Mindfulness of Dhammas: The Four Noble Truths VI

The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (pp.159-166)

Mindfulness: A Practical Guide to Awakening (pp. 287-323) 

“Again, monks, in regard to dhammas he abides contemplating dhammas in terms of the four noble truths. And how does he in regard to dhammas abide contemplating dhammas in terms of the four noble truths? “Here he knows as it really is, ‘this is dukkha’; he knows as it really is, ‘this is the arising of dukkha’; he knows as it really is, ‘this is the cessation of dukkha’; he knows as it really is, ‘this is the way leading to the cessation of dukkha.’ 

The Practice Steps

The practice steps of the Eightfold Path are Skillful Effort, Skillful Mindfulness and Skillful Concentration.  Gaining wisdom through Skillful Understanding and Skillful Thinking and living a skillful life following Skillful Speech, Skillful Action, and Skillful Livelihood are not complete without a daily practice.  Practice is a constant effort of inquiry and reflection through mindfulness.  Making your life your practice means applying the teachings to your whole being whether you are in the world or meditating.

Thich Nhat Hahn notes:  “In Buddhism, practicing the teaching of the Buddha is the highest form of prayer.”  Living Buddha, Living Christ

Skillful Effort

And what, bhikkhus, is right effort? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu generates desire for the nonarising of unarisen evil unwholesome states; he makes an effort, arouses energy, applies his mind, and strives. He generates desire for the abandoning of arisen evil unwholesome states…. He generates desire for the arising of unarisen wholesome states…. He generates desire for the maintenance of arisen wholesome states, for their nondecay, increase, expansion, and fulfilment by development; he makes an effort, arouses energy, applies his mind, and strives. This is called right effort. SN 45.8 Bhikkhu Bodhi

Bhante G. notes “At every moment we choose whether to embrace wholesomeness or unwholesomeness.”  In order to be able to choose, we need to be mindful of our mind state which includes thoughts, perceptions, memories and body sensations.  Mindfulness is paying attention moment to moment to what is.  By being mindful we aware of our mind states and make skillful choices.  This is paying mindful attention.

The Buddha said: “Do good, do no evil, and purify the mind.”

As the Buddha noted, we can direct our effort four ways:

  • Prevent the arising of unwholesome states of mind.
  • Overcome unwholesome states which have arisen.
  • Cultivate wholesome states of mind.
  • Maintain those wholesome states which have arisen.

Prevent the arising of unwholesome states of mind.

Remember the unwholesome states of mind that have arisen in the past to kindle remorse preventing them from arising again.  Also maintaining wholesome states of mind will drive out unwholesome thoughts.

Redemption Alley:  How I lived to bowl another frame.  Bob Perry and Stefan Bechtel.  “But here’s the worst part of it:  I held the world responsible for what happened to me.  As I would learn much later, in sobriety, it’s your own attitudes and resentments that do the most damage, and it’s only when you fix all them bad attitudes that you start to heal.”

Overcome unwholesome states which have arisen.

Unwholesome states were categorized by the Buddha as the Ten Fetters or, in a grosser sense, the Five Hindrances.  The fetters are restraints that tie us to suffering.

The Ten Fetters are:

  • Belief in the existence of a permanent self or soul
  • Doubt in the message of the Buddha
  • Belief that one can end suffering merely by following rules and rituals
  • Greed for sensual pleasures
  • Hatred
  • Subtle desire to exist in fine material form
  • Subtle desire to exist in immaterial form
  • Conceit or the underlying perception of self-identity.
  • Restlessness and worry
  • Ignorance

The Five Hindrances are grosser manifestations of fetters and were discussed earlier in the Four Foundation of Mindfulness (https://www.whitehallmeditation.org/satipatthana_sutta/ffm18/):

  • Greed
  • Ill-will
  • Dullness and drowsiness
  • Restlessness and worry
  • Doubt

Cultivate wholesome states of mind

There are many ways to bring up wholesome or positive states of mind including:

  • Remember any skillful act that you have done in the past and the wholesome states of mind that went with that action.
    From the Secrets of Resilience by Meg Jay, WSJ 11/11/17: “Finally, remember the ways you have been courageous and strong. Too often we remember what has gone wrong in life rather than what we did to survive and thrive. Think back on a time when you were challenged and give yourself credit for how you made it through. You may already be more resilient than you think.”
  • Recall your past successes in battling greed, hatred, or delusion.
  • Apply your mind to investigate what actions created the wholesome mental state.
  • Cultivate generosity, loving kindness, compassion.
  • Practice the seven steps to awakening.

Maintain wholesome states of mind

  • Develop strong mindfulness by “paying attention moment to moment to what is”.
  • Associate with good friends.
  • Study the dharma.
  • Remember the big picture, maintaining perspective.
  • Ask yourself, “What, in this moment, am I cultivating?”

Skillful Mindfulness

“And what, bhikkhus is right mindfulness? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu dwells contemplating the body in the body, ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. He dwells contemplating feelings in feelings, ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. He dwells contemplating mind in mind, ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. He dwells contemplating phenomena in phenomena, ardent, clearly comprehending, mindful, having removed covetousness and displeasure in regard to the world. This is called right mindfulness. SN 45.8 Bhikkhu Bodhi

Bhante G. defines mindfulness as paying attention moment to moment to what is.

  • Paying Attention: With mindfulness we are listening to life instead of letting the mind do all the talking.
  • Moment to moment: We are always in the present, not letting our mind dwell on the past and the future
  • To what is: we see how things really are:  impermanent, unsatisfactory, selfless.

Without mindfulness, our thought patterns have several characteristics:  limited, habitual, conditioned by delusion.  Without mindfulness, we are unware when we add judgement, commentary, and make decisions based on delusion.

Compare mindfulness to a mirror that reflects without distortion.  To be like that mirror, we must understand the nature of reality.  It is constantly changing.  As Bhante G put it: reality is ”a dynamic flow of incessant change.”

Practicing mindfulness confers several benefits:

  • It prevents us from being caught up in or reacting to our thoughts and sensations. It gives us the time we need to practice Skillful Effort.
  • It leads to insights, the “inner seeing” of how things really are. Through these insights, we find happiness and peace.
  • It purifies the mind burning away the obstructions of greed, hatred, and delusion and leading to happiness and peace.
  • It brings wisdom through knowing the three characteristics of impermanence, dissatisfaction, selfless nature.

Bhante G notes: “Skillful mindfulness is the incorporation of our whole life into meditative practice.”

Skillful Concentration

“And what, bhikkhus, is right concentration? Here, bhikkhus, secluded from sensual pleasures, secluded from unwholesome states, a bhikkhu enters and dwells in the first jhana, which is accompanied by thought and examination, with rapture and happiness born of seclusion. With the subsiding of thought and examination, he enters and dwells in the second jhana, which has internal confidence and unification of mind, is without thought and examination, and has rapture and happiness born of concentration. With the fading away as well of rapture, he dwells equanimous and, mindful and clearly comprehending, he experiences happiness with the body; he enters and dwells in the third jhana of which the noble ones declare: ‘He is equanimous, mindful, one who dwells happily.’ With the abandoning of pleasure and pain, and with the previous passing away of joy and displeasure, he enters and dwells in the fourth jhana, which is neither painful nor pleasant and includes the purification of mindfulness by equanimity. This is called right concentration.” SN 45.8 Bhikkhu Bodhi

Skillful concentration has three characteristics:

  • It is always wholesome (skillful)
  • It goes into very deep and powerful levels of one-pointed focus
  • It incorporates the use of mindfulness to develop wisdom.

Skillful concentration leads to happiness and peace.  This is not from sensual pleasure but from the non-attachment of sensual pleasures (the joy of non-attachment).

Developing skillful concentration takes training.  This means sitting practice so that you can bring up skillful concentration easily and at will.

Mindfulness and Concentration

Bhante G. notes: “When meditators cultivate sufficient concentration guided by mindfulness, they can trace back their mental images of events, time, thoughts, and previous behavior until they perceive the link between the present continuous flow and the events, thoughts, and actions of the past.  That link is greed and ignorance.  They see for themselves the relationship between impermanence, greed for impermanent things and suffering.  The penetrating wisdom of the meditator also recognizes all negativities in all dimensions and how and why they arise.  Wisdom recognizes that all negativities come from grasping.  It recognizes that this grasping can end and that the way to end it is by ending one’s own greed.

Through this knowledge, the mediator comprehends, by personal and direct experience that everything is impermanent, that clinging to anything impermanent causes dissatisfaction, and that everything that exists is without permanent substance.  Gaining this threefold knowledge is the doorway to enlightenment”.

What Bhante G. says about perceiving the link between the present continuous flow and the events, thoughts and actions of the past is critical to our understanding.  Memories and thoughts that arise from the past do so because in some way we are attached to them.  We may be attached intentionally because we want to remember something for a reason (an appointment or where we put something).  In this case, the memory of something is useful.  On the other hand, memories from other past actions or experiences arise because we are clinging to them for some reason.  Using mindfulness and concentration, we can look deeply and see the link of greed and ignorance.

The Practice

Practicing these three steps of skillful effort, skillful mindfulness and skillful concentrations takes commitment and time.  I recommend a daily practice of reading the dharma, spending 30 minutes in meditation, leading a skillful life and practicing mindfulness to the fullest extent possible.

To read more on these steps, please go to this link.

Reflection

  • Reread and reflect on this talk daily.

Meditation

  • Keep up or start a daily practice as noted above.

Next: The Four Foundations of Mindfulness: Summary
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