeds back into
our meditation. But there does seem to be quite a widespread notion that to practice
mindfulness properly we need plenty of space and to really slow down – like slow
walking... or mindfully doing the washing up just to do the washing up and so on.

There is nothing wrong with this way of practising mindfulness of course, and I know
that I’m putting this a bit one-sidedly. I’m sure that we don’t just see mindfulness in that
kind of way ... but it does seem to me that there is a tendency in this direction. I can see it
in myself – I have to catch myself not to think that mindfulness is just something I sort of
‘do’ professionally on retreats at Vajraloka. So I think the answer – or the direction
towards the answer – is to persuade ourselves that mindfulness is not a particular
practice, but that it’s integral to all Dharma practice.

In particular, I think that it would be very helpful to understand mindfulness as integral to
the practice of the Three Trainings – shila, samadhi and prajna. This is how I want to
look at it. Training in mindfulness is what we are engaged in, and the Three Trainings are
the principal areas of mindfulness. Mindfulness embodies the way in which we engage
with the Three Trainings.

Practically speaking, I think it’s helpful to look at mindfulness in terms of two main areas
– you could call it the ‘how’ and the ‘what’ – that is, how we’re mindful and what we’re
mindful of. The ‘how’ relates to the mental faculties that we have developed or need to
develop in order to be mindful in the first place. I usually refer to this as the ‘faculty’ of
mindfulness. The ‘what’ refers to what we’re mindful of – and this in principle means
anything whatsoever – whatever we can be aware of, whatever we can cognize, is
potentially an object of mindfulness.

1. The ‘how’ of mindfulness – mindfulness as a faculty

So, first the faculty of mindfulness. This faculty consists of the application of the
qualities of smrti, apramada and samprajanya. For the moment I’ll just render smrti as
‘receptive awareness’, apramada as ‘vigilant discrimination’ and samprajanya as ‘clear
comprehension’ – but more on these in a moment. These three qualities of mindfulness
are what we have to apply all the time in order to practice the Dharma. So, they’re not by
any means unfamiliar to us, in principle or in practice.

But I think it’s ...

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